As the slogan says ‘the secret’s in the mix’ where Sligo Food Trail is concerned, and one outstanding part of that mixture is Temple House near Ballymote. This glorious Georgian manor is where Roderick Perceval was brought up and where he and his wife currently operate a Hidden Ireland Guesthouse and the family farm.
Growing up in Temple House was an idyllic childhood for the young Percevals; a heady combination of roaming the extensive acres, helping out on the farm (which he always loved), sailing on the lake and sliding with wild abandon down the huge wooden stair rail. All that freedom was left behind when the teenage Roderick decamped to boarding school in Dublin but regained with enthusiasm when the opportunity for a pre-college gap year appeared. The world was his oyster and he took full advantage, spending time in western Canada, New Zealand and Australia. In the land of Oz he tried his hand at agriculture on quite a different scale; working as a ‘jackaroo’ on a huge sheep and cattle ranch. Herding was done on motorbikes and the number of both stock and acres were positively mind boggling. Roderick revelled in the experience and it copper fastened his ambition to study agriculture formally.
He went on to study Agricultural Science at Aberystwyth on the beautiful west coast of Wales where he met his wife Helena, a Classics student at the same college. A lot of hockey, squash and tennis featured during his university days.
After qualifying Roderick spent a memorable six months working on a tea and macadamia nut estate in Malawi. The memories are still sharp; the sunsets, the hippos on Lake Malawi, the unforgettable warmth of the African sun. His face turns dreamy as he recalls the exotic scents of Africa, the soil, the tea fermenting in the factory and aromatic roasting macadamias. His contract over, Roderick literally put out his thumb and hitched south through Zimbabwe and South Africa. One hitching memory in particular stands out – in the national park outside Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, he got a lift from two Irish nuns. Roderick was heading for Victoria Falls but night was closing in, so the obliging nuns took him home. B&B at the convent was a welcome treat and he was back on the road the next morning, well fed and refreshed. It could only happen to a Paddy.
After the carefree exhilaration of ‘the dark continent’, Roderick set off for England, Helena and ‘real’ work. Based around Winchester and Salisbury he gained broad experience in farming and marketing, both of which proved invaluable when they returned to Sligo. In 2004 Roderick’s parents retired and he, along with Helena and their young family, came back to take over the business and Temple House itself.
Indeed the couple’s combination of skills is a winning one for running Temple House and farm successfully. Helena is a superb self taught cook and a natural organiser. Roderick has all the farming experience needed to manage the estate and 1600 sheep as well as the marketing skills so essential to keep Temple House in the public eye. Neither of them is afraid of a challenge, which is just as well given the tests involved in simultaneously managing, minding and sympathetically restoring a historic house of vast proportions. 97 rooms is more than enough to get lost in and the work involved in maintaining them is significant. The trick is to manage that elusive work-life balance and it’s clearly not an easy task. Roderick wryly comments that he manages 9 holes of golf the odd time but completing 18 is just a distant memory.
Roderick’s parents opened their family home as a guesthouse when he was a child. Hospitality comes naturally to him. Temple House is also available for ‘whole house’ rentals where parties take the entire house for a weekend or week. It’s the best of both worlds for guests – a private manor house with the added bonus of hosts who are ‘on site but out of sight’. It’s really no wonder that many groups return year on year. Paradise found perhaps? www.templehouse.ie