Visit County Clare In Ireland’s Wild West
The west of Ireland is known for its wild unspoiled character. Here the lands are at the mercy of the Atlantic Ocean which brings its changing temperament to the climate and landscape. Co. Clare offers dramatic coastlines and country scenes. From sheer sea cliffs to small coves and beaches, remote villages clinging to the coastline to the awe-inspiring limestone moonscape of The Burren, or rural views of green fields bordered with ancient traditional dry stone walls and old farm buildings clad in huge slabs of local Liscannor slate. Clare has something different to see around every corner.
The coast of Clare is popular with surfers and all those who love watersports. From this county you can also explore off shore with coastal cruises and a boat trip to the Aran Islands.
WHAT TO SEE IN CLARE
• The Cliffs of Moher are Ireland’s second most popular visitor attraction, bringing over 1 million visitors per year to see these majestic cliffs rising over 700 feet from a raging ocean below – a sight you won’t want to miss. Make your way to the cliffs via the Visitor Centre which charts the geology, landscape and wildlife of the cliffs. Take to the viewing platform to see the sheer faces of the cliffs as they drop into the ocean.
You can walk the marked cliff trail keeping a watchful eye to signs which ask visitors not to leave the path. These cliffs are beautiful but they are also dangerous if you step in the wrong place! See the birds which nest on tiny ledges of the cliff faces. Visit O’Brien’s Tower with its battlement views over the 8 km stretch of the cliffs and far out to sea. On a clear day you will see Galway Bay and the Aran Islands and perhaps even the Dingle Peninsula and Blasket Islands in Kerry.
• The Burren and Cliffs of Moher form a Unesco recognised Global and European Geopark of 530 square kilometres. The Burren is massive area of geological and natural interest. In this unique limestone landscape, alpine plants grow alongside Mediterranean species, so diverse is the microclimate. The Burren is also of huge interest to archaeology students and hobbyists, with over 6000 years of history and 2700 recorded national monuments over this period.
The famous Poulnabrone portal dolmen situated in the centre of The Burren dates back almost 6000 years to the Neolithic period. Another portal dolmen can be found near the village of Ballycashin to the south. Archaeologists have found evidence of ancient farming of sheep, goats, cattle and cereal in The Burren. Wedge Tombs are also common here, thought to date from the late Neolithic period. Four Court Tombs can also be found in this area. These were tombs which had a forecourt entrance, hence the name, and were thought to have been used not just for burials but for rituals and ceremonies.
From later in history, Bronze Age tools have been discovered in The Burren. There are also remains of many stone forts (cahers) dating back to the Iron Age and the arrival of the Celts. If archaeology and ancient history is your thing, The Burren has it all!
• A boat trip to the Aran Islands takes you away from mainland living and into a different world. Take a ferry from the little seaside village of Doolin with daily sailings to Inis Mor (Inishmore), the largest island, plus Inis Meain (Inishmaan) and Inish Orr (Inisheer). You’ll see a completely different way of life, as islanders rely on local and home grown produce for food and keep the traditional skills and arts of island living alive. You can also take a cruise from Doolin to the islands and/or Cliffs of Moher, to see these sea cliffs from the water – a very special way to appreciate the sight!
• Outdoor activities are top of the agenda in Clare. Tides here provide some of the best waves for surfers, while sailing and sea angling are also popular. In quieter waters, kayaking is a soothing way to see the county. Walking in Clare includes guided walks of The Burren. Cyclists also love the country lanes and mountain bikers get excited by an opportunity to get off road on two wheels! If you prefer transport of the four legged variety, equestrian centres cater for beach riding and country hacking.
WHAT TO EAT IN CLARE
Food in Clare is dominated by great fish and seafood from the Atlantic, superb lamb grazed on the hillsides and beef from traditional breeds which feed outdoors on the wild grasses and herbs of the Burren. The Burren Food Trail, highlights local producers and the Burren area was named Best Foodie Destination in a national competition in 2015. Here are a few gourmet specialities to look out for when you visit Clare.
