Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Clare Island Adventure

Clare Island Pier
When the email arrived from Hilda – Marketing Manager of Clare Island Adventures it was a cold January afternoon. “Would I be in interested in a “Weekend of Fun & Adventure on Clare Island she inquired? I made my decision in an instant. When you read my blog post you’ll understand just why

Clare Island Adventures is an initiative between Go Explore Hostels’ Carl O’Grady, Adventure West, led by Ian and Louise Moore & Clare Island Ferrieswho have teamed up to provide a high quality experience to those interested in exploring adventure activities on the island.” Quite simply these companies have identified the potential to create adventure activity breaks suitable for groups such as Stag, Hen and Team building – taking advantage of the fabulous setting and terrain that the Island offers.
Pirate Queen
Our remit was very simply to join a group of travel journalists and experience just what a typical weekend of adventure activity was like on Clare Island.
We left Roonagh Pier, near Louisburg, Mayo, on the Friday evening ferry. There was a good
 mix of tourists and islanders aboard including a large Stag Party heading off to enjoy the weekend. The crossing took about 20 minutes and we arrived on Clare Island ready to start our weekend. It turned out that the Stag party on board was also here for a Clare Island Adventure.
Go Explore Hostel and Sailors Bar & Restaurant
Met by Carl O’Grady, owner of Go Explore Hostel and Sailors Bar & Restaurant – we loaded our bags into his jeep and strolled up to the hill to our home for the Weekend. Now, having not been in a hostel for many years I was intrigued.  However as soon as we rounded the corner and seen Go Explore we were so impressed. Perched beautifully overlooking the bay with the most incredible views. The hostel is spotlessly clean, bright, airy and you get the sense of homeliness in it. Downstairs there is a large Kitchen and communal dining area – great to discuss over breakfast the adventures of the day before. A common room for chilling out and a beautiful bar/restaurant where one can sit back and enjoy a drink and a meal while soaking up postcard type views. We thought perhaps this was its first year open but Carl explained it was completely renovated in 2013.
8 Bed Dorm - Go Explore Hostel
All rooms have key card access and our room which the two of us shared was a large 8 Bed Dorm – comprising 4 sets of bunk beds with lovely memory foam mattresses and heavy duvets. Complete with en-suite bathroom and of course 5 star views! This was not how I remembered hostelling and how far Carl has taken this hostel is just incredible.
We met with the other guests in Sailors bar later that evening, shared some fine Irish Stout and heard stories of just what they were going to be getting up to over the weekend. The Stag party had opted for a mixture of activity which Clare Island Adventures are delighted to arrange. They chose a 2 night package which included two activities – in this case it was fishing and Coasteering. More about that later.
There is a full restaurant menu available and chef Azzi treated us to some fantastic fair. Our group had a mixture of fresh fish (caught by the staff daily) and the most deliciously mouth watering 22 day hung Co.Mayo Sirloins!
We finished early as with a full day of activity ahead we figured we would need the energy. We were right!!


Day 2:
The thing I love about hostelling is how everyone gets stuck in! Bright and early we met for breakfast where you can either opt for the continental breakfast or you can request a full Irish as an optional extra. The continental breakfast you make yourself in the large kitchen area – well stocked with all you need. When you are finished you wash your own dishes and head off. The banter and craic in the kitchen with the other guests is something that makes this experience unique and much more fun and interesting.

Coasteering:
Lewis from Louisburg, still smarting from his brush with hosting celebrity Christine Bleakly a few weeks before and Ian Moore both from Adventure West were our guides for the day as we set of on our first activity – Coasteering. The Clare Island Adventures website describes it as “a high adrenalin water sport gaining in popularity in Ireland.  It combines rock-scrambling with cliff jumping and adventure swimming. You’ll be instructed in how to jump safely, and guided back to shore (or maybe even through a cave), where you can do it all over again”.Having been fitted with wet-suits, two pairs of gloves, socks and old runners we set off across the rugged landscape in our bus piloted by Ian. The island is just intensely scenic with the rugged landscape changing at every turn – we almost forgot we were heading off to jump from cliffs into the freezing cold waters.

