Delphi Resort on the Mayo/Galway border has come a long way since it first opened 30 years ago, says Tommy Barker.
SOMEWHERE between the middle of nowhere, and the back of beyond, and if you are very lucky navigating the wondrous, raw and rugged beauty of Connemara’s valleys and back roads, you might just find Delphi Resort, up from the Wild Atlantic Way and Killary fjard near the Galway/Mayo border, up along the rocky tumbles and falls of the salmon-blessed Bundorragha river.
And, if you do happen upon the Delphi Resort, you really, really, should stop off or stay put for a while, for a pampering personal detox (and, digital detox, there’s little mobile coverage or wi-fi and no TVs in bedrooms: hurray!).
You should also sample their nine-course tasting menus of local produce (lamb, oysters, scallops, mussels, pork belly, beef tongue), or opt for an alternative novena of courses for converted vegetarians that includes seaweeds.
Then, to break the spell just cast, try mountain biking in the woods, kayaking at Killary, cliff jumping by Westport’s beaches and caves, and especially sample the hair-raising zip-wire descents among the pine tree tops on the 300 acre Delphi estate, blasted by some of the freshest air in all of Western Europe.
That air quality is testified to by the abundant, hipster-like beards of lichens and mosses on the occasional copses and stands of broadleaf trees and, well, just by a incremental feeling of well-being that envelopes these dun valleys surrounding Delphi.
What started off life as a hostel 30 years ago, and which has since been visited by tens of thousands of Irish schoolchildren in the interim on school and Transition Year adventure days and weekend stays, has now matured into quite the well-upholstered adult…. much as many of its earlier visitors have too.
We most recently revisited as an empty-nest couple just a fortnight ago during a bustling, child-friendly mid-term, for a quick weekend blitz and bliss-out.
It was a third visit to Delphi over a large span of the place’s 30-year evolution.
Our first sojourn (to try surfing, long, long before its current wave of popularity) had been shortly after John B Keane’s play The Field was shot by Jim Sheridan in nearby Leenane village, featuring Richard Harris as the Bull McCabe, and the recently deceased John Hurt as Bird.
For nostalgia’s sake (after a gap of, say, 25 years,) we called back to nearby Leenane village for a pre-Saturday night Delphi dining experience for ‘a quick pint’.
We burst in after a day’s outdoor activities, to find the Leenane pub (Conroy’s) which had featured in that acclaimed film almost unchanged, even down to a local Bird-like ‘character’ sitting in a darkened corner, amid many black and white photographs of the heady days of movie making.
The fire was lighting, the pint was well-earned, and the young barman was welcoming. So Fáilte Ireland.
Departing, we quipped to the bar keep (born, he admitted, after The Field’s filming in 1990 last caused local excitement) that we hoped to call by again and say hello once more in, oh, another 25 years or maybe, hopefully, less.
He frankly said he hoped to be long departed. Indeed, unless you own the bar, farm mussels in the fjard, herd sheep on the hills, or work in Delphi Resort and teach some of the many energetic activities, there could indeed be long, quiet spells and little excitement over a long winter round these parts, once the magic of the Connemara scenery wears thin.
As if it ever could?
Things move slowly round here; that’s much of its charm, and that’s where a comfortably embedded venture like Delphi Resort scores so highly.
It excels in providing the contrast between the choice of indoor warmth, utter four-star hotel relaxation, scenery bathing and spa comfort, and then opting for high adrenaline, outdoor adventure buzzes if and when you choose to try any, or many, of the dozens of activities it lays on to showcase the wonders of its setting and natural environment.
There must be close on 20 different things to try out at Delphi, on land or in the water: a quick ABC might include archery and abseiling, a bog obstacle course or biking, canoeing and coasteering, and the mid-alphabet selection includes orienteering, hill treks, surfing and tunneling.
The A-Z finishes up with Zip‘n’Trek, and after a first (initially reluctant) experience — it’s not for the faint-hearted — or those nervous about heights.
But, like most adventure sports and interests, once you’ve tried it, you’re 90% on the way to being prepared to give it a second whirl: the initial fear is in the unknown.
Clueless as to what it entailed, our group of about 10 untested novices trekked up forest paths in gathering mist and rain to find ourselves confronted by a 50’ wooden tower, off which spun a web of ropes, wires, hanging bridges, a climbing wall section suspended up in mid air and a few other nasty bits of high-level larking about, with three zip lines in between.
Zip what? This is where you basically hook up to a wire overhead, and jump into thin air, confident (or, not confident) that the apparatus will guide you after a short, sharp burst of wire-guided missile speed, to a safe landing. On a platform — in a tree.
Or, in an obstacle course net. Whatever.
Now, I wasn’t keen, at all, at all. And, as it was raining, I sort of hoped the instructor would say the timbers which we had to jump over, clamber along, cling to and land on whilst 50’ up in the air were too slippery to be safe, and we could cancel, with my mature adult pride intact. No such luck.
The set-up is sort of fool-proof; the die was cast, we were roped up and wired in, had to climb and clasp and zip and soar.
The fact that the very first beginner to try was followed, in second place, by her precious eightyear-old daughter sort of took the macho and bravado element down a peg or two.
But, that daring eight-year-old had probably done zip lining before, in Tayto Park, those of us bringing up the rear reasoned. Mission accomplished, phew. Relief all around, pint earned.
An utterly active sort of place, Delphi at 30 isn’t likely to run to fat, but it has gone all ‘comfortable’, with four-star hotel rooms and suites, two restaurants, bar, spa and thermal suite with views up to the 814 metre high Mweelrea mountain range, Connacht’s highest.
Its spa is complete with seaweed baths, whose raw, iodine rich material is sourced locally from the scenic shores of Killary and its 16kms of ice-age, glacial erosion carved fjards.
(A fjard differs from a fjord by virtue of having its side less sheer or cliff-like than a precipitous fjord. That’s the sort of nugget you pick up while out an about with the knowledgable instructors.)
We were only 48 hours in Delphi, in all, and my missus had already found the reception staff ‘Lovely,’ the wait staff ‘Lovely’ and the guides all to be ‘Lovely.’ Dinner? Beyond Lovely.
On the Saturday morning, we went on a group kayak session for a few hours in Killary harbour (the river is out of bounds in fishing season) and our Scottish instructor Doug talked knowledgeably about the lazy-bed potato drills visible on the hill’s rises, and about the abandoned villages as remnants of the Famine.
Doug variously discoursed on the nature of mussel farming, the 50m depth of the fjord (sorry, fjard), the presence of otters and seals and what seaweeds you can eat, when lo! a bearded feral Billy goat, almost on cue, crossed over a stone wall boundary behind us.
As we kayaked paddled back to the pier, full of local lore and ready to pack up the paddles, herself observed, “He was lovely, wasn’t he?” “Doug?” I agreed.
“No, no, the wild goat,” she said. Ah, they’re all lovely.
Getting there: Delphi is a good four hours drive from Cork and Dublin and 80 minutes’ drive from Galway, amid sublime Connemara scenery.
See www.delphiresort.com for packages and rates.
Delphi Resort operates on several levels: apart from hotel and spa, it has a separate hostel wing for school and group tours, so still is in touch with its youthful roots.
The myriad activities are extra and range from €17.50/child/€25 adult up to €35 child/€50 adult for water-based activities and mountain biking lessons.
The spa offers a range of treatments, including a thermal suite visit, 25 minute massage, and seaweed bath for €69. That’s lovely, too.
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