Once we left the city of Dublin the roads changed from modern highways to two lane roads with roundabouts. In some areas the two lanes were barely wide enough for two cars. Pair this with driving on the right side of the car and it got hairy at times. We took a drive down the Wild Atlantic Way. This route spans 1600 miles along the western coast line of Ireland. The first stopover from Dublin was Galway County.
Whenever we asked a local what’s the one thing we should do while visiting Ireland, most people said Cliffs of Moher. Not to mention this is the most popular tourist destination in Ireland. The next day we drove to the famous Cliffs of Moher.
These sweeping cliffs rise 400-700 feet from the Atlantic Ocean with walking paths along the edges in some areas. The landscaping at the top of the cliffs are filled with sheep and cows relaxing and grazing on long green wind blown grass. The winds are very strong along the cliffs and the daring people who ventured to the edges had to lie down on their stomaches to look down. Despite signs posted everywhere stating the edges are weak and susceptible to breaking off, people were doing it anyway. I read that the Cliffs of Moher are a popular suicide destination and people jump from them all of the time. Sometimes it can take weeks to get to the bodies because of the heights and rocky terrain at the bottom shores.
The drive from Galway along the Wild Atlantic Way passes through small towns and villages. I brought a bag of carrots and fed horses and donkeys along the way. Doug would pull up to the fence on the side of the road and I’d get out with raw carrots and call the horses over. I know it sounds nuts but I get my kicks from feeding animals. So far it’s been all positive experiences.
Galway Racetrack was in full swing during our visit making the town a lively place to be after the races. This annual weekly racing festival only takes place once a year. Luckily we happened to be there during the closing weekend.
Young people dressed in suits and formal dresses and they filled the streets and bar areas after the races. Most of them have a drink in hand and hang out in large groups. The drinking age in Ireland is 18 and some of the young people looked even younger. What was really strange to me is most of them were behaving and none of them seemed sloppy drunk.
I think seeing them all dressed up made them look more responsible than if they were in their everyday clothing. One of the activities that stood out was the hang challenge. A bar was set up for people to hang onto for ninety seconds. If you can last the entire time you win a $500 cash prize. The cost is $10.00 (USD) to hang. I watched a few people try and none of them succeeded.
One thing for sure is skinny pants are the style in Ireland. I’ve never seen men fit in such tight jeans and pants than I have here. Their saving grace is they have the figures to do it. The only thing that looks strange is their bulging front pockets from carrying wallets and phones.
After leaving Galway we drove to Clifden to have lunch and walk through the small town. Taking the Sky Road along the coast on a one lane road full of tourists driving in both directions is an experience. This is where the Clifden Castle is located. The castle was built in 1818 by the founder of the town of Clifden. It was passed on to his son but he couldn’t afford to keep it up and left. Uninhabited after 1894 it fell into disrepair. In 1935, joint ownership passed to a group of people who lived there and it quickly became a ruin. A sad ending to such a dynasty.
Castles are another term for mansions. Not all of the castles hosted royalty or medieval government moguls. Some were built and owned by very wealthy Irish and passed down to family from generation to generation. Some castles were used as summer homes and some were lived in all year around. Either way you slice it, one had to be very rich to own a castle.
We ran into three loose sheep on the road. They somehow managed to escape through the fence to wander about. All three of them had red paint on their backsides. This process of marking sheep is used throughout Ireland for identification purposes. In some cases, enclosures are shared by a multiple farmers. The area of the markings is known to each farmer more than the colors.
Our next stop to stay the night was in the town of Letterfrack. We rented a house through Airbnb located in the middle of farmland surrounded by cows. I must mention the cows in Ireland are the most relaxed of all animals here. Rarely do you see them standing around, most of the time they are lying down. On a sad note for the cows, Irish beef is known to be some of the best beef.
A trip to Ireland wouldn’t be complete without seeing a sheepdog herd sheep. Joyce’s Country Sheepdogs has been breeding, selling, training and using working sheepdogs for many years. Joe Joyce is the third generation of his family to farm sheep. The farm is nestled between the Maumturk and Partry Mountains.
Along the drive leading up to the farm, sheep are walking loosely across the street and sides of the road. As the owner put it “they were here before the roads were built”. The sheep breed is known as the Connemara Blackface sheep. Their hair is long, wavy and white while their heads and legs are black. They are the only breed with the necessary resilience for the rugged and challenging terrain of Connemara. Their wool is very coarse in texture making it more suited for carpet manufacture. Both female and male sheep have horns, the male’s horns are much larger and curlier.
Visiting here was my favorite part of the day. In addition to seeing the working sheepdogs, Joyce’s breeds sheepdogs too. Border Collie sheepdogs and puppies are available to buy. At the time we went, one of the sheepdogs just gave birth to ten babies. They were only four days old and under a heat lamp with their mom. Each sheepdog has a name and Roy is the oldest sheepdog there. Roy is twelve years old and lives in the house with the owner Joe.
