Surfing in Ireland

Click photo for Jetsetters  Magazine Surfing Blog.

The shores of western Ireland’s County Clare claim some of the best surfing in Europe, and some of the best Atlantic Ocean beachcombing.

Click photo for Lahinch Golf Club

Click photo for the Lahinch Golf Club,
which parallels Lahinch's beach.

Lahinch is a great town for kids because of the beach, surfing, and the Lahinch Seaworld, with its huge indoor pool and activity center, right on the Promenade.  And on the weekends the bars and pubs draw in the locals to mingle with the summer crowd that swells to 35,000 or more. Surf shops are ever present, and the surfers' party last late until closing time, and you won’t find a more congenial bar crowd anywhere in Ireland. And of course there is golf in the are, and in fact, the Lahinch Golf Course is a world class tournament course played by the likes of Tiger Woods, and it parallels the bay.

Get bronzed in surf town!

Lahinch is unquestionably Ireland’s surfing capital. Surf shops dot the cement seawall Promenade just like in southern California.  The most prominant surfing school is Lahinch Surfing School.

The Cliffs of Moher and the Burren are just to the north for the tourist travelers. The warming influences of the North Atlantic Drift and the Gulf Stream result in seawater temperatures which vary less throughout the year than do those to the east, and many of the local sea creatures that inhabit the underwater world reflect this.

Surfers often head for the swells off the coast of Spanish Point, a great boogey board spot, but also the area where remnants of the Spanish Armada are found in the “Deep Six”, and you can see many of the artifacts in the Clare Museum in Ennis.

Lahinch is tied even further to the sea with the Lahinch Seaworld Aquarium, an all weather leisure and activity centre located on the Promenade. You can observe the animals that are off the coast in the aquarium setting, which is interactively designed to show off the marine creatures.

Doolin faces the Atlantic.

Further south is the town of Doolin, facing the Atlantic’s full force winter gales head on with nothing to temper the ferocity. Around Doolin the soft limestone shore is pounded by the waves and pieces are often broken off. Boulders can be lifted from the seabed and thrown ashore onto the low cliff tops.

Here, as in much of the rest of west Ireland’s coastal seas, marine life is both plentiful and diverse and astonishing. Many undersea creatures only live here when conditions permit. Sea bass feed in the surging sea, but are able to swim offshore in bad weather. Spiny spider crabs inhabit the shallow seabed, but migrate into deeper water for the harsher winter months.

Low tide in Lahinch.

Some creatures are unable to protect themselves by moving, such as mussels and barnacles, which are fixed on the Doolin rocks and must rely on their armored bodies to withstand the crashing waters. You will find all type of sea life on the Doolin Point towards Crab Island .

Flaggy Shores — The flattened rocky shores to the north and south of Lahinch are full of boulders and large shallow rock pools. These are home to some quite fascinating creatures. One of these is a small black sea urchin found in large numbers on the western Irish coast and they can be clearly seen inhabiting the rocky bottoms of large rock pools into which they burrow, producing many small round pits, each of which usually contains an urchin.

Coastal creaturse abound in the rich waters.

Often rock pools contain lots of seaweed and small animals. Blennies and gobies are small fish and they are very common here, although their habit of darting about makes them difficult to watch; occasionally a small clingfish might be spotted clamped onto one of the rock surfaces. Prawns inhabit these pools, their transparent bodies blending into the background, camouflaging them effectively.

On a quiet still day the clear shallow water below the rocky shore may be still enough to reveal more of the coast’s creatures and plants. Seaweed and kelp are easy to spot, but a careful look may reveal starfish and anemones.  Eroded rocky shorelines are characteristic of the soft rocks around Clare. At low tide, kelp plants can be glimpsed as they are exposed to the receding tide.


