Clare, or the “ Banner County” is Ireland’s most easily identifiable county. It’s the pointy bit that sticks out into the Atlantic Ocean above Kerry and below Galway. Clare doesn’t have the spectacular mountain scenery of those two counties. Its boasts are more modest and possibly more charming as a result. The coastline, from Loop Head (the“pointy bit”) in the south to Black Head in the north, is a winning combination of rugged sea cliffs and sheltered sandy beaches. The villages and seaside towns along the coast are all small but each is famous in its own right for different things.
There is much to explore so without further ado here is our Authentic West Clare to do list:
1. The Cliffs of Moher
The Cliffs of Moher are Ireland’s most visited site. There is a good reason. They are not just beautiful and majestic, they are awe-inspiring. They are good for the soul. Time stands still in their presence. The Cliffs stretch for 8km from Hag’s Head just west of Liscannor to O’Brien’s Tower. The cliffs are accessible from the R478 that runs between Lahinch and Doolin. The new visitor center built on the other side of a hill is well worth a look and is reasonably priced. Parking at the Cliffs, however, is not. A flat fee is charged per car. The fee is not really for parking, you are in fact paying for the cost of the new visitor centre. Try not to get upset. Instead gaze in wonder at the nature’s work in progress sculpture that is the Cliffs of Moher.
Authentic tip: For a sea view of the Cliffs take a boat trip from Liscannor or DoolinA combined Cliffs of Moher, Aran Islands daytrip is also possible.
A few miles north of the Cliffs of Moher lies the scattered village of Doolin. One long extended street flanked by countless B&Bs, guesthouses and hostels, Doolin doesn’t sound very inviting, but it is. What Doolin has that no other town or village in Ireland has is three great pubs with quality traditional Irish music sessions 7 nights a week, 363 days a year. This is not like the singing pubs of Killarney or the rebel ballad singing you will hear in Dublin pubs. This is fiddles, banjos, flutes, accordions, tin whistles, bodhrans, bagpipes, and spoons. This is the McCoy Tyner. This is Clare, the home of trad music.
Authentic tip: the pubs in Doolin fill up very early especially at weekends. Get in early. All three pubs (O’Connor’s, McDermott’s, McGann’s) serve decent food. Eat, sit back, relax and treat your ears to a feast for a change.
Note: Two new hotels have recently opened in Doolin in the past year and both have bars attached. The Authentic crew has not yet had the chance to check them out. They may be fantastic, but why risk it? Head for one of those named above, or better yet try all three.
3. Explore the Burren
The Burren is a tough one to describe. It’s basically a barren limestone area in the northwest corner of Clare. It was formed some 350m years ago while still under water. The rock twists and swirls and occasionally whips itself into conical hills. Despite the rocky landscape, the area is also famous for its flora and fauna with many unique flower species. The Burren is an otherworldly place, but one that cannot really be appreciated from a car. You need to get out and walk. If going alone make sure you have a good map and compass. There are precious few landmarks and fewer trails so it is easy to get lost. A better idea is to go with a local who knows the area.
