Showing posts with label Letterkenny. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Letterkenny. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Mary T: from Mallow to Donegal's Castle Grove

Mary T: from Mallow
 to Donegal's Castle Grove

Back, in the middle of the previous century, a young farmer’s daughter from Mallow came to Cork’s Metropole Hotel to begin training in hospitality. Mary T., now long married to Raymond Sweeney, is still in the hotel business but now she heads up one of her own, the beautiful Castle Grove on the shores of Lough Swilly, where she gave us a superb welcome last month.
Down by the Swilly shore

Breakfast pancakes
Back to those early days in the Met where she was one of a group of about two dozen, including three boys. “We were paid half-a-crown a week,” she recalled when we spoke in Donegal. “But we were fed and had our accommodation.” That accommodation had its own covered aerial walkway across Harleys Street, the narrow one on the eastern side of the hotel. By coincidence, as we arrived in Castle Grove so too did an email from the Met telling me about next month's Oyster Fest.

After the Metropole, Mary moved to Dublin where she worked in the old Jury’s. She was back in Cork again in the early 60s, helping get the brand new Silversprings Hotel find its feet. I missed her there by about a year as I, then a 15 year student, had a summer job in 1963 helping the steel fixing gang that were working on the foundations of the hotel (my pat was four shillings and ten pence an hour).

Later, Mary moved to Donegal and became manager of the Rosapenna Hotel (where we also stayed on this trip), that hotel then much smaller than it is nowadays. After marrying Raymond in 1970, Mary worked on the their 100-acre farm, back to her roots, and “loved it”.

But hospitality remained a strong love too and when Castle Grove came on the market they moved to buy it and were successful in 1989. “You could say the cows paid for it,” she said. They started from scratch, just a small scale B&B but, little by little, the Sweeneys built it up into the thriving enterprise that it is today. 

The house has 15 en suite guest bedrooms, all of which are carefully furnished with rare antiques, luxury fabrics, televisions, Egyptian cotton sheets, soft towels and indulgent toiletries. All bedrooms are also fitted with televisions as standard (even though many of  the guests welcome the opportunity to take a break from technology!).

While younger members of the family now run the house, you’ll certainly meet Mary around the place and she makes a point of meeting Cork people. She’s very much involved though, meeting and greeting many guests, and before the August weekend, she was helping organise their first Cider Festival (they make their own cider here). 
Heading to the dining room

The welcome from the Sweeney family and their staff is genuinely warm, everyone seems to have taken the cue from Mary. Always time for a wee chat, directions to nearby attractions, some very near, such as the walled garden and the short walk to the shore of the lough. You’ll be at home  in no time at all.

Mary, getting in some practice ahead of the Cider Fest
at Castle Grove last weekend. Pic by Castle Grove.
Castle Grove supports local (Kinnegar beers, for instance) and Mary is also involved in the wider community and just a couple of years back was given the Lifetime Achievement Award (Hall of Fame) by the Letterkenny Chamber of Commerce. You may see a short video of her interesting interview here

On the morning we left, Mary was there to say goodbye. But not before we had another long interesting talk and a tour of their large collection of paintings in the various public rooms around the house. She and Raymond have put together quite a collection and the pride and joy is a fine group of landscape paintings from Connemara.

Their own extensive grounds are also very beautiful, also very well maintained. No wonder the 17th Century Georgian house is a popular spot for weddings. We absolutely enjoyed our stay here (dinner, B&B) and would very highly recommend the house and the family. It is convenient too for quite a few of the Donegal attractions, just a few miles from bustling Letterkenny, and well placed for visiting both Malin Head and the stunning Fanad lighthouse.
Castle Grove
Ramelton Road
Co. Donegal
074 9151118
                                    Also on this trip: Kinnegar Brewery
Something fishy  going on in Donegal
Superb Day Out at Oakfield Park & Buffers Bistro

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Kinnegar's Winning Team. A Squad for all Saisons.

Kinnegar's Winning Team. 
A Squad for all Saisons.

Libby and yours truly in K2

Hard work. Attention to detail. That’s what we saw when we took up an invitation from Libby and Rachel to visit the Kinnegar Brewery in Letterkenny. Libby was on hand to show us around and introduced us to Rick and some of the brewers. 

Hard work? You have to be willing to put your shoulder to the wheel here, well not exactly the wheel but those bags of malt come in 25 kgs size and quite a few need to be regularly hefted to where they’re needed!

Attention to detail? Success in many fields is built on this and Kinnegar is no different. Take a look at a notice of work for one area on the day: clean general; arrange utility room; order boiler diaphragms (steam jacket); hops racking. David is a master of detail. He joined the brewery early on as a JobBridge intern. A quick trainer, he is now of four brewers here and was working on K1 as we arrived.

