Shipwrecks and "black Irish" legends on a beautiful strand in Clare
SpanishPoint is located near Milltown Malbay, a colorful little town in CountyClare. This seaside resort, not far from Shannon Airport, is morefamous for what it doesn’t have than what it has. There areno amusement arcades, no promenade and no boardwalk. You could neverget a boat into the raging surf here, and if you plan on sunbathing,it's advisable to pack a very good windbreaker. The only shelter you'l find from the wind is behind the sanddunes. It’s no surprise that you won’t find masses oftourists here. No one will try to sell you anything and therewon’t be anything for the kids to buy, apart from a fishingnet or an ice cream at one nearby shop. To me, it’s the mostbeautiful place on earth.
As inviting as the Atlantic looks here,swimmers need to be a bit selective about where they jump in (the arealeft of the Black Rock is not recommended, as the currents are toostrong). The steady stream of pounding Atlantic waves draws a stream ofdedicated surfers all year round.
Past Disaster This scenic, relaxed spot happens to be named for one of the worstseagoing disasters ever off the Irish coast. In 1588, the SpanishArmada was fleeing from waters off Scotland back to Spain, via the westcoast of Ireland. Pursued by British warships, the Spanish lost anumber of ships in battles or storms all the way from Antrim inNorthern Ireland down to Blasket Sound in Kerry. In September of thatyear, two Spanish ships went down in a storm off what’s nowSpanish Point. Over 1,000 lives were lost. One of the ships supposedlylies off nearby Mutton Island, though it’s never been found.(By the way, the deserted island is for sale. For just $1.8 million US,it can be yours!)
Locals say that many of the sailors from the Armada were buried in amass grave among the sand dunes of Spanish Point. Hard evidence of themhas never been found, but a popular legend says that some of theSpanish were taken in by local women, who shielded them from theEnglish. The “Black Irish," people in Ireland whohave very distinct black hair and swarthy skin, are said to bedescendents of the Armada’s survivors. I have no idea if thisis true, but I can attest to the fact that there are many black-haired,swarthy skinned people in this area!
Marble baths & music There’s no shortage of accommodation in the area. Onefavorite is a lovely three bedroom self-catering cottage known asGranny’s Cottage (contact Anne at 011 353 65 7071 269), witha great view of the beach. A new guesthouse and restaurant, TheAdmiralty Lodge, won the prestigious “Georgina Campbell BestNewcomer" award for 2005. (Ms. Campbell publishes awell-known guide of places to eat and stay in Ireland. Visitwww.ireland-guide.com.) The rooms here are tastefully appointed witheverything from four-poster beds and marble bathrooms to flat screenTVs. The menu includes many tempting seafood dishes with dessertspresenting “an agony of choice." Phone: 011 353 657 085007.
Willy week If you’re looking for musical pleasures, make a visit here inJuly. The Willie Clancy Festival in July in Milltown Malbay isfantastic. Willie Clancy was a whistle player, flute player and singer,who was also renowned for his mastery of the Uillean pipes. The summersessions he ran between 1957 and his death in 1973 were hugely popular.Willy himself was the main attraction. The festival continues todaywith not just music, but all sorts of singing and dancing classes. Inthe daytime almost every house seems to be converted into a musicalclassroom as Irish and foreign students gather to learn theirinstruments. Swarms of people move in for the weeklong fest. Be aware,however, that it can be a bit hectic, given the large crowds.
After“Willie week," the whole area returns to its normalstate. You can walk Spanish Point practically alone, with the windproviding musical accompaniment.