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Keating’s Bar & Restaurant at the Kilbaha pier.

Our first Easter as residents of Lisheen, Kilkee, County Clare, Ireland – on the Loop Head Peninsula, began with a Sunrise Easter Mass at the pier in Kilbaha, the remote, last stop village before reaching Loop Head and the light house. Mass began in the dark, at 5:40 a.m. to be exact, and ended in the light. The between time had the waves of the Shannon Estuary lapping against the shore, song birds waking up, prayers and poetry. And as we walked back to our car in the morning light, a herd of cows was gathered along a wall at the roadside observing the strange morning event, as though they were wondering what all the fuss was about!


Bishop’s Island

Any of the three main routes home from this enchanted spot on the Peninsula is a pleasure to drive, each with its own personality. But on Easter morning we chose the most dramatic route, the western coastal road with its magnificent cliffs that rise up from the Atlantic Ocean and thrill at every turn with stunning scenery that still takes my breath away, though I’ve driven it many times now. I may no longer be surprised by the view, but the raw, wild energy is always present and the ever-changing weather and light of West Clare creates a new beauty that still amazes me every time I journey along this road. This particular morning it was cloudy and grey with a slight mist hanging in the air. A ‘soft day’. Soft where we were anyway, but down below it was anything but soft, with white waves crashing, thunder against sharp rock and who knows what wild creatures hidden from view. Quite a contrast to the softer waves of the Shannon Estuary that played in the background of the sunrise mass we had just attended. Our peace was shaken but we were now awake and energized to face the day ahead and even pushed along to face our future, as life in West Clare moves forward for us with its many delights, and not to be ignored challenges.

In September of 2016 our cottage retreat became our full-time home.


Our first Easter in our cottage home.


All is quiet today and the sky is bright above my Chicago suburb. No more sounds of plows in the streets as they try to keep up with a blizzard that dumped over a foot of snow on us. No more scraping of shovels or drone of snowblowers going up and down driveways every couple of hours.

Chicago man with snowblower, AP/Daily Herald, Bob Chwedyk

Chicago man with snowblower, AP/Daily Herald, Bob Chwedyk

The snow has stopped and the streets and driveways are as clear as they’re going to get. But with this storm’s one-two punch a brutal cold has settled in that explains the silence. As I type this it is -16 degrees Fahrenheit outside (negative 26.6 ºC)! And this does not tell the story of our windchill, which is much colder and describes how the air actually feels as these brutal temperatures, in the form of wind, hit your body. I haven’t heard a car pass by on the street for hours because those who can, are staying inside their homes. The local schools are closed and even my husband’s employer told him to stay home today, a phenomenon in itself! The birds are silent as though trying to go unnoticed by this biting cold and the squirrels that live in the two trees on my parkway are nowhere in sight. Hopefully, they’re snuggled up close together keeping as warm as possible. We only venture outside to walk our dog, who we dress in a coat with a turtleneck sweater underneath. Even wearing this get-up, he comes back inside shivering, feet frozen and  tiny snowballs clinging to his fuzzy fur. Seán is a Bichon Frise and not made for this weather.

Meanwhile, it is about 50 degrees Fahrenheit in Ireland. But, a milder temperature does not mean that Mother Nature is taking it easy on them. Lashing rain and 120 km/h winds have wreaked havoc with damaging waves and floods along the coast and across the country from storms that have come repeatedly since before Christmas.

The River Shannon floods Kilbaha Bay on the Loop Head Peninsula, photo courtesy Carsten Krieger Photography

The River Shannon floods Kilbaha Bay on the Loop Head Peninsula, photo courtesy Carsten Krieger Photography

Tides rise and huge waves explode against the shores of the Loop Head Peninsula and all along the coastline taking down sections of stone walls, washing over roads and flooding promenades. The howl of gale-force wind and the thunder of 40 – 60 foot waves would be invigorating and exciting to witness if it were not so destructive. I imagine the local people snug inside their homes having battened down the hatches, hoping for the best and afraid to venture out to see the damage each time it quiets down between storms.

Storm damage in Kilbaha, photo courtesy Carsten Krieger Photography

Storm damage in Carrigaholt on the Loop Head Peninsula, photo courtesy Carsten Krieger Photography

My house on the Loop Head Peninsula just outside Kilkee is inland enough that the waves themselves can’t reach it, but with wind like that and the lashing rain, I am preoccupied with concern for its wellbeing. A huge weight lifted  from my shoulders when we received an email from the local man who checks on the house for us. Reading the words, “You’ll be glad to know that Teach de Búrca stands proud with no damage done to it or any of the outbuildings,” was such a great relief that I felt a surge of optimism and a special warmth for my little Irish house as it continued to brave the storms.