There were 8 in our group – all of differing ages and abilities but this activity is a great leveller. There were two teenagers with us and they, of course, showed no fear and led the way. The first jump is an unflattering belly flop into the water and a short swim – under the watchful eye of Ian and Lewis. This is the acclimatisation bit – where the wet suit fills with water which your body then heats up – then the wetsuit does its thing and keeps you warm. With hands, feet and body covered the only parts that you feel the cold are your face and ears but we learned if you keep moving about all of that was fine.
The idea is – you jump in – swim to the other side, clamber up onto the shore then walk a bit more, usually climbing. You just need to take your time and all the time anticipating your next jump. The buzz and adrenalin rush is amazing. As we climbed out of the water on the first one – Lewis told us that the next would be approximately two metres and we would go steadily higher over the 2 hours we had allocated. Two metres might not seem that high but when you stand on the edge of a rocky surface with the idea of jumping in – it seems twice that!
So on and on we went – higher and higher until the final jump which is from a sea-stack and was approximately 12 metres. This took every bit of will-power to leap from and I’m so glad I did it. Every muscle in my body was shouting NO – but off I went!
This is truly the most exhilarating fun activity I think I've ever tried and I LOVED every minute of it.
Feeling cold and hungry the group trekked back to our van and headed back to our wonderful hostel where warm showers and a feast of soup and sandwiches awaited.
Rock-Climbing & Abseiling:


Our group was now ready for our next challenge – Rock Climbing and Abseiling. Again – with a group of differing ages and abilities I was curious as to how this might go. Clearly – this is something that the team are also used to and as we walked down toward the top of the cliffs – we met with Benny and Kirsten (no it's not an Abba Tribute band)  who assured us we would all be fine regardless of experience or ability. I was delighted to be struck by the extreme attention to safety and a good deal of time was given over to this. Fully briefed – we took a small walk/climb to our first test. Benny explained that we were going to attempt rock climbing while fully harnessed in and would be perfectly safe if one of us slipped. Even with that assurance – it was difficult to fully believe in the harness but as you got more and more into the activity your confidence levels grew. Abseiling from the top was the same – but exhilarating once you were able to trust the rope and your “be-layer” below.
We move to more challenging climbs – with the most amazing back drop you could imagine – and despite biting winds we managed to spend almost 3 hours on the cliffs of Clare Island.
Challenging yourself in this way – particularly if you have a fear of heights – is so rewarding. It’s ok if you decide it’s not for you after you try it. You can come down or stop at any time – but the group seemed to encourage each other so much that you just force yourself to go for it!
Back to Go-Explore Hostel
We returned to the Hostel and the group opted for an early dinner – having had so much fresh air we were all ravenous again! Another superb meal later (thanks Carl & Azzi) and the locals and other island guests began to trickle into Sailors Bar. The stag party that had been doing fishing and coasteering earlier in the day also came back and then a band arrived in to liven things up! With a full house, a great band and an open mic this is a party that went on long past my bed time!!




Day 3
Early start on Sunday and Carl kindly offered to take us on a short hike before our ferry back to Roonagh. Delighted with this offer of hospitality we gratefully accepted and just look at our reward for our hard work climbing to the highest peak on the island. Along the way – Carl shared his vast knowledge on the Island History, showed us examples of bog Oak and gave us invaluable insights into just how it was to be an islander in times past. We felt this really rounded off the weekend as we got the entire experience from the high adrenaline activity to the serene and rugged beauty of the island and a great sense of what being an islander means/meant.
Superb trip and highly recommended for everyone. Most activities are suitable for groups of 4 or more from ages 12 and up. Clare Island Adventures specialises in putting together package to suit all tastes and Louise tells me she is more than happy to split packages between Clare Island and Louisburg and/or Westport. It should be noted that family bookings are generally not taken in the Hostel for weekend in Summer time but please contact them directly to discuss.
Special thanks to the ever hospitable Carl O’Grady, the fearless Ian and Lewis, our cliff hangers Kristen and Benny and everyone on Clare Island and Roonagh that made this trip so awesome – can’t wait to get back!

