Why I love Ireland
Ireland is that place you have to go when you need to trust again in human beings. When I talk about this place my eyes shine… I’m biased, quote it. It is the country that I discovered for the first time with Sara, historical adventure friend, at the time when we could afford just a bed in a hostel. I fell in love with it again, ten years later, coming back with Matteo for a two-week road trip. The Irish landscapes are beautiful, but the real strength of this country are the people. And people mean music, smiles and their warm welcome. I don’t know the reason that makes Irish people so welcoming, their history could make figure out something else.
To be known
The direct dominion of the English began in 16th century (here you can find more information about what plantations were), and the controversial issue has continued up to present days (I suggest you watch the film “Bloody Sunday”, 2002). Subsequently, the period from 1845 to 1851 is known by the name of “Irish potato famine”. Due to a disease that affected potato plantations, the main food for most of the population, and because of an unresponsive management of the British government (which refused to block exportations), many people were forced to embark towards the America on what were called Coffin Ships (floating coffins). If before the potato famine the Irish population was about eight million inhabitants, at the end of the first decade of the 1900s it was almost halved.
The great Irish spirit
The Irish feel compelled to welcome and shelter foreigners. As an ancient Irish blessing of the traveler says
“May you always be blessed with walls for the wind, a roof for the rain, a warm cup of tea by the fire, laughter to cheer you, those you love near you, and all that your heart may desire.”
To fully feel the Irish spirit, you have to be child again and re-establish a relationship between the human being, nature and (regardless your level of spirituality) God. In this way you will feel a little bit Irish too.
Wild Atlantic Way
For me, Ireland also means Wild Atlantic Way, the longest coastal scenic road in the world. 2,500 kilometers long, it can be traveled from south to north or vice versa. If you travel by car, the route from south to north is the most suggestive, because it is close to the sea. It begins in Kinsale (County Cork) and ends in Malin Head (Country Donegal). After a couple of days spent in Dublin, Matteo and I covered it all and, the more the adrenalin for driving on the left disappeared (after only 48 hours we began to talk each other again), the more the road led us to discover the thousand wonderful corners that make a trip to Ireland an unforgettable experience. Furthermore, it should not be underestimated that the Wild Atlantic Way is perfectly marked with the symbol of a stylized wave and the letter N if you go north, and the letter S if you are heading south. This kind expediency of the Irish friends made sure that Matteo and I did not slaughter each other – as is tradition in all our travels – when we drive in a foreign country.
The daily ritual is to drive along the Wild Atlantic way during the day, and to sleep in a forgotten village in the evening, not before having a beer in one of the many pubs (there is one every twenty inhabitants!). Letting the ubiquitous live music and conversations with patrons make you feel at home.
Compared to other “rural” stops, our stay in Galway turns out to be almost a social destination. Galway, known as “the most Irish city in Ireland” (it is not uncommon to hear Irish spoken on the street), conquers us with its vitality. Young and university city, it is dotted with pubs and singers with a splendid voice that animate the streets.
We allow ourselves the ritual aperitif in a pub in the center town. In many Irish pubs – and this is no exception – American police badges of all backgrounds are displayed. We sit at the counter and, despite the confusion, the friendly host explains to us that immigrants to the United States bring them as gifts when they return to their native country, a sort of connection between their homeland and the United States, the land of adoption.
Meanwhile, in a corner, an elderly gentleman extracts his violin from a case; another, sitting at the table with him, warms the harmonica: let the “third half” of the day begin! After an excellent dinner we end the evening at The Crane Bar with live music. Unforgettable.
“Connemara is a savage beauty” (Oscar Wilde)
The following morning, after a delicious Irish Breakfast, we leave for another on the road day. Today our path does not lead north, but makes us take a hook path to discover the wonders of Connemara which, in the Irish language, means coves in the sea. We leave Galway and take the N59 and then the R344 to stop and admire the abbey of Kylemore, overlooking the banks of the Pollacapall Lough.
