2020 Staycation in Clare & the Aran Islands


We should have been in Italy last week. We had booked ten days in a campsite near Venice last January, our first family holiday to Italy. We were all so excited, it looked amazing, a family friendly campsite right on the beach with loads of pools for the kids, it looked like heaven. But then Covid 19 happened. And like so many other people, our flight was cancelled, and we had to go through a bit of a rigmarole with the holiday company, but eventually managed to transfer our deposit to next year for the same camp site. Whether or not holidays will be back in full swing next year is anyone’s guess, but that will be next years concern. But back to summer 2020. Both myself and my husband had worked at home and attempted to teach the kids all through the lockdown and while I completely appreciate that we were lucky to be able to do so, there was a certain level of exhaustion after setting in. While I love all things Izzy, and my business “Emma Larkin Books”, as well as enjoying my job, I really felt that we could all do with a change of scenery.

We started looking online, and having had a lovely short trip to Clare last Easter where we visited Bunratty Castle and drove around Loop Head, we decided that we would head back to Clare, but venture a bit further north west to Lahinch. We booked three nights in the Lahinch Coast Hotel & Suites. https://www.lahinchcoasthotel.ie/ It can be hard to find hotels or accommodation in general for big families, but the Lahinch Coast Hotel has family suites that sleep 5 or 6 and they are amazing. There is a bedroom with a single and a double bed, then a separate spacious room with a pull-out couch double bed and a kitchenette that has a microwave, fridge, crockery, cutlery and best of all, a Nespresso machine!

One-bedroom family suite in Lahinch Coast Hotel.

Once we had Lahinch booked, we had an idea, that as we were so close to Doolin, that we could get
the ferry from there out to the Aran Islands. I looked up accommodation on the Aran Islands on a
whim and found a beautiful campsite with glamping huts, Aran Island Glamping and Campsite on
Inishmór. https://www.irelandglamping.ie/ Availability was very limited but luckily for us, they had
the next day after our Lahinch three nights free. I booked it straight away and then booked the ferry.
Happy days, we were almost ready to go!
We had one last thing to do before we headed off and that was to prepare ourselves for the Atlantic
Ocean! Good friends of our had invested in wetsuits for themselves and their children and said it was
an absolute game changer. We headed into Landers in Tralee and followed their advice and got
ourselves kitted out. https://landers.ie/ A lot of people had the same idea, and there was a queue for
the changing rooms, but the staff in Landers were excellent and gave really good advice. The main
thing with a wetsuit is that you have to be absolutely literally poured into it! Which makes trying them
on a bit challenging. I had two of our kids with me in the changing room and excitement was high. Two
wrong sizes each later and we finally got them into perfectly sized wetsuits. I was sweating and a bit
stressed trying to get into my one but hallelujah, the size I had picked, fitted me, so I didn’t have to go
through the drama of squeezing into it twice!
In addition, my husband and the kids got body boards in Landers also, and these would prove to be a
huge hit.
The weather forecast wasn’t great for the few days we were heading off so we packed up the car,
leaving out the shorts and t-shirts but trying to pack for every other eventuality in an Irish summer,
rain, mist, sleet, etc!
Day 1 arrived. We headed off on a Sunday after lunch to Lahinch, from North Kerry which is just over
a two-hour drive. We checked in to the Lahinch Coast Hotel. First impressions were particularly good.
Lovely lobby area, check in was prompt and the receptionist explained all the new Covid procedures
really well.

Lobby at the Lahinch Coast Hotel

There was also a big carpark with loads of spaces. We headed up to our room, a one-bedroom family
suite. As I mentioned above, it was brilliant, loads of space and brilliant to have the kitchenette for
breakfast and snacks, etc
We quickly headed for a stroll to explore, rain jackets on, as there was a misty rain falling, but to our
surprise, when we headed outside, the rain had cleared and we had a lovely walk on the magnificent
beach. The misty rain was to turn out to be a feature of the holiday, and maybe its unique to West
Clare but one moment it can be cloudy and misty and then it rolls away and the day is lovely!

Windswept on Lahinch beach!

We headed back to the hotel after our walk where we had decided to eat on our first night, and
perhaps explore other local restaurants over the next few days. The Aberdeen bar in the hotel was
great, lovely décor, prompt and friendly service, tasty food including the kids menu and lovely ice
cream desserts that went down a treat with the kids!

Aberdeen bar at the Lahinch Coast Hotel

Kids dessert at the Lahinch Coast Hotel

Kids dessert at the Lahinch Coast Hotel

Day 2, we had breakfast in the kitchenette. I had brought basic food stuff with us, cereals, fruit, etc,
and we picked up milk and bread in the well-stocked Centra which is literally a 2-minute walk from
the back door of the hotel, so handy. Breakfast is available in the hotel also, but we had booked a
room only rate and decided to just have quick breakfasts in the apartment.

