It probably says something about my state of mind these days that the idea of going out on New Year’s Eve – amid drunken crowds in venues that are overcharging chronically to get in or to have a drink – holds very, very little appeal. I’m all for nights out, but it’s hard to think of a worse time for one than New Year, and this year we finally cracked and decided to plan ahead, booking the quaint little exercise in modern twee to the right, for a week, in the tiny town of Quilty, County Clare.
It would have proven a very bad call, in fact, if Helena’s hadn’t had enough of trying to learn to drive through expensive lessons, and so bought a car right before we came down, making Christmas in various rural corners (we were in Galway and Mayo over the holidays themselves) a whole lot easier. Things have been so relaxed here. We’ve spent our evenings in front of the fire, soaking up the array of movies we don’t normally have from Sky (and learning to speak in Baltimore Street slang through The Wire), and the days working on a whole range of writing things we both have on the go, walking on the beach and working our way through a large supply of Kindle books.
Quilty’s beautiful in a really run-down, rustic kind of way. There’s one mini-supermarket of a shop, a cafe that’s only open during the summer and a few dozen houses, most of which front a slate-covered beach that fills with rock pools at low tide. There’s very little excitement to be had – the shop only just stocks enough things to buy a passable meal – but jogging through the quiet streets past the crumbling remains of all the old sea-lashed buildings is its own kind of entertainment. For New Year, we had a couple of glasses of mulled wine and watched Graham Norton try and avoid asking Tom Cruise anything controversial. Every day we’ve been trying to go out driving so Helena can practise, and the most eventful thing of the first half of the week was probably driving into Ennis to watch the excellent ‘The Life Of Pi’ (as good as it is, incidentally, it’s still not a patch on the book, which is one my favorites) in their extremely old-school cinema. Still, starting the New Year feeling fresh rather than hungover is a reward in itself.
A Tour de Clare. We’d already seen the Cliffs of Moher (and spectacular as they are, they’re not worth ogling again in bad weather for the sake of it), so we decided to take a day touring the lesser-known corners of the county instead. It’s turned out to be something of a mixed bag.
We started with Lahinch, a small town known for its surf beach that had a load of surfers out on the waves despite the fog – rather them than me in the freezing Atlantic – before heading on to stare at the rocks of The Burren. I love the surreal scenery of The Burren, the cracked layers of rocks at one end and that really odd slate mountain that dominates the skyline at the other. It’s somewhere I’d love to bring a tent and a few tins of food and just wander around for a few days. We stopped in on the Poulnabrone Dolmen – a rustic stone tomb – to look at the cracked stoned layers and stare at the wacky hills, which can seem like a bit of a moonscape..
Next stop was Aillwee Caves, a huge underground network kept secret by a local man for more than thirty years (for no reason we can work out, aside from he just didn’t mention it), before he decided to tell some passing cavers and turned it into a big tourist attraction. It was once a spot where bears turned in for winter, though they’ve long since been extinct in Ireland, leaving only the dips in the earth where they once lay for an age at a time. There’s the normal cave-scene stuff, too – dripping rock structures, underground waterfalls and points where you have to duck down just to squeeze through the tunnels. I’ve been to far more impressive cave setups to be honest (this one takes perhaps twenty minutes to see in full), but it was worth a gander, whereas our next stop – a castle called Newlands – wasn’t, really.
Our final stop off was in the other direction – Kilkee – which pretty much summed up Clare on the whole: picturesque, pretty run down, somewhat dead during winter (well over half the businesses were closed) and very, very quiet. Kilkee beach, incidentally, is fantastic, a huge great arc of sand that takes a few minutes to walk around and would really be something in the sun. All in, this was pretty much perfect for what we were after – a slow, lazy start to the New Year – I’m not sure we’ll be rushing back, but it definitely beats an overcrowded, overpriced night on the town.
Another corner next year, perhaps.