Ireland - The 5 day, road map on your lap, tour.

Our thatched cottage in Knock near Galway Bay

We arrived at Belfast airport ten thirty on Sunday night, plugged the borrowed GPS into the Budget Vauxhall and an hour later we were completely lost south of Antrim waiting for our B & B host to come and collect us. That was the last time we used the GPS in Ireland.  We went back to the fold out, road map on the knee method, which worked perfectly and got us every where we wanted to be for the next five days. And amazingly for someone who usually reads maps upside down, Jo was very good at navigating.
For our first two nights we’d booked home-style B & B accommodation online. Our first night  was at ‘Keef Halla’ (, a quick five minute drive from The Belfast International Airport if you don’t use our GPS. Charles and Siobhan Kelly were our hosts. Our room was great, Jo loved the bath and the taste of real bacon and  the pot of Irish tea the next morning was memorable. From there we aimed for Galway and virtually meandered our way across country from one awesome rural scene to the next, our country side drive broken up by the occasional village excursion. Our tour took in a part of Fermanagh County between Monaghan and Kilconny. My Great-great-great-Grandfather, Bernard McDonough was born in this county and lived there until he caught the HMS Bounty to Australia in 1842, barely escaping the potato famine of 1846, but dying during the voyage.
Our first stop was in Cavan (An Cabhan). Their Under 20’s is in the Gaelic Football grand final this week and the town was celebrating. I took part in the celebration by buying a jersey to keep as a souvenir of being close to my ancestor’s country. The main street of the town ambled by with people and coffee shops that knew how to make a flat white for a good price, and retail clothing that was within our budget. For the first time in 2011 we were able to join in conversations with locals and know exactly what they were talking about. Hallelujah! We kept driving the by-ways via Longford (Amlongfort) enjoying the tractor interrupted flow to our destination and the scent of fresh manure that wafted through wound down windows. 
A late lunch found us at Athlone ( Baile Atha Luain) on the edge of Lough Ree. A still bustling village with a white elephant Hilton Hotel and two story shopping centre welded to the edge of it. Built during the economic boom this centre looks destined to become land fill in the not too distant future. But the old town will survive and hopefully thrive. Still the shopping centre was a great place to buy pressies.
We jumped on the N63 from there and hit Galway (Gaillimh) around peak hour. I had this vision of Galway from  the old Irish folk song ‘Galway Bay’ made famous by Bing Crosby, The Pogues and Dolores Keane of Celtic Woman fame (See song and film clip on In my mind it was this hillside fishing village. The beautiful harbour and bay are still present but alas the influx of the IT and pharmaceutical industries, universities and 60,000 new inhabitants over the last thirty years, and the recent arrival of the giant English retailers has changed the infrastructure and face of the song. Thankfully we were staying out of the city, on the southern edge of Galway Bay, at Knock, and my picture from the song was not shattered completely. Our 120 year old thatched cottage B & B, An Caladh Gearr (, was everything you would want from a thatched Irish cottage on the edge of Galway Bay. 

The cemetery at Knock

A Celtic cross

Contemplative study on the beach of Galway Bay

Jo and I threw our bags in our room, got the hiking boots on and spent the twilight hours exploring the stoney shores of the bay, including the cemetery and parts of the Connemara peat bog. And I swear I could hear Dolores Keane’s voice on the breeze blowing across from the Aran Islands. After dinner at the boat harbour at Barna, we joined Phillip and Maura (our gracious hosts) in front of their peat brick fire and shared stories. Things might be tough in Ireland but the people in this country never forget how to make visitors feel welcome and especially how to laugh at life.

Galway Harbour
Takin' it easy in Galway
After another sumptuous Irish breakfast and still another teapot of that amazing tea, Maura suggested we take a detour from our proposed route to Killarney and go via Kinwarra village and The Burren Mountains. The Burrens were a moonscape that eerily appeared out of the mist and dominated the landscape on both sides of the road. Bare of grass or foliage they sat silent in the wilderness, pocketing the stone-walled farms in a peacefulness that would rarely be broken. We parked our car at Carran and did an hours walk through one of the farm heritage trails just to get a closer look at what life might be like here. Our walk was enhanced by the warmth of what we have been told is really summer weather and the intricate lace of the stone-stacked fences that reached out beyond from where we walked to the shores of the North Atlantic Ocean. 

