Review: Gleeson’s Townhouse, Roscommon
‘Place on a plate’. It’s more than just a foodie catchphrase, you know.
Right now, Fáilte Ireland is campaigning to encourage Irish restaurants, bars, cafes and hotels to put local ingredients, producers and recipes up front on their menus. It’s all meant to engage visitors searching for authentic experiences as they travel.
I’m one of those visitors. That’s why, sitting in Gleeson’s Townhouse, I’ve just ordered the cheapest main course on the menu – a Roscommon lamb stew for €12.50.
Mary Gleeson, woman of the house, is delighted at my selection. Not only is her county famous for its lamb (Roscommon claims to have the highest lamb output in Ireland), but the stew is her very own recipe, and it has been cooked by her son, Eamon.
You couldn’t get much more place on your plate.
Earlier in the evening, I walked through the gates of Gleeson’s Townhouse to find Mary stoking a few sods of turf in a stove in the yard. She had also lit a few candles in little lanterns, illuminating an evening space strewn with flowers, birdhouses and chimes.
The restored 19th century townhouse itself, overlooking Roscommon’s Market Square, dresses up its thick granite blocks with swathes of ivy. Inside, a cosy reception area has fresh daffodils on the counter. Mary checks me in, handing over a big, old-fashioned room key.
It’s a family business, through and through. Mary and her husband Eamonn flit from room to room, checking on guests, keeping their cottage industry motoring.
Options at Gleeson’s include standard and superior rooms, and two luxury suites. I recommend the superiors overlooking Market Square. There’s a lived-in, luxury townhouse feel to their tall ceilings, old wooden dressers, leather armchairs, sumptuous scatter cushions and floral wallpaper.
Mine looks out on the front yard, which doesn’t turn out to be a problem noise-wise, and boasts a large bathroom with thick green drapes. The shower is a curiosity here (suffice to say, tall guests will have no problems getting their heads under it), and dispensers are stocked with Gilchrist and Soames soap. My only quibble, really, is that the Wi-Fi signal is weak.
Gleeson’s reputation is growing in foodie circles, and whilst the Manse Restaurant isn’t worth travelling for in itself, you’ll certainly eat well off its set and a la carte menus.
Lots of bases are covered here, from steaks to spicy stir-fries, grilled sea bass to chicken Tikka Masala and a roast joint of the day. The set menu offers soup, a Caesar salad or deep-fried garlic mushrooms for starters, a choice of five mains – with organic pork belly from Mill House Farm the most eye-catching – and tea or coffee with dessert for €25pp.
My lamb stew is great value too – a hearty portion swimming in rosemary and thyme broth, with carrots, potatoes and other bits of veg shoring up the fall-aparty chunks of lamb. It’s not a sexy dish, but it’s the kind of thing I’d love to see more of on Irish menus.
Gleeson’s offers an intimate townhouse stay, so don’t expect spas or swimming pools.
What you will find a few doors down from the old Presbyterian minister’s residence, however, is Gleeson’s food and wine deli. Irish farmhouse cheeses, home-baked ham and a takeaway menu of gourmet sandwiches for a fiver are the highlights here – it’s a super little spot.
What to do…
Lamb farming is a big employer in Roscommon – no surprise, then, to see next weekend’s lamb festival (roscommonlambfestival.com; May 2-7) returning for a fifth consecutive year.
“Lamb farming is in the blood of Roscommon farmers for generations,” Bernard Allen of Castlemine Farm tells me. Its distinctive flavour comes not only from farming expertise, he adds, but also the region’s geology. “In Roscommon, you’ll find lush green grass on limestone soil. The limestone gives the grass a sweet flavour; hence the lamb’s unique taste.”
The festival isn’t all about chomping baby sheep, of course. Farm walks, kids’ cookery workshops, craft villages and a family fun Sunday including a hand-shearing world-record attempt are all on the cards. Restaurants throughout the county will be offering lamb menus and deals, and you can even exchange your Euros for the festival currency, Roscommon Alternative Money (RAM)!
The bottom line…
Gleeson’s Townhouse is celebrating its 20th anniversary with two nights’ B&B and one dinner from €99pp, Sun-Thurs. Contact 090 662-6954 or gleesonstownhouse.com.
Anything to add…
If a lamb festival doesn’t float your boat, don’t fret! Roscommon’s medieval abbey is worth a peek, there’s a lovely looped walk around Warren Point on Lough Ree, and Baysports (baysports.ie) is a watersports centre offering everything from kayaking to currach rowing at Hodson Bay.
See discoverireland.ie/Roscommon for more on this unsung county.
This review originally ran in The Irish Examiner.
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