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Published: March 23rd 2011
Part one of the journey to Ireland begins with too many pints, a big win on the gee gees and whirlwind trip around the south-west corner of the country. Arriving at the fancy new terminal two at Dublin Airport we completely bypassed Dublin (so can’t tell you what it’s like yet!) and made our way to Athlone right in the centre – or as Susan likes to explain, its right where you fold the map.
On the trip ‘home’ it confirmed a few questions in my mind, yes it is green, yes it is filled with signs of businesses named O’Brian, O’Malley and O’Shane and yes it is beautiful.
Our first few days in Athlone gave us a few days to relax from the exertions in Amsterdam; we enjoyed great pints of Smithwicks and Bulmers, great food (yum yum mussels) and a few cheeky bets on the Cheltenham festival. All were very much enjoyed, especially the 400 euro win!
We were also lucky enough to be town for St Patrick’s Day – and as with all towns throughout the country, Athlone had a parade through the main streets under the green, white and orange flags. The parade itself
reflected modern day Ireland including your typical leprechauns, ginger beards and Irish rugby shirts but it also showed how this once very traditional country now includes a strong multi-cultural community. As with all good Paddys days it ended with a Guinness and some good roast lamb with Kelly Senior.
However the good times were paused as we hijacked Kelly Senior’s car and headed south for a five day adventure. So off we set to Cobh, a small port town by the larger city of Cork. On the trip down we passed through the sheep filled rolling green fields and bogs only stopping at the serene Rock of Cashel to eat our left over lamb sandwiches. The Irish country side is littered with bits of history – castles, towers and abandoned buildings – it’s hard to avoid, so stopping at one of the various historical sites for lunch is…just grand! (Although look out, almost all the places charge you 6 euros to check it out!)
Finally reaching Cobh (pronounced Cove) we checked in and wandered around the town. Now I called this the unofficial tour of ‘disasters’ and you shall see why. Cobh was the starting point for the
ill fated Titanic and I don’t need to tell you what happened there, then 100 miles off the coast saw the equally large Lusitania bombed and sunk with over 1000 people dying, and it was ALSO the starting point for the journey of millions of Irish on their trip to America escaping the misery and famine at the time.
Next stop was Skibbereen, but along the way we coasted along the…well…coast. Ireland does boast some magnificent, erm, coastlines, all rugged and handsome (bit like most Irish actors and singers really). Now continuing on this trek of doom, Skibbereen was one of the areas hit most by the potato famine and boasts a graveyard with 8000-10,000 unmarked graves of its victims– a real selling point. But as with all small Irish towns, the people were friendly and the pints in the local pubs were served cold and swiftly.
Leaving ‘death town’ the following day we set course for Kenmare, which was to be our start of the famous Ring of Kerry. There was small trip to Mizen Head, the most southerly point of Ireland with a fantastic walkway/bridge over the Atlantic, we didn’t do it because it was foggy
but looks like it’s well worth the, yes, 6 euros. Before doing the Ring of Kerry we decided to investigate the lesser known Ring of Beara. The Ring of Beara might be the smaller brother of the Kerry but it still is worth seeing. Less touristy and more rugged, he put on a show with craggy rock faces and mysterious hills.
Settling into Kenmare, another town that says it was ‘worst hit’ by the famine; we faced the dilemma of trying to decide which one of the 10 pubs to go to, yes there is a theme here. Crisis averted we went with the tried and tested “whichever one is full of locals is the one to go to.”
Day three, sans hang over, we completed the 175 km Ring of Kerry. Internet and guide book advice says you have to do the Ring anti-clockwise, following the route of the tour buses, even the roads reflected this as the left hand lane is marked out wider than the right. The internet also says that in the summer it can be grid locked with sightseers, so you can imagine how nice it is to do it in spring without
any coaches in sight. Yes, it is jaw droppingly pretty with great views and gorgeous beaches but you know what…the best part was the Gap of Dunloe that passes through the Ireland’s highest mountain, MacGillyCuddy’s Reeks (great name.) The road was tiny and winding and I was constantly terrified with what we would do if we met a tractor but it was truly stunning.
Now if you are heading towards the south-west, of course there is one thing that has to be done. The Cliffs of Moher. But before hand we travelled from Kenmare via Dingle, took the car ferry into County Clare and settled down in Spanish Point for the night, bring in yet disaster point, it was the place where numerous sailors have drowned as the unforgiving sea smashed their ships against the rocks.
Last day was Cliffs of Moher day and as with the answer to most questions – yes it was beautiful and yes it was 6 euros. Photos should so all the talking.
So part one of the Gaelic trip has been busy and eventful. Driving through Ireland is tiring yet rewarding, we have tried to take every small road and lane
through the countryside and have really been given a good feel for the land. As a stranger (as opposed to Susan who has returned to her roots and I now can’t understand her) it is a land with so much to offer in terms of natural beauty and one which has had to endure so more pain and heartache. But the people are as friendly as any I’ve met, with one rain soaked farmer even taking the time help us out explaining in his country Cork accent that we were eejits and on the wrong path, we were then wished well, given directions and given a ‘god bless’. For a country which at some point or another has lost up to half its population to the plague, famine or immigration to the US they are still all good craic.
Next up, more road tripping to the different corners, more disasters and who knows, maybe another pint?
P.s I am yet to spot a real leprechaun, posters don’t count apparently.
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