We’ve always said that it’s not the style, but the substance of any vacation that makes the real difference in any experience. Film producer Clara Bingham was heading to Ireland recently. Her official mission: to screen her documentary at the Galway Film festival.
But the real reason was a special mother-son fishing trip. Even though she can barely cast a fly rod, Bingham entered a brave new world of navigating unknown rivers and lakes, searching for salmon and trout, and entertaining a 14-year-old.
The first week of July presented itself with two opportunities that didn’t necessarily mix well: a business trip to Galway, Ireland and a week with my 14-year-old son Henry. Henry is my Huck Finn, who loves nature, animals, and most of all, fishing.
Having never been to Ireland, I jumped at the chance to represent the documentary I produced, The Last Mountain, at the Galway Film Festival, but I knew that spending a week watching foreign films would be a cruel form of torture for Henry.
On the advice of a fishing-fanatic English friend of mine, I booked four nights at the Delphi Lodge, near the tiny town of Leenaun just over the border of the Connemara region in county Mayo.
We flew into Shannon airport and took the long route to the lodge, driving along the rugged, rocky coast of the Connemara National Park. Driving stick-shift on the right side of the car on the left side of narrow, windy roads made for constant drama.
Along the way there, I learned the Irish saying, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes.”
We bought four pairs of socks at a store in the aptly-named Spiddle, a purchase that proved to be a life-saver.
Delphi Lodge sits in the cradle of three high, steep mountains, facing a long green lawn that rolls into one of the most well-stocked salmon fisheries in Ireland, Finn Lough (or Bright Lake). It is a popular stop for fishers. In fact, large stuffed salmon hang tauntingly over every mantle.
We discovered at dinner on the first night that some of the guests had booked their spot on Finn Lough a year in advance, so Henry might have to slum it on other waterways. Innkeeper Michael Wade found the perfect “Ghillie” (the Scottish term for fishing guide) for Henry, 28-year-old John Somerville.
While Henry and John fished the banks of the Erriff River and rode in rowboat on Doo and Finn Loughs, I hiked the Maumtrasana Mountain and took in a seaweed bath (a curious local, slimy delicacy) and massage at the Delphi Mountain Resort, one mile down the road from the lodge.
Together Henry and I climbed the steep Mweelrea Mountain that hovers over the Delphi Lodge, which required scrambling over boulders and wading through knee-high sage grass. All of the mountaintops in the area are communal farmland, so there are no trails, which makes for more of an adventure.
Two six-hour days of fishing had only reaped five small brown trout for Henry, who was beginning to get disenchanted with the famously quirky, elusive salmon. We decided to try new waters and met John on the shore of the 40-kilometer-long Lough Carrib. There Henry caught a 10lb Northern Pike, his first ever.
After suiting up in a pair of Wellies, rain pants and hooded coat, I hopped onto John’s skiff and joined Henry for my first afternoon of mother-son fishing on the lake––better late than never.
By 6PM, John and I were ready for a pint of Guinness at his local pub. But Henry insisted on staying out until someone caught another fish.
A random cast of mine produced, after a long fight, a mammoth 18lb female pike. Henry heaved her onto the boat, and bravely gripped her by her tail and gills as we posed together for a photograph of the catch of the week. It may not have been a salmon, but our pike was the talk of the lodge that night, and vindication that fishing with Mum isn’t so bad after all.
The Delphi’s prices aren’t cheap, but given that they include a gourmet breakfast and dinner, it felt like it was worth the splurge. We paid 150 Euros per person per night after a bit of haggling. Rates for rooms that don’t face the lake, and don’t include dinner, are more reasonable.
If you want to fish this area on more of a budget, or are looking for a more casual setting than the Delphi, try:
- Aasleagh Lodge on the Erriff River, between the Delphi Lodge and the town of Leenaun.
- Grasshopper Cottage, which is beautifully located on the banks of Lough Corrib near the tiny Gaelic-speaking town of Cornamona.
- Fairhill Guest House in Clonbur near Cong, is an upscale boutique hotel that also provides fishing guides for the Corrib.
If fishing isn’t your thing, but exploring the rugged Connemara is, try Delphi Mountain Resort, an attractive enough modern building that was teeming with kids when we visited, and obviously family-friendly. It specializes in adventure day trips– sea kayaking, hiking, rock climbing, bouldering, and surfing. They also have a decent spa with the full complement of treatments.
Other Family Activities:
We found small, but consistent surf at Carrowniskey Beach, a 45-minute drive north of the Delphi lodge, and 10 minutes outside of the town of Louisburgh. Surf Mayo has a surf camp on this long, sandy, windswept beach and also rents boards and wet suits (a must in the chilly weather).
Private lessons are only 20 Euro for two hours, board and wet suit included. Check www.magicseaweed.com to see if the surf is up before booking a lesson.
Also near Louisburgh is the ferry to Clare Island, home of one of my heroines, the pirate queen Grace O’Malley. She ruled the seas on the western coast of Ireland for the second half of the 1500s, had glamorous lovers, several children, and was received at Queen Elizabeth’s court.
O’Malley is buried on the island and you can climb around the remains of her 16th Century castle. The Clare Island Ferry runs daily in the summer: www.clareislandferry.com.
The small, medieval town of Cong is also worth a visit, not because it is home to Gothic Revival-style Ashford Castle, which is now an expensive tourist trap hotel, but because Ireland’s School of Falconry is on the castle grounds.
We spent a thrilling afternoon on a private Hawk walk with our own Harris Hawks perched on our leather-gloved hands, watching them swoop on and off our hands. Rates: 70Euro per person for an hour.
Make a reservation ahead of time: www.falconry.ie
By Clara Bingham for PeterGreenberg.com. Clara Bingham is the producer of the documentary, The Last Mountain, a 2011 Sundance Film festival selection. She is also the author (with Laura Gansler) of Class Action: The Landmark Case That Changed Sexual Harassment Law, which was made into the movie North Country, starring Charlize Theron.
Related links on PeterGreenberg.com:
- Spring Fishing Guide, Pt.1: Top Five Fishing Destinations
- Spring Fishing Guide, Pt. 2: Five More Top Fishing Destinations
- Ask the Locals Travel Guide: Southwestern Ireland
- Travel in Britain & Ireland