We had intended to visit County Clare for one week and then move on. That plan was soon revised when we realised just how much there was to explore and enjoy on the coast and in the countryside. In fact, when we left two weeks later we knew there was still so much that we hadn't yet managed to cover and we would have to return sometime. Whether a person is keen on geology, paleontology, archaeology, Irish history, wonderful coastal and rural scenery, attractive and interesting towns and villages, off-shore islands, great beaches and walks suitable for all levels, Clare would suit them all. Bodies of water define most of the county boundaries; to the east is the river Shannon, the longest river in Ireland, to the south is the Shannon Estuary, the north-east is defined by Lough Derg, the third largest lake in Ireland, to the west is the Atlantic Ocean and to the north is Galway Bay.
Nearly all of the places we visited in Clare feature on the Wild Atlantic Way. The Way is the world’s longest defined coastal touring route, running from Malin Head in County Donegal, the country’s most northerly point, to Mizen Head in County Cork, the most southerly point, The route weaves and winds across 2,500km of beautiful coastline.and covers six regions. All along the route there are distinctive tall brown way markers usually with an information board. Counties Clare, Galway and Kerry are part of the section designated as the Cliff Coast.
See more at www.wildatlanticway.com/explore-the-route
The Burren is an area in north-western County Clare covering approximately 97 sq miles. The name is usually applied to the area within the circle made by the villages of Tubber, Corofin, Kilfenora, Lisdoonvarna and Ballyvaughan, plus Kinvara in south west Galway.
The Burren, a remarkable place where geology, ecology, archaeology, agriculture, history, food and traditional Irish music are deeply rooted in the landscape and culture of the region. It is a landscape of hills, valleys, plateaus, cliffs, beaches, turloughs, lakes, streams, depressions, and caves – all of which provide us with a truly remarkable window into the geological history of North Clare and the West of Ireland.
The Burren is one of the largest and most accessible Karst regions in the world. It is the only place on the planet that Arctic, Mediterranean and Alpine plants grow side-by-side. It also has geological and historical wonders and a rich community of people full of passion and pride for this wonderful place.
We were fortunate to be able to explore a variety of places in the Burren and were very taken with the whole area. It is unlike any other we've experienced. We travelled first to the small town of Corofin where free guided walks are offered by the staff of the Burren National Park Centre and we took advantage of this. We were there towards the end of the summer when many of the flowers which carpet the area earlier in the year have disappeared. However there were still many features to which our guide was able to draw our attention which we might otherwise have missed. For example, there is an area where the texture of the rock changes because it contains fossilised corals. It seems almost unbelievable that this wild, wind-swept place often described as a "lunar landscape" was once a coral reef! She also pointed out to us the many little tussocks of earth covered in small plants which are actually ant hills populated by the Yellow Ant. These little creatures are rarely seen above ground, but because they move large amounts of soil particles to the surface they have a big influence on the geology of the area. It was a relatively short walk but one which covered quite a variety of terrain from the expected limestone rocks to a small hazel wood, to an area where the ancient tradition of "winterage" of cattle has been introduced (See the recent article www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jun/06/food-will-be-a-by-product-the-irish-farmers-creating-nature-friendly-fields
We had great views of the extraordinary Mullaghmore Mountain where the beds of limestone have been folded and tilted as a result of movements in the Earth's crust millions of years ago. Our guide also drew our attention to a turlough which is a kind of disappearing lake found in limestone areas.
Our aim is to revisit The Burren in the springtime as soon as it is possible!
Kilfenora became the site of an important early monastic settlement when St. Fachtnan founded an abbey there in the late 6th Century. Built in 1189, Kilfenora Cathedral is dedicated to him. It's rather a disconcerting building for those of us used to rather more orderly places mostly following a similar pattern. Part of it now is used as the local Church of Ireland worship space. It contains a number of interesting carvings on grave slabs, windows, and doorways, but it is particularly known for the numerous high crosses in the local area. Today those surviving are, with one exception, displayed in the glass-roofed north chapel in the cathedral. The most famous is the 12th century Doorty Cross, named after a local family. That which escaped capture, known as the West Cross, is still in a field with the cattle quite nearby.
We visited this twefth century Cistercian Abbey late one very blustery, rather gloomy afternoon. At first sight it appears stark and perhaps uninteresting, especially in comparison to others we've seen, but further investigation revealed a somewhat different story. This description from the Lonely Planet guide book to Ireland sums it up very well:
Moody and evocative, this marvellous ruined former Cistercian abbey is 1.5 km inland from Bellharbour, in a quiet green hollow, surrounded by the stark grey Burren hillsides. It began its long decline in the 15th century but the surviving vaulting in the presbytery and transepts is impressively intact and some striking Romanesque carvings remain.
