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Clare Island – a land forgotten by time

Clare Island at the mouth of Clew Baybay is a mountain – albeit rising up from the sea floor. There is a good anchorage in the east facing harbour. There are guest moorings available and good holding for anchoring. It is, however, only protected from the west.

Clare is a fascinating place for many reasons. It was the stronghold of the O’Malley Clan, the base for their fleet. From here they were able to surprise and plunder Spanish ships plying the coast. Grace O’Malley, the renowned 16th century pirate queen, is buried in the chapel of the remarkable abbey where primitive frescoes decorate the walls. Her castle dominates the harbour, which today hosts a small fleet of modern fishing vessels. Outside the harbour you will also find a commercial salmon farm producing organically grown fish. The abbey is a short bike ride from the harbour; but you have to know to ask the man at a neighbouring cottage for the key because it is usually locked. Life hasn’t changed that much on Clare Island.

The general store and post office for the island is on the road to the abbey. Bicycle rentals are available at the harbour, where there is also a B&B, a restaurant, a pub, and a community centre with simple take-out meals. Taxis are available for those who wish a quick tour in comfort. From Clare Island one can get ferries to the mainland.

Most important, the community centre also houses public toilets, shower facilities, and laundry facilities for those on extended cruises. Also at the centre are internet access and a bar for members of the community. On weekends, there is often live music and plenty of craic. The old hotel up the road from the centre, although no longer operating as a hotel, also has a bar and live music on weekends. There is plenty of fun to be had for all.

The lighthouse on the north of the island has been privatized and is being restored as a B&B. It is on a lovely spot overlooking all of Clew Bay which makes a great picnic destination. You can ride your bicycles until almost near the top, then coast all the way back down, stopping at the loom where women create the most luscious of woollen fabrics, at the artist’s studio, and at Anna’s cafe. Anna’s has sandwiches, teas and cakes as well as a collection of the Clare Island Survey reports for your reading pleasure.

The Clare Island Survey (1901-11) was the first major biological survey of a specific area carried out in the world. As it is the only known complete survey of flora and fauna in an undeveloped environment dating back a hundred years, it was repeated in 1991, and now serves as a baseline for climate change assessments for Europe and the World.

One fine day this past summer, thousands of very large what appeared to be bottleneck dolphins swam into Clew Bay, played with all the boats out fishing and sailing – Mayo Sailing Club had organized a cruise to Clare Island – and then disappeared as quickly as they had appeared. It was so exciting to have them swimming along in our wake at about 8 knots, performing acrobatics, and staring at us with those inquisitive eyes. It is days like those that make us realize just how special this place really is.


Clew Bay Home - Clare Island - The Inner Bay - Water Activities - Westport - Newport

Clew Bay area Activity Map (1.2MB pdf)

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