Touring Ireland’s South and Western Coast in Autumn
By Georgia Beaverson
For some places, a certain time of the year beckons visitors. Like Paris in April. But if you want to visit Ireland, go in autumn.
Autumn’s Ireland is lush and green and cool. It rains, but mostly intermittent showers. The temperatures remain in the 50s to 60s, but occasional dips below that mean you should dress in layers. Autumn travel will save you money, too, since it’s the “shoulder” season between summer and winter. Many B&Bs remain open, although you might want to call ahead to ensure you have a bed for the night.
Tours are great, but driving is better. Main highways are wonderful to drive and Irish motorists are amazingly courteous. Have you heard horror stories about the secondary roads? Yes, they are narrow (some only one lane wide) and many lined with fuchsia-covered stone walls. But as long as you remember to stay on the left side of the road and drive at a reasonable speed, you’ll do just fine. Meandering should be your travel watchword.
South, Southwest Coast
Touring the southern and western coasts of the Irish Republic is especially wonderful in the fall. The weather changes roll in off the coast as you pass through picturesque villages like Dunmore East and Ardmore on your way west toward the Ring of Kerry. While that ring attracts most tourists, the nearby Ring of Beara is equally lovely. Allow at least a day to explore the large druid stone circle on the way to Gleninchaquin, a private park that allows visitors to hike over the huge falls there. It’s worth the muscle strain; the view from up top is breathtaking.
On the Iveragh Peninsula (Ring of Kerry) to the north, the fishing village of Port Magee is a picturesque place to stop and gaze eight miles out to sea at Skellig Michael, a rocky pinnacle once inhabited by sixth-century monks. If the weather cooperates, you can take a boat there and climb the steep, hand-carved steps the monks once trod.
Next, the Dingle Peninsula is a must-see, with a lovely coastline (Slea Head is the peninsula’s most southwestern point), plenty of ancient sites (“bee-hive” huts built by monks, the ancient stone Dunbeg Fort, Gallarus Oratory) and even Fungie the dolphin in Dingle’s harbor. Worth a tour are the fabulous stained glass windows by Harry Clarke in An Díseart on Green Street.
Go inland to enjoy the thatched cottages in the village of Adare southwest of Limerick. then go north and east, stopping for Dysert O’Dea Castle on your way to the Cliffs of Moher. Walk the trail to see the eighth-century church with its archway carved with 12 heads and a 12th-century high cross. And the famous Cliffs of Moher? You must go, even in “lashing” rain.
Just north, the Burren National Park consists of a limestone plateau dotted with rich archaeological sites and unusual plant life. If you like to hike, the 26-mile Burren Way is unforgettable. If you end up in Ballyvaughan, be sure to stop for lunch and some shopping before heading on to Galway.
North of Galway, the countryside changes from green-covered hills to rocky, lonely valleys winding through the 12 Bens (mountains) of Connemara, home of famed Connemara marble. The rich smell of peat burning fills the air. North, you’ll find the lovely village of Westport. Be sure to seek out Matt Malloy’s pub on Bridge Street; he’s the flutist for the Chieftains and his pub has live music.
The area around Sligo Town is full of sites, including some of the most beautiful scenery in Ireland. You can visit the megalithic tombs of Carrowmere and Carrowkeel, tour nearby Yeats’ Country and visit Parke’s Castle, bask in the green of Glencar Lough Falls, visit Yeats’ grave at Drumcliffe and see the High Cross there, and explore the ruins of Boyle Abbey. Above it all broods the mountain Ben Bulben.
You won’t really experience the northwest of Ireland if you don’t visit Donegal Town. There the people are friendly, the pubs are lively and there’s great shopping, too. Wander down side streets to find genuine, old-fashioned Irish pubs if you want to talk to folks not in the tourist industry. It’s not glamorous, but it’s real Ireland.
Top off your coastal tour of the Republic with Slieve League, the highest sea cliffs in Europe. Driving to the precarious parking area alone will turn a few hairs gray, but the awe-inspiring view of the sea and coast from the top truly makes that worthwhile.
Worth a Wander Inland
Kells Priory, near Thomastown in County Kilkenny, is an amazing and often deserted complex that dates from the 13th and 15th centuries. Nearby 12th-century Jerpoint Abbey boasts a truly wonderful stone arcade, complete with carvings.
The Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary is a huge medieval castle set high on a hill and once was the fabled power base of Munster kings. Inside, many ancient carvings remain in wonderful condition. At its foot crouches Hore Abbey, which visitors reach through a farmer’s field.
Writer Georgia Beaverson has been to Ireland twice in autumn for extended times and plans to go again ASAP. She blogs about cool shoes worn by children’s book literati at http://gbeaverson.livejournal.com.