Local Knowledge: Co Clare


Birgitta Hedin-Curtin, co-owner and manager of Burren Smokehouse

Tell me about your connections to north Clare?I’ve lived in Lisdoonvarna for more than 25 years. We have a business here called the Burren Smokehouse, which has a visitor centre. People can taste smoked salmon and see how we smoke fish. It is both an education and an experience, where you learn about an ancient craft.

Has there always been a strong food tradition in the area?When we first arrived here, we noticed that when good food was made available it was really appreciated. I remember you couldn’t find good coffee, and for many years you would be presented with coffee and have to ask, “Is this tea?” There was an appreciation for food including crab and lobster, but not as many premises using it. Pub food was basically non-existent.

What tourist sites do you visit?I bring people to the Poulnabrone dolmen in the Burren, which is 5,000 years old. It is the landmark of the Burren really.

When you step over a wall and walk into the landscape of the Burren and start to see the flora and the animals, it is incredible.

What beaches would you suggest people go to?Fanore beach is a haven. It’s great for children and they have rock pools, so you can give kids a fantastic education. I love the seaweed and periwinkles and the excitement of it. Lahinch is the traditional surf beach and there is a very social scene there. But, for me, Fanore would be the one.

What about shopping and eating in Lisdoonvarna?You have good pub food locally now and the Wild Honey Inn is one of the best. We also own a bar called the Roadside Tavern, where we have a microbrewery. For fine dining, I like Sheedys Hotel and restaurant, which has been in the village a long time. I really like Joe O’Loughlin’s fishing tackle shop, where you can get some nice presents for your children.

What changes have you noticed in recent years?In Lisdoonvarna you now have very good roads following a revamp in the mid-2000s and obviously things like phone and internet coverage are now in place. We have a great playground and sports facilities and there are creche facilities available now.

For someone coming to stay, where do you suggest?The Burren Hostel is very good and popular. You also have a range of BBs. Those of poor quality have fallen to the wayside and those left are competing strongly.

Is the Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival worth visiting?For locals it is still important as a chance to extend the summer season into September. We have a pub and we see the same bachelors every year. It is very friendly and funny. There are a lot of young farmers these days and people really get into the dancing. If you want to be there for the crowds, then you should come for the last three weekends in September. I travel a lot and you meet people who met there and go back every year for a reunion.

Next week We will be looking at Co Antrim, focusing on the Glens and the coastal region. If you have recommendations, drop us a line before Friday.

Twitter: @oconnellbrian Email: brianoconnell@ irishtimes.com

Gerry Collison, former editor, ‘Clare Champion’ and ‘Clare People’

How has Ennis changed in recent years? In Ennis at the moment there is a growing cafe culture. It’s not because of any great continental influence, but more that people can’t afford to go to the pubs.

There’s a new one on Parnell Street called Casablanca and you can get tapas in there as well. The Gourmet Store is another good one. Most of the bars won’t open until 7pm or 8pm, so these cafes are the liveliest of places now.

Where would you go for a stroll or some time in nature near the town?One of the real hidden gems in Ennis is out around Killone Abbey.

It is fantastic during the summer time, even given our weather. Kids congregate at the far side jumping off the cliff face into a lake, which acts as a reservoir for the town. On the other side is an old picturesque Augustinian abbey. The place is maintained by local people and they also have a well there. There is a beautiful crisp and clear lake called Newhall lake and it is a lovely spot for a walk.

You can get there by heading out the Kilrush road and taking the turn towards Ballyea or else head out the Kildysart Road. It is badly signposted, so be warned.

Where would you go to get a good pint in the town?The best pint in Ennis is in John O’Dea’s pub. You have to go through a shop to get to the bar or else go down a lane way off Upper O’Connell Street.

There are only two residents left on Upper O’Connell Street now, I think, and one of them is John O’Dea.   Another place is the Halfway House near the West County Hotel. One place that has come on a lot is Lucas’s down Parnell Street. They are the best places for a real local experience.

If you are a visitor and you want some music – for which Clare is famous – then Brogans is the old standby, or the bar of the Old Ground Hotel is also good.

Where to go, see and stay

Where to visit:The Ennis Friary, which reopened a few weeks ago having been closed since October 2009, was the starting point for what later became the town of Ennis. The nave has been roofed and some of the stone carvings have been tidied up and are now on display. The site tells the story of the town, from the O’Briens of Thomond and their rule during the 13th century onwards, and it details the manner in which the Munster kings gave hospitality to the Franciscans. There is a nave facing east, and to the south a side chapel, and a cloister to the north. The friary is open seven days a week from 10am until 5.15pm, and guided tours are available on request. Admission is free and the friary opens until the end of October. See heritageireland.ie, 065-6829100

What to experience:A new company, Go Gaelic, is aiming to give visitors to Co Clare and the west coast a unique experience of hurling and Gaelic football, and should hold appeal for everyone from overseas visitors to stag and hen parties. The service will provide visitors with an opportunity to learn some of the basic skills of hurling and football, and impart a bit of background on the history and heritage of the games. There’s also the opportunity to witness a live demonstration and the company has a mobile unit, so it can travel to meet groups. Sessions can be both active and passive and tailored to meet specific requirements.

gogaelic.ie, 087-6032425

Social media recommends

White Strand beach outside Milltown Malbay. It is hard to find but is a beautiful place with stunning walks and, Monday to Friday, you could have the whole place to yourself. – David Slattery

Mountshannon is a lovely spot with a great play area for kids, including a maze. It has a lovely marina, from where you can take a boat trip to the monastic sites on Inis Cealtra and it’s not overrun by tourists. Nice pizza place too. – Judy Murphy

I had a nice breakfast in the Doolin Café last week and there is a little patisserie up beside the craft gallery – turn left at the church before you go down to the village, coming from Fanore side. I have to commend the Tea and Garden Rooms and also the Soda Parlour. The drive into Ballyvaughan from Fanore/Blackhead is breathtaking. – Karen McDonnell

Quincys in Quin village is an excellent restaurant. Also, Jade Cottage Chinese restaurant in Ennis. – Jim O’Dowd

Vaughan’s Anchor Inn in Liscannor – incredible food in the unlikeliest of spots. – Colin Dulnea

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