Holy orders: a Clare convent becomes a B&B
The O’Malleys – hospitality veteran Pat and teacher Aoife – spotted the potential in Spanish Point
Pat, Aoife and Ríain O'Malley at Spanish Point House, Co Clare. Photograph by Eamon Ward
Standing on its own grounds overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, Spanish Point House is a commanding sight. The beautiful old building was once a manor house before being converted to a convent where a community of nuns lived and taught the children of the coastal village of Spanish Point in Clare.
Although not quite left to fall into ruin, the house had been neglected for many years before it was rescued, restored and rejuvenated by Pat O’Malley and his wife, Aoife.
Pat, who has a long history in hotels and restaurants, had always been intrigued by the old house and when he discovered it was for sale, he cajoled Aoife, who works as a teacher, into taking a closer look. Inspired by his enthusiasm, she could see the potential and in October 2015 the couple decided to buy the 10-bedroom property and turn it into a luxury bed and breakfast.
“I have always loved old buildings and was far from disappointed when I first got to see the inside of the house,” says Pat. “There were loads of wonderful old features which were still in fantastic condition and that coupled with the high ceilings, thick walls, sash windows and of course the amazing view of the sea, had me hooked right from the beginning.
“We enlisted the help of local architect Paul Conway and as we were both concerned about the preservation of the building, we were on the same page as far as ideas went. Of course, there was a lot of work to be done internally and we had to replace most of the windows, but having started work in February 2016, we opened the doors in time for the Willie Clancy Music Festival in Miltown Malbay.”
Pat, Aoife and Ríain (5) welcomed their first guests at the beginning of July and through word of mouth and online reviews, they are slowly but surely building their new venture.
“Our first guests arrived on the Friday of the festival,” says Pat. “They were from New Zealand and had planned to stay for the night but they loved the room and the view so much they stayed for two. Since then we have had others who have done the same thing – it is so peaceful here and eight out of the 10 rooms have a sea view, so most people are happy to relax and soak up the atmosphere for as long as possible.
“Our guests have mainly been a mix of Americans, Canadians and Irish and the feedback has been fantastic as everyone seems to love the feel of the house, the mixture of old and new and the beautiful surroundings.”
And it’s not only the new guests who are approving of the renovated convent; some previous inhabitants also gave it the thumbs up.
The hospitality trade is in my blood but now that I am a father, I didn’t want to spend long hours away from home so the B&B is perfect
“Before we opened, we had a blessing from Canon Mullin and invited the nuns who used to teach here to see what they thought about it,” says Pat. “They were all delighted to see it restored to its former glory and it was lovely to have them involved in some way.”
Having worked for many years in catering, Pat knows a thing or two about food and while he (and in particular Aoife) was adamant that he would not be spending his evenings running a restaurant, he can flex his culinary muscles by ensuring the breakfasts at Spanish Point House are memorable.
“The hospitality trade is in my blood but now that I am a father, I didn’t want to spend long hours away from home so the B&B is perfect,” he says. “All of the staff are from the locality so are passionate and knowledgeable about the area and also the food, all of which is produced nearby.
“We serve pudding, sausages and rashers from local butcher Jack Kelly, smoked salmon from the Burren Smokehouse, our own homemade brown bread and also other options like pancakes with berries and syrup for the American guests.”
Spanish Point House has come a long way since it first opened as a manor house in 1830. After an extension, it was acquired by the Sisters of Charity and over the decades was used as a convent, a school and accommodation for boarders when the school was relocated. Before Pat and Aoife transformed it into its current guise, it was run as a hostel for a local charity.
“While retaining the feel of the house, we really wanted to make it as comfortable and luxurious as possible,” says Pat. “So our suites have four-poster beds and we have a family suite with two separate rooms. All the bedrooms have high vaulted ceilings and sash windows but at the same time have all the modern touches necessary.
“Downstairs there is plenty of space for visitors to relax. Of course, the fact that we are across the road from the beach and the Armada Hotel means there is a lot to do and somewhere to get a drink or a bite to eat during the day.”
Having just opened their new venture, the O’Malley’s are excited about the future and say there may be an opportunity for expansion at some point.
“Renovating the house has been a fantastic project and we were so lucky that we had both the architect and architectural conservation officer, Dick Cronin, on board as we all had the same vision,” says Pat. “It was a lengthy process and a lot of work, but we are all so thrilled with the result.
“There is still a bit to be done in the grounds but we will work on that in due course and then once we have got into the swing of things, there are a few outbuildings which, with the right planning permission, we could turn into self-catering apartments.
“But that is a whole other project. Right now we are still enjoying the feeling of success that we not only reached our goal but completed it within our time frame. It’s been great looking after our first few guests and we look forward to hosting many others.”