One of Clare's most charming villages, Ennistymon (Inis Díomáin) is most noteworthy for its characterful buildings that line Main St, some good-looking traditional pubs and its trump card: the roaring Cascades, the stepped falls of the River Inagh, which accompany languorous walks downstream.
Kilrush (Cill Rois) is a small, atmospheric town that overlooks the Shannon Estuary and the hills of Kerry to the south. It has the western coast's biggest marina at Kilrush Creek, and offers various opportunities to see bottlenose dolphins living in the Shannon estuary, an important calving region for the mammals.
Kilkee's wide beach and fine, powdery sand is thronged with day-trippers and holidaymakers in warmer months. The sweeping semicircular bay has high cliffs on the north end and weathered rocks to the south, with fantastic walks at either extremity. The waters are highly tidal, with wide-open sandy expanses replaced by pounding waves in just a few hours.
Kilkee to Loop Head
The land from Kilkee south to Loop Head has subtle undulations that suddenly terminate in dramatic cliffs falling straight into the Atlantic – in many ways more stirring and enjoyable than the Cliffs of Moher. It's a windswept place with timeless striations of old stone walls and views that extend for miles.
Like Kilkee, Miltown Malbay was a resort favoured by well-to-do Victorians, though the town isn't actually on the sea: the beach is 2km south at Spanish Point. Miltown Malbay has a thriving music scene and hosts the annual Willie Clancy Summer School, one of Ireland's great traditional music events.
On 15 September 1588, seven tattered ships of the Spanish Armada took shelter off Carrigaholt (Carraig an Chabaltaigh), a tiny village inside the mouth of the Shannon Estuary. One, probably the Anunciada, was torched and abandoned, sinking somewhere out in the estuary waters. Today, timeless Carrigaholt has one of the simplest and cutest main streets you'll find.
As you approach along the R487, sea begins to appear on both flanks as land tapers to a narrow shelf. On a clear day, Loop Head (Ceann Léime), Clare's southernmost point, has gob-smacking views south to the Dingle Peninsula crowned by Mt Brandon (951m), and north to the Aran Islands and Galway Bay. Bracing walks and a long hiking trail runs along the cliffs to Kilkee.
Doonbeg (An Dún Beag) is a tiny seaside village about halfway between Kilkee and Quilty. Another Spanish Armada ship, the San Esteban, was wrecked on 20 September 1588 near the mouth of the River Doonbeg. The survivors were later executed at Spanish Point. Doonbeg also offers some decent surfing for those who want to flee the Lahinch crowds.
Liscannor & Around
This small seaside village overlooks Liscannor Bay, where the road (R478) heads north to the Cliffs of Moher and Doolin. Liscannor (Lios Ceannúir) has given its name to a type of local stone – slatelike and with a rippled surface – that is used for floors, walls and even roofs.
The land at this minute waterfront village is as barren as the soul of the 19th-century landlord who burned down the local church so his workers wouldn't waste productive hours praying. Even today the scars are felt. Gazing at the ruins of his house far up the hillside, a local says, 'Yeah, we got rid of him', as if the events of 150 years ago were yesterday.
Forming the southern end of the Cliffs of Moher, Hag's Head is a dramatic place from which to view the cliffs along the Wild Atlantic Way. There's a huge sea arch at the tip of Hag's Head and another arch visible to the north. The old signal tower on the head was erected in case Napoleon tried to attack on the western coast of Ireland.