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Mayo Islands

Clare Island

Clare Island   

Clare Island is the largest of the 365 islands in Clew Bay. It is the ancestral home of the legendary Pirate Queen Grace O’Malley (Granuaile). Rich in culture, archaeology and heritage, every corner of Clare Island is just waiting to be discovered.

This Mountainous island has soaring Atlantic cliffs, a whole range of extreme adventure sports and 6,000 years of visible history, from an ancient bog-bound forest to a 5,500-year-old megalithic court tomb, a bronze-age promontory fort and numerous 3,000 year old cooking pits (or fulacht fiadh in Irish).  

There’s also a 600-year-old medieval wall painting featuring a horseman, a hound, a fox, a snake, a crucifix, leaves, a dragon and archers on the walls of the 14th century Cistercian Abbey.  There is also another of the 'pirate queen' Grace O'Malley's castles, this one including her burial place. 


The islanders have come together to reimagine their rocky home as an adventure capital, with rock-climbing, canyoneering (rock-scrambling cliff-jumping and cave-swimming), abseiling and kayaking sessions for singles, bachelor parties, corporate teams and school groups. There are no hotels on Clare Island and no other hostels 

The islanders also run a sailing festival, traditional music events, a regatta and a walking festival with the impassioned historian Michael Gibbons.  


There’s a touch of the Galapagos to Clare Island, as Ireland’s greatest naturalist, R.L. Praeger chose the island for the most comprehensive inventory of nature and habitation ever conducted in Britain and Ireland in a single geographical location: The Clare Island Survey 1909-1911.  

Now, a century later the Royal Irish Academy has repeated his Praeger’s survey, tracking the changes that have transpired since. It’s throwing up exciting insights in every field: botany, geology, zoology, archaeology and anthropology.  

Praeger Education Centre is currently being developed on the island to allow scholars, students and curious visitors to immerse themselves in this new data.  

What else to do on Clare Island? 

  • Clare Island Yoga Retreat is one of the most inspirational spots in Ireland - a crucible for yoga, vegetarian cooking, meditation and natural horsemanship on 10-acres of native woodland, with extensive organic gardens and 240 acres of mountain for their sheep and horses. 
  • Much of the food is home produced, including yogurt, kefir and cheese from its sheep and butter from an island farmer. Most inspirational of all is the 6,000 trees that have been planted on what most consider a barren, windswept island. 
  • Woofing on Clare Island – 3 farms welcome Woofers (Willing Workers on Organic Farms), where visitors can experience island farm life in return for helping out.  
  • Clare Island Lighthouse is an elite sanctuary of luxury within the evocative walls of a 200 year-old maritime lighthouse – sophisticated design and food. A genuine escape from reality.
  • Various accommodation options are available throughout the island; check here for further details.

Top 10 things to do on Clare Island

  1. The Sea Cliffs of the northern coastline are some of the most spectacular in Europe, hosting a wide variety of rare birds and vegetation.  
  2. Clare Island Lighthouse is unique because it’s the only two-towered lighthouse in Ireland. It was decommissioned in 1965 after 159 years of faithful service, because (ironically) it is so high on the cliffs it was often shrouded in mist! Today, it operates as an exclusive guesthouse. 
  3. There are many outdoor adventures to enjoy such as snorkelling, coasteering, cycling, rock-climbing, abseiling, hillwalking, horse-riding, fishing, and boat trips to name just a few!  
  4. Saint Brigid’s Abbey is said to date from the 12th century, though it was rebuilt around 1460. It houses an O’Malley crest and legend says it’s the burial site of Grace O’Malley.  
  5. The ruins of Napoleonic Signal Tower at Tuar Mór go back to 1804, and is part of a network of towers along the coast of Ireland - central to the early 19th century alert system during the Napoleonic Wars. 
  6. Clare Island was the stronghold of the Pirate Queen Grace O’Malley (Granuaile). Grace operated from two military strongholds. The fi rst is Carraig an Chabhlaigh castle, on Clew Bay. The second is the existing O’Malley castle on the harbour, strategically located for levying taxes on foreign sea vessels. 
  7. Clare Island was occupied long before the O’Malleys, which is evidenced by the 53 mysterious Bronze Age mounds. Four of these fulachtaí fi a have been excavated and prove that there has been continuous settlement on the island for centuries. 
  8. Ballytoughey Loom is a small cottage industry producing high quality natural fi bre, hand-woven goods. There’s a shop on-site and they run courses all year round! 
  9. Sports & Activities: there’s a yoga centre on the island and the community hall hosts lots of indoor games, such as soccer and basketball. Just ask a local!  
  10. For freshly caught seafood & locally sourced ingredients, check out the local bar & restaurant, or the community centre, for a delicious meal. 
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