In addition to working hard on the farms, Roy enjoys relaxing at home on the couch every evening. The other sheepdogs live in kennels waiting to work or be trained each day.
Each dog has its own personality. Some of the dogs are very intense and only want to work. Other dogs are more playful and can separate working intensely and being a playful dog. Sheepdogs do not make great pets, they are bred to work and live in outdoor conditions.
Along the Wild Atlantic Way is the town of Cong. Cong was recommended by a couple of travelers we met at Renvyle beach, north of Letterfrack.
The town still holds on to the fame of an old Hollywood movie titled The Quiet Man. I hadn’t heard of the movie before until now. The movie was made in 1952 and starred John Wayne.
Homes that were used on the set are now tourist attractions even though people still live in them. Guided tours regarding the movie are sold to tourist who are interested. Cong is home to the Ashford Castle built in 1228. The castle is now a luxury hotel previously owned by the Guinness family. Only hotel guest and guided tours are allowed to explore the castle. We didn’t visit the inside of the castle. It was really crowded and only small areas of the castle are open to visitors.
Breaking up the coastal drive we spent two nights in Kilrush. Kilrush is a harbor town on the Shannon River. This is a perfect town to break up the Wild Atlantic Way drive and very close to the Kilkee Cliffs of Ireland.
Kilkee Cliffs were the most impressive cliffs we’ve visited in Ireland (in my opinion). The shoreline is flat rock. At low tide several small pools of water appear surrounded by flat rocks covered in barnacles. The barnacles provide great traction but it would really hurt to fall on them and impossible to sit on without a towel underneath you.
The pools of water are named Pollick pools . Locals use these pools for swimming. Even in the summer months a wetsuit is needed to withstand the cold water. I did see a couple of old Irish men jumping in with just their swim trunks on. Unlike the cliffs of Mohar, there is no charge to visit these cliffs.
Further along the Wild Atlantic Way, we came to the Loop Head lighthouse. The lighthouse is located at the end of the Loop Head peninsula. This entire area is known for fresh seafood.
I’ve noticed the kids in Ireland play in some old school conditions. Since visiting I’ve seen one child taken in an ambulance from falling in the playground and another eating McDonald’s with a cast on her arm. I’m thinking it’s because the playgrounds here are metal framed monkey bars, seesaws and swings sitting on cement. Over the years playgrounds have progressed with larger equipment on a softer turf ground. Not the case in Ireland. Kids are growing up the way I did – with cuts, scrapes and a few broken bones.
Instead of driving to Kerry County we took the ferry (with our car) across the Shannon River saving ninety minutes. The cost is nineteen euros and it takes twenty minutes. Well, worth it. The Wild Atlantic Way continues through Kerry County. This leads to Conor Pass, a dangerous one lane highway that wrapped along a steep cliff. It’s also one of the highest Irish mountain passes with a paved road.
During the drive we stopped briefly in Listowel, ate lunch in Tralee at a gas station (great handmade sandwiches), passed through Camp and arrived in Dingle. Dingle is a beautiful town and popular with tourism. Once we arrived in Dingle, the fist day we spent driving the entire length of the famed Slea Head Drive.
Second stop, Coumeenoole beach. The beach was beautiful with karst mountains as the backdrop and a raging sea in front. Signs were posted everywhere that swimming was not allowed because of the strong currents and riptides. A short walk downhill leads to the sandy beach which was infested with jellyfish at low tide. Their sizes range anywhere from half dollar size to hockey puck size. I’m not sure if they sting or not but there were loads of them.
Next was the town of Dunquin, another stop on Slea Head Drive. Dunquin Pier sits at the bottom of a steep cliff. Looking along the shoreline from a distance is the safest way to see it. The winds are strong and the lookout is right on the edge with no fence. A huge sign is posted bewaring people about falling over the edge. Despite the signs, people risked it anyway.
We stopped in Ballyferriter for an Irish burger at Murphy’s Bar. Ireland is home to really good beef. You kind of get that feeling seeing all the huge cows around. Except I didn’t get to try the burger. Doug ordered it medium rare and it came out bleeding. We had planned to split it but never mind. Moving on.
On the drive from Dingle to Miltown we stopped at Inch Beach. Inch Beach is on Inch Strand. This strand of land’s edge is soft tan sand. Inch Beach has a massive sandy shoreline that wraps around the entire strand. Surf lessons were going on while we were there. Everyone had on wetsuits during the lesson.
On the way the Miltown the landscape was rolling green hills with low stone fences separating farmers marked sheep. Miltown is in Kerry County Ireland. We couldn’t get a room in Killarney so staying in Miltown is the closest second. It’s only a five minute drive to Killarney from Miltown. The Wild Atlantic Way extends through Killarney and there are many sights including the famous Ring of Kerry.
