Roundstone: Where to stay, rent and buy in Paul Henry country
Join the Dublin 4 holiday home crowd in Sting’s one-time stomping ground
Roundstone from the harbour. The Galway village comes alive during the summer.
Roundstone in Connemara is a pretty little village set on the edge of the bog about a 70-minute drive north of Galway city. Next stop: America.
The scenery is spectacular. Drives like the Sky Road and the Lough Inagh route to Clifden, offer mile after meandering mile of bog and then sea, all framed by the Twelve Pins mountain range, beloved by hikers and climbers, with fell runners trying to climb the dozen peaks in a day. This is the home of big skies and cloudscapes that artist Paul Henry captured so well.
And that’s before you talk about the beaches, golden and silver crescents of the finest mica milled by millennia of Atlantic waves; lying back to back are Dog’s Bay and Gurteen Beach together forming a geographic tombolo that juts out into the waves that is even better in real life than it looks on social media.
The village of Roundstone has drawn some interesting characters down the decades, including artists, writers and tycoons. Sting had a place here in the early 1980s. It was here that he wrote most of the songs on The Police’s third album, Zenyatta Mondatta, and in a 2007 quote, listed on the band’s website, described the views across the bay to the mountains as “spectacular”, adding: “I worked every day after a bracing walk in the Irish air. When I thought I had enough songs, I drove my VW to Dublin and hired a little studio where I could demo my ditties for presentation to the band.”
The location looks like a movie set with its ice-cream coloured painted houses looking out to sea, little inlets ringed by seaweed-clad rock shores hiding breathtakingly beautiful sandy beaches. At golden hour, the first and last hour of sunlight in the day, when the light exudes a special quality that can create beautiful photographs, the painterly shadows that pick out the purples of the heather, the umbers and ochres of the blanket bog and the veridian greens of the water, so clear that you can see the crabs scuttling about on the sea floor around the harbor, frame an unforgettable vista.
The currach races at the annual regatta in July, when serious boatmen showoff their talents, are like something out of a Gerard Dillon painting and indeed renowned Irish artist Dillon, along with fellow painters James MacIntyre and George Campbell put Roundstone and its environs on the map decades before Sting ever discovered it while Paul Henry (1877-1958), the daddy of all Connemara painters, was also inspired by the village and its surroundings.
Roundstone has been dubbed Connemara 4 because of the number of wealthy Dublin holiday home owners that stay for a scant few weeks in summer and over Christmas and New Year when the lobster pots stacked up by the harbour are decorated with festive red ribbons. It’s estimated that up to 70 per cent of the properties in the village are holiday homes. As well as south side Dubliners there are also lots of well-heeled families from Galway city who holiday in Connemara and commute to and fro in summer. Strong friendships are forged with gangs of their teens hanging out at the tennis courts and in O’Dowds pub where the chowder and chips are legendary.
The recession damaged that ambiance somewhat. Many owners had to sell up, and these homes are increasingly rented out and are also available on AirBnB, which has created a different vibe in the village, says a local source.
The Wild Atlantic Way is drawing in a new generation of Europeans, but Roundstone can seem like a backwater, even in high season. The BBC’s Monty Hall’s Great Irish Escape, first broadcast in 2011, featured the pretty village and was recently repeated but didn’t deliver the hoardes of tourists that many local businesses were hoping for. In the long run that might be a good thing.
For when you get the weather it is magic, sighs one woman who spent much of her 20s here on holidays. “You can be walking through clover-fragranced fields alive with the buzzing of bees and it can seem as if they are harmonising with the baritone low of cows. And, if you look out to sea you will glimpses of white-capped aquamarine water that, unless you check yourself, will convince you that you are on an island in the Indian Ocean.”
On a wet day when the rain comes down in curtains, these views can be erased in an instant, she concedes, and Roundstone doesn’t have a lot of indoor entertainment to offer beyond visits to the pub.
What’s on offer rental wise?
Errisbeg House, a former hunting lodge has a B&B with rates of €45 per person sharing and a hospitable host in Richard de Stacpoole. Julia Awcock set up Connemara Coastal Cottages after first discovering the region 40 years ago. The site features authentic Irish homes and has six properties in the Roundstone area. A new two-bedroom property that sleeps five on the scenic island of Inishnee, close to the village, and accessible by bridge costs €695 per week in high season and currently has availability. Gleann Cottage, overlooking Dog’s Bay at Errisbeg, is a two-bedroom abode owned by landscape artist Yvonne King and rents through AirBnB for €360 for a minimum three-night stay.
