Proper pubs, County Donegal
I was fortunate to spend a few days in the seaside village of Portnoo, which made a great jumping-off point for exploring the multitude of white sand beaches – many of which wouldn’t have looked out of place in southern Italy. Dooey beach was a particular highlight and, other than a few surfers, was all but empty during my visit. The challenging but rewarding Wild Atlantic Way stretches along the coast and can be tackled in short stages. Proper pubs are abundant but Nancy’s in Ardara had the combination of excellent beers, food and craic.
Aromas of the Burren, County Clare
Edged by the dramatic Cliffs of Moher, the lunar-like landscape of the Burren is a very special place. Wonderful hikes through this karst landscape in late spring offer the chance to see a unique variety of exquisite alpine flowers and orchids, wild goats and beautiful butterflies. Fascinating ancient burial sites abound. The Burren Perfumery is a gorgeous stop, with perfumes and candles inspired by the landscape and a lovely rose-covered tearoom and garden serving delicious organic food. Traveling through this 138 square miles is seeing Ireland at its loveliest and wildest.
Luminous lappings, County Cork
Ireland is often described as magical … but on a night-time kayak trip with Atlantic Sea Kayaking on Castlehaven inlet (€75 trips from Lough Hyne also available), extraordinary bioluminescence displays will make you rub your eyes in disbelief. Setting out in the evening silence, you might spot seals, ospreys or peregrine falcons, but the main draw is beneath you. Simply stirring the water gently creates a riot of lights: the sea is spangled with colors when the microscopic creatures are disturbed. If kayaking sounds like hard work, catch the ferry to Cape Clear island from Baltimore or Schull (€20, 45 mins), looking out for whales and dolphins. Once there, try a different kind of paddling: North Harbor’s sandy beach is always empty. The island is a Gaeltacht area so its 150 inhabitants speak both Irish and English.
Two-day cycle jaunt, Galway to Dublin
Last year we picked up hire bikes in Dublin and jumped on the train to Galway. We spent two nights in the beautiful town enjoying the amazing food, drinks, the coastline and, most importantly, the music scene. Every pub seemed to have a band playing every night. We then spent two days cycling coast to coast on quiet roads back to Dublin, stopping en route in Athlone, where we came across what is said to be the oldest pub in Ireland, Sean’s Bar. The second day saw us cycle along the Old Rail Trail Greenway and the Royal Canal Greenway from Athlone all the way to Dublin. The route was traffic-free with regular stops for coffee or Guinness.
Spits and gaps, County Kerry
Three places of particular beauty stand out from my trips to Ireland. First, Rossbeigh Strand, a sandspit with beaches on either side near the village of Glenbeigh in County Kerry. Opposite, across Dingle Bay, on an even larger sandspit, is Inch beach. There are amazing views from both of these beautiful beaches. Twenty miles inland from Glenbeigh is the Gap of Dunloe. It’s brilliant to walk into the Black valley through the Gap and stop off for an Irish coffee at Kate Kearney’s Cottage. It’s best to go in spring or autumn if you’re after a bit more solitude in which to enjoy the hills of MacGillycuddy’s Reeks, lakes and deserted old houses that dot the route.
Art of the mountain, County Donegal
Donegal offers some of the best walking holidays in Ireland. Errigal, at 751 meters and the tallest of the Seven Sisters range, is an excellent mountain hike with views of ocean and islands that reward all your efforts. It is on the edge of Glenveagh national park close to the Irish-speaking Gaeltacht of Gaoth Dobhair. When you make it back down, take the short trip to Glebe House, the former home of artist Derek Hill, now an art gallery with beautiful gardens and a perfect place for lunch.
Island vistas, County Mayo
The Great Western Greenway is a 27-mile off-road cycle and walking track on the route of a disused railway line that stretches from Westport to Achill Island, taking in Newport and Mulranny along the way. It’s a gorgeous route with views over the Atlantic out to the islands of Clew Bay. It’s mainly flat so even the not-so-fit can do it. There are bike hire companies in Westport and you can either cycle out from Westport and then be brought back in a van by the hire company (about €45 including bike hire), or do it the other way round – go out in the van to Achill Island and cycle back to Westport for dinner.
Yeats and the Gore-Booths, County Sligo
Quieten your beating heart at Rosses Point. As you look across the Atlantic and contemplate the remarkable sunset, this place feels like the end of the world. Sit by the beautiful statue of the woman with outstretched arms implying the safe return of her fisher husband from the seas (the Waiting on Shore monument). Explore WB Yeats’s poetic landscape and visit Lissadell, famous for being the home of Constance and Eva Gore-Booth, described by Yeats as “two girls in silk kimono, both beautiful, one a gazelle”. Constance was an artist who took part in the Easter Rising and was later the first woman to be elected to the House of Commons (a Sinn Féin MP so she never sat at Westminster on principle). Her younger sister, Eva – Yeats’s “gazelle” – was a peace campaigner, labor activist and suffragette.
Stunning views and sumptuous dishes, Howth
If you’re staying in Dublin and fancy a short break from city life, hop on the 31A bus from Talbot Street to the picturesque seaside town of Howth. On a sunny day you can take a stroll along the pier, take a dip in the sea at Balscadden Bay beach or hike up the Howth Cliff for inspiring coastal views. When you get peckish, there’s fine local produce at Howth Market, but if you want something a little more sophisticated try Mamó restaurant, which is listed in the Michelin guide, featuring locally sourced dishes such as wild halibut, grilled squid, mussels, fennel and bouillabaisse jus.
Winning tip: Hold on to your hats, County Kerry
We stumbled upon the 300-meter Aillte Chiarrai (Kerry Cliffs) by chance and the views across to Puffin Island and far out to Skellig Michael are spectacular. Prepare to be blown away, quite literally. We were greeted by an epic wall of wind that nearly sent us horizontally; we were laughing tears, and managed to enact a buddy system just as our 12-year-old began to levitate. A truly breathtaking discovery, though not for sophisticated hairdos.
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