Chris and Eimear King are adapting to life back in west Clare after spending 10 years in sunnier climes.
June 2018 saw the couple and their two daughters swap the bright lights of Lanzarote for the rugged coastline of Spanish Point and the comfort of having family close-by.
Having ran their own restaurant in the popular holiday resort, the lure of having Isabel and Sofía being brought up in the Irish education system was too great, particularly for Eimear who is a secondary school teacher by trade. They made the move home last summer to Eimear’s home parish of Kilmurry Ibrickane, and September saw Isabel enrolled in the nearby Annagh National School.
Before that though, the couple took over the Red Cliff Lodge in Spanish Point, and immediately hatched their plans to get it open on time for the 2019 tourist season.
Chris was always involved in the catering industry, and when the Clifden native found himself working in the Atlantic Hotel as the head chef, he met Eimear who was working there on a part-time basis. As time went on, the possibility of making the move to Australia was mooted. As fate would have it, they decided instead to join Chris’s brother and two sisters in Madrid, where they had established themselves as English language teachers. Chris already had his mind made up as to what his plans were for when they arrived.
“There was a great family support over there for us to go to, that’s the way we looked at it. We had always had the notion that we wanted to open a restaurant. I had always said to Eimear when we first started going out that I was going to open a restaurant, and that it would probably be in Lanzarote. Initially we went to Madrid with the idea of learning the language because I felt there was no point in trying to get a business going without that. We ended up staying there for five years” he said.
When the time came to leave the mainland and head for Lanzarote, Chris and Eimear discovered that it wasn’t just new surroundings they would be getting used to in their new home.
“We got the boat, which is a 31 hour trip from the mainland to Lanzarote, and I was wondering why I was feeling so sea-sick. I was thinking something’s not right here but we didn’t realise that Isabel was actually on the way before we even opened the doors of the restaurant, which was due to happen just two weeks later” Eimear smiled.
Eimear’s educational background was soon kicking into gear, and having their children raised in the Irish education system is something they both felt strongly about. It’s something Chris said they gave a lot of consideration to.
“The Irish education system is still one of the best in the world. In Lanzarote, it would have been harder, because once it comes to third level, you have to go back onto the mainland because there are no third-level facilities on the island. It can be quite difficult to go from the Canary Islands back into the mainland system because you have an entrance exam on top of the equivalent of the Leaving Cert so it’s a tough route. Hospitality and tourism are the only options what would have been available to them” he said.
Lanzarote might be a popular holiday destination, but what is it like to live there all year round?
“When you are living in a place like that, the lifestyle is just all about working. You’d think we were living in paradise, and the people who come there on holiday, that’s all they see. I think everybody must leave Clare in the months of November and March because the amount of people you’d meet over there from home is amazing. It’s also a very different tourist season. From September 1st onwards, it’s pretty much flat out from there until March or April. We knew Lanzarote quite well though so that made it much easier to settle in there. The Irish really help the Irish out there, there are lads out there from places like Doonbeg and Miltown and everyone helps in promoting each other which is great to see” Eimear noted
They arrived home to west Clare in the summer of 2018, and Eimear admits the weather they were greeted with made the transition a little smoother for their two daughters in particular.
“We didn’t actually tell them that we were moving away. We told them initially that they were going on holidays but that’s been extended a bit now. We were very fortunate with the weather we got after we came home in June. We were able to be up at the beach at 8.30pm which is something we wouldn’t have been able to do in Lanzarote because I would have been working. Even my family, especially my sister Roisín would be asking why I was going to the beach and I told her look around, it’s Ireland and it’s not raining, we have to make the most of this” she laughed.
There were no set plans in terms of business ventures when they decided to move home, although Chris had work lined up for the tourist season. An e-mail arrived just before the end of the summer and they decided it was too good an opportunity to turn down.
Having had the experience of rolling out the Irish welcome overseas, Eimear says it’s something they have really seen the value of.
“It’s not until you move away that you see just how big that welcome is. It’s actually bred into the Irish I think and that’s why the Irish succeed wherever they go. You read these stories of the negativity around certain things, but having come back now, we see it everywhere in the industry, they are so welcoming. Good faith is huge here too. There’s a lot of paperwork red-tape in Spain, whereas here a lot of things are done on good faith. That definitely took a bit of getting used to” she said.
So what is the forecast for the 2019 season?
“We are hoping being on the Wild Atlantic Way will help us, but what’s on everyone’s minds is what will happen with Brexit, because that it going to have an effect. If people up north are going to have to start getting visas to come down south, they just won’t travel. If we have a summer like last year that would be a huge help. Having the Irish Open in Lahinch this year will be massive and we have the Willy Clancy Summer School obviously too so there are a lot of positives. We really want to try and develop a local trade so that we can stay open all year round, rather than having to close down for the winter months. People are worried too about the jump in VAT rates but we are coming into it at 13% without ever having experienced the lower rate so we just have to be vigilant of it and hopefully make it a success”.