Thursday 14 December 2017

Surf's up: chilling in the west

Maggie Armstrong takes a walk through the cobbled streets of Ennis and along the Co Clare seaside

Character: The four-star Temple Gate Hotel in Ennis. Photo: Eamon Ward.
Character: The four-star Temple Gate Hotel in Ennis. Photo: Eamon Ward.
Breakfast at the Temple Gate Hotel.

Maggie Armstrong

A Purple Flag is an international award given to towns that offer a friendly and safe experience between 5pm and 5am. Dublin and Ennis have one. So what does this mean for my sister and I as we arrive in Ennis bedraggled after a four-hour bus journey along the M7?

A weekend of pubs, music and gadabouting? Girls on Tour, woohoo! Well, not really. But it was nice to know it could have been one.

What is there to do in Ennis?

Ennis is a busy market town, bustling away either side of the River Fergus. On an Ennis Walking Tour around the cobbled streets and "bow-ways" (laneways peculiar to Ennis) we learnt snippets from its history. Daniel O'Connell was elected to Westminster here in 1828, and De Valera was arrested here and Parnell made the famous "shun him" speech to the Land League that roused tenants against Captain Boycott. A more shadowy local figure was Biddy Early, a folk healer who was tried for witchcraft in 1865. An outcast whose four husbands included two toy boys, O'Connell was among Biddy's trusting clients. Tours are €8.

How far to the cliffs of Moher?

Forty minutes, but not without a car. Taking the bus left us at a loose end when it came to seeing the environment, but next time we'll do the 20km coastal walk, leaving from Hag's Head in Liscannor and ending up in Doolin. We coached it to Lahinch, whose sea walls were cracked and broken during the February storms. It is looking much better – a jolly place built around surfing, overtaken by surf schools and swarms of barefoot blondes. We enjoyed the beach, a rifle in the shops and a visit to Philip Morrison's art gallery. His technicolour paintings of dudes on waves are very affordable. An Englishman, when Morrison came to Lahinch in the 80s it was a golfing village. I sense an enhancement in the vibe.

The local fare?

A good bowl of chowder and very fresh catch are to be expected in these parts. In Lahinch we took to Waves (O'Looney's), a modern seafood bar overlooking the prom for chowder and seafood-rolled salmon and crab terrine. For further along the coast, locals recommended Vaughan's in Liscannor's famous crab crumble, and the Wild Honey Inn in Lisdoonvarna. Back at the ranch Legends restaurant has been awarded an AA Rosette. The fish comes fresh from Doonbeg harbour and there seemed to be more local people dining here than hotel guests. Vegetarian options are limited.

What makes it four-star?

The Temple Gate was given four stars following an upgrade to its bedrooms and a facelift downstairs. Bord Failte's star system is more convoluted than Michelin's, but for us the Temple Gate was four-star in its family-run feel and local character. Built on a 19th town centre, it's not a fancy hotel but a corporate-friendly hotel in which the hearth is the pub, Preacher's Bar. My yogi sister was delighted to find a yoga mat in our room.

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