Set on Ireland’s Atlantic coast, County Clare is famed not only in Ireland but all over the world as the home of Irish music. Each year thousands of visitors flock there to enjoy the many festivals and entertainment getaways and take in the magnificent scenery, which varies from the lush fields and glorious lakes in the east of the county to the wild remoteness of the Atlantic.
The Heart of Clare
Clare is a county in the province of Munster, western Ireland. The town of Ennis, in central Clare, is the county seat. Clare is bounded by Counties Galway from the north, Tipperary from the east, and Limerick from the southeast; by the long estuary of the River Shannon and by the Atlantic Ocean.
The county comprises three parts. In the east are peat- and bog-covered hills rising to 1,750 feet. These include the Slieve Bernagh, Slieve Aughty, and Cratloe hills. Which are penetrated by wide valleys. Lowland central Clare has drained and embanked areas of former salt marsh along the Shannon and Fergus estuaries. As well as around Galway Bay the limestone country merges into the central Irish lowland. Clare has mild winters and rainy summers. Much of the county’s land is devoted to crops and pastures and the main resources are cattle and sheep. During the latter decades of the 20th century, the county underwent a very significant industrial development.
It is often said that County Clare is named after the de Clares. However, this is not the origin, rather, the name comes from the Irish word ‘Clár’. Meaning a board or plank. A board was placed across the river Fergus outside Ennis. At a place which was to become known as Clare (now Clarecastle town). This Clare was a place of some importance as early as the 12th Century — thus predating the arrival of the de Clare family to County Clare.
The area of what is now County Clare was divided into cantreds or baronies, each occupied by their ruling families. The O’Loughlins, O’Garbhs, O’Briens, O’Connors, O’Deas, McMahons and McNamaras were the main clans.
The O’Briens were a major force in Thomond from earliest times. The Danish Vikings raided this county on many occasions during the 9th and 10th centuries. They were finally defeated at the beginning of the 11th century by the most famous of the O’Briens, Brian Boru. Who also led the army which defeated the Danes of Dublin at Clontarf in 1014.
Following the defeat of the 1641 rebellion of the Catholic Confederacy, Clare was set aside to accommodate the “delinquent proprietors”. I.e. those proprietors whose land was confiscated because they did not actively oppose the rebellion. Parts of the lands of the existing Clare landholders were confiscated to accommodate these landholders.
The abundance of antiquities and archaeological remains which are scattered throughout the county are a legacy to the lives of its historic and pre-historic inhabitants. County Clare has at least 2,300 earthen and stone forts, 130 megalithic tombs, 190 castles and 150 ancient churches. Along with three cathedrals, eight monasteries, ten stone crosses, five round towers, besides numerous lesser monuments.
The county is fortunate in having areas of great natural beauty and superb scenery with many sandy beaches and sheltered bays. Loop Head is the most exposed promontory on the west coast. It is of geological interest with some unusual rock formations. The near-by Bridges of Ross were formed by storm waves channelling into the caverns and creating natural arches. Which in time became separated from the mainland. The coast road around Black Head is an attractive touring route. Bounded on one side by the Atlantic and the Aran Islands, and on the other by the grey hills of the Burren.
The Burren region comprises 375 square miles of gently sloping carboniferous limestone landscape upon which many rare and beautiful plants thrive. The area is favoured by cavers and potholers as well as those interested in archaeology.
County Clare’s Food
The food in Clare is almost excellent. Mostly of Irish cooking traditions including stews and a wide selection of locally caught fresh fish. Pubs and restaurants are not many throughout the county, but wherever you decide to quench your thirst and rest from your travels, you’ll be sure to find a warm and embracing welcome.
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Popular Places in Clare
Bunratty Castle & Folk Park
Bunratty Castle is the most complete and authentic medieval fortress in Ireland. Built in 1425, it was restored to its former medieval splendour in 1954. It now contains mainly 15th and 16th-century furnishings, tapestries, and works of art, capturing the mood of those times.
