Ireland by car is a great way to go. Once you get by the whole “driving on the wrong side of the road” thing. In 2009, near the end of our 13 month stint in the UK, we decided to head across the Irish Sea to Ireland. By now, I was accomplished and hardly ever had to tell myself “keep left, keep left” when I got on the road. What I never did get the hang of was getting INTO the car on the other side. It’s hard to look cool when you get into the passenger seat in a crowded car park. but this only happened two or three hundred times, so……
Off we go to Ireland!
0. Holyhead, Wales
Our town, St. Annes, is on the northwest coast quite near northern Wales. A couple hours drive takes you to the town of Holyhead which is the west-most point in northern Wales, and is also the terminus for the ferry to Dublin. The ferry allows us to take our car over with us for a four-day driving tour through southern Ireland. The ferry is huge, and screams across the sea, making the trip over to Dublin in a little over two hours. As fast as we were going, these little puffins were flying at the same speed, just or fun. At some point, it’s going to occur to them that they have to fly back.
Arriving in Dublin, we left the port and headed downtown. We weren’t going to spend a lot of time in the city, as our primary purpose was to drive through the countryside. So we parked and bought tour bus tickets. The thing that struck me was the similarity of Dublin to other European cities. Unlike London, the buildings were old and there were no skyscrapers. It was like the city was zoned for a maximum building height of 3 stories.
The bus did take us to the most important place in Dublin. The Guinness Brewery! We were lucky living in Lancashire as the same ferries that bring us here, also bring Guinness back. There really is nothing better than fresh Guinness, and you just can’t get it fresh anywhere in the US. But it sure was good here!
So with a goodly stock of stout, we left Dublin to do a clock-wise drive around the Irish coast. On to Waterford.
2. Waterford – Midleton
We left Dublin going south along the Irish Sea coast toward Waterford. We had planned to visit the home of Waterford crystal glassware, but on the way, we realized that we were not fans of fancy-schmancy stuff, and it had started to rain, so we decided to keep going to the village of Midleton. This town had more interesting glassware in the form of green liter bottles containing Jameson whisky. The Jameson distillery tour was indoor, and turned out to be the highlight of our day. So we got ourselves a couple of bottles to go with the can s of Guinness, and continued southward.
It was a short drive from Midleton to Cork where we had a B&B for the night.
3. The Sweet Cove of Cork
I’m a big fan of the Irish punk band, The Pogues, and always liked an old folk song called “The Irish Rover”, an old clipper ship that “sailed from the sweet cove of Cork”. We had a place up on the hill overlooking the harbor, but unfortunately, the weather was pretty foul and we stayed in for the evening. For dinner, we were pretty limited as it was a Friday during Lent, but we got a good tip from the proprietor who directed us to a local chippy a short walk away. The line was literally around the block as most of the town was catholic and was there to get fish. Luckily, they had a great system where youngsters took your order in line, you got to the till and paid, then picked up your dinner. It was as good as any fish and chips I ever had. If you get to Cork, make sure you go to Jackie Lennox’s Chip Shop.
Everybody who comes to Cork goes a short distance out of town to kiss the Blarney Stone. We did not. It was raining cats and dogs, and it did not appeal. Instead, we chased our fish dinners with some Jameson and Guinness, then prayed for better weather for our trip to Killarney the next day.
4. Killarney and the Ring of Kerry
Well our weather prayer worked as the next day dawned clear and warm. In fact, I think that this was the best day we had for weather. We left Cork and drove west toward Killarney. We started through the hills and the roads got a little twisty-turny. Max was watching videos from his car seat in the back and it was the one and only time he ever got car sick. So the day didn’t start too well.
Going south you enter Killarney National Park and the start of the Ring of Kerry. The ring is a 117-mile loop, and is a “must see” for any driving tour of southern Ireland, and reminds me of the Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia. We drove the ring in the clock-wise direction and went to the park first. The first stop was Muckross Abbey, a thirteenth century monastery tucked into a forest.
Continuing south, you quickly get to the Atlantic Ocean along the south coast. Everywhere you look, quaint little fishing villages are surrounded by emerald pastures. Around every bend is a beautiful vista.
After completing the ring, we came back to Killarney and stayed the night at a farm B&B. Guests are encouraged to help out with the farm chores, but we decided to walk into town for dinner and passed a very pleasant evening.
5. The Cliffs of Moher
Perhaps the most iconic feature on the west coast of Ireland are the Cliffs of Moher. We drove north from Killarney, and crossed the River Shannon on the ferry at Tarbet. The day was beautiful and the crossing was very nice.
The land rises from the ferry until you come at last to these immense cliffs that fall 300 ft to the Atlantic. There’s a trail that snakes along the edge of the cliffs, but Denise insisted that we walk along the road.
A walk along the cliffs northward takes you to an old stone tower built by some guy named O’Brien back in the 1830s. Often times certain must-see sites do not live up to their billing. The Cliffs surpass their billing.
6. Galaway and the Trip Home
Unfortunately, when we got to Galaway, the weather again turned foul. This is something we were well acquainted with as northern England has the same climate. So we spent our last night in Ireland at a run-of-the-mill hotel by the Dublin airport, and started for the ferry in the morning for the trip back to the UK. I think that our trip to Ireland was great. Denise and Max had a good time, and the scenery was magnificent. The driving was pretty easy with a Sat Nav (GPS for us yanks), once you get used to driving on the left. Traffic was less heavy than northern England, and the roads are good. The country is made for touring by car, so give it a go if you’re the adventurous type.
I’ll definitely come back to Ireland again some day.