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Anthony O’Keeffe Spends a Magical Weekend in Westport

I’ve always wanted to visit Westport. There is something genuinely magical about the sight of those 365 islands that pepper Clew bay. So I spent an evening on the destinationwestport.com website to find out where to stay, and what to do once you get there. The Harbour Mill was one of their recommendations, so we packed up the car and headed west for the weekend.

The Harbour Mill is a complex of luxury, 4 star self-catering apartments. They each have two, really well-appointed bedrooms, one en-suite, a second bathroom, and a large, spacious living room cum kitchen. They are extremely well kitted out, with a brand new fridge, washing machine, cooker and dishwasher, and a flat screen television and dvd player in the living area. And ours was one of the apartments that overlooks the expanse of harbour below. The prices vary depending on how long you stay and the time of year, but a week in the one we stayed in would cost you €483 if you availed of one of the many special offers they have, by paying all up front.

Our first port of call on Friday was Westport House, which has been opened up to the public as an historic stately home and adventure park. Inside, the 30 rooms have been lovingly restored, with 6 of them turned into exhibition areas detailing the house’s fascinating history. It was originally built on the ruins of one of Grace O’Malley’s castles, the famous pirate queen who ruled the waves off the west coast of Ireland throughout the latter half of the 16th century. Eventually, she was summoned to a meeting with the other famous queen on the British Isles, and she and Elizabeth I met in 1593, conversing with one another in Latin, as neither spoke the other’s language. Whilst outside the house itself, the gardens have been turned into an adventure park with splash rides, giant swan pedal boats, a train and go-karts.

We made our way in the evening to Westport town itself, which is a 15 minute walk, or a 5 minute taxi ride from the harbour, and headed into Cian’s for a bite to eat. It’s a pretty plain looking restaurant, spartan even, but don’t let that put you off. The food is outstanding. Not merely good, exceptional. Before our crab starter arrived, we were treated to a succulent appetiser of smoked sea trout carpaccio, which had the melt in the mouth tenderness of the bluest of blue steaks. And before the roast shoulder of lamb arrived, rare as requested, for the main course, a thimble-full of sorbet was presented to us as a palette cleanser. What was so impressive about each and every one of the dishes were the distinct flavours that each of the different elements of the plate in question boasted of. The sorbet in particular, a tart, tropical mix of tangy lemon and lychee, lingered long in the memory, instantly transporting me back to Leblon, the more upmarket end of Rio’s Ipanema beach.

After Cian’s, it was on to Matt Molloy’s, the justly famed flautist who has played with The Chieftains, the legendary Planxty, and many, many more besides. His pub is what every other Irish pub aspires to look and feel like, and, unsurprisingly, a fantastic group of trad musicians gather there every evening.

The following day, we drove up to Achill Island, which is about 45 minutes away. There, I’d found an 18 km, 5 hour walk from Dooega up to the television mast, which provides you with what can only be described as the most spectacular 360 degree view in the whole of Ireland. Having earned our feed, we headed into the Quay Cottage for our evening meal, which is a slightly more family friendly restaurant than Cian’s, and very nearly as good. Which shouldn’t be a surprise, as the chef there is the brother of Edel, who is married to Cian, as in Cian Hayes, the head chef at Cian’s.

On Sunday we made our way up Croagh Patrick, as this provides you with the best vantage point to take in the majesty that is Clew bay. And then it was back to the Quay Cottage for a seafood chowder. Which ought to be one of our signature dishes, living as we do on an island. Alas, as anyone who’s been to Howth will know, it’s a dish that’s all too easy to get wrong. This chowder was, again, not merely good, it was exceptional.

All in all, it was a genuinely memorable weekend, and a part of the world I shall definitely be returning to in the very near future, if, for no other reason, than for another bowl of that spectacular chowder. You can get all the info you need about Westport at www.destinationwestport.com, and you’ll find details about those self-catering apartments at www.theharbourmill.com

Anthony O’Keeffe.

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