The Burren is also rich in ancient burial sites with over 70 megalithic tombs scattered throughout the area. The most famous is the Poulnabrone Dolmen which is over 5,000 years old. Some of the remains recently excavated were dated to 3800BC! The construction of a dolmen is simple– one large limestone slab laid on top of two or three upright slabs –but the effect is somehow profound, particularly when one considers their age and the fact that nobody has yet figured out how they were constructed. The Poulnabrone Dolmen is in a field 300m off the Ballyvaughan to Corofin road (R480) approx 8km south of Aillwee Cave,which, as it happens is also well worth visiting:
4. Do the Loop Head Drive/Walk
From the beach at Kilkee sea cliffs extend all the way to Loop Head. These cliffs are no where near as high as Moher, but have the advantage of being totally wild and unspoiled. No visitors centre, no parking charges. Must likely just you, the roaring ocean and the wind-swept treeless landscape. You can drive all the way from Kilkee to Loop Head (Loop Head scenic drive – R487), but you are much better off walking the last few miles. Hugging the coast from Kilkee you will eventually come to a beach where you can park. From there simply follow the clifftop trail all the way to the lighthouse at Loop Head. It is one of the best coastal walks in Ireland. And Loop Head itself is worthy of the effort. Not only is it remarkably pointy, on a clear day you can see across the Shannon estuary to Mount Brandon on the Dingle Peninsula
5. Go Dolphin Watching
The Shannon Estuary is home to a large pod of bottle-nosed dolphins. Recent counts suggests upwards of a 100 dolphins. Calving season takes place between May and August and dolphin watching trips are run from the local villages of Kilrush and Carrigaholt. Deserted Scattery Island just 2km off the coast with the remains of an 8th century monastery and round tower is also worth a look.
Scattery Island : http://www.clarelibrary.ie/eolas/coclare/places/scattery.htm
6. Golf, Surf or Swim at Lahinch
Lahinch is a simple seaside town at heart. On sunny weekends, locals from all over the county flock to its sheltered beach. But there’s a lot more going on. Lahinch is one of Ireland’s better surfing beaches and a number of surf schools operate in the town. The two-mile-long beach in Lahinch with its variety of breaks caters for the novice, intermediate and experienced surfers. Lahinch has the advantage of slow rolling Atlantic waves which makes it ideal for learning to surf. The famous links golf course at Lahinch runs almost the full length of the beach and has been attracting golfers since 1892 when officers attached to a local British army regiment spotted the potential of the then untouched duneland and together with officials from Limerick Golf Club laid out the course and founded Lahinch Golf Club. It’s a little busier these days and a round of golf generally needs to be booked months in advance.
Lahinch Surf School : http://www.lahinchsurfschool.com/Lahinch Golf Club: http://www.lahinchgolf.com/
7. Visit the Aran Islands
Located just 10km off the coast from Doolin, the Aran Islands are like a microcosm of Ireland through the ages. From the Bronze Age stone forts of Dun Aengus and Dun Ducathair (to name just two), to the monastic settlement of Teampall Bheanain, to the Irish speaking fishermen and farmers of today, the Aran Islands will transport you to another Ireland, one obviously ancient and yet most definitely living and thriving in the 21 st century. There is much to see and take in on the islands and a day trip really doesn’t do them justice. Inishmore, the largest of the islands contains most of the historical sites of interest and is therefore the most visited. Inisheer, the smallest and closest to Doolin is also popular. For quietness and solitude try Inishmaan. Or better yet spend a week exploring all three. Now that would be a vacation to remember. http://www.aranislands.ie/
Ferries to all three islands go from Doolin in County Clare andRossaveal in County Galway. There are regular sailings all summer but times can vary according to weather and tidal conditions, particularly affecting ferries from Doolin. Be sure to check ferry times in advance.
8. Find your Better Half at the Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival
The Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival is really a dancing festival. It goes on for the whole month of September but is mainly concentrated at the weekends. The music kicks off early on Friday evening and basically goes all weekend until the small hours of Monday morning. As you can see the idea behind this festival is that if you do enough dancing you will eventually meet your perfect match. The festival is unique in the broad age range it attracts and how well everyone mixes. Everyone is there for the fun, the music, the dancing and maybe, just maybe to meet to man or woman of their dreams. It happens more often than you might think.
9. Discover Trad Music
People come to Clare from all over the world to hear traditional Irish music.Of course it can be heard in most counties of Ireland but nowhere are the people more passionate about it than in Clare. And it shows. The quantity, quality and variety of pub sessions going on across the county throughout the year is simply unmatched anywhere else in Ireland. It would be a shame if you came to Clare and missed out!
So here’s our guide to the trad music pubs of West Clare. Not every pub has a session on every night, but ask and you will soon be pointed in the right direction.