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Published: October 31st 2013
My eyes lowered from the dim vaulted ceiling towering above me to the grand wooden shelves emblazoned by 200,000 fuscous books, their dull tones adding gravitas to one of the finest libraries in the world. The 65 metre Long Room at the Trinity College Library is a dream for fellow bibliophiles, but alas – so much knowledge and so little time. Two lines of marble busts sat beneath these rows of cherished tomes. One particularly noble bust caught my attention, it had the word “Burke” engraved underneath. Making no assumptions, though suspecting the answer, I asked a security officer standing nearby, “Which Burke is this?”
“Edmund” replied the burly elderly gentleman, “And he attended Trinity College.”
Looking around the marble busts, I enquired, “Did all these people attend Trinity?”
“From here onwards” he remarked, marking an invisible line with his hand half way along the 300 year old room, “they all had a connection with Trinity. That one there,” he pointed, “is Jonathon Swift, and over there is William Hamilton....” his voice gradually increasing in pride and enthusiasm with each bust he identified.
I had encountered this Irish pride previously in Australia, but it was not until my
visit to Ireland that I understood the reasons for this conviction. The library provided a glimpse, but a fuller picture emerged during my exploration of the Wild Atlantic Way
, a 2,500 kilometre road that claims to be the longest coastal drive in the world. The full journey lies on the west of Ireland between Malin Head in County Donegal and Kinsale in County Cork, but my itinerary only included a portion of this drive.
The road trip commenced at lunch with staff of Fáilte Ireland in Ard Bia at Nimmo’s
in Galway which provided the first taste of the excellent food to be consumed along this route; the quality of the food was equal to best I have encountered. From delicious Irish breakfasts to delightful seafood chowders – every meal was an event to be savoured. Whenever I mentioned the food quality, that Irish pride surfaced with mentions of the freshness of the local produce or the tradition of a specific cuisine in their part of the world.
The Wild Atlantic Way
was probably the most pleasurable drives of my entire travels. The road skirted atop cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, beneath striking mountains shrouded in clouds, and through carriageways covered
by arches of overhanging trees. The journey was made more magical by the warm colours of autumn that glistened beneath the frequent sunshine. Every hour brought a different landscape to admire, so the drive never became tedious.
The first part of the journey took me through County Galway and County Mayo. The weather for the first of these days was bleak, with brooding clouds rolling across lakes and mountains in the gorgeous Connemara region. Despite the unfavourable conditions, there was an ancient majesty about the landscape that enchanted, entranced and enthralled. This isle, inhabited since prehistoric times, often muted me with its beauty and charisma.
I often diverted from the set route to explore an intriguing road, and after slowly meandering to County Donegal in the northern part of Ireland, I took another detour to photograph what was presumed to be an unused castle at dusk. However, it was an immense surprise to discover manicured gardens surrounding this fully operational hotel called the Lough Eske Castle
. Due to the support of Fáilte Ireland
on this road trip, it freed me to lavish myself with an indulgence and to realise a lifetime dream of staying in a castle – a stay characterised
by attentive staff, exquisite food and salubrious rooms. It was a pleasure to drive the long private road to Lough Eske after a day’s touring to espy its grand facade magically appear from behind lines of trees.
The weather fined the following day, and the sun shone on a landscape of brilliant green that Ireland is so famed for. The finest portion of coastal road I have driven was located near Lough Eske, and I detoured along the narrow coastal road near Kellybegs that wove through an idyllic setting of white, cream and beige houses nestled amongst steep green hills that overlooked the shimmering ocean. The road was so narrow that one needed to squeeze close to a rock wall or enter a driveway if a vehicle came from the other direction, but that just added to the charm of this quaint carriageway. Every bend brought another scene that elicited gasps of wonder, and though only a few kilometres in length, it took more than an hour to traverse due to frequent stops to both admire and photograph.
That afternoon the weather changed, thus demonstrating that Ireland can have all four seasons in one day, and by the
time I reached Ireland’s tallest cliffs, Slieve League, the clouds and winds had arrived with gusto. The coloured cliffs were beautiful but my clothing was inadequate for the bitter wind that ripped across the lookout. The Irish in attendance were unperturbed and squatted on benches eating sandwiches, but it was far too brisk for me so I made a hasty retreat to the warmth of my vehicle.
The journey commenced southwards the following morning, passing many counties along the way. A new county was easy to identify due to the different county colours displayed on buildings, shops and cars; there seemed to be as much pride in one’s county as there was in one’s country. Whilst in County Clare there was an afternoon visit to the famed Cliffs of Moher, where the clouds conveniently cleared for my arrival, thus allowing those gathered to see the sun sink into the seemingly infinite Atlantic Ocean.
In order to continue along the Wild Atlantic Way
, one must cross the Shannon Estuary by ferry. I approached this voyage with a deal of trepidation since my previous traumatising ferry experience in the Solomon Islands when huge seas threatened to capsize the vessel (The Worst and Best of Travel
Thankfully, my faith in ferries was restored, for the passage was smooth and relaxing, and driving onto the farther shore saw me enter County Kerry which provided a fitting finale to my week long journey.
The Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry is considered by many to be a highlight of Ireland. With its mountainous interior ringed by spectacular and rugged coastal scenery, its geography attracts people from across Ireland and the world. I stayed at the delightful and isolated Gorman’s Clifftop House
on the peninsula’s north, where I could enjoy yet more delicious cuisine in peaceful surrounds. One morning, I walked along the adjacent Pilgrim’s Path. It was a windy day, and the only sounds to reach my ears were of waves rolling against rocks, the bark of a distant dog and the call of a seagull. I reclined in the lush grass – content to be close to nature without the interfering barriers of concrete and pollution. Surrounded by mountains, hills, cliffs and ocean, Dingle sedated me with it charm, and I felt far removed from the bustle of the world.
Though the landscape and food were outstanding, my fondest memory of Ireland is an accolade earned by the
Irish people. Their blue eyes shone like the sky on a clear Irish day, the intoxicating lilt in their voice tell tales of triumphs and tribulations, and their glowing smiles rise from the warmest place of their hearts. It is unsurprising that the Irish are such a proud people when their land has been blessed with that intangible allure that one can feel but never touch.
After decades of travel, I developed a theory that the less materially wealthy and prosperous a country, the more hospitable and generous its people. This theory was challenged in Ireland for the Irish hospitality was unmatched by any other relatively prosperous nation. Perhaps this stems from the difficulties of the Great Famine of the 1800s and the resultant diaspora, or the financial woes of recent years, or maybe from a time far earlier. Regardless of the cause, the result is a love and warmth that flows from the Irish soul and seeps into every stream of their life, and it bestows a unique welcome to those who grace their emerald isle.
Tourism Ireland announced on 12 February 2014 that this blog was one of 12 winning blogs to be targeted for
promotional purposes - Tourism Ireland Blog Seeding Competition
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