’Tis well for some to travel up the Wild Atlantic Way

Tommy Barker went halfway up the Wild Atlantic Way to dip a toe in the waters of Ennistymon Falls.

’Tis well for some to travel up the Wild Atlantic Way

IT’S A CASE of water, water everywhere, at the Falls Hotel in Co Clare’s Ennistymon, a hotel and riverside village/market town two miles from the sea at Lahinch.

Hotel and town alike are blessed in the physical beauty of their location, with a setting on the River Ineagh’s cascading waterfalls and a salmon pass or fishsteps all as pretty as they come.

County Clare is approximately halfway along Ireland’s ingenious marketing drive, the Wild Atlantic Way (WAW) running from Mizen (well, Kinsale, actually) to Malin and Derry.

If last weekend — kissed with unseasonal April sunshine and zephyr winds — was anything to go by, this country’s western and Atlantic fringing coastline is going to be ever-so swamped in visitors and voyagers this coming summer, for WAW’s second season.

Surfers in black neoprene zig-zagged the waves at Lahinch all weekend; Clare’s mobile home parks got a swift post-Easter weekend fillip, camper vans lumbered along the lanes and bagged the best vantage points, while hog-tied Harley-Davidson bikers lorded over traffic jams decked out in black leathers — enough to make anyone break out in a sweat.

And, working up a sweat is sort of what Ennistymon’s Falls Hotel is planning to do with its guests from May 11 to 17, as the centre of the area’s inaugural Clare Wellness Week, only it will be gentler beads of sweat (perhaps a certain glow?) induced by oil massages, homeopathy, movies, mindfulness and yoga sessions; there’s even an animated yoga variety promised, called chakra dancing.

Chakra whatting? According to my missus, who’s a yoga veteran of 30 years or so, it’s a sort of yoga and dance movement where mandalas, mind, body and spirit can harmonise their vibrations (my chakras are open to correction on this interpretation, however).

Me? My funky dancing expired long ago to the likes of Chaka Khan, and yoga’s only starting to tempt me as a means to maintain middle-aged movement and momentum. Putting on socks without necessarily having to sit down is a flexible goal of sorts.

Yoga inducements aside, it was enough to hear the Falls Hotel and Spa was, indeed, set by Ennistymon’s cascades to prompt an advance weekend visit, having admired the torrents only briefly down the years when passing through.

The chance to stay by the foot of the falls, walk up along them, dip a toe in them, swim in the sea and to later sample Ennistymon’s Continental bakery (top-class iced Danishes), cafes like Byrne’s, bars, music venues and art centre in the converted courthouse was all going to be a bonus, wellness individualised.

Fall’s Guy

Think smaller than Powerscourt — Leinster’s majestic falls, Ennistymon’s watery assets are on a par with or superior to Ballyshannon’s Assaroe falls, or even to Kenmare’s Sheen river falls — where a five-star hotel trades on its nature-endowed final river descent so successfully.

Ennistymon’s Falls Hotel and Spa, though notionally a three-star, and utterly unpretentious in its hard-working professionalism, can hold its head of water up with the best of locations.

There’s something almost hypnotic in the pulling power of gushing water, standing waves and stopper waves, tumbling over rocks, whirling pools, back eddies washes and rapids, as captivating in their sound as in sight.

Both senses, sound and vision, were stimulated at our hotel’s corner bedroom, just 100 metres down river, where the falls eventually met stiller water before passing through reeded banks on their way to the sea.

Kayaking at this lower section is facilitated, but definitely is not recommended at the upper level by the town’s old, arched bridge atop the descent. Nor is rafting or tubing: phew, it’s rocky and treacherous looking.

The falls alone bring business to Ennistymon’s hotel which rightly carries their name, whether in summer drought and glisten or in full foaming winter spate. High on a rocky bluff, the hotel grew out of a former Georgian manor house in fits and wings to the side and back (and, previously was an O’Brien castle).

It turned to hotel use way before Tiger times, back in the 1930s, when it was owned by the McNamara family, who were declining on their means and estates.

Its then owner Francis McNamara’s daughter, artist Caitlin, married Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, forging a relationship as tempestuous as the Ineagh river’s torrents. Today, the hotel’s foyer is graced by photographs of the couple as young lovers, placed rather ominously next to the Dylan Thomas Bar.

Now, it’s family owned and run by Michael and Sarah McCarthy, and largely staffed by locals. One notable employee exception in the 12-suite River Spa (plus outdoor hot tub, a 20-metre pool, sauna and trimmings, with Elemis spa products, if you knead to know), was masseur Ade (pronounced Adee), who hailed from far, far further east than west Clare.

Knots were unravelled like never before, but, hey listening to someone describe their massage is like listening to a golfer talk about their putting, a marathon runner boast of their personal best, or a yogi about transcendence.

Suffice to say, I came out feeling well above par (or, is it better to be under par?), at a personal unknotted best, and transcendentally light-headed into the bargain. All in an hour. (Of course we spoiled it all a few hours later with a chilly dip in the glistening sea, at Spanish Point, first swims of the year, glorious, and wellness- enhancing too.

The easy going and quintessentially Irish Falls Hotel and Spa is popular with families in high holiday seasons, and has donkeys in the grounds, tennis court, a games room and leisure facilities to amuse all ages.

The extraordinary beauty of the Burren (a world-rated Geo Park) is on the doorstep, as are the Ailwee Caves, the Cliffs of Moher, Lahinch golf club and surfing, and miles and miles of mid-section Wild Atlantic routes. And, even closer, falls.

It’s also popular for weddings (two last weekend, the falls backdrop is a lens-magnet for photography) and it advertises year-round activities, as diverse as country music festivals and bridge gatherings, and now into the fray comes Clare Wellness Week, with chakra dancing on the side.

If they ever get that target audience mixed up with the country music crowd, well….mindfulness won’t be in it. But, great fun might be well be had.

Clare Wellness Week:

Runs from May 11-17, see www.fallshotel.ie  See also: www.clare.ie  www.burren.ie/what-to-do/  www.burrengeopark.ie/  Falls Hotel and Spa Packages include:

* Two nights accommodation with breakfast, two dinners and Hotel Wellness Activities, €185 per person sharing.

* Three nights B&B and three dinners and Hotel Wellness Activities: €245.

* Four nights B&B, four dinners and Hotel Wellness Activities: €295 per person sharing.

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