The opportunity to pack up the car and take advantage of a few well-earned days off in the West is one that is far too good to pass up, so when the chance to take a trip to Mayo with the family came about, there was only dust where we had stood only moments before…
A relatively long road trip, broken up by  squeals of delight when it was realised that we were passing through the hometown of One Direction’s Niall Horan, led us to the doors of the four-star McWilliam Park Hotel in Claremorris.
The hotel is located just outside the thriving market town of Claremorris in the heart of the West, halfway between Galway and Sligo.
Welcomed by the friendly staff and settling into our well-appointed and comfortable room at our leisure, there was only one activity likely to remove the aches and stresses of the long drive, and so within, oh, about three minutes of arriving, bathing costumes were donned and towels located and we were off to the hotel’s swimming pool, where we were to find ourselves ensconced for at least an hour every day as my travelling companions took full advantage of the warm and perfectly-sized pool to improve their swimming skills while the temperatures dropped outside.
Claremorris itself is barely half an hour from the Atlantic coastline, and the beautiful surroundings of the local area include plains, rivers and lakes, and with the imposing figure of Croagh Patrick staring down, the landscape is one that is both rugged and rustic.
A robust and hearty cooked breakfast in the hotel’s comfortable and relaxed restaurant to ward off the chill was followed by a walk through the town, and we were lucky to have been there  while a pre-Christmas  craft fair went on in the main street – luckily, this was a tented affair, meaning that the biting wind was kept at bay.
The next order of business for the day was to take in some of the surrounding area and pick one of the many local attractions to visit.
We finally arrived at the National Museum of Ireland’s Museum of Country Life, located in the stunning surroundings of the Turlough Park House, with its grounds,  lake and art installations adding to the experience.
The museum, whose exhibition space extends over four floors in a state-of-the-art modern building sympathetically incorporated into the grounds of Turlough Park, is an impressive and thoughtfully curated collection of artefacts from an age not so long ago, giving visitors an opportunity to see how the people of Ireland lived in the hundred years between the Great Famine and the end of the 1950s.
There are interactive displays and installations that bring you closer to the history on display, with hand-crafted harvest knots, wickerwork, spinning wheels and boats, clothing and artefacts from the islands and hand operated machinery our grandparents used giving an insight into the lives of our recent ancestors.
Turlough Park House itself is an impressive pile and the cafe and visitor centre are integrated into the grounds. It proved to be a grand day out, and an educational one at that.
Back at the McWilliam Park Hotel as the sun dropped below the horizon, we settled in for an evening in the restaurant with my hungry and demanding companions.
Starters comprised a delicious chicken liver mousse, an impressive vegetable soup and a melon platter that satisfied the initial pangs.
I enjoyed a fantastically tasty roast sirloin with dauphinoise potatoes and fresh vegetables. Unfortunately, the standard of the fare on offer for the younger members of the clan was far from as good, and the disappointment of an underwhelming and undercooked (store bought?) pizza for two of the team  was only relieved by the delivered-upon promise of warm chocolate brownies with ice cream.
It was a shame, but underlines the fairly poor attitude to kids’ cuisine in many places – they might be younger, but they know shabby fare when they get it. A little more thought and effort, of the same level that clearly goes into the grown-up’s menu, is clearly in order to ensure everyone at the table gets the same level of culinary satisfaction and the sense that the young ones are being short-changed.
That aside, the stay proved very satisfactory for all the family, even without taking advantage of the hotel’s kids club facilities, which cater for kids from four to 12, offering a range of activities such as painting, arts and crafts, DVDs and games.
A weary band led their way back East, realising that the West is closer than it seems, and a return visit very much in the minds of all.