County Clare was practically unknown to me. Though I had passed through it, I had never been to The Cliffs of Moher, for instance, or driven along The Wild Atlantic Way, so Graham and I decided to take a break there in mid-January and call into Gort to see some friends on the way home.

I did not realise that Clare is one of Ireland’s largest counties by area but one of the smallest in terms of population and never thought beforehand that it is largely surrounded on three sides by water – the Atlantic Ocean, the Shannon Estuary and the River Shannon too!

Clare’s nickname of The Banner County apparently dates back to the 1800s when banners were particularly prevalent at political meetings while most trades guilds in the county had their own banner.

BUNRATTY CASTLE HOTEL

Our first stop was the 4-star Bunratty Castle Hotel next to one of Clare’s most notable landmarks of the same name.

We had booked in for afternoon tea which was served in the Library. Mismatched china made for a really pretty table and every morsel was delicious; Graham was in seventh heaven.

We took a walk down to the famous Bunratty Castle (below), renowned for its medieval banquets, and to the Folk Park which was closed. I remember taking our girls there many years ago.

Durty Nelly’s is a well-known watering-hole across the road from the hotel and in the summer is packed with visitors.

Durty Nelley's

Because it was January the hotel was quiet and the restaurant was not open. But we sat by the fire and ate dinner from the bar menu and the food and service was first class…my hake was delicious. We had a lovely large room on the top floor and the bed was large and extremely comfortable.

THE CLIFFS OF MOHER

The next morning we headed to  Lahinch, known for its surfing in the summer months. But it was far too windy the day we were there and even the hardy walkers were being blown along the seafront. But it was dry, so we headed to The Cliffs of Moher  (below). The cliffs are about nine miles long and there is paid parking right beside it.  We were both very impressed with how the Interpretative Centre blends into the landscape.

We were very lucky that the rain stayed away until the afternoon and though very windy we got a good walk along the cliffs. They do live up to their reputation, but Graham and I were careful to follow the regulations and stay inside the barriers.

VAUGHAN’S ANCHOR INN

From there we headed to Liscannor for dinner in Vaughan’s Anchor Inn and to stay the night. It has a certain old world charm, with a traditional shop at the front of the bar and an open turf fire which was very welcoming. The rain had arrived and so we sat in the quiet bar and read our books for the afternoon.

Both our seafood dinners that evening and our breakfast the next morning lived up to expectations.

THE WILD ATLANTIC WAY

Luckily the weather was dry the next morning and we headed off early to explore more of County Clare. It was pretty wild. Below, I am taking a photo of Doonagore Castle near Doolin and looking across to the Aran Islands. The  castle, a round tower house, is privately owned and used as a holiday home by an American family.

Doonagore Castle Co Clare

Doolin is an extremely pretty place, packed during the summer months, as travellers make their way on the ferry to Inis Oir.  The drive up to our friends who live near Gort was very pleasant, bringing us through such towns as Lisdoonvarna, Ballyvaughan and Kinvarra….and, of course, we travelled through some of the famous Burren landscape also.

We had a lovely evening with our friends Anna and John which began with a few drinks in a really traditional Irish pub called Peppers (first opened 210 years ago!).

Peppers barThe icing on the cake was listening to some very talented musicians being filmed for a TG4 documentary. They are sitting behind John and Graham in the photo, below.

John and Graham

Next morning was sunny, so Anna and John brought us to one of their favourite spots, Flaggy Shore, along Galway Bay, and immortalised by Seamus Heaney thus:

And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightening of flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully-grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you’ll park or capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.

We finished off with a very late, delicious Fish and Chips lunch in a packed Linnane’s of New Quay (first built as a thatched bar 300 years ago!) before we headed back to Dublin. Clare had been  everything that I had hoped and perfect to explore off-season. But we really only saw a little of what it had to offer and I think another trip is needed.

You might also like to read about our trip to Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coast which we enjoyed two years ago.