Bound on one side by the Shannon Estuary and on the other by the awesome power of the Atlantic Ocean, Loop Head has always been defined by its relationship with the water. As you drive south from Kilkee and embark on the famous Loop Head Drive, you’ll encounter dramatic cliffs, turbulent seascapes and story-filled historic sites.
With scenery this beautiful, who could blame those Star Wars location scouts for being enticed? Loop Head was one of a handful of places along the Wild Atlantic Way used to film Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Filming was shrouded in mystery, with the iconic Loop Head Lighthouse closed to the public while the Jedi Masters of the film world worked their magic.
Drive to the very tip of the peninsula and you’ll come to the imposing Loop Head Lighthouse. There’s been a lighthouse on this site for well over 300 years; this one dates from 1854 and is open to the public. Take the guided tour and you’ll find yourself on the balcony, 23 metres (75 feet) above the ground, braced against the Atlantic winds as you marvel at the views. On a clear day, you can see the Twelve Bens mountains of Connemara to the north and the Blasket Islands to the south. You can even stay in the lightkeepers’ accommodation, courtesy of the Irish Landmark Trust.
Nearby, you might notice the E-I-R-E marked on a grassy clifftop in large white letters. This is a relic from World War II, when the writing was used to alert pilots that they were entering neutral air space. You’ll find similar sights all along the Wild Atlantic Way.
The waters around Loop Head are ideal for everything from sea angling and kayaking to coasteering (an exhilarating combination of climbing, swimming, jumping and scrambling along rock pools, cliffs and caves). And if you’re a scuba diver, you’ll want to know that Jacques Cousteau himself declared this the best diving spot in Europe. Local experts such as Nevsail Watersports in Kilkee, and the Dive Academy in Lahinch can help you take on these aquatic challenges.
Loop Head highlights
Bridges of Ross
The Bridges of Ross were a trio of sea arches on the north shore of the peninsula. Only one remains standing but the name has endured and this lone survivor is renowned as one of Europe’s top bird-watching sites, home to kittiwakes, cormorants and wintering geese.
Little Ark of Kilbaha
During the mid-19th century, the landlords of Loop Head refused to allow a Catholic church to be built on their land. But the locals refused to abandon their faith and used the Little Ark – a wooden box on wheels, containing an altar – to celebrate mass on the beach.
Land of legend
Just a short walk from the lighthouse, at a spot known as Lovers’ Leap, is a stunning natural wonder that’s shrouded in legend; a majestic seastack known as Diarmuid and Gráinne’s Rock. It’s said that the mythical lovers leapt onto this rock to escape the pursuing armies of jealous exes.
Of course, you won’t want to leave the Loop Head Peninsula before meeting some of the locals – and not just those on dry land. If you take the Dolphinwatch boat trip from Carrigaholt to the mouth of the Shannon, you’ll have the chance to see some of the 160 or so bottlenose dolphins that live in this EU Special Area of Conservation.
So now that you’ve thoroughly explored the highlights, history and secrets of the Loop Head Peninsula, you’re ready to get back into your Wild Atlantic Way adventure.
County Clare highlights
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Ballybunion Golf Club
Ballybunion Golf Club, on the north west coast of County Kerry, is positioned upon a beautiful stretch of sand dunes overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Two wonderfully challenging and unique links golf courses can be played at Ballybunion, the Old Course and the Castle.