Kilrush And Scattery Island

By Maeve Tynan

If you can’t decide whether you’re a whale-watcher or a monastary explorer at heart, a visit to Kilrush and Scattery Island in west Clare will satisfy both urges. Situated on the Shannon Estuary’s north side about 45 miles from Limerick, Kilrush is one of Ireland’s designated “heritage towns.” But it’s less visited by tourists than many of the other towns on this peninsula that ends at Loop Head.

On a recent weekend jaunt to Kilrush with friends from Limerick, things begin on a rocky note. Before we’re even halfway there, everyone in the car turn mutinous – insisting that we try the more popular beach towns of Kilkee or Doonbeg instead. But I am out to prove that Kilrush is the underrated gem of the Midwest.

At first glance, Kilrush looks like many coastal towns in the west, with an element of the dreary and a nip in the air provided by the unforgiving Atlantic. I immediately notice the familiar Mid-Western elements: Whiff of chips in the air – check. Shop fronts lined with buckets and spades and any amount of inflatables for the aquatically inclined brats – check. Shoe shops filled with items that defy fashion trends dating beyond the 1950’s – check. Cars parked at improbable angles in relation to the road – check.

Island of 7 Churches

But Kilrush’s understated look belies the wealth of life and cultural activity the town offers. The Kilrush marina is the epicenter for outdoor-style tourism, providing opportunities to go deep-sea river diving and angling, charter yachting and dolphin and whale watching. You can sign up for these activities at Kilrush Creek Lodge, close by the marina (the lodge also offers clean, if somewhat Spartan, budget accommodation).

Strongly recommended are the dolphin-watching boat trips. There are over a hundred bottlenose dolphins living in the Estuary, whom locals proudly claim as the most accessible group in Western Europe. Organised boat trips run from Kilrush and Carrigaholt between April and September, and a good number of dolphins are spotting on virtually every trip. Additional information on dolphin-watching can be found on

After a walk around town, our group opts for a trip out to Scattery Island, abandoning our car in the town square to head down to the ferry slip on foot. The frequency of departures, we find, is subject to demand and the tide (though Geraldine, of Scattery Island Ferries – Tel: 011 353-65-9051327 – assures me they leave regularly enough in the summer months). Scattery is uninhabited nowadays. It’s last die-hard residents left in 1979 (you can still catch mass in the little church on the island if you venture out on Sunday).

Happily, there are enough travelers today to justify a crossing. We board the ferry and set sail. After a smooth mile and a half trip, we set foot on Scattery, or Inis Cathaigh, to give it its correct Gaelic title. The island derives its name from the mythical monster Cathach, who was famously banished by St. Senan in the 6th Century. Senan went on to establish a monastic settlement, and today the remains of seven churches are still on the island. Also on Scattery is the tallest Round Tower in Ireland, standing at 120 feet.

The island’s peaceful air of serenity infects us all. It brings to the fore ideas that generally reside in the subconscious mind, and we all grow more thoughtful as the day draws on.

On returning to Kilrush, we continue in an ecclesiastical vein, dropping into the Church of St. Senan, which contains some fine examples of the work of renowned Irish artist Harry Clarke. My friend, who works in the local heritage center, would never forgive me if I came to this part of the world and did not visit this church. It’s not hard to see why. St. Senan’s rose window, in particular, is considered one of the finest examples of stained glass in Europe. Although Clarke is best known for illustrating books by Edgar Allan Poe, Keats and Swinburne, his glass work is revolutionary. A particularly haunting Christ lies above the main altar. In other windows, feverish faces with terrified eyes have a nightmarish quality that remain with you a long time.

Enough Culture For 1 Day
Feeling ultra cultured and enlightened, we decide it’s time to lower the tone with a pint of the black stuff. We head down to Mrs. Crotty’s Pub in the town square, a welcoming spot with plenty of nooks and crannys to settle into. The staff are friendly, the pints are good and we pass an easy couple of hours reconnecting with the hedonist within. The pub has a reputation that stretches beyond the town borders. Each August, a traditional music festival known as Eigse Mrs. Crotty takes place here. Ny all accounts, it’s a roaring good time.

We are getting dangerously comfortable, considering the cozy beds that await upstairs in the B&B. A sudden nip in the air tells us our last summer weekend is done, and we’ll soon face another drenched winter.

Maeve Tynan is a writer in Dublin.