09 August – Didn’t quite know what to make of the bright light in the sky today but assume that summer has finally arrived in Ireland. Had a gorgeous drive today – this was much more of the Ireland scenery that I was expecting. First popped up to the Charles Fort which was on the opposite side of the inlet to the James Fort – much more substantial and with even more impressive views.
Then we were off around the coast through magical sounding little towns and villages – Clothkilty, Rosscarbery, Skibbereen and Ballydehob leaving the coast to cross over the Caha “mountain” pass and down into Bonane and our lodgings at “The Ford” for the next couple of days.
The road up and over the pass had gorgeous views back over the coast going up and down into a verdant valley on the other side with little cottages and farms dotted around the hills. On a sunny day like today it was so pretty.
Our lodgings were a little on the remote side – in that we had to go about 5km off the main road on one of the more interesting narrow country roads – where you can’t see around the next corner for the high banks and hedges and with only room for one car it means taking it easy. That said it was a lovely setting – very reminiscent of home with the green paddocks all around us.
The nearest town of Kenmare was about 10km and what a busy little place – tourists galore with loads of shops selling Irish crafts – Aran knitwear, woven stuff and of course sheep soft toys not to mention a pub or ten.
We found one that had an Irish music night going on so were treated to some dancing, singing and beautiful harp and accordion melodies. Thought it was about time to sample the local brew which I do quite like and seeing as Bob was designated driver it was OK to partake.
10 August – Two unrainy days in a row – not sure we can cope with that. Just down the road from our lodgings we took a walk around the Bonane Heritage Park to view some of the archeological wonders of the region. First up we came to the Ring Fort – The Ring Fort, was used as a fortified dwelling some 2000 years ago. The deep perimeter ditch and double earthen embankment (foss) were constructed manually with primitive tools. Its circular construction is thought by archaeologists to be for defensive purposes but may have had a spiritual significance.
In later centuries, many superstitions were associated with them and it was considered unlucky to cultivate or interfere with them. Ring forts are also known as Fairy forts from the long-held tradition that they are home to the fairies or “little people”! These forts are small with room for one or two families.
Next was Ireland’s answer to the hangi – a fulacht fiadh the ancient cooking pit dating from the Bronze Age. Fulacht fiadh is generally located beside a source of water, a pit or hole was constructed and filled with clean water. The water was heated by placing heated stones in it and fresh meat wrapped in straw was boiled in this manner.
A Bullaun Stone is a large rock where a basin or bullaun has been carved out. Normally, the bullauns face upward but this example was unusual in that the bullaun was on the side of the stone. It is unclear as to the original purpose for bullaun stones but they may have been used to mark astrological alignments.
Probably the highlight was the Stone Circle dating from the Bronze Age, was associated with druidical rituals or used as ceremonial site, as part of an ancient calendar based on the lunar and solar cycles. This Stone Circle is one of the most significant examples of its kind in Ireland as it has eight solar and lunar alignments. The most interesting alignment was with a cairn on the ridge of the hill a few kms away with the rising of the moon once every 18.6 years. How on earth did these early peoples have such an intricate knowledge of these cycles?
Back on the road and up and over the Caha range again to join up with the Ring of Beere road for an interesting drive around this peninsula. The road took us through Castletownbere which is currently one of the 5 main fishing ports on the island of Ireland. It is the largest fishing port in the country and supposedly the 2nd-safest natural harbour in the world. From here the road turned into a slightly more challenging drive as we went right down to Garnish Point – a tiny cable car operates from here over to Dursey Island but with a capacity of six people or one large animal it was fully booked up by the time we got there so after a quick looksee we continued on around on the coastal road – slow going as it way fairly typical of the minor roads here – mostly single lane with the odd passing places. The scenery was quite wild – rocky moss covered hills but a lot of colour from pink and crimson heathers, yellow ragwort and gorse and wild red fuchsias and the coastline very rugged. Completed the full circle back at Kenmare and back home for a break before dinner.
11 August – The Irish “mist” descended on us again. Nothing to do but soldier on. We took the road via the Killarney National Park to Killarney. Fine weather would have made this an impressive drive – but the low cloud spoiled it somewhat – it did lift a bit so that we could get views of the lakes – it felt a bit like being in Norway with the rocky lined shores.