So here I am surrounded by snow and cold so dangerous that I won’t be leaving the house today – not even for my mocha! The cabinet doors under the kitchen sink are open to allow heat to surround and protect the pipes from freezing as are the doors around water pipes in the basement. Curtains drawn and blinds closed through the night in an attempt to keep out drafts, are now open to allow the sun to magnify some heat through the windows. The furnace is on overtime doing its best to keep us warm, so far so good. I am here and I know what is happening and what I need to do. But since I’m not in my County Clare cottage, I can’t see for myself if all is well after each storm so I am haunted by phantom sounds of crashing waves, howling wind and the rattling of my red half-door.

Lahinch, Co. Clare Promenade photo taken by photographer/surfer George Karbus courtesy

Atlantic waves appear to swallow the promenade in Lahinch, Co. Clare, photo taken by photographer/surfer George Karbus courtesy

The picturesque Carrigaholt Post Office.

With a birthday card to mail, I decided to take advantage of a mild, if still overcast day, earlier this week and chose to drive a bit into the Loop Head Peninsula to the small fishing village of Carrigaholt, thinking that Eoin could go seashell hunting on the Shannon shoreline that lies within view of the picturesque Carrigaholt Post Office and the attached Dolphinwatch office. While Eoin wandered down to collect shells, I went ahead to post my card. Having already made the acquaintance of the amiable postman, we exchanged greetings as he processed my card. Looking around I saw a few people mulling about, mugs in hand browsing the large selection of books, pamphlets and odds and ends that surround the small, crowded room with the service window. I asked if he had fired up the espresso machine that he hadn’t plugged in last year due to the thin crowds of people. He said no, but that he was serving herbal tea. So, never one to resist an opportunity to turn an otherwise humdrum errand into a pleasurable experience, I requested a cup of peppermint tea and spent some moments of leisure sitting at one of the tables in front of the lovely stone building, surrounded by pots of flowers, sipping tea and listening to the cool jazz emanating from outdoor speakers. Meanwhile, Eoin enjoyed searching for a 10-year-old’s treasures along the quiet shore of the River Shannon. I call that a win-win situation!

If you look across the bay into the distance, between the flower-pot on the blue bench and the green post box, you can see the ruin of Carrigaholt Castle, built around 1480 by the quarrelsome McMahons, and full of the ghosts of a very colorful and violent history. I thought how strange, all these centuries later, that I was sitting there within sight of those empty windows, peacefully enjoying peppermint tea from a flowery mug, cool jazz filling the air.

“Are you the lady who lost her keys?” This was my greeting during our first visit to Maud’s Ice Cream Shop in Kilkee! If you don’t remember that story, or perhaps never read it, I will refer you back to Blame it on the horse and my misadventure with keys last July. But the point being, the people of Kilkee and the surrounding area, the shopkeepers in particular who I had the most contact with, have been very welcoming and have made this summer unique from the last in that they remember us and have welcomed us back at every turn.

Dublin is a great city where I love to wander, shop and eat. But for the “Irish experience” of the friendly people sort, which has made this country famous, I have had to come to the West of Ireland, Kilkee and the Loop Head Peninsula. The familiarity of the people who run and work in the shops probably says a lot about just how much I frequented places like Diamond Rocks Cafe, Naughton’s, The Pantry, Keatings, Jo Soap Laundrette and Maude’s Ice Cream. However, considering the vast number of visitors this place takes in during the summer holidays, I was delighted by the immediate recognition and welcome I received from people remembering us and details about our stay here last year, such as Eoin’s watersports activities and our house in the bog – and my missing keys! And though everyone is generally friendly and helpful, I think they go that extra mile when they learn that we own a place here. Although we are blow-ins who don’t stay for the entire year, we have still made an investment in the area, both materially and emotionally, and I think it is appreciated. But, it is not only the people in the shops who have made us feel welcome. The local man who has been so helpful to us all year-long by checking on the house when we’re away, showing up to let the heating oil man fill our tank and looking in on our friends during their stay in May has dropped by twice since we arrived just to check to see if everything is alright! A busy man, he is here and gone like a whirlwind, but has made his neighborly presence known in a way that makes us feel like a part of the community.

