Unforgettable Hikes. Raw Traditional Culture. Epic Landscapes. Highlights from my June 2015 trip to Western Ireland.
1. The Doolin Cliff Walk at the Cliffs of Moher, Co. Clare
Any trip to Western Ireland should include a visit to County Clare’s spectacular Cliffs of Moher (aka, Cliffs of Insanity), traditionally observed only from the top of the visitor center, or the nearby town of Doolin.
Now there is a more intimate way to experience the cliffs— a way riddled with streams, wildflowers, migrating birds and the occasional donkey. Patrick Sweeney, local farmer/owner of the Doonagore Farmhouse B&B and creator of the trail, leads & narrates this adventurous trek.
Meeting at 10 am from Doolin’s O’Connors Pub (too early for a pint?), the walk extends from the flat level of town to the soaring heights of cliff’s highest peaks, concluding at the Cliffs of Moher Visitor Center. Get ready to experience uninhibited views of jagged cliff edges, rock formations, glimpse an ethereal wispy waterfall, and best of all, unparalleled access to views of the mighty Atlantic Ocean.
I went on this hike the morning after a red-eye flight from Boston and was so engaged that I forgot to be tired. http://www.doolincliffwalk.com/Experience.aspx
2. Falconry at Ashford Castle, County Mayo
Ashford Castle is set in the 12th cen. village of Cong on the shores of Lough Corrib. While there, we decided to sign up for an hour session in Falconry. The castle (also a 5 star hotel & restaurant) is vast and well maintained.
Waiting for our guide outside the green gate’s of the School of Falconry, I couldn’t decide whether our presence there was more akin to standing at the door of Mrs. Patmore’s kitchen or approaching Hagrid’s Hut with Hogwarts looming in the distance.
We were granted entry, met our hawk, Blasket, and toured the falconry.Afterward, we took off, hawk in arm through the blossoming grounds & gardens of the Castle and enjoyed a sojourn through the forest. Along the way Blasket ascended to nearby tree tops and returned with a graceful dive at our signal. On the whole, it is a very unique experience that’s magnified by the majesty of the surroundings. www.ashfordcastle.com
3. Traditional Music & Local Sean-Nos Singing & Dancing in Carna, Co. Galway
For an authentic cultural experience in West Ireland, head into Connemara. A region that is starkly and strikingly beautiful, where native Irish is still the spoken language of choice.
Residing there is a wealth of traditional Irish music preserved and passed down by generations.
Award winning flutist, Marcus Hernon, and his family present traditional music in an inviting, accessible way at the Carna Bay Hotel. Marcus engages listeners and often requests other musicians to join in. When the family plays one of their tunes the beauty and history of the music can be not only heard but felt. Needless to say, it is an experience that surpasses the touristy pub scene of a few hired musicians on sound systems churning out token Irish hits.
Sean-nos, meaning “old style” singing and dancing is alive and well there. Look out for local singers Máire Ní Mhaoilchíaráin and her cousin (descendants of great sean-nos singer Joe Heaney) and dancers such as Patrick Devane.
Catch these musicians at the annual Joe Heaney festival in Carna during the bank holiday in May 2016!
While at the Carna Bay Hotel try their decadent dinner (think peppercorn steak, fish chowder, fresh salmon & desserts such as honeycomb ice cream cake and rich chocolate cake).
4. Murphy’s Ice Cream in Dingle, Co. Kerry
The Dingle peninsula has sandy beaches, rolling hills and jagged mountains. The vibrant town of Dingle is filled with shops and restaurants like Out of the Blue – where fresh seafood from the morning catch meets artfully sophisticated flavors (I loved the Sea Bass w/ garlic butter & black olive tapenade).
Home to famous ancient dwellings, archeological sites and two of the most shocking and beautiful road passes in the country (Connor’s Pass & Slea Head Drive).
Gorgeous landscape and rich history aside, one of the best things we did in Dingle was visit Murphy’s Ice Cream. Local Sea Salt Vanilla Ice Cream mixed with a scoop of Silky Dark Chocolate…add a shot of espresso to the mix and it’s a match made in heaven, or in Dingle, which is basically the next best thing. Best enjoyed strolling down main glimpsing at colorful boats in the harbor and listening for distant notes of traditional music leaking from pub windows. Murphy’s also has two other locations: Dublin & Killarney*.
*Notable flavors are Dingle Sea Salt, Caramelised Brown Bread, Dingle Gin, Rainwater Raspberry Sorbet and Caramel Honeycomb.
5. Puff’s Honalee? Nope, Valentia Island, Co. Kerry
There’s a magical hike on Valentia Island that ends at the top of the world. At least that’s how it felt when I stumbled upon the Bray Head Loop Trail.
It all started with a drive along the breathtaking Ring of Kerry. We pulled over every few minutes for photos of the coast, mountainsides and of course the sheep (…along the road, in the road and distant specks vertically adhered to mountains).
We stopped for a bite to eat and somehow ended up on a little car ferry crossing the Portmagee channel heading to the Island. The trail starts at a car park & gently slopes upward. Before you know it you’re at the top. I’m not going to post any pictures from the top, as it is something to experience first hand. There are scenes of the Skellig Islands in the distance, wildflowers, lazy sheep and a quiet lull that can only be achieved when elevated by your own efforts, with cars as distant as your memory of them.
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