County Clare

The forty shades of the green hills of Clare peek above St. Michael's Church on Inis Cealtra, also called Holy Island. Legend says it was built by Brian Boru in the 10th century.

By Sharon Ní Chonchúir, Contributor
Photos by Eoin O'Hagan
June / July 2017

With the use of audio tours and drones, one of the most beautiful counties in Ireland is captured in all its glory.

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“It’s a long, long way from Clare to here.” These may be the words of a popular song but have you ever stopped to wonder why the singer misses this Irish county so much? What attractions does it have to offer?

There is a huge amount to see and do in this county. It has some of the most varied scenery of any county in Ireland.

There are the spectacular Cliffs of Moher which stretch for five miles and reach over 700 feet at their highest point.

A view of Inis Cealtra from the air.

A view of Inis Cealtra from the air.

There’s the lunar-like limestone landscape of the Burren, which is home to remarkable flora that you won’t find anywhere else as well as some wonderful archaeology such as Stone Age wedge tombs, Iron Age ring forts, and Norman castles.

There are seaside villages such as Doolin, Lahinch, and Spanish Point, which have begun to build reputations as surfing spots in recent years.

Clare is also one of the centers of traditional music in Ireland. Well-known musicians such as fiddle player Martin Hayes and accordion player Sharon Shannon are from the county and you’ll often find some of the best Irish musicians playing in impromptu music sessions in the pubs of County Clare.

Autumn is a beautiful time of year to visit Clare. These  inquisitive horses have a view of Lough Graney from the Sliabh Aughty Mountains near Caher.

Autumn is a beautiful time of year to visit Clare. These inquisitive horses have a view of Lough Graney from the Sliabh Aughty Mountains near Caher.

As if that weren’t enough, Clare is also home to the Tea and Garden Rooms in Ballyvaughan. Stephen Spielberg made a detour in his private jet the last time he was passing just so he could sample some of their cheesecake.

With all of this and more on offer in Clare, it’s no wonder that the singer of the popular ballad laments the fact that he is so far away. However, thanks to videos made by Irishman Eoin O’Hagan and a new travel app made by Cleveland native Deborah Schull, that distance is about to feel a whole lot shorter.

Bohatch Dolmen. A short hike from Mountshannon will bring you to  arguably the most spectacular vista of the Jewel of the Shannon. This 5,000-year-old tomb is a beautiful and historic place on the East Clare Way, which meanders through the Sliabh Aughty and Sliabh Bernagh Mountains.

Bohatch Dolmen. A short hike from Mountshannon will bring you to arguably the most spectacular vista of the Jewel of the Shannon. This 5,000-year-old tomb is a beautiful and historic place on the East Clare Way, which meanders through the Sliabh Aughty and Sliabh Bernagh Mountains.

Eoin is originally from Dublin but when he fell in love with his wife Ruth, he also fell for her home county of Clare. “She’s from Scariff in east Clare and that region, especially the area around Lough Derg, grabbed hold of my heart and it wouldn’t let go,” says Eoin. “In many ways, it’s the poor relation of the Cliffs of Moher and the Burren in west Clare. People visit those on bus tours and they don’t realize what they’re missing in the rest of the county.”

Eoin decided to try to do something about this. Firstly, even though his work continues to be based in Dublin, he moved to Clare. “I’ve been working as a lighting gaffer for TV for the past 22 years and I work in Dublin for at least three days a week,” he explained to me over the phone as he drove home to Clare late on a Friday evening. “But once I fell for Clare, I couldn’t live in Dublin anymore so now I split my time between the two.”

Cousins Jordan, Aoibheann, Grace and Ellen O'Hagan enjoy a Summer trip to Inis Cealtra.

Cousins Jordan, Aoibheann, Grace and Ellen O’Hagan enjoy a Summer trip to Inis Cealtra.

He would love to spend more time in Clare and he has set up clarevirtually.ie, a web-based business, with this in mind. Through it, Eoin hopes to show people the beauty of Clare through his eyes. He does this by posting 60-second videos of different parts of the county as well as its pubs, restaurants and accommodation providers.

“I’m out with my camera, video camera, or drone any spare moment I have trying to capture the spectacularly varied landscape of Clare,” he says. “I also try to give people a taste of what’s in store for them if they visit the county. This is why I always feature a welcome from the owner whenever I showcase any businesses. It’s all part of the céad míle fáilte (one hundred thousand welcomes) for which Ireland is so well known.”

The Holy Island Ferry, a dusting of  winter snow on its  gunnels as it floats at Knockaphort Pier.

The Holy Island Ferry, a dusting of winter snow on its gunnels as it floats at Knockaphort Pier.

Eoin’s photos and videos allow prospective visitors to take a virtual tour of Clare before they arrive.

People who have emigrated from Clare have also begun to visit the site too.

“Seventy percent of the visitors to the site are from America and a lot of those seem to be members of the diaspora,” he says. “I think the site is a way for them to connect with home and to see what’s changed and what’s stayed the same.”

Castlebawn is a beautifully  restored Tower House on a tiny island below Ogonnelloe, on Lough Derg. This exclusive but easily affordable getaway is available to rent on Airbnb.

