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Currently the world’s number one in the Quality-of-life index, we show you some of the things that have always made Ireland a spellbinding place, on a five-day road trip around the west and north.
WORDS by Luc ciOtkOWSki
ure, I haven’t the time to clean me arse” a man said to , me when I asked him if he was in a hurry, while I was working in a bar in Ireland a few years ago. You might not use exactly the same expression, but you’ll be thinking something to the same effect if you try to see all that Ireland has to offer in one trip. Ireland is one sixth the size of Spain. It’s smaller than Castile and León or Andalusia, but unless you have a couple of months to spare, it’s best to choose Derry your route realistically Donegal and concede
that at the end of your trip you’ll be wishing you had more time to spend in the places you’ve visited. Ignoring Dublin, and Belfast and the southern half of the island, we’ve decided to take you on a road trip from the west, going northwards up the coast and eastwards across the top of the Emerald Isle. There’s a lot of driving on our chosen route, but we’ve carefully picked out the highlights based on a five-day trip.
Sligo Westport Clifden Galway
Due west and a threeand-a-quarter-hours drive from Dublin, our first stop is the Belfast capital of the Gaelic West, Galway. Galway This is where the natives told me you Newgrange can find the best pint of Guinness outside Dublin, as The Black Dublin Stuff is said to lose its quality the more it’s shaken, and the direct Dublin-Galway rail route keeps jiggling to a minimum. Whether stout is your drink or not, you’ll love the pubs and going-out scene in Galway. Lots of pubs have kept
a Gothic feel and are charming outside and in, not that looks are necessary to add atmosphere to a place with a bouncing, youthful vibe. The city’s two colleges ensure a constant rejuvenation, although its reputation as the cultural capital of Ireland gives it a far wider appeal to people other than students. From spring to late summer, it always seems that there’s some festival going on. During the months of July and August, Galway fills up with young Spaniards trying to immerse themselves in English. Ironically, most of their practice comes with Italians, Swiss and Koreans who have all had the same idea.
You will want to stay longer, especially when your effortlessly acquired hangover kicks in, but now it’s time to go into the wild and begin the real road trip. Moving westward into Connemara, the landscapes can change quite dramatically. From the lush banks of Lough Corrib to the harsh, rocky land with tough grasses, where I thought I’d landed on the fictional Craggy Island from the TV comedy series Father Ted, you can feel the remoteness of the region and a kind of beauty that is different from what you find elsewhere. This isolation from the rest of the country explains why it has the biggest
we enter County Sligo Gaeltacht, Irish Gaelicand head straight for speaking area, in Ireland. Sligo Town. As well as Oughterard, a fishing giving us a base to visit village on Lough Corrib, is seaside resorts like Stranworth a short stop, but the Connemara dhill and the impressive must-see in Connemara Lough Gill (home to W.B. Yeats’ is the stunning Kylemore Abbey, famous island of Innisfree), Sligo the site where Belgian nuns fleeis a great place for a night-out, ing from World War I founded and at the top if you want to see a Benedictine nunnery. The two live traditional music. One of the mountain ranges that contrast the best pubs is Sheila na Gig, loughs of Connemara are Maam owned by the well-known Turks and The Twelve Bens. You band, Dervish, but there are will pass the foot of the latter on plenty of other good venues the main road northbound after Our journey turns to drink and listen to music. the area’s biggest town, Clifden. eastward and we The French singer, Michel Sardou, Dervish pass Donegal’s bigEver northward into County has immortalised the region for gest town, Letterkenny, before Donegal and westward beyond generations of French people with crossing the border and Derry Donegal Town, we come to the his song, Les lacs du Connemara, (or Londonderry), the only city old fishing port of Killybegs, which has attained epic status. in northwestern Ireland, and to rest in the bay and prepare The lyrics to the song are almost continuing beyond Coleraine. The ourselves for what comes next: as well-known in France as those route across the top of Northern the highest sea cliff in Europe. of the national anthem and you Ireland takes us to the seaside The Slieve League is probably shouldn’t be surprised if you hear resort of Portrush, and this is our not the best place for you if you it pumping out as the last big base to explore the nearby suffer from vertigo, even the road song of the night in clubs from distillery in Bushmills. going up from Teelin can be a bit Paris to Bordeaux to Marseille. The Old Bushmills scary. It’s always windy, but if it Distillery is the oldest is too much so, or there is heavy Northwards again towards Mayo licensed distillery in the fog, you may have to miss out and taking the coastal road past world, with its 400-year on seeing the summit. However, Louisburgh, we come across Bushmills anniversary of being if the weather permits and you Ireland’s holy mountain of Croagh licensed this year, although there can stomach it, the 600-metre Patrick. The mountain already are claims that whiskey was being precipice provides breathtaking had religious importance before made there 400 years before that. views as the waves crash and Christianity arrived in Ireland, but Just three kilometres north is the froth silently at the bottom of the it was at this site, in Giant’s Causeway; a UNESCO cliff, which, encrusted with amber the fifth century, that World Heritage Site and regularly deposits, seems to glow yellow, Saint Patrick reputedly number one in lists of orange and red in the light. completed a 40-day Glenveagh must-see attractions in I don’t know it’s true, but fast, while building a National Park Ireland. The unnaturalpeople say that on a clear church at the same Croagh Patrick looking rock formation day, you can see one third time and finishing up was explained by the of the island from the top. by banishing all the snakes and legend of the Irish warWe go north for the last serpents of Ireland. When it was rior-giant, Finn McCool time in the Republic discovered that snakes had been (Fionn mac Cumhaill), and the of Ireland, passing Glenveagh extinct in Ireland since the last Ice Scottish giant, Benandonner. The National Park on the way, to Age, some interpreted that the Causeway had suposedly been Dunfanaghy. Here, you can visit legend referred to the symbolic built all the way from Ireland to the workhouse, restored as a hisuse of serpents by pagan druids Scotland, so Finn McCool could tory centre in remembrance of the at the time. Whatever truth lies fight the Scottish giant. Seeing Great Famine in the 19th century, behind the legend, Croagh Patrick that Benandonner was much and you can see the wild beauty of remains an important site of bigger than him, Finn McCool the cliffs at Horn Head. pilgrimage and draws around 25,000 pilgrims every year on the last Sunday of July (and you’re supposed to do it barefoot). Not far away is the attractive and relaxed town of Westport, in Clew Bay. This is a place with the kind of easy-going atmosphere I love about Ireland. It was in a pub near here a few years ago (not actually in Westport, granted) that I left a jacket wedged between a fruit machine and a wall and found it still there when I came back six months later (stinking of stale tobacco and beer, but still there). Cutting through County Mayo, past Castlebar and Charlestown,
got his wife to cover him with a blanket and pretended he was the baby-son of himself. When the Scottish giant saw the size of the ‘baby’ he fled back to Scotland , and ripped up the Causeway as he went, so Finn could not follow him. The reality is a less exciting story of volcanic eruptions that left thousands of interlocked basalt columns as lava cooled. I personally prefer to fantasise about the giants’ mythology, and the setting makes it easy to suspend belief. With the road trip coming to an end, our road back to Dublin goes south past Belfast and into the Republic again. If you can allow yourself one last detour, then make it Newgrange. The famous prehistoric site is a passage tomb that predates the Egyptian Pyramids and Stonehenge. This could be the last bit of magic on a trip filled with it. And that’s how we leave Ireland this time, with a quote as true now as when it was said in 1958, “God made the grass, Newgrange the air and the rain; the grass, the air and the rain made the Irish; and the Irish turned the grass, the air and the rain back into God”.
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