In the Loop: Loop Head Peninsula Named Best Place to Holiday in Ireland
By Teresa O'Dea Hein
June 14 2013
Irish-Americans planning summer vacations home to “The Ould Sod” now have a new destination to add to their itineraries. The “Best Place in Ireland to Holiday,” according to a contest recently sponsored by the Irish Times, is not a well-known area such as Killarney or Derry city (which were two of the five finalists) but instead is the much-less-familiar Loop Head Peninsula.
Where, you ask, is that? It’s in the picturesque, windswept western corner of County Clare, where the River Shannon meets the Atlantic Ocean. There, visitors can tour its namesake Loop Head lighthouse, embark on dolphin-watching boat rides, try their hands at water sports, enjoy the scenery and heritage sites, savor fresh-caught seafood, listen to traditional music, go birdwatching, and drive to nearby golf courses. As its website (loophead.ie) promises, “Prepare to be blown away!”
Clare, sandwiched between the tourist meccas of Kerry and Galway, offers a plethora of visitor attractions like these, both on land and sea, above ground and below (with several noteworthy caves under the limestone rock surface of the Burren).
While the Cliffs of Moher usually warrant a stop on most bus tours, the Loop Head peninsula boasts dramatic cliffwalks as well. Perched atop the farthest point west on the Clare coastline is the Loop Head Lighthouse, which was opened to tourists just a few years ago and has proven so popular that its season was extended until early October. It offers panoramic views south across the Shannon to Kerry Head and the Brandon Mountains, north along the Clare coast and west out to the ocean.
The first cottage lighthouse on this site was built about 1670. Part of that original building is still used and is located next to the present tower-style lighthouse, erected in 1854. It was operated by a succession of keepers — including the maternal grandfather of the current Taoiseach, Enda Kenny — until the light was finally automated in January 1991. Visitors can now even book a few nights in the lightkeeper’s restored residence, which sleeps up to six people.
On the southern side of Loop Head, sightseers can board a boat in nearby Carrigaholt (whose name poetically translates as “Rock of the Fleet”) to check out the largest resident community of bottlenose dolphins in Europe.
Fishing boats also depart from Carrigaholt, and afterwards, visitors can enjoy a meal of local specialties from the sea in the award-winning Long Dock restaurant, found near the scenic ruins of Carrigaholt Castle.
A few more miles away, in the seaside resort town of Kilkee, popular since Victorian times, people can enjoy all kinds of water sports including kayaking and windsurfing.
Given this area’s many attractions, both seafarers and landlubbers will find plenty to amuse themselves with.
In fact, this is not the Loop Head peninsula’s first honor for its visitor initiatives. In 2010, when the year’s theme was “aquatic tourism,” it earned an EDEN (European Destinations of ExcelleNce) award from the European Union for promoting sustainable tourism development.
The other two finalists in this year’s Irish Times contest were the Glen of Aherlow, Co. Tipperary, and Inishbofin island, Co. Galway. Contest judges visited all five locations before announcing the Loop Head peninsula as the overall winner on May 27th.
The competition began in earnest in March when people were invited to nominate places where they enjoy vacationing, and they responded with more than 1,400 entries from every county in Ireland. According to the paper, writers of the nominations showed a decided preference for remote locations and holidays in coastal regions, especially in the West of Ireland.
Happy summer travels!