Farm Ireland

Thursday 18 January 2018

A tourist's delight

Tourism is critically important to Clare Island. An estimated 15,000 people will visit the island this year, with most staying a night or more, and the employment and business these visitors generate is vital.

There are a range of accommodation types to suit all tastes and budgets, from the hostel, to B&Bs, to the boutique guesthouse experience offered by Clare Island Lighthouse.

Cliara Development Company co-ordinator Caroline Healy says each day brings a different mix of visitors. The day I was talking to her, the various parties included a group from the youth organisation Foróige and a German film crew.

"We have Irish people who come year-on-year to spend two weeks here; and you have Americans looking for their ancestors because a lot of Clare Islanders went to Chicago," she says.

"You have a lot of French, and a lot of Spanish too," she adds.

Most of the visitors enjoy the laid-back atmosphere of the island, and the different pace of life, Caroline explains.

"The topography of the island is also a big attraction," local businessman Carl O'Grady maintains.

"We have mountains, lakes and cliffs, and a blue-flag beach, which is unique for an offshore island," he says - before conceding that Achill has the same, "but it has a bridge".

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Adventure holidays

Carl runs Sailor's Bar and Restaurant and the Go Explore Hostel on Clare Island. By targeting the activity and adventure holiday sector, the business has managed to grow visitor numbers and foster a different clientele.

The activities offered include orienteering, snorkelling and coasteering - where participants are kitted out in wetsuits and life jackets and jump off cliffs.

"The tourist landscape has totally changed. People are interested first of all in what they can do in a place, and then in where they can stay," Carl points out.

He calls this the "do first, stay later" mentality.

The hostel also runs a number of festivals through the summer. One of the more interesting is a 'singles' adventure festival in September.

Carl insists that it is not a matchmaking festival but that the weekend "will provide the environment" for people to meet. "After that it's up to themselves," he says.

The formula obviously works because the hostel has been booked out for most weekends through the summer.

There is also still plenty to see and do for those who prefer to saunter, rather than gallop, around the place.

Knockmore at 461m offers a serious climb, but the gentle sloping Knocknaveen may be more appealing to many. In addition, there are a plethora of Bronze Age and Iron Age tombs and forts dotted across the island.

The 12th Century Abbey - reputed to be the burial place of Granuaile - is also worth a visit, if only to see the remarkable series of medieval wall and ceilings paintings.

If all this is too much, you could just relax, unwind, and slip down the gears to Clare Island pace.

Indo Farming