Better explain. K1 is the small brewery from their farmhouse days in nearby Rathmullan and the name Kinnegar comes from the nearby beach of that name. We are in K2, huge by comparison, a magnificent illustration of how far this enterprising brewery has come in a six year span.

K1 (10 hectalitres) has been brought here and given its own space in Letterkenny. Dwarfed by K2 (35hls), it will have a special place and will be used to try out innovative beers for many years to come, thanks in large measure to David who was close to completing the re-assembly here. Indeed K1 looks brand new. They will also bring in and use their first brewery, a 0.5hl unit, now known as K0.

Links with Rathmullan are still strong thanks mainly to Libby’s mother Margaret, 80 years of age and still working on the brewery books, happy to do so in the quiet of the countryside.

With the opening of the new state-of-the-art facility K2, the clinking of bottles coming off the line no longer mingles with the bleating of sheep from the surrounding fields. Yet “the farmhouse ethos at the core of what we do however remains the same”.

While I expected to see a spanking new brewery, my jaw dropped on entering the unit. It is huge, at least to my eyes, and of course, it was a huge investment leap for Libby, Rick and Rachel when they ordered the gear from Slovenia. But so far so good. So very good.
Rachel in the brewhouse

I reckon I was one of the first to sing the praises of Kinnegar beer as I came across them in various places around Downings in June 2013. One of the places was the Cove in Port na Blagh where I worked my way through the ales, the Limeburner Pale Ale, the Scraggy Bay India Pale Ale and the Devil’s Backbone Amber Ale. Thought all three were excellent.  My number one went to the IPA while CL picked the Limeburner, the same two beers that we enjoyed this time around.

We had no problem finding them this time, in bars, in cafés such as Buffers, in restaurants like Grape and Grain, in the splendid country house Castle Grove and in the Rosapenna Hotel. Enjoyed Scraggy Bay India Pale Ale (me) and Limeburner Pale Ale (CL) in particular. These two, along with Devil’s Backbone (Amber Ale), Rustbucket Rye Ale, Yannaroddy Porter, and Crossroads American Style IPA, form their core range.

And they do specials. Lots of them! Hard to keep up. Just a few to note that I’ve liked: the Merry Tiller Dry-hopped Saison, Bucket & Spade Session Rye IPA and the Black Bucket Black Rye IPA. 
 Black Bucket Black Rye IPA, Gold Medal at 2018 Brussels Beer Challenge

Balance is a feature of Kinnegar beers and that Black Rye IPA is a great illustration, hoppy, citrus flavours, quite intense (it is the big brother of the original Black Bucket!), quite superb.

Hadn’t come across the Kumpelnest Pilsner (5%) until this trip. Wasn’t expecting too much but reckon me and this one could be the best of buddies. Nothing dominant or over the top about it but with its persistent and pleasantly moderate aromas making an excellent first impression, we were on the right hop from the off. And those first fruity flavours are also persistent as my new buddy shows staying power. Good finish too. Buddy sure won’t let you down as you can see from the illustration on the can, he has lots of friends!

And speaking of friends, how did Kinnegar come together? Libby had her own graphic design company (and those skills would come in handy) but it was Rick who had an interest in craft brewing and spotted the new wave coming. Rachel was a pro in the world of horse; there was a bit of a downturn in that line and she was looking for something with a scientific angle as that was her long time interest and, having worked with horses, she had no problems with taking her turn at the physical side either. The timing was so right for them and Kinnegar was the vehicle to take them (and their now ten permanent staff) upwards and onwards.
This canning line will stretch you mentally!

Nowadays, everyone contributes to the ongoing development though Rick is the leader on the beer recipe side. By the way, they don’t filter or pasteurise, and let their industrious little friends, the yeast, carbonate the beer naturally during fermentation.

Libby told us that Kinnegar are that bit different to other breweries in that they built their business on bottles and cans rather than draught (they do draught of course). Their bottling line is a Meheen, “one of the two busiest in Europe” while their own canning line is a Wild Goose. 

Bet you didn’t know this. Working these two lines requires different responses from the operator. Libby explained that the bottling line is more physically demanding while the canning operation taxes the mental side more! Different strokes for different folks or vice versa. Just goes to show the value of teamwork and Kinnegar have quite a squad in place in Letterkenny.

Also on this trip: Mary T. From Mallow to Donegal's Castle Grove
Something fishy going on in Donegal
Superb Day Out at Oakfield Park & Buffers Bistro