The Spirit of County Clare: Preserving Beauty, Celebrating Heritage
County Clare, a pristine jewel in Ireland’s tourism crown, is a symphony of open spaces and remarkable places, where nature’s artistry and human heritage blend seamlessly. The Burren & Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Global Geopark epitomises this, with its vast, glaciated karst landscape that tells a millennia-old story of natural evolution and human resilience. This area, rich in biodiversity, is a sanctuary for over 70% of Ireland’s native flora and a significant portion of its orchid species, making it a haven for nature enthusiasts. The Loop Head Peninsula and Lough Derg Blueway further exemplify Clare’s commitment to environmental consciousness, offering a blend of spectacular scenery and a range of activities, from bird-watching to kayaking, all in harmony with the natural world.
County Clare’s approach to tourism is deeply rooted in sustainability and respect for its unique environment. The Shannon Estuary Way and the hidden heartlands of East Clare and Ennis reveal a landscape where conservation and responsible tourism are paramount. These areas, with their Special Areas of Conservation, showcase a commitment to preserving the natural beauty and biodiversity of Clare. From the tranquil waters of Lough Derg to the historic lanes of Ennis, County Clare invites visitors to immerse themselves in an experience that is not only breathtaking but also conscientiously preserves the integrity of its natural and cultural heritage.
Here are just some of County Clare’s special areas
The Burren and Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Global Geopark
A fascinating landscape
The Burren, North Clare
The Burren & Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Global Geopark, a fascinating landscape of 36,000 hectares located in North Clare. As well as being the finest example of a glaciated karst landscape in Europe our Geopark it is home to a very special collection of flora and fauna, an abundance of ancient archaeological sites, and a vibrant local community, working together to enhance your understanding of this special place. The Burren was awarded ‘UNESCO Global Geopark’ status in recognition of this amazing landscape and our management of this unique heritage. The Burren was also named the Best Place to Holiday Ireland 2022 in The Irish Times’ competition.
The Burren has been famously referred to as ‘a vast memorial to bygone cultures’. Around 7,000 years ago people foraged, fished and hunted for their food from camping sites along the Atlantic coast. Around 6,000 years ago woodland was cleared and farming began. Down through the centuries our ancestors buried their dead in tombs like Poulnabrone dolmen. They built cairns, communal cooking places, hill forts and ritual sites. Later cultures built thousands of miles of stone walls, hundreds of circular stone farmsteads and castles. Christianity brought with it monasteries, holy wells, churches and places of pilgrimage.
In the Geopark you will find:
- Over 70% of Ireland’s native species of flora.
- Over 25% of Ireland’s orchid-rich dry calcareous grassland, home to 23 of the 27 native Irish orchid species.
- Artic-alpine flowers growing alongside species that originated in a Mediterranean climate. 28 of Ireland’s 30 butterfly species foraging among this diverse vegetation.
- Because of all this special biodiversity, over 80% of the Geopark is designated as Special Areas of Conservation.
The rock story
Limestone dominates the Geopark. Formed over 300 million years ago on the bed of a tropical sea, it has been carved into fantastic shapes over the millennia through exposure to earth movements, rainwater and ice sheets. Hidden beneath this highly visual land and seascape is a complex underworld of caves, including the longest cave system in Ireland. At the southern edge of the Geopark, layer upon layer of shale and sandstone formed in a large river delta around 318 million years ago are spectacularly exposed at the Cliffs of Moher. Throughout the Geopark you will find geosites selected to illustrate the geological features.
Visit the www.burrengeopark.ie for more information about the GeoPark.
The Loop Head Peninsula
One of the most naturally beautiful parts of Ireland.
Loop Head, West Clare
Loop Head Peninsula, in West Clare, is one of the most spectacular and naturally beautiful parts of Ireland. It is a narrow strip of land, bound on one side by the Shannon Estuary and the other by the awesome power of the Atlantic Ocean. Loop Head Lighthouse is perched at the very tip of this Peninsula, the furthest point west on the County Clare coastline. The views are stunning, and next landmass to the west is North America.