The Shore Dwellers — Slippery butterfish may often be on the beach restaurant menus of western Clare, and they wear a sad expression, possibly knowing their fate. They are a common fish but are rarely seen as they hide under rocks and in the seaweed.  The tidal cycle means that many creatures have to tolerate both dried out and submerged conditions twice a day. This can involve a considerable temperature change during the summer as they are often baked when the sun comes out from the clouds, which is not often in Lahinch.

Surf City, Irish style.

Some creatures escape the extremes by living in rock pools. Beadlet Anemones, the most common anemone in these waters, are red or green blobs of jelly, and they are a well known near shore dwelling animal, but try looking for one in winter when they let go of the rock and travel down the shore. A shore anemone, usually found much nearer to the low tide mark, is the Dahlia Anemone. These beautiful creatures can be colorful and are about the size of a child’s hand. The common starfish also lives in rock pools. In contrast, on the drying rock surfaces, live barnacles, limpets, mussels and other shellfish. They survive by closing their tough shells when the tide is out. Snakeclock Anemones are found in rock pools and kelp beds.

Even though traditional fishing is not as apparent today, many of the delightful critters do find their way onto the beach restaurant menu, grilled and sautéed, their succulence is devoured greedily by hungry land dwellers, and they sound even more exotic when spoken in the Irish language —

Sea Bas — Bas
Butterfish — Sleambnog
Common Mussels — Djuliein
Common Prawn — Cloichean
Edible Sea Urchin — Cuan Mara
Goby —  Mac siobhain
Lesser Octopus — A-l-ochtapas beag
Lobster — Gliomach
Plaice — Leathog bhallach
Pollack — Mangach
Spiny squat Lobster — Gilomach
Velvet Swimming Crab — Luaineachan min
Sandy sea beds — On a calm day the sea beds around the Cliffs of Mohar can be seen among the boulders, because the sunlight reflects off  the lighter colored sea bed sand. The sandy sea beds are anything but empty — large rays, spurdog sharks, big flatfish, dogfish, all burrow into the sand. Curious masked crabs, sea mice, and sand stars are only found in the sand beds.

Lobsters — Lobsters are protective of their territories and with armored bodies and large pincers, even surfers and swimmers are wary. A lobster’s two claws are quite different. One is for cutting while the other is for crushing; they are also used for grasping and moving large pebbles and for digging and shoveling. Grown lobsters live in the sea under boulders or they excavate a spot by removing the sand.

Few lobsters survive to adulthood. Their younger days are fraught with danger — a potential meal for many other sea critters, including older lobsters! They start life as eggs carried under the mother’s tail. After hatching they spend time in the upper waters or open sea as part of the plankton. When large enough they migrate to the sea bed and spend the rest of their life hiding. At Lahinch Seaworld lobsters are bred and then released into the sea when they are large enough to feed for themselves. Special equipment is used to simulate the open water and planktonic lifestyles in the aquaria environment.

The Seaworld pool, above,
and Neptune gift shop, below.

Lahinch Seaworld
Tel: 065-708 1900
Fax: 065-708 1901

Deep Water — Colorful jewel anemones can only live in the deeper, cooler, food rich moving seas.  Sea fans love the deep blue. Velvet swimming crabs are aggressive with red eyes flaring. Many of the deep sea creatures live under the kelp and they can be seen in the kelp beds at Lahinch Seaworld. Dark brown sea cucumbers are related to the starfish and sea urchins, and they graze for food sitting motionless on the seafloor.

The ruggedness of County Clare seen above ground is repeated underwater. The rocky seabed provides a firm surface for plants. Kelp plants need light and so are only found in shallow water, and the teeming sea is so clear in Ireland that kelp is often found up to 60 feet deep. The kelp forests provide shelter and cover for many animals. The edible sea urchin has sucker feet that climb up the swaying kelp stipes eating the seaweed.  Small but exquisite blue-rayed limpets browse the blades leaving them worn and uneven.   Ballen and corkwing wrasse are fond of kelp forests and shoals of pollack often cruise in the kelp.

