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Clare Island

Clare Island - Blue Flag Beach

Clare Island Beach....

Clare Island lies at the entrance to Clew Bay in Co. Mayo some 5 km from the mainland. The island has a diverse geology with Dalradin sandstone and shale, carboniferous sandstone, shales and conglomerates and a variety of Silurian rocks.

Much of the low-lying ground is covered by boulder clay and locally derived glacial drift. The dominating feature of the island is a ridge that runs east to west, attaining a height of 462 metres at Knockmore and forming precipitous sea cliffs along the north western shore.

Clare Island was the subject of a major biological survey from 1909-19011, under the direction of Robert Lloyd Praeger. The data collected represents the most comprehensive inventory of nature and habitation in a single geographical location during the early part of the century, and made Clare Island a unique site for further study. The New Survey Of Clare Island was commissioned in 1991 to revisit the island with the overall aim of assessing the changes to the environment and life on the island and make comparisons between results today and data generated from the original survey. The New Survey is divided into five Sections: Archaeology, History and Culture, Botany, Geology and Zoology.

Clare Island is one of the top seabird sites in the country, having nationally important populations of eight species, including the largest population of Fulmar in the country.  It is also of note for the diversity of breeding seabirds, with 13 species breeding regularly. The site also has a nationally important population of Chough and contains nesting Peregrine with both species listed on Annex I of the E.U. Birds Directive.

The island also has nationally important populations of Shag, Common Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Kittiwake, Guillemot, Razorbill and Black Guillemot. Whilst the Gannet colony has not grown to any extent since its establishment in the 1970s, it is still of significance in that it is one of only five in Ireland and the only colony on the west coast.

Shag‎Shag  ‎Kittiwake

Other breeding species include Puffin, Cormorant, Lesser Black-backed Gull and Herring Gull. The Cormorant colony has only become established in recent years.

Herring Gull numbers, however, have decreased dramatically since 1982, reflecting a trend that has occurred throughout the country.

Clare Island is an important stronghold for Chough. The birds nest on the cliffs and studies have shown that Chough forage mainly within 300 metres of the coast. The island is a traditional nesting site for Peregrine with at least one pair present in most years.

Lesser Black Backed Gull‎Lesser Black-Backed Gull CormorantCormorant 

Sea Cliffs

The sea cliffs of the northern coastline consist of vertical precipices alternating with steep grassy slopes and huge blocks of rock. The cliffs are well vegetated, with grasses and herbs such as Harebell, Tormentil and Red Fescue found.

On the upper cliffs there is a concentration of alpine vegetation, which is species rich and includes a number of rarities. Along the tip of the lower cliffs is a plantain sward which is low growing vegetation dominated by Plantains (Plantago Coronopus and Plantago Maritima). There is a concentration of alpine vegetation on the upper ranges of the cliffs.

Three small lakes are seen in the saddle between Knocknaveen and Knockmore. Another lake, Lough Avullin towards the east of the site, appears to have been drained and is dominated by Common Reed. Agricultural land is located along the southern shore. Pockets of peat are associated with river sources. There is a single sandy beach with low sand dunes at the harbour and there is a small area of saltmarsh further north – east at Kinnincorra. A rocky shore is present along this southern coast with very small boulder beaches. Along the coast west-north west edge the rocks are replaced by very steep cliffs already mentioned. The boundary of the site at this steep cliff extends 500m into the sea.

The History

Clare is an island steeped in atmosphere of the past, mainly due to associations with the great maritime clan of O’ Malley and the great sea captain and pirate Grace O’ Malley, known in Irish annals as Granuaile. The O’ Malley Clan were custodians of the coast from Galway Bay to Donegal Bay. They guarded their territorial waters jealously. After the death of Granuaile in or around 1601 Clare Island passed out of O’ Malley domination to be held for the first time by Ulick Burke, Earl of Clanrickard. Later in the seventeenth century it was confiscated by the crown and granted to an English adventurer who sold the island to O’ Malley of Belclare. Clare Island remained in O’ Malley ownership until the nineteenth century when Sir Samuel O’ Malley mortgaged it to a London Insurance Company. The last private proprietor sold it to the Congested Districts Board which had been established in 1891 to alleviate poverty and congested living conditions in the west ofIreland.

Historical Sites

A variety of historic sites are located throughout Clare Island. A megalithic tomb, ten promontory forts, Iron Age huts and field systems, over 45 Fulachta Fiadh (bronze-age cookery sites) are all readily accessible on the island.

The island is famous for the Carmelite Abbey located on the south of the island. It was founded in the thirteenth century as a cell of Knockmoy, Co. Galway. The present building dates from the fifteenth century and comprises a chancel, nave and sacristy. There is also the Granuaile Castle which occupies an elevated promontory to the south of the harbour. In the early nineteenth century Sir Samuel O’ Malley had the building renovated for use by the coastguard.


Clare Island Beach Legend Map (Document)

Clare Island Beach Legend Map
Formats Available:

Clare Island Loop Walk

Clare Island - Faunglass & Knocknaveena Walking Loops

Clare Island Loop Walk-read the full story.

Posted: 07/03/2013

Mayo Beaches

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Mayo County Council
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Co Mayo
Phone: (094) 9024444
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