Whether a romantic break or, like Maxie Swain, an impromptu trip with your boy, chillin’ out at beautiful Redcastle should do the trick
The proud if slightly put-upon owner of three sprogs, I hope I know a thing or two about raising kids.
And I think I’ve identified the precise moment when ‘it’ happens; when they go from the biggest burst of sunshine in your life to the biggest pain in the backside.
And contrary to received wisdom, it’s not the onset of the dreaded hormones, the stroppy teenage years or their first day at big school.
It’s something more abstract than that, it’s this: the day they stop running like headless chickens to whatever destination it is they are headed.
So if your kids still get out of the car on the school run and charge hell-for-leather through the gates, then you’ve still got some room to breathe.
It’s when they slow everything down to a self-conscious walk that the trouble begins, because that’s the first symptom of maturity: the first tell-tale sign that the innocent abandon of childhood is fading — sadly — as vanity and self-awareness set in.
Thankfully, I’ve still got one child who much prefers the dash to the dander, but the other two have long since cooled on running around.
In fact my teenage son Max (15) has taken it all the way to its logical conclusion in the opposite direction, and no longer runs nor walks, but doesn’t move at all, lounging like a sloth in his lair all year round.
So imagine my surprise when it was he who jumped at the chance to accompany his aul lad on a mini-break to the gorgeous Redcastle Hotel in Donegal last weekend.
I entertained fanciful notions that it was good old-fashioned father and son bonding that was behind the decision. But deep down, I know rightly it was the wolf in his belly and the promise of a three-course banquet that swayed him.
In any case, it was great to spend some quality time, the two-hour drive from Belfast even allowing me the opportunity to show off.
“Well son, what do you think they’re drilling for?” I asked him as we passed some heavy duty Dalradian machinery.
“I don’t know, oil?” he hit back, pretty sure of himself.
“Gold,” I said, smugly, much to his astonishment. And then, as we swooshed over the River Foyle, the bridge relatively quiet on this lazy Sunday afternoon.
“Did you know that the German U-boats surrendered right here?” I asked.
“Nooooo, really?” he drawled. “Like, during the war?” he added, feigning interest knowing I’ve always been keen for him to inherit my thirst for knowledge.
Being of the TikTok generation, however, with the attention span of a newt, he considered it for a millisecond then returned to his phone.
One thing he definitely did take after me, thankfully, is my love of nature, and to that end, this trip was just the tonic, for nowhere does wildlife and scenery quite like this neck of the woods.
Redcastle Hotel’s biggest selling point is undoubtedly its location on the Inishowen peninsula, nestled beachside next to the Lough Foyle, but with some beautiful parkland to the rear, from which they’ve carved a pretty nine-holer.
Before we arrived, however, we took a short detour to nearby Burnfoot, with the hotel organising vouchers for us at the animal sanctuary, Wild Ireland.
The concept really appealed to me — the wildlife park has rolled back the centuries to a time before Ireland’s dense rainforests were despoiled by industrialisation; to a time where wild boars, brown bears and even the European lynx roamed free.
The enclosures here are rugged and natural, aping the kind of landscapes the animals might once have inhabited, albeit in miniature form, while the various winged, antlered, furry and four-legged residents here, all at one time native to Ireland, have been rescued from perilous fates around the world.
Back at the hotel, meanwhile, the clock was ticking on the main event, my 5pm date with Catherine, a beauty therapist and masseuse at the hotel’s spa.
I’ve never had a proper back massage before — and as I relayed to my son after, much to his amusement, I wasn’t even sure what the protocol is: do I take everything off, like EVERYTHING, leaving just the blankets to hide my modesty?
Well amid my confusion, as Catherine stepped out of the room to allow me to get up on the bed, I aired on the side of caution.
An overnighter in a Garda cell when I’m meant to be entertaining the young lad is not a good look so the shorts stayed on.
The massage was truly terrific in any event — whatever zen is, that was me, I was zen, drifting along on a blissful, higher plane, or something.
A few hours later, after the boy and I had spent an hour or so bathing in the pool and broiling in the sauna, we repaired to The Edge restaurant for a slap-up three-course feast.
My son hadn’t shut up about it all day, so I was praying it met his expectations, and I’m happy to report it did, and then some.
He has a great palette for a kid, and declared his warm smoked gubeen chorizo salad, with baby gems, sourdough croutes, parmesan and garlic dressing “the best salad” he’s ever had.
I never got share so I wouldn’t know, but I did get a slither of his medium-cooked chargrilled aged Irish sirloin with thyme-roasted mushroom, brandy peppercorn cream and triple-cooked chips and the stingiest spoonful of his cherry and almond financier, crystalised thyme and pistachio ice cream… every morsel delightful.
As for me. I wasn’t quite sure what I liked best, the food — Fivemiletown goat’s cheese, onion ash, roast beets, and fennel; pan-fried hake, saffron, mussel, buttered asparagus and smoked paprika; and the lavender and honey crème brulee — or the views in the restaurant where floor-to-ceiling windows make the most of those intoxicating views.
All that was left then, was a fabulous sleep — we left the windows wide open in keeping with the back-to-nature theme of our stay, falling asleep to the dull rumble of waves rolling ashore, the distant gulder of seabirds, cormorants, perhaps?
He may not whiz around at top speed like he used to when he was knee-high to a grasshopper, but he’ll always be my boy.
“I loved this wee trip, dad,” he said to me on our drive back home, my heart soaring.
Not nearly as much as me son, not nearly as much as me.
Redcastle Hotel is perfect for both family breaks and romantic getaways.
One of their most popular deals is the Redcastle minibreak: From €229 for two, it includes an overnight stay with a delicious three-course evening meal in The Edge restaurant, €10 spa credit (T&Cs apply), a glass of bubbly on arrival and a full Irish breakfast the next morning.
■ Visit: redcastlehoteldonegal.com
For sight-seeing and activities in the area, Redcastle Hotel recommends the following:
■ Wild Ireland
■ Inish Adventures
■ Wild Alpaca Way
■ Moville Shorefront walk; and ■ Five Fingers Strand Beach