Back door at the Lahinch Coast Hotel

The kids were bursting with excitement to try out their body boards on the famous Lahinch waves.
We had taken them to Ballybunnion beach the day before we left for our holidays and they had all
fallen in love with bodyboarding. So the morning of day one, we began the putting on of the wetsuits.
This is not as simple as just “putting them on” and is one of two downsides that I can see to wetsuits,
the other being drying them in a hotel bathroom! But trust me when I say that the good points
outweigh the minor negatives. We helped the kids into their wetsuits, which is not too bad as theirs
are short ones. After repeated questioning by me as to whether toilet trips had been made before
putting on the wetsuits, and low level complaining from them about being choked around the neck,
we had the kids sorted. Then I squeezed into my own wetsuit, my calves seeming to have doubled in
size overnight when faced with the tiny leg openings in the wetsuit. Then to the biggest drama of all,
himself. He had spent the whole time I was getting the kids sorted, trying to get into his own wetsuit
on and was by now half dressed but fully and I mean fully convinced that he had pulled a muscle in his
back. A trip to whatever equivalent of South Doc exists in Clare was flashing before my eyes and the
holiday ruined, but lo and behold, like Lazarus, he rallied, and the “phantom” injury was no more. At
last we were all ready and off we headed. Picture the scene now, all of us in wetsuits (I even got the
special boots as my toes go numb in the water) and a body board each and we walked down to the
promenade (3 minute walk from the hotel). There was a small sea mist but that didn’t deter us in our
trusty wetsuits. However, what did start to deter us as we walked along the promenade and this was
something that we had not known in advance and I think might be a top tip for people going to Lahinch,
and that is that the tide was in. And when the tide is in in Lahinch, THERE IS NO BEACH! As in, the
ocean is crashing onto the rocks!

Lahinch beach with the tide in – NO BEACH!!!!

There was the tiniest sliver of sand way further down the beach, but this was the surfer area and it
was so busy with surfers, there was no way we could have safely put young kids on body boards in
there. A quick check on the phones for tide times indicated that the tide wouldn’t be fully in until 12
midday (why didn’t we check this before we put the wetsuits on!). So we reluctantly informed the kids
that there was going to be a change of plan, that we would have to wait till the afternoon to go body
boarding. Much moaning ensued as we walked back to the hotel and took off the wetsuits (thankfully
this is slightly easier than putting them on). But they bounced back admirably, as we headed back to
the promenade and got them fabulous milk shakes and lovely coffees for us in O’ Looneys and headed
to the playground for a while. A quick chat with the lifeguard followed who indicated that the ocean
would be off the rocks by about 3 o clock.
So we got rolls for lunch in Centra, had them in our apartment and then repeated the wetsuit
Back to the beach for just after 3 and in we all went with the bodyboards. And let me tell you, it was
worth the wait. The waves were not huge but just right for kids new to it. They had a ball. And the
wetsuits are, as was promised, an absolute game changer. There is no shivery, oh my god this is so
cold feeling! I suffer from Raynauds syndrome where my toes and fingers go numb if so much as a puff
of cold wind appears near me, but my toes didn’t go numb in the water with the wetsuit boots. I was
amazed. Our ten year old and my husband must have spent the bones of three hours in the water
bodyboarding. So much for the pulled back muscle.

Bodyboarding on Lahinch beach – note lack of pulled shoulder muscle!

The younger two came out earlier and spent the rest of the time digging on the beach and going in
and out of the water. At the end of the three hours, I was cold, but this was an unbelievably long time
for me to have stayed out on a windy day by the beach. The 6 year old was shivering a bit but the
other two and my husband were fine. They had the best day. I really felt like “who needs Italy!”. Here
we were on a typical Irish July day (not that warm, a bit windy, bit of sea mist) but they had more fun
that they’ve ever had on a beach in Spain. Thank you wetsuits, body boards and the Wild Atlantic Way!