And we are still meeting people. For instance, yesterday during a stop in nearby Carrigaholt, I met the man who runs the prettiest Post Office I have ever seen – and I told him as much! Not only is it lovely to look at, but at least while I was in town, soothing classical music could be heard emanating from the open door. And on top of that, this is a Post Office after my own heart because it also serves as a coffee shop! Not only did the friendly man wave and say hello from his doorway, but he walked up to my car, began a conversation and, after learning that I owned a cottage in Lisheen, invited me to stop in and visit the shop when I’m back in Carrigaholt. I took him up this invitation sooner than he probably expected when I dropped in again only a couple of hours later asking for, and receiving, the recommendation of a plumber from the area! Local tradesmen, by the way, are another group of people I am getting to know quite well around here!

A very pretty Post Office!

Montbretia blossom - courtesy of

One of the many delights that surprised me during my six weeks in Kilkee last summer, was the exotic beauty of an orange flower that began to make its appearance along the winding rural roads of Loop Head sometime in July. They began slowly, a splash of orange here and there appearing at the top of tall stems with long, green leaves. Perhaps it was the distraction of all the other dramatic sights to behold… breathtaking cliffs, the ever-changing theatrics of the sky, foggy mists in the evening, the lighthouse, crashing waves, the haunted tower house ruin left by the McMahons and ancient graveyards enclosed behind tall walls… that kept me from becoming fully aware of the lovely orange invaders gradually making their appearance. Then, one day, I suddenly realized that many of the roads were now bordered with a thick growth of tall, lush, orange blossoms! The brightness and height of these flowers seemed foreign to the rugged, wind blown terrain and I was fairly certain they weren’t indigenous to the area. But there were so many of them on Loop Head that I wondered how they came to be in such abundance along garden walls and fences.

I am not a gardener so, curious about these exotic blooms and thinking they would be a great addition to the newly formed berm at the front of our property, I paid a visit to the garden shop in Kilrush, armed with a small cutting that I quickly swiped by reaching through my car window after pulling over to the side of a Loop Head road. The friendly gentleman at the garden center knew what I was describing before I even took out my little sample bloom. He told me the name of the flower but my Chicago ears were having trouble understanding the long, foreign sounding word being spoken with a West Clare accent. I asked him once more and understood no better the second time so, not wanting to seem rude, or merely thick, I decided not to ask again. He then added that these flowers spread so profusely that he was sure anyone would be happy to allow me to dig up a few of theirs to start my very own patch of orange. Knowing it was unlikely that I would actually be able to bring myself to knock on a stranger’s door asking for flowers, I decided to buy the last potted version in the store even though it was of a darker, more orange-red variety. Much to my disappointment, the plant did not come with a tag to show me the name I was having such a difficult time understanding, so I resigned myself to perhaps never knowing the name of these lovely flowers but hoping my orange-red version would spread out along the road leading to our cottage with its red half-door. Upon returning home I promptly planted my tall, beautiful bloom in the ground next to the rustic mailbox I was afraid to reach my hand into – for fear of what might be living inside.

Skip ahead to the present and here I am all these months later sitting in the middle of a midwestern snow storm, so far away from a summer in Kilkee and lovely orange blossoms.  However, I recently had the pleasure of stumbling upon a poem on facebook written by Thomas Lynch, Michigan’s undertaker/author/poet who also happens to own a home in the Loop Head area. The poem tells the tale of an evening spent as designated driver of a car full of friends making the rounds of assorted restaurants and pubs on the Loop Head Peninsula. Imagine my delight when I realized the underlying theme of the poem is a reference to the lovely orange flowers found along the roads of Loop Head in July and August – and the name of the poem, Montbretia, is actually the name of my mystery flower! Furthermore, not only does this fine poem solve the mystery of the flower’s name, but it also tells the story of how these bright orange blossoms found their way to this particular rugged peninsula in West Clare.

Montbretia - courtesy of Victorian Resources Online

“Montbretia blooming up the Moveen Road,

never native to the flora hereabouts,

arrived more than a hundred years ago

when sons of the Dutch-born landlord both went out

to fight for the crown in the Boer Wars.

One was killed. One came home with flowers —

this orangey iris from South Africa,

named for a botanist somewhere in France

who was named for the hill that he called home

a century before…”

– excerpt from Montbretia, by Thomas Lynch

Equipped with an exotic name and an equally exotic history, I am warmed on this cold and snowy Chicago night, by visions of an “orangey” border greeting us as we drive up the rough, bumpy road to Teach deBúrca next summer!