Sample Hen/Stag Pricing:
Your hen or stag package includes:
Return ferry from Roonagh Pier with Clare Island Ferry Company
Bed & Breakfast (full Irish) in Go Explore Hostel
1/2 day adventure package * with Adventure West
* Choose one of the following; rockclimbing & abseilling, coasteering, snorkelling, Clare Island Challenge or guided hill walks. 

One night + half day adventure package from    €85.00
Two nights + half day adventure package from  €115.00
Optional extras
Increase to full day Adventure Activity          €30.00
 Soup & Sandwiches                                           €9.00
Dinner (3 courses)                                               €28.00
 Dinner (main course + beverage)                      €19.95
Go-Explore Hostel Prices
Double bedroom en-suite from €70  per room per night or €35 per person per night
4 bed Family Room from €90 per room or €25 per person per night?
5 bed Family Room from €110 per room per night or €25 per person per night?
4 bed Dorm from €25 per person per night
6 bed Dorm  from €25 per person per night
14 bed Dorm  from €22.50 per person per night

Photos by John Mee Photography / Kelvin O'Neill

Contact Links
http://fun.ie/clare-island-adventures


























Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Newpark Hotel Easter

As we do every year – we searched for the best deal for our family holiday in Ireland. This year the criteria were slightly different and the must haves were:

o   Swimming Pool
o   Kids Club
o   Things to do for older children

Apart from that we, as parents – wanted to be located not too far from Dublin and close but not too close to the centre of activity. Obviously value is massively important with a family of 5 – Mum, Dad and 3 boys and we figured a few nights in a couple of different places would make for an interesting break. We found an offer that we thought was very strong from The Newpark Hotel in Kilkenny – which seemed tick all the boxes for us. 

The Newpark Hotel


We booked a 2 Night Family B&B with 1 Dinners included  and counted down the days!

Finally the day arrived in tune with some amazing weather and we rolled up to The Newpark Hotel.  The girls on reception immediately greeted the boys with some hats for the Crazy Cats Kids Club – you just can’t visit Kilkenny without hearing about the Cats – Kilkennys legendary hurling team.


This hotel oozes a uniquely attentive,relaxed homely vibe which makes you feel genuinely welcome when you visit and that’s for everyone of the family.

2 New Crazy Cats!

Caps on - we went to explore. The children went out the back with Dad to play on the Go-Karts, and stroll around the beautiful on-site open farm – complete with two playgrounds.



Escape Health Club
Mum went to check out what was on offer at the Escape Spa and Health Centre (there is a €25 voucher included in our package). Then we all went for a swim in the pool – with Mum and Dad taking turns in the Sauna/Steam Room/ Outdoor Vitality Pool etc.. Bliss..

Scotts Bistro
As the evening drew near we went to Scotts Bistro to have our Dinner and were met with a reasonable menu with great choice of food options for the Children – in fact one of the best we've seen in a very long time. €7.95 for Main Course and €3.50 for desert – which were both served efficiently and were perfectly sized portions.

The staff were really lovely here – friendly and courteous and in fact we felt – couldn't do enough for us….

So – the kids were getting itchy feet – would Mum and Dad get to have a glass of wine before their Dinner? We need not worry. The Crazy Cats team are on hand from 6.30pm to whisk the kids away to the evening kids club – where they have magic shows, Movie nights, arts and crafts and loads more.

