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Darren Ryan proffers a pint of black from behind the counter in The Greyhound Bar at Kilkee as it re-opens on Monday under strict Covid-19 guidelines. Photograph by John Kelly

Lahinch and Kilkee bask in afterglow of staycation boom

AFTER an unusually warm and sunny weekend, Kilkee was overcast and somewhat autumnal on Monday afternoon.

Staycationers were fewer than they had been even 24 hours earlier, but shopkeeper Donal Hayes wasn’t complaining as he said the season which is ending has been the best one for many years.

Donal Hayes had a good Summer of business in his food store and newsagents at Kilkee. Photograph by John Kelly
While the pandemic has crippled many businesses and even some entire industries, it has actually helped his shop. “It’s been a huge benefit to us, I hate to say it, but it was. The only poor weekend was Whit weekend, I think that was the way for the whole of the town. The summer was excellent, last weekend was as good as any over the summer. You can see today it has quietened a lot so we’ll see how it goes until the October Bank Holiday Weekend, if we can get the weekends out of it we’ll be very, very happy with that.”

Asked if business would have been up five to ten per cent over the summer, he raises his hand above his head to indicate it was far better than that. “You’re back up to what it was ten to 15 years ago, Celtic Tiger Days. The hours are long, but it had to be done, when you’re trying to put two through college every penny counts.”

A son that was due to live in Cork for the coming months will be learning remotely, with occasional trips to the college campus. It may be the shape of things to come, and it might be the change in society that allows places like Kilkee to thrive in a way not seen for many decades, if at all in living memory. “You had people right through the lockdown working remotely and you still have people working remotely. If we could get 100 extra people here working remotely for the winters it’d be a huge boost. We’re not going to get a factory that will employ that many, but for working remotely we have the accommodation and when people come we need them to stay.”

Donal says he is much more hopeful about his business than he has been for a long time. “Oh way more optimistic, way more optimistic. It will be interesting to see can we hold the custom we got during the lockdown, if we could hold that it’d be fabulous. I don’t expect to hold all of it, but if we could hold a percentage of it, it’d be great.”

There is one negative for the family in that Donal’s wife had a designer balloon business, which has all but collapsed in the absence of parties, celebrations and corporate events.

Rosemary Corcoran runs Nolan’s shop, which would be a treasure trove for small children with buckets and spades, butterfly nets, inflatable toys and just about every accoutrement you could need for a day playing on the beach.

Less positive than her neighbour, she still feels her business still held its own in the summer of 2020. “It was okay. We didn’t really notice a lot of difference in the volume, I was surprised, I thought the Covid would effect us.”

Next weekend will be her last, before closing until 2021.

Hopping

The Next Door off-licence is being manned by Rebecca Harte, who also works in the adjacent bar and restaurant Myles Creek. The summer season has been a really exceptional one, she says. “It was just mental, it was so busy. It was hopping, we haven’t seen the likes of it in many years. We had Cois Farraige (a music festival) here years ago and it was like that, constant going all the time.”

When the initial restrictions were lifted, the change in Kilkee was very striking. “There weren’t cars passing down the town for months, it was crazy. Then it went from one extreme to another within two weeks, the town was packed, there were kids everywhere.”

Just before The Clare Champion arrived, the Greyhound Bar had opened its doors for the first time since March and it had taken a great effort by many people according to manager Darren Ryan. “It was huge, we were blessed with friends who were able to give a hand, it was a team effort to get things open. But tough, you know? Perspex, trying to get it was hard, you had lads charging an arm and a leg for it. We’re blessed with space here, I do feel for the smaller bars, if they’re to adhere to the letter of the law, some bars will only fit ten people.”

He feels that pubs can enforce some sort of control, compared with house parties, but with a second surge of the virus clearly underway, he feels bars may be closed again soon. “Watching the numbers over the last while, I wonder are we doing all this work to be closed again in a few weeks.”

He says he enjoyed the summer off, even though he’s happy to be back to work. “I originally came here as a scuba diving instructor, so I got to go diving for the summer and enjoy the weather. I don’t feel too hard done by in that sense, I was able to keep myself busy.”

Servicing the community
Up in Lahinch, an excited Paddy Murphy was putting the finishing tourches to his pub The 19th, in the hours before it reopened. “You want people to feel safe when they come in, this is a well known pub, and when people come in they’ll see the effort that has gone in. Our capacity is way down, we’re down to 70 something people here if every seat is taken, but it’s important to get the doors open, the pub has been missed, particularly by the regulars, so look, bring it on.

Publican Paddy Murphy about to re-open his “wet” pub The Nineteenth in Lahinch. Photograph by John Kelly

“People know the deal, they know what’s been going on. We’ve a lot of regular custom here, that’s where my focus is, it’s a village bar in that sense, a community place. Obviously we’ve had our gripes with not being open all along, but that’s for another day, for now we want to get the doors open, get back to minding the few old boys. We’re not even focused on volume or turnover, we’re focused on providing our service to the community.”