Today, the castle stands peacefully in delightful grounds within the grounds is the folk park, where 19th-century life is vividly recreated. Set on 26 acres, the impressive park features over 30 buildings, including a schoolhouse, post office and doctor’s house in a living village setting. Bunratty Folk Park also includes Ardcroney Church, a former Church of Ireland building which was painstakingly moved, stone by stone, from County Tipperary to Bunratty.
O’Brien’s Tower at the Cliffs of Moher
If you’ve ever considered a visit to Ireland, you may have come across dozens of articles and hundreds of pictures of the Cliffs of Moher, with a tad bit about O’Brien’s Tower thrown in. The Cliffs of Moher are one of Ireland’s most popular and widely visited natural attractions. They are strongly promoted by the Irish Tourism Board. They have even been featured in some insanely popular movies such as The Princess Bride, and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
But none of this should come as a surprise as the Cliffs have been wowing tourists since the early 19th century. In fact, O’Brien’s Tower, the small circular castle-like building that stands at the highest point of the cliffs, was built specifically for tourists of the time, back in 1835.
O’Brien’s Tower stands on a headland at the Cliffs of Moher, commanding views south towards Hag’s Head and north towards Doolin in County Clare. As mentioned, the tower was built in 1835 by the local landlord, Cornelius O’Brien. Created as a viewing point for the tourists that even then were flocking to the Cliffs.
On a clear day, the view can extend as far as Loop Head at the southern tip of Clare. As well as beyond to the mountains of Kerry. Look north and you might just see the Twelve Bens (or Twelve Pins as they are sometimes known) in Connemara beyond Galway Bay. And unless visibility is very low you are almost sure to see the three Aran Islands to the west.
O’Brien’s Role in Creating Tourism in County Clare
Folklore holds that Sir Cornelius O’Brien was a man ahead of his time. He believed that the development of tourism would benefit the local economy and bring people out of poverty. O’Brien also built a wall of Moher flagstones along the Cliffs. It is said in the locality that he built everything in the area except the cliffs. He died in 1857 and his remains lie in the O’Brien vault in the graveyard adjoining St Brigid’s Well.
Situated on the edges of County Clare and bordering the Burren Area, the Cliffs of Moher are one of Ireland’s most spectacular sights. Standing 230 metres above the ground at their highest point and 8km long. The Cliffs boast one of the most amazing views in Ireland. On a clear day, the Aran Islands are visible in Galway Bay as well as the valleys and hills of Connemara. A walk along the cliffs is not to be missed.
A magnificent 15th Century castle, Knappogue is situated in the tranquil heart of County Clare. The castle offers a more refined medieval experience with fabulous grounds and walled gardens. It can be found 17 miles from Shannon in a pleasant open countryside setting.
Built in 1467 by Sean MacNamara, Knappogue Castle has a long history from battle site to a stately dwelling. From 1571, Knappogue was the principle seat of the MacNamara Clan, Earls of Clancullen. But during Oliver Cromwell’s conquest, the castle was confiscated by the English and granted to one of the Roundhead soldiers Arthur Smith. However, after Charles II was restored to the throne, it was handed back to the MacNamara’s in 1670.
More History Surrounding the Castle
In 1800, the MacNamara Clan sold Knappogue to the Scott family who carried out major restoration work, before it was acquired by Lord Dunboyne in 1855 who continued Knappogue’s restoration and installed the walled garden.
More interestingly, the castle has played host to two Irish Presidents and heads of state from other countries. Including Charles de Gaulle of France and forms the beautiful backdrop for many a wedding reception. From April to October, medieval castle banquets are held at Knappogue. With a truly magnificent show of music, song and dance, flowing wine and delicious food.
Find out more about magnificent Irish castles here.
In 1966, Texas architect Lavoné Dickensheets Andrews and her husband stumbled upon the remains of Knappogue Castle. Struck by the passionate impulse to restore the castle, the couple purchased Knappogue Castle. They then embarked on their journey to restore its original grandeur.
