Island hopping from Iceland to the Emerald Isle provided us with the chance to revisit the places we only skimmed over on a 3 night trip a few years prior, this time with the addition of two weeks house sitting for a couple of border collies. Following a night in Blarney we were going to be spending almost all of our time on the west coast, beginning with hostel hopping in the vicinity of the Dingle Peninsula and the Burran, finally heading up to County Donegal in the northwest. We had managed to keep costs down in Iceland by traveling in the shoulder season, staying in hostels and cheap airbnb’s, and eating out only occasionally; now we had to repeat that for our first week in Ireland. The flight from Iceland was relatively cheap coming in at $150pp with Wowair, however the car rental was hefty – most US credit cards offer no vehicle insurance within Ireland, forcing us into accepting the rental companies own CDW.
Brandon Mountain, or Cnoc Bréanainn in Irish, the highest point on the Dingle Peninsula
As with Iceland the weather could throw anything at us, probably in the form of wind and rain, but as long as the sun shone for at least a few hours every other day then we’d accept it! This definitely wasn’t the case on our day of arrival and our only sightseeing day in Blarney and Cork. Although not too much of a problem as we decided to skip the lines at the ridiculously touristy ‘Kissing of the Blarney Stone’, leaving that instead for all the Asian visitors, and in Cork only bothering with the Titanic Experience. This was worth the €9.50pp entry and left us feeling that little more knowledgable about our recent past!
With the misery continuing and wanting to find a hostel in Killarney we headed west in what could well have been really scenic areas. Killarney was perfectly located for a day of sightseeing; a scenic drive along Gap of Dunloe, the lakes of Killarney National Park, and hopefully a stab at Carrauntoohil, the highest peak in the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks and on the island of Ireland at 1,038 meters.
Killarney with its countless cheap hostels and pubs gave us the feeling that it catered for budget travelers, hen and stag parties, alongside tourists just like ourselves that were eager to go and discover the area. We chose the Black Sheep hostel, pretty much in the center of the city offering private rooms, a kitchen, homey feeling (not that we have a home so really no idea what a homey feeling feels like!), and for a reasonable $50 USD.
Saturday night partygoers did nothing to dampen our early departure, the bigger problem being the hunt for an open coffee shop! Caffeine ensured our day would indeed see us enjoy a great hike in the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks, not only summiting Irelands highest point of Carrauntoohil but six other peaks that make up the 13 kilometre Coomloughra Horseshoe ridge walk. A bit of backtracking would take us back to drive the highly anticipated Gap of Dunloe, a scenic, often single lane road that winds through a narrow mountain pass, beginning at the extremely popular Kate Kearneys cottage and ending 11 kilometres later at Lord Brandons cottage. It is also possible to hike this as a 15 kilometre up and down loop, beginning and ending once again at Kate Kearneys cottage.
Luckily Ireland is small and extremely easy to drive around, probably not so much for people used to driving on the opposite side of the road and on very narrow winding country lanes. Fortunately it’s always been easy switching sides of the road or having the steering wheel located above the passenger seat! We reluctantly pulled ourselves away from the Killarney area and headed out onto the equally stunning Dingle Peninsula, our 2 night accommodation at the Hideout Hostel sitting conveniently in the centre of town – once again we felt that our visit was too short.
The peninsula was pretty much a mountain or two surrounded by cliffs, a spattering of cute villages thrown in, and some of the best Irish foot-stomping music on the west coast. The 47 kilometre Wild Atlantic Way drive around Slea Heads was as good as outstanding scenery gets whilst the hike to the top of the peninsulas highpoint, Mount Brandon, offered panoramic views in every direction. Dingle itself was full of art and craft studios, cute cafes, and of course countless Irish pubs! Early one evening we came across one such place, a tiny bar where an older couple sang and strummed musical instruments we had never seen before whilst the packed out crowd took in the fun atmosphere. Everyone was in good spirits and it was easy to see why – Ireland and the Irish folk have an uncanny knack of bringing out the best in people.
Even though we only had a couple of nights we took in most of the highlights, the biggest missed opportunity being the 179 kilometre Dingle Way circuit that begins and ends in Tralee. This in itself is plenty reason to return.
Dingle harbour and it’s colorful terraced houses
Moving northwards, not necessarily along the coastline as the narrow roads would have taken an eternity, we made it to Doolin, another of the places we skimmed over last time. Apparently Doolin is widely regarded as the home of Irish music and is still a huge hotspot for the traditional scene. Sitting almost on the ocean, a 16 kilometre clifftop walk from the famous Cliffs of Moher, and the jumping off point to the Aran Islands, made this an extremely popular tourist area. With plenty of reasonably priced hostels to choose from we made an advanced booking at the Aille River hostel, a beautiful stone building with private rooms, a kitchen and great staff. Once again my travel planning was impeccable – we couldn’t have been happier.
The areas highlight has to be the stunning Cliffs of Moher; unfortunately being the most popular attraction also meant that the crowds and prices are at a premium. Entry is actually free but with nowhere to park you have to pay the exorbitant National Trust parking fees of €8.00 per person, one of the reasons for us to take the scenic coastal walking trail that contours the exposed clifftop. Ireland’s Atlantic coast decided that we wouldn’t get wet but also refused to show much in the way of sunshine.
The reasonable weather meant that the small ferries out to the inhabited Aran Islands were still operating – it was just a pity that our visit was during the week. Andrea’s job and daylight hours being on autumn schedule wouldn’t have allowed us to get beyond the closest of the three islands and then only for a brief visit. As with Dingle this was plenty good enough reason for a revisit, instead next time during summer. The islands are apparently well worth a night or two to get a feel of Ireland in days gone by and enjoy the rugged scenery.
Cliffs of Moher, the most visited attraction along Irelands Wild Atlantic Way
From Doolin we made the trip up to County Donegal bordering Northern Ireland – two weeks housesitting for a couple of fun border collies would give us plenty of time to explore the areas vibrant towns, photograph stunning beaches, hike mountains and try out plenty of cute coffee shops! If we could pick out three of our favorite things to do in the Donegal/ Gweedore vicinity then it would be to suffer a boggy hike up the perfectly formed 751 metre high Errigal Mountain, follow along the top of Irelands highest sea cliffs at Slieve League, and discover Glenveagh National Park.
Almost everything we did on our tour of the west coast is part of Irelands Wild Atlantic Way, an epic driving or long distance hiking adventure along a truly amazing rugged stretch of ocean. There are countless reasons to return!
SIM Card & Coverage
Carrier: eir, eir Mobile Connect, Usage: 25GB, unlimited SMS, unlimited Irish mins
Cost: €14.99 for 30 days (approx $17.15)
Arrival: Keflavik -> Dublin, Carrier: WOW Air, Cost: $149.96 pp
Departure: Dublin -> Glasgow, Carrier: Ryanair, Cost: $41.50 pp
October 13th – October 18th 2018
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