Beautiful Lahinch beach

We ate in the hotel again that evening as we tried several pubs in town serving food, but all had a wait
list and you couldn’t book in advance. We weren’t in the mood for waiting, we were all in starvation
mode after time spent on the beach. The kids were quite happy to eat in the hotel again they loved it,
as were we.
Day 3 and our final day in Lahinch. I got up early and headed for a run on the beach. I had been looking
forward to this. My husband had gone for a run the previous day and today was my turn. I wasn’t
looking to run fast, just to get a nice easy jog in and enjoy running on the beach. From the start of the
beach to the bridge where the river comes in is just under 2.5k so I ran over and back, and got my 5k
in. As I ran, I was looking at the sea and the people swimming longingly. Two years ago we went on
holidays to Tenby in Wales during the great heatwave of 2018. I used to run on the beach in Tenby in
the morning and then dripping in sweat, run into the water, and it was the nicest feeling ever! I
repeated this in Spain last year, again in very hot weather. Running on the beach in Lahinch at an easy
enough pace, I wasn’t sweating that much and the temperature wasn’t high, but I still had this urge to
run into the water. So I kicked off the runners and socks at the end of my run and in I ran. I’m happy
to report that it was still amazing. I really think it must be up there with my favourite things to do, run
on the beach and then into the sea. I don’t even really swim properly when I go in, it’s just the feeling
of the salt water. And it just doesn’t seem as cold when your body is warm from the run.

Me after my morning run and swim (more of a quick dip) in the Atlantic ocean!

The weather forecast for the day wasn’t great, heavier misty rain, a variation on the mist theme. So
we had booked the night before to go to the Cliffs of Moher which is only 15 minutes by car from
Lahinch. It is best to book in advance for the Cliffs of Moher as they have to limit numbers due to Covid
19 regulations, but you can choose from three time slots. We picked 11am-4pm and we could turn up
anytime in between. I was really impressed with the Cliffs of Moher. It has really evolved since the
days of our school tours which I remember as just getting out of the bus and looking at the cliffs and
at one or two mad people lying on the ground with their head over the edge. Thankfully, there is no
more putting your head over the edge. As the mother of a 6 year old who can still bolt on occasion, I
had looked up the website in advance https://www.cliffsofmoher.ie/ and was delighted to learn that
there is 800 metres of safe walkways.

The visitor centre there is also a lovely addition. It is built into the earth, so it doesn’t take from the
landscape and its really state of the art with lots of interactive stuff for the kids as well. The cliffs
themselves are of course stunning and the views from O’Brien’s tower are magnificent.

The now familiar sea mist was there this morning so we could only see the outline of the Aran Islands
but even with the mist, the views were good.

We had seen signs for Moher Cottage and had passed by it on our way up to the cliffs.
https://mohercottage.com/ . The sign said that it had been voted Ireland’s best coffee, so I was
determined to call there! The coffee was so nice but Moher Cottage is even more that that. It has
lovely fudge, hot chocolate, little gifts. It has beautiful views and in my opinion is a must on any trip
to the Cliffs of Moher.

Moher Cottage!!

We then headed back to Lahinch and had our lunch in Kenny’s bar. https://www.kennysbar.ie/The
kids and ourselves were fascinated by all the framed posters they had on the walls from surfing
competitions, they are all like pieces of art in themselves. Food and service there were excellent, I
would highly recommend. Then back to the beach for more body boarding (having checked the high
tide times!).
Surfing is big business in Lahinch. Its not a sport that I know much about but it was fantastic to see so
many kids and adults getting lessons. I couldn’t believe the amount of people surfing. I shouldn’t have
been surprised really, Lahinch is such a big surfing town, but it was great to see, and its something I’d
like to try with the kids when they are a small bit older. For anyone who is interested in lessons when
they are in Lahinch, the hotel we stayed in has lots of information on surfing lessons and there are
several surfing schools in Lahinch.
Day 4 and we were up early, breakfast in the apartment and on the road by 9am to get to Doolin for
our 10am ferry crossing to Inishmór in the Aran Islands. Doolin is only 20 minutes from Lahinch but
we got there early to check in for our ferry. I was so excited for this trip. We had booked
accommodation in a glamping hut in Aran Island Glamping and camping.
https://www.irelandglamping.ie/. And we planned to hire bikes and explore the island. I had been
here once before as a teenager on a family holiday and my memory of it was that even as a moody
teenager, I had enjoyed the cycling and that the island was beautiful. I couldn’t wait to take my own
kids here and my husband had never been.
So we started queuing for our ferry at about 9.45am in the what else, misty rain. But it was cold as
well and there was a wind blowing. The sea looked choppy and I’m not a great sea traveller and neither
is our ten year old but we were hoping for the best, it wasn’t that long and the ferries are very modern,
etc. Time ticked by and it appeared that we were going to be a bit delayed. Dear reader, two hours
later we were still on that same pier! There are two ferry companies that operate ferries from Doolin
to the Aran Islands and I won’t mention which one we had booked with as its not the fault of the guys
working there that morning who were all lovely to deal with. But what seemed to have happened was
some form of inspection of the boat, and for whatever reason, the ferry ended up being cancelled,
just before 12. By which stage, my fingers were so numb I could not move them! I was so cold, the
kids were bored and fighting and I was convinced they were the loudest children ever put on this
earth, but we kept being told, it would probably be sorted soon and we’d be on our way. So everyone
stayed queuing and time kept ticking. I felt like crying when they said it was cancelled. Two hours in
the cold and my dreams of a lovely stay on Inishmór were vanishing before my eyes. Again, I’m not
blaming the ferry company, they were lovely and we were just unlucky on the day I’d say. So my
husband, ever the quick thinker, went straight to the other ferry company and said are you sailing to
Inishmór later on. And thank our lucky stars, they had a ferry going at 1pm with room for us on it, but
it was stopping on Inishóirr (the smallest island) for 2 hours before going onto Inishmór at 3pm. I think
most people from our ferry, I hope, did get sorted in one way or another. So we sat in the car for an
hour, looking at maps and realised that this was actually working out great, yes we had lost a few
hours, but now we were going to see Inishóirr as well as Inishmór, which was an unexpected bonus.
The ferry was great, breezy but we were outside and the kids loved it as it flew over the waves. No sea
sickness to report. And then just fifteen short minutes later, the sun came out as we landed on Inishóirr
and my god was it magnificent. It’s funny the way things can work out sometimes for the best and I
was so glad for our detour. Inishóirr has a beautiful sandy beach near where the ferries dock, like a
tropical paradise with turquoise water, unbelievably beautiful.

