Milltown Malbay (Sráid na Cathrach, "street of the stone ringfort") is a town in County Clare in Ireland. Also spelled "Miltown", it's best known for its traditional Irish music, with a week-long summer festival. 5 km west is the headland and beach of Spanish Point, with Atlantic surf - and "Malbay" means treacherous bay, as the Spanish discovered.
The town grew up from 1800 and witnessed shocking scenes of famine, ruthless landlordism, reprisals, and murderous conflict around the struggle for Irish independence. So it's a tribute to the grand spirit of local people that the term "Milltown Massacre" simply refers to a 1979 drubbing of Clare Gaelic Football team by Kerry.
You need a car, as there's only one bus per week. On Tuesday Bus 333 heads into Ennis around 08:00 and returns to the coast at 15:00 via Corofin, Lemenagh Castle, Kilfenora, Ennistymon and Lahinch to Milltown Malbay (80 min), continuing south to Spanish Point, Quilty and Doonbeg.
From town to beach is 5 km, so you need a car.
- 1 Spanish Point is the headland and bay west of town, where in 1588 lookouts watched the Spanish Armada trying to limp home. Winds and the Gulf Stream had pushed the fleet much closer to shore than intended, so San Marcos was wrecked at Quilty, and San Esteban further south at Doonbeg; all the survivors were put to death by the county sheriff. Seven other ships found shelter in the Shannon off Kilrush and their crews got home.
- Spanish Point today is heavily overbuilt with drab concrete bungalows, caravan parks and food outlets, but the beach is a fine one, with big Atlantic waves and occasional surfing.
- 2 Quilty (Coillte, "woods") is a small fishing village with a beach. The church has a round tower in ancient style but it was built to mark the 1907 rescue of the crew of Leon XIII, wrecked on the rocks: the villagers put to sea in stormy waters in frail open boats. Mutton Island is tidal, with remains of a 6th C church and Napoleonic-era watchtower. You'll struggle to find much of Tromora Castle on the mainland near the start of the tidal path. It's perhaps best to draw a veil over the events that led Nabokov, in the novel Lolita, to name the nemesis of anti-hero Humbert Humbert as "Clare Quilty".
- Willie Clancy Summer School / Scoil Samhraidh is a traditional Irish music masterclass held over a week in July. Willie Clancy (1918-1973) played the Irish uilleann pipes, flute and tin whistle, and his best-known work is the selection of reels "The Old Bush / The Ravelled Hank of Yarn." The school, held since 1973, draws accomplished musicians from across Ireland and beyond - plus a large audience, so town is jam-packed when it's on. Performances are in pubs and back rooms up and down Main Street. The 2020 event was cancelled so the next is Sa 3 - Su 11 July 2021, tbc.
- 1 Slieve Callan is a mountain of 391 m (1283 ft) that can be hiked from trails off the Ennis Road southeast of town, though it's boggy and the trails are indistinct. There are two ancient megaliths, but a carved "ogham stone" found in the 18th century turned out to be fake. The mountain gives its name to the narrow-gauge steam locomotive that still wheezes back and forth at Moyasta.
- SuperValu is the town supermarket on Ennis Rd, open daily 08:00-21:00.
- All the pubs do food, and for some it's the main draw, see Drink.
- The Dolphin on Ennistymon Rd (top of Main St) does filling breakfasts, burgers and fish n' chips. Open M-Sa 08:00-00:00, Su 17:00-23:00.
- The Yard further down Ennistymon Rd is a long-established cafe that in 2019 re-launched as a bistro, gets good reviews. It's open W-Su 12:30-21:30.
The town pubs have suffered the same decline as elsewhere in the country. Sure in the height of summer the place is heaving with boisterous crowds, but out of season with the rain coming in off the Atlantic, it might be a very quiet pint indeed. The pubs are in a strip along Main Street, from south to north:
- Friel's Pub (but the sign still says Lynch, and always will), The Square. M-Th 18:00-00:00, F Sa 18:00-01:00, Su 14:00-00:00. Pub from 1895 with many original fittings, including the sign on the street. Live music Th-Sa in winter and W-Su in summer.
- Cogans Bar & Restaurant, and it's mostly the food that people come for.
- O'Loughlins is a vintage pub, also with restaurant.
- The Players Club has live music.
- The Westbridge is a small pub and restaurant.
- Michael A's Bar is open Su-F 14:00-00:30, Sa 12:00-23:30.
- Tom Malone's Market House may have closed.
- Clancy's is a no-frills trad pub.
- Cleary's is where Main Street turns the corner into Ennistymon Rd. Cosy trad pub. Hennessy's next door has closed.
- Camping and Caravans: Lahiffs (+353 65 708 4006) is on the lane R482 north of Spanish Point. A little further north, Spanish Point Camping is expensive for what you get. Beware that some maps show Cluain Uillin as a campsite 1 km southwest of Milltown Malbay, but there's nothing there, never was.
- 1 Central Hostel (Kelly's), Main Street, ☏ . Has hostel dorms and private rooms with B&B. Fairly basic and it can be noisy, but it beats camping in this rain-lashed region. Dorm €20 ppn, rooms from €30.
- Another B&B in town is The Townhouse (+353 65 708 5624), and An Gleann (+353 65 708 4281) a km southeast down Ennis Road gets good reviews.
- Spanish Point near the beach is the main strip for B&Bs and small hotels. Those in business in 2020 are Bellbridge House, Red Cliff Lodge, Coast Lodge, Spanish Point House, Armada (see below), and Southwind.
- 2 Armada Hotel, Spanish Point, Milltown Malbay, ☏ . Fresh bright modern hotel with great sea views. B&B double €200.
- Splurge at Trump Hotel and Golf Resort on the coast south of Quilty towards Doonbeg.
As of July 2020, you'll manage a mobile call and maybe even 4G in Milltown from Eir and Vodafone, but there's no signal from Three.
- The coast road northeast leads to Lahinch, the Cliffs of Moher, Doolin for boats to the Aran Islands, and the strange landscape of The Burren.
- Southwest the road leads to Kilkee and the cliffs of Loop Head.
- Head inland to bucolic Ennis, Clare's county town ringed by old abbeys.