Ireland's West Country: Part 2

Vacation on the west coast of Ireland

From Ashford, we drove south from County Mayo into County Clare, hugging the coast and tricking our GPS into letting us take the less direct coastal roads whenever possible.   

I had long wanted to see the Cliffs of Moher and explore The Burren.  I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, but the pictures I’d seen and the romantic sounding names made me want to explore…. This is the area where in 1651 Cromwell’s General, Edmund Ludlow, stated that ‘there is not enough water to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, nor earth enough to bury him… and yet their cattle are very fat, for the grass growing in tufts of earth, of two or three foot square, that lie between the rocks, which are of limestone, is very sweet and nourishing…’  

Too rocky and wild to farm, and difficult to travel through, this area supports many rare Irish plants and animals.  The rock formations, the sloping hills, the stark cliffs dropping in to the sea; it’s a beautiful region.

The Cliffs of Moher and any of the western cliffs do not disappoint.  The Atlantic lashes with a fury against Ireland’s stone, the wind and sea rub and tear at it making beautiful patterns, coves and sea caves. It’s a magical place where sea birds fly below you and you gulp as you are overpowered by the size of the cliffs, and the movement of wind and waves.

Puffins, gulls and other seabirds nest on these cliffs. There are miles and miles to explore, small lanes and lonely lighthouses bring you to the edge. There are no fences, no ‘safe viewing area,’ just amazing vistas and beautiful scenery, so take care! It’s easy to look down on a crashing wave and feel the spray, to see the birds and want just one more photo – but that wave may be 30 feet high, it only looks safe as it’s so far below, and it’s very disorienting to realize the birds’ aerial displays are below you, and not up above you as you generally would expect!

In County Clare I stayed at a lovely newer golf resort, The Lodge at Doonbeg, built by the people who own Kiawah Island in South Carolina. There was a lot of concern when a US golf resort wanted to build a links course and a resort on a beautiful stretch of beach here, but they’ve done an excellent job. I believe even the local surfers are happy with it! Built like a small village with a cobblestone courtyard and peat fires burning in the fireplaces, it’s charming. Luxury hotel rooms, studios with sleek kitchens and 1- and 2-bedroom condos – this is a lovely break in a week of touring.  Spread out, do some laundry in your unit, explore the beach and the nearby wild cliffs, the small and simple local towns, and a little undiscovered corner of Ireland.

Then on to Cork, the town that butter built! I had always heard good things about this area, and was not disappointed. We stayed in a charming hotel, Hayfield Manor.  The family that owns it all work here, or at another small hotel they own in Killarney. Nice grounds, really lovely spa, and a great staff. In addition to some amazing trees, the garden boasts an aviary, bunnies, and a lovely glassed in restaurant. 

Across the street is the University, which also has lovely buildings and gardens to explore.  Everyone I met in Cork had a sense of humor, and was very fond of their city, so it’s a marvelous Irish experience.  

The coastal towns of Kinsale and Cobh are nearby and worth visiting.  Cobh was the last stop of the Titanic before sailing to America. The ship and rail office has been redone and houses an interesting museum about the Titanic, Emigration to Australia and to North America, and steamships.  It’s a pretty town with rich church steeples and merchants’ homes – mostly fortunes made in butter commerce!

Driving in Ireland can be a challenge. Roads are narrow and many are hedge lined so scrapes to the car’s paint are common, as are flat tires from hitting the stone edges.   I would strongly suggest you take full coverage on the rental car, understand and use a GPS as the country roads are not always well marked, and don’t drive when you are tired or have had a Guinness!  They are a challenge, but I am looking forward to my next Irish vacation when I will be able to explore a bit more of this lovely and accessible country!

Contact Heidi Hoehn to plan your custom trip to Ireland.