Glengarriff: 'We couldn't get enough of this family-friendly heaven on earth'
West Cork Wonders
Never underestimate the power of a holiday, even if it is only a short weekend away.
There is that feeling beforehand that you will never get there. The blind panic. Will you get your work finished in time? Hours later, none of that mattered.
We were on the road and, already, I could feel my shoulders dropping. Finally.
After all the checks of the stuff for the kids - nappies, bottles, pyjamas, oatcakes, Calpol and Nurofen, just in case. And a few bits and pieces for us. You'd swear we were going to the moon.
We remembered everything except cash. And then we discovered that there was no ATM machine in Glengarriff. At first we were in shock but we got cash-back in a local shop, so even that hurdle was overcome. There is no ATM in heaven.
My husband Inigo drove, while I pointed out cows and horses in the fields to the kids. We were going on an adventure, our first holiday in Ireland with the kids and our first weekend away with them. We had the music sorted, slightly, with Basque tunes. But then I remembered my own childhood family holidays in Ireland and the sing-songs in the car, with my dad singing On the Road to Mandalay.
The plan was to stop in Cashel, so we all sang It's a Long Way to Tipperary. Then we stopped in Cashel. In the family-friendly Fahy's Bar the delicious food came in no time, thanks to Caroline and her daughters, Vanessa and Rachel. The big hit was when the waitress gave the kids straws for their milk. Then we climbed some hills around the Rock of Cashel and had a 99 ice-cream.
And then we were back on the road. We went up and down mountains, so we sang The Grand Old Duke of York and then the new favourite, Come Down from the Mountain, Katie Daly.
The kids sang along; Sive composed a song about a Dacia Duster car and Telmo told us the make and model of every car which drove past us. Beady-eyed, isn't in it?
By the time we got to Glengarriff, the Eccles Hotel was a sight for sore eyes. It was close to the kids' bedtime, but that was fine. We had a room with a view, and what a view. If you did nothing more than look out at Bantry Bay all day, you would shed years of tension. We looked at the still water and men tinkering with their boats. Seagulls, stillness and silence. It was bliss.
This is where Pippa Middleton stayed for that wedding last summer. I bet she was blown away by its charm. We certainly were.
The Eccles Hotel is a beautiful old-style hotel. And the staff instinctively know how to look after their guests, with warmth but practicality. Breakfast the next day was produced within seconds, as if they telepathically knew that our kids were allergic to sitting still.
The kids were dazzled by the real chandeliers, and the real fire in the foyer. And in the dining room, Theresa and Margaret made sure that we were fed and watered sufficiently, so that we'd have energy for our family day out. More coffee was provided.
These women are warm Irish mothers. They chatted to us, clucked over us and generally minded us as if we were their own. I bet they were the same with Pippa.
We bought a beautiful picture book in The Spinning Wheel shop; a charming picture book all about a sheep, seal and puffin travelling in their camper van along the Wild Atlantic Way. We bought jumpers for the kids - which will be christened the Glengarriff jumpers - and then we went on a boat trip.
If you're going to see Garnish Island, the only way to see it is via the Blue Pool Ferry. Smack in the centre of the town, we laughed with Willie Harrington, the boat man who showed us the way. It was drizzling but what did it matter? We had learnt the mantra - no such thing as bad weather only bad clothes, so we were prepared.
On the boat, we went past the seals relaxing on the rocks - another first for the kids - and then onto the island. There may have been exotic flora and fauna - but for us it was a wonderland to tire out the kids, and the OPW keeps it in wonderful condition.
On the boat back, Willie kept his word and let our boy steer the boat, all the way. What a thrill. They gave both kids life-jackets to wear. These small things made the kids' day.
Then it was time for lunch in The Blue Loo pub, where we had scrumptious home-cooked ham sandwiches with soup. It was served with great speed. We ate outside on the benches and watched cyclists stop for a break on the scenic route. We even bought postcards to send to godparents and grandparents and some of our own, for the memories.
And then it was off to another playground with the kids. Still high as kites from the thrill of the boat trip, now they were trying to walk the tight-rope.
Then we headed back to the hotel, where the kids bounced on beds as we watched a bit of Fawlty Towers before dinner. And we gazed at the view - we couldn't get enough of this.
Dinner was a miracle. They found us a quiet spot where the kids could run up and down, and once again, the food came in jig-time; so speedily that I wondered if Becky, our waitress, had danced naked for the chefs. Everyone in the hotel has a wonderful, warm understanding of holidaying with kids. There was tomato soup, smoked salmon, beautiful tender beef and vegetables cooked to perfection.
This was Irish food at its best. And that's exactly what The Eccles Hotel is - Irish hospitality at its best.
Then it was bed, up early and the next day we hit the road early.
Pre-school was beginning the following day, so we stopped in Cahir Castle on the way home, with a picnic, and enjoyed the live music which was part of Heritage Week.
Back in Dublin, there were no moans about going back to Montessori, but there were tears for other reasons. "I want to go back to The Eccles Hotel. I need a weekend away."
As we listened to the kids' pleas, we smiled at each other.
Steeped in 250 years of history and situated in the quaint village of Glengarriff, overlooking Bantry Bay and Garnish Island, the Eccles Hotel (eccleshotel.com) in West Cork is a piece of paradise. Famous for its warm, welcoming ways, it is on a stunning stretch of the Wild Atlantic Way.
There are plenty of activities for all, including the Blue Pool Ferry to Garnish Island, or spot the seals and enjoy the unusual flora and fauna.
Enjoy a one-night escape package, including dinner and B&B from €185, based on two adults sharing. Family rooms from €215 per night. Autumn and winter specials available. Stay three nights and save 15pc.
Read more:Sheep's Head Stay: Explore the Wild Atlantic Way's secret peninsula
Sunday Indo Living