Cows live along the grassy area of the beach. They are hard to feed because they don’t like human contact and they only eat grass. This didn’t stop me from giving them bread. I don’t think they have ever tasted bread let alone see it. It was fun watching them react to it for the first time. Needless to say, they didn’t eat it, they were more interested in smelling it and looking at it.
We arrived in Miltown and later that day we went to the Puck festival. This is the oldest festival in Killorglin. This festival features King Puck, the enthroned mountain goat. For hundreds of years in the town of Killorglin, a male mountain goat is enthroned as King of Puck Fair. The chosen goat reigns over the fair on August 10th-12th of each year. King Puck is a symbol of tradition whose origins are lost in the midst of time.
During the fair the mountain goat a.k.a. King Puck is hoisted on a crane higher than the rooftops (seriously) in a cage.
He has a crown on his head that fits around his large horns and he looks down on everyone at the fair. I felt bad for him because he was right in front and above of the entertainment stage. This means he had to listen to all the bands performing. The good news is he is only up there a couple hours each day of the fair. The last day of the fair is “Scattering day”. On the last day the mountain goat is released into the mountains (his home).
On the first day of the Ring of Kerry drive we stopped at Valentia Island by ferry. Foilhommerun bay view overlooks the entire area with small islands of wild plants and trees in between. This is a beautiful stop on the way to Killarney. I’m surprised more people don’t fall off the edges of these cliffs. I had to lay down because the wind was so strong but others were taking selfies without a care they could have fallen to their deaths – dying over a picture of themselves of all things.
While visiting Killarney we did the circular walk’s yellow trail. It’s a 40 minute moderate loop hike. Green grass and trees lined the way to a beautiful waterfall.
Our second stop was the Muckross House and Garden. This is where we paid admission to experience Ireland as it was in the early 1900s. Within the national park are three replica working farms. The entire area is acted out as if we were in the 1900s Ireland. People dressed up in costume walking around the premises. Women were baking Irish soda bread in the farm houses over fire. On a side note the women were kind of bitter, I don’t know if that was part of the act or not. The whole things seemed very staged and the animals were on leashes for display purposes.
A short walk across from the farm entrance is the castle known as Muckross House. This huge sixty five room mansion was built in 1843 for a rich parliament member. The owners went into debt and had to sell the house after renovating in preparation for the Queen to visit. Arthur Guinness (Guinness Beer) bought it and rented it as a hunting lodge for wealthy men to stay in. Now its part of the National Park and for a small fee private tours are given by appointment. The grounds are acres of green grass extending out to both Muckross Lake and Lough Leane ( ‘lake of learning’).
The next day we drove the ring of Kerry with our last stop at Kerry cliffs. These were my favorite of all the cliffs. They stand over a thousand feet high and overlook the Skellig Islands and Puffin Island. Puffins are known to hang around the base of the cliffs but sadly I didn’t spot any of them.
Unlike the other cliffs, these had railings along the way to protect people from falling off the sides. Since the cliffs extend along the coastline, there were some areas further down without the protective gates but people still stayed back.
The house we rented in Miltown was in a residential neighborhood. The subdivision layout is made up of three story townhouses. This was true local living. It was really cool to hear the next door neighbors speaking Gaelic.
Gaelic is the native language of Ireland. Sadly it isn’t taught in elementary schools anymore. It’s not spoken as much in Dublin as it is in the other counties. I’ve seen news reports in Gaelic on local channels. Hopefully this language will carry on, older people still use it.
The Irish trinity of cooking seems to be potatoes, carrots & cabbage. This is present in the most traditional dishes cottage pie, Irish stew & coddle.
Fries (aka chips) were served with every meal. There is stiff competition on who has the best chips in Ireland. All of the ones I had were great. The closest thing I can compare them to is steak fries. Seafood and fish chowder can be found everywhere in Ireland. Some places pride themselves on having the best chowder. We have tried a few and all of them have been really good. Because Ireland is based around the sea, seafood is fresh and plentiful here.
Ireland has a strong belief in the Catholic religion, hence Irish Catholics. There were churches on every corner. As a recovering Catholic myself, it made perfect sense why there are so many bars and beer in Ireland. Catholics and alcohol go hand in hand. Keep on drinking and praying Ireland – peace be with you.
Grocery stores are a great place to find a casual meal. This isn’t something I wouldn’t even consider at home. Gas stations and grocery stores are combined into one stop shopping in many of the small towns we visited in Ireland. Overall the Wild Atlantic Way is filled with small treasures in between the cliffs and one lane roads. We didn’t have the time to cover the entire route but the things we did see were worth every kilometer. I’m going to miss the horses and cows along the way but I’m sure other suckers will come along and feed them carrots.
Next stop is Amsterdam for ten days. I’m not going to post about Amsterdam again. My next blog will be Japan. I’m going to miss Ireland. It’s a place I never thought I would get to see but hope to return again.