When we visited this wonderful place we were so lucky that only a few visitors remained and that the beautiful light enhanced the experience further. Situated on the high Burren limestone plateau, Poulnabrone Dolmen is one of Ireland’s most iconic archaeological monuments and is the second most visited location in the Burren after the Cliffs of Moher. It is the oldest dated megalithic monument in Ireland.
Poulnabrone is classified as a portal tomb. Portal tombs have two large portal stones standing on either side of an entrance capped with a massive sloping capstone. Excavations have revealed remains of 21 people in the main tomb chamber and radiocarbon dating of their bones indicates that the tomb was in continual use for a period of 600 years between 5,200 and 5,800 years ago.
It is without a doubt true that the Cliffs of Moher are a magnificent and awe-inspiring sight and it's no wonder that people flock to view them in their thousands.The cliffs rise over 200 metres high and run for over eight kilometres along the Atlantic Ocean. This is a Special Protected Area for seabirds and during the nesting season it is home to over thirty thousand pairs, including guillemots, razorbills and puffins, We walked along a good section from a handy car park set up by an enterprising farmer whose land gave access to the cliff path. We chose it so as to have a chance to get better views, to avoid some of the larger crowds nearer to the visitor centre and, it must be admitted, so as not to pay the rather steep per person parking charge there. We managed to get to the highest point, O'Brien's Tower, but could just about stay upright as the wind was so strong!
There is an excellent eco-friendly visitor centre, a most welcome haven when the weather is windy and wet. It must be said, though, that the sheer number of visitors made us wonder how such pressure can be sustained for too much longer without damage to the environment.
Ballyvaughan is a small harbour village located on the N67 road on the south shores of Galway Bay. It's in the northwest corner of The Burren. A short distance awaybeyond the pier is the most attractive area known as The Flaggy Shore which we spent an enjoyable afternoon exploring. It's a lovely peaceful place.
The Loop Head peninsula on the west coast of County Clare juts into the Atlantic Ocean like a long finger pointing westward. On the north and west side there is the Atlantic Ocean and on the south the River Shannon estuary. It has one of the highest ratios of coastline to land surface in Ireland. The main access point is the seaside town of Kilkee. Whilst it would be possible just to drive around the whole of the peninsula, that would mean missing out on the best features of the area. For us, our many detours from the road were some of the highlights of our visit to County Clare. In contrast to the Cliffs of Moher we saw very few people and were able to get much closer to the dramatic cliffs and rocks on our exploratory walks. A recent article in the Irish Times summed up the Kilkee Cliff Walk as follows:
These lower cliffs give one a clearer view of the patterns created as the waves surge into their serrations and up their lower slopes until the back wash reverses the process to create new forms in the tumbling waters and curving lines of foam.
The rock strata are also in your line of sight on the many indentations in the rock face. Unlike the cliffs further north, which are horizontal, here they slope at differing angles creating further interest..
The local tourism body is doing great work promoting the area and, among other materials, have produced a handy foldable guide setting out all the points of interest on the Loop Head Heritage Trail. We very much enjoyed discovering as many of these as possible.
This gives very good impression, though I would suggest muting the soundtrack!
In the 1850s the celebration of Mass was prohibited on Loop Head on the orders of the local land agent which led to conflict between him and Father Meehan, the parish priest. During this time Fr. Meehan was also trying to obtain a site to build a church in Kilbaha. At one stage he did manage to acquire two adjoining houses which he knocked into one and used for Mass, but he was evicted from the premises after one month. So he contructed a tarpaulin shelter on poles and later he covered shafts of a cart as a shelter, but both proved to be unsuitable. Finally Father Meehan came up with the idea of The Little Ark. He believed that if a suitable structure could be built it could be brought to the shore in Kilbaha and placed between high and low tide in no-man’s-land. A carpenter from Carrigaholt was commissioned to build a portable box on wheels which was completed in 1852 and drawn in procession to Kilbaha. A congregation of up to three hundred gathered regularly for Mass during the following four years. Permission was granted to build a church in 1857 and The Lttle Ark was placed inside where it remains to this day in a specially constructed annexe.
This is a first-rate small campsite which has been expertly designed and is kept exceptionally clean and tidy. We cannot recommend it too highly!