Paddy’s passion for his work is unmistakable and he says that several generations of his family have run pubs, with Paddy himself having been reared in one in Tulla.

He says the plight of the Dublin publicans who are still closed this week should be remembered, while he says the distinction that was made between those serving food and those that weren’t was hard to stomach. “If you followed the Guinness lorry into Lahinch it told its own story. There was nobody going thirsty, the beer business just filtered out to places that never did volumes like that before, and we had to stand by and watch it. I thought, next to the way the old people were treated, I thought the pubs were treated very badly. But now it’s onwards and upwards.”

One of the most popular spots in the country for surfing, there were large numbers catching waves on Monday at Lahinch.

On dry land, Aoife Broderick was on hand to meet any customers wanting to hire boards or book lessons at John McCarthy’s Surf School. She says that things have been very busy ever since the lockdown was first eased. “After the lockdown ended, everyone descended on Lahinch really. The lessons and all that have been flat out. The restaurants are busy, the pubs are full.”

Even in late September she says it is still hard to get accommodation in the area, while there is still a cohort of people around who have settled in to remote work. “When people had the choice to work remotely I feel everyone who had a holiday home here, picked up everything and came down here. The majority of them have gone back to work, but the people who can still work remotely are still here.”

On a personal level, she feels things have gone fairly smoothly since the pandemic started to make its presence felt. “My Dad is a little bit at risk, but we’ve kept him safe. I’ve a sister in London and she wasn’t able to travel until recently so I didn’t see her for nine months. Mam is in good spirits, so we’ve had an okay lockdown.”

The remote student
Ennis woman Nicola Hickey was going surfing with her cousin Sophie Byrne who was visiting for the day.

A student at UL, Nicola is planning to live at home after her course resumes in the near future, as she is due to be on campus for just three weeks out of 12 in the first semester. “I’ll probably just commute, I got my full license about a month ago so I’ll probably just commute for the three weeks that I’m on campus.”

She found the lockdown to be very difficult, and is very glad the restrictions are less severe now. “Being at home for five or six months was tough. You run out of things to do, you really would. It’s great to be able to come up to Lahinch for a day and go surfing.”

Both are single and say the lockdown has taken away opportunities to meet anyone or have a normal social life. “It’s hard to meet people at the minute, there’s been no clubs or pubs or that. The pubs are open today so it’s exciting,” says Sophie.

Janice and David Reddy were at the playground with their little daughter Holly. From Kildare, the family had hoped to be in Lahinch some weeks earlier. “We couldn’t travel anywhere for three weeks, we were supposed to come in August, but Kildare was in lockdown so we rescheduled,” says Janice.

They had sunshine and warm temperatures for two days of a three-day break and David said it had been an enjoyable staycation. “The weather made it, it was great. The crowds were fine, there was social distancing on the beach. We ate out a couple of times and we found that fine, all the protocols were being adhered to.”

At Randaddy’s restaurant, waitress Sorcha Hayer said business has been brisk since it got going once again. “It’s been very busy this summer. Normally it’s gradual, but this year it all came at once. But it was good, we had the staff and everything worked out very well.”

Sorcha had been due to sit the Leaving Cert this summer and while there have been many complaints about how the Department of Education handled things, she felt the best had been made of an unprecedented situation. “I think it was handled very well, the teachers were there for support, I had help from work, we had people around who knew how to help us.”

She loves her job at the restaurant. “It’s the customers, the staff, the location, just everything about it.”

Back at work
A bus driver who only wanted to be known as Neil was on his first day back at work since March, and he said it was “unbelievable” to be back in a job he loves. “It’s great to be back behind the wheel again, we get a buzz out of it. I still speak to people who were in Ireland who I drove around and they’re screaming to come back, but they can’t, not when they have to self-isolate for two weeks.”

Being out of work for months was very hard, but he got through it. “You just keep yourself going, just doing stuff around the house, going for walks, going shopping, speak to the company every so often to make sure they’re alive and kicking.”

With almost 400 cases having been recorded the previous day, he worries he may be put out of a job again. “It’s great to be back, but who’s to say, we don’t know from day to day what way it’s going to go. In fairness, I have to say thank God for the Covid payment. And I’m sure lots of people are the same, without it they’d have been destroyed.”

Veteran retailer Donogh O’Loghlin has a business that was started by his grandfather back in 1890. “We survived the Spanish Flu and hopefully we’ll survive this one,” he says.

While most businesses in Lahinch have had a good summer, he says he has found it more difficult. “It depends on the business you’re in. If you’re in the ice cream or coffee business then yes, a lot of people came in July and August. For shops like us it’s a lot harder. I have to say Government are helping places like us, helping with wages and so on. I have to compliment Clare County Council, they are giving free parking to the business people for their staff, but I wish business people would get their staff to take their cars off the street to where there is free parking.

Owen Ryan

About Owen Ryan

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Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.