Surf’s up in Clare, that’s for sure. Ever since the sport first exploded onto the Irish scene a decade ago, Lahinch has been the spiritual (and commercial) hub of surfing in Ireland. Venture south and you have the brown sugar sands at Spanish Point. Head north, and there’s the terracotta fringe of Fanore. Now all you need to do is get wet.
But it’s not just surfers who enjoy the west Clare coastline.
Greg Norman designed a famous links golf course here. Boats from Doolin carry visitors to the Aran Islands offshore. In the pubs of Miltown Malbay, traditional music sessions wind up at precisely 11.30pm (or not). Steven Spielberg is among the visitors to have chilled out in Ballyvaughan, and the angling is amazing off Black Head.
“And some time make the time to drive out west,” as poet Seamus Heaney wrote, singling out Clare’s Flaggy Shore. Do that – and keep going, all the way to the Loop Head lighthouse.
A rock and a hard place
Mention the word “Burren” and a barren limestone landscape springs to mind. Scratch that – a barren moonscape springs to mind. But this National Park isn’t as lifeless as you may think. Come April and May, the Burren blossoms into a unique rock garden, with millions of wildflowers bursting up through the clints and grykes. It’s an extraordinary sight, even more so when you consider the ancient seeds were borne from Alpine, Arctic and Mediterranean climates.
There’s a surprising amount to do in the Burren, too. Every May, the Burren in Bloom Festival celebrates the surrounding blossoms, shedding a light on the National Park’s formation. And even your gifts are sorted as the Burren is home to its very own perfumery.
While you’re in this great western wilderness, don’t forget to look east. As well as the Atlantic Ocean, Clare borders Lough Derg and the River Shannon, where leafy villages like Mountshannon and Killaloe make a sweet stopover.
A 10-minute boat trip from Mountshannon brings you to Iniscealtra (Holy Island), where St Colum MacCremthainn established a monastic community in the 6th century.
Other surprises? There’s Ennis, with its boutique stores. There’s Loop Head, winner of a European Destination of Excellence award. There’s the folk park, complete with blacksmith, post office and pub that surrounds Bunratty Castle and its unique Medieval Banquet.
And there’s the feeling that your vacation went far too quickly…