Ireland: Go wild on an isle of your own
Inish Turk Beg is a private island off Ireland's west coast. It's also the perfect retreat, says Rob Sharp
Saturday 11 June 2011
Beyond the living room windows, a grassy hillside slopes down to the sea. In the middle distance, beneath the sinking sun, other specks of land glisten with white flecks of sheep. Behind them, the Atlantic Ocean stretches to the horizon.
The living room belongs to Nadim Sadek, an Irish-Egyptian entrepreneur, who sits beside me: well-built, gregarious, constantly smiling. He has reasons to be cheerful. He owns this house and the 65 acres of private island which surround it. Sadek, who made his fortune in market research, has made real what for many is just a childhood dream. He purchased this patch of land off the west coast of Ireland then spent millions developing it.
The island is Inish Turk Beg ("island of the small boar"), in Clew Bay, off the coast of County Mayo. Its varied landscape is everything a child might dream of: stony beaches, gorse covered hills, miniature crags covered in grass, myriad nooks within which you might lose yourself. Half of it has been left "natural" (though there has been artificial planting of ash, larch, oak and pine trees), the rest has been developed with state-of-the-art accommodation.
"I was travelling a lot and I was getting on a flight to Tokyo when my wife, Sandra, called and said there was half an island for sale," Sadek says. "When I landed, she said it was the whole island. I told her we've got to buy it, not knowing anything about how affordable it was."
When Sadek first set foot here in 2003, the island consisted of little more than a few run-down buildings. He has since spent millions laying power cabling from the mainland and shipping in concrete on barges which a local workforce has used to build roads and new foundations. He then employed London architectural firm Andrew Wright Associates to design a collection of modern buildings – homes with broadband and infinity pools, games rooms and televisions – which would not look out of place in a north London suburb. The comfortable accommodation brings a stylish feel to the operation; the views and seclusion combine for added drama.
Inish Turk Beg's nearest airport is outside the small town of Knock, from which the island's private minibus shuttles passengers to the coast. It was here that I'd boarded Ocean Potion, one of Sadek's private fleet of three boats, each of which can carry about a dozen passengers. In the spring sunshine, there was little wind to buffet me on the journey over, which allowed me to focus on the dramatic views of some of Clew Bay's crags and shores. The bay's largest isle, Clare Island, loomed out of the sea to the west. To the south towered the holy mountain of Croagh Patrick, where bare-footed pilgrims walk to its mist-shrouded summit every July.
Mandy and Johnny, two of the island's permanent staff, greeted me at the island's east coast jetty, where one of Andrew Wright's modern, "pavilion-style" buildings blends in with the clover peppering the grass at the bottom of a hillside. Inside, large windows cast light across modern kitchen and dining facilities, next to three bedroom suites. Outside, decking covered the same area as the internal floor plan. In total, the island can sleep about 25 people, split between this building and a collection of other houses a short drive away. All are located at the island's shores, and all have views across the bay or out to sea.
I jumped into one of the island's two cars – a Volkswagen Beetle with the personalised numberplate "Inish Turk Bug", and a Nissan Cube, "Inish Turk Box", which guests may use – and trundled up a private road. Mandy was driving, though guests are covered by the island's insurance if they wish to take a spell behind the wheel.
Within five minutes I'd reached the other patch of accommodation, crowned by Sadek's home – a modern villa that sleeps 13 in a sprawling complex of bedrooms, dining facilities, kitchen, and various patios for taking meals outside. The main house boasts yet more stunning vistas, this time towards Clare Island. I took a quick dip in the warm, solar-powered infinity pool, which felt particularly cosy, given its views of the choppy sea outside.
For lunch, guests can self-cater or enjoy pre-prepared meals. Since my time was short, I opted for the latter and I ate in the sunshine, enjoying tangy, satisfying fishy chowder, salad with buffalo mozzarella and peppers, followed by stodgy apple sponge with toffee sauce.
Sadek also has a sideline in selling the island's own brands of produce, many of which I sampled during my stay. A personal favourite was the Inish Turk Beg salmon, with its sweet honey roast enhancing the salmon's delicate taste. Meanwhile, the island's bacon is hand-trimmed, and has an instant shock of cloves and muscovado sugar in its flavour. I was shown to my bedroom in a separate building, just opposite Sadek's house, known as the "crafts house", so called because on the ground floor there is a crafts room, replete with paints, easels and jewellery-making materials. Above lay my small sleeping room (with ensuite bathroom), where I settled into a dressing-gown monogrammed with the Inish Turk Beg boar.
The following day, I took a walking tour of the island. First to the westernmost tip, where grass tussocks bunched together to make a naturally comfy perch on which to recline among tulips and clover. I spent an hour here, staring out to sea, disturbed by nothing except the island's perennially boisterous dog, Lucky. Further on, it was surprising how much the landscape changes in a short distance. Near to a sheep's paddock there is a stony shore, decorated with glistening, pearly shells and smooth, round pebbles. Another short walk away there are fields scored with potato ridges, left behind when farmers vacated the landscape.
For those after a more adrenalin-fuelled retreat, there are jet-skis, sailing equipment, canoeing, and water trampolines, stored in the stretch of island between the two accommodation zones. I had a go at clay pigeon shooting, as set up by Johnny, using a mobile launcher. Lucky's barking, no doubt, was the reason it took me several tries to score a direct hit.
Sadek has also used the island as a recording studio. A collection of classics such as Stevie Wonder's "Superstition", reinterpreted by classical Irish musicians, provided the soundtrack to my view of the sunset from the sofa.
As I departed, Sadek remarked that Inish Turk Beg has now become a "viable place of business". And after a brief spell losing myself in its blustery remoteness, on the short boat trip back, I decided that it could also easily become a viable home away from home.
Travel essentials: Inish Turk Beg
* The closest airport to the island is Knock, in County Mayo, which is served by Bmibaby (0871 224 0224; bmibaby.com) from Birmingham and Manchester; Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com) from Stansted, Luton, Liverpool, East Midlands, Bristol and Leeds/Bradford; Flybe (0871 700 2000; flybe.com) from Edinburgh; and Aer Lingus (0870 876 5000; aerlingus.com) from Gatwick.
* Inish Turk Beg, Clew Bay, Kilmeena, Westport, Co Mayo, Ireland (00 353 98 36957; inishturkbeg.com). Rental of the whole island, which sleeps 25, starts at €5,000, which includes breakfast. Rental of an individual house sleeping four starts at €400, or €2,600 for a house sleeping 13. Prices also include boat transfers to and from the mainland.
* Tourism Ireland: 0800 313 4000; discoverireland.com
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