BY JUDY ENRIGHT
SPECIAL TO THE BIR
Have you ever had itchy feet? Nearly 30 years ago, James Kearney, an accountant, did and the result is a boon to those who visit Viewmount House in Co. Longford.
In 1989, Kearney, who was tired of working with numbers and ready to move on, took his wife Beryl to see a derelict 17th Century manor house that was soon to go on the auction block. Beryl said she looked at him and asked, “Are you serious?”
It turns out that he definitely was! Without any restaurant or hotel experience under their belts, the couple went to the auction, bought Viewmount House, and the rest is history.
The Kearneys spent nearly 10 years gutting, renovating, and furnishing the structure and, in 1998, with two bedrooms ready, they welcomed their first guests.
“James was always a good cook – he understood food,” Beryl said, “and he had always wanted to open a restaurant.” Finally, in 2008, he got his ultimate wish and the VM Restaurant opened in the charming and, of course, completely renovated former stable that is attached to the hotel.
We visited the multi-award winning Viewmount House this spring and came to appreciate the Kearneys’ work and their commitment. Every minute and euro (or Irish pound before the euro came in) spent on the property was well worth it. The sprawling country house is beautifully appointed and filled with antique furniture and oriental rugs bought at auction over the years. It exudes an air of quiet, comfort, and relaxation.
Each of the 12 bedrooms has its own color scheme and décor. Bathrooms are modern with superb water pressure to suit the needs of their traveling guests and the four acres of gardens – a Japanese garden with tea house, a white garden, and rock and vegetable gardens – are beautiful and meticulously groomed.
The night a friend and I were there offered a testament to the VM Restaurant’s success: 30 diners enjoying the food and the atmosphere, with only six of them staying in the hotel. Residents of Longford and local businesses are very supportive of the restaurant and Viewmount House, Beryl said, and that was easy to understand after we had dinner there.
I thoroughly enjoyed a starter of beetroot cured salmon and a main course of pan fried cod, but might have opted for pan fried quail, rose veal, pigeon, or monkfish, among other gourmet menu options offered by the gifted head chef, Robert Groot Koerkamp, whose family owns a bakery in Holland. A side of vegetables and mashed potato accompanies each main course and Koerkamp has introduced to the menu such treats as brioche.
As we’ve written before, Irish food has come a very long way in the past 30 years and nowhere is that more evident than with an outstanding meal such as we had at the VM Restaurant. My friend had a grilled scallop starter and rose veal with roast leek, sweetbreads, and pickled walnut as a main course.
Viewmount House is a proud member of Ireland’s Blue Book, an association of some 50 exceptional hotels, private rental properties, and restaurants in Northern Ireland and the Republic – including six Michelin star winners. All members are selected on a strict criteria basis. The association, founded in 1974, boasts a unique selection of country houses, castles, several former coaching inns, a lighthouse, an ice house, a former convent, historic hotels, and restaurants representing, in the organization’s own words, “the finest of Ireland’s hospitality, accommodation and cuisine.” The Blue Book is the only Irish organization with membership in the prestigious Historic Hotels of Europe.
While there is not much you can guarantee in the world, you can guarantee that a Blue Book property will exceed your expectations for quality and graciousness. New to the 2018 edition are Castle Grove Country House in Donegal; Glenlo Abbey Hotel in Galway; Virginia Park Lodge in Cavan, and Killadangan House in Mayo.
Other than sleeping and eating, is there anything else to do around Co. Longford, which lies in the heart of the Midlands? You bet there is! There’s an 18-hole parkland golf course, one of the oldest in Ireland, behind the house and there’s Abbeyshrule Airfield nearby for sightseeing flights and flying lessons. If you’d rather go karting and try paint balling, there’s a lighted 20-acre tract at Edgeworthstown. The Royal Canal runs from Longford Town to Clondra for the walkers, and Strokestown House, gardens and famine museum is nearby for history buffs as is St. Mel’s Cathedral, destroyed by fire in 2009, restored and reopened in 2014. St. Mel’s was the largest restoration project in Western Europe at the time.
