Story and Photos by Carol Canter.
Continuing our exploration of Ireland via its Wild Atlantic Way, we returned to Killarney, gateway to the magnificent 26,000 acre Killarney National Park. We wished for an extra day or two here to explore the park and its landmark historic sites like Muckross House and Abbey, its waterfalls, hiking and bicycle trails. But we enjoyed the lively and welcoming town of Killarney, where we devoured the best fish and chips ever at the legendary Quinlan’s Seafood Bar (www.kerryfish.com) to which everyone in town had sent us. It was worth waiting on line with other visitors, and the locals who advised us that the best fish to order was the hake–or was it the haddock! We were sent next door for dessert at Gaelic Gelato, which turned out to be another significant stop. Clive, the charming owner, designed for us the best driving route for the next leg of our Wild Atlantic Way journey. He mapped out our drive to Clifden in the Connemara, even giving us the schedule for the short ride on the car ferry that would cut significant time off our trip.
The warmth and sheer delight in our encounters with the locals continued at the Grand, one of the happening pubs known for good “trad” music. No sooner had we entered than I found myself whisked onto the dance floor by a jovial Killarney lad, and after a pint of Guinness, worried no more how well I followed.
Later that evening at Murphy’s Pub, a duo on guitar and accordion sang the heartbreaking “Fields of Athenrye,” an Irish folk ballad of love and exile set during the Great Irish Famine. The song, which has become a popular anthem sung at sporting events, was new to us that night, but what an impact it had. We were to hear it several more times during our trip, and each time it opened for us a small window into the poetry and politics of the Irish soul.
DAY 3: KILLARNEY TO CLIFDEN, THE CONNEMARA
We left Killarney in the early morning fog and cold, fortified with a deliciously warming Irish breakfast. The roads in County Kerry were good, and we got to the car ferry in Tarbert in time to line up for the 10:30am crossing. The short trip across the Shannon Estuary over to Killimer-a mere 20 minutes and 18 euros–saved us several hours of driving. (Thank you again for the essential tip, Clive, owner of Gaelic Gelato in Killarney!) We even enjoyed a dolphin sighting, one of the many species who make their home in Ireland’s longest river Shannon.
The rugged windswept County Clare was mostly a “drive-by” for us, as we made our way north along the wave-lashed coastline to the iconic Cliffs of Moher. The movie-star beauty of these imposing vertical cliffs, which rise to a height of 700 feet and stretch five miles along the Atlantic Coast, has made them the setting for such films as Harry Potter & the Half Blood Prince, Ryan’s Daughter, The Princess Bride, and Far and Away, to name a few.
Such splendor draws over a million visitors to Ireland’s premier tourist attraction, but walkers and hikers who take to the trails can find some silence while inhaling the sea air and soul-stirring vistas of the sculpted cliffs. Thousands of seabirds nest on the cliff face or the grassy slopes below, so bring binoculars and look for species such as Puffins and Guillemots, Razorbills, and Kittiwakes, depending on the season.
Focus the binoculars on the mystical-looking Aran Islands set out in Galway Bay and consider a visit by ferry from the seaside town of Doolin just up the road. Doolin, a magnet for surfers and for seekers of trad music, is also the point of departure for seasonal boat cruises under the soaring Cliffs of Moher.
The Burren is the next otherworldly stop on this easy and highly rewarding coastal drive. Time allowed us only a short walk in this lunar limestone landscape, once a submerged seabed. In the late afternoon mist, the rugged grey terrain punctuated by an occasional brilliant-hued wildflower or bit of golden green lichen felt a world apart, one in which we carefully watched the cracks and indentations in the rock so as not to disappear from the face of the earth.
Our lonely lovely coastal route eventually rejoined civilization, approaching and then bypassing the city of Galway as we entered the Connemara, an unspoiled peninsula that Oscar Wilde called “a savage beauty.”
Who could disagree with Wilde! And thus began our love affair with the region as we headed to Clifden on the western edge of the peninsula. A warm welcome at the Abbeyglen Castle Hotel, (www.abbeyglen.ie/) was just what we needed after a full day’s exploration of the Wild Atlantic Way. But as the sun’s rays magically emerged from the cloud-laden sky, we deferred a much-anticipated cocktail by the fire for a short walk to watch the sunset over Killary Harbour, Ireland’s only fjord.
A tasty dinner based on mussels from said fjord, followed by tender Connemara lamb, was served in a restaurant where the service was congenial, the guests from around the world. Diners followed proprietor Paul Hughes into the bar for a nightcap, singing along as he played favorite Irish tunes on the piano. It felt like just the place to be, there on the windswept western edge of Europe, along the Wild Atlantic Way, engulfed in the warmth of Irish conviviality.
View Part One here: http://travelexaminer.net/ireland-wild-atlantic-way/
IF YOU GO:
Visit the excellent Tourism Ireland website for travel planning support. Visit them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Ireland/
• Email Tourism Ireland at firstname.lastname@example.org
• Stop by their information center at:
345 Park Ave, 17th Floor
New York, NY 10154
Mondays through Fridays 9.00am – 5.00pm
Aer Lingus offers direct flights SFO/DUB. www.aerlingus.com