Ed Leahy goes West once again, and finds even more to treasure.
Where better to start two days in Clare than Father Ted's house for a cup of tea and some homemade scones.
I crossed the Clare border somewhere along the road from Gort to the old fishing town of Corrofin, and was welcomed into the Banner County by the wonderful backdrop of the Burren National Park.
The 'Craggy Island' Parochial House is located half-way from Corrofin to Kilfenora, just out the road from Kilnaboy, the location for the legendary television comedy series Father Ted.
No signposts and a road akin to the Magic Road from the show, but the house was unmistakeably Ted's house.
Cheryl, a native New Yorker, and husband Pat, a Kilfenora local, welcome guests into their home for tea and treats, and tell tales of their Father Ted experience. Bishop Len Brennan's hat, or mitre - this being an ecumenical matter - comes out for the photo opportunity, while the obligatory t-shirt can be procured as a souvenir.
The Burren Visitor Centre is ideally located in Kilfenora and well worth visiting before exploring the natural beauty of the Burren, which is a unique area of limestone rock covering mountains and valleys, and remains one of the largest karst landscapes in Europe.
The area is of huge historical, geological and archaeological importance and the nearby Burren National Park offers excellent walking trails, allowing you to enjoy a wide range of wildlife and local flora, while getting up close and personal with this remarkable lunar landscape.
Further north towards Ballyvaughan, you can visit the Aillwee Caves, the oldest in Ireland, where a 30-minute guided tour of the fascinating caverns can be enjoyed. Falconry is also available at Aillwee, where you get to handle the local hawks, while the Wolf's Den craft village is also worth a look.
A great introduction to the Clare coast – energy and time permitting – is to cycle the scenic route from Ballyvaughan down to the seaside village of Doolin.
Great bars and restaurants are to be found in Doolin, with quality traditional music echoing along the coast road, while an ever-increasing surfing community have added an extra dimension to this stretch of the charming Clare coast.
Before departing Doolin, stop off for an encounter with the Giant Stalactite at Doolin Cave, where you will come face to face with the northern hemisphere's longest free-hanging stalactite on an impressive subterranean adventure that takes you over 70 metres below ground.
The breathtaking scenery continues on the less travelled coastal drive from Doolin to Lahinch. And located right in the middle of this short spin is one of Ireland's greatest spectacles and most visited tourist attractions.
The Cliffs of Moher never fail to impress and you could never get tired of experiencing the views and the invigoration gained from these most famous landmarks, as you stand over 700 feet above the ferocious Atlantic's edge.
Arriving into Lahinch after a long, hard day on the tourist trail throughout Clare, the spirits are immediately lifted by the lively atmosphere that welcomes you into the town centre.
Staying at the four-star Vaughan Lodge in the centre of town, an excellent meal was enjoyed at the hotel's Lodge Restaurant.
The menu offered a great range of local specialities, with Burren lamb, prime Angus beef and smoked salmon from Lisdoonvarna on offer. Daily seafood specials include halibut, scallops, lobster and sea bream, while cheeses from Inagh and other craft artisans are also available.
There is a great buzz about Lahinch throughout the high season, and weekends throughout the year, with legendary bars, restaurants and nightlife that complement the wide range of activities on offer throughout the day, whether you sample a surf lesson on Lahinch strand or explore the local sights at the musical town of Miltown Malbay or the historic Spanish Point.
Located right in the heart of Lahinch is one of Ireland's great links courses, Lahinch Golf Club.
Dating back to 1894, the Old Course was initially designed by the legendary Old Tom Morris, who believed that Lahinch was the finest natural course that he had seen.
The course was modernised in 1999 by famous golf architect Martin Hawtree, and it is no surprise that the Lahinch links is consistently recognised as one of Ireland's best tracks, while Golf Magazine ranked it at No 42 in the world.
From a personal viewpoint, it reminded me of the Old Course of St Andrews, and no higher compliment can be paid, as it rolls right into the town centre just like its Scottish counterpart and really feels like an essential part of Lahinch.
Blessed with late summer sunshine, the track took us out along the spectacular coast towards the Cliffs of Moher and back into the town centre, where you can observe the town of Lahinch going about its business while you plot your way around this testing links experience.
Another gem of a golf course, Doonbeg Links, is located a short spin south from Lahinch.
Doonbeg, like Lahinch's Old Course, is a true test of links golf and takes you out and around the spectacular Doonbeg strand – one of the best beaches in Clare – and offers some great golf holes, right from the first hole, where the green is surrounded by an almost haunting theatre of giant dunes that urges caution to even the most skilled golfer.
Some great holes are to be found dotted throughout the 18 and the most daunting golf shots must be played as you battle both the course and the elements.
The short par three 14th plays across a brutal ravine with a green that drops off on three sides and no bail-out area, as another sloping dune guards from the left. Playing into a strong Atlantic breeze, it was certainly one of the toughest golf shots that I've encountered.
Doonbeg Golf Club is part of a spectacular five-star resort and a substantial golfer's lunch was enjoyed in the clubhouse bar before continuing on the coastal tour south towards Kilkee, an old school seaside town complete with horseshoe bay and holiday homes sprawling in every direction out of the town centre.
Once you reach Kilkee, the road starts to turn back inland towards Ennis, but if you take a detour through the town and venture further along the coast, you can explore the dramatic Loop Head peninsula.
The coast road takes you out along the beautiful and rugged promontory until you reach the guardian of the Clare coast, the Loop Head Lighthouse.
Bicycles can be rented from Loop Head Adventures to allow you to explore the headland and view the caves and coves cut into the rocks of Loop Head by the wild Atlantic Ocean.
Birdwatchers travel from all over Europe to take advantage of the spectacular remote location, where many rare birds can be spotted, while dolphin watching excursions are available from Carrigaholt.
Kilbaha is a great place to stay when exploring Loop Head. There's not much to the sleepy fishing village but two good pubs, the Lighthouse Inn and Keating's Bar (which claims to be the last Irish pub before New York) make for a great evening's entertainment, where you can enjoy a game of pool, a good pint of Guinness and earwig on random tales of English and Irish birdwatchers disputing the correct geographical term for these islands of the north Atlantic.
The Loop Head Lightkeeper's House is owned by the Irish Landmark Trust and can be rented for families or groups of friends, where you can enjoy a totally unique overnight experience.
The old house is fitted out with full kitchen facilities and three bedrooms, so all you have to do is fill the car with food and drink and live life on the edge of the world as you dine beneath the comforting lighthouse beams keeping watch over the rocky Atlantic shoreline.
Useful Links and Information:
Loop Head Adventures: 087 664 0605
Irish Landmark Trust: www.irishlandmark.com
For more information about the Clare Coast, visit: www.discoverireland.ie/Clare
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