“ANY minute now, this boat is going to reach the edge and knock into a painted backdrop,” chuckles one of our four kids, “just like in the Truman Show.”
He’s referring to the Jim Carey film of course in which nothing is real, just an elaborate set – and I think I know what he means as we roll gently on a powerful swell beneath a towering sea stack at the Cliffs of Moher, the air alive with wheeling, crying Puffins – it’s impossibly beautiful, like a painting come alive.
It’s our dog Molly’s first time on a boat and the six of us giggle as her paws skitter on the deck of the converted trawler, when we’re not squinting and gasping, that is, at the tiny figures trailing like ants at the tops of the cliffs. “We’ll be up there later,” I say with no little awe. “Really?” coos our youngest.
It is truly gobsmacking. I can’t believe how exhilarated we feel, how rosy cheeked and hungry we are when we get back to our holiday home later and spark up a turf fire before tucking into a bacon joint from the shop around the corner, how our whole family chatters cheerfully together about our day when normally the kids would be at each others’ throats over whose turn it was on the PlayStation.
We’d rolled in the day before after an easy four hour journey from Dublin and Trident Holiday Homes’ onsite manager Debbie welcomed us to Lisdoonvarna with helpful pamphlets, showing us around the bright, modern, spacious and well kitted out two-floor condo that would be home for a week.
Being pet friendly, it meant this was the first time we’d all holidayed together, dog and all, and we wasted no time familiarizing ourselves with the sleepy village famed for its Victorian spa and annual Matchmaking Festival. “Remember,” I warned our four kids, “no singing the Christy Moore song please.”
I had spied a pub just a hop and a skip away and later on, wife and I left our eldest teen in charge and ambled down to the Roadside Tavern which has a plaque outside declaring that this is where the Burren Tolkien Society was founded.
Inside, we met and quickly liked proprietor Peter Curtin, founder of the famous nearby Burren Smokehouse that had supplied fish for the Queen’s visit. Peter was like a character in a play who had been waiting only for our entrance to begin a performance. A large and imposing man, he spoke like he was about to break into song as he showed us around the microbrewery after pints of his Burren Ale.
It wasn’t the first or the last time we would feel as if we were moving through a play or a painting. Next day, on Debbie’s advice we hooked up with Dony in Doolin who runs the Jack B, one of the boats that takes people to and from the Aran Islands and out around the cliffs where we idled beneath the edifices.
“It’s all so real,” joked our eldest of the limestone moonscape of the Burren on the way back from our fantastic voyage. “How do they do it?”
We’d five adventures lined up in all, each within what seemed like minutes driving distance of one another and Lisdoonvarna – and up next morning was a descent into Doolin Cave, privately owned and not nearly as touristy as nearby Ailwee.
All six of us (we had to leave the dog in the car this once) clambered 80ft down the catwalk thankfully replacing the 450-meter muddy crawl that was once the only way in, and we gasped at the Great Stalactite, one of the most massive ever found. Tolkien’s Gollum would have been at home here, we all agreed as we were invited to sink our hands into the cool, 450,000 year old glacial clay at our feet.
Next day we hit Lahinch Surf School who supplied wetsuits, boards and surfing pro David Olsthoorn for a foray through the foam as the dog cheered us on from shore. I never quite managed to stand on mine as the seven foot waves hoisted us onto the golden sands, but our boys did and we had nothing less than a hoot, barely noticing the cold until after.
We cooked and ate each night at home, choosing local corn fed chicken or rustling up hot chili which we devoured while the fire crackled nearby, then slept like the kings who lay undisturbed beneath the ancient limestone monolith of Poulnabrone Dolmen, which we visited on its windswept crag and took turns snapping pictures of each other for our imaginary rock band album covers.
A crowning gem was the guided walk with Burren expert Mary Howard who gently brought us up into the hills to the stone ring forts of Ireland’s ancients, discovering with us rare and beautiful flowers and orchids along the way. She told us stories of the people populating tiny stone walled plots far below and pointed out fossils and the hidden places where vanished tribes once feasted. The walk felt like half an hour but we’d been gone for four, only realizing it as we picnicked later in the sand dunes of the coast.
But the way time passes out here among the many things that fascinate and thrill is just another part of the magic spell that made believers of us all when we finally had to return the keys and pack the car.
Saying goodbye to Clare was like saying goodbye to a friend and we swore we’d be back for more. “If only you’d another week,” rued Debbie, “there’s things to find out here I know you’d love that the brochures don’t even mention.”
That didn’t surprise us. What did was finding that we’d all fallen back in love with Ireland’s west.
Oh Lisdoonvarna, Christy Moore, you barely scratched the surface.
We’ve another 10 verses for your song.
Cliffs of Moher Cruise: Garrihy’s Doolin Ferries www.doolin2aranferries.com Tel 065 707 5949
Mary Howard’s Burren Guided Walks: firstname.lastname@example.org 065 707 6100
Lahinch Surf School: email@example.com 087 960 9667
Doolin Cave: www.doolincave.ie 065 707 5781