Ireland, the land of a hundred thousand welcomes, is known as a must-visit destination the world over.
Its lush greenness, rolling hills magnificent coastlines are all contained within an easy driving distance on a pocket-sized island.
From the historic cities to the small country villages, from the literary tours of James Joyce’s Dublin, to the tap your feet and sing-along music sessions that can occur spontaneously in any country pub as soon as the first drop of Guinness has settled, this little island has it all.
Choosing one Irish county over another is challenging. It’s akin to choosing The Beatles or The Rolling Stones. Both great bands and thirty-two great counties but you’ve got to have a favourite and my vote goes to Clare.
In the interest of openness, honesty, transparency, and a smidgen of journalistic ethics, I need to declare my bias towards County Clare.
Throughout my adult life, I’ve lived and worked in the county. I fell deeply in love with her and now that I’ve returned after living abroad for seven years I’m taking great pleasure in renewing our affair and rediscovering just how fascinatingly beautiful and interesting she really is.
What makes Clare so special? Well, to start with it’s her people. They are unique. Friendly, fun-loving, interesting, quick to chat, joke and play fiddle at the drop of a hat.
You have to remember until Columbus and Magellan took a chance, the Earth was flat and Ireland was at the very edge of it. Any further west and you’d surely drop off.
Well, that’s what Europeans believed back in the day. Perhaps that’s why in the main they more or less left us to our own devices. By doing so and by us retaining an undiluted character for centuries we maintained our individuality.
Think about it. The Romans named the island Hibernia — the land of winter or hibernation. Perhaps that’s why they never bothered colonising us. The attitude was “Ah, let them sleep, it’s not worth the trouble.”
This uniqueness of character could and does apply to the whole of Ireland but in my opinion, Clare has its own form. Whether you find yourself chatting to a West Coast lobster fisherman or a farmer hailing from the east of the county, you’re always guaranteed a lively and spirited conversation.
Clare has two distinct parts, East and West Clare, which have contrasting features adding value and variety to living in the county.
The East of the county is bounded by Lough Derg one of the country’s largest lakes. Stretching for twenty-five miles the indented shoreline is not only tremendously scenic but the villages and towns around it can boast sites of prehistoric settlement through to medieval times. At times you need to reach back in time and touch your past, “if you don’t understand your past you’ll never understand your future.”
Another great grá (love) I have for Clare is how easy it is to get there. While to be honest it’s fairly easy to get anywhere from anywhere in Ireland, Clare is particularly well served by Shannon International Airport which is situated right in the centre of the county. A state-of-the-art yet homely airport relaxed and accommodating.
You’ll never be bored in Clare, the summer festivals will ensure that. If you’re looking to buy a horse or just to watch those indulging in the ritual of dealing in horses, you have the four-hundred-year-old Spancilhill Horse Fair.
If you’re not looking to buy a horse but perhaps looking to find yourself a wife, then you have the Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival. Run by Ireland’s most famous matchmaker Willie Daly who has fifty years of matchmaking under his belt and took the business over from his father who took it over from his father. The festival is a month-long extravaganza of music, merriment, and fun.
Of course, if you’re not interested in either finding wives or horses, don’t worry you always have the very best of Irish music. The Willie Clancy festival runs for a week every June in the West Clare town of Milltown Malbay. Organised classes in set dancing and traditional Irish music take place daily while at night more impromptu céilis and music secessions bring the small town to life.
It’s not just the organised festivals that make Clare special. It’s when you spend a day wandering the cliff walks of Kilkee then stopping off at the very threshold of a continent at the Cliffs of Moher and then on to Doolin for a pint and a bit of Irish music in O’Connor’s Pub that you realise how lucky you are to live in Clare or in my case wondering why I left it in the first place.
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