It’s a relatively long haul from Ennis to Clare’s southwest, but well worth the effort for the attractions offered by two popular holiday spots and the chance to explore the glorious scenery of the Loop Head peninsula. Of the resorts, Kilkee is the livelier, with a sweeping beach and access to Loop Head; Kilrush is more stolid, but still attractive in its own way and is a base for dolphin watching and the ferry to Scattery Island, a major monastic site.
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Forty-odd kilometres from Ennis, KILRUSH is a graceful planned town whose broad main drag, Frances Street, leads down to a bustling marina where you can catch a ferry to Scattery Island. At the town’s core stands the Maid of Éireann statue, honouring the Manchester Martyrs, three Fenians who were executed in the English city in 1867 for a daring attempted rescue of some of their comrades arrested during a failed uprising.
The Shannon estuary is home to the country’s only resident group of bottle-nosed dolphins, whose calving season takes place between May and August, and so far more than a hundred individuals have been identified. To enjoy a sight of them take a two-hour trip from the marina on Merchants Quay (wwww.discoverdolphins.ie).
In high season some three or four daily ferries run from Kilrush’s marina to Scattery Island, two and a half kilometres offshore (wwww.discoverdolphins.ie). A monastery was established here by St Senan in the sixth century, and the island retained ecclesiastical importance until its exposed position attracted Viking raiders in 870, who occupied it until defeated by Brian Ború in the late tenth century. Medieval church building is evident in the form of several ruins, and there is a 35-metre-high round tower in reasonably well-preserved condition, which is most impressive when the sun seems to reflect off its yellowy, lichen-covered stone. This tower’s door is at ground level whereas most others had an entrance above head-height, accessed by a ladder which could be withdrawn for defensive purposes. Derelict since the last inhabitants left in 1978, like many an abandoned Irish island, Scattery has a timeless air. A trip to its southern point, where a lighthouse and gun battery remain from the time of the Napoleonic wars, is well worth making, to experience a sense of peaceful isolation and enjoy the spectacular views from the elevated battery. By the pier the Scattery Island Centre houses an exhibition on the island’s history.
Thirteen kilometres northwest of Kilrush, KILKEE is a jaunty holiday resort, long popular with Limerick city folk, whose main attraction is a gorgeous, sandy, crescent-shaped beach that offers breathtaking cliff-top walks at both its ends. If the sun’s obscured, there are plenty of other activities in Kilkee, including scuba diving at the Ocean Life Dive Centre at the East End Pier, and nearby Kilkee Waterworld, an indoor complex featuring an exciting sixty-metre water slide and other delights.
The West Clare Railway
The West Clare Railway
A few kilometres north of Kilrush at Moyasta is the only extant section of the West Clare Railway, which opened in August 1892 and linked Ennis – via a roundabout route through Corofin – to southwest Clare until its closure in 1961. Much of the track was then sold to a Kenyan railway company, but the Moyasta station house and a two-kilometre stretch of the line have been restored and it’s possible to take an enjoyable trip back and forth (wwww.westclarerailway.ie).
The railway was immortalized by the composer and singer Percy French who in 1902, along with his troupe of music-hall entertainers, was due to play an engagement in Kilkee. Unfortunately, the train broke down in Miltown Malbay and French arrived late to discover that most of his audience had already left. He sued the railroad for damages, winning the princely sum of £10 and wrote the song Are Ye Right There Michael as an account of his experiences, the Michael in question being Michael Talty, who was the guard on the train when the incident occurred.