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In praise of the Púca and the good folk of Bunratty

In praise of the Púca and the good folk of Bunratty

One persons tourist trap can be another’s priceless heritage, one person’s Púca, another’s masterpiece.

The soundtrack to this road trip, as we headed west to welcome the new year, was seasonal. Somehow or other though Bing Crosbie’s ‘White Christmas’ and Andrea Bocelli’s ‘Silent Night’ got jostled off the ball and were replaced in that spot in your head where songs go on a repeat loop, where you at first sing, then hum and then go crazy as you realise this song is never, ever going to leave you or leave you alone for the rest of your life… It was Ella Fitzgerald and ‘Santa Claus Got Stuck in My Chimney’. I kid you not, there is such a song.

Just as the song jingled along, so did we, headed for our first overnight base in Lahinch. The plan, nothing too elaborate. A brisk walk on the prom as the frost thawed and the blustery wind waited its turn; a bit of grub, a drink, and a few tunes to greet 2023; a surf would be a bonus and on New Year’s Day a quest to find the elusive Púca who had galloped away out of Ennistymon for the wilds of The Burren. Bunratty was also on the cards, but we’d keep it simple and play it by ear.

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It all worked out a treat for the final trip of 2022 and the first of ’23, just as the clock on our converted Transit reached the 100,000km mark (since March 2017) and not an ounce of bother in between. Best thing we ever did was converting that campervan.

A lull in the harsh weather saw an honest Atlantic swell greeted by fresh easterly offshore winds to make for ideal surf conditions and Lahinch earns its stripes as Ireland’s self-declared Surf City.

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A warm shower in Ben’s Surf Clinic (€3) just off the prom does the trick as Randaddy’s, Spooney’s, Joe’s Café and Vaughan’s served up the famished families, with even ice-cream on the menu.

For us it is hard to pass Spooney’s famous fish n’ chips, a generous portion for €12.50, fresh local produce served up in a secret recipe, what’s there not to like.  We relished it, inside the snug van as we watched the world go by on the Lahinch prom, accompanied by some crispy Wicklow Wolf beverages. Thankfully we have a new soundtrack, courtesy of a Ry Cooder Radio playlist, that would do Tom Stapleton and the gigs in The Pathé Hotel, Roscrea and Kilkenny Roots Festival proud.

First up is Frawley’s as the after-dinner countdown to midnight commences. Tom is gone, rest his soul, but his spirit lives on in the bar that bears his name and not as much as a stool out of place in homage as the establishment under a new landlord enjoys the favour of another generation of surfers and others.

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A Hogmanay hooley in Kenny’s Bar

But for the Hogmanay hooley it must be Kenny’s Bar, home of the White Horse Sessions and a tavern renowned as the home of good tunes. Our timing is immaculate as the popular food service has just ended after 9pm and the countdown to midnight continues. Kenny and crew are in mighty form, the place is buzzing. The bard on duty is the unassuming Joe Doyle. He sets up and sips his tea as he surveys the swelling audience, giddy with anticipation. It doesn’t take a funk out of Joe as he launches into his set with the fervour and precision of a real pro, on the button of 10.20pm as he had promised. This is not Joe’s first New Year’s Eve rodeo. The dance floor is thronged from his second song, as two hours later he is still knocking out the standards, better than any jukebox hey Joe, as he straddles midnight in his stride and more than two hours after he strummed those delicate opening chords, he sends them home sweating. The young ones in their skimpy sequin dresses will catch their death as they greet the new year in the frosty night air.

One too many and a sleep-on meant I miss my surfing window as the high tide pushes up on the rocks from 10am. A pity, but you can’t win them all and a strong coffee followed by a brisk walk on the prom will have to suffice to shake off the cobwebs.

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Next up is The Púca. Although not yet two years old, the already infamous sculpting is emulating the consternation associated with its fabled ancestors. Despite its recent origins this particular Púca is shrouded in piseog, rumours, gossip, innuendo, and superstition reputedly involving a stand-off between the populace, pagans, priests, and politicians, reminiscent of a bygone era, more like something out of a Martin McDonagh script than latter day Ennistymon.

The Púca has ben banished to the bleak landscape of The Burren

In any event The Púca, a bronze sculpting commissioned by Clare County Council and created by Kilkenny artist Aidan Harte was run out of town and ultimately banished to the more remote and bleak landscape of the Burren. The Michael Cusack Centre (a heritage hub dedicated to one of the founders of the GAA) in the village of Carron is now its home, aptly in an area historically named as ‘Pol a Phúca’, the lair of the Púca.

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Minding its own business in the back of beyond The Púca is a magnificent, magical, and mischievous work of art; a masterpiece which will in time no doubt weave its spell and endear itself to visitors for many years to come. (The Michael Cusack Centre is only open by appointment between November and March). For more on the saga of the Ennistymon Púca read here: Magnificent and divisive Púca statue unveiled in The Burren

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For those interested in the significant public sculpting’s which you encounter as you traverse the countryside, Ann Lane has published two excellent books featuring more than one thousand public artworks along the roads of Ireland, entitled ‘By The Way’ in two volumes.

From Carron it’s cross country to Bunratty, and now there’s another story.

Bunratty is a real eye-opener

Confession time. For over 30 years I have assiduously avoided Bunratty, stubbornly refusing to go off the road to what I had deemed to be a tourist trap, geared towards Americans landing in nearby Shannon. At best, the plan was to stop over for the night and have a meal in Durty Nellies and promptly move on.

The set menu (4 courses for €39.50) was solid, the service was good and the staff the salt of the earth. The parking was spacious, safe, and free.

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What I hadn’t bargained for was the delights and hospitality offering of Bunratty village and the Bunratty Castle and Folk Park. It was a real eye-opener, entertaining, engaging, and educational. There was of course the usual fare and gift shops, but much more besides, all with an enthusiastic effort, seasonal hue, and good value price point, with both indoor and heated outdoor options, seasonal hot drinks, snacks, street food and full menus meals. The Creamery pub looked tempting.

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The admission fee into Bunratty Castle & Folk Park was €10 for adults and €8 for children and the experience was a revelation, thoroughly enjoyable, all at your own pace, with over 20 points of interest on an easy-to-follow self-guide map. We will definitely be back to sample and explore further, stay a bit longer next time.

First lesson of the new year, be more open-minded, give every place a chance. Afterall, one person’s Púca is another’s work-of-art: one person’s tourist trap, another’s priceless heritage.

Safe onward travels in 2023.

SEE ALSO:  L is for Lahinch, I love Lahinch

                    Loop Head to Lahinch – 24 hours in Clare – A Photo Essay

About The Author

John Whelan

John Whelan is a vastly experienced midlands based journalist and editor who has contributed extensively to the country's leading national and regional titles, as well as broadcast outlets. He runs the media services company, Communicate Ireland www.communicateireland.ie. John is a keen camping and campervan enthusiast with an interest in music, culture, heritage and outdoor pursuits. He has written for the Sunday Times, Sunday Independent and the Woman's Way on these topics. He is also an author, and his latest book, The Last Beekeeper, reflects his love of nature, the landscape and our shared responsibility to protect the environment. The Last Beekeeper is available to preview and purchase at www.thelastbeekeeper.ie. Safe travels...

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