More than any other area of Clare, the county’s west is associated with traditional music. There’s many a vibrant session in village pubs all along the coast and the town of Miltown Malbay hosts one of Ireland’s major music festivals. There are plenty of sandy beaches too, notably at the attractive small resort of Lahinch. The famous towering Cliffs of Moher are further north, close to the traditional music magnet of seaside Doolin and, inland, the charmingly old-fashioned, small town of Ennistymon.
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The Cliffs of Moher
The Cliffs of Moher
The Cliffs of Moher stretch downwards to the Atlantic for almost 200m. The cliffs take their name from an old promontory fort, Mothar, and extend some 8km from Hag’s Head, west of Liscannor, to a little beyond O’Brien’s Tower, which was constructed by a local altruist in 1835 at their highest point. Access to the cliffs remains unrestricted, but, if you’re travelling by car you’ll be compelled to pay Clare County Council’s extortionate parking charge of €8 for the privilege. Said sum “entitles” visitors (though exactly the same facilities are available if you arrive on bike or foot) to free entry to the controversial €31.5million visitor centre and to the infrequent “cliff edge” guided tours – enquire at the main desk for details.
Tucked away within the hillside, there’s no doubting that the centre is an impressive architectural feat – and its first-floor restaurant does offer panoramic seascapes and a reasonable choice of meals – but to reach it you’ll pass a somewhat tacky range of souvenir shops and find more of the same kind of “Oirish” gifts on sale within. The centre also houses the Atlantic Edge exhibition whose interactive touch-screens, computer games and 3-D film (all to the accompaniment of ethereal “Celtic hush”-style music), do in part provide lucid explanations of the cliffs’ evolution and wildlife, but overall form a ludicrous electronic counterpoint to the actual glories outside.
All told, the best bet is to head straight past the centre and to the steps which curve upwards towards the cliff-top. Then you can opt for turning south towards Hag’s Head or in the opposite direction to O’Brien’s Tower where the latter’s viewing platform offers the best sight of the wave-battered cliffs below, enhanced by the resonant roar of the Atlantic waves pummelling the rocks at shore level. The optimum time to visit is around sunset when the heights and sea are spot-lit by the rays of the evening sun. Alternatively, you can gain a different perspective of their prodigious stature from one of the regular boat-trips run from the pier at Doolin by the companies operating ferries to the Aran Islands.
In the 1960s the then tiny village of DOOLIN, 7km north of the Cliffs of Moher, developed a reputation for its traditional music, largely thanks to the reputation of a bachelor farmer Micho Russell, a singer, flute and whistle player. Appreciation for his very natural and rhythmic playing resulted in TV and radio appearances and an international touring career. Attracted by his music, a trickle of enthusiasts began to visit Doolin’s pubs to hear the playing of Micho and his two brothers Packie and Gussie, all sadly departed. Today, Doolin is awash with tourists virtually throughout the year, cramming into its pubs (O’Connor’s in Fisher Street on the way to the harbour, Fitzpatrick’s Bar in the Hotel Doolin – and McGann’s and McDermott’s at the northern end) enticed by the village’s renown. Unfortunately, most of the music churned out nightly is not the “pure drop”, but either neatly adjusted to suit popular tastes or simply amplified garbage, and in truth there are many other and better places to hear Clare’s often fabulous traditional music.
The village itself is not especially attractive either, sprawling across mainly flat land towards the sea and cluttered by an incoherently planned jumble of modern houses. Yet, for all its faults, you will occasionally strike lucky with a session and there’s no doubting that the place does possess a certain charm.