Lahinch Seaworld even has a replica of a sea cave often found along the Irish coast, especially those around Doolin, aptly named “Hell Complex”; other caves are in the Aran Islands. Lobsters are often found in sea caves, along with Conger eels lurking in the dark holes.

Surfing Ts are found here.

Just like summer tourists, turtles arrive along the shore, as do jellyfish and grey triggerfish.

Lahinch Seaworld also has the great little Dolphin Diner with cheap seafood specialties, where the surfers tend to hangout. Sushi and sashimi will never be the same after my visit to the Aquarium, which offers gear at Neptune’s Retail Store, including swim gear and sea gifts; the complex has a huge indoor pool that is popular year around with the kids. School tours from all over western Ireland crowd in during family visits. Take a guided beach tour with the aquaria staff. The complex also has its own surf school.

Lahinch Golf and Leisure Center

Modern amenities are found at the hotel.

The largest hotel in town is the Lahinch Golf and Leisure Centre, about a block off the main street, and a popular spot for golfers. The hotel is preently managed by Irish Court Hotels, and is situated on the former site of The Aberdeen Arms. The property has undergone an extensive renovation, transforming the hotel into a luxurious four-star property.

Golf groups utilize the hotel's suite rooms, with kitchenettes.

The hotel comprises 140 rooms, including 42 two bedroom Executive Suites. Each guest room boasts king size beds, spacious bathrooms and every convenience for the modern traveler. The lobby is the perfect place to relax and watch the world go by, with real fires, mahogany paneling, warm luxurious fabrics, and marble accents, what better place to sip an Irish coffee or a pint of creamy Guinness.

Lahinch has a great pub scene.

After a night on the town at popular bars like Flanagans (where all the local lasses seemed to hangout), and O'Looney's, where the surfers hangout, the hotel's Green Bar welcomes me with good cheer as if I am a part of the citizenry. That is the charm of Ireland. The Coffee Lounge is great for enjoying gourmet coffees and homemade desserts during the day. For more formal and intimate dining, the Dunes Restaurant serves fresh local fare and the sea's bounty.

The hotel has a great Leisure Centre featuring a 17-meter swimming pool, steam room, sauna, Jacuzzi, along with specialized treatment rooms and a fully equipped gym.

Probably the most popular beach town in all of Ireland is Kilkee, which has the largest beach in western Ireland .

In recent years, the biggest vacation getaway news has been vacation homes which have sprouted up all around Kilkee, in both directions of the huge U-shaped beach, bounded by the cliffs where the homes stand. The short tourism season is usually from July to September when the warmer weather arrives.

No shipping or maritime activities pollute the waters in Kilkee Bay so a walk along the Esplanade and West End is not hindered by odors or garbage rolling in the waves, so check out the Puffing Hole, or a curious rock formation called the Amphitheatre. There is also the Arch Cliff; the cliff heads and the entrance of the bay are George's Head on one hand, and Look-out Hill on the other side of the bay, with other cliffs besides, extending right and left to climb. The hills and valleys are the habitat of plants, which are rare in other parts of Ireland.

The craggy coastline near Kilkee.

The Clare coastline is famous for it's shore angling for pollock, bass and mackerel. The gentle waters are a haven for sea angling with deep sea angling arranged for bass, bream, black coalfish, brill, cod, Conger eel, dab, dogfish, flounder, John Dory, ling, mackerel, mullet, plaice, pollack, ray, sole, tope, whiting, and wrasse.  

There is no better seaside dining venue along the strand than The Strand Restaurant located in the The Strand hotel.

The historic Strand, on the Kilkee Strand.

Many of the historic hotels, like The Strand, have been welcoming repeat guests for generations. With only 11 rooms, it is wise to book The Strand in advance, as with all Kilkee hotels, if planning an Irish summer holiday here.

There are many historic hotels close to the beach, but The Strand holds center stage. The a la carte Strand Restaurant offers those Irish seafood specialties I mentioned above, slugged down with famous Eire brews.

