BUSY MONTH Keel beach and the surrounding area has had one of its busiest ever months.
Driving into Achill the week before the August Bank Holiday weekend you would be forgiven for thinking the bank holiday had started early given the amount of traffic on the road. The sky is grey and rain is in the air but it doesn’t seem to be bothering the scores of cyclists travelling along the Greenway from Mulranny towards Achill Sound.
This year, more than any, it seems that every second car you meet has a number of bikes strapped to the roof or the boot and, if there is room, a couple of surfboards. Crossing the bridge onto the island, the number of cyclists become more noticeable who, after running out of Greenway, have to cycle on the road with the often not so patient motorists.
Róisín Lavelle of Achill Bikes said this July has been a lot busier than last year with all varieties of people looking to hire bikes.
“We opened at the end of June and straight away people started looking for bikes and it has been good. It has been busier this year than last year for sure,” she told The Mayo News.
Róisín says that some people are not aware that the Greenway does not come onto the island and because transport for cyclists is limited due to Covid-19 restrictions many are deciding to cycle on the island rather than the Greenway. Despite having to share the roads with motorists, she says it does not restrict their enjoyment.
“Some just cycle a few hours and others will be gone all day. When they come back they all had a ball and they mention how beautiful the place is. Nobody has said, even during bad weather, that they are sorry they did it. People are very positive with what they see and did not realise what Achill is like or how big it is.”
Motorhomes and campervans
Apart from the high numbers of cyclists on the road, one interesting reality is the lack of coaches and tour buses you would normally see at the various beauty spots. However you cannot say that about the number of motorhomes and campervans on the road and when you hit Keel, they are there to greet you in all their glory.
The Keel Sandybanks Caravan Park and Campsite is full as it adheres to social distancing guidelines but adjacent to it is an ‘unofficial campsite’ with almost as many motorhomes, caravans and tents spread around the Sandybanks.
Judging by the size of some of the vehicles on display, the days of the Fr Ted type caravan seem to be over. There some very impressive American style ‘RVs’ on show which would not look out of place as tour buses for rock bands on the festival circuit. There is no doubt that if Covid was not here, they would have got the ferry to the continent but France’s loss seems to be Achill’s gain.
With the sun making a rare appearance, the beach carpark is also choc-a-bloc with crowds you would only expect during a heatwave. Down on Keel beach, the largest of Achill’s four Blue Flag beaches, Tomás McLoughlin of Surf le Tomás surf school has over a dozen youngsters flat on their boards as he teaches them the basics before sending them into the choppy seas. It may look cold but Tomás says they won’t be long warming up.
“The beach has been as busy now and this year than any other time. The most striking thing is it is all Irish families,” he explained.
“A lot of people are on staycations getting out and doing things. All my surf lessons are booked and they are all good customers. I am getting a lot of parents going in with the kids so it is a whole family affair. You have the mum and dad and the kids going in for the lesson. It is great to see.”
Tomás says that people are aware of Covid and take precautions but they generally feel safe in the open air. He has noticed that for many of the visitors this is their first holiday in Achill and is hopeful the island will continue to attract them back post Covid.
“The weather hasn’t put them off. Some of my busiest days are wet days, they just get on with it. A lot of people have had a positive experience this year and with a bit of luck they will come back. Our beaches are far superior, the water is pristine and there is a great freedom for children.
“The only danger is if prices are inflated. If we can be sensible people will say there is good value to be had in Ireland and stay rather than saying they are ripped off in Ireland and I’m off to Spain because its cheaper.”