Inishóirr pier – look at the water, look at the beach!

We were all starving at this stage so we headed for lunch in Tig Ned https://tighned.com/index.html,
which is really close to the pier.

Really nice food, lovely bar, paninis all round and a cajun chicken salad for me. Just what we needed.
We only had half an hour or so left, so we went for a quick walk and had a better look at the beautiful
beach. It is such a lovely island, and one I hope to return to for a longer time on another visit.

Quick walk on Inishóirr

Inishóirr with Inishmeain in the background

On we went on the next part of our adventure as the ferry came back and picked us up and took us
on for a further twenty-minute journey to Inishmór. We went straight to Aran Bike hire
https://aranislandsbikehire.com/ which is really close to the pier. I had emailed them in advance but
there was no need really as they have loads of bikes. They have a really great selection and loads of
helmets. So we all picked out bikes, mine with a snazzy basket in front (top tip – get at least one bike
with a basket, great for carrying around water, snacks and jackets) and cycled for approximately three
minutes to our glamping pod at Aran Glamping and Camping. We had left most of our luggage in the
car in Doolin ferry port (parking is €5 there overnight), and literally just had one backpack each with a
change of clothes and toiletries so cycling with the backpack was no problem at all. Our glamping pod
was everything I thought it would be and more.

Our glamping pod!!

The campsite is picture perfect, so clean and tidy and right on Frenchman’s beach.

Frenchman’s beach – just across the road from the glamping pods

The kids straight away took out the one ball they had brought and started kicking around and then
cycling around on their bikes. They, and us loved the campsite atmosphere. The glamping pod we
were in slept 6. There is one bedroom with four beds, two of them are bunk beds.

And there is a sofa bed in the living area that has a pull-out bed under it also. There is a kitchenette
with fridge, kettle, microwave, glasses, crockery, cutlery, a small table etc. And two outdoor chairs
We were all excited to get back on our bikes, and it was around 4pm now so we decided to explore a
bit of the island that evening and leave the longer cycle to Dún Aonghasa to the following day when
we had more time. We cycled approximately 12k that evening in total in the direction of An Tra Mór.
We saw several beaches, the football pitch, the airstrip and An Tra Mór which is as it says on the tin,

Football pitch on Inishmór – wow

Airstrip on Inishmór

An Trá Mór

The kids were fascinated with all the rabbits in the sand dunes and loved spotting them and all the
burrows. The cycling was great, and is, in my opinion, a brilliant way to explore the island, but I’m not
saying it wasn’t without its challenges with a six-year-old! The older kids were fine, but my heart was
in my mouth with our youngest at times. There are cars on Inishmór, residents only, no tourists can
bring cars over. There can be a lot of cars, especially at ferry time around Kilronan, the main village,
and we did spend a lot of time, roaring is the only way to describe it really at him to keep left and keep
in. First he kept stopping every time a car passed, so we had to tell him that he could keep pedalling,
just to “keep left and keep in” which I swear I was hearing in my sleep that night I said it so many
times! It was also his first time cycling a bike with gears, which he was of course delighted with, but
trying to teach him to change gears to go up a hill, again wasn’t without its challenges. One of us was
constantly shouting gear 1 or gear 2, then when we were going downhill, gear 4, gear 5!
My nerves survived the cycle, and there were some lovely bits of it too and we headed back to our
glamping pod, freshened up and headed to Joe Watty’s pub for our dinner. https://www.joewattys.ie/

