Clare combines the stunning natural beauty of its long and meandering coastline with unique windswept landscapes and dollops of Irish culture. Rugged nature and the timeless ocean meet on the county’s coast. The Atlantic relentlessly pounds year-round, eroding the rocks into fantastic landscapes, and forming sheer cliffs like those at the iconic Cliffs of Moher and strange little islands like those near Loop Head. There are even stretches of beach where surfers flock to the (chilly) waves. The Burren, an ancient region of tortured stone and alien vistas, stretches down to the coast and right out to the Aran Islands. But if the land is hard, Clare’s soul is not: traditional Irish culture and music flourish. And it’s not just a show for tourists, either. In little villages such as Miltown Malbay, Ennistymon, Doolin and Kilfenora you’ll find pubs with year-round sessions of trad music.
Best Places to Eat
- Buttermarket Cafe (Kilrush)
- Linnane’s Lobster Bar (New Quay, near Ballyvaughn)
- Naughton’s Bar (Kilkee)
- Vaughan’s Anchor Inn (Liscannor, between Cliffs of Moher & Lahinch)
FINDING TRADITIONAL MUSIC IN COUNTY CLARE
From atmospheric small pubs in tiny villages where non-instrument-playing patrons are a minority, to rollicking urban boozers in Ennis, Clare is one of Ireland’s best counties for traditional music. Eschewing any modern influences from rock or even polkas (as is heard elsewhere), Clare’s musicians stick resolutely to the jigs and reels of old, often with little vocal accompaniment. Although you can find pubs with trad sessions at least one night a week in almost every town and village, the following are our picks for where to start:
- Doolin A much-hyped collection of pubs with nightly trad music sessions. However, tourist crowds can erase any sense of intimacy or even enjoyment.
- Ennis You can bounce from one music-filled pub to another on most nights, especially in the summer. Musicians from around the county come here to show off and there are good venues for serious trad pursuits.
- Ennistymon A low-key farming village inland from Doolin with a couple of ancient pubs that attract top local talent.
- Kilfenora Small village with a big musical heritage at Vaughan’s pub.
- Miltown Malbay This tiny village hosts the annual Willie Clancy Summer School, one of Ireland’s best music festivals. The talented locals can be heard performing throughout the year in several old pubs.
TOP FIVE CHEESES
- Ardrahan – From Kanturk, Co. Cork, with powerful, complex flavours of milk and mustard.
- Desmond – Piquant, long-matured, Swiss-style cheese from Co. Cork; also Gabriel, a hard, aromatic and full-bodied Gruyère-like cheese from the same makers.
- Durrus – Semi-soft, washed-rind, raw milk cheese from west Cork.
- Kilshanny – Type of Gouda, sweet, hard and milky, made in Lahinch, Co. Clare; sometimes flavoured with garlic, cumin or nettles.
- St Tola – Fine range of goat’s cheeses from Inagh, Co. Clare.
- Bacon and cabbage – Shoulder of pork boiled with cabbage.
- Boxty – Potato pancakes.
- Carrageen – Edible seaweed, used for a blancmange-like dessert.
- Champ – Northern Irish version of colcannon, with spring onions.
- Colcannon – Mashed potato mixed with cabbage and often leeks.
- Crubeen – Boiled pig’s trotters.
- Drisheen – Sausage of sheep & beef blood with oatmeal & pepper.
- Fadge – Northern fried potato bread. Soda bread baked with bicarbonate of soda, buttermilk and flour.
* Descriptions are from Lonely Planet and Rough Guide.