Carolyn Moore

Dublin City Councillor for Kimmage Rathmines

The Wild West, June/July 2015

Travel feature, Like magazine, June/July 2015. Click to enlarge. Read below.

The Wild West

 Mother nature has been crafting Ireland’s newest tourist attraction for hundreds of thousands of years, so this summer take a week to appreciate the Wild Atlantic Way. From breathtaking views to delectable food, we pick the must-sees and culinary highlights on this stunning 2,500km route.

Cork to Kerry

Take in your first vista with a visit to the Old Head of Kinsale and its picture perfect 17th-century lighthouse, before kicking off your culinary adventure in the gourmet haven of Kinsale, where you can’t but eat well. The route west will take you through Clonakilty and on to Rosscarbery, where the Celtic Ross Hotel is a great base for exploring West Cork, with Mizen Head – and the heart-stopping footbridge that connects the mainland to a rocky outcrop – and Bantry – with the adjacent Sheep’s Head peninsula  – easy yet spectacular drives. On the hotel’s Wild Atlantic Way food trail in July you can sample the best of the regions food offerings too (celticrosshotel.com).

Further west, don’t miss the chance to take Ireland’s only cable car across to Dursey Island, before driving into the kingdom of Kerry, home to the UNESCO World Heritage Site that is The Skelligs. These far-flung sandstone rocks are a sacred 1,300-year-old place of pilgrimage, with a monastery that lies 600ft above sea level. Worth a trip for the wildlife alone, no visit is complete without a visit to the Skelligs Chocolate Factory.

Looping back inland, the R561 will take you toward the town of Dingle, where you can continue around the famous Slea Head or go further west to the Blasket Islands – the farthest west you can go. Once home to Peig Sayers, the visitor centre at Dunquin gives a taste of the way things once were on the islands, and back on the mainland, the highly rated Gorman’s Clifftop House and Restaurant is raved about for its views and its food alike (gormans-clifftophouse.com).

Clare to Galway

Heading inland for Tarbert, the Kilrush Ferry takes you across the Shannon and into Clare. Take time to tour the remarkable Loop Head, with its panoramic cliff views and a lighthouse that’s served as beacon for seamen since 1670. Home to over 150 bottlenose dolphins, a trip on a Dolphinwatch boat from Carrigaholt is a must (dolphinwatch.ie). Forge onward to the truly breathtaking Cliffs of Moher – 8km of sheer cliff face watched over by the spectacular O’Brien’s Tower – before driving into the Burren, Ireland’s most ecologically diverse landscape and home to the 6,000 year old Poulnabrone Dolmen.

Treat yourself to a night in Stephen Spielberg’s favourite holiday haunt, Ballyvaughan, staying in Gregan’s Castle, from where you can explore the area with their in-house tour guide, see the Cliffs of Moher from the sea with an included boat trip, and enjoy the creative way their award winning restaurant uses the very best local ingredients (gregans.ie).

Follow the road around Galway Bay and another dramatic change in landscape greets as you enter the rugged beauty of Connemara. Stop at Rossaveel to take a ferry to the Aran islands, or carry on to the picturesque fishing village of Roundstone and stay in the luxurious and historic Ballynahinch Castle (ballynahinch-castle.com), part of the fabric of the area.

Outside Roundstone, on the Ballyconeely peninsula, a visit to the Connemara Smokehouse to sample their divine smoked tuna is a must for any foodie (smokehouse.ie), and as rocky blanket bog turns to lush greenery, the landscape is a constant surprise. Stop off at the haunting graveyard for the boys of Letterfrack Industrial School, where toys and fruit left by visitors will melt the hardest of hearts.

Head north to Killary harbour and see how one of Ireland’s three genuine glacial fjords has been transformed into a fish farming hub, overlooked by the domineering Mweelrea mountains. The rugged landscape lends itself to a sense of adventure and those seeking an adrenaline rush can indulge in bungee-jumping, kayaking or wakeboarding with the Killary Adventure Centre (killaryadventure.com).

Mayo to Donegal

Just beyond the town of Leenaun, the road turns up through the Doolough Pass, where you can pause for a moment at the weathered cross that memorialises the souls that perished here during the famine after officials, on a whim, forced starving people to walk 12 miles from Louisburgh to Delphi Lodge to seek aid. “How can men feel themselves honoured by the humiliation of their fellow beings?” the inscription asks, and it sets the tone for a visit to the tiny but informative famine museum in the pretty town of Louisburgh.

From there, head to Westport, start of the 42 km Great Western Greenway – the longest off-road walking and cycling trail in Ireland (greenway.ie). Utilising a now disused railway line, the trail runs to the Achill islands, where an eerie deserted village sits abandoned and 5,000-year-old megalithic tombs offer a glimpse into life and death in ancient Ireland.

Heading north, enjoy a genuine Wild Atlantic experience at Kilala bay, where guide Denis Quinn will take you foraging for edible seaweed, oysters, muscles and clams (wildatlanticculturaltours.com), but if bathing in seaweed is more your thing, book into the stunning Ice House Hotel, whose Wild Atlantic Way package includes a 60 minute VOYA seaweed treatment to help you relax after your exertions (icehousehotel.ie).

Passing through Sligo, in the footsteps of Yeats, the headland at Mullaghmore offers incredible views of Ben Bulben mountain and unparalleled surfing conditions. With waves up to 100ft crashing off the coast, it attracts some of the world’s best surfers, but beginners can test the waters with one of the area’s numerous surfing schools. Outside Sligo town another unique experience awaits at Coopershill House, where guests can enjoy the grandeur of the estate in the company of a hawk and an instructor who’ll show you how to ‘cast’ and recall the magnificent bird as you walk (coopershill.com).

Continue to Donegal, for some of the highest accessible sea cliffs in Europe, the second most beautiful beach in the world – Ballymastocker Bay – and a chance to catch a glimpse of the famous Northern Lights at Ireland’s most northerly point, Malin Head. Beyond Killybegs, the Sliabh Liag range yields one of the finest views of the whole route, with walking trails that are a dream for hikers and hillwalkers. Book into the fabulous Lough Eske Castle hotel (solishotels.com/lougheskecastle), where they’ll pack you a hearty gourmet lunch in a rucksack with maps, rain macs and walking sticks so you can catch that last view and wrap up your Wild Atlantic adventure in style.

For more on the Wild Atlantic Way see wildatlanticway.com.