County Clare holds a special place in my heart, and undoubtedly my favorite city is Ennis. It’s been called a miniature Galway, and I am inclined to agree. Its cozy city centre streets are cobbled one-way lanes, many pedestrian only, which makes it wonderfully walkable. With ample paid parking along the perimeter of town, getting in and out is a breeze. The nightlife is raucous and the shopping satisfying. My top 5 best kept secrets in Clare include spots in Ennis and its environs. After all, who would miss the beautiful Clare countryside, even on a city break?

Clare is known for many things, but the one I return for again and again is the traditional music. Great sets are heard nightly in the Old Ground Hotel on O’Connell Street. The hotel bar, also called the Poet’s Corner, plays host to a talented group of local musicians who weave in and out during the night. If you stay over in this hotel, and maybe even if you don’t, you could be treated to a lock-in. (But keep this quiet, just between us) After closing, guests of the hotel (and a few of their friends) are allowed to stay in, finishing their last (six or so) pints. During this intimate and hidden time, spontaneous songs may erupt, old dances tapped out or stories from long ago retold to willing ears. As I understand it, lock-ins are an old tradition and lucky is the person who gets swept up in one!

If shopping is your thing, especially bargain shopping, ensure a visit to the Enable Ireland charity shop on Parnell Street. I have found brand new, with the tags still on, quality skirts and dresses from high-end stores like Brown Thomas for as little as 12 Euro. There are also many charming boutiques nestled throughout the shopping district which carry one of a kind items. If you prefer shopping for music and instruments, pay a visit to Custy’s Music Shop. Tucked away down a side ally near Cruise’s Bar, Custy’s carries an exhaustive collection of traditional music, including sheet music, CDs, books, DVD’s and more.

Just down the road from Ennis sits the tiny hamlet of Spanish Point. Myth has it the Spanish Armada washed ashore on its beaches. What you may not know is that carved in the rock ledge jutting into the water are some mysterious words, a star, and a date. I’ve asked a few Irish speakers, including some locals, what it says but nobody has been willing to give up the secret yet. If you solve the riddle, be sure to let me know. While you are down that neck of the woods, grab an ordinance survey map and pay a visit to the holy wells in the west Clare countryside. One of my favorites (again, this is just between us) can be found off the 474 between Spanish Point and Ennis. Turn south at The Hand crossroads, and meander around a bit out there. You’ll stumble upon an old cemetery sitting up on a lovely little hill. That cemetery sits within an Iron Age ring fort and just outside the wall is a small dome that houses the holy well. I’ve spent many hours sitting there in the quiet, gazing out over the rolling hills. From that vantage point another Clare myth can be confirmed. It is said that from every ring fort 7 more are visible. Next time you are in west Clare, check it out. But don’t tell anyone else, let’s keep it just between us.

It is not down in any map; true places never are. ~Herman Melville

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