Spiddal Co Galway: Making family memories that will never fade
It'll be hard to remain objective writing this travel feature. During just one day of my week away in Spiddal, my 13-month-old finally cut his first tooth, my four-year- old learned to body-board at his first attempt, Katie Taylor won a gold medal and that other elusive golden disc, the sun, made a welcome appearance.
They say we're going to be asked in years to come where we all were when Katie won gold. Out in the fresh air on beautiful Blue Flag Bearna beach with my family in 25 degree sunshine isn't a bad answer. It sure beats seeing her in your local, squished in front of a big screen with your view obscured by someone toting an inflatable tricolour banana.
We stayed in Spiddal Holiday Homes, one of Trident Holiday Homes' many destinations around the country. We have two kids under five so when we arrive at any accommodation we immediately have to check if a place has got its SHT together. That stands for the Holy Trinity of Stairgate, Highchair and Travel cot, which need to be on hand to keep a teething one-year-old at bay. And if a place ain't got SHT then it's probably... not very good.
There were no such worries in Spiddal as caretakers and partners-in-life Christy and Claire Niland had everything at hand. They've only been caretaking since February and live 'two roads up' so they're steeped in the community and a font of knowledge.
The white painted houses were built in the 1990s in the old vernacular cottage style, but are comfy and well equipped. The other gold standard for parents is a washing machine and dishwasher -- which are standard in Spiddal, saving the drudge of a communal launderette. Realistically, Nick Kamen in that Levi's 501 ad was the only one who could look at ease in a launderette.
We stayed in Brittany in May in one of those sickeningly efficient French holiday parks with Olympic standard water parks and a terrifying array of kids' clubs teaching them everything from cycling to swimming. When we asked our eldest Ethan which was better he said: "Galway! Because there's a playground right outside the door!" The cottages are built around a green space with a playground in the middle so there's a great sense of autonomy for kids who are able to leg it out the front door to go playing.
Spiddal also has tennis and basketball courts and a games room with table tennis and table football. I'm afraid the only pool on site is the game you play with a cue, but there are some amazing beaches in close proximity. In Spiddal, there are two beaches including the Blue Flag Ceibh an Spideal and Bearna's Blue Flag beach Silverstrand.
Trident now manages some holiday homes on the grounds of hotels with access to pools including Woodstock Demesne in Druid's Glen and Fota Island in Cork.
Our little fellas got lots of fun out of following the two resident hens and there's also a Shetland pony and foal in the neighbouring field that are very popular.
Claire and Christy try to balance the reservations so that the families are on one side surrounded by the playground and older couples are at the other end. There are many loyal customers such as a German who comes every few years, and always requests house number 5, because he can see the Cliffs of Moher.
The Spiddal complex is popular with French tourists, who love the Connemara vibe. Travel operators in France have put together ferry and accommodation deals that are proving to be a big draw.
Spiddal itself is bustling this time of year, and not just from tourists. The Ros na Run crew is back in town as the set is located there.
The movie and TV industry is big business in Connemara. Caretaker Christy also does work location-spotting and he's just finished working on the new Aidan Quinn movie Stay and previously worked on hit movie The Guard. In fact, if you stand still long enough in Spiddal you'll probably get roped into being an extra on something.
Christy spent a day driving a van full of turf on the Ros na Run set when I was there.
There's so much movie work going on here they should really rename the place Gallaiwood!
Pubs like famous trad pub Hughes are well known watering holes for casts and crews.
Brendan Gleeson could be found in Hughes indulging his passion for traditional music during the filming of The Guard.
Galway city is only 15km away and is a Mecca for kids, with the Salthill prom being a good first stop. The randomness of Galway means that there's a 70ft replica of the Titanic 'moored' there right now. This was built in Laherdane, the Mayo village that lost many of its inhabitants on the stricken liner.
There are the Perks amusements in Salthill, as well as Leisureland and the lesser known National Aquarium, the Atlantiquarium. My little salty sea dogs had a ball there, fascinated by exhibits like the splash tank that simulates ocean waves, and also Alvin the submarine. There's a massive ray pool where fish come right up to be petted, especially around feeding time. (They're harmless!) The touch pools upstairs, where children can handle spider crabs and starfish, were also fascinating. The aquarium also has the 5,500-year-old Bearna dugout canoe on display, so there have been surfer dudes hanging out in Galway for nearly six millennia!
It's also worth venturing into Connemara from Spiddal. An hour and a quarter's scenic drive takes you to Kylemore Abbey which is now a buzzing tourist attraction after the closure of the girl's secondary school. There's a cracking cafe when you're tired of hiking the mountain trails, visiting the six-acre Victorian walled garden and the abbey with all the treasures of the Benedictine order on show. The sisters are still hands on and love greeting visitors.
We left Spiddal with amazing memories, some long- awaited sun exposure and my 13-month-old's first tooth.
Now what could be better than that?
Trident Holiday Homes. For bookings ring 01-2018494 or lo-call within Ireland 1850-225252. Book online at www.tridentholidayhomes.ie
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