I hadn’t planned on being distracted from my book. Not until I landed at Shannon Airport. The Way it Was by George Pelikanos… George and me, we were going to get along.
But then I had never flown across Ireland with the summer sunset against a cloudless sky.
“We are nearing the coast of Wexford,” announced the pilot with the calm assurance of those who fly planes. “Our flight path will take us over Tipperary, where Nenagh and Clonmel will be clearly visible below the right side of the aircraft, then Ennis, the Shannon Estuary and onto Shannon airport. Enjoy the view!
Well, old Georgie P couldn’t compete. I dog-eared the top corner of page 42 and closed The Way it Was… it was the way it had to be.
The plane banked right, straightened, then and held a descent that opened a view up the Shannon Estuary, glistening like silver. I could see as far as Roosky, maybe even further.
I was still thinking about that view over breakfast, the next morning in the Atlantic Hotel, Lahinch.
The night before, summer’s gift had bestowed a long-west of Ireland-evening. The type that grabs retreating sunrays around the ankles until darkness pulls them free.
Late sun had encouraged me to drive slowly, or should I say, even more slowly than I normally drive. I collected a hire car from Budget. Nice spec too — Volkswagen Golf, metallic black, 012 reg, full electrics, brand new smell, tuned into Clare FM, fixed the seat and away.
“When is the longest day of the year, not the longest day of the year?” asked the DJ. It sounded like a trick question because there was still bright in the sky and it was gone 11pm.
I tried to solve the riddle en-route to Lahinch. I couldn’t.
Back in the homely dining room of the Atlantic View, I heard the noise of fork beating bowl and wondered whether it was Margaret, the waitress, preparing my scrambled eggs.
THUM, THUM, THUM, THUM, THUM… THUM, THUM, THUM, THUM, THUM….
“Roy Keane is in trouble over the football,” she had said earlier while handing me a copy of the Irish Independent…so I could read just how much.
We politely debated Keano and then got down to more real issues.
“Has the hotel washing facilities for dirty clothes?” I asked. “Gather them up,” she said. “And bring them down after breakfast.”
Later, I saw the bag being carried through the door of a house across the road. Persil Non Bio here we go.
Behind the house, a washing line and then the ocean, all turquoise swell and lapping waves.
It was less than 100 steps from the front door of the hotel to the sea wall. So close, you could stroll across after a bowl of cereal, look to see where the tide was, then stroll back in time for my breakfast Part 2…eggs scrambled, not fried.
THUM THUM THUM THUM THUM…
Margaret had given me directions to the Cliffs of Moher. “Back out the Ennistymon Road,” she said “And just follow the road around. You won’t miss them.”
The car wound its way like thread from a spool, pitching
and falling through drumlin country.
Up at the Cliffs, the parking area was busy with cars and buses. The drop-off zone in the visitor centre was busy with people but not so much cars. I cursed my leisurely breakfast. Then I cursed my longer after-breakfast nap.
Sod the car park. I drove back to the drop-off zone and buzzed the assist button at the security barrier, there to prevent lay people from parking in reserved places near the cliff edge. Presto, it inched it’s way upwards and let me in.
“Where are you going,” asked the security man, after the Volkswagen covered the runway of tarmac bridging no man’s land with infinity.
Was this another riddle?
“Park it in there,” he directed. “Tight to the wall…will you be long?”
The sea breeze blew into my face and a distant soundtrack teased my ears.
DRINNGGGGGG DRINNGGGGGG DRINNGGGGGG…music leaked down the incline as a token harpist strategically positioned near the first viewing point did her thing.
She could play too. But how do you enhance the Cliffs of Moher? You don’t. No-one could. Nature might. A storm would? But there was no storm today, only sun and smiling faces. Some grimaced though as they leaned into the incline and the wind, inching their way upwards, like the barrier, to the highest viewing point.
The first thing I noticed was the air. It was full and thick, flavoured with a hint of salt. I sucked in deep breaths, ones where you pull back your shoulders for leverage and exhale long.
Waves rolled in in sets. Steady, deliberate, erosive.
And the Cliffs! Boy they were something – tall, imposing, looming. The thought of being anywhere near the edge, frightening even. There was
lots of OOHS and AHHS and
MY GODS as people surveyed storm scars and sharp craggy edges. They snapped photos. Lots.
I cursed myself again for not getting up earlier and beating the default soundtrack of chatter and activity that filled this place of vast spaciousness. I should have got here when the car park was empty, before the harpist hauled ass and said musical instrument up that walkway to busker heaven.
I felt like I deserved some solitary in a place now overrun with pilgrims. Peace to enjoy the beauty. Patience that would encourage me to hang about a bit longer. But a glimpse had to be enough, I was out of patience.
I was no longer parked tight to the wall, but back on the road to Ennistymon listening to Clare FM and the afternoon show.
“Thank you caller,” said the DJ. “The longest day of the year is not the longest day of the year when it’s a leap year,” he said. He had taken up the baton and solved the riddle.
It was simple, the way it was, like Clare and the Cliffs and Lahinch.
Where to stay?
The Atlantic Hotel, Main Street, Lahinch
Tel: 00353 65 7081049
Ireland of the warm welcome is alive and well if the Atlantic Hotel is a yardstick to measure from. I’m not log-rolling here, it was sincere and far from the type of staged effort which hospitality staff often deliver routinely in the name of professionalism. Little wonder then that my stay was marked and enhanced by personal touches afforded to guests seated around me at dining and breakfast times.
As an aside – the breakfast is cooked fresh and tastes like it too. Too many hotels are embracing the buffet approach of stodgy eggs and metals bins loaded with sausages. Good economics. Bad practice.
If you choose to eat here for dinner — and you should — try the fish, any fish. As for the rooms, they are cosy, comfortable, clean and in keeping with the style of the old building.
The place has its own stamp, more guesthouse than hotel, but with the welcome of the former. The old adage that people really do make the difference applies, and the Atlantic Hotel gets enough of the big things right, that hospitality and a warm atmosphere is made to look simple.
Location wise, the hotel is within a stone’s throw of a blue flag beach where surfing is extremely popular. Give both a try.
How to get around?
Budget Car hire provide an excellent service out of Shannon Airport. Their staff at the terminal are extremely helpful and conscientious; there cars are clean, many are new and all are reliable. Budget offer competitive rates and the best endorsement – I will be using them again.
For more information log on to www.budget.ie
What to see?
The Cliffs of Moher
It’s one of Ireland most popular tourist attractions. The first tip, if you want to avoid crowds, is to get here early.
Once you do that, there’s a range of activities that make the attraction more of the experience it is now branded. A grass-roofed visitor centre set into the hillside features exhibitions and a 3D audio and visual tour of the cliffs that’s great fun but a no-go for anyone with vertigo.
Visitors have access to a choice of cafes and a host of souvenirs.
For more information go to www.cliffsofmoher.ie
What to do?
Surfing in Ireland has surged in popularity and don’t be put off by the cold water, a good wetsuit will keep you warm and Lahinch’s blue flag beaches are equipped to deal with cold weather conditions all year round.
There’s a host of hire opportunities but try Ocean Scene who offers lessons and cater for all ages and hire boards at reasonable rates.
For more information and to check out their live web came log on to www.oceanscene.ie