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November 2, 2011

A Hidden Retreat in Co. Kilkenny – Ballilogue Clochán

by Julianne Mooney

I can’t remember who gave me this piece of advice, but it has always stuck with me. If you have a decision to make, pretend you are writing a story and you are the protagonist. Now what would you tell yourself to do? Speaking from experience, the decisions you make with this in mind, come from your heart rather than your head and generally involve taking a risk. I try to use this piece of advice whenever I falter. You see, I believe in taking risks. Yes, courage is required and then there’s the whole fear thing to conquer, but ultimately there is a sense of sheer joy.

This is what comes to me as I sit, curled up on the couch in the two-bedroom barn in Ballilogue Clóchan, Co. Kilkenny. The old stone barn has open brick walls, wooden beams, a pot bellied stove and a general old world farmhouse charm. The interior design is far from old, but is, in fact, bright and contemporary. Decorated with funky lamps, scented candles, stylish furniture and littered with books on gardening, architecture, art and design, the barn is the perfect blend of old and new.

This theme is followed through in all the buildings at Ballilogue and Pat McCarthy is the man behind it all. A designer with an eye for creating beautiful and stylish things, Pat bought a rundown farmhouse a few miles outside Inistioge, tucked away off the main road on a small botharin with the view to creating his perfect home and studio. Over the years he bought the surrounding farm cottages and buildings, painstakingly restoring each one retaining the old farmhouse stone exteriors and converting the interiors into bright, spacious and chic living spaces.

In a time of uncertainty when so many hotels and restaurants are closing, the idea of setting up a boutique inn, in the depths of the lush Kilkenny countryside, could be perceived as insane. But that’s just what Pat did. Eighteen months ago, Ballilogue Clochán opened its doors to guests, offering a quiet retreat for adults where you can come to chill out and forget all your troubles. Autumn and Spring weekend photography courses run by Mark, who also helps run the inn, are the perfect inspiration for budding photographers or simply for those just wanting to try their hand at something new.

I chided myself upon arriving at the inn that I’d missed it during my research for Time Out. Somehow they managed to stay under the radar and I suspect this is due to those discovering it, did not want to share their newly found gem with others. It’s that sort of place. The peace and relaxed pace, combined with beautiful surroundings is what makes it the ideal retreat from the world and you worry that sharing it with others will change it.

However, having talked to Pat, I realize that he is a man of vision and passion and nobody could sway him to change what he has created. There is no desire to become something he is not and he is allowing it all to evolve slowly, in its own time. Perhaps this is something many places could have learned from during those tiger years, plant your seed, let it grow naturally and watch it turn into what it was always meant to be.

I could arrive everyday here and not tire of the welcome. A warm smile, friendly banter and then, the piece du resistance, homemade lemon cake and a pot of steaming tea. I was immediately struck by the ease at which everything was done in Ballilogue. No rushing, no stress, just genuine, warm hospitality all done with extreme professionalism, but without seeming like you were a paying guest. More like arriving to a friend’s house with Mark bustling in the kitchen making mouth-watering blueberry pancakes and Pat chatting away, putting you at ease.

Catering for corporates, individuals and groups, there are four rooms in the main house, two of which are spacious suites. A two-bedroom barn was our home for the weekend and we truly had no plans on leaving. Jack’s Cottage is a spacious three-bedroom house with its own garden, perfect for groups. The craft shop is located in a recently restored cottage, owned for more than 6 generations by the same family. The three rooms are little changed from what they were and the families belongings adorn the walls and shelves amidst more contemporary pottery, candles, throws and other “bits and bobs” made by local craftspeople.

There are plans for a few new additions. The one I’m most excited about being The Supper Club. While Mark cooks up a feast for breakfast, they don’t do dinners unless you take the house over for a group. This I will admit is a slight disappointment as once you arrive, you really don’t want to have to leave, although perhaps we’re just very lazy! However, they are hoping to start dinners on a Saturday night, where guests can gather together enjoy a few drinks in the glass atrium and then settle down to some good, home-cooked food. Seen as we spent half the weekend trying to lure Mark’s lemon cake recipe out of him, I’m thinking dinner will be something homely, delicious and memorable.

Whether you call it a retreat, a B&B or an inn you will never be entirely satisfied that it fits under this label, as Ballilogue is that little bit different from many of the places I’ve visited, and that’s something Pat and Mark can be very proud of.

ps – Mark if you read this Dan will never give up on getting your lemon cake recipe 😉

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