Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way has had much publicity since its launch in 2014. It’s fast becoming one of the ‘must do’ holiday driving trips for travellers from home and abroad. Over 2500km of winding roads meander Ireland’s west coast. The journey encapsulates awe-inspiring scenery on rugged shores washed by the Atlantic Ocean, as well as the culture and heritage of the people who live and work along this route.
Food obviously plays a very large part in the livelihoods of the people who have endured the fluctuating temperament of this coastline and its ocean. Many residents have made their livings here from land or sea, going back generations. The Wild Atlantic Way journey gives an opportunity to experience not just beautiful scenery, but to be immersed in the way of life of the people who know this coastal route best.
Here we look at the section of the road that stretches ahead through Co. Clare and Co. Galway. What a drive, in some of the most enchanting and exciting terrain, which includes the unique Burren landscape of Clare and the Connemara region of Galway.
Newmarket-On-Fergus in Co Clare provides a perfect spot to start your journey around the Clare coast. You’ll make your way around the mouth of the mighty River Shannon, passing Labasheeda, and the ferry port at Killimer (which takes you over to Tarbert in Co. Kerry) and around the coastline to spectacular views at Loop Head.
En route, you will see Scattery Island just offshore. As you round Loop Head, you will see Loop Head Lighthouse, an important marker for ocean vessels. The Atlantic Ocean opens up here as a huge body of water that can be gentle some days and furious on others! Its split personality is what has shaped Ireland’s west coast and its people!
Along this coastline are the famous Cliffs of Moher with their world-class visitor centre. The cliffs rise 214m (708ft) above the sea, with sheer cliff faces. On a clear day, the view from here is amazing, taking in the Aran Islands offshore, plus the Burren and as far as the Twelve Pins mountains of Connemara in Co. Galway. O’Brien’s Tower at the highest point of the cliffs has been a viewpoint for centuries, once guarding this coast against invaders.
What to see at the Cliffs of Moher:
The special walkway along the cliffs, accessed via the Cliffs of Moher Visitor Centre and exhibition area provides a safe place to view their magnificence. These cliffs are home to around 30,000 pairs of nesting seabirds, including Guillemot, Puffins, Kittiwakes and Fulmers. Peregrine Falcons can also be seen here most of the year.
In the oceans, whales and dolphins can sometimes be seen on calmer days at certain times of the year. Fishing is plentiful here so you will often see the colourful small boats of local ports passing by as they trawl for catches like turbot, hake and pollock, among other fish prized for the table. It is possible to take a sea fishing trip or a boat trip out around the cliffs, where they look even more impressive from the water!
Weather patterns at the cliffs also provide some seriously big waves for only the very bravest of surfers! ‘Aileens’ Wave attracts professional surfers from all over the world. It can rise between 10 and 30 feet in height as the water gains momentum and rolls over a large tablet of rock reef, making huge ‘barrels’ for the surfers to ride. They will often paddle out on their boards or be transported by jet ski to hit this wave, even in the biggest swells. Not for the faint-hearted!
Lisdoonvarna and The Burren
Lisdoonvarna is known as the village for lovers, famous for its matchmaking festival every year. Singles of all ages and nationalities come here to enjoy some fun and hope to find lasting love!
The Burren region is close by, meeting the ocean at Ballyvaughan Bay and including the natural wonders of the Aillwee Cave, plus Poulnabrone Dolman and Cahercommaun Stone Fort in the Burren National Park.
The Aran Islands
The islands of Inisheer, Inishmaan and Inishmore make up the Aran Islands. These can be visited by ferry from Doolin Pier. Inisheer is the smallest and closest to shore, followed by the middle island of Inishmaan and the farthest away is the largest island of Inishmore.
Visiting the islands certainly gives a taste of what life is like when you live out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and are subject to all its moods! Old islands skills are still in use here and many of the inhabitants still rely on home-grown produce and their own eggs, plus fish from island waters.
Good Food Ireland members in Co. Clare.
As you round the Wild Atlantic Way of Co Clare, you will come across some of our superb local food heroes. Visit these on your journey:
Carrygerry House: luxury culinary accommodation and fine dining restaurant, nestled in the Clare countryside.
Burren Smokehouse and Visitor Centre: where you can meet the people who practice the ancient art of smoking salmon. Taste smoked fish, caught on that very shore, in Lisdoonvarna Co. Clare
Roadside Tavern: A traditional Irish pub in Lisdoonvarna, where they serve their own craft beers and welcome you to homey traditional food, and a bit of craic. This is a great spot for traditional music if you hit it at the right time.
Wilde Irish Chocolates: A drive inland off the WAW route to Tuamgraney on the Banks of Lough Derg, but well worth finding to visit a proper chocolate maker, see the chocolates being made, and taste the goodies!
Linnalla Ice Cream and shop: On the famous ‘Flaggy Shore’ of poet Seamus Heaney. Here you can sample the delights of homemade ice cream from the farm’s own milk.
