Clare is cut off from its neighbours to the south and east by the river Shannon, Lough Derg, and the Shannon Estuary, and is bounded to the west by the Atlantic. This geographical detachment has greatly influenced its character and history. More than most other areas of Ireland it has retained a deep sense of tradition and an intense pride in local achievements; it is famed for its hurlers and traditional musicians.
Historically the area was part of the north Munster Gaelic kingdom of Thomond dominated by the O'Briens, later Earls of Thomond, who comprehensively defeated the Norman family to whom the region was granted in 1275, the de Clares. It has long been asserted that the county name was taken from this Norman family when the modern boundaries were fixed by Sir Henry Sidney in 1565, but a local placename, an clár, (meaning "board" or "table") had already been used to describe an important crossing over the river Fergus outside Ennis, and this seems a likelier origin. This area is now Clarecastle.
After Cromwell's defeat of the Catholic Confederacy in 1649, Clare was one of the areas to which the native landowners were transplanted. The village of O'Briensbridge in East Clare records the name of a transplanted Cork family.
The effects of the Famine and subsequent emigration are clearly seen in the population figures. In 1841, before the onset of the Famine, the county had a population of 286,000. Ten years later, after the Famine, this had dropped by 74,000, to 212,000. In 1966, just over a century later, the total population was just 75,000, a decrease of almost 75% from the 1841 figure.
Surnames strongly associated with Co. Clare include O'Brien, McMahon, McNamara, Molony, O'Loughlin, O'Hehir, and O'Dea, Among the more unusual Clare names are Talty, Haugh, Minogue, Frawley, Clune and Mungovan.