Kinwarra Castle

The Burrens

Lunch found us still in Clare County in the town of Ennis (Inis). An authentic village of crooked, medieval stone streets, that spoke out from a high ground square. The town is divided and separated by the walls and fast flow of the RIver Fergus. Ennis was alive with colour, movement, conversation and laughter, reflecting the sunshine from above. We found a cafe in a back alley that served excellent food and coffee and had the addition of a guitar playing busker who blessed us with a cool version of U2’s One. The busker, an import from Germany, who was called here by the music many years ago told us we had to see Kilkee and the Loop Head Peninsula. Another detour but by this stage we were impressed by other recommendations we had been given and made the decision to do the remainder of our holiday by following random people’s suggestions.

Kilkee sat on the edge of the large horseshoe shaped Moore Bay and beach (see live web cam where it intersects the road that runs from Loop Head to the Cliffs of Mohr. It was quiet and sleepy, the haziness broken only by the front end loader clearing the seaweed from the sand between young kids playing with Tonka toys and older boys playing touch rugby. We grabbed a local map and followed The Strand south, past Diamond Rocks, Knockroe Point and Intrinsic Bay. There was just a basic ungraded walking path along the edge of the cliffs with a sixty metre drop to the ocean. The contrast of the green cliff top to the rocky face down to the green-blue ocean, foaming into the base of the cliffs, I assumed to be fairly typical of this west coast wilderness area, if you could call it wilderness. But this unplanned discovery was stunning for us.

The cliffs of Kilkee

It was one of those Irish 'take it easy' days
It was after four by the time we got back from our walk so we scooted to catch the car ferry across the Shannon at Kilmer to make sure we got into a B & B at Killarney (Cill Airne). After three or four enquiries in Killarney we found a vacancy at Ashville House ( which was only a ten minute walk to the restaurants and entertainment. Our host Elma recommended we try The Danny Mann Pub and Restaurant for a taste of traditional Irish Fare and music. It’s kind of funny how other people’s recommendations can lead you to serendipitous experiences. That is if you believe in serendipity. I just like to know there is always a power at work outside of my human limitations.
Maleny, the town where Jo and I call home, is a small village of 6500 people nestled away in the Sunshine Coast hinterland in Queensland Australia. Although every one living there doesn’t personally know each other, you know who are locals and who aren’t and you generally see each other around. When we walked into The Danny Mann Pub 
( it was packed to the walls with diners and the music was pumping. Our greeter said that if we wanted to have a meal in the entertainment room we would need to wait at the bar for a few minutes until a table became available. So we headed over to the bar service area where out of the darkness of the balcony came a voice that said ‘This looks like some Maleny faces.’ And we turned to find Norm and Linda from good old Maleny. A bonus of that ‘chance’ meeting was they had two spare seats at their table with a great view of the guitarist/singer. I’d caught up with Norm before in Maleny having coffee at The Upfront Club but neither Jo nor I had met Linda. So we had a great night gathering news from the hills of home over dinner and music and shared new travel stories of Ireland so far. 
The pub’s entertainer that night was great. He’d played every festival and pub known to man in Ireland as well as doing the blues scene in Chicago and New Orleans. One part of his act featured him having a guitar and a banjo around his neck at the same time and playing both parts of the ‘Dueling Banjos‘ song from the ‘Deliverance‘ Movie 
( Now that is one opening sequence to a movie I will never forget. 
For breakfast at Ashville House, as a part of my indulgence in the big Irish breakfast thing, I had the addition of potato bread and black and white pudding. Now I don’t need to know what black and white pudding is made from but I have to admit the white pudding was a tasty addition.
Despite what some of the online travel sites told us, our host Declan assured us it wasn’t easier to go clockwise around the Ring of Kerry to avoid the bus tours. He told us if we headed off before the buses got on the road we would have an uninterrupted drive at a leisurely pace. And again, as it turned out, we were give sound, helpful advice. Doing the circuit we drove down to the bay at Kells and also stopped off at the usual vantage points and a town Declan recommended we see called Sneem. Sneem is a kind of cute tourist town on the southern side of the Iveragh Peninsula. What was also serendipitous about stopping her was that Jo and I got to eat our first real pies for nine months (Beef and Guiness and Jo Vegetarian) and wait for it...
Bundaberg Ginger Beer. How good was that? It was awesome, and a meal savored in quiet contemplation of what some civilised countries still lack. Now how did Declan know they would serve pies and Bundaberg Ginger Beer in Sneem? You tell me.
Along The Ring of Kerry

