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Portrush hour

Ireland as a whole has so much to offer, so why not head north and experience the beauty of Portrush, Co Antrim, writes Daragh Keany

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Portrush harbour.

Portrush harbour.

Portrush harbour.

As anyone who regularly reads these pages will know, I've always had a fondness for Northern Ireland stretching back nearly a quarter of a century.

I discovered another top spot last summer when we ventured beyond Belfast to the seaside town of Portrush on the very northern tip of the country.

It was between lockdowns so anywhere would have tickled our fancy at the time, but as we loaded the car and took off up the M1 we had no idea how incredible the subsequent four days were going to be.

There were inflatable aqua parks, dolphin spotting, four-course dinners overlooking the award-winning beaches, Game of Thrones experiences, amusement arcades, play centres, fun fairs, castles, the dunes of Portstewart, the Giant's Causeway and a handful of incredible restaurants. In fact, the only thing we didn't get to do on our trip was the famous Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge in Ballintoy, which was closed.

Our base for the mini break was the Portrush Atlantic Hotel which is slap bang in the middle of the town. I got the impression that most people in Portrush stay in one of the pretty quaint B&Bs on the coast road or in a mobile home in one of the handful of campsites on the outskirts, but we got lucky with our booking and managed to secure adjoining rooms in the four-star hotel.

We were only in the town for a few days and our pre-trip prep resulted in a long list of things to do, so as soon as we woke on day one and stuffed ourselves on the complimentary brekkie, we headed off to our first appointment.

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Mia, Daragh, Chloe and Sarah on the Aquaholics Boat Trip in Portstewart.

Mia, Daragh, Chloe and Sarah on the Aquaholics Boat Trip in Portstewart.

Sarah and Daragh at the Dark Hedges from Game of Thrones.

Sarah and Daragh at the Dark Hedges from Game of Thrones.

The Portrush Atlantic Hotel.

The Portrush Atlantic Hotel.

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Mia, Daragh, Chloe and Sarah on the Aquaholics Boat Trip in Portstewart.

The Aquaholics Boat Tour takes off from Portstewart and takes around two hours. On the exciting and educational tour we took in seals, dolphins, old castles, the Giant's Causeway and many brilliant stories from the tour guide that we would have been happy to stay on board all day, even though the weather wasn't playing ball.

Soaked to the bone, we headed back to Portrush where we changed and pottered around the town for a proper look at our temporary home. It was mid-August and the entire place was hopping, but not in a manic way.

Apart from restaurants, there were no queues to get in anywhere and everyone was on the same vibe as us just trying to have a well-earned break in between lockdowns.

Dinner that night was in Ramore which has adapted to social distancing better than any restaurant we've been in. Even now, a year later, it still stands out as an exceptional example of how to manage a busy restaurant in a pandemic as they seamlessly moved partitions to create table sizes to suit their customers.

Renowned for their food, we soon realised why it had been recommended by so many people as we devoured every crumb that was beautifully laid out on the plates. A special mention has to go to the gin menu. We can still taste that gorgeous Jawbox gin served with a giant wedge of honeycomb to complement the taste.

Day two of our trip was all about one thing - the Giant's Causeway. It was the one aspect of our trip that didn't need to be sold to our kids. Aged 10 and seven, they were only dying to see what all the fuss was about, and after hearing a variation on the story from the boat guide the previous day, they were even more keen to see it up close for themselves.

I've been there a few times and it still manages to amaze me. Unlike so many world-renowned tourist traps, it never disappoints and now experiencing it through our kids' eyes we have an even better appreciation for the spot.

The guided tour headsets were a massive hit with all the family and allowed us to take it all in at our own pace. Obviously in the height of summer the country's most famous tourist spot is going to be popular, but even still it was all very manageable and enjoyable.

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Mia and Chloe at the summer funfair in Portrush.

Mia and Chloe at the summer funfair in Portrush.

Chloe at the Giant’s Causeway.

