Cléire / Cape Clear
Cleire / Oileán Chléire / Cape Clear Island (winter pop. 140), Ireland’s southernmost inhabited landmass, located at the mouth of Roaringwater Bay, is known as The Queen of Carberry’s 100 Isles.
(Photo by benjaminspeedy)
The island is renowned for its romantic scenery, with steep sea cliffs, precipitious rocks, shingle beaches, rugged hills and bogs crisscrossed by stone walls and covered in heather, gorse and wild flowers. Sea pinks and honeysuckle are common plants. Lough Errul is a beautiful lake. East Bog is dominated by reed swamp. Trees are rare, but there are some shelterbelts and many hedges. Pastures are grazed by cattle and goats, while wild rabbits are ubiquitous.
The east and western parts of the island are seperated by North Harbour (where ferries moor) and South Harbour (popular with yachts). Most of Cape Clear’s public buildings – the island’s Coöperative & Social Club, grocery shop, crafts outlets, post office, library, church (RC), National School (two teachers), three pubs – are to be found within easy reach of these two bays (see map).
Cléire is a Gaeltacht area, and most natives are fluently bilingual. The island hosts two summer schools attended by Irish language students from all over the country.
North Harbour The islanders are welcoming and hospitable. They live by farming, fishing and tourism, ad have a reputation for being very shrewd, summed up by the West Cork phrase “As cute as a Caper” (“Cute” in West Cork means “clever, astute”).
Most visitors to Cape Clear come for the island’s mix of beautiful surroundings and laid-back culture, exploring he landscape and waters during the day and joining frequent music, singing and storytelling sessions in the pubs until all hours.
A network of tarmac roads carries a surprising amount of motorised traffic. There is a bus service, but the best way to get around is by bike or on foot.
The island has megalithic Standing Stones, a 5000 year-old Passage Grave with a summer solstice sunrise alignment (making it one of the oldest astronomical sites in the world) a ruined C12th church.
Cléire is associated with Saint Kiaran / Naomh Ciarán, whose life predated the coming of Saint Patrick to Ireland. This pilgrim islandman travelled from Cape Clear to Rome and served the early Christian communities of Munster and part of Leinster (mainly in the Diocese of Ossory, where he is called Saint Kieran of Seir) as well as ministering in Italy, Brittany, Scotland, Wales and Kernow in Cornwall (where he is revered as Saint Pirin of Peranzanbuloe).
Saint Kieran’s stone, said to be the oldest Christian monument in Ireland, is inscribed with three crosses, two vertical ones carved into the stone on each side and another relief on the top. Whether the saint actually carved the stone is not precisely known, but being a native of the island it seems likely he would have honoured the new religion in the traditional fashion and erected a stone to the new god.
The C13th Saint Kieran’s Church attracts pilgrims annually on 15th March (Saint Kieran’s day). Their traditional custom is to draw water from Tobair Chiarain, the local Holy Well.
Dún an Óir / Dunamore Castle, erected in the C14th, was long a stronghold of the O’Driscoll pirate clan, and still makes for an atmospheric ruin.
Napoleonic War Signal Tower and old Lighthouse (Photo by benjaminspeedy)
Cape Clear Museum
Cape Clear Museum & Heritage Centre, housed in a restored schoolhouse and run by volunteers, is open for five hours every day during the summer months and by arrangement at other times.
The Museum has excellent displays of aretefacts, pictures and documents arranged according to themes such as geology, topography, archaeology, placenames, maritime history, shipwrecks, fishing, farming, famine, folklore, education and communication, with special attention to genealogy.
Éamon Lankford, the founder director of the archive and artefact collection, has written several interesting bilingual books about Cape Clear Island and its neighbours, providing well-balanced accounts of the history and folklore of the island and region.
Cape Clear Adventure Centre has facilities for canoeing, power kiting, archery etc.
Cléire Goat Farm has a magnificent herd of British Alpine goats and is open to visitors daily. Owner Ed Harper also runs residential courses on goat husbandry, milking etc. (Details)
Cléire is a good spot for watching out for whales, dolphins, seals, leatherback turtles, sunfish and basking sharks.
Cape Clear Bird Observatory has occupied Harbour House since 1962. Run by Birdwatch Ireland, its professional staff monitor the immense wealth of birdlife in the area by way of a ringing programme and a daily log (maintained since 1959), providing the most comprehensive ornitholigical inventory in Ireland. (See bird list). They also organise courses and provide accomodation for visiting birdwatchers. (Details)
Dining facilities on the island have improved. In addition to the Chip Van at North Harbour during the high summer season, Ciarán Danny Mike’s Pub & Restaurant now serves good fresh food, Cotter’s Pub prepares Thai cuisine, and Sean Rua provides gourmet meals in the Social Club.
The island’s Annual Storytelling Festival is held every September.
Cape Clear island’s official website is primarily in Irish, but incliudes information for English speakers.
Ferries connect the North Harbour with Baltimore daily throughout the year and Schull in summer.