This is a story about brilliant branding. It’s about Ireland, but it begins in Chile.
No eatery in the U.S. wanted to serve a fish with that name. But when marketers came up with the alluring but meaningless name, “Chilean sea bass,” the fish was on its way to fame and glory and millions of eager mouths.
It’s the power of good branding.
Several years ago, when I first traveled a stretch of Ireland’s rugged west coast, I thrilled to its savage beauty, from The Cliffs of Moher (the most visited outdoor site in the country), The Burren, a dusky karst surface that looks like the maria of the moon; the Maumturk Mountains, where St. Patrick dashed away the snakes, and the bowed bays and bites of Westport and Galway. But it never occurred to me to continue traveling north or south, or that anything stitched these sights together in a cohesive way.
But then some marketing virtuoso came up with the connecting tissue, and The Wild Atlantic Way was born and let loose to the world. It’s a 1600-mile route, winding from Kinsale in County Cork in the south to Malin Head in Donegal in the far north, seamed with lighthouses, abbeys, cairns, stone circles and golf courses along the way.
Many destinations have a signature tour. Morocco has its Royal City Tour; Ethiopia its Historic Route; Spain the Camino de Santiago; Peru its Inca Trail; Scotland its Whiskey Trail; Egypt its Aswan to Luxor cruise. Now, Ireland has joined the club with an almost immediately iconic tour that weaves a rope of many spectacles.
Resistance is futile, so I find myself back in Ireland, this time to travel a northern section of the west coast along what is now officially The Wild Atlantic Way.
Dublin, the main gateway to Ireland, is on the east coast, so it is a bit of a haul to the other side, and I decide to break it up with a stop at a little lodge in County Mayo owned by a friend and his family… Ashford Castle.
Walking through the vaulted entrance is like being swept into a palace inside a manor, inside a museum, in a castle. It is, one staffer boasts, “Europe’s first seven-star hotel.”
To get to my room I walk past a full suit of armor, with a rapier in one hand, a dagger in the other, looking as though he may step into battle at any moment, or just raise an arm, as in a hundred shows, from Abbott and Costello to Scooby Doo to Night at Museum. Above is a Belgian Val Saint Lambert chandelier, one of 130 hanging sprays that twinkle throughout. Then down a hall of fame (in some cases, shame), lined with pictures of guests past, Ronald Reagan, Brad Pitt, Fred Astaire, Barbara Streisand, John Travolta, Ted Kennedy, Tony Blair, Robin Williams, Jack Nicholson and John Wayne (he filmed The Quiet Man just down the road in the village Cong).
Pierce Brosnan got married here in 2001, and I send him an email (I took him rafting down the Colorado a few years back) boasting of coordinates, and he promptly emails back that he plans to return, as he will soon be making a film in Ireland.
My two-story bedroom is furnished with antiques, bespoke carpets, an Italian walnut bed, original artwork, a marble bathroom. I feel like a 13th-century king, except there are electronic blinds, USB chargers in the wall, and free Wi-Fi.