THE MEATS OF THE BURREN
Beef from Clare has a unique taste because of the landscape and the method of farming. ‘Winterage’ is an ancient practice which dates back to Celtic Ireland. Around the time of Halloween in October, known as Samhain (Sowen) in Gaelic farmers took their cattle upland to graze on the Burren landscape, rather than bringing them down from the hills to lowlands, as happens in other parts of the world. In winter, the lowlands of Clare become very soggy, with lakes forming in some parts, making them totally unsuitable for overwintering cattle on the boggy ground. Winterage is still used in the Burren with huge success. Limestone provides ‘dry-lie’ for cattle – a farming term for dryer land where the incessant rain of winter drains away quickly. Cattle spend about five months in the uplands of the Burren, where they graze on the wild grasses and herbs of the limestone plateau and drink calcium rich water. This diet maintains health and infuses the meat with flavour.
The practice of Winterage also guarantees cattle can be farmed outdoors all year round, in a totally environmentally friendly way which adds to the quality and distinction of the meat.
Sheep and goats are well suited to the hilly landscape of Co. Clare. Both animals are used for meat and milk in this region. Lamb which has dined out on the wild herbs, heathers and grasses of the mountains has a superlative flavour.
Goats also avail of this wild free grazing for tender meat which may appear in slow cooked oven baked dishes Portuguese style or in curries and stews on some menus. Both sheep and goats milk makes superb cheeses. Look out particularly for award winning St. Tola goat’s cheese and Cratloe Hills Sheep’s Cheese, cropping up on menus in local pubs, cafes and restaurants.
Fresh fish and shellfish in Co. Clare includes a superb selection of lobster, brown crab, spider crab, prawns (langoustines) and shrimps, haddock, hake, monkfish and tuna in season, all from the small boats which fish this precarious coastline. Mussels and oysters are also farmed in the pure waters of the Atlantic Ocean off Co. Clare.
GOOD FOOD IRELAND IN CO.CLARE
The Burren Smokehouse owned by Peter and Birgitta Curtin is in the pretty village of Lisdoonvarna. The smokehouse has a visitor centre and shop where you can buy all sorts of Irish artisan produce and crafts plus the superb smoked salmon and other fish products smoked here on site.
The Roadside Tavern just up the road is also owned by the Curtin family. You’ll get a pint from the Burren Microbrewery on site, made by Peter Curtin, and a plate of food from Kieran’s Kitchen at The Roadside. Lots of opportunity to sample Burren Smokehouse products in starters and mains plus other local produce.
Wilde Irish Chocolates has two premises in Co. Clare. In the rural village of Tuamgraney you will find Patricia Farrell and her team making beautiful chocolates at the production house and little shop. In Doolin, the Doolin Chocolate Shop sells all the Wilde Irish goodies made at the production house. Two great opportunities to indulge in everyone’s favourite sweet treat!
Linnalla Ice Cream couldn’t have a more scenic location if it tried! This farm which produces the milk for its homemade ice cream has sea views. Even the cows get a paddle as they sometimes graze on an island which they walk to when the tide is low! This picturesque spot is along the 'Flaggy Shore' made famous in the poem by Seamus Heaney. In fact the story is quoted on the tubs of Linnalla ice cream and many visitors walk along the stony shoreline here, to stop at the farm for a refreshing scoop or two in the shop or outdoors on the nice days.
Carrygerry Country House in Newmarket-on-Fergus in rural Co. Clare is an idyllic starting point to explore this exciting county. Gillian and Niall Ennis offer a family run country house experience in this luxury period property. Complete with great food in the Conservatory Restaurant, cooked by Head Chef Niall, and warm hospitality from Gillian and her front of house team. Park yourself up here for a few days and enjoy the home from home feeling when you return from your day’s adventures!