Gordon Deegan.


Irish Tourism Summer 2015 (Special Report): Lahinch is building on ‘surf city’ image

A little over 18 months ago, Lahinch’s infrastructure was battered and bruised by winter storms — but it has been making a strong recovery. Now there are plans to capitalise on the Clare resort’s growing reputation as a watersports destination, writes Gordon Deegan.

Irish Tourism Summer 2015 (Special Report): Lahinch is building on ‘surf city’ image

A little over 18 months ago, Lahinch’s infrastructure was battered and bruised by winter storms — but it has been making a strong recovery. Now there are plans to capitalise on the Clare resort’s growing reputation as a watersports destination

Plans are afoot to capitalise on Lahinch’s burgeoning reputation as a watersports destination with plans to rebrand the resort as “surf city”.

Hotelier Michael Vaughan believes “surfing is worth around €2.5m a year to the area through the spend on accommodation, food, drink and the surf itself”.

“The great thing about the surfing is that it is not weather dependent — it is not an issue for the kids who are out in their wetsuits.

There are around 40 people directly employed by the schools alone.”

However, Mr Vaughan said the public facilities for surfers in Lahinch are “third world”, regularly leading to male surfers “inadvertently mooning to passing motorists as they get changed at the back of their cars”.

Surf school operator Ben Bennett of Ben’s Surf School said local surfing interests came together to rebrand Lahinch as “surf city”.

His own school is a sign of a maturing industry in Lahinch as he now operates out of a premises on the prom, after previously running his business from the back of a van for almost most of the past 10 years.

Mr Vaughan said the surf business was giving the sport of golf a good run for its money.

General manager of Lahinch Golf Club, Paddy Keane yesterday confirmed the club was also “having a very good year with green fees’ income up about 10%”. The club has Ireland captain Paul O’Connell among its members and last year green fees topped €1.4m.

Mr Keane said: “It has been a great season building on last year and the North American market has been very strong. The strong US dollar has helped. We have hit our targets this year so we are very happy.”

Lahinch also lies along the route of the Wild Atlantic Way and Mr Keane said: “Whoever came up with the idea of the Wild Atlantic Way should be canonised. It is sustainable and long lasting — and can be built upon.”

Mr Vaughan, meanwhile, says the Wild Atlantic Way has been great for Lahinch, but points out that a Burren village such as Kilfenora is being hit as it did not lie directly on the route.

It is only a little over 18 months since Lahinch was battered by winter storms.

However, the resort’s infrastructure has made a strong recovery with Clare County Council confirming yesterday it has completed emergency works at Lahinch Promenade to repair the storm damage of January/ February 2014. The works involved repairs to public footpaths, car parks, public lighting, railings, the lifeguard station, playground fencing, and other infrastructure.

A contract to replace sea wall caps along the entire promenade was recently completed.

The county council currently has a planning application to stabilise the existing seawall, reinforce the existing rock revetment, reconstruct the steps to the beach and reconstruct the promenade at an estimated cost of €2.3m.

Hotel business ‘almost back to pre-recession levels’

Michael Vaughan of Vaughan Lodge: Business up 10% this summer, boosted by strong US dollar.

Celebrating 10 years in business this year, Lahinch hotelier Michael Vaughan has described summer 2015 as a “watershed year” for his business.

The hotelier operates Vaughan’s Lodge Hotel at the busy resort and he said: “I could never have envisaged the last number of years to have been so tough, but this is a watershed year and we are almost back to pre-recession levels.”

Mr Vaughan said business was up 10% this summer, boosted by the strong US dollar with the result of more US golfers visiting Lahinch and its famous links course located about 250m from the hotel.

Arising from the 2015 performance, he is planning to further re-invest in the hotel and is hoping to add 10 rooms to the 22-bed, four-star hotel.

Mr Vaughan said new businesses such as the Captain’s Table restaurant on the resort’s prom had given Lahinch a lift this year while adding that there was a lot of excitement locally about what will happen to the site of the late Tom Frawley’s pub. The pub was owned by Ireland’s oldest publican, who was aged 94 when he retired.

The property was recently purchased and it occupies a large site at the end of Main St.

Mr Vaughan said the rainy days had not been all bad for tourist business with people eating more in the resort’s restaurants during the day and spending more time in the local shops rather than being out with their bucket and spade down on the wind-swept beach.

However, he expressed concern over the growing numbers of pre-wedding parties converging on Lahinch at the weekend.

“Lahinch does really become party town on a Saturday night and there are lots of older residents who can’t get a good night’s sleep because of the boisterous behaviour.”

Mr Vaughan said that the future of stag and hen party events taking place in Lahinch was “down to the accommodation providers on whether they want to go for the quality or the mass market”.

Weekdays weak, weekends strong

Antoin O’Looney: His bar and restaurant was badly damaged by storms last year but has installed reinforced glass to deal with crashing waves.

It is a sure sign of a bad summer when storm chasers are converging on O’Looney’s Bar and Restaurant at the height of the summer season to watch big waves bash the building.

Owner, Antoin O’Looney said: “The place was jam-packed with people on a recent Monday to see the waves coming over the wall.”

The 30ft waves going over the roof of O’Looney’s provided the defining image of the winter storms of early last year.

The storms put the bar and restaurant out of action for a number of months.

Visitors to the bar and restaurant today will see O’Looneys are taking no chances, with thick reinforced glass windows now in place.

The owner said: “It took six people to lift each pane of glass.”

Mr O’Looney knows more about the effects of weather than most and is philosophical about the bad summer.

“It is what it is. There is nothing we can do about it. The last belt of fine weather we had was April.”

The Lahinch man teaches swimming to young children on Tuesdays and Saturdays and, over the entire “summer” months, said: “We had about two nice days for the lessons”.

In spite of the poor weather, he said the bar and restaurant had “been doing OK”. “There have been aspects of the trade in Lahinch that have been doing OK but, with the bad weather, the weekdays have been weak and weekends strong.”

He said publicity from the storms last year had added to business, with the pub becoming well known throughout the country.

Mr O’Looney also operates the luxury Moy House guesthouse that overlooks the bay.

He said: “Moy House business has been very strong throughout the summer and bookings are good for September.”

‘There is a market for everyone’

Ben Bennett with Surfing students

Ben Bennett started his surf school 10 years ago, initially approaching people with surfboards on the street in Lahinch to see if they wanted lessons.

For most of the past decade, he operated out of a van on the prom.

However, last year, images of Ben’s half-submerged surf van in a Lahinch car park after what was the most severe storm experienced at the resort in decades became one of the most notable photographs of the winter storms.

Last summer, he took the plunge to open up his own surf outlet on the prom that includes an indoor activity centre.

Today, Ben employs 10 surf instructors, including big wave surfer and local Ollie Flaherty, at peak season.

He said: “It goes without saying that the weather has been very bad this summer — on the August weekend, we couldn’t even put people into the water because it was so bad.”

However, he said that while the surf business was down slightly on last year, business at the indoor activity centre with climbing and archery “had absolutely boomed”.

He said: “Overall it is up and I’m delighted with the way the indoor activity centre has gone.

“We have phonecalls from hotels in Kilkee and Doonbeg looking to book young guests in because they were not able to do anything outdoors in the bad weather, so the diversification has really helped with the business.”

There are five surf schools in Lahinch but Ben says: “There is a market for everyone and everyone has their own niche.”

He said: “The weekend coming will be the first where you will have the combination of surf, sun, and tides all working together.”

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