Back in April, when the eternal winter we just had was still going strong, we booked a camper van for the last week in June. Eight years ago, Pat and I had hired a campervan in New Zealand as part of our honeymoon and it was so much fun. But I was apprehensive about this trip as there was two small kids involved and the Irish climate to contend with! In the weeks leading up to our trip, the weather was really lovely and I started to think ‘no, it'll be raining again by the we go. But as the universe obviously realised Pat needed to be saved from my ‘I NEED the sun rant’ that I had been having all year. You see we went to Spain in April, it rained and I sucked badly. The universe, the gods or would be just pure luck, we rented a campervan on the week Ireland had its highest temperatures since 1976. And the result, the best holiday I have ever had!
For everyone who knows me, I am a very proud Irish and Wexford woman. When we were kids, my parents took us all over Ireland on our holidays, so luckily I have seen most of the tourist hotspots. Apart from a couple of trips to the Canaries, London and Amsterdam, the first time I went somewhere stunning was when I moved to Vancouver, Canada for the summer at the age of twenty. I travelled all over the west of Canada before I came home and I was blown away by the Rocky Mountains and all its beauty. But one thing I will always remember is landing in Dublin that September and seeing the mountains here like I had never seen them before. Following this revelation, I have travelled all over the world and Ireland all over again. I appreciated the Irish beauty but our campervan trip, makes me think if the sun shone and it warm in Ireland more often, we would never ever leave again.
Ok so enough of the lamenting about Ireland and its greatness over the rest of the world, everyone knows that! Here are the details behind where we went and why you should go too.
Since we had a campervan, we didn’t exactly have a fixed plan. We had said let’s follow the weather. In other words, we’ll go where it isn’t raining. The week before, it became clear that Ireland was our oyster and it would be glorious no matter where we went. Pat wanted to go to Kerry and Clare as he hasn’t spent that much time in those parts. However, these are hot on the tourist trail and I had a feeling it would be pretty crazy. It was between Sligo and Donegal or Mayo. Before we had kids, we had surfed a lot in Sligo and Donegal so Mayo it was. And so began the road less travelled. I call it the road less travelled because for most of the time it was quiet where we went.
Day 1 Dublin to Leitrim.
We picked up our campervan at Celtic Campers in Dublin and headed west on the M4.
Leitrim or the Mid-West is mostly associated with lakes and boating on the Shannon. Two my closest friends live in Dromod, a really pretty village, situated on Lake Boffin and Boderg which is treaded by the River Shannon. Since there is a lot of cruiser traffic docking in Dromod, there is actually shower and toilet facilities so we parked by the lake. There is a spot for campervans here too. However, we did spend most of time at our friends house up the road. Dromod is really pretty with a great playground and lovely walks in the woods by the lake. Luckily, we got to take kayaks out on the lake to the tiny islands as our friends had kayaks. But I am sure there are places to rent them close by. Btw the girls declared that the next holiday is a cruiser on the Shannon.
Day 2 Dromod to Westport
The next day we set off for Westport. Westport is most certainly a popular destination with lots of tourists so maybe it’s a push to say today’s journey is the road less travelled! On the way, we passed through Strokestown, which boasts the second –widest street in Ireland. It’s a lovely planned market town beside Strokestown Park House. Strokestown Park House includes a museum about the Great Famine of 1845 and its impact on the area. Well worth a visit! After Strokestown, we did a little detour to Foxford Woolen Mills, where I bought a fab orange mohair throw.
We headed in our van to another old great house, Westport House, which has on campsite on its grounds as well a mini theme park. It’s the perfect place to camp with kids with plenty to do and see. There are lovely walks around the house, so it was ideal for an early morning run too. Apart from Westport House, I love Westport for its scenery and vibrancy. It is surrounded by mountains, Croagh Patrick imposes its greatness over the town and views over Crew Bay are beautiful. I always remember that Clew Bay was described in our school Geography books as having ‘a basket of eggs topography’. I most certainly used that line in my Leaving Cert exam!! Basically, it’s a bunch of little islands (or sucken drumlins) left behind by a glacier!
The harbour in Wesport is another lovely place to walk about with coffee shops, restaurants, some shops and on the day, we were there a bouncy castle! We ate in the Towers Bar and Restaurant. The food was fab and the views spectacular and the kids were well looked after with baby bowls and half portions of roast dinners available.
Day 3 Westport to Keem Beach, Achill Island
We now begin the road less travelled. The drive from Westport to Achill is really beautiful looking out over Clew Bay with Achill in the distance as you drive through Newport and Mulranny. Full disclosure as we headed towards Achil,l I noticed the breeze was picking up and I thought why are we leaving 30 degree here in Westport for windy Achill. Now, my fears were well founded as three years ago, I went with my eldest daughter and my parents to Achill Island. It was July 2015 and my head hurt from the wind we experienced. I remember it vividly. However, this is the best week of weather since 1976, I should never ever have worried because we needed that breeze badly as the temperature was over 26 degrees for the few days we were there!
Initially we had planned on staying in Keel (the main village and beach in Achill) but the water was like glass. We drove on to Keem Bay. I had never been to Keem but I had read online it was beautiful. Keem Bay was more than beautiful it was the nicest beach in the world (that I have been to!) . It was about 5pm when we arrived in Keem. It was super busy; the busiest place I’ve seen in Achill. So actually it was a nice busy, not even close to how Ballymoney, Co Wexford is like on a fine day. Keem Bay is literally very far away! Next stop America so that could have a lot to do with the fact it was busy but not crazy busy when it was 26 degrees. The sand is white and very fine. The water is turquoise blue and crystal clear. It would rival all the top well known paradise islands in the world If we got the weather more often. Word of warning, despite it being 26/27 degrees and making sure I was sweaty hot before I went into the water, when my body hit the water, it started to cramp from the ice cold! Luckily, there was some lovely rock pools which were like swimming pools to paddle in for us to cool down and the girls to have lots of fun.