There’s a purpose-built theatre and arts center in Longford Town and Casey’s Bogwood Studios in nearby Newtowncashel where Kevin Casey creates works of art from ancient pieces of wood from Midland bogs (see bogoak.ie for more.) Another interesting attraction is the Corlea Trackway Visitor Center near Kenagh, an interpretive center for an Iron Age bog road built in 148 BC across bog lands near the River Shannon (firstname.lastname@example.org). In Mullingar (about 45 minutes from Viewmount), you can visit Belvedere House and Gardens (belvedere-house.ie) and within an hour is Clonmacnoise monastic site. Arigna Mining Experience is also nearby (arignaminingexperience.ie).
Another treat for walkers is a guided hour and a half walk from St. Mary’s to St. John’s and Beyond, Edgeworth Heritage and Literary Trail in Edgeworthstown, Co. Longford. Be sure to prebook (email@example.com) to follow along in the footsteps of Maria Edgeworth, Sir Walter Scott, William Wordsworth, Oscar Wilde, Oliver Goldsmith, Charlotte Brook and many other 18th and 19th Century historical figures.
Of course there are many, many outdoor activities along Ireland’s Blueways, a series of multi-activity trails on the Shannon and Shannon-Erne, offering boat hire, golf, tennis, angling and numerous walking trails. A series of Blueways Guides outlines options including arts and crafts, outdoor activities, food and culture and heritage. (See bluewaysireland.org.)
Be sure to contact Longford Tourism (Longfordtourism.com) for more information on this lovely part of the world.
There is so much to do in Ireland in June and actually all during the summer months.
Dog lovers will want to join the Greyhound Rescue Association of Ireland (grai.ie) at a Walk for Greyhounds 2018 on June 10 at 2 p.m. at Farmleigh in Phoenix Park, Dublin. The walk promotes greyhounds as pets, and because I have several friends who have these dogs as pets, I can verify that they make absolutely wonderful, gentle, and loving pets. A similar walk will be held in Galway City that same day. Both are part of the Great Global Greyhound Walk and are family friendly.
While in Mayo, be sure to stop in at the Old Irish Goat Visitors’ Centre on Newport Road in Mulranny, which is open from the beginning of June to mid-September, 1 to 5 p.m. daily. The Old Irish Goat has been granted rare breed designation and the Centre offers information on the history as well as a gift shop.
There are many excellent art, craft and gift shops in Mayo, including O’Reilly & Turpin and The Quay Gallery, both in Westport; The Beehive in Keel on Achill Island; and Solas on Bridge Street, Louisburgh.
If your name is O’Malley, you are probably related to the pirate queen (Grace O’Malley) and the clan wants you! From June 22-24, the 64th Annual O’Malley Clan Rally will be held in Westport, Co. Mayo, with events including a walking tour, reception and talk, castles and abbey tour, and more. For details, go online to westporttheatre.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
And, if you’re in Westport and around the area, do look for jewelry made by Carolyn Claire Mitchell who calls her work Clew Bay Creations. We have seen her earrings at several shops and they’re very nice. If you won’t be in Ireland, you can still enjoy her work at her website, clewbaycreations.com, or email email@example.com.
While Ireland’s coffee has improved considerably since the days when the only Cappuccino I could find was in an airport vending machine, probably the best I’ve had this year was at Vaughan’s Bar and Restaurant in the Roundstone House Hotel in Connemara. If you’re in the area, do try it. The ladies room there was also spotless and even sported a vase of fresh tulips.
For a different kind of adventure, how about taking a Connemara Pub Tour? You’ll visit five unique establishments on the tour, get five food and drink vouchers, and enjoy magnificent scenery and Connemara characters. See connemarapubtours.ie or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re traveling the Wild Atlantic Way and are looking for local art, stop by the Western Light Art Gallery in Keel on Achill Island where works by artists Padraig McCaul, Peter Hall, Charles Perpoil, Malcolm Bennett, Sean Cannon, and Alex McKenna are featured among others.
Looking for a hiking and/or stargazing tour of Ireland? A number of tours are offered by Terra Firma Ireland including a Magic Myth and Moonlight tour, walk on the wild side and dark sky safari. For information, visit Terrafirmaireland.com or email email@example.com.
Enjoy your trip to Ireland whenever you go and whatever you do. Summer is certainly a lovely time to visit with long, warm days and every attraction open and buzzing after a cold and too-lengthy winter.
BY JUDY ENRIGHT