Bunratty Manor Hotel: There is a country house elegance about this business that is evident from the moment you walk through the front door; this is complemented by a personal & professional service and a fine dining standard of food in a friendly and welcoming setting.
Cliffs of Moher Visitor Centre: This is a bucket list location for anyone visiting Ireland. The Cliff View Café at the Cliffs of Moher is designed for quick visits and leisurely lunches all with quality food & drink on offer.
Market House Ennistymon: The Market House Ennistymon is a father and daughter run business. They provide locals and visitors with the best fresh local produce created by themselves and from fellow local producers.
Western Herd Brewing Company: The company is located on a hill in the middle of a farm in rural Clare. The beer has a unique taste of the landscape thanks to the spring water used in the brewing process which comes from a farm well. At full capacity, the Western Herd Brewing Company is capable of brewing the equivalent of 350,000 pints of beer
The Galway section of the WAW begins beyond Kinvara and travels up to Leenane, very close to the border of Mayo. It takes in bustling Galway, City of Tribes, with its colourful cultural vibe. Co. Galway is now named as a nomination for the European Region of Gastronomy 2018. When you visit here you will soon see why. Galway City includes two Michelin starred restaurants, one of which is a Good Food Ireland member. Its modern food and culinary reputation are rich with heritage and foraged foods and the fresh produce of the land, ocean and mountains of this area.
Along this part of the journey, you will enjoy the coastal towns of Salthill and its famous promenade and strand. Beaches around Barna are long and sandy and perfect for strolling by Galway Bay with views of the Burren in Clare across the water. Rossaveal and Carraroe Beach are further along the coast, with ferries, and flights to the Aran Islands. The winding roads around Roundstone are a place where Connemara sheep feel they are quite entitled to sleep in the centre of the road, regardless of traffic!
Travelling further up the coast brings you to magical Connemara, with its beautiful tropical white sand beaches on the coast and stunning mountain ranges of the Connemara National Park.
What to see in Galway City:
Don’t miss the Claddagh and historic Spanish Arch areas in the city centre. Eyre Square is a gathering spot for many locals. Around Galway harbour and marina is a lively spot that has accommodated the professional speed sailing yachts of the international Volvo Ocean Race. The small streets in central Galway are home to street performance and busking, as well as pavement cafe culture and traditional pubs with live music. There’s never a dull moment in this city!
What to see in Connemara:
The white sandy beaches on the coastal roads around Ballyconneelly are paradise on a warm day. If you’re equestrian inclined, horse-riding on these beaches is just pure bliss.
In the Connemara National Park, walkers, hikers and bikers can explore the woodland trails and mountain tracks of the Twelve Pins range. Further along, this road is the famous Kylemore Abbey with its beautiful garden, open to visitors. Killary Harbour is on Ireland’s only fjord. Boat trips are available and extremely overwhelmingly tranquil experiences in this place of natural beauty. Killary is rich in seafood like oysters and mussels, so make sure you enjoy some while you are in the area! the Connemara hills are famous for superb mountain lamb which is cooked highlighted in all Good Food Ireland establishments.
Travelling back through the Maumturk Mountains from Leenane to Maam Cross is a legendary drive full of myth and magic. The road runs by the banks of Lough Corrib as it passes through Oughterard and Moycullen, back to Galway city.
Good Food Ireland members in Galway city and county:
Aniar: A Michelin star restaurant owned by JP McMahon, in the heart of Galway city, where seasonal food is paramount and even foraging is used to beautiful effect.
Cava Bodega: At Cava Bodega diners can enjoy all the favourite aspects of Spanish cuisine while also getting a taste of the excellent local produce that the region has to offer.
Tartare Cafe & Wine Bar: A casual and relaxed space where people could come and enjoy a variety of Irish foods produced in the signature way of JP and his dedicated team. A common theme that runs throughout the three menus at Tartare is JP and Drigin’s love for and dedication to showcasing the dynamic food of the west of Ireland and beyond.
The King’s Head Pub and Chop House Restaurant: Galway City. Casual dining and live music in this ancient and historic traditional Irish pub. More smart casual offerings in the restaurant. Superb service and friendly buzz in both places.
Connemara Smokehouse and Visitor Centre: Ballyconneely, Co Galway. Right on the headland over a white sand beach. A blissful spot to learn about the ancient art of fish smoking and taste some award-winning products.
The Heron’s Rest Boutique Accommodation: Located on the banks of the river Corrib, The Heron’s Rest Boutique Accommodation offers twin self-catering townhouses as a tranquil bolthole in Galway City.
Basilico Restaurant at The Coach House Hotel: The Basilico Restaurant in Oranmore holds an AA Rosette for culinary excellence. The restaurant dishes up authentic pizza, pasta, pannacotta and plenty more favourites besides.
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