By Anna-Maria Casey
DESCRIBED by Lonely Planet as ‘enchanting’, Cape Clear has attracted both Irish and international tourists for many years.
In pre-pandemic times, Cape Clear residents enjoyed welcoming visitors to their shores to experience their brand of island life and culture.
Owner of Ard na Gaoithe Bed and Breakfast (B&B) on the island, Tríona Leonard, said the past year has been ‘devastating’ for everyone.
‘Last year we had 10 weeks’ trading and this year I don’t know how much trading I’ll be able to do,’ she said.
Despite the obvious disruption that the pandemic has caused the island, Tríona continues to ensure that her B&B, which has been in business for more than 20 years, remains vibrant.
She has spent lockdowns carrying out renovations, tending to the garden, developing a new breakfast menu, keeping the website up-to-date and keeping in touch with regular customers.
Promoting the Irish language is important to Tríona and she welcomes guests who wish to practise speaking Irish.
This aspect of her business has thrown up some surprises as international customers have stayed with her in the past for this very reason, after learning Irish online.
She is very hopeful that she will be open for the upcoming summer months and has repeat bookings from last year’s season of staycationers.
‘Last year we were open on June 29th with three days’ notice and no vaccine, so I presume this year we will be able to open at some point when a percentage of the population have been vaccinated – hopefully sooner rather than later.’
The island native has not let the negative impact that lockdowns have had on her business discourage her from continuing to work in the tourism industry.
‘What I’m delighted to be doing is working in the business that I’m passionate about which is, of course, tourism and welcoming people to a place as unique as Cape Clear. It’s wonderful to be able to work in the industry and we are really looking forward to opening up.’
She also remains positive about the future of Cape, and expects it to survive the disruption that the pandemic has caused local tourism.
‘We have a great product here and, in that respect, I’m not concerned at all.’
Local businesswoman Mary O’Driscoll moved from Schull to Cape when she married an islander – Ciarán O’Driscoll.
This husband-and-wife team have multiple businesses as they own and run Cotter’s Bar and Ciarán runs Danny Mike’s Pub and Restaurant, while also offering accommodation to tourists at Cape Clear Cottages.
Their normal tourism season runs from St Patrick’s Day to the October Bank Holiday weekend but the pandemic-related restrictions have curtailed trading opportunities for them while various bills still need to be paid.
‘In a normal year, our income would have started to increase and we would have had a good Easter weekend – so we’d be floating again – but at this stage we’re really just scraping the bottom of the barrel,’ said Mary.
While hopeful for the immediate future of the island, Mary does note an aging population, combined with a reduction in the number of long-term residents on the island, could spell trouble.
She says these changing circumstances may negatively impact on the businesses, as the island needs young and vibrant people to live there, to ensure its long-term viability.
‘The island is definitely at a turning point and it is a critical situation at the moment.’
She is eagerly awaiting a ‘return to normal’ on the island, albeit with the necessary coronavirus precautions in place.