After a 6 hour layover in London, the sun shone on Dublin as our plane landed at a crowded, congested airport, inside and out. A Fiat we rented made it to the highway to Donegal by 3 p.m. Many cars were parked along the road by the airport watching planes take off and land. Isn’t there much to do in Dublin?? The drive through towns, villages and farmland was pleasant but only two lanes that became very slow when behind a tractor or other farm equipment. Entering and leaving Northern Ireland were closed check points with guard towers surrounded by wire and speed bumps along the road. Arrived in Lifford at 7 and found the Hall Greene B&B, an old working farm with beautiful stained glass and gorgeous views of hills with patchwork farms and sheep grazing. The only restaurant in Lifford was a fast food type place so we crossed the border into Strabane and ended up at a greasy spoon that served surprisingly delicious chicken.
A cloudy, cool morning. After a huge, tasty Irish breakfast we drove north to the Inishowen Peninsula and took the 100 km. scenic route which was spectacular. Rains came after about an hour, pouring hard at times. Water views, some with strands (beaches), most with rocky mounds, fill the much indented coastline. Farmland in every shade, outlined in dark green, fill hillsides dotted with sheep and occasionally cows. Very small towns pop up along the road. Homes are well-kept, many sporting lace curtains covering the windows. At times the narrow road squeezes into a one-lane “driveway” and you wonder if you’ve made a mistake and are going down someone’s lane. Sheep ran across the road several times. From overviews you can soak up the glorious scenes (that lost a lot in the rain). After Inishowen we drove to Inch Island which was a waste of time. Found a lovely B&B (Willows House) in Letterkenny where we watched a rainbow over the farmland (and a factory). Enjoyed a delicious shrimp stir fry at the Old Orchard and walked the centre of Letterkenny. The cathedral (St. Eunan’s) is very impressive outside. Wish we could have gotten in. Letterkenny bustles with traffic and people. We passed three bookmaker establishments on our walk and at least 6 pubs. It was windy & cold: I had on a knit top, sweater, polartec jacket and a goretex jacket. Darkness doesn’t come until 11 p.m.
Awoke at 6:15 to bright sunshine and were very excited. By 7 the sky was filled with gray clouds, by 7:30 it was pouring, by 8:30 the sun shone again. Visited St. Eunan’s which was disappointingly plain on the inside compared with its ornate exterior. Took the scenic drive to Fanad Head, not as beautiful as the Inishowen Peninsula. However the view down to Warden Beach and farmland was lovely from Knockalla Mt. Continued along Mulroy Bay, a pretty area, then onto the Atlantic Drive around the Rossguill Peninsula. It’s a holiday area loaded with RV parks. We didn’t go all the way to the end. Large lovely beaches must be the attraction to vacationers because there isn’t anything else.
In Dunfanaghy horseback riding along Sheep Haven Bay looked inviting. This too is a vacation area with nice beaches and holiday homes. Golf courses are popular on both of these peninsulas. Horn Head is a high cliff where we sat on a stone wall and snacked before finishing the circular drive. We had bypassed Arts Forest Park to visit Glenveagh National Park. Miles of stark hills lead to it. After an introductory film visitors ride small buses to Glenveagh Castle and Gardens, refurbished by American Millionaire Henry McIlhenny who gave it all to Ireland in 1988. Set beside a blue lake, the gray turreted building looks like a castle but is comparatively small and not furnished on a grand scale. On a 40 minute guided tour you learn about the interior and the people who inhabited it. Some of the garden sections are lovely, others nothing special. We could spend only 2 hours there and were ready to leave when the buildings closed. Following this we drove an hour on the “scenic road” between Churchill & Doochary. Grazing hills and farms filled the scene at first then the road narrowed and vegetation became sparse as did homes. Only one other car was visible. A wild landscape of mountains covered with green-brown growth. We thought we’d taken a wrong turn until finally we entered Doochary which we would have missed if we blinked. Several stores line “Main Street”, as does the bar that once belonged to my great-grandfather. We had a pint and chatted with the few men seated on stools in the dingy, unkempt place. A 13 year old boy tended bar! The Gweebarra River runs through the center of town and some people were fishing in it. All signs in Doochary are in Gaelic only and the men were conversing in it in the pub. We headed north to Fintown through more inhospitable landscape. Cows blocked the road at one point. Attractively situated along the Finn River, the village’s one main street sports a few businesses. We examined the grave stones in the parish church cemetery and found McGeehans and a few Boyles. Arrived in Glenties at 8:30 and got a room at --- B&B, a sparkling new home with a proprietor bursting with energy. On her suggestion we had dinner at the hotel where we met an older couple who had made fifteen trips to the states and had several relatives in the Phila. Area. The afternoon wasn’t bad, giving us clouds and sun.
