Doolin, County Clare

 Fisherstreet, Doolin 1969 ©

For many years now, travellers known as "vasindoolins" have wandered our fair land in great numbers. These culture chasers are to be found all over the country - and further afield. The name derives from the account of their travels: "I vas in Doolin".
They had to get rid of the coin box phones opposite Gus O'Connor's pub in Doolin, a surprisingly cosmopolitan village on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean in North Clare. The man from the phone company was coming four times a week to empty them; it wasn't often enough. The multinational throng of callers pumped fifty pees into the chute at an alarming rate as they chattered to cherished loved ones in distant lands - or plead with Papa to send more cash. The coins filled the boxes at a fearful rate. When the boxes were full, the phones went on strike, paralysed by fiscal indigestion, refusing further remuneration. The internet café has helped in recent times.
This is Doolin at the height of summer. Tourists here tend to be younger, less opulent, walkers and hitch-hikers, back-packed and chronically curious, cautious with cash, pernickety about diet, frugal in consumption. For some, the favourite tipple is the atmosphere, which elicits derisive grumblings from over-worked publicans and reclusive imbibers. During this spell, the locals adjourn to more idle haunts, exiled from accustomed corners by mysterious murmurings in foreign tongues.
But they accept it in good heart, conscious of the huge boost the travelling throng brings to this otherwise impoverished area of the West of Ireland. Tourism is the lifeblood; gift horses are readily accepted and greatly valued. The occasional grumble is suppressed, the berating is blunted.
They all come to Clare for the music and the friendly, unceremonious, laid back nature of its people. If Clare is Ireland's hub of music, then Doolin is surely Clare's. Here the great musical traditions of the past have flourished, not only for festivals and summer schools, but throughout the year. There is no folk revival here. This is a place where it never went away, it has always been this way.
In recent years, Doolin has suffered a tad from its own success. Word of tremendous musical sessions and mighty craic has spread far and wide, with visitors coming from all over the world, having heard of its reputation, as often as not, in their home place. This can be a drawback at times for lovers of music.
But in spite of the crowds and the noise and the logjams of cars on the narrow thoroughfare of Fisherstreet, Doolin has a unique, distinctive charm. The cosmopolitan ambience is a feature of this remote village. Here you are likely to meet a carpenter from Newfoundland, or a student teacher from Auckland, or a nun on holiday from the mission fields of San Salvador, all lodged together in the corner, playing a few reels.
But be careful. Doolin is notoriously difficult to leave. You will meet weekenders still there on a Tuesday, all thoughts of home waived, the craic too tempting to depart.
Doolin is not just a summer place, the diversion here is permanent. July and August can be a bit crowded but the rest of the year - bank holidays apart - the crowds are down to manageable proportions, the traffic is normal enough, and the music is flowing and audible. You might even get a set-dance going.
There are a few excellent restaurants in the immediate area to keep the most fastidious palate contented, or if you fancy something less elaborate, the pubs serve good food all day and most of the evening.
There is an extensive range of activities to keep you out of the pub for a while (don't force yourself) here on the edge of the Burren, of which Cromwell said that there was not enough water to drown a man, nor a tree to hang him, nor clay to bury him, and he passed by. His indecent haste was his loss, and the Burren's ultimate gain.
A visit to the Burren centre in Kilfenora is a must before wandering through this fascinating and unique landscape. Its barren appearance belies a profusion of flowers in great variety, with many rare specimens growing side by side. You will it enjoy all the more armed with a little foreknowledge.
The best way to explore this extraordinary 100 square miles of limestone landscape is either on foot or by bicycle. You can hire bikes locally, the mountain variety being desirable, and available!
Further north, near Ballyvaughan, is Ailwee Cave, once home to the brown bears which roamed this land. Now fitted with electric light and staffed by well-versed guides for the less adventurous speleologist, it provides the sort of caving suited to not-so-active grannies. The award-winning entrance is an architectural paragon, beautifully blended with its surroundings. The cave has the added advantage of being immune to the vagarious whims of the weather, the inside of the cave remaining at ten degrees all year round, regardless of the weather.
Doolin is the nearest port to the Aran Islands. The smaller of the three, Inis Oirr, is about five miles away. Ferries run from Doolin pier and the islands are a must, if only for a day trip. Silence is the golden crown of this Atlantic jewel where the noise and smell of ceaseless cars, to which we have apparently become immune, is unknown. It takes a little while to acclimatise to the silence of Aran. It is worth the wait.
The Cliffs of Moher are an essential element of any visit to this part of the Banner County. Here the powerful swell of the mighty Atlantic Ocean pounds the towering walls 600 feet below. Each year, 600,000 visitors come to experience the titillation of gazing down upon the restless surge. The more active will walk from Doolin along the grassy path which skirts the cliffs - less than two hours at a leisurely pace.
But it is, after all, for the music and the song and the dance and the craic that visitors come, and of these there is no shortage. Music is a nightly feature with musicians from far and wide converging to play and sing traditional tunes and song.
If you need a break from the arduous rigours of bibulous recreation you can ramble up to Roadford, half a mile away, where McGann's and McDermott's provide more of much the same.
Unless, of course, you started in McGann's - or McDermott's - in which case you can head for O'Connor's.
Doolin is like that.
* How to get there: Doolin is on the North-West coast of Clare, four miles from Lisdoonvarna. There are daily buses from Limerick, Galway and Dublin. Nearest airport is Shannon
* Where to Stay: Accommodation in the area is as plentiful as it is diverse. Prices to suit all pockets from the camp-site which boasts showers, kitchen and a launderette, to the more salubrious surroundings of the local hotels and a plethora of B&Bs. There are also a number of hostels. It is judicious to book, especially during summer months.
(first published 1994)

© Ronan Quinlan  1993

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