The entire peninsula, a designated European destination of excellence for aquatic tourism, is well worth exploring.
Spectacular scenery: drive or cycle a circular route and experience incredible land and seascapes. There are also superb walks – many along cliff-top routes.
Activity enthusiasts can enjoy horse-riding, sea kayaking tours, sailing off Kilkee beach, diving off the Kilkee Reef, or fishing off the Peninsula.
Nature lovers can enjoy wildlife and bird watching. For a special experience, you can take a dolphin-watch boat trip from Carrigaholt or Kilkrush to meet one of Europe’s largest resident populations of dolphins.
Swimming: Kilkee blue-flag beach is a family favourite and is regarded as one of the safest bathing places in Ireland.
Visit www.LoveLoopHead.com for more information
Lough Derg Blueway
Exhilarating and magical experiences
Lough Derg, East Clare
Lough Derg is the largest lake on the majestic River Shannon. At 40 km in length and 13 km in breadth at its widest point, this stunningly beautiful lake is characterised by broad bays, a highly indented shoreline, picturesque marinas, inland beaches, and many islands. The lake is flanked by the Slieve Aughty and Slieve Bearnagh Mountains to the west, and the Arra Mountains to the east. If you are feeling energetic, walk to any summit to be rewarded with a breath -taking panorama of Lough Derg. Dotted around the lake, you will find charming towns and villages that are peaceful and welcoming, where you can relax and refresh your spirit, away from frenetic and crowded cities.
Lough Derg and much of its surrounding landscape which includes canals, rivers, wetlands, forests, mountains, ancient monuments, and bogs are designated Special Areas of Conservation. These habitats are home to an abundance of wildlife. The lake itself is teeming with fish including brown trout, pike, perch, roach, and bream; and it’s a wonderful place for birdwatching as the large numbers of resident birds are joined by seasonal visitors.
Lough Derg’s scenic beauty and its wealth of flora and fauna form the backdrop to a wonderful Blueway holiday experience that can be as active or as leisurely as you choose.
Visitors to the Lough Derg Blueway are always pleasantly surprised by the diversity of water activities on offer, and the ease of access to them.On-the-water activities for beginners as well as experts include swimming, paddleboarding, canoeing, kayaking, windsurfing, and sailing. Beginners can avail of training courses and lessons, while the more experienced can simply take to the lake and its 160 km of paddling trails. Lough Derg, on the Clare side, has two Blue Flag beaches at Ballycuggaran and Mountshannon.
This is also stimulating walking and cycling country, and there are a whole series of loops, routes, and trails, each bringing the magnificent lake into clear view. You can choose to take a leisurely stroll by the lake, amble through forests, or enjoy a short, looped hill walk, breathing in the pure fresh air and experiencing some spectacular lake views.
You can view some of the highlights of Lough Derg and East Clare here.
The Shannon Estuary Way
Where the Shannon meets the Wild Atlantic
County Clare, Limerick, and Kerry
The Shannon Estuary Way is a spectacular and unspoiled riverside destination off the Wild Atlantic Way. This area of remarkable beauty is where the Serene Shannon ﬂows into the wild waters of the Mighty Atlantic. The river connects the peoples of Clare to Limerick and Kerry and this new 207km-long loop drive will bring you through all three counties in one day!
Along the drive, you will ﬁnd yourself passing through a string of delightful towns and pretty villages – stop off in any one for a chance to meet the locals whose lives and places have been shaped by the great river.
The driving route winds its way through stunning and changing landscapes and river vistas, offering everything from medieval heritage to outdoor adventure along the way. The Estuary is home to dolphins that live there all year round, even giving birth to their calves there. Take the beautiful ferry ride between Killimer Clare and Tarbert and look out for them!
It is the ideal location for explorers who want to beat the crowds and experience a new destination, birdwatching and angling enthusiasts and families of all ages. The kids can be let loose at West Coast Aqua Park in Kilrush or to visit the pet farm at Bunratty Folk Park. Perhaps they would like to check out a flight simulator in Shannon Aviation Museum or get artsy in Labasheeda’s Charm Bee Pottery Painting Studio and Café.