Awoke to pouring rain, cool and windy. Stopped at a woolen mill shop in Ardarra where an artisan fashioned jewelry (bought Celtic crosses). Attended mass then drove through Glengash Pass; green hillsides with grazing sheep. Without the rain it would have been beautiful. Toured the Fold Village and Museum at Glencolumbkille where we toured three thatched houses typical of the region at 1700, 1850 and 1900. Their sparseness and small size struck me. In the middle one eight children slept in two small beds in the bedroom, with a cradle for the baby. An afternoon pick-me-up of tea and scones refreshed us before continuing to Malin Beg for a look at the gorgeous Silver Strand far below. This is a crescent beach surrounded on three sides by very high green cliffs, one with a small waterfall. The sun started to peak out bringing life to the seascape. A few people actually were in swimming while others played soccer on the beach. This area mixes farms with holiday houses. Trying to find Slieve League we missed a turn (no signs visible traveling south, just north) and ended up in Kilcar, a noisy town overflowing with young people. Retracing our steps we saw the turn and took the narrow road to Europe’s highest sea cliffs (606 meters). The last few km. Provide a white knuckle trip driving on the outside of the hairpin turns from which you roll off into the Atlantic Ocean. Varied colors in the cliffs are revealed in sunlight, of which there were only a few minutes. As everywhere else we saw, sheep graze on the rich green land. Al hiked to the top of the Slieve Mts. And rain brought him down shortly. Next stop was Killybegs, a fishing village on Donegal Bay. Commercial boats of large and enormous size filled the harbor. We walked the main street then ate a trout dinner at a harborside restaurant. Several brilliant rainbows decorated the sky and more appeared as we drove the coast road to Donegal town. Although we planned to detour to St. John’s Pt., rain canceled that. In Donegal we hit our first traffic jam. It is by far the liveliest and largest town we’ve been in here. As it was getting late, we drove to Sligo and got a room at Saru, a vegetarian B&B recommended by our hostess in Glenties. Drove through holidays towns and past some mountains of soft green in the late day sun, still shining by 9 p.m. Maureen, the proprietress, served us cake & tea and we enjoyed an hour’s chat with her. The guest lounge walls are dark violet blue, contrasting with white drapes and woodwork. Our bedroom was three shades of blue painted in gentle waves.
Large bleeding heart bushes grew along the roads in Co. Donegal where there were far more sheep than people. All roads are bumpy and there are no shoulders to pull off on. You must back up or pull into bushes on the side to allow an oncoming car to pass. Stone walls mark off the fields. Sheep and cows graze along the side and walk on the road. Sheep are marked with splashes of color (red, blue, green or lavender). Many farm vehicles use the roads causing traffic to back up and go very slowly behind them. There were quite a few caravans (RVs) on the roads but most are smaller than in the States. Three-fourths of the homes are new construction, which surprised us.
