The view from the lightkeeper’s cottage
Waking up cocooned in cosy warmth as winds buffet my sturdy cottage. Drinking a morning coffee in a room that was once home to generations of lighthouse keepers. Daring myself to stand as close to the cliff edge as my wobbling knees allow. Watching waves form far out at sea and following their progress as they swell and crash against the cliffs in an explosion of foam and spray and drama.
These are just some of the memories I took away from my blissful, switched-off weekend at Loop Head lightkeeper’s cottage in County Clare.
I fell in love with the cottage as soon as I saw it – a whitewashed two-story structure nestled in a walled enclosure at the very tip of Loop Head. The lighthouse itself – a stark white tower that has stood here since 1854 – is like a living presence, its bright white light flashing four times every 20 seconds, offering warning and reassurance in equal measure.
Inside, I imagine the cottage feels very much as it must have done in its heyday, thanks to the sensitive restoration by the Irish Landmark Trust. Dark wooden floorboards, sash windows with shutters, fireplaces in each of the bedrooms – this is as authentic as it gets. There are concessions to convenience with a wood-burning stove to keep the sitting room toasty and a modern kitchen and bathroom. But the whole point of this place is to take a step back from the fast-paced modern world and just… stop.
That means no television, no Wi-Fi, and a mobile phone signal that can vary in strength. But if you’re wondering how you’ll entertain yourself, don't. Loop Head has got you covered.
If you're here between March and November, you can take a tour of the lighthouse itself – from the balcony, there are breathtaking views of the Wild Atlantic Way from County Kerry’s Blasket Islands in the south to Connemara in County Galway to the north. There’s also an exhibition on the history of Irish lighthouses in one of the other lightkeeper’s cottages.
Loop Head is a dream for walkers and cyclists; quiet country roads led me to fascinating local sights such as the Little Ark of Kilbaha: a wooden box containing an altar that was rolled onto the beach at low tide to allow the Catholics to practice their faith in the 19th century.
I got to explore the Bridges of Ross, once a trio of spectacular sea arches. Now just one still stands but the walk along the coastline to cross it is worth it. I braved the Kilkee Cliff Walk but decided to leave a dip at the Pollock Holes, a favourite bathing spot with locals, until warmer weather.
At the nearby town of Carrigaholt, a dolphin-watching boat tour brought me as close as I've ever been to a dolphin. The Shannon Estuary – where Ireland’s longest river runs into the Atlantic Ocean – is home to one of Europe’s largest pods of bottlenose dolphins.
Back in my cosy cottage after a long day’s wandering, I discover a surprise in a cupboard in the sitting room – a secret selection of board games, a chess board, and jigsaw puzzles that offered the perfect plan for a quiet night in. And reading the messages penned by past visitors in the visitor’s book gave me plenty of inspiration for my next day's activities.
Ask any local and they'll tell you – there’s no such thing as the “best time” to see Loop Head. Each season, each day, offers something special, whether it’s fresh seafood chowder in the Long Dock pub in Carrigaholt, a traditional Irish music session in a local pub such as Keating’s in Kilbaha or Crotty’s in Kilrush, or a blazing sunset at the end of a long summer’s day. Winter might not seem like a natural time to visit the coast but for me, standing outside on a clear, frosty November night, listening to the sounds of the Atlantic Ocean and gazing up at millions of stars is a moment that I'll cherish. This place is pure magic.