Clifden today is a vibrant and cosmopolitan town on the very edge of Europe. It has a population of 2,609 but the hinterland which it serves as the administrative and economic capital to has almost 10,000 inhabitants (source; Census 2011). The town known as the “Capital of Connemara” boasts a thriving tourism industry as its unique and picturesque setting between the foothills of the Twelve Bens and the Atlantic Ocean attracts thousands of visitors annually. Although the tourism industry is undoubtedly the most important in terms of local employment the town has a significant service industry to serve the region throughout the year. Clifden is the administrative centre for local government, judicial, banking, medical, professional and retail services for the entire west Connemara area.
Agriculture and fishing continues to play an important role in Connemara, and although Clifden doesn’t have a commercial fishing port it is an important centre for agricultural activity in Connemara. Trading in cattle, sheep and Connemara ponies continues throughout the year in Clifden. In fact the “Olympics” of Connemara Pony shows takes place in Clifden with breeders and enthusiasts travelling from around the globe to the famous agricultural show each August.
Sport and outdoor pursuits play a very active role in Clifden society. Both Gaelic football and rugby are the main field sports played but golf, sea and river fishing, sailing and hill walking also feature prominently as local pastimes. The Connemara championship links near Clifden is in fact one of the most popular links courses in the country.
The town skyline continues to be dominated by the twin spires of the two churches, St Joseph’s Catholic Church and Christ Church of Ireland. Although the principal religion in the area is catholic there is a significant protestant tradition in west Connemara served by the Clifden church.
Music and the arts continue to be celebrated in Clifden. Traditional Irish music and song have long been associated with Connemara and Clifden still rings to the sound of our own traditional music and culture throughout the year but in particular during the busy tourist season. The town boasts the longest running community arts festival in Ireland each September when the Clifden community arts week has its annual celebration of all that is wonderful in culture and the arts in the area.
Clifden has come a long way since its embryonic days in 1812. Today it represents all that is good about life in the west of Ireland, good food, good friends and good craic. Thousands of visitors each year stroll around its streets, sampling the local cuisine, exploring the many local shops and generally relaxing in the very convivial atmosphere for which Clifden is renowned. Although the weather cannot always be guaranteed, what is certain is that the Clifden will leave the weary traveller, relaxed, rejuvenated and eager to return again.
by Declan Mannion