Monday, April 4, 2016

The Irish Tiger: A Visit to Ireland’s Oldest Family-Run Inn

Currarevagh Country House, in Ireland's Oughtergard region.
Photo: Courtesy of Currarevagh Country House

The first thing you notice is the tiger. It’s not what you’d expect in this charming inn on the secluded side of a lake in Ireland’s County Galway, but it’s the indisputable centerpiece, a majestic hide lording over the dimly-lit entry hall from its place on a double-height staircase wall just above reception.
“An uncle of my great grandfather shot it in India,” explains Henry Hodgson, the proprietor of Currarevagh House, in whose foyer we stand gaping at the exotic prize. “He wasn’t even a hunter; he was there as an officer during the Raj, and in a fairly big village. We figure it must have been causing trouble -- you know, going after people. So he shot it.” Having no use for it in India, apparently, the generous uncle shipped it Westward to his innkeeper brother, likely assuming that it might make more of a statement in the quiet Irish country. If our reactions are any indication, he was quite right.

Such are the legends that abound in an historic space, and Currarevagh, nestled against Lough Corrib in Oughterard, Co. Galway, is nothing if not historic. In the hands of Hodgson’s family (who first arrived in the area in the early 1600s) since 1842, it’s thought to be the oldest operating single family-run inn in a country where family-run inns are hardly scarce. It is at once nearly unbelievably quaint and singularly quirky. Each time I felt the need to pinch myself, fearing I’d become an extra in a storybook depiction of an Irish country house, I was met with a fresh kick of unique personality.

My family and I arrived at the house, for dinner, by way of a rambling dirt road, the distinctly European kind whose narrowness puts any American, accustomed to four lane highways and six-car garages, at instant unease. If it weren’t for several imperative signs of encouragement along the way, you’d think you’d veered off into a haunted forest to be swallowed by this old country. And then, in a flash of the quiet showmanship of nature so common throughout the countryside here, the forest thins to reveal  stunning lake Corrib, with green hillside rolling back to a stately ivy-covered abode. This is Currarevagh House.

Hodgson stands in stark contrast to the typecast stodgy innkeeper. Young, affable, and charming, he offers an instant comfort and a quick wit. He’s a jack of all trades, opening the door to greet guests and deftly slipping behind the reception desk, which also serves as a bar, to offer drinks. Once the dinner bell is rung, he dons a jacket to serve the meal, which he does in a manner at once gallant and friendly.

Of course, there’s the food. Prepared by Hodgson’s wife, who never makes an appearance on the public side of the kitchen wall, the inspired meals of Currarevagh are far from the beef stew and boiled potatoes so familiar here. Hipster proprietors of Brooklyn’s trending “farm-to-table” eateries would tremble with envy to see the meal laid out at Currarevagh. For starters, trout, sourced from the lake outside our window and protected by a conservation law that makes its sale outside of the county illegal. Cured in a citrus brine and buttery in texture, it was some of the best fish I’ve tasted. From that we moved to lamb, tender rump that was near smoky in its potent flavor. And then cheeses. Many, many cheeses. Piles of it, offered around by Hodgson on an enormous board.This was the most far-reaching course, with varieties hailing from across Ireland.
Post-dinner, coffee is served in the drawing room (from an antique, fire-heated glass pot) beside a crackling fire that’s not quite loud enough to drown out the sound of evening chatter, American and Irish and British accents mixing into one, beneath the ever-watchful eye of the Indian Tiger.

Currarevagh House
Co. Galway.
Tel 091 552312 

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