That evening we parked up at the top car park overlooking the beach and the bay. Sheep strolled around us and we had a little BBQ and a glass of wine. It was 24 degrees at 10pm with a balmy breeze. It was simple. It was relaxing. The sun set, the full moon glistened on the water. This is how I imagine heaven would be. This was heaven on earth. Keem left a stamp on heart and my mind that will never leave me.
Day 4 Keem Bay to Duggort (stayed on Achill Island)
The next morning, we woke up and headed straight to Keem beach. Interestingly, there is a coffee van with waffles, chips and loads of snacks if you need them down at the beach. We had our van so we were self-sufficient. After a lovely few hours in paradise, we headed off in the van again towards Duggort on the North of Achill Island.
Duggort is a tiny little village, with a nice beach nestled between Duggort hill and Slivemore Mountain overlooking Blacksod Bay onto the Mullet Peninsula (also known as Erris Peninsula). There is a pub and little shop (which is the front room of a lovely old man’s house) and a little coffee shop further up the road. We stayed at Achill Seal Caves camping park. It is pretty new. It had the nicest facilities, it was very well kept and the couple who owned it were very welcoming. The sandpit playground was a big hit. Again we enjoyed the afternoon on the beach and chatting to the man in the shop. There weren’t many people around but the locals we met added to the charm and uniqueness that is Achill Island.
Day 5 Duggort (Achill Island) to Belmullet and the Mullet Peninsula.
We woke up in Duggort and headed to Golden Strand a beach up the road from Duggort. The reason we went to Golden Strand is that my parents had a ‘famous’ camping trip here before I was born with my older brothers and sister. Dubbed ‘the last family holiday’ by my brother who is 12 years old than me. Anyways, I digress, Golden Strand was deserted that Friday morning. It was 24 degrees with a lovely beach, which we flew our kite on and paddled in the water. We heated up some Spag Bol for lunch and ate it in the dunes by the beach surrounded by the sheep!
Another absolute must do in Achill is driving to its 3rdhighest point, Minuan, (heart in the mouth stuff when you have a camper van) for the most spectacular views of Achill and the surrounding area. Our 5-year-old, she was equally impressed as us with the views.
We were glad that we had ran the girls around the beach, because even though from Golden Strand you can see the Mullet peninsula it took us almost an hour and half to the town of Belmullet. It was another very warm day. We stopped for an ice cream in the one shop there was between Mulranny and Belmullet. When you see that service station, do stop it’s the only place for miles!
We arrived in Belmullet around 5pm and had some lovely dinner at the Broad Haven Hotel. The first thing that struck me about Belmullet was how lovely the people were. In the hotel bar and restaurant, they were so helpful and friendly. People who were clearly at a wedding in the hotel, started conversations with us. Now people were friendly at every stage of our journey but I got the impression in Belmullet that we had arrived in the real west. We drove on through Belmullet and down the Mullet Peninsula (which we had been overlooking the night before). We wanted to head towards Blacksod as we had been told they didn’t have a problem with ‘wild camping’ down there. After passing many Irish colleges and a busload of teenagers, we pulled in at lovely small beach along the road. It was balmy warm evening and at 7.30pm it was 25 degrees. The beach was facing east and the water very still and calm. The sea was like a bath. My husband threw our 2-year-old around in the water and she howled with delight. It was one of those magical moments in life that I’ll never forget. We had sandy hair and toes, glowing tanned faces from the week of sunshine and big smiles all around. The funny thing is our phones and therefore our cameras were dead so that picture in my head of this magical swim is all I have as a reminder.
Once again in Co Mayo, we were alone on the beach until a local lady came walking her Labrador. Like the people we met in town, she was all chat. She recommended us to drive a little down the road and turn for Falmore and park at Deirbhile’s Twist for the night. Another local, who had been a fisherman, stopped for a chat about Wexford and wished us a good sleep. And it was the perfect spot for our final night in Co Mayo. We let the girls stay up and watch the sunset with us all cuddled up on our picnic rug overlooking Blacksod Bay, the highest cliffs in Europe over on Achill Island and the Atlantic Ocean.
Day 6 Belmullet back to Co Kildare
The next morning, we headed to yes, you guessed it another beach! Again it was 24/25 degrees and we were alone on Falmore beach. If you need a true escape, Falmore on the Mullet Peninsula could be the place for you. Now let’s get one thing straight there is no fancy coffee out here or food. It’s just you, your van and some nice locals.
Before we headed back on the N5 and N4 back to Kildare, we wandered around Belmullet town, which was buzzing with Saturday morning activity. I picked up some locally made gifts in the gift shop, Lunusa. We had a lovely seafood filled lunch at The Talbot, Seafood bar, followed by an ice cream in the main ‘square’ where we observed the locals shopping and little tractors drawing trailers of turf.
We spent the final night of the holiday with some family in Co. Kildare. We retold the stories of the holiday that will be hard to beat…unless Ireland becomes a tropical island every summer from now on!
Points to note:
We did a lot of driving with the kids. We had DVD players but also made sure they were exhausted from running around before we’d set off on a long journey. We also drove during the hottest part of the day. I know this might not be something you’d need to consider in Ireland for another 40 years! Even though we had the DVD, it was amazing to see them really take notice when their surroundings were clearly spectatular with mountains and ocean. My oldest was fascinated as we drove into Westport and again when we drove onto Achill Island. She is five and half years old and I am sure this is the first holiday she will remember.
Any questions be sure to message me!