When barriers were finally lifted on intercountry travel this summer and Guard checkpoints melted, we were told we were “free to go”, literally and legally, anywhere on our beautiful. Isle.
The sun came out and brilliantly illuminated our world with new possibilities. The sunny images of our west coast and the memorable beauty of its bays and islands, and of its small stone piers and harbors, its immense skies and sands, have all brought their soothing charm to our spirits stressed by Covid.
But, for the inhabitants of the east coast, practical considerations have eaten away the burgeoning enthusiasms; the restrictions meant there was still nowhere to stay or rest, nowhere to sit and have a pint or be served a meal.
I had set my sights on the Atlantic and the Burren. RTÉ’s beautiful documentary The Burren: Heart of Stone lured me to the Co Clare coast and, ultimately, more by chance than expected, to the Fanore parking lot, my lovely new home for three sunny summer days. As an otherwise law-abiding citizen, the large No Parking at Night sign struck me as strangely out of place in our new world of Covid regulations.
Took the Spirit of Doolin to Inis Oírr, an island port bustling with ponies and traps, tractor tours and bike rentals, and fishing boats sorting their catch
In terms of location, amenities and services, Fanore’s parking lot was five stars. It has the best beach on the Clare coast, as well as a terrace and seating to relax and watch the sunsets and spectacular views over Connemara and the island. I found a great walk through the dunes to the shore, a shower to wash off the sand and salt after swimming, and information boards telling about the hikes and bike paths, local flora and fauna, the natural history of the region and even a geopark heritage trail. Most importantly, there was an excellent and regularly maintained toilet block. I took up residence in a space that has become my shelter, my bed, my pantry, my entertainment and communication center and my power supply. Next to it, I had the table and the chair for my kitchen, my dining room and my relaxation area.
On my first day in parking, I hiked the 26km Blackhead Loop, from Fanore and through a flowery Burren, a difficult but magical walk after which I had no trouble sleeping in my Nissan Qashqai + 2. The following days I made the spectacular 25 minute drive to Doolin Quay, past Doolin Cave (for another less sunny day) and O’Connor’s pub still closed, the only music at this time -there from the anxious Doolin Sea.
On the second day, I took the Spirit of Doolin to Inis Oírr, an island port bustling with ponies and traps, tractor tours and bike rentals, as well as fishing boats sorting their catch, all under one sun fit for the Greek Islands and a blue sky.
Padraig Keane and his pony, Pilgrim, took me around the Loch Mór East Coast Loop, explaining how generations of locals turned the bare island’s karst into viable fields and how, in 1960 , a breech buoy helped save all of the shipwrecked crew of the Plassey, now a tourist attraction equipped near an excellent ephemeral café.
I then swapped Pilgrim the pony for Shank’s mare, walked to the spectacular Fardoras Lighthouse, and walked the island’s shore, enjoying the complex interplay of the erosion of the sea. rain and groundwater emerging on the great karst sidewalks of the shore, and the fossil scribbles beneath the feet of the time depths, and a long-lost tropical sea.
The third day was amazing. I had never been to Inis Meáin and was absolutely unprepared for the experience. The Spirit of Doolin stopped in the island harbor just to drop me off – the other 100 or so passengers on board were all bound for Kilronan and Inis Mór.
I sat for a while on the Cathaoir Synge stone, admiring the vistas that inspired the playwright, poet and collector of folklore, and decided it was an island to return to.
I walked the labyrinth of stone-walled island boreholes and wildflower-lined tracks, past the airstrip and GAA land, seeing no one and hearing only birdsong and the choking sea for nearly of one hour. Not much moved as I roamed this beautiful island of Synge and Pearse and MacDonagh. The most spectacular exception was a wellness circle of about 15 people, expressing themselves healthily and happily on the sunny grassy ground of Fort Dún Conchubhair.
I sat for a moment on the Cathaoir Synge stone, admiring the vistas that inspired the playwright, poet and collector of folklore, and decided that this was an island to come back to and stay for a while.
Back at Fanore parking lot, once I learned how to turn off the car alarm – it went off every time I moved on my first night – and found an eye patch for surviving the long days, I was comfortable and even cozy under my duvet. I loved my sunsets in the parking lot, the chats with the surfers and swimmers in dry robes, the warm sands of Fanore beach and the chill of the Atlantic and the perfectly positioned cold shower.
Now that the more conventional accommodations are open my adventures in the parking lot have come to a halt, but during those three days I felt welcome to stay and explore the West Coast in a whole new way.