For the adventure-seekers that want to escape into the country, there are many walking trails or cycling routes along the way. For those who prefer to slow down and disconnect, you could check out the wellness retreats offered by both Shannon Estuary Way Retreat and Retreat Yourself. Then there is also the grand selection of traditional rural pubs for a taste of rural life and to meet the locals.
For nature lovers, heritage and culture enthusiasts, The Estuary is dotted with old fortresses that tell a tale of the Estuary’s past such as Kilkerrin Battery Fort and the round tower on Scattery Island.
So, why choose the Shannon Estuary Way? It gives you a sense of freedom through its off-the-beaten track location. It gives you a chance to reconnect with those you are travelling with, as well as with nature. There are endless hidden gems that are perfect for that Instagram shot, opportunities for families to go wild and for others to wind down and relax. It immerses you in the outdoors, brings you away from the crowds and connects you with the local communities.
Ennis, the County Capital town
It’s origins date back to medieval times
Ennis is the Capital town of County Clare. It is a picturesque and historic market town that dates back to the 13th century when the Kings of Thomond invited the Franciscans to establish a settlement. Eight hundred years later, the narrow and historic lanes and bow-ways give character to the town while monuments, buildings and waterways showcase its rich heritage.
Sights to see and experiences include the glór, the Courthouse and the Ennis Walking Tour, taking in the 13th century Ennis Friary and other heritage sites throughout the town. At Clare Museum, you will hear the county’s history over a period of 6,000 years using authentic artefacts, colourful text panels and audio-visual presentations.
Ennis is well known for Irish music, and there are regular music sessions in pubs and venues like glor and Cois na hAbhna.
Long renowned as a centre of excellence for shopping, the winner of the ‘Ireland’s Friendliest Town’ and ‘Ireland’s Tidiest Town’ is home to beautiful boutiques providing locally produced crafts and an extensive range of covetable fashion labels perched along its cobbled streets and busy thoroughfares.
Ennis is a gateway town on the Shannon Estuary Way, a wonderful and unspoiled riverside loop drive around Ireland’s deepest watercourse. The 207km-long loop winds its way across changing landscapes and river vistas in counties Clare, Limerick and Kerry. Ennis is also a gateway to Clare’s Wild Atlantic Way and Clare’s Hidden Heartlands.
Outdoor enthusiasts have a selection of walking trails to choose from in the town and surrounding areas. John O’Sullivan Park, Lees Road, is set in 134 acres of rich, biodiverse woodland and parkland. Located just one kilometre from the town centre, the park features a variety of marked looped walks and woodland trails. Information boards in the car park give details of flora and fauna in the area, while an Active Trail features outdoor equipment that incorporates exercise activities for all abilities. Walkers and cyclists can also enjoy a 5km loop walk between the Quin Road and the 12th century Clare Abbey, and both Ballyalla Lake and Ballybeg Woods are wonderful places for all the family to enjoy a leisurely stroll.
Designed by noted golf architect Dr. Arthur Spring, Woodstock Golf and Country Club features one of Clare’s most scenic courses, as it is surrounded by several natural lakes, a river and a mature wooded area. The Par 70 parkland course at Ennis Golf Club is set over relatively even terrain and ideal for the holiday and society golfer. Sporting enthusiasts can also enjoy Gaelic Games at Cusack Park where Clare’s hurling and football teams can be seen playing during spring and summer.
With a wide selection of quality accommodation options, the Clare County Capital is a perfect base from which you can launch your Clare holiday experience, as its central location means it is within easy reach of the County’s biggest attractions and hidden gems.
You can see some of its highlights here
Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands
Discover its magic
East Clare and Ennis
Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands covers a beautifully unspoiled part of Ireland where life moves at its own pace. You can listen to the ebb and flow of trickling streams, go kayaking across wonderful waterways and explore magical forest treks and trails. You can meander across expansive boglands, majestic mountains and open valleys. Visit the riverside towns and villages dotted throughout this enchanting region.