Tuesday 16 January 2018

Happiness all round in Wexford

SARAH CADEN

On day one of a recent holiday, we told the four-year-old that there was a playground at the hotel. "Is it like Wexford?" she asked. That's the gold standard, as far as she is concerned, and we couldn't blame her. So it was sunny in Italy, so what? It had been sunny in Wexford -- as they claim it is always in the south-east -- and the car journey had been no longer than the flight to Bologna. As far as she was concerned, Italy would have to work hard to impress her. She'd been to Wexford, after all.

Along with Cork and Kerry, the county of Wexford is one of those to which staycationers have always been drawn. If you live in the bottom half of the country, it's a relatively brief drive, which means minimal wails of 'I'm bored', and it has the honest promise of marginally better weather than the rest of the island.

We set off from Dublin late on Sunday morning, passing vast fields of rape and, increasingly, rural pubs and cafes filling up for Sunday lunch. Our stomachs began to complain, but we had a lunch reservation in Kilmore Quay and we assured the 'are we there yet?' passengers that it would be worth the wait. After that, we assured them -- though the younger isn't yet quite ready to appreciate the import -- it would be on to Kelly's Hotel, a heaven and haven for parents and children alike, together and, blissfully, apart.

After a slow drive through Wexford town for a bit of in-car lookabout, it wasn't far until the turn off for Kilmore Quay and the winding road upon which you first spot one thatched cottage, and it seems like an incredible sight and then, suddenly, they're everywhere. The older child got a long-winded explanation of what thatch is, when really she was happy with it being hay instead of a slate roof, like in the three little pigs. The thatches are gorgeous, and meticulously kept and they create a sense of being somewhere other that you don't often get two hours away from your own front door.

Kilmore Quay is a working fishing village, with a memorial to lost fishermen in the shape of a sunken ship, which makes a nice viewing point if you choose to walk along the water's edge from the hotel to the tip of the headland. There were throngs of people, the canny sort who have been holidaying in Wexford for decades and generations, in holiday homes and caravans and mobile homes, and then there were the locals and they all seemed to know what was what in Kilmore Quay. There were crowds sitting outside in the early summer sun eating fish and chips from Saltee's -- apparently, people come from far and wide for them -- and the playground was packed with families. Hunger and our reservation took us to the Crazy Crab first, however.

There's something of Cape Cod about the Crazy Crab. Maybe it's the simple decor, or the sense that the fish has come straight from the fish plant next door and no further, or the simple menu that is strangely uncommon in Ireland. Not to mention the rare good value for good quality food. And then to the playground, to swing small children in the fresh sea air, feel the breeze and appreciate your full belly and wonder why you'd go anywhere but Ireland on holiday. It's amazing what a squeak of fine weather and no sense of having been ripped off can do that to you.

Kelly's Hotel really clicked with us this time. We were there before, when I was pregnant with the second daughter, and still unaware of how different -- read difficult -- it is to have holiday down time with two children. And it clicked with us because we're now a family who want to have free time together, but we also understand -- all of us, we discovered -- the joys of being apart. The four-year-old made her first holiday friend, which was cute, until the friend -- who was only three -- met a boy at the post-kids'-tea disco and immediately dumped the daughter.

The toddler discovered the playroom and the rocking horse therein.

Neither really wanted to come back to us when we came to collect them after an hour apart, during which time, I'll confess, I did very little.

And there is a certain rhythm to a stay at Kelly's that really works for families, we knew that from last time. Breakfast is early, out of necessity, as is lunch. The meals for the kids are not served in the lovely surroundings of the Beaches award-winning restaurant, surrounded by Bill Kelly's incredible Irish art collection, but in the informal bistro, where you don't have a heart attack if they get down from their seat mid-meal.

In fact, the beauty of Kelly's is that you can actually encourage a bit of independence. As in, "Well, if you've finished your dinner and want a cone from the ice-cream man in the corner of the restaurant, then go and get one yourself."

The sun shone on our full day in Wexford. We walked a long, sandy beach and allowed the four-year-old collect as many shells as she wanted, firm in the conviction that she would keep them forever and we firm in our resolve not to disabuse her of this.

The baby loved Kelly's playground, which is built into the sand and utterly safe, as well as extremely well sheltered, so as you sit on the bench and supervise, you get a few sunny south-east rays.

The mini-disco, under the watchful eye of an original Debbie Harry print by Andy Warhol, is a highlight. Jedward is the finale, the under-fives love it and the over-fives then retire to the cinema room for a movie while their parents eat in Beaches. Those with small kids settle them in the newly refurbished family rooms, with local babysitters who are unfailingly sweet, and everyone's happy. Everyone. Which is key to any successful holiday, home or away.

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