County Clare, Galway, and the Aran Islands



The West of Ireland is the most westerly seaboard in Europe, and the part of Ireland least influenced by its neighbor to the east, England. Galway and West Clare are where the Irish go to reconnect with their heritage, whether by practicing their jigs at the Fleadh Nua folk festival, enjoying "the craic" at the Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival, visiting the ancient megalithic tombs of the Burren, or trading news with a Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking) resident. Wherever you go in the West, you'll not only see, but more important hear, how the best of traditional Ireland survives.

Even a Jackeen (Dubliner) will tell you that this area is distinctly different from the rest of Ireland and is bent on retaining its unspoiled, rugged way of life. With much of nature's magnificence onRead More
display—the majestic Cliffs of Moher, the rocky Burren, and the sublime Aran Islands—it's easy to see why. Visitors continue to relish the unique thrill of standing high above the pounding Atlantic, watching seabirds reel below, as the numerous Cliffs of Moher posts on YouTube demonstrate.

This area lies at the far western extremity of Europe, facing its nearest North American neighbors across thousands of miles of the Atlantic Ocean. Although other areas of Ireland were influenced by Norman, Scots, or English settlers, the West largely escaped systematic resettlement and, with the exception of the walled town of Galway, remained purely Irish in outlook. No wonder these western regions have the highest concentration of Irish-speaking communities and the best traditional musicians in the republic.

West Clare, in fact, is the guardian of Ireland's musical traditions, where people still flock to learn new dance steps and fiddle riffs. The hub of the area remains Galway, the city that loves to celebrate. Saunter through its naturally festive, pedestrianized center and the city's many pubs, and you will find proof of Galway's reputation for good times. Not far away is the town of Ennis, and villages like Doolin and Kinvara, also noted as trad-music hot spots.

Visitors will find, particularly in western County Galway, the highest concentration of Gaeltacht communities in Ireland, with roughly 40,000 native Irish speakers and the country's first Irish-language TV station based in tiny An Spidéal (Spiddle), a suburb of Galway City. You'll see plenty of signs printed in Irish only. This is especially the case out on the isolated Oileáin Árainn (Aran Islands), where many Irish schoolchildren have their first experience of a place where Irish is the main language during summer camps. These limestone islands are actually geological extensions of the mainland expanse known as the Burren, a craggy landscape rich in megalithic remains, unique geological formations, rare flora and fauna, and a rich history of myth and legend.

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