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To an Irish Manor Born on the Connemara Coast

September 17, 1989|VIVIAN RINGER and ROY RINGER | The Ringers are Malibu free-lance writers

LETTERFRACK, Ireland — The impulse that led us to this village on the west coast of Galway had its origins many hundreds of miles away in another seaside town--Villefranche on France's Cote d'Azur.

It was a cold, rainy Sunday afternoon when we met Anne Foyle at the checkout stand in a supermarche , where she was buying pates and cheeses as gifts for friends at home in Galway. Foyle told us she was flying home from nearby Nice that night after a monthlong cram course in French at the local equivalent of the Alliance Francaise.

Why French? "My brother, Paddy, and I have a small hotel in Connemara," she said, "and more and more of our guests are coming from France. One of us had to learn the language and, frankly, I'm a bit quicker at such things than Paddy."

The rain continued, and we fled to a small cafe down the street for coffee. "You might find yourself in Galway one day," Foyle said, "and could decide to pay us a visit. Why don't I dash back to my room and bring you one of our brochures?"

Most Tempting

We replied that our own time in Europe was drawing short and it was most unlikely that we would find ourselves in Galway. But she ran out into the deluge, holding a newspaper over her head, and was back in 10 minutes with the brochure.

The picture of Rosleague Manor Hotel, a pink Georgian inn overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, was most tempting.

Then we said our goodbys and left the cafe in opposite directions, certain that it had been an interesting encounter.

Three days later, Villefranche was still wet and blustery. We looked again at the color picture of Rosleague, which was in warm sunlight under a canopy of cumulus. At almost exactly the same instant, we said: "Why not?"

Letterfrack is a three-hour drive north of Shannon Airport, but the countryside along the main route, N-59, is really uninteresting until one passes through Galway City and reaches Oughterard. It's a fishing center on Lough Corrib that lies in the long shadows of the Twelve Bens and the Maamturk and Cloosh mountains.

Spectacularly Primitive

Afterward, the scenery is spectacularly primitive. The surging Atlantic invades scores of rocky inlets and most of the people live in stone cottages clinging to the precipitous hillsides. The only traffic one is likely to encounter are sheep straying across the road.

The only human presence is black-clad peat-cutters, gouging neat slabs of the fuel the Irish call "turf" with long spades from the dark upland bogs.

Connemara, the name for the west coast of Galway, is one of the last remaining rural retreats in Ireland where one may still find the grand old country hotels that were once the homes of aristocrats or the very wealthy.

The approach to Rosleague is through Clifden, the principal town of Connemara.

Set between the Atlantic and towering mountains, Clifden has two contrary distinctions--two lofty churches built in the early 19th Century and a proliferation of pubs along two main streets.

The barman in the Clifden Bay Hotel tells you that it was his pub and others that induced a once-storied tippler and soon-to-be-famous actor named Peter O'Toole to build his permanent residence on a hilltop overlooking the sea just outside Clifden.

Seven miles farther along on N-59 start looking for the Rosleague Manor sign on the left. The two-story structure lies at the end of a long lane through deep woods, on 30 acres of gardens above Ballinakill Bay. The town of Letterfrack is just out of sight around a curve of the bay.

Impeccable Style

Anne Foyle and her brother, Patrick, run the place with impeccable style. The Foyle family has had hotels in Connemara for more than 70 years. Anne and Paddy were born in the Clifden Bay Hotel, which they own and which Paddy's twin brother manages.

The rooms, many of them overlooking the sea, are comfortably spacious. All have baths and, happily, not one has a TV set or minibar. Nor are there room keys. A night latch on the inside of the door suffices.

Anne, who is responsible for the hotel's operation except for the kitchen, has kept the manor much as it was when it was built in 1820 by an Englishman who had made his fortune growing tea in India. Antiques are everywhere and the corridors are hung with large portraits in oils. Waterford chandeliers contribute to the Georgian atmosphere.

The hotel has only a small bar, which was full to overflowing before and after dinner.

On our first evening we met a Catholic priest who was said to be the most skillful salmon fly-caster in Galway, a local who was more than willing to contest the padre's claim, an importer of Scandinavian hardwoods from Liverpool and, shades of the past, a tea merchant from London.

Paddy, who apprenticed as a chef in leading Swiss restaurants and who later had places of his own in Acapulco, Cape Town and New Zealand, rules over the kitchen with such success that Rosleague appears in many European gourmet guides.

Four-Course Dinners

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