Bright sun, few clouds at 7 a.m., many clouds at 8, rain at 8:30. It was a pleasant break not to have an Irish breakfast. Homemade bread and the potato pancakes were yummy. Maureen kissed us good-bye; she is a warm, peaceful person. She sent us to the nearby Holy Well. Running water adds to the restful feeling in this wooded setting with an altar and two religious grottoes adorned with flowers. An ancient Celtic altar stone were clandestine masses were said dates back to the repression years.
Co. Sligo is not picturesque and is much more built up than Co. Donegal. Cows are more abundant and sheep fewer. We walked the center of Westport, a colorful town in a valley against a backdrop of mountains. Hotels and B&Bs were awash with flowers and shops and restaurants sport every color imaginable. Most pubs in Ireland are colorful and well kept. Westport was overrun with people and the entire center of town posed a huge traffic jam. We took an out-of-the-way detour through the countryside to avoid driving back through town. Co. Mayo is rolling countryside with hills and sheep.
Detoured on a winding narrow road alongside mountains and a river through Delphi and alongside Lough Doo. Whitecaps covered the lake and waves hit the pebble beaches although it is not connected with the ocean. Sheep walk along the road and lay right at the edge nibbling or resting. A beautiful area but I couldn’t get photos because large clouds cast too much shadow causing the mountains to appear black. Made a brief stop at Kylemore Abbey. Visitors can see only a few rooms so we didn’t go inside. An impressive former mansion of an M.P. now an international boarding school of the Benedictine sisters. The roads around here have lots of vehicles.
Drove the Sky Road for overviews of water and farms where a friendly donkey walked over to be petted. Also a castle ruin is visible on the way back. Walked Clifden’s centre till 6. Like Westport, the buildings are brightly painted, there are mostly restaurants, craft and souvenir shops and lots of tourists and traffic. Drove through Connemara to Galway. Distant mountains lakes and farmland fill the eye. Very pretty but not as dramatic as Co. Donegal. In the harbor near Galway, some old wooden sailboats carried a dozen blocks of concrete for ballast! Galway City is extremely traffic congested. Two B&Bs had no vacancies but one called a friend who had a tiny twin bed without bath. The proprietress’ husband works in Boston. All the Irish we spoke with are disgusted with the bad weather they’ve had this year. They haven’t had a good summer since ‘95.
Some petrol stations are pumps on the sidewalk of a regular street and customers park at the curb and knock on the door for an attendant. In Donegal, towns and villages every fourth shop is a pub. Less frequent in other counties but still very prevalent.
Heavy clouds, temperature 55. Walked around Galway, a bustling city. Strolled along the River Corrib to the cathedral. Shops and restaurants are painted in bright colors here too.
Pretty countryside to The Burren; stone walls, no sheep. Lots of bikers since we left Donegal. Flowers not seen in our travels so far grow along the Burren Way. We looked for a hiking trail to see the unique variety of vegetation (arctic to tropical) but never found one. The coast road was pleasant. Lunched among masses of flowers interspersed with limestone, then climbed up two levels where some additional varieties of blossoms lived, followed by a walk to the sea.
The Cliffs of Moher were impressive and would have been much more so on a sunny day. Thousands of birds rested on the rocky ledges, including hundreds of adorable puffins. Fierce wind shook the camera when I tried to photograph. At one point we both backed up against a wall till a gust subsided somewhat. People were laying on the edge of the cliff with their feet hanging over 1200 feet above the sea! It gave me heart palpitations looking at them. The path to the left from the parking lot is blocked by a stone wall but lots of people walked it anyway. Many more walked to the right to O’Brien’s Tower for a view across an inlet to the Cliffs. A few musicians entertained for donations. Eight tour busses plus several hundred cars filled the parking lot.
Many buildings and homes in Co. Clare flew the blue and yellow flag of the county. Several periods of rain today, five minutes of sun. Cows in the pastures here, no sheep.
Walked around Adare Manor Hotel’s pretty grounds. A lovely flower garden is only in front. Strolled the village of Adare, very small with a pleasant park with benches.