We ordered from the fine choice menu and choose Chicken & Mushroom Vol au Vents and Sirloin Steak as our main courses – with a side of Scotts’ famous Beer Battered Onions

The Kids Camp: (Daytime)

This is the stand-out thing for us as a family. The Kids Summer Camps is fantastic and offers families the opportunity for everyone to have a well earned rest. The camp runs from 10.30 to to 4pm Monday to Friday and includes a huge range of fun activities and better still no need to pack a lunch for the children as a buffet meal is provided each day. 
At the Birds of Prey Experience


Giant Connect 4
These include Newpark Hotel Mini Wildlife Farm, Rounder’s,  Arts and Crafts, Basketball, Swimming, Volleyball, Wacky Science Experiments, Tag Rugby, Talent Show, Sports Day, Parachute Games, Chinese soccer and lots more. They also got to learn about and hold some birds of prey which was an amazing experience for everyone!

With so many and varied activities the boys were really well entertained and a playing and learning in a great fun environment. 


The team work hard to make sure all are included in the activities to ensure everyone gets to enjoy each and every day to its fullest! 

Crazy Cats Evening Kids Club

The team are once again on hand from 7pm to 10.30pm to entertain and just have fun with the kids. They will all have "high tea" together and then go to the dedicated room fully equipped with Games, Arts and Crafts, Bouncy Castle and more. There are differing guests attending during the week and we had a terrific magic show on Tuesday night.

Kilkenny Cycling Tours:



 We took a fantastic cycling tour with Jason from Kilkenny Cycling tours. Enjoy a fun and easy paced two hour Guided Cycling Tour with Kilkenny Cycling Tours visiting historical and cultural sites around Kilkenny including Kilkenny Castle, The Kilkenny Design Centre, 
Shee Alms House, The Tholsel, St. Mary’s Church, Rothe House & Gardens, The Courthouse (Grace’s Castle), St. Francis’ Abbey, The Black Abbey and St. Canice’s Cathedraland some hidden gems along Irelands Medieval Mile. We have bikes suitable for all ages and we use riverbank paths and backstreets to stay away from heavy traffic.

Find out about Kilkenny’s most famous characters like the Witch Dame Alice Kyteler and William Earl Marshal, the greatest Knight that ever lived. 


Here is our video - More details at www.fun.ie or  http://kilkennycyclingtours.com/

Go with the FlowRiver Adventures:

One of the activity options was a canoeing experience on the River Barrow with Charlie and the Go with The Flow team. Wow!!! What an amazing day. This was a day to remember – we arrived at Clash just outside Borris and began a 2 hour canoeing safari as part of a larger group. 

We had some Weirs and Rapids to negotiate as well as experience travelling via the many locks on the river – which the kids thought was awesome. 


Charlie is a natural with people and just made the trip so much fun even introducing a little competition along the way. 

When we finished our tour – we ended with a dip in the river to top it all off. Highly recommended and if you get the chance – take it!


Another optional activity was the Tree Top Walk at Castlecomer Discovery Park. Now celebrating its 8th year this park is a real haven of different types of fun and interesting activity for all the family to enjoy. 

Today – we went to the upper lake where they have a new Boating activity on a beautiful scenic lake.

You get to choose between 
Pedalos or Canadian canoes and you are guaranteed to enjoy this part of your visit. Safety briefing completed and life Jacket on - off we went – a lovely hour spent!




Castlecomer Discovery Park: Tree Top Walk

Next we went to the Tree Top walk – which is exactly as it says – a walk in the trees – 30’ up testing and challenging yourself as you go in different high rope configurations! Suitable from age 7 up this is a great family experience which really encourages brothers and sisters to help and encourage each other – while high up in the trees.


A real adrenalin buzz and you can also opt to try the climbing wall and the amazing leap of faith.

For those not so sure – the Footprints in Coal exhibition and lovely craft courtyard are excellent ways to pass a morning or afternoon. Younger children can even experience the  superb playground located just inside the gate. 

You can enjoy the park itself free or for just park the car for a small €2 and enjoy all the park has to offer!

We really enjoyed the Newpark Hotel experience and could not rate it highly enough for anyone looking for a relaxing family break!