The Irish Independent Weekend Magazine - Wild Atlantic Wanderers


‘Again mum, do it again!’ Our wild Atlantic wander back to childhood holidays

Many of us are heading overseas this summer, but here’s the story of a family that stayed home, recapturing the spirit of childhood holidays on the west coast

Sheilagh Foley

July 09 2022 02:30 AM

I grew up in an Ireland where staycations were not a cool, on-trend, eco-friendly, Covid-compliant experiment. They were your summer holidays.


We piled into cars, taking a reprieve from sibling punches to eat limp sandwiches and drink orange from a flask at a roadside bench. But I had great memories of those family trips, and when I relocated back home recently after living in London and San Francisco for 15 years, I decided to introduce my English husband, Dom, and seven-year-old American daughter, Róisín, to the Ireland I grew up in.


For our trip, we settled on parts of the Wild Atlantic Way, the now-famous touring route from Donegal to West Cork. It’s pretty wild, but so is my daughter.


We started in the funky surf town of Bundoran, Co Donegal, where, similar to my childhood, we braved the beach, regardless of the weather. I had flashbacks to my exposed, cold skin turning a lovely corned-beef colour as my brothers and I took turns burying each other in the sand. This time, however, I wore a wetsuit.


Sheilagh and Roisin swimming in Donegal

Sheilagh and Roisin swimming in Donegal


But Róisín, my little warrior, ran straight into the sea in the pouring rain. It was invigorating, frantic fun.


She screamed her head off chasing the waves. “Ten more minutes,” she yelled, as my husband wrangled her back to land. As the weakest link in the chain of frenetic freezing frolics, I had already hoofed it like a numb selkie back to the car. I found myself hiding behind our car door, squirming out of my wetsuit in a windy car park, cloaked in a misbehaving towel that pretended to provide coverage.


As the rain started to harden, we swept a reluctant child off the beach. With sand still under our fingernails and sea salt curling our hair, we dove to a surf hangout that sold warm, cheesy toasties — another splash of nostalgia.

Unlike my childhood vacations staying in holiday homes, relatives’ houses, and hotels with shared TV rooms, we decided ‘to hell with the begrudgers’ and spent our early nights in Lough Eske Castle. It didn’t disappoint.

Over the 10-day trip, however, castles gave way to hotels and B&Bs, and the odd day was spent on the road, catching the sights and counting the counties (inspired by our time road-tripping across the 50 states of America).


After Donegal, we drove 10 miles and 50 years back in time to the almost untouched fishing village of Mullaghmore in Co Sligo. There, we watched the beautiful beast of the sea as Christy Moore blared from our car radio, singing Nature took two million years to sculpture Mullaghmore. Even though Dom grew up in landlocked London, he has an affinity with the sea — the wilder the waves, the more still he becomes.


We gawped for so long at the Atlantic ocean, our lingering looks seemed almost voyeuristic.


Further south, we stopped at the Cliffs of Moher. They are epic and endless, the kind of place Luke Skywalker goes to have a midlife crisis. As I tore myself away from their wonder, I noticed Róisín staring at some random cows in a field. She started jumping and waving to get their attention. The animals were unperturbed by the wind, the rain, the childish antics, and the cavalcade of tourists crushing on their coast.


A short drive later, we pulled into Spanish Point, where we shored up for the night in the Armada Hotel. A remote stop with a wild beach and a fish truck, and families sat on colourful picnic benches, making a meal of their battered cod as the sun set.


If you go to Clare, you have to visit the Burren. I had been to this large area of ancient limestone as a child, and assured Dom that I would know it when I saw it. This led to endless U-turns down boreens with me pointing at random fields going, “That’s it! Oh no, that’s nothing.”


“What does it look like?” he asked.


I scrunched up my face. “Ah, it’s very hard to explain…it’s a rock formation.” He looked around at the sea of rocky fields. “So, we’re looking for rocks in a field?” I scrunched further. “Ah, it’s very hard to explain… it’s prehistoric.”


Róisín exploring the Burren in Co Clare

Róisín exploring the Burren in Co Clare


Turns out we were in the middle of the Burren all along. When you get up close, the place is remarkable. It’s like chunks of moon rock were dumped in an Irish field. You leap across from rock slab to slab with yips and yelps (at least, that’s what Róisín did), the chasms getting deeper, the green life bursting between the cracks. The world’s oldest playground, perhaps!


We also spent lots of time driving in the rain. Driving in the rain is a staple of my childhood (and adulthood, and all ’hoods). There is something comforting and reassuring about it. I half expect to be broken from my reverie by the voice of my parents asking, “Are you alright there in the back?” As Róisín pressed her cold nose against the rain-soaked car window, she insisted we stop the car for “one last photo of the sea”. I opened the door a crack and the laughing wind flung it wide open. Reeling it in, I shouted “go, go, go” as our car screeched away from the grip of the Atlantic. Welcome to Irish summer holidays!

Read the online article here - 'Again mum, do it again!' Our wild Atlantic wander back to childhood days