Castlebawn is a beautifully restored Tower House on a tiny island below Ogonnelloe, on Lough Derg. This exclusive but easily affordable getaway is available to rent on Airbnb.

Eoin’s website is just one of the ways in which he promotes his adopted county. He is very active on social media and posts from @clarevirtually can be found on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Pinterest.

He also is on a constant mission to attract the attention of the world to Clare. His latest plan involves bringing Pope Francis to Lough Derg. “He’s said to be planning a trip to Ireland,” says Eoin. “So, I got the children of the local national schools to send him postcards inviting him to visit Holy Island on Lough Derg. Here’s hoping he visits!”

Deborah Schull has taken a different approach in her attempt to promote County Clare. This award-winning writer and producer is also the founder and CEO of Cultural Roadmapp, a GPS-enabled tour app of Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way.

A white tail eagle chick sits on a branch above Mountshannon Pier.

A white tail eagle chick sits on a branch above Mountshannon Pier.

This is going to be a four-part series of audio tours that will provide motorists with a commentary on what they are seeing as they take this scenic route up the west coast of Ireland. She has just launched the first part, which focuses on Clare, and Irish America is premiering some of the stops on the audio tour.

Born in Cleveland, Deborah’s relationship with Ireland began in 1970 when she, her parents, and her twin sister moved to Dublin. “My father was a sales manager for Encyclopaedia Britannica and he was asked to set up operations abroad,” she says. “He had a few options to choose from and he chose Ireland. We moved to Ranelagh in Dublin in 1970 when I was 14 and I moved back to the States for college.”

This fine trout was a worthy winner of the Jimmy "Crock" Minogue Memorial Flyfishing Competition. Held  annually on the first  Sunday in May, it is a great social occasion  as anglers meet and swap stories of the  one that got away.

This fine trout was a worthy winner of the Jimmy “Crock” Minogue Memorial Flyfishing Competition. Held annually on the first Sunday in May, it is a great social occasion as anglers meet and swap stories of the one that got away.

It was to be another 40 years before Deborah returned. In the meantime, she established herself as an award-winning audio tour writer of prestigious destinations such as the Smithsonian Institute and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum.

She had long wanted to do something to showcase Ireland. “My first idea was a guidebook and then I thought a TV show might be better,” she says. “Then I came up with the idea of a travel app and when the Wild Atlantic Way opened in 2014, I realized it should not just be a regular app. It needed to be an audio tour.”

However, it wasn’t until technology became hands free and triggered by GPS that Deborah’s idea fully took shape. “That allowed us to create a fully immersive app experience,” she says. “Because you can use the app without using your hands and because it’s linked by GPS to where you are, you can look at the world around you while you learn more about it. It’s like having locals along with you in the car.”

Dawn on Lough Derg, the jewel of the  Shannon. Worth  getting up early for.

Dawn on Lough Derg, the jewel of the Shannon. Worth getting up early for.

Deborah and her business partner, Dr. Leah Bernini Cronin, an ethnomusicologist trained at the University of Limerick, interviewed these local experts last September and she has spent the intervening months weaving their insights on history, music, folklore, geography, archaeology and storytelling into a compelling audio guide to the county. The guide features music, literary, and dramatic performances, stories, humor, and narration by Irish actors.

Visitors who use the app as they travel along the Clare section of the Wild Atlantic Way will learn about the county in a novel way. What they might previously have learned from having their head stuck in a book can now be learned while looking out the window.

Ruth O'Hagan pictured inside the 1,000-year-old St. Brigid's Church on Inis Cealtra.

Ruth O’Hagan pictured inside the 1,000-year-old St. Brigid’s Church on Inis Cealtra.

Deborah is very excited about the future of this app and others like it. “I would like for it to give people an authentic and entertaining introduction to Ireland, which is such a culturally rich place with so much history,” she says. “We started with Clare because it’s got an incredible musical and cultural heritage and it’s also home to the stunning landscape of the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher.”

The next three parts of the Wild Atlantic Way Cultural Roadmapp will be launched next year. One part will cover Cork and Kerry. The second will cover Galway and Mayo and the third will cover the counties from Sligo to Donegal.

“If those do well, I’d love to do a guide to Ireland’s Ancient East and to the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland,” says Deborah.

For now, readers of Irish America dreaming of a visit to Ireland’s beautiful County Clare will have to content themselves with Eoin O’Hagan’s videos and Deborah Schull’s audio tours. No matter where you are when you watch the videos or listen to the tours, the distance to Clare will suddenly disappear. It’s the next best thing to being there. ♦

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Sharon Ní Chonchúir lives and works in west County Kerry, and much of her writing is concerned with the changing face of modern Irish culture.

You can view more of Eoin O’Hagan’s videos on clarevirtually.ie or on his YouTube channel. The audio tour app will be available for free from June 21, 2017 onward at www.CulturalRoadmapp.com or by searching CULTURAL ROADMAPP in the App Store and Google Play Store.

One Response to “County Clare”

  1. Rowena Daly says:

    Congratulations for Deb Schull seeing her project through from an inspirational dream to reality.

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