Killarney was a buzzing town with gift shops galore and many jaunting cars (horse drawn carts) taking tourists for little rides. We decided that we would give the Ring of Kerry road a miss and instead head around the next peninsula up out to Dingle. Mixed scenery with farmland, coastal and little villages along the way. From Dingle we took a road over the a small pass – going up the road was great – two lanes – easy bends but the mist really closed in on the top where the road down turned into a single lane road carved into the rocks for a few kms – that was fun just a pity we couldn’t see any of the views. Travelling via Tralee, Listelow we hit the coast again at Ballybunion our stop for the night. This was a local seaside holiday town complete with fun fair and several mobile home holiday parks.
12 August – On to Foynes Flying Boat museum for the first visit of the day. During the late 1930s and early 1940s, land-based planes lacked sufficient flying range for Atlantic crossings. Foynes was the last port of call on its eastern shore for seaplanes. As a result, Foynes would become one of the biggest civilian airports in Europe during World War II.
Surveying flights for flying boat operations were made by Charles Lindbergh in 1933 and a terminal was begun in 1935. The first transatlantic proving flights were operated on July 5, 1937 with a Pan Am Sikorsky S-42 service from Botwood, Newfoundland and Labrador on the Bay of Exploits and a BOAC Short Empire service from Foynes with successful transits of twelve and fifteen-and-a-quarter hours respectively. Services to New York, Southampton, Montreal, Poole and Lisbon followed, the first non-stop New York service operating on June 22, 1942 in 25 hours 40 minutes. The museum provided a good insight to the importance of this little town. In its heyday if you were to sit in the local cafe you could get to see the great movie stars, royalty and world leaders as they criss-crossed the Atlantic.
With Foynes done, we backtracked to Tarbert to catch a little car ferry across the Shannon Estuary to Killimer to continue around the coast through many little seaside towns and stopped off at the Cliffs of Moher. They rise 120 metres above the Atlantic Ocean at Hag’s Head, and stretch eight kilometres to the north where they reach their maximum height of 214 metres The cliffs rank amongst the most visited tourist sites in Ireland receiving approximately one million visitors a year and even late in the afternoon it was still buzzing with people.
Our stop for the night was inland at Ennis – the town was gearing up for its huge annual musical festival where they get 400,000 visitors over the week so was starting to close off streets and setting up outdoor stages.
13 August – Another hearty breakfast got us underway from Ennis to first explore the Bureen. The Burren has around 560 square kilometers of exposed limestone hills and pavements, part of the Burren lies within a National Park but the majority lies outside the park and is farmed and settled.
Glaciers expanded and retreated over the region several times. Of the last two periods the first was the more pronounced, covering the whole of the Burren. The result is that The Burren is one of the finest examples of a glacio-karst landscape in the world.
It certainly is a very unique landscape and unlike anything we have seen in our travels.
We followed the Bureen to the coast at Ballyvauhan and around the coast for quite a while before headed inland and up to Gallway. We had a brief look around the city – for a Sunday afternoon it was fair humming – loads of buskers in the streets. The city centre was a maze of narrow streets lined with pubs, pubs and pubs and a few shops as well.
It was just a short hop from Galway to our stop for the night at Oughterard. A little outside of Galway we were pulled over at a Customs and Excise checkpoint. They were doing checks on diesel-powered vehicles – we were exempt being in a rental vehicle – but they obviously have a problem with illegal diesel production. It looked like a fairly crude sort of testing they were doing but must have been enough to find the illegal fuels.
14 August – Only slightly overcast beginning to the day. A good breakfast got us started then it was off westwards to begin exploring the region. We made a stop at Glengowla Mines for an informative tour of the underground lead and silver mine. Buried beneath the Connermara Mountain we were taken down 40 metres through the caverns of marble studded with lead and silver where our guide lead us on a journey on the working conditions the miners worked under before the mines closed in 1865. The constant dripping of water, the ‘miners breath’ would have made life very unpleasant for the workers. Up on the surface there is no real sign of what was lurking below.
Continuing on westwards we turned down towards the coast and circumnavigated the next two little peninsulas through Kilkieran , Glynsk, Roundstone, Ballyconeely before hitting the main road back at Clifden. Just love this Connemara scenery through the boglands and rocky coastal areas – very colourful with the heather, gorse and green moss against the grey rocks. Loads of little stone cottages dotted throughout the countryside, as well as little farms with drywall fences to keep livestock enclosed. It would be nice to hire a little cottage in this region and stay for a couple of months. At Ballyconeely we visited the spot where Alcock and Brown landed on the first trans atlantic flight as well as Marconi’s transmission station. We have now been to both ends of that historic transmission and incidentally Wanda was again at the Nova Scotia end just a few days ago.
