Given the quirky times of Irish ferries, I had phoned to say I would be arriving about 10pm. But I was still berated when I turned up, and told how inconvenient it was. Rods, I was told, could not be taken into rooms.
"Any chance of a few sandwiches?" I asked. "Do you know what time it is?" he retorted. Tel- ling him it was 10.10pm was not the right answer. Well, maybe the fishing would be good, I consoled myself. After all, I had phoned to ensure I was coming at a time when the salmon were running, and had been assured that hundreds had already been caught that season. Little did I know that the figures he quoted referred to the whole river, not just the beats owned by the hotel.
A ghillie was compulsory. Irish ghillies are legendary for their friendliness, enthusiasm, knowledge of local fish behaviour and dry wit. Except this one, who was obviously a close relation of the hotel owner. I gave him the traditional bottle of whiskey, which he proceeded to drink - and fall asleep. Not a sign of a salmon, nor much else. It was hot, there hadn't been rain for weeks and it didn't take me long to realise that I had been kippered. But at least I had the claimed cordon bleu food to look forward to.
Supper was at 8pm. I wander- ed down at 8.15pm, And was told off publicly for being late for dinner. I shouldn't have bothered. Packet soup, tinned veg and overcooked meat. In such circumstances, drink is the only answer. "Would you like some wine?" the waitress asked. She seemed surprised when I said yes. I can't remember what I ordered but it was a bottle of white wine. It was at the table 30 seconds later. "It's not very cold," I pointed out on feeling the warm bottle. "You've only just ordered it!" she replied.
The food never got better, but there was one highlight with wine a little later in the week. I ordered a bottle of hock, and the bottle that arrived was patently not the one I had ordered. "Ah, but it's the same shaped bottle," the waitress pointed out.
The advertised sauna was full of builders' materials, the water was only hot if you got the fish bath, and "tackle room" was a wooden shed full of rats. Every night the bar closed sharp at 11pm and the lights were switched off "to save electricity". The fishing was awful, though I had some light relief by catching an eel while worming for sal- mon. Fishing hotels traditionally have a "salmon table" where the day's catch is displayed. I was amazed that on each day, one or two salmon appeared. Then I touched the fish, and found that they had been frozen and put out to make the fishing look better. As a small protest, I made an incision and pushed the eel inside the salmon, leaving only its head sticking out of the fish's bum.
The sad thing is that though this was an extreme example, it wasn't unusual for 1970s angling hotels to be inhospitable, cold and serving the sort of food that starving Eritreans would moan about. It's all very different now, I reflected last week as I sat down to a superb five-course meal after a day's trout fishing on Lough Corrib in Connemara. But there can be problems with even the best fishing hotels - as I'll tell you next week.Reuse content