While Mrs Andrews focused on the architectural details of the project, Mark Andrews began buying casks of the finest pot still Irish whiskey and bottling them under his own independent label, suitably named Knappogue Castle.
Andrews was unusual in that he chose to bottle single malt Irish whiskies, as opposed to blends, which most others were choosing at the time. The last of Andrews’ selections, Knappogue Castle 1951, was distilled at the now-defunct B. Daly distillery, and since becoming the oldest and rarest publicly-available Irish whiskey in existence.
One of County Clares hidden gems is these unique caves that are believed to be the oldest Caves in Ireland. In 1940 the Ailwee Caves where discovered by a local farmer called Jack McGann after his dog led him into the caves. But it wasn’t until 1973, 30 years after he discovered the caves that he made people aware.
Then in 1977 Ailwee Caves were explored and mapped out, today you can explore them for yourself. It offers some impressive features including an underground river and a waterfall. The cave consists of a variety of passageways that lead you to the heart of the Mountain where you can admire the amazing views. On a tour of the caves, experts will inform you of the history, features and structure.
The tours last around 30 minutes and are a place full of wonder and discovery. It is a once in a lifetime experience to uncover the enchanting underworld found in Clare. There is also a gift shop on the way out, where you can browse through a variety of items found there.
Doolin Cave and Visitor Centre
There isn’t just one great cave in County Clare for you to explore but there is actually two. The Doolin Cave and Visitor Centre is an award-winning attraction that is located outside the village of Doolin.
On a guided tour of the caves, it will be like stepping back in time to over 350 million years ago. You can follow in the footsteps of two great explores Brian Varley and J.M Dickenson who actually discovered the caves. Hear all about their interesting adventure that led them to the cave’s discovery back in 1952 through the tour.
After a tour of the caves when not check out the Farmyard Nature Trail. Where you can explore the beautiful countryside surrounding the visitors’ centre. The trail also offers you a great view of Ballinalackin Castle. At the end of the trail, you will discover a fairy village which was made by local children.
Dysert O’Dea Castle
Another historic castle found in the county of Clare is the Dysert O’Dea Castle that was built in 1490. It has since been restored and you’ll find the Clare Archaeology Centre here- which has won many national awards. There is a variety of local artefacts found in the castle’s 10 rooms some dating back to 1000BC which can be explored.
Around the castle, there is an archaeological trail where you can explore 25 different monuments. Monuments include a 12th century high cross, a holy well, a round tower and medieval forts.
Father Ted’s House
A popular attraction in County Clare is this famous House that was featured in an iconic Irish Television show. That show happened to be ‘Father Ted’. If you’re a tourist visiting you might not know about the much-loved show but we still highly recommend visiting the house.
‘Father Ted’s House’ is located on a farm that is run by the Mccormack family. The family have been welcoming people to their farm to check out the attraction and enjoy some afternoon tea. For fans of the show, this offers you a chance to experience some memorable Father Ted Moments. Just like you have seen on the TV.
The family only open up the house at certain times during the year so its best to check online and you must book in advance. On a visit to the attraction, you can enjoy tea in Father Teds House that is made by the McCormack Family. They will also tell you all about the exciting history of the house and recount their own Father Ted experiences.
The family also offer guided walking tours of the local landscape upon request. This is a rare experience to get to know an Irish family and learn all about the great things County Clare has to offer from locals. The cost to visit this attraction is ten euro for adults and eight euro for children but the extended tour costs twenty- five euro per person.
More to County Clare than Meets The Eye
The hospitality of its people, the traditions of Irish music and dance, colourful small shops and cosy pubs, traditional cottages and houses are just a few of the attributes of this county and which are reflected in the bewitching atmosphere that one feels as soon as they enter Clare.
Worthy reads about places in Ireland:
Kildare County Embraces a Handful Portion of Ireland’s Beauty| All you need to Know About County Laois| The Unendowwed and Rich History of County Down| Things You Shouldn’t Miss in County Fermanagh| Galway is Far Beyond a Former Fishing Village|