I enjoy a lot of different types of travel. I love wandering around ancient European cities by metro, sampling the local food, camping in a national park, sampling small town inn’s and charming local villages, and working my way from historical battlefield to ancient distillery and back. And I love road trips. Whether a day, a week or near a month, I have taken road trips within Canada, across North American and in parts of Europe. There is something so freeing about getting to pick the next stop, take the next turn, and go where you please to sites not as easily accessible by those who prefer to stay to the cities and tour bus routes. This past summer we had the joy of visiting Ireland for the first time. My cousin Tyson and his beautiful bride Elmarie were set to get married in her hometown of Cork. And so we seized the opportunity to celebrate their wedding with the vast majority of my mom’s side of the family. We, of course, also made sure to set aside a few days to see some of her home country, and this was best accomplished by car.
I had arrived in Dublin a week before Ray, and went on a tour up to Belfast, across to Amsterdam, and back to Dublin by myself, before he came to join me. After a couple days and a couple pints in Dublin, we were ready to hit the road. We started by heading to Kilkenny National Park, and ended at Aghadoe Heights Hotel for the night (I’ll write about this later). The following day, we woke up, ready for 12 hours of the green Irish countryside. I have very few goals. I wanted to see some sheep, I wanted to see the Ocean, and I wanted to take a lot of photos. These goals were very easily accomplished.
Step 1: Aghadoe Heights Hotel to Inch Beach
We got up bright and early to enjoy the breakfast included in our hotel. Because Aghadoe is a classy establishment, breakfast was provided from a menu, made fresh and brought to the table, with second and third options available as well. It was delicious, and light and the perfect way to start the day. We got in our car and prepared for the journey west, towards the Dingle Peninsula. There are no lack of beautiful drives available. We debated between Mizen Head and the Ring of Kerry – but since we only had time for one coastal drive we decided to go with the Dingle Peninsula (don’t worry Ireland – we will be back – lots more to see still!) Driving on the left side of the road (and right side of the car) was something to get use to. Ray handled it like a champ, but I had to remind him at every roundabout to make sure he went clockwise. The roads in Ireland (especially once you get into the smaller towns) are narrow, with little to no shoulder. So as the passenger I was convinced, quite regularly, that I was going to be smashed into the neighbouring wall or hedge that was 6″ outside my window. I’m guessing that is something one gets used to?
Our first destination was Inch beach. It was a cool windy slightly overcast day with periods of both sun and rain. So basically like every day in Ireland ever. I think this description is the only description for Irish weather. And please note, that is NOT a complaint. I don’t fare well in hot weather, I love the rain, and moody grey clouds are a photographers dream (perfect lighting from invisible sunrise to invisible sunset). On a warmer day, I could imagine a sandcastle or two walking along the shores. The wind blows almost rhythmically here, and the sand changes colour with the light as clouds blow overhead. I wanted to stay longer, but there was so much to see, and we had a goal of getting to Cork in time for family dinner.
Step 2: Inch Beach to Dunbeg Fort and Prehistoric Beehive Huts
We headed from Inch Beach towards the town of Dingle, in order to connect to Slea Head Drive. This is a 47 km circular (one way, clockwise) drive, starting and ending in the town of Dingle. We drove straight through Dingle, and headed to our first stop of on the drive – Dunbeg fort. The Dunbeg fort dates back to near 500 BC, though much of it has fallen into the sea due to erosion (ocean, rain, and seaside buildings don’t always turn out well). A kilometre down the road is the beehive huts – build a little further back from the cliff. The beehive huts, also known as Clochán, as some of the most spectacular in Ireland (so the advertising and wikipedia tell us). The sign claims they are from 2000 BC, but my research tells me they date to the 12th century. Regardless, they are old, impressive, and built with just the power of Physics on their side.
Step 3: Prehistoric Beehive Huts to Coumeenoole Beach
As you turn the bend to the North you start your approach to Coumeenoole Beach. This was, by far, my favourite place in the whole of Ireland. Before you reach the beach you will reach a series of beautiful viewpoints, just south of the beach itself, as well as the Cross at Slea Head Monument. But the true majesty of the beach is experienced while you are right next to it, or even standing on the beach itself.
The parking lot for the beach is just on the North side of it, on the top of the hill. Every walk to every site on Slea Head Drive requires walking up or down hill of some sort. There was a large hill headed up out of the parking lot which led Ray on a short “hiking”expedition to the top while I embraced the wind and took an obscene number of photos. Those with little scooters and bikes were able to take their path down to the bottom, but I decided to wait for Ray to return before I began my hike down to the sand. The teal of the water, yellow of the sand and green of the surrounding hills were only magnified by the moody skies surrounding us.
Step 4: Coumeenoole Beach to Dunquin Harbour
Time for lunch! We drove from Coumeenoole to a little place called Dunquin Pottery and Cafe, across from Dunquin Harbour. They have amazing soup and pie to enjoy – the perfect warm eats for the cool windy weather outside. Also, the green fields and farms in every direction bring a sense of peace and calm.
Step 5: Dunquin Harbour to Clogger Head
After lunch we continued our clockwise loop. We were headed towards a pottery place (Louis Mulcahy – known for it’s beautiful pottery), when we saw a beautiful viewpoint at Clogger Head. There was another mini-hill needing to be “hiked” (Ceann Sreatha) and so off again went Ray, leaving me with the wind, the rain, the car keys and another terrific viewpoint. In my exploration of this viewpoint I learned that Clogger Strand and the cliff openings below were part of the shooting locations for Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. The Dingle Peninsula was the home to Luke’s island from the film. Much of the scenes were show on Skellig Michel – a little mini island off the coast (we didn’t have time to get there) covered in puffins, but given that it is a UNESCO world heritage site they were only allotted 2 days of filming there, and the rest was done elsewhere on Dingle. I’m not going to stay I remember exactly what the sign said about which part of the film was filmed at this exact location, but I’m sure some Star Wars fan in the audience knows the answer.
Step 5: Clogger Head to Gallarus Oratory
Gallarus Oratory is an ancient stone church. While the date of construction isn’t clear, there is an estimation that it’s near the 12th century. For much of the old buildings, there lacks records or clear historical documentation as to the when, how and why. They just know “old” and therefore work to preserve it. I probably stood here a solid 10 minutes waiting for other tourists who kept cutting in front to get a selfie in the doorway. I just wanted one pictures with the illusion that the site was empty. Illusion accomplished.
Step 6: Gallarus Oratory to Dingle
The Oratory was the last of our sites on Slea Head Drive. It was time to look back to the town of Dingle. Dingle is full of fishing boats and bright coloured shops and houses, which I loved. There was still a lot of van there full of tour groups preferring not to drive it alone. I’m sure by night, when the town quiets down, it is twice is adorable. But even with the masses, it’s a pretty fantastic little place to be. We wandered through, grabbed a snack and a magnet, and tried to wait out the traffic to capture the full rainbow of Main Street.
Step 6: Dingle to Cork
Our loop was complete and time had run out. We had plans to enjoy dinner with my family in Cork. The wedding was the next day, and we only have 2 nights in Cork. It’s rare that my whole family are in the same place at the same time. Last time we had traveled together was in 2010, when we spent Christmas in the Bahamas. My parents and brother had a few more days together, but Ray and I had less, as Ray was off to Peru 4 days after the wedding (yup – Ireland to home to Peru, back to back to back). Without a time constraint I would have spent 5 or 6 days working my way up (or down) the coast, cataloguing beaches and view points picture by picture. Maybe next time.