We continue: an excursion to Connemara National Park wait for us. We live near the beautiful Dolomites and are used to the mountains, but this walk of about two hours in the Diamond Hill is fantastic and it’s a great chance to immerse ourselves in Irish nature. The national park covers approximately 2,000 hectares and is a mosaic of peat, mountains and heathland. The sun shines. Nature shows itself in its splendor. At times along the way we walk on wooden elevations which prevent us from sinking into peat bogs. In the background the blue of the sea shines. Once at the top, I clench my hands in a fist because I have the feeling that the wind could pulling the rings off my fingers.
It is time to see that sea more closely. We take the R341 and arrive at Dog’s Bay, which together with Gurteen Bay forms the two sides of a bone-shaped peninsula. The sand is white, the sea rippled with a thousand crystalline shades, ideal for swimming… but no! Not me! I am fighting against the wind to manage to take a picture without eating a tuft of hair. There is a middle-aged gentleman who wallows freely in the water with his dog in tow (ah, if only animals could talk!). Survivors of this kind of practice say it is invigorating. We trust them.
The destination of our day is Roundstone, one of the pearls of our journey. We reach it from Clifden via the Sky Road. The country has 250 inhabitants. The harbour is dotted with small wooden boats and the main street with colorful terraced houses. We arrive at the B&B overlooking the ocean. We leave the B&B for a tour nearby for what is our real ritual of “go and see the sunset”.
This time we wander south and breath the quintessence of Ireland. We border the sea passing from one fishing village to another. We drive slowly between the dry stone walls. Colors go from the dark tones of the peat bogs to the green and blue of the landscape.
Let’s go back to “home”, completely overwelmed by how much beautiful simplicity can be. We have our Chowder (fish soup) for dinner with an ocean view in the village’s small restaurant, O’Dodw’s, but – as they say – the best is yet to come.
We end the evening at the village pub, The Shamrock Bar & Restaurant. A boy plays the violin, a girl next to him dances step dancing at a frantic pace, shifting the weight of the body from one foot to the other… And it is with this background that we get to know one of the characters who will enter right in the Top Ten of the great travel encounters. Jerry is drinking his pint of stout alternating it with whiskey (it’s tradition to do it!). As in a mythical tale and flavored with alcohol, reality and fantasy get together. His parents sent him here when he was young to learn Gaelic and he, from time to time, comes back to relive his Irish Amarcord. He has lived in Italy for more than a year as a street artist (his fluent “comu stai” “motto bene” is irrefutable proof) and, above all, he has a past as a musician in a band (U2? Long-time acquaintance. Bono Vox? Arrogant and unreachable in his opinion). At (his) umpteenth stout he asks me if Matteo can only smile or if he can also speak sometime, without notice that I am wearing a pair of headphones borrowed from the European Parliament to decipher what he is saying. We say goodbye when the owner of the pub says that he is closing and, to be consistence, he orders another round.
The next morning we wake up with the ocean in front of our eyes. We go down for breakfast. A middle-aged lady sits next to our table and temporizes with the owner of B&B saying that she will wait for her husband to begin. Half an hour later Jerry appears, entering in the breakfast room with his hands up, fresh from the shower and cooked by alcohol. He flaunts nonchalantly by declaring “I am free and I am alive”.
I find this could be Ireland’s motto.
- Don’t be afraid of driving on the left. By giving up the car, you risk losing some of the most suggestive corners of the country. The streets are not so busy, you will have time to get used without stressing too much.
- Once you will be there do not forget to download the official App of the Wild Atlantic Way: it is full of information and suggestions.
- B&Bs are often sold out in the major search engines. It is very probable that if you call them directly they will have free rooms.
- To sleep in Galway I could not recommend a better B&B than The Stop. It is located 5 minutes walk from the center, the rooms are spotless and the breakfast unforgettable. The owners are very kind and they will not hesitate to give you tips (with lots of hand made maps to take away) to visit the surrounding areas (they recommended the Connemara day tour I described here above)
- To sleep in Roundstone I recommend with enthusiasm Island View B&B. If the ocean view would not be enough there will be an excellent Irish Breakfast to make you even happier.