This was another delightful spot and fair play to them; they were completely adhering to the new
Coronavirus procedures. I appreciate how hard this can be on staff and well done to them, they were
brilliant. We had a lovely meal here and headed back to our pod where the kids were absolutely high,
the bunk beds proving a big hit. We already had had protracted negotiations over the occupants of
the two top bunks earlier in the day so at least that was done. But still sleep took a while to come to
them, so myself and himself had a night cap out the front, looking out at the ocean. There was of
course roaring in the background but we’ll take it.

Our last day dawned and after a lovely breakfast roll and coffee from the Spar in Kilronan, we headed
off on the high road for Dun Aonghasa. We didn’t realise it was the high road (there is a high road and
a low road, a loop of sorts), but we knew it soon enough and nerves were again tested by getting the
youngest up the hills. Every type of motivational speaking and coaching technique was used and
sometimes my husband even resorted to physically pushing his bike and eventually we got him to the
top of the hill. I thought the worst was over but I wasn’t prepared for the first downhill. To cut a long
story short and my nerves are still not the better of it, the six year old and his older brother did their
best evil Knievel impression and by the grace of god alone, got down the hill in one piece. The roaring
from me to keep in was heard all the way over in Doolin I’d say!

Children getting a stern talking to from me following extreme speed on a downhill!

Shortly after that, we arrived at Kilmurvey Beach. Wow, wow, wow. I wasn’t expecting such a beautiful
beach. We had seen amazing beaches on Inishóirr and the other side of Inishmór, but this was another
level. A blue flag beach, there was no one on it except the lifeguard, and the sun was shining. We
parked the bikes and walked down onto the sand.

Kilmurvey beach – wow, wow,wow

Oh for some swimsuits and towels. But it wasn’t that kind of day, we hadn’t even expected the sun to
shine so the weather was a bonus. We spent a while at this amazing beach and then cycled on another
short while to the foot of Dún Aonghasa. There is a big bike park here, a really cute icecream/coffee
shop and an Aran sweater shop. I had my eye on the ice cream shop but we decided to walk up to Dun
Aonghasa first and use the ice cream as bribery if needs be. Its about a 1km walk up hill, and parts are
a bit rocky especially at the top, but its not a bad climb. Any age smaller than 6 might struggle in parts
and no way would a buggy get up there.

Walk up to Dún Aonghasa

The fort and the view at the top is magnificent but be warned, its an unprotected cliff edge! I was
holding onto our 6-year-old like glue and wouldn’t let him go. And I wouldn’t let the others go
anywhere near the edge. There are some signs going into the fort about the cliff and maybe I’m a
nervous Mom, but I feel that it could do with a big huge “DANGER HERE- UNPROTECTED CLIFF EDGE”
sign. Just to be clear as to how open it is! Also, maybe a little more in terms of information about the
fort. As it is amazing and so old and we really marvelled at how they could have built it. It’s the most
narrow part of the island and when you are up at the fort, you can see the ocean on both sides of the
island, it really is stunning.

View from Dún Aonghasa- don’t let go of your small child’s hand!!

The downhill part was easier and then into Paudy’s ice cream shop we went. Really nice ice cream and
coffee there, we sat in the sunshine and ate and drank and then headed back on the loop on the (much
easier) low road.

Low road – much calmer!

White horse on the low road

We passed the seal colony on the way back, we just saw one seal bobbing his head out of the water
but the kids were happy with that. At the end of the loop is Joe Wattys pub where we had eaten the
night before. We went in there for our lunch/dinner as we were getting the 4pm ferry back to Doolin
and were a bit tight on time at this stage. Another lovely meal was had, then we collected our bags at
the campsite office, dropped off the bikes to the bike hire place and walked over to the pier. Our
adventure was coming to an end.
The ferry back was thankfully on time and uneventful. We had to wear masks as we had on the way
over. We arrived back in Doolin shortly after 5pm, called in to see friends of ours who were camping
in Doolin, and then headed for home.
This has turned into a longer piece that I had initially planned, but I really feel the need to wax lyrical
about how lovely this holiday was. It has definitely converted me, and I won’t be so quick to jump on
a plane in the future when there really is so much to see and do in Ireland. But a word to the wise, buy
the wetsuits!

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