At gorgeous Gurteen Bay you can pitch your tent or motorhome for €10 per adult per night with children costing €5 each per night. The company also has some self-catering apartments, which cost €750 per week in August. There is a one-bed unit available from August 12th to 19th. B&B at Errisbeg House costs €45 per person sharing.
Folan’s Cottage is a beautifully executed stone-fronted space by architects Peter Legge and Associates. Rebuilt from two ruined stone cottages and right beside the beach it sleeps six to seven in its three bedrooms and is one you will have to book for next year or maybe even the following year. The 2018 cost per week in August is €1400.
If you’re looking for convivial luxury then Ballinahinch Castle, a few miles outside Roundstone is the place to stay. Updated over the last three years or so the rooms are cosy, the restaurant is decorated with fine 20th century Irish art, and the sittingrooms and hallway have wood and turf fires burning. www.ballynahinch-castle.com; www.cc-cottages.com; www.gurteenbay.com; www.errisbeghouse.com; www.dolanstown.com
And if you fall in love and want to buy, what’s for sale?
During the summer the place is heaving but in darkest winter there may only be 50 people residing in the village, says one restaurateur. It means prices are such in Roundstone that it is easier and cheaper for families to buy in Galway where there is access to playgrounds and extracurricular activities like music and ballet, explains one local dad, who says a three-bedroom house that in Galway that costs €350,000 will cost €475,000 or €500,000 in Roundstone. This premium for pretty views means that full-time resident’s retirement plans are built around the idea of selling up one of the many legal eagles that flock here in summer. Even ruins are expensive and planning can be problematic for non-locals. One at Dolan, accessed through a right of way, is asking €115,000 through Spencer Auctioneers, while SherryFitzGerald Mangan is selling another at Ervallagh for €395,000.
Refurbished three and four-bedroom properties can command over €500,000 with a smartly designed four-bedroom split level property at Letterdyffe asking €575,000 through SherryFitzGerald Mangan. A basic three-bedroom detached farm house on the lower slopes of Errisbeg mountain, which overlooks Roundstone Village, is asking €299,000 through Spencer Auctioneers.
Where to eat, where to have a coffee, ice cream, etc.
The chowder at O’Dowd’s of Roundstone is still made daily to the same family recipe that has been used for generations. Featuring home-simmered stock made using brill or turbot to give it is rich flavor it is a meal in itself.
The Shamrock Bar is a postcard perfect Irish bar painted orange and green with an old Gaelic typeface used in its signage that has moved with the times and is now run by Ravi Vidyarathne, a Sri Lankan chef. The pub looks the same but is no longer serving run-of-the-mill bar food but rather dishes fragranced by the former spice island.
Finish the meal with a slice of banoffi pie at Vaughan’s Roundstone House Hotel, which is still family run.
For a caffeine fix head to Bogbean café, a relative newcomer to village life and a place that also offers B&B.
Local artist Yvonne King’s work is for sale in BogBean café while Dolan’s summer auction of art and antiques in Ballyconneely, on Monday, August 7th and Tuesday, August 8th, will feature paintings of Roundstone by several Irish artists as well Connemara works by William Orpen and George Campbell.
The Derrygimlagh Marconi Walkway starts about 20km from the village and is noteworthy for two reasons; in the early years of the last century, Gugliemo Marconi established the first-ever commercial transatlantic wireless station here and then in 1919 Alcock and Brown landed the first ever transatlantic flight on the very same spot.
Where you might catch someone’s eye and what to say to them
Draw up stool at King’s Bar and say ‘howarya’ in a soft and long-voweled western drawl. Then sit back and wait. For, as one bar tender explains, “the people here are reserved and loose conversation is mainly alcohol-fuelled”.
Souvenirs to bring home
Bodhrán maker Malachy Kearns learned his craft under the tutelage of Peadar Mercier, a founder member and bodhrán player with trad band The Chieftains. His goatskin instruments are a great way to explore traditional music and can even help temper stress. An 18-inch design with case, beater and tutor book costs €115.