The theft of a passport just before a long anticipated journey would spell disaster for many people. I certainly had a sense of impending doom when my daughter sent me that message as I packed my suitcase the day before travel. How could something so elementary happen? Surely the missing booklet was sittingone wild corner had escaped me and long been on my bucket list. To roam the wild west shores of Connemara, with its shaggy little ponies, misty mountains and steely-coloured lakes had long been a romantic notion somewhere overlooked and all would turn out fine?
Well, it certainly did turn out well, but in an unexpected way. Once the original journey plan was abandoned, the Danish currency stashed away and the flight time missed, there was only one thing to do. As the saying goes “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade”; so, as I had travelled to join my daughter in Northern Ireland it was obvious The Emerald Isle was to be our oyster.
My Irish childhood meant that most of my homeland had long been explored, but one wild corner had escaped me and long been on my bucket list. To roam the wild west shores of Connemara, with its shaggy little ponies, misty mountains and steely-coloured lakes had long been a romantic notion. Add to that the lure of magical Galway and the Wild Atlantic Way and any lingering dreams of the originally-promised Smorgesbord and little mermaids were easily deleted.
We set off by road, having booked a last minute Airbnb room and thrown a map of Ireland on the back seat. Choosing one of the many alternative, cross-country routes we passed through some delightful pocket-sized towns, unharmed by global corporations and with shops and bars painted bright in jewel colours. The countryside in between was strewn with an assortment of grazing cattle and sheep, tumbledown cottages and drystone walling criss-crossing the patchwork landscape.
Galway is quite a large city, listed fourth largest in the country. It is known for its music and many lively festivals but also boasts a large, modern university and beside the small, historic quarter has a sizeable, bustling and very modern commercial centre with the allied suburbia sprawling beyond its northern edges.
Our accommodation was to the more rural south, where a warm Irish welcome awaited and a sunny harbour offered this land-lubbed boater a rewarding sight of native vessels including a classic Galway Hooker . Our charming hosts were keen to inform us of the local delights and sights so we soon had a journey plan for the next couple of days.
And so, armed with our trusty atlas, we headed south the next day with a general itinerary. The Wild Atlantic Way is a fairly new invention, with clear signage and a liberal sprinkling of tourist-trap outlets and cafes. However, the geological phenomena known as The Burren, acres of impressive limestone moonscape running along this rugged coastline, has witnessed humanity passing through since time immemorial.
We soon tired of the sight of the countless outlets offering sweaters and shamrocks, turning instead to the smaller towns with more local fare, much more wholesome and enjoyable. The lateness of the season meant we saw only a meagre straggle of coach tours and late travellers like ourselves, so the roads were quite empty and their smooth, though winding, surfaces a pleasure to traverse. The route wove to and from the coastline, giving awe-inspiring views at every turn.
The Cliffs of Moher are a must-see attraction for anyone on the Atlantic coast. However, we passed by the queues being channelled the tourist route and found a local entrepreneur offering an alternative parking option just along the road. The views along the rugged cliffs left us breathless and any glance downwards made our stomachs churn. A well-worn path led us to yet more vistas and photo opportunities. We returned to the car marvelling at the wonders of Mother Nature and her astounding beauty.
Heading inland we chanced upon the charming town of Ennistymon, enhanced by a picturesque, cascading river. When in flood this river, The Inagh, and its renowned Cascades bring many to fish for salmon whilst others have been inspired to write of its beauty in poem or song. The town has an old-world charm, relatively unscathed by the tourism all around and we ate heartily with the locals in a small cafe on its high street.
Having satisfied our hunger for natural wonder and wholesome nutrition we turned to popular culture next, driving to a less known and un-signed destination, the house of Father Ted. This popular television programme and its fictional “Craggy Island” is dear to many comedy fans, so it was with delight we tracked down the world-famous sight of this barren old farmhouse used as the filming location for one of our favourite entertainments. It is strictly private, with no outward acknowledgment of its fame, but to fans it is unmistakably the abode of that renowned priest and his merry gang. Just seeing the place brought a smile to our faces and boasting rights amongst friends.
The day ended with a more cultural homage – a brief and slightly damp visit to Yeats’ Country as the soft rain set in towards evening. Wild swans on the lake at Coole, the home of the poet’s renowned friend and sponsor Lady Gregory, added historic and artistic atmosphere to this magical place. Despite the inclement weather one could sense the same inspiration that fuelled WB Yeats to write so prolifically. We returned to our guesthouse weary but content, marvelling at the beauty of this small country and already anticipating the next day’s adventures.