15 August – A bit of a bleak start to the day but the mist did lift so that we could enjoy reasonable weather and views for the rest of the day. Decided to do a series of circular drives so that we could make the most of the Connemara National Park and its surrounds. The first small road took us from Maum up through a natural bog between a couple of ranges of hills. Very desolate through this area with no habitation just the peat bogs with little streams and lakes with a thick reddish brown grass growing on it. Plenty of evidence of turf cutting though – the peat turf still seems to be a fuel source – it is cut into “logs” which are about 30 x 2 cm each weighing about 500gms. The peat is also used to fuel some power stations in Ireland instead of oil or coal. Once we came out of the bog area we were into cultivated farmland again- the farms here are very small (a herd of 50 cows seems to be enough to sustain a farmer because of the EU subsidies that they receive) mostly sheep farming in the region with the odd herd of cows. With all the stone around – the fields are divided by the dry stone walls and do make for a picturesque drive.
We returned via another smaller road down the other side of the ranges – greener and a different type of bog, greener with grasses that are able to sustain sheep. Some very pretty loughs (lakes) as well. These smaller roads have little or no traffic on them and for the most part are double-lane so easy to drive on. I must say that having a left hand drive car is quite useful here on the very narrow roads as it is so much easier to hug the left side of the road without having to judge how close you are to stone walls etc.
We joined the main road at Glynsk to do a little westward circle via Cliffden and Letterfrack where he had hoped to have a little look around the Connemara National Park Visitor centre but couldn’t get a park anywhere near – it was just so busy with visitors – we gave that a miss and made our way instead overland to Leenaun where the weather had cleared sufficiently for us to embark on a boat trip up the Killary Fjord. The 90 minute ride was quite informative as it took us between the two totally different shorelines – the south shore was green and farmed whereas the north short was rocky and bleak. The fjord had a lot of mussel farms in the lower part of the fjord and nearer the ocean a few salmon farms.
As it was still too early to arrive at our next stay in Westport we opted to take another minor road which took us around this northern shoreline for a short while before heading through the Doolough Valley – what a spectacular drive as we drove alongside the fjord and then entered into the valley proper up over the Doo Lough Pass between the Mweelrea Mountain and Sheeffry Hills.
We drove over heaths which were so much like the North of Scotland although we weren’t very high in altitude. This area would be a fantastic place to have a small campervan with so many gorgeous spots to pull off and have an overnight stay in the wilderness.
We hit the coast again for the short drive into Westport and our next B&B experience. On the whole the B&B’s here have been OK, some are more like guesthouses which are better than just a room in someone’s house but the breakfasts are always good – scrambled eggs with smoked salmon are my favourite. The smoked salmon here has a very delicate flavour – not too salty. The town of Westport was just a short 15 minute walk – what a neat little town – around it’s Octagon were streets lined with terraced buildings containing all manner of little boutique shops and of course pubs.
16 August – Lovely brekkie to start the day although the weather didn’t quite match. Margaret our hostess suggested that we go out to Archil Island so we did attempt that drive but got as far as the connecting bridge but the “Mist” was so low and dropping the wet stuff that there was not a lot of point in continuing. We headed instead to Castlebar for a visit to the National Heritage Museum which kept us occupied for a couple of hours as we viewed the exhibitions of early Irish life. Just a little further up the road there was a little local railway museum which we also had a quick flit around. Back home in time for dinner – we went down to the Quays area for a nice feed at the local bistro.
17 August – Moving on again – we stopped off at Foxford to have a look around the local woollen mills which have been in continuous operation for 125 years. The mills were started by a nun from the Sisters or Charity who was so distressed at the standard of living of the local people that she decided to create employment. The mills had a fire in 1907 which destroyed most of the mill but they managed to recover and in the 80’s they went into liquidation but were bought by a local businessman who is still running the mill. They make upholstery material, throws, scarves, and small blankets. We were able to have a look at the looms in action – fully mechanised but it still requires manual input when warp or weft threads break and they still have to thread the looms by hand – a task which takes two men anything from a few hours to all day. Managed to escape their lovely showroom/shop with my wallet in tact although there were some beautiful pieces. Up the main road to our next stop just a few kms out of Donegal town.
18 August – A little circular tour to get to Derry (Londonderry) via Killybegs, Ardara and Glenties before heading inland via Letterkenny. Once away from the coast the landscape was much like home except for the style of the houses. Found a park in the city centre but the weather was pretty bleak as we embarked on a little walk around the old city walls – managed about half of it before the rain decided to dump it down. Can’t say that the city did anything for me. The conflict which became known as the Troubles is widely regarded as having started in Derry with the Battle of the Bogside. The Civil Rights movement had also been very active in the city. In the early 1970s the city was heavily militarised and there was widespread civil unrest. Several districts in the city constructed barricades to control access and prevent the forces of the state from entering. Violence eased towards the end of the Troubles in the late 1980s and early 1990s but it still seems to be raw in the memories here.
