Tourist hotspots: Party central Lahinch eager to show the world it has much more to offer

Lahinch, Co Clare is the perfect spot to begin exploring the great outdoors. Pictures: Eamon Ward

Beyond party town, it’s the place to begin exploring the great outdoors

A grey July morning in Lahinch where the tide is on the rocks and winds are gusting along the prom.

A scene that won’t make any picture postcard images for the popular Clare seaside resort, but the Hayes family from Croagh in west Limerick don’t seem to mind.

Mike and Mags, along with children, Jim, 6, Daragh, 4, and 18 month-old Aisling are in the resort for a two-week holiday. It is their fifth year in a row coming to Lahinch. Mike says: “Lahinch has everything we need. The beach is very safe for kids and there are other fantastic beaches along the coast. Fantastic restaurants and pubs and plenty to do for the kids. It is a great base.”

Mags says: “When it is raining, we just get the waterproofs on and go to the swimming pool or Jim and Daragh went rock-climbing and playing archery (at Lahinch Adventures). They had a great time.”

At Lahinch Adventures, which faces onto the prom, owner Ben Bennett is bullish about the summer in Lahinch.

Ben Bennett with surfing students at Lahinch, Co Clare. He employs 14 people, coaching surfing, archery and rock-climbing.
Ben Bennett with surfing students at Lahinch, Co Clare. He employs 14 people, coaching surfing, archery and rock-climbing.

He started giving lessons to surfers in Ben’s Surf Clinic and today employs 14 people, coaching surfing, archery and rock-climbing.

“It has been a good year, and an interesting year, and surfing is still on the way up here,” he says.

Lahinch is one of the most popular surf destinations in Ireland, and Ben says the profile of surfers is changing with a lot more improvers.

He says the town is benefiting from being on the Wild Atlantic Way with a lot more Americans around.

“The Wild Atlantic Way is all about the West being wild, windy and wet, and people are taking that on board and just getting on with it.”

The resort still retains some of the battle scars from the pummelling it took in the winter storms of 2014.

Tourist hotspots: Party central Lahinch eager to show the world it has much more to offer

In September, Clare County Council is expected to commence construction on a €2.9m project that will upgrade the existing coastal protection infrastructure along the promenade.

The completion of the project will protect the car park areas and business premises in that area, and allow for the future development of the area behind the sea wall in Lahinch.

However, the council admits that it doesn’t currently have the funding to commence construction on the €4m second phase which involves the reconstruction of the rock revetments from O’Looneys pub in a southerly direction.

The priority to commence works to protect the resort has been put on the back burner plans to advance a master plan for the prom area.

Stuart Green of the Green Room shop and surf school said the prom area is looking dated, and the completion of a master plan would give the area a cosmopolitan feel.

A spokesman for the council said its focus is on carrying out appropriate remediation and strengthening of coastal infrastructure and that once that work has been completed “there will be greater scope for further consideration of the more visually attractive elements proposed in the masterplan”.

Lahinch hotelier, Michael Vaughan, owner of the 4-star Vaughan’s Lodge Hotel, said business is very strong at the moment and would be 3% to 4% up on last year.

Michael Vaughan of Vaughan Lodge at Lahinch, Co Clare, claims the town is too reliant on the ‘soft money’ of stags and hens.
Michael Vaughan of Vaughan Lodge at Lahinch, Co Clare, claims the town is too reliant on the ‘soft money’ of stags and hens.

However, he said, a lot of people were commenting that June was a little soft and that not as many domestic tourists were around.

Mr Vaughan said Lahinch has some very fundamental issues to address in terms of its overall market.

He says Lahinch Seaworld that dominates the prom area “is past its purpose”.

“The fabric of building is very poor and its needs a massive investment. We need a new product to rejuvenate the area,” he said.

Mr Vaughan also argues that Lahinch “is depending way too much on the soft money of stags and hens and group party markets”.

“It is almost a party town for a number of weeks of the year.

“Lahinch needs to develop, — long-term — a sustainable family-centred business.”

“I don’t see any hope for my own business in developing a family domestic market while we are still in that market where we are subjected to the, I suppose, debaucherous nature of some of the groups that come into town at weekends.”

“It is a business that is bought at a price. It is race to the bottom and in the longer term the reputation of the village has suffered.

“We have come to tipping point in relation to the amount of that kind of business we have.”

Antoin O’Looney operates business both at the high end of the market, at Moy House guest house, and the popular end where he operates O’Looney’s bar that does a vibrant food trade.

Antoin O’Looney of O’Looneys, Lahinch, Co Clare, insists stags and hens are just one part of the jigsaw.
Antoin O’Looney of O’Looneys, Lahinch, Co Clare, insists stags and hens are just one part of the jigsaw.

He said that the high end of the business has been very strong, but that business during the week at O’Looney’s bar “has been temperate enough”.

His business does entertain stags and hens at weekends, but he says that is just one part of the jigsaw for Lahinch.

He said: “The people on stags and hens take up accommodation and feed into bars, restaurants, night-clubs. So from my point of view, they keep a Saturday night very healthy. It is my responsibility to ensure that no-one is out of order — anyone stepping out of line won’t be tolerated.”

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