The first thing I look for when I arrive in a new destination is what I call “the magic ingredient”. That phrase is deliberately ambiguous because I often don’t really know what that ingredient is. I can only describe it as a feeling of contentment that makes we want to stay and, more rarely, makes me want to come back. It is a feeling of being at “home” in a place. Which could seem strange because the word “home” is associated with where we live or where we are from. Home is where the heart is as the old saying goes.
I grew up in Ennis in Co. Clare and I have always noticed when anyone asks me “where am I from” and I reply “Clare’, it brings a smile to their face which in turn fills me with pride. I don’t think I have ever met a Clare person that doesn’t love Clare.
I interviewed eight Clare people for my latest Travel Tales with Fergal Podcast series on Clare and their love for their county really shone through. It made me realise that one of the main “magic ingredients” is a pride for your home. When you ask a Clare person for recommendations it can take an age and be a long list. That is why I had to do two Clare destinations podcast specials this week to help do justice to all the county on the west of Ireland has to offer.
Ennis is the capital town and the heart of Clare. As Clare county councillor Clare Colleran Molloy, the Mayor of Ennis, pointed out to me Ennis is the “friendliest and tidiest town in Ireland” after recently winning the Retail Excellence Ireland’s friendliest place. Ennis is also known as the boutique shopping capital of Ireland. The town is always alive and buzzing with its narrow medieval streets creating a great atmosphere day or night.
The whole of Clare is known for its trad musical heritage and one of the most famous places in Ireland for trad sessions every day of the week is Doolin. Doolin has always had a special place in my heart. My guest on the podcast Charles Monad explained to me Doolin is at the heart of so many tourist attractions and activities in the county.
Doolin has a couple of great festivals I would recommend including the Hedge School festival in January and the great Folk Festival in June. The Wille Clancy festival in Miltown Malbay in July should be on all music lovers’ bucket lists. Another festival I would recommend is the lisdoonvarna match making festival made famous by Wilie Daly and his famous match making book.
There is such variety all the way along the west coast of Clare from Loop head through Kilkee and Doonbeg and from Spanish Point to Lahinch. One of my favourite drives in Ireland is from Lahinch to Ballyvaughan and watching the landscape slowly change as you enter the otherworldly limestone rocky landscape of the Burren, which deservedly this year got the wonderful accolade of the best place to holiday in Ireland by the Irish Times. This follows on from a prestigious Lonely Planet award in 2021 for the Burren Ecotourism Network.
The Burren area is not only unique in Ireland but throughout the world for its exposed limestone rocky fields and the wonderful diversity of Alpine, Arctic and Mediterranean flowers. This led to the Burren becoming an UNESCO Global Geopark and a member of the prestigious GEOfoods network in 2021.
The GEOpark food producers are committed to producing and promoting sustainable food. I talked to Dave Merrins of Burren Gold Cheese and he gave me a fascinating insight into the ancient food and farm traditions of this area including the wintering of the cattle which are rooted in its geology. I would recommend a visit to these great food producers including Linnane’s Lobster Bar in New Quay for some of my favourite flaggy shore oysters. My top tip for families is the Allwee Burren Experience which has the famous cave and the birds of prey centre.
An area that does not get the same publicity tourism wise is east Clare. I always recommend this area as the real hidden gem of the county. The area around Killaloe is stunning with Lough Derg blueway, its islands, some of the best walking in the county and great history.
There are some of the most spectacular walks in Ireland in this area and check out the https://www.visiteastclare.ie for great walks and information. The area is steeped in history with Brian Boru once ruling all of Ireland from Killaloe. A must visit site is the High King’s headquarters located at the nearby Kincora or Ceann Coradh, which is located one mile from the picturesque village of Killaloe. Another area that I would really recommend is the Shannon estuary region where the mighty Shannon meets the sea.
My Travel Tales with Fergal Podcast Clare Destination Specials are available now on all podcast platforms. For more information on Clare and all it has to offer go to www.visitclare.ie