Greig Houghton Photography
Landscape, Street and Travel Photography


Irish Landscape and Travel Photography Blog

Clare Island Lighthouse Travelogue Pt 2

Waking to the muffled noise of the waves breaking 300ft beneath my head, the distance of the vertical drop and thick walls of the outhouse providing effective acoustic insulation, this was one of the easier alarm calls for sunrise. Within ten minutes I was up and in position, the sun still below the horizon but already starting to illuminate the sky above Clew Bay. The early mist of the October morning provided an ethereal feel as it capped Croagh Patrick on the mainland and drifted across the peaks of the island. I didn't have to wait long until the mist started to clear from Croagh Patrick and as the sun started to rise above the horizon, the remaining mist captured the pinks and orange of the first light. Clearing the horizon and the low cloud. the moment arrived as the sun burst through a thin gap illuminating Clew Bay with a narrow orange streak across to the island.

With the sun in the sky, I turned back towards the island, the low mist still coating the ridge of Knocknaveen. The elevated position of the lighthouse revealing the barren nature of the island, the white rendered houses clustered in twos and three popping out against the treeless landscape, separated by the winding track, rocky outcrops and herds of sheep.

Dining on the island is limited so at breakfast we opted for the full irish to keep us going throughout the day. The lighthouse offers a light take way lunch but we passed as we had brought some snacks from the mainland. Fuelled up, it was time to hit the trail. Our route for the day incorporated the large loop of the island. The low misty cloud from the morning was still present on the high peaks so this ruled out off-road adventures on Knockmore with us instead sticking to the roads which form the large loop of the island.

The route is shown on the map below. Dropping immediately from the lighthouse, the track winds its way through the glazing flock of sheep towards the yoga centre where the stone walled fields characterise the landscape. Turning right at the crossroads, the route starts to climb once again, leaving behind the stone walls to return to the open hill side and bogs between the hills of Knockmore and Knocknaveen. The bohareen climbs slowly but steadily to the highest point of the loop. Cresting the rise provides the first view of the south side of the island with distant views to islands of Inistutk and Inisboffin. These views make it worthwhile doing the loop anti-clockwise and the views from the crest to the north would not be as impressive. Just before leaving the wild section and heading back into civilisation, we were greeted by two donkeys. After a quick introduction, we had made a friend for life more friendly and he would have followed us back down the hill as a third companion if not for the cattle grid. View Clare Island Lighthouse in a larger map

Leaving the donkey behind, the loop drops quickly into the small hamlet which contains the church, the local shop (the only one on the island) and the old small abbey.  You can get access to the the inside of the abbey by asking for the key at the shop, but after a quick refreshment we decided to continue on our way.  The next part of the loop is relatively flat and takes you parallel to the coast back towards the harbour.  The road is set-back from the coast so views are restricted to the Atlantic beyond the shoreline. A string of small farms and one-off housing leads you into the village.  The community centre is the hub of the village providing the heliport, entertainment and many more things beside.  The village also contains a blue flag beach, the ruins of Grace O'Malleys Castle (the infamous pirate queen), a pub (only open part of the year) and of course the pier for the ferry service.  From the beach we notice the wreck of an old boat stranded (noted by the anchor on the map above) out on a rocky bar so we decided to take a short detour from our loop to investigate.

The wreck is actually the old Clare Island Ferry, Rossend, which was washed ashore in a storm of 1993.  Split into two, only the bow remains as a stark reminder of the cruel nature of sea travel when Mother Nature decides to show her full force.  The shape of the vertical struts making up the bow combined with the port hole near the middle of the remains reminded me of a the throat of a humpback whale with the porthole forming the eye.

Rejoining the loop, we could see the discouraging site of the lighthouse perches high up on the hills infront. The long steady climb started again, but this time there was no 4x4 mechanical power only the power of our own two feet. We slowly ticked off the landmarks as reached the cross roads, the yoga centre and finally the cattle grid signalling the last part of the track to the lighthouse.


Reaching the lighthouse, my wife retreated to Cliff Corner while I continued my short but steep ascent to the cliff top.  The highest point of the cliffs provides a great view back down towards the lighthouse and really gives you an appreciation of scale in terms of the cliffs with respect to the lighthouse as well as reinforcing the message of how close our bed for the night was to the cliff edge! Cliff corner is the small outhouse to the left of the round tower behind the lantern tower.

Sunset provided no real drama, with the heavy cloud over the Atlantic preventing the majority of the sun breaking through. Undeterred, I shot the final frames of my trip from our private terrace including the shot below of Cliff Corner with the lantern tower behind. The final shot of this post, is a long exposure of the view down from the terrace to the rocks and cliffs of the Atlantic Ocean below and beyond.