Loop Head is a slender finger of land pointing out to sea from the most westerly point of County Clare, on the Wild Atlantic Way. Cinched between the ocean on one side and the Shannon Estuary on the other, this tiny peninsula would be an island but for a meagre mile of land connecting it to the rest of Co. Clare. Despite its isolation, its people are far from insular, having spent hundreds of years welcoming strangers by water. In 2010, Loop Head became a European Destination of Excellence in aquatic tourism. It’s also right in the middle of the Wild Atlantic Way, 2,500 kilometres of the finest coastal scenery in Ireland.
Loop Head epitomises what the Wild Atlantic Way is about: panoramic cliff views, abundant local seafood, your choice of aquatic activities, and plenty of quiet beauty spots where you can pause and wonder at this unforgettable part of the world.
Loop Head Tourism is committed to three pillars of responsible tourism– environmental integrity, social justice and economic development. In responsible tourism, individuals, organizations and businesses are asked to take responsibility for their actions and the impacts of their actions.
One of the first things you’ll notice as you tour Loop Head is the vast numbers of cattle populating the fields – and, from time to time, the roads.
Until about 200 years ago, much of the land on the peninsula was unenclosed and held in common by the resident farmers. And while tillage once formed an integral part of the farm economy, nowadays the local farms are mainly dedicated to dairying and livestock rearing.
Get used to the cows because, apart from a few months in winter, they’ll be casually impeding your progress twice a day as they make their way to and from milking…
Unlike many other areas in the west of Ireland, much of Loop Head’s built heritage of vernacular houses has survived intact into the 21st century.
Little more than two generations ago, most dwelling houses and outbuildings were thatched with oat straw. The thatch was held in place with ropes to prevent the high winds that buffet the peninsula from lifting the thatch.
You’ll notice that most of the traditional cottages on the peninsula have their backs turned to the prevailing winds. Many did not even have windows on their west-facing walls. Warmth and comfort were the main priorities, even at the expense of a view…
Many of the inhabitants of Loop Head traditionally combined seasonal fishing with farming, as a way of shoring up their often meagre livelihoods. They fished with one or two partners from the traditional currach or canoe.
Until the early 20th century, most families on the peninsula, especially around Kilbaha, depended almost wholly on fishing for an income, fishing all year round with nets and fishing lines.
Fishing is still a thriving local industry, as well as being a pleasurable pastime for residents and visitors alike. And even those who don’t like fishing can still enjoy tucking into the day’s catch on a plate…
Within the tiny triangle of land that is Loop Head lies the entire range of coastal ecosystems found on Europe’s Atlantic seaboard. To the south is the Shannon Estuary – shipping channel, fishing ground and dolphin habitat. To the north, the violent Atlantic batters the coastline. To the west lie the distant Americas.
Loop Head enjoys the advantage of mountain views – Kerry’s Brandon Mountains – without having peaks of its own. The land rolls between soft, grassy fields and sheer cliffs, testaments to 300 million years of geology. The peninsula is almost treeless but grows gaudy with wildflowers in spring and summer. The skies are vast overhead and the ubiquitous briny wind leaves a lingering taste of salt on your lips…