HIGH FIVE Elaine Connaghan is pictured last month celebrating the fifth anniversary of the opening of the Achill Aquarium and Visitor Centre.
Name: Elaine Connaghan
From: Originally from Tonragee but living in Dooagh
Occupation: Manager of Achill Experience and Aquarium and Visitor Centre
I get up at seven o’clock every morning and go for a walk. I live on the road to Keem Bay and there are not many better settings to start off the day. I wouldn’t have been a walker before Covid, but now I like to get out in the fresh air and go for a walk when I can. It is a nice start to the day.
When I get back, I get the kids ready for school and get their lunches ready. My daughter goes to secondary school in Coláiste Pobal Acla so she gets the bus at eight and my son goes to Dooagh National School and I drop him off on my way to work. My husband works in Sweeney’s Achill Sound and he heads to work for 9am.
I would always have a cup of tea and toast in the morning; I would not be a coffee person at all. I love the smell of coffee and I would love to like it because I hear people talk about how smooth the flavours are but no I don’t like it at all. I remember my nanny used to say if I had a headache, did I have my cup of tea today and if I said no she would say that’s why I had the headache! So I always have my cup of tea in the morning.
Normally I would arrive at the Achill Experience Aquarium and Visitor Centre around nine to be open for ten in the summer. We only opened up last Monday following the easing of restrictions so we are opening at 10.45 but that will change when things start opening up again.
First of all we have to make sure everything is ready. The place would be hoovered the evening before, so the team would have specific jobs to do to get the centre ready for visitors, bathrooms are cleaned and tidied and the shelves have to be re-stocked. All the tellys and tablets have to be on and checked they are working alright. The lads in the aquarium check all the fish and the filters and all the routine checks for temperature, salinity and water testing to make sure everything is in perfect condition and all the mechanics are working and nothing has broken down.
We check our bookings for the day and we have a cup of tea before we open the doors. Then it is all go for the rest of the day, each day is different from visitors arriving, deliveries and other necessary administration.
It is great to be allowed open again after the lockdown. We thought it would be June before we’d be able to open but we have a museum section and a zoo licence so we are allowed to reopen. Last year we had to cancel the school tours because of Covid. We have a few good number booked already so hopefully we will have a few more inquiries.
The aquarium would be the most popular part of the Achill Experience. They come mostly to see the rare lobsters and the octopus. We have our rare lobsters Smurfette, Sapphire, Rusty and Charlie. The baby sharks are the big interest now at the moment. They hatched out just before Christmas and people can sponsor a baby shark through our website and come into see them develop and grow over time. They are cat sharks/(AKA dogfish) and they can be found locally off the shore of Achill.
All the fish are caught locally by local fishermen and we are very grateful to them for helping us out and supplying them to us. Its great to be able to see what we have in our oceans here and you would be surprised at the array of species there are.
As well as seeing the fish, visitors get to learn more about them and ask questions. Our history section is a great addition to the centre and allows visitors to step back in time and immerse themselves in our rich history, we have boards on the Deserted Village, Tattie Hokers, Gráinne Mhaol, the Kirkintolloch tragedy and a replica Boley House with all the old artefacts used for farming.
Social distancing means the number of visitors allowed in at one time to the centre is capped and they are limited to a 45 minutes time slot in the aquarium. We set up a booking system and last year after restrictions were lifted it was a bumper summer with most of our slots booked out.
It was frustrating having to turn people away but people were very good and understanding. We try to accommodate them as much as possible if there was a slot available later in the day. But people are understanding with Covid.
The last time-slot of the day is at 5.30 so we close around 6.30 and do all the necessary cashing up and have a quick tidy up before heading home. I am very blessed that I have great family around me who look after my children whilst we are at work so they might already have had their dinner, so I pick them up and prepare dinner then.
In the evenings the kids might have Gaelic or soccer training they might have to go to and my daughter goes to Irish dancing once a week. Through Covid she was doing that all through Zoom and we were doing feiseanna through Zoom so that was very different.
If the evenings are nice and there is nothing on that evening, I like to go for a walk on the beach to unwind and spend time with the kids.
I used to watch all the soaps but I have had to cut back on some of them but Home and Away I won’t miss. I have watched it since I was small and I still don’t miss it. I always ensure I have it recorded and in the evenings I sit down and relax to catch up on the goings on in Summer Bay.
In conversation with Anton McNulty
If money was no object what would you do all day?
I would travel and go on spa days.
Tell us something we don’t know about you?
I was on School Around the Corner dancing.
What’s the most unusual things you’ve ever eaten?
I tried snails, I didn’t like them.
Favourite place in the world?
I love Portugal but there is no where nicer than Keem Bay. Any beach you go to abroad you always compare it to Keem, but would also love to got to New Zealand.
What makes you angry?
I wouldn’t be an angry person but little things like technology playing up might irk me.
What three things are always in your fridge?
Milk, yogurt and ham.
What makes you nervous?
Interviews like this!
What’s you favourite TV show?
Home and Away but I am also watching Bridgerton on Netflix.
What miss most about being a kid?
Having no worries and being care free.
Most prized possession?
My kids of course and their baby photos.
What’s the best advice you ever got?
Always be myself and not to change.
What are you looking forward to most when Covid restrictions ease?
Going to visit my nephew James in Portugal with my family, we haven’t seen him since he was three months old, only on Facetime.
Can’t wait to give him a cuddle.
Describe yourself in three words?
Happy, kind, bubbly.