Clare Island lies off the west coast of Ireland at the entrance to Clew Bay.
The largest of the off-shore Mayo islands, it has a varied terrain: spectacular cliffs with large numbers of nesting sea birds and a rich ‘inland’ topography of hills and bogs and small pockets of woodland, making it ideal for hill-walking. The island’s complex history can be read through its landscape: from archaeological remains of the Neolithic and Bronze age, to rare medieval wall-paintings in the 14th century abbey, to the ‘pirate queen’ Grace O’Malley’s (Grainneuaile) castle and burial place.
Everywhere there are traces of past generations, most significantly the 19th century population explosion and subsequent famine when the island’s population of 1600 was reduced by half. Old potato ridges, or ‘lazy beds’ are everywhere: the evening sun reveals them jutting out from the land. The island has been much studied, with the R.L. Praeger’s The Clare Island Survey perhaps the most well known.
The island lies roughly four miles off the nearest mainland point and the ferry crossing from Roonagh Pier takes approximately 25 minutes. The current permanent population of 150 increases substantially during the summer tourist season. The island has a number of B&B’s, a hostel with a bar/restaurant, a community centre and pub, and one shop which is also the post office. There’s a primary school on the island, with 22 students and 2 teachers, but no secondary school.