By Jennifer Mullen
You may not be guaranteed radiant weather on a trip to the West Coast of Ireland, but you can be sure that you will experience a genuine voyage of discovery, with scenery that changes round every corner and more shades of green that you ever knew existed. Welcome to the Emerald Isle, with chatty good natured locals, colossal cliffs, national parks, coastlines, mountains and if that wasn’t enough, some of the most hospitable pubs in the world! The sound track to Ireland is a rousing jig or an emotional ballad of fiddles, tin whistles, accordions and traditional bodhráns (hand held drums), with a harmony from the wind. So consult your Ireland tour guide on the main attractions and best kept secrets, pack an extra jumper and enjoy the “craic” - the quintessential way the Irish like to enjoy themselves.
There are so many parts of Ireland to enjoy, but taking in the West coast from Newport, County Mayo in the north, to Limerick in the south west should give you a couple of thousand photo opportunities. Much of the west’s landscape is carpeted in wild bog-land, which locals have been using as fuel for hundreds of years. You will come to associate this aroma with crackling log fires in restaurants, pubs and hotels, as you unwind after a day navigating the twisted lanes and undulating landscapes.
Starting at the harbour town of Newport, which is a small fishing community on the Bay of Clew, you can either drive or better still bike as you fill your lungs with some of the freshest air in Europe along the Great Western Greenway, which stretches for 42 kilometres. This former railway line is a popular fitness attraction, with an estimated 300 people walking or cycling the trail every day, in rain or shine.
Heading south it is not long until you reach the Connemara national park, whose most famous residents, the iconic Connemara ponies, are said to be descended from horses which swam ashore from the ill-fated Spanish Armada. As the sky changes, so do all the colours on the rocks, heaths and lakes. A Connemara Tour guide will certainly recommend visiting Kylemore castle, with its large walled Victorian gardens, whose pristine appearance is a stark contrast to the rugged landscape of the park itself. For some of the best views of the park, it is possible to hike to the top of Diamond Hill, which takes approximately three hours.
The soaring Twelve Bens mountain range is also a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts, with some of the most dedicated fell walkers managing all twelve peaks in one day! Movie buffs may also wish to stop off at the “Quiet Man Bridge”.
Galway city is a thriving, bohemian college town, famous for its races, festivals and thriving bar and restaurant culture in places such as Quay Street. You can catch an up and coming band, or just find a quiet spot to savour a pint of Guinness. The winding cobbled streets are extremely walker friendly and amongst the hustle bustle you can often hear Gaelic being spoken. Rainy day activities could include the cathedral or the Galway museum, or theaquarium, which is particularly good if you are traveling with children. When the sun comes out a Galway tour guide will point you in the direction of the Aran Islands in the mouth of Galway Bay, which are sometimes referred to as “the islands of saints and scholars”. Scattered with Celtic churches, forts from the iron and bronze ages, andpounded by the sea, you will really feel you have escaped to the edge of Europe, where the Irish charm and traditions remains strong.
Moving South of Galway another seaside village worth visiting is Doolin, which is said to be the music capital of Ireland. At nights the pubscome alive with the sound of Irish songs in “West Clare style”. Doolin is surrounded by the spectacular limestone panoramas of The Burren, which is an area of outstanding natural beauty. Many a visitor have compared the stark, rocky landscape to like being on the moon without the space travel, although this may be the Irish whiskey talking! Some of the most spectacular views in Ireland can be found at the Cliffs of Moher, whose highest point is an incredible 700 feet above sea level. The cliff’s vibrant birdlife includes the likes of puffins, guillemots and razorbills. Culture fans will be enchanted by the Caherconnell stone fort, or Corcomroe Abbey, which looks particularly dramatic against a grey, stormy sky.
One of the best historical experiences on the west coast is at Bunratty-Castle, on the road to Limerick. The castle is fun to explore both inside and out and never ones to say no to a party, the castle staff also organise a lively medieval banquet. King John’s castle in Limerick will also give you the chance to try on costumes and learn about the history of the area.
Limerick itself is famous for horse racing and its university; even if you are not a student, it is worth walking through the spacious university campus along the banks of the River Shannon. If you have read the books “Angela’s Ashes”, you may also want to spend some time at the Frank McCourt museum, which is located in his former school house.
Further out of Limerick city is the picture perfect village of Adare, with its quaint thatched cottages. As far as the arts scene is concerned, Limerick prides itself on being a city renowned for culture. The Hunts Museum has an enormous collection of arts and artefacts, including works by Picasso and Renoir. Having worked up an appetite, the Milk Markets have an abundance of delicious local produce, including cheeses, fresh fish, fruit and vegetables, as well as breads and pastries. One of the best parts about traveling is sampling delicious treats, whilst chatting to the passionate farmer or cook, who brought them fresh to the market that day.
On your last evening in Ireland, take time to watch the sun set over the sea, or if the weather is not kind, admire the billowing clouds. The many shades of green and the good natured craic will remain with you for years to come.
Image Details and Licenses: https://flic.kr/p/cdUW3G (William Murphy, CC BY-SA 2.0), https://flic.kr/p/M4ATc (John Menard, CC BY-SA 2.0), https://flic.kr/p/cMTkXW (Randy Durrum, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0), https://flic.kr/p/o6HE7A (Kate. Get the picture., CC BY-ND 2.0), https://flic.kr/p/5qEvQx (chrispd1975, CC BY-ND 2.0), https://flic.kr/p/7mmjj6 (Eoin Gardiner, CC BY 2.0), https://flic.kr/p/eysjRL (Barnacles Budget Accomm, CC BY 2.0), https://flic.kr/p/dpJKPo (Dora Meulman, CC BY 2.0), https://flic.kr/p/7btNBM (Pete Burzynski, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0), https://flic.kr/p/oy21ip (Brian Fagan, CC BY 2.0), https://flic.kr/p/oPxSxq (Sergio, CC BY 2.0), https://flic.kr/p/bAehcd (Noah Katz, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0), https://flic.kr/p/jygmj5 (DiAnn L'Ro, CC BY-ND 2.0), https://flic.kr/p/8KPFV2 (Allan Henderson, CC BY 2.0)