Reached Kilarney at 8 p.m. and finally got a room at the 8th B&B. One we stopped at made several calls till she found one with a vacancy. Dined Chinese then walked the streets of Killarney which were jumping. Live Irish music from numerous pubs joined street musicians entertaining. Many shops stayed open till 11 p.m. and town centre streets were filled with people. A fun place.
A majority of homes have some form of lace curtains on the windows.
Ireland is much more expensive than home. In B&B’s we paid 30-37 pounds ($42-52). Gas was especially high at $3.40/gallon. Clothing and restaurants also, with the cheapest meal being over $11.
Sunshine peaking through the clouds when we awoke. Chatted with a couple from Florida who said we’ll love it there. Had to hang around in Killarney till 10 to change money and by the time we left for the Ring of Kerry the sky was filled with clouds. Tons of tour busses were on the Ring which winds through villages and farmland with distant views of mountains and at intervals, water. Pretty picture down to Kells Bay with beach and boats anchored in the cove. Every existent shade of green exists here. Cahersiveen is a decent size village with colorful buildings where you can have a meal or pick up supplies. Cows & sheep graze. We detoured to Valentia Island and drove the Ring of Valentia which was nothing but farmland. You could walk to Bray Tower and a slate quarry ruins. Valentia isn’t worth the time it takes. In Waterville a grassy park with flowers offers a pleasant spot along the water to rest or picnic.
Toured Michael O’Connell’s House, Derrynane National Park. He founded the liberation movement of the early 19th C. An A-V presentation provides information on his life and place in Irish history. As an M.P. he could not live in this mansion much of the year. A nature trail and walking paths go through the grounds.
Several beaches and campgrounds as well as hotels and B&Bs. The views on the lower half of the peninsula are lovely (if sunny!) across green valleys studded with gray rock to blue was and distant outlines of peaks in the haze. Many bikers on the road. Ring of Kerry signs take cars along the coast for the second half of the peninsula but maps indicate an interior road as the scenic route. To reach the road to the Gap of Dunloe you must take the interior road. All roads are bumpy, curvy and narrow with not enough areas to pull off and look or photograph. The scene from Ladies View looks along the lakes in the valley between mountains lining both sides. The road between Kenmare and Killarney is the best segment of the Ring. Getting through Killarney took forever because of extremely heavy traffic. Sidewalks overflowed with people. It remained heavily overcast all day.
Reached Portlaoise (“Portleash”) by 8:30 but drove back and forth around it then through it looking for the listed B&Bs. When we found two, they were full but recommended Maureen Lynch’s, a nice room in a new townhouse. By the time we got out for dinner everything was closed so we nibbled fried chicken in a teen hangout.
Bright sun and blue sky greeted us on our last day in Ireland. The hostess sat at the table with us to chat during breakfast. Her sunroom was a cheerful place. On the way to Dublin we visited the Japanese Gardens & Irish National Stud (a combined entrance fee of 5 pounds). By the time we reached them the sky was full of clouds. The Gardens represent the path of life and visitors walk on stones in running water, climb up and down stone steps and over bridges as life stages change. A very peaceful and symbolic place. A short video at the Stud showed the birth of a foal. At the small museum a thoroughbred’s skeleton, instructive displays and memorabilia are informative. During a 40 minute guided tour we saw the areas where various phases in the stud process occur, watched the harness maker hand sew leather leads, visited the large individual stables where the stallions are housed then walked among the pastures to see the handsome creatures. Stallions each have their own double-fenced pasture. There is a teaser stallion to check the mares to see if they’re ready to mate, a mating board where mare and stallion stand on opposite sides to test the mare and a honeymoon suite where the mare is “covered”, foaling stables and a padded, heated ICU for newborn foals. An interesting stop.
Munched on peanut butter and crackers and mixed glasses of instant ice tea in the airport while waiting for the plane.