Monday, 5 March 2012

Going Back in Time in Sligo

Every year my family try to organise a weekend we all get together.  We are scattered over four counties and all have busy lives so to get a weekend that suits everyone can often take some organisation.  To date we have stayed in Galway (Connemara Coast), Waterford (Faithlegg), Leitrim (Ramada and Lough Rynn) among others.  We have been doing this now for probably the last 10 years.

This weekend gone we went to Markree Castle in Sligo.  It is a stunning place, totally unspoilt and a really authentic experience - down to the dodgy boot-camp showers, cool bedrooms (temperature-wise) and the threat of an appearance by the resident ghost!  It is a throw-your-boots-off and throw-your-leg- up on the coffee table type of place! The drawing rooms are filled with elegant ancestral paintings, huge fireplaces and big comfortable old couches.  I spent most of the weekend wandering around in my socks.  They allow dogs which is lovely and there were a mixed assortment from pooches to big smelly hounds including my sisters's totally mad border terrier. The bedrooms are a real surprise - I had a big "frilly" (my brother's description) four poster bed in a lovely room with the most amazing view.  It had some very interesting antique furniture as well.  The other bedrooms were not quite as impressive but they were quirky.  One had steep steps down to the en suite - I could imagine a few worse-for-wear guests found that a challenge in the middle of the night!



View from the knot garden
Main entrance

The beauty of the place was that we all felt as if we could really make ourselves at home and as if we were the only guests (even though it was full on the Saturday night).  The staff were mostly eastern European and were efficient as they tend to be but they lacked the real charm and friendliness of the Irish staff or the willingness to think "sideways".  One late night barman when asked for a pot of tea answered "it is not my service to provide".  The bar and the whole place was empty by this time and we were the only stragglers left.  We wanted nibbles earlier before dinner and were unable to get them so one of our party drove to the local filling station.  However we did feel that if we arrived in with our own wine and nibbles we would not have been challenged.
 
My bedroom

View from my window
The food while not bad was not great either but I am always accused of being the critic from hell.  The garnish was very dated with piped swirls of mashed potato and the side orders of veg were the usual unadorned lumps of broccoli, carrots and very roasted - roast potatoes.  Some of the family had the steak the first night and said it was really good and to be fair when I had it - I asked for it - "walked through a warm room," and they obliged!  We had little option but to eat in the hotel both nights as we had young children with us and we would have needed a fleet of taxis to go the 15-20 minute drive into Sligo.  They screwed up on the gluten-free request for my brother giving him the correct bread but a non gluten-free sausage and a triangle of toast under his scrambled egg.  Oh, and the tea was dire at breakfast, but this is coming from a family of tea leaf users, with the tea pot scalded and the milk in first brigade. 

Overall the experience was very positive and we all agreed we would be very happy to go back again.  It could have been amazing though and that makes me sad.  There was no sign of either the owners or even a general manager all weekend and one or two staff cover both the reception, the bar and the bar food service so when you go to order drinks you had to go look for someone!  However, all that said we had a great time and are already looking forward to another get together.

The very elegant dining room
We spent a lovely morning in Sligo pottering about the great selection of foodie and craft shops.  We had lunch in Hargadons, a pub decorated with every imaginable accolade outside.  They were justified, as the food was great, the service fantastic and so friendly and the atmosphere charming. After lunch we had a bracing walk on the beach at Rosses Point.  On Sunday we went to Tobercurry as my father had worked there over 50 years before as a newly qualified accountant.  Then onto Tarmonbarry to the fantastic Purple Onion for lunch (another well decorated establishment).

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