Chloe at the Giant’s Causeway.

The Portrush Atlantic Hotel.

The Portrush Atlantic Hotel.

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Mia and Chloe at the summer funfair in Portrush.

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After we grabbed some lunch, myself and my wife decided to satisfy a nerdy side by driving to the Dark Hedges in Ballymoney to see the Game of Thrones' Kingsroad with our own eyes. While it is utterly spectacular to see, it is also fair to say that the kids would happily have skipped this leg of the trip. But perfectly selfishly, we weren't interested in their needs on this occasion and loved following in Arya Stark's footsteps.

That night was capped off with a dinner in 55 Degrees North where we have never been happier to have pre-booked a table. The queue was unreal, but after two glorious hours looking out the floor-to-ceiling windows at families enjoying the nearby beach while eating delicious meals, we knew exactly why people were willing to wait for no-shows or early finishers.

On day three we drove off to the Lake Kilrea Aqua Park, which is 35 minutes by car inland from Portrush. Phelim is the man running the show there and is quick to get his hands dirty when it comes to ensuring each and every one of his customers is treated like royalty and in a Covid-safe environment.

We had booked in for an hour to offer an alternative fun day out to the stunning Whiterocks beach near our hotel and it didn't disappoint. In fact, my seven year old cheekily asked Phelim if we could spend a few more minutes out on the water and he happily obliged. It was just another example of the warm Northern Irish welcome we got everywhere we went.

The last supper was held at Harry's Shack in Portstewart. Everyone who heard we were heading in that direction recommended it. So much so that we booked it for the final night and even opted for taxis instead of driving so we could enjoy it properly. Unfortunately, when we were there a giant mist descended which ruined the potential views, but it didn't take away from the food and the craic for all four of us. The kids even went and played on the nearby beach while we enjoyed a bottle of red. It was pure bliss.

The next morning we packed up our bags and headed home, but not before a pitstop at the giant We Are Vertigo obstacle course in Belfast and a slap up burger in the swanky Titanic Hotel.

The indoor play arena is supposed to be just for kids but when the supervisors informed us that parents were allowed in too there was no stopping us joining in the fun. It gave us an appetite for a big meal so we headed across the road and walked in looking red faced and sweaty, but that didn't bother the staff in the hotel who couldn't have been nicer and made our girls feel like princesses catering to their every request.

It was the perfect finish to a wonderful holiday and we cant wait to go back.

Travel news

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Meath's newest Airbnb gets an A+ for creativity.

Formerly a girls' secondary school, Eureka House in Kells is now welcoming guests for both long and short stays.

The 19th century country house was famously the home of Eureka Secondary School (our chief writer may have attended) from 1956 up to 2019. Now the historic building has been transformed back into a five-bedroom property with a real touch of class.

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TRAVEL NEWS 01 AUGUST

TRAVEL NEWS 01 AUGUST

TRAVEL NEWS 01 AUGUST

 

Just 45 minutes from Dublin Airport, the characterful house - which can currently accommodate up to 12 guests - is the ideal base for exploring the ancient Boyne Valley, with the Hill of Tara, Trim Castle and Newgrange just a few of the attractions within driving distance. While history nerds only have to cross the road to Kells Courthouse Tourism and Cultural Hub to see a facsimile of The Book of Kells, and swot up on what else there is to see and do in the heritage town, also home to St Colmcille's House.

Completed over lockdown, the elegant makeover has smartly combined a sense of the past with all the comforts of the present in plush bedrooms and bathrooms stocked with treats by The Handmade Soap Company, another local success story. Elsewhere, there is a kitchen/dining area, two spacious living areas and a meeting room perfect for business guests - or just playing hooky.

Set on six acres of parkland and boasting ample free parking, past pupils and passersby, meanwhile, can stop by for a Lavazza coffee or ice-cream in the tea rooms or on the lawn. Prices start from €80 per person per night.

  • See facebook.com/eureka-house or contact eurekahouse@gmail.com.

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