Greig Houghton Photography
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Clare Island Lighthouse Travelogue Pt 1

Will you meet me on Clare Island Summer stars are in the sky We'll get the ferry out from Roonagh And wave all our cares goodbye" Clare Island, The Saw Doctors

Lighthouses were a recurring theme of my childhood. Tales of Grace Darling, the daughter of a lighthouse keeper, who in the year of 1832 rowed out with her father in a rowing boat in the storm raged North Sea from the lighthouse on the Farne Islands to rescue five stricken survivors from the sinking of the Forfarshire. On the flip side, an Australian children's television programme, Round the Twist, depicting the magical and somewhat bizarre adventures of a lighthouse keeper and his three children. So when the chance arose to stay for a weekend in a lighthouse, I jumped at it.

The lighthouse in question is Clare Island lighthouse. The lighthouse, originally constructed in 1806 and decommissioned in 1959 after 159 years of service, is situated on the northern tip of Clare Island, 3.5 miles off the coast of Co Mayo at the entrance to Clew Bay. The Lighthouse has been recently refurbished and reopened again in the summer as a boutique hotel featuring six unique rooms spread around the main house and lighthouse complex. We purchased a rewarding times deal from the Irish Time which gave us two nights dinner, bed and breakfast in the Cliff Corner room.

View Clare Island Lighthouse in a larger map

The ferry to Clare Island leaves the mainland from Roonagh Point. At this time of the year, the ferry is twice daily with an early morning ferry followed by another ferry in the early evening. We left Co Kildare mid morning to arrive in Westport for lunch which then gave us the afternoon to have wander around the afternoon before setting off for the ferry. The short drive winds around the shore of Clew Bay, the drowned drumlins submerged in the bay to your right overshadowed by Croagh Patrick to the left of the road. As per my normal overzealous compulsion for timekeeping, we arrived at the ferry with plenty of time to spare, so I wasted some time on the small beach at the pier with my tripod and camera.

Nearing departure time, the pier started to fill with fellow travellers, a minibus full of school kids returning from boarding school for the weekend, a trailer of hay, a sheepdog and even a lone sheep in a cage. The ferry is passenger only, with the exception of deliveries to and from the island, so we left the car on the mainland. On boarding the ferry, we were surprised to find the sheep had also left its cage on the mainland and instead was casually standing around the deck in amongst some passengers, secured only with a small piece of blue rope to the bulwark with the sheepdog eyeing it up from the corner. It had obviously made the short twenty minute sailing many times before as we never heard so much as a bleat from the animal on the entire crossing.  The early evening crossing time coincided with the start of the golden hour for sunset and despite the thick overhead cloud, there was a slot of open sky on the horizon through which the last golden light of the day spilled through.

On arriving onto the pier on Clare Island, the ferry was greeted by an inhabitant who was standing at the tip of the tier to welcome some of his relations onto the island. The combination of his stance, the wind strewn hair, white goatee beard and pipe was too much to resist and despite the rapidly falling light levels I grabbed a few quick photos. Having disembarked from the ferry, we were chauffeured in a 4x4 the 4.5km distance up to the Lighthouse.   This short ride gave as us an insight into island life as Cora pointed out some of the local businesses and their significance for the Lighthouse. The Lighthouse is owned by a German business man, but is occupied and ran by resident managers Rory (a local of Clare Island) and Cora.  The same ferry we arrived on is the only means of getting regular deliveries onto the island for the Lighthouse.  Menial tasks that a normal hotel would take for granted are major logistical challenges.  The sustainability of the hotel therefore relies heavily on the local produce of the island and in this way, the island community supports itself. The fresh greens are sourced from the polytunnels at the yoga centre and there is an abundant supply of organic fresh salmon from the fishery off the east coast of the island.

The first aspect of the island which struck me was the topography with the island dominated by the hills Knockmore and Knocknaveen.  The land rises steadily to the lighthouse which is perched on the cliff top, the waves crashing the base of the cliff 300ft below.We were into the twilight hours when we arrived at the Lighthouse and shown to our room. Aptly named Cliff Corner, this modified outbuilding sits in the northwest corner of the complex behind the lantern tower and directly backing onto the cliffs below. The room boasts its own private cliff top walled terrace which offers spectacular viewing to the west out over the Atlantic to Newfoundland through 180 degrees encompassing Achill to the north and Clew Bay and the mainland to the east.  The photo below was taken from the terrace in the last of the twilight looking out west over the Atlantic to a distant rain shower.

Photo in the bag, we quickly changed for dinner which is included with the accommodation (there are no restaurants on the island). Dinner was at the communal table in the dining room, which for our first night, comprised one other couple and ourselves.  Introverted as I am, this would not normally be my preference, but thankfully the other couple were easy going and talk flowed easily over the six course dinner (beetroot soup, Clare Island organic smoked salmon, sorbet, pan fried lemon sole,chocolate cake, coffee). The food was presented simply but was delicious and was in keeping with the feel of the lighthouse.  Full and tired after relaxed pace of the six courses at dinner, we strolled the short walk past the uplit lantern tower, the taste of salt in the air and sound of the waves on the breeze ready to take on the island in the morning.