Ballyvolane House, by contrast, showed us a suave and winning way to bridge grand-manor Ireland and the new. Justin Green, the fourth generation of Greens to live at this enormous Italianate country property, runs the place with his wife, Jenny, in a comfortably homey style—a friendly cat stretched out on the bench of the grand piano, spaniels and children scampering about—but with a deluxe and vaguely bohemian air. A homemade elderflower cordial and vintage Bakelite radios awaited upstairs in the rooms, and as we sipped coffee in the garden in the morning, Jeremy Green, Justin’s father, tended to a flock of birds in a dovecote on the far side of a manicured gaming lawn. You could imagine hosting the dream reunion of your best college pals here.
Another of Ballyvolane’s great draws is its proximity to excellent salmon-fishing rivers, and its access to coveted permits. We had arranged for a half-day salmon-fishing expedition, and Justin set us up with a guide—ghillie, as they say here—Norman Gillett. A wisp of a man, Gillett wore an eyeglass tether, felt plus fours, and a Robin Hood hat with a feather in its crown; we sensed he could gut a 20-pound salmon in seconds. We drove about 15 minutes from the hotel to the Blackwater River, pulled on our waders, jumped a fence with our gear and picnic lunch, and tramped across a pasture to the river’s edge, carefully avoiding a herd of cows.
Gillett, a retired geophysicist, was a wonderful teacher. He showed us how to cast the lure far into the fast-moving channel near the opposite bank, and to reel in the fly at just the right speed: quick enough to keep it from catching on the rocks of the riverbed, but slow enough to attract the interest of the fish. We were the worst students—wanting desperately to catch a big slab of sashimi, but consistently snagging our lures in the riverbed. And we probably weren’t thinking enough like a fish to actually catch one. Hiking through a meadow and wading into a river, the jet-black cows watching us from the riverbank above, was thrilling enough that we were content to leave the job of procuring fish to Ari’s pals. Besides, we told Gillett, we had to hustle on, to Moran’s in Galway, to eat oysters. Missing Galway oysters on a trip like this would be like drinking iced tea in Barolo.
“Like oysters, do you?” Gillett said. “Try Burkes, in Clarinbridge.” It was just south of Galway, he said, and when he’d been in college he’d drunk his weight in Guinness there. A short three hours later, we found Paddy Burkes hugging the busy main road into Galway, a few miles south of the city. The restaurant looked well-preserved—probably unchanged since Gillett’s drinking days. A frozen-foods truck was making a delivery, but we can attest to the quality of the oysters. Ours were very fresh—meaty, with a coppery edge—though we preferred the ones at Moran’s, just down the road. They were slightly wetter, creamy, and minerally—an altogether more suave expression of the bivalve. And the convivial old-time village atmosphere was more appealing. We ate our dozens outside on tables, on a quiet road overlooking a creek at low tide.
Between the two places, we didn’t come close to replicating Gillett’s performance with respect to the Guinness—we had an early-morning flight out of Shannon, after all. But we came close with the oysters.
Matt Lee and Ted Lee are T+L contributing editors.