Good old BGB

To ensure we were back at Belfast by Wednesday morning we decided to do a straight through drive of the entire southern coast, only slowing to wave to Cork (Corcaigh) and Waterford (Port Lairge). After five hours we came to rest in Curracloe, a small seaside village on the south-east coast a few kilometres above Wexford (Loch Garman). In Curracloe we found  Robinhill B & B and met up with our new hosts Rob and Val. It was an early night after a long day of driving. The next morning we had a great chat with Val over breakfast and we would both have to say that she was typical of the amazing people we met on our journey throughout Ireland. Despite what Val told told us Jo and I found her to be beautiful on the outside as well as the inside and we hope that we meet up with her and Rob again some day.
The coast trip from Curracloe to Arklow (An Tinbhear Mor) is all picture postcard stuff. Green farmland trailing down to the oceans, black and white cows, black faced sheep (no, not Jodie and me), stonewall fences and thatched roof, whitewash cottages. It was difficult to keep driving through here.
Our fave thatch cottage north of Curracloe
We hit down town Dublin (Baile Atha Cliath) centre around noon, found a car park and chanced upon a cafe called The Food Gallery (sounds of old Maleny). It was an artist’s hang. Big comfy lounge chairs, ginormous coffees, fruit smoothies and the raspberry scones I can highly recommend. It was kinda layback soaking up the sun rays in a chilled out place over flowing with quality eats and creative types. during the time out we made a decision that it would be better to be closer to Belfast airport in the morning just in case the Goof Friday traffic is manic. To at least say we have seen something in Dublin we walked down to Grafton Street and did the touristy Temple Bar trip, listened to a violin quartet, sent some postcards (only some), stumbled upon an interesting creative centre called Exchange Dublin Collective Arts Centre (funded by the Dublin Arts Council), which got us thinking as usual, then we got out of town.
The Food Gallery - Dublin

The Artists Exchange
Dublin streetscape

Our last afternoon was spent walking along the beach at a place called Laytown. It made us appreciate the quality of the beaches we have at our beck and call on the Sunshine (when it’s not raining) Coast. One interesting feature in this area is that the locals actually drive their cars down onto the sand and park right beside the water’s edge. If any one can tell me why you would want to do that I’d be interested to know. From their we drove through the ancient city of Drogheda (Droghead Atha) then onto the Keef Halla B & B that we stayed in on our first night. The sunset over Antrim County eating pizza (Dominos of course) was a great way to see our Irish holiday out.
In the space of the four days we had covered eleven hundred miles and drove through seventeen counties. What were the highlights? All of it. What was the downside? Not having another two months and the where-with-all to see it all.
Ireland is a country that has been battered, bashed, invaded, raped and pillaged for fifteen hundred years by many different nations. The English still lay claim to the northern tip and if anyone can give me a good reason why that is so I would be personally interested to hear your opinion and see the evidence to support it. Despite this constant battering from the outside, and government incompetence on the inside, which has placed the current citizens of Ireland in a difficult and depressive financial position, Ireland remains as it has always been. A beautiful place full of very friendly, happy people. This experience gave Jo and I that home feeling on the inside as well as the outside. If you would like to have an equally amazing time and you have some spare cash, this is one country that would appreciate you spending your hard earned money there right now. The weather was perfect but that might just have been the big fella smiling down on us because he knows how much we needed to walk on familiar earth with people who know how to live simply.

The sunset over Antrim County

P.S. My added bonus was picking a a copy of the dvd 'Darby O'Gill and the Little People' at the the Belfast Airport. This movie I first saw at the Regent Theatre in Murwillumbah in 1960 and I happened to be telling Jo about it the day before. This was my first introduction to Irish folk lore and here it is fifty one years later. Serendipity? Yeah, pull the other one it's got bells on it.  

Darby O'Gill And The Little People


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