The famous Strand Restaurant.
00 353 065 9056177

The tradition of catering, which had been established prior to 1842, has been carried on by generations of the same family and is continued today by the Redmond's, who recently purchased the Restaurant and Guest House section of "The Strand" from the previous owners,  Uncle Donal McMahon and his wife, Claire. Historical photos of the area are displayed and they have a full bar menu as well.

The 11 Strand rooms are all en suite with TV, direct dial phones, and hairdryers, tea and coffee, and orthopedic beds.

The Victorian-era Stella Maris has
greeted Kilkee visitors for generations.
Tel: (065)9056455
Fax: (065)9060006

The Strand was booked up for my Kilkee holiday so I was only a block walk away to my magnificent Victorian era hotel — The Stella Maris.

The Stella Maris is a small family run hotel in the heart of Kilkee, operated with efficiency by Ann Hough and her husband. The red Victorian era hotel has been greeting visitors for countless generations, and I noticed many Irish senior citizen holidayers in the verandah breakfast and lunch area, and they inform me that this is the only hotel they consider when coming to town. Many have been vacationing here for over 50 years!

Explore County Clare sea caves.

The hotel’s attractions are the open peat fires, friendly staff, a great bar, and the veranda overlooking the beautiful horseshoe bay and town of Kilkee . Traditional music in the bar and a variety of home cooked food all go to made my stay a very memorable and pleasant experience.  While sipping a Guinness and watching the youths shoot snooker, I was informed that West Clare has more musicians per capita than in all of   Ireland. Many of the most influential traditional musicians in Ireland have come from this region.

Beachcomb the tidal pools around Kilkee.

The Stella Maris has only about 22 rooms or so, but each one is grandiose in expansiveness, and Ann takes great pride in the property’s upkeep.

Across the street is a small market, and just down the lane are local coffee shops which are always packed with the locals.  Of course the pubs are nearby, too. This is a walking town, no need for a car to see the sights. The Kilkee Tourist Centre is across the other street from the hotel corner and it offers area maps and tour guidance. Even the police are overly helpful and a patrol car stopped in the middle of the street and we had a great chat about the local attractions.  This is Mayberr RFD, Ireland style.  The local library is about a block away from the Stella Maris, housed in a former theater and school, and it seems to be the only access for very slow internet services, but they have all the Irish newspapers upstairs.

Kilkee Thalassotherapy Centre uses
products from the County Clare Coast
for beauty and health.

Kilkee Thalassotherapy Centre is a family run health spa and it is owned by the sister of Ann Hough. The Centre also has accommodations, but their biggest draw is their spa services, and in 2004 they were voted “Best Day Spa” in Ireland by the Irish Beauty Professional Association; other awards include: Top 5 in the Residential Spa's in Ireland in 2003 and Top 5 in the Day Spa's in Ireland in 2005.

The centre offers traditional seaweed baths, seaweed body wraps, hydrotherapy, massage, marine based facials, sauna and steam rooms, beauty treatments, and sun bed. The centre is located just 100 meters from Kilkee's EU Blue Flag beach and it carries its own line of health products for home use.  Kilkee Thalassotherapy Centre offers a range of specialised treatments for both men and women to relax, rejuvenate and re-balance the body. For more info log on:

Click for Ireland BlogMake Kilkee your base for touring the Burren National Park, Aillwee Caves, Cliffs of Moher, and Loophead Peninsula, where the mighty Shannon River debouches into the estuarial Atlantic.

Activities in the Kilkee area include: waterworld, pony trekking, fishing, dolphin watching, scuba diving, sailing, and golf.  The Ballybunion to Kilrush car ferry is only 40 km away so bring your car so you can drive the Loop Peninsula, but while in town, park it and meet the wonderful people of Mayberry — I mean Kilkee.

By Kriss Hammond, Editor, Jetsetters Magazine.