The Round Tower on Scattery Island on a beautiful August day.

Standing 120 feet high, the Round Tower on Scattery Island is among the tallest in Ireland. To the monks of ancient Ireland, the height of the Round Tower advertised the importance and stature, so to speak, of the monastery it represented. Apparently the monks at St. Senan’s Monastery had a lot to be proud of!

When Kate came to Kilkee in early August to stay for a week, I made arrangements for the three of us to take a ferry from Kilrush to Scattery Island in the nearby Shannon Estuary. I figured, since Kate was moving to L.A. she would have lots of opportunities to enjoy the Pacific coastline, however while she was in Ireland, I could treat her to something she won’t find on the Pacific Coast – the ancient ruins of St. Senan’s Monastic Settlement! Scattery Island has a long history that includes Viking Raids and  a community of seafaring residents who once numbered up to 141 and lived in the now deserted cottages. But it is the austere and ancient St. Senan’s Monastic Settlement that really makes this a destination worth visiting during any trip to the Loop Head area. St. Senan, a County Clare native, established his monastery on Scattery Island in the 6th century. Aside from the very impressive Round Tower, the site also includes the ruins of a stone cathedral; a small church called Teampall Senain (Church of St. Senan), also known as St. Senan’s Bed – believed to be the site of the saint’s tomb; the church of Ard na nAingeal (The Hill of the Angel); and St. Senan’s Holy Well.  These ancient ruins exist within a beautiful, wild landscape of natural grasslands and wildflowers, which together, serve to transport visitors into the past.

Legend has it that upon his arrival to the island, St. Senan had a vision of the Archangel Michael, who led him to the highest hill where he could spot “The Cathach”, a sea-monster that was terrorizing the people of the area. The saint faced the monster and banished it, never to return. Once safe, St. Senan set about establishing his settlement and abbey, of which he was the first bishop. Along with banishing the sea-monster, it is believed St. Senan also banished women from setting foot on the island! This history, along with the Round Tower dominating the scene, lends a very patriarchal vibe to the site! Interestingly enough, it is said that the saint died on March 8th of 544, while paying a visit to one of the two local nunneries, which he had established on the mainland. Senan apparently liked women well enough, as long as they were not invading his island!

Teampall Senain, with the Round Tower in the background.

The day we arrived on Scattery Island was one of the mildest and sunniest of my entire stay in Kilkee. Kate, Eoin and I, along with a handful of other visitors, rode a small ferry from the dock in Kilrush to the island. During the tour we were delighted to learn that the ferry captain happened to be one of the last people born on the island, uninhabited since 1978! Except for an embarrassing disruption caused at the onset of the tour by my cell phone ringing several times with calls from Declan  – until I figured out how to turn the unfamiliar phone off – our tour of this historical island was peaceful, quiet and pleasurable. We listened attentively to our guide as we walked among ancient ruins, surrounded by wildflowers and tall, natural grass blowing in a fresh breeze with the warm sun shining upon it all. We were very impressed with the natural setting where only unobtrusive stone paths have been added and briar and nettles removed from the pathways and buildings, for convenience sake. There is no visitor’s center, except for a tiny information shop housed in one of the cottages, and all the historic buildings remain respectfully in their rough condition. To Kate and me, the monastic site was perfectly presented in its natural state surrounded by an unspoiled landscape. However, a 30-something Irishwoman who came along for the tour was not as pleased and let our guide know as much in no uncertain terms. She declared that she thought it was disgraceful that the island was “let go the way it is and allowed to fill with weeds” and stated that she believed it should be “put to better use”. When the guide asked her what she would prefer they do with Scattery Island, the woman responded that it would be a great place for weddings and could be developed and rented out for functions!

Perhaps St. Senan had this woman, with her ideas for improvement, in mind when he decided to banish all women from the island so long ago!

How long would I have to live here before the surroundings became routine and not worthy of wonder, excitement – and photographs? I doubt that the dramatic beauty of this place could ever become mundane to me, in any amount of time.

A boat in the Shannon Estuary at Loop Head this foggy evening.

