The Bare Necessities – Clifden, Ireland

When to Go & Where to Stay
The best time to go to Clifden is between the start of March and the end of October (mainly because these are the dates that the Brookside Hostel is open – but I’ll get to that).

Should you come to town at any other time, there is another hostel in the area, which I’m sure may be a wonderful place to stay, but I freely admit my bias towards the Brookside, so check that one out first. Also be careful on when you come, as a lot of places in Clifden are open only during the tourist season. To contact the area hostels:

Brookside Hostel – 095 218 12
Open March through October, IR£7-8 per person per night, member Independent Holiday Hostels.

Clifden Town Hostel – 095 210 76
Open all year, IR£8-9 per person per night, member Independent Holiday Hostels.

Richard is the owner/manager of the Brookside Hostel, which is one of the best hostels I’ve ever stayed in. If the quality of a property is in any way a reflection of its owner, then this is no surprise, because Richard is not only one of the best men-behind-the-desk that I’ve ever met, he’s also just plain wonderful, personable and knowledgeable.

If Irish hospitality has fled the cities, it went seeking refuge in Connemara, and Richard took it in – to himself, and the hospitality liked him far too much ever to set out again. For whatever you want to know about Connemara – where to go, what to do, whatever – talk to Richard, and he’ll set you on the right path. Or trail. Or island…

I didn’t get to check out many of them personally, but there are plenty to choose from. Many also have nightly trad sessions. Pick and choose; it’s doubtful that you’ll go wrong, but if you do, it’s not as if you’ll have to walk far to the next choice.

Mullarkey’s is a good pub to go to, though, especially on Wednesday nights, when there’s an open-mic night on from 10 until late. (I was told they stay open until 1 or sometimes even 2, but I don’t know if that’s right.) Drink, hang around and listen, or drink, hang around and bring your own poetry, music or instrument of choice.

One important note: the Guinness (IR£2.30 on average), I’ve been finding, tastes better outside the cities. Not because of cleaner air or anything like that (well, maybe that figures in, but I don’t know), but since the pubs aren’t so packed the barmen are more apt to let the pint settle properly before putting a head on it. My mate J.J. has backed this up: “When I’m in the country I drink the Guinness, but when I’m in the city, I switch to lager” – sound advice, from a man who knows.

None that I know of. Besides, if you’re going out to Connemara, where you are surrounded by ocean and mountains and loughs and bogs and great people and crackin’ good craic, and all you want to do is go clubbing, then you should be smacked with a peat brick. Stay in Dublin.

Song and Dance
From 9 to 11 p.m., at the Town Hall on Tuesday nights, three quid will get you in to hear traditional Irish music and see traditional dancing, all performed by local artists. This is mainly put on for the tourists, but it’s great fun, as well as a chance to learn some of the traditional dances, and is about as close to a club as I think you get in Clifden. Since it finishes at 11 (it’s also non-smoking!), there’s still plenty of time to go to the pub afterwards too.

Again, this is more to taste, so just walk along and see what tickles your fancy and your budget. That said, here are a few standbys:

Two Dog Café is great for lunch and coffee, and they also have Internet access.

Walsh’s Bakery is good for breakfast, be it traditional Irish or anything else.

Cullen’s Coffee Shop & Bistro has a great dinner menu and decent variety (most for under or roundabout a tenner). The fish n’ chips are excellent (but I ordered them only because they were out of chicken goujons). The bus stop for inter-city services is also outside of Cullen’s.

If you mainly want to do your own cooking, there’s a SuperValu grocery store, as well as a few specialty food shops, which I considered a pleasant surprise. If your tastes lead more to the exotic and organic, as opposed to the fatty and fried, check out the Connemara Hamper (look for the yellow shopfront) for everything from local goods to ethnic foods to organic produce.

Publications & Other Info Sources
In addition to the public library (if you are, like me, living in Co. Galway and have proof of address, you can get a library card, good county-wide – a plus when it comes to the cause of free Internet access), there are a few other sources to check out when seeking info on Clifden and Connemara:

The Connemara Press, a quarterly with news of regional club meetings, sport and some good features; costs about IR£1.20. A copy can usually be found for browsing in the Two Dog Cafe. is the on-line hub for all things Connemara-related.

The Connacht Tribune is a weekly newspaper covering Connemara and much of the rest of Co. Galway, and can be picked up in most newsagents.

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