Heritage trail lends new life to Loop Head

Tales of ghost ships and a hidden city are among a wealth of folklore explored by a pioneering heritage trail in a spectacular part of Clare which could provide a template for a series of walking routes along the Wild Atlantic Way.

A pioneering heritage trail in a spectacular part of Co Clare was launched yesterday and could provide a template for developing a series of walking routes in the Wild Atlantic Way.

The driving route promotes the stunning scenery of the West of Ireland from Donegal to Cork and has led to an upsurge of tourism in the region.

The 60km Loop Head Peninsula Heritage Trail takes in 18 local attractions including the West Clare Railway, the Church of the Little Ark, Kilkee Victorian Town, and the bridges of Ross and Loop Head Peninsula. It was designated as Ireland’s Eden, a European Destination of Excellence in 2010, and it also won the Irish Times Best Place to Holiday in Ireland Award in 2013. The area is dedicated to best practice in sustainable tourism.

Clare County Council heritage officer Congella McGuire said: “The project is aimed at promoting a greater sense of understanding of the history, heritage, folklore, and culture along the Wild Atlantic Way route by connecting with and placing the local community at the core of this and future WAW projects.”

Clare County Council developed the trail in conjunction with Loop Head Tourism, the Heritage Council, and Fáilte Ireland. The chairman of Loop Head tourism, Cillian Murphy, said the project was a testament to the hard work done by the members of the various agencies involved.

“A key aim of the project was to slow people down when travelling the Wild Atlantic Way so that they get a sense of the culture and heritage as well as meeting the people of the area,” he said.

Mr Murphy said the trail “is a shining example of what can be achieved when statutory agencies and local community groups co-operate in a bottom-up approach to tourism development”.

Guided tours are available to introduce walkers to the history and folklore of the area and Mr Murphy said the Loop Head peninsula is steeped in mythology. There are stories of Cúchulainn, ghost ships, and a hidden city, and many locals have the traditional storyteller gift that brings the West of Ireland to life.

The family home of one such famous storyteller Henry Blake, who was blind and the last Irish speaker in the area, has now been transformed into the Kilbaha Art and Craft Gallery and Heritage Centre. Opened this summer, it provides an opportunity for local artists to show case their work within the area for the first time.

There are numerous B&Bs, guesthouses, hotels, and caravan parks in the area, and an eco-camping site at Querrin. Purecamping was awarded a Gold Standard by Ecotourism Ireland in 2013 and users have an option to pitch their own tent, or upgrade to a luxury pre-erected furnished tent. There are also communal campfires.

Ms McGuire said that a systematic methodology was used in the development of the trail. Potential heritage sites were identified by locals and project leaders, and then assessed for suitability.

In-depth research was then conducted into the sites under categories such as maritime history, folklore and traditions, flora and fauna, and built, military, and religious heritage.

“The recommendations, processes and checklists outlined in the final project report should allow the project to be replicated and help future projects be more efficient, streamlined, and cost-effective,” said Ms McGuire.


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