Tonight at dinnertime, Eoin and I decided to drive away from Kilkee and further into Loop Head for a bite to eat. During our many journeys around Loop Head we have often passed a pub that sits along the shore of the Shannon Estuary, which borders the southern part of the Loop Head Peninsula with the Atlantic on the northern shoreline. Keating’s Pub is in the townland of Kilbaha,  just a couple of miles from the very tip of the peninsula where the lighthouse stands. The beautiful setting of this pub and the remoteness of the site have beckoned me to pay a visit.

Dinner itself was a pretty basic affair, with Eoin opting for the usual Chicken Goujon and me, the vegetarian stir-fry with rice. Following our meal, and after a pleasant conversation with the pub owner about a local man whose book I am currently reading, we said goodbye and headed for the car to make our way home. Much to my surprise, in the hour or so we took to have our meal, a cloud had descended upon Loop Head and the whole area was thick with mist. Dusk quickly approaching and the fog around us, the sensible thing to do may have been to head straight home, but I couldn’t resist driving further up the road so that we might see what the lighthouse looked like in such a thick, foggy mist. Visibility made it difficult to see beyond about two or three car lengths so I drove slowly along. Somehow, Loop Head, even in these conditions, didn’t seem eerie to me. It simply presented a scene of peacefulness and a bygone era. When we arrived at the farthest tip of the peninsula the fog was so thick that the lighthouse was just a barely visible outline of light grey surrounded by white.

We didn’t stay long at the lighthouse but we didn’t rush home either. I drove slowly for safety’s sake and we were able to take in the passing scenery with the attention it deserved. The Atlantic on our left and the Shannon on our right were invisible at the narrowest part of the peninsula. It looked as though the world ended at the cliffs. As we proceeded further down the road toward Kilkee things cleared up just enough to see a bit farther into the Shannon and we were able to ponder the fishing boats anchored offshore, wondering aloud about what it was like sitting in a boat in the water on a night like this.

Keating’s Pub in Kilbaha in a cloud.

We passed Keating’s again on the way back and I decided to stop at a clearing at the side of the road to take a photo of the pub surrounded by the mist. Wandering a bit further along the road, we stopped again at a rocky shoreline where seals sometimes visit. No seals were present at the moment, but Eoin had fun looking for them! As I took photos of him on the look out for seals, we heard cows mooing in the mist behind us.

Pretending to spot seals on the rocks!

Back in the car, we drove on toward Kilkee, only to stop again as we passed a mother horse walking about with her youngster, peacefully nibbling on the grasses of the field, appearing unconcerned with the mist surrounding them. This idyllic scene called for more photos, which not only show the horses, but the beautiful field they were grazing upon. Mother and child looked back at us curiously, perhaps wondering what sort of lunatics would be out driving and taking pictures on such a night!

Mother and child observing mother and child – the fog barely showing up in the photograph! Photo by Eoin.

By the time we entered our cottage through its newly installed half-door, we were both physically satisfied from our meal and spiritually satisfied by the delightful drive home afterward. Here on the Loop Head Peninsula, non-events become events and a simple dinner can become a journey through the mists to a place out of time.

This photo greeted me on facebook this morning. I am a subscriber to a facebook page called The Loop Head Peninsula, West Clare where photographer, Carsten Krieger, posts his photos and writes snippets about the beautiful Loop Head Peninsula, which is only a short drive from our cottage in Kilkee. This particular photo, taken last Thursday, came with a declaration that “the landscape is in full bloom and flowers even grow out of solid rock.”

Beauty like this makes it no surprise that last Wednesday it was announced that Loop Head has recently been declared the winner of Ireland’s European Destination of Excellence 2010, award. This makes the Loop Head Peninsula one of 22 destinations of excellence for aquatic activities and tourism in Europe and also means that it will represent Ireland at the EU tourism day in October. With County Clare tourism suffering recently, this announcement surely comes as wonderful news and offers hope for West Clare and the Kilkee area in particular. According to The Clare Champion newspaper, “Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport, Mary Hanafin said the award will be of huge benefit to West Clare tourism. ‘The Loop Head tourism project shows the significant achievements that can be made when the local community and tourism enterprises strive together. I have no doubt that the winning of this prestigious award will have real benefits for the local tourism sector in Clare and Ireland generally,’ she said.”

Hmmm…. with all this great publicity for Loop Head, I wonder how the parking will be in Kilkee this summer? Eóin and I may have to do a bit of walking into town… I hope the scary farm dog who lives at the end of our road accepts us as neighbors!

You can see more photos by Carsten Krieger on the facebook page – The Loop Head Peninsula, West Clare, or at his website here .



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