Made our way to home for the night which was a pleasant B&B in the countryside about 10 minutes outside of the city.
19 August – Another short travelling day so had a lazy start to the day as we made our way to Bushmills via the coastal route. Treat for the day was the tour of the Bushmills Whiskey distillery which has been making the amber liquid since 1608. Can’t believe the amount that comes out of this distillery each year (8 million bottles). We were given a little sample of their 12 year old vintage at the end of the tour plus a voucher for another of our choice – mine was a hot toddy, Bob chose the 15 yr old. Not bad drops at all, at all.
Our stop for the night another very nice B&B with country views out our window.
20 August – Finally a reasonable day for us to have a little explore of the Bushmills area. For Game of Thrones fans (of which we aren’t) there are apparently a lot of areas where scenes have been shot, we did go to one – the Dark Hedges which to be really appreciated you need to see them as dark is falling – they still look quite interesting in daylight but we did have to compete with loads of other touro’s.
Did a couple of little scenic routes before stopping off at Ballycastle – a tiny little coastal town with quite a nice beach. The weather had bought out all the motorbikes in the region – the coastal drive does make for good riding. Returned back to Bushmills base for a cuppa and break before heading out for dinner. Thought Portrush would be a good bet but the town was just nose to tail traffic with not a chance of finding a park so Plan B came into effect and it was up to the Giant’s Causeway Smugglers Inn for dinner instead. Got a huge feed of mussels in a sweet chilli cream sauce (the mussels would be called very premature in NZ – the shells were only about an inch long and the mussels no larger than a broad bean) – consequently there were about 5 doz in my pot and they all got eaten!! The Giants Causeway is the main tourist attraction here and our kind hostess told us to make that sure we arrive there after 7pm so we don’t have to pay the 20 pound entry fee – that was a good move as we also avoided most of the 5,000 visitors that they had during the day. Nice walk down the coastal path to view and walk over these incredible formations – 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic eruption.
According to legend, the columns are the remains of a causeway built by a giant. The story goes that the Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn MacCool), from the Fenian Cycle of Gaelic mythology, was challenged to a fight by the Scottish giant Benandonner. Fionn accepted the challenge and built the causeway across the North Channel so that the two giants could meet. In one version of the story, Fionn defeats Benandonner. In another, Fionn hides from Benandonner when he realises that his foe is much bigger than he. Fionn’s wife, Oonagh, disguises Fionn as a baby and tucks him in a cradle. When Benandonner sees the size of the ‘baby’, he reckons that its father, Fionn, must be a giant among giants. He flees back to Scotland in fright, destroying the causeway behind him so that Fionn could not follow. Across the sea, there are identical basalt columns (a part of the same ancient lava flow) at Fingal’s Caveon the Scottish isle of Staffa, and it is possible that the story was influenced by this.
21 August – The worst day weatherwise we have had since leaving home, too wet to stop off and explore anything so just made our way down the coast road to Belfast to arrive in time to watch the two semifinal matches of the women’s RWC on the telly.
22 August – The overnight storms had somewhat blown away leaving just a murky sky but dry enough for us to go down and visit the Titanic Exhibition on the Quays. What an absorbing museum – we we were there for over 4 hours taking in all the history of that tragic event. Unfortunately it was really busy making it difficult at times to get a proper look at some of the exhibits. Outside the museum are the original slipways where the Titantic and her sister ship the Oceanic were built – they were certainly sizeable ships for their day. Alongside the Titanic museum was also the Nomadic – a small tender that was originally used to ferry the White Star passengers to their ships in the Cherbourg harbour. It was furnished in the same style as the Titanic to give their passengers a taste of what they were to expect as soon as they boarded the ship. We didn’t feel the need to do anything else in the city so returned back to our hotel for the evening.
23 August – Time to farewell the Leprechauns and head off over the Irish Sea. Can’t say that we were too impressed with the organisation or lack thereof of the Isle of Man Steampacket Co. ferry. It took forever to just check in and it was quite a mission to get the vehicles on board the vessel – the number of bikes going over was astounding. A lovely smooth crossing had us docking in Douglas 2 1/2 hours later to warmer sunny weather. Our lodgings for the next 10 days at Andreas was about a half hour’s drive north, some of it over the mountain part of the actual racetrack. A nice warm welcome awaited us from Peter and Andrea and we were soon settled in to our comfy abode.