Andrew Porter: Break in the west ideal for recharging the batteries

Visit to Mayo and Clare a perfect tonic before a return to serious training with Leinster

Last Saturday was to have been the second Test in Australia and the end of the season. Myself and Elaine had planned on going to Italy but luckily we had nothing booked. So, as this was still a two week break in Leinster, instead we headed to the west of Ireland. I think it might have been better.

I think it’s great that more of us are giving a boost to the Irish economy. It’s a beautiful part of the world, with so many hidden gems.

We went to Mayo for one night and then drove down to Clare for another two nights. It wasn't very long, because Elaine had to be back for work. She's a senior executive with Hostel World. -

But we saw and did everything we wanted to do, and crammed it all into three days.


We booked an Airbnb in Castlecarra in Mayo. We went horse riding the first day in Westport, which is not too far away, and that was good craic. I was surprised they had a horse big enough. I think his name was Beauty.

I would have grown up around horses whereas Elaine had never done any horse riding before. When we got to the stables they said: “It’s usually the girl who’s done the horse riding and the boy who hasn’t done any.”

Elaine’s horse was more tame but I took Beauty for a gallop around Clew Bay. The legs were a little sore afterwards. I hadn’t done that since I was around 10 or 11. But it’s like riding a bike – albeit a much larger and unpredictable bike. Reliving old memories.

It was a little rainy on the drive down to Clare. We took the Connemara scenic route via Westport and through Kylemore Abbey, Roundstone, Clifden and Galway. I'd say it took four hours' driving.

We stopped off in Clifden for lunch in a place called Off the Square. A friend of mine, Oisín Heffernan, was in the Leinster academy with me and his parents own that restaurant.

One of the best chowders I’ve ever had. Honestly.

When we got down to Clare we were lucky, we had lovely weather. We stayed in a place called Whitegate, near Williamstown Harbour beside Lough Derg. We were in a lovely spot, right on the lake, which was nice and calm.

We were happy buying in food to cook in the house. Like Castlecarra, it was almost like we had the place to ourselves.

We went to the Ailwee Caves and the Cliffs of Moher on our first day, and also took in Doolin, Lisdoonvarna, Lahinch and other places in Clare that I would have known as a kid. The saddest sight of all was seeing a washed-up whale on the beach in Doolin. We couldn't believe it when we looked over initially. We thought it was driftwood.

We saw all the surfing in Lahinch as well. My granny used to have a holiday home in Lahinch which we stayed in a good bit when I was younger.

So it was nostalgic as well. I’d say I was eight- or nine-years-old the last time I was there and it brought back a lot of memories, all of them good ones.

The Cliffs of Moher were the highlight, because we just had the perfect day for it. I was surprised at how few people were there as well. Obviously there were no big tour buses full of tourists so we didn’t have to dodge anyone on any of the paths.

Tour guide

We also took in Bunratty Castle and, again, what I remember from going there as a kid was crowds and crowds of people but it was almost like having the place to ourselves. You could take your time doing things and maintain social distancing.

Elaine had never been to the west before but I knew all the nice spots and viewpoints, and they started coming back to me. I was the tour guide.

It was all very chilled, a very relaxing getaway rather than one of those mad ones. Like a reset. It was just what I needed. I’d recommend it.

It’s important to switch off, because even though we’ve been in lockdown you don’t properly switch off unless you have a complete change of scenery, getting away from the hustle and bustle of a city to enjoy the countryside.

I’ll do some training between now and our return to the HPC on Monday week. I’ll train in southside gym for the time being and I’ll also try to get a few things done with the house. Hopefully I’ll be in there in the next two or three weeks.

Before this two-week break, Leinster had merged us from four groups into one, so it was more like normal training, with teams of attack and defence, still with no contact, but going through moves and patterns. When we come back we’re set to have the green light for contact.

A few of the academy lights have been promoted to keep the older lads on their toes.

We'd usually have a proper send-off for the departing Leinster players at our end-of-season ball. But we had a golf day in Luttrellstown and then a 'social' with social distancing to say farewell to Barry Daly and Joe Tomane.

I played with Barry at UCD and he deserved his spot in the Leinster squad. He was top try scorer in the Pro14 two seasons ago and we’ve always been good friends. Always a great guy to talk to. It’s tough to see him go through injury but it’s great that he’s got a scholarship in America.

The other lads who’ve left were with their new provinces or, in Bryan Byrne’s case, over in Bristol.

I was paired with Tom Clarkson, a young academy prop with a good head on his shoulders. It was all the younger fellas against the older lads.

We played against Jack Conan and Josh Murphy, and won our point, and the younger lads won overall, which surprised me. Scott Fardy is out on the course three times a week!

Me and Tom were supposed to be playing Johnny Sexton and Garry Ringrose. I've heard Ryan Baird is very good and Bairdo thought it would be a fairer match-up with himself and Jimmy O'Brien against Sexto and Garry. He put it up to them. Sexto was gracious in defeat.