In our new staycation series, Pól Ó Conghaile makes a break for the Banner County
Its cliffs are Ireland’s cover star. The hero image that, no matter how ubiquitous, still leaves you reeling — from the raw power of nature to the surprising emotional connection. Like all cover stars, however, their brightness can blind you to the surrounding beauty.
And boy, is Clare beautiful. Think of that Atlantic coast, of the slow-mo ocean licking up against Spanish Point or Black Head, of ferries passing between Doolin and the Aran Islands offshore. Picture driving out along the craggy finger of Loop Head, or hiking in the hypnotic, rocky moonscape of the Burren National Park.
“This is really hard for a Cavan woman to say,” Bronagh O’Rourke, who married a fifth-generation farmer here, tells me. “But it’s just breathtaking — the people and the place. The Burren changes with the light, the time of day. No two days are the same.”
Throw in the eastern shore of Lough Derg, or killer towns like Killaloe and Kilkee. Clare is the land of Brian Boru and Michael Cusack, of Sharon Shannon and Maura O’Connell and Willie Clancy. It’s Christy Moore singing ‘Lisdoonvarna’ and velvety slices of Birgitta Curtin’s smoked salmon. It’s disarming boutiques in Ennis, surfers walking across fields above Lahinch, and the old-school, picture-postcard shopfronts of Ennistymon. It’s Father Ted’s house, and the Flaggy Shore that caught Seamus Heaney’s heart “off-guard”.
So, when are we going?
The world knows the Cliffs of Moher, whose visitor centre has now reopened. But what about the Cliffs of Moher coastal walk? The full hike links Doolin to Liscannor over 20km, with a shorter, 8km stunner from Doolin to the cliffs. Part of the route traverses farmer and historian Pat Sweeney’s land, and he does guided walks from €10pp, or for free if you book into the Doonagore Farmhouse B&B. “It’s the same view you have from the house,” as his wife, Mary says. “Right over the ocean, to the Aran Islands and Connemara.” cliffsofmoher.ie; doolincliffwalk.com
“We’re starting to explore wellness,” says Bronagh O’Rourke. “When all this happened, I thought it would be a nice link.” She and husband Cathal have a 500-acre beef farm in the Burren National Park, and along with guided walks (10km hikes are set for July 26 and August 23; €15pp), and they’ve started a new nature-connection series. Next set for August 2, it includes yoga on limestone pavement, forest bathing, a walk and a rustic picnic by Lough Bunny. €75pp; burrenfarmexperience.ie
Scattery Island, situated just off Loop Head in the Shannon Estuary, was last year voted one of Ireland’s Seven Wonders by Irish Independent readers. But it remains off-radar to many. A short boat ride from Kilrush (watch out for dolphins) takes you back in time to a landscape of lichen-splattered churches, the remains of a cathedral, soaring round tower, Napoleonic-era artillery batter and a working lighthouse. €25/12pp; scatteryislandtours.com
Faced with the challenges of Covid-19 and spiralling insurance premiums, you’d forgive a water park for wiping out. Not West Coast Aqua Park in Kilrush. During lockdown, it doubled in size, creating more fun and space for social distancing in a ‘Five Islands’ layout, as well as adding sensory-friendly sessions for families with children who have autism. “It’s been a nervous time, but we’re delighted we’ve done it,” says Wayne Slattery. €18pp; westcoastaquapark.ie
As restaurants shut down this spring, it was heartening to see delivery boxes zipping around the country, bringing fresh, local produce to our doors. One was the Burren Basket. Clare goodies within included Burren Smokehouse organic salmon, St Tola Goat cheese and black and white pudding from Market House, all now awaiting foodies on a trip. Don’t forget the ice cream, either. Bríd Fahy’s Café Linalla on the Flaggy Shore makes it using milk and cream from the farm, as well as ingredients like wild gorse, blackberries and sloes. burren.ie; linallaicecream.ie
Remember when Fr Dougal didn’t remember Sister Assumpta? After several prompts to jog his friend’s memory, Father Ted finally succeeded. “Do you remember, you were wearing your blue jumper?” Bingo. Well, not only is Father Ted’s house in Clare (fathertedshouse.com; book ahead when it reopens for afternoon tea); you’ll also find a ‘Blue Jumper’ IPA. It’s made by Western Herd, a micro-brewery mashing up west coasts in America and Ireland in a range of brews made with spring water from the family farm. westernherd.com
There’s a lot more to Bunratty Folk Park than the famous castle. While many whizz past on the N18, those that turn off (book online for a 10pc discount) will find 26 acres of woodland, a new fairy trail, pet farm, walled garden, trad music by the playground... and a pair of wolfhounds. €15.25/€11.50; bunrattycastle.ie
8. €€€ The Armada Hotel has set new ‘glamping suites’ among the ruins overlooking Spanish Point. Booking the two bell tents exclusively includes breakfast and use of a bedroom. Check out its new ‘Catch’ food truck, too. armadahotel.com
9. €€ Reopening at the end of July, Seaview House in Doolin is a B&B doing farm-to-table breakfast spreads and a deck looking to the Atlantic. It’s got two lovely lodges in the village, too. seaview-doolin.ie
10. € The Atlantic isn’t the only body of water in Clare, you know. Lakeside Holiday Park offers camping near Mountshannon, on the banks of Lough Derg. lakesideireland.com
“The wildness of West Clare and her Atlantic coast. The tragedy of the Armada ships wrecked off her shores... My mother’s people. It’s in my blood. Love the place.” - Eoin Dillon (@dillon_eoin)
Next Saturday, we’re off to Mayo. Let us know what you love about it at #IrelandUnlocks, tweeting @Indo_Travel_ or @indoweekend, or email firstname.lastname@example.org!
NB: See clare.ie, discoverloughderg.ie and discoverireland.ie for more. Opening dates, prices and offerings all subject to public health guidelines and change.
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I’ve explored a lost town in Kilkenny. I shot one of my favourite Irish photos there. I’ve eaten Michelin-star meals in two different restaurants, and walked into the earth to find one of Ireland’s darkest places. Each time, I could have been home in time for tea.
It’s strawberries and southeastern sun. It’s opera and hurling with heart; a storied lighthouse and sandy beaches stretching as far as the eye can see. It’s rolling farmland, ghost stories on the Hook Peninsula, and wolfing down chips at Kilmore Quay.