By Lynn Strough
The Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland is the longest defined coastal touring route in the world. Ireland isn’t that big you might think, but drive around the perimeter with all of those coves and inlets and you’ll be surprised how many kilometers you clock. I knew I wouldn’t have time to cover the whole route, so I started in the south and then headed up the west coast to see some of the most majestic parts for as long as my time held out before my upcoming house sit in Scotland.
From the Rock of Cashel, I drove south to Cobh (pronounced Cove), where I visited the Titanic Experience. Yes, it’s a bit of a tourist trap but interesting all the same. You are given a ticket with the name of a passenger on it and don’t know if you survive until the end of the tour. I was Ellen Corr, 17 years old and I did survive.
We saw the remains of an old dock where passengers left on tenders to take them out to the ill-fated ship — Cobh was the last stop to pick up passengers before the Titanic struck an iceberg. Artifacts on display include a suitcase, dishes, a chair and personal items, and there’s a video showing the underwater exploration when the Titanic was first found at the bottom of the sea. You can walk through recreations of ship cabins, both steerage and first class. Even the steerage had running water and electricity, something most people didn’t have in their homes.
Cobh is also a landmark for the Lusitania tragedy, a passenger liner torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat off the head of nearby Kinsale. Something about this place and sinking ships…
From there it’s onward to the fishing town of Kinsale, a very pretty village, and I caught view of what would become a familiar sight in Ireland — brightly colored buildings in rainbow hues. Kinsale isn’t very big — just a few streets of shops — and I wandered around taking photos, peeking in windows at the usual souvenirs. The cool thing is that there are three bookstores in this one little town. Looks like there may be some readers around. The weather alternated between sunny with blue sky and fluffy clouds, and gray sky with dark rain clouds, changing momentarily — another attribute of Ireland I would see repeatedly, especially along the Wild Atlantic Way.
I popped into the “castle,” an old toll building-turned-French-prison, which is also the wine museum — the real reason I wanted to go in. Today was a once-a-month free day, and I learned a few things, like they didn’t and don’t really make much wine in Ireland, they just imported (and smuggled) it.
After a couple of leisurely hours, I drove out onto the point under moody skies on my way to Clonakilty, another little port town. This one is also full of multi-colored houses, but because the sun was no longer evident, it wasn’t quite as bright. It’s also lined with gift and antique shops and is apparently a bit of a foodie town — there are numerous restaurants, pubs and wine bars, and I enjoyed a lovely farm-to-table dinner.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have such good luck with my B&B, which was not the most pleasant experience. You win some and you lose some. It was a last resort of efforts by the tourist board ladies in Kilkenny, the only place they found open for four towns in the area as it’s a Saturday night in what apparently is still high season. I wondered when I heard the price, as all the others have been much lower.
But this one purported to be a luxury B&B, with views of a lake, gourmet breakfast,and food on arrival. I don’t need nor can I afford that kind of luxury on this trip but since it was the only place available, I thought I’d bite the bullet and enjoy it.
Enjoy isn’t the word I would use to describe it, more like endure. The place is out in the middle of nowhere on a dairy farm, which smells like cows — lots of very smelly cows — and inside the house there’s a peculiar odor as well. The house is old and faded, with worn carpets and dated furniture and no internet or phone signal.
My teeny, tiny bathroom had a half-empty, sample-size shampoo bottle as its only amenity, not quite fitting the description of “luxury B&B with all the extras.” My host, an older lady said, “I hope you won’t be cold.” It turns out here’s no heat. She reluctantly told me there’s an electric blanket but warned me at least three times to turn it off before I went to sleep, which meant waking up freezing and turning it back on, staying awake until it heated up again and then turning it off before going back to sleep — and repeating this procedure multiple times.
The room was moldy, and my nose and throat plugged up. She offered me tea on arrival but rather reluctantly, and when I said that would be lovely, she seemed disappointed that I’d accepted. But she made it and served it with a dried-out scone and sat and chatted with me; it appeared more out of obligation than desire.
I’d gotten terribly lost following her directions (but not lost enough). As it grew dark, I finally called her but the line was busy and a recording said it was letting her know she had another call, though she didn’t take it. Later she mentioned she didn’t pick up because she was on the phone gabbing with her cousin.
I never would have booked this place but was in a bind. Goes to show I need to follow my own advice and plan ahead. I write all of this not to complain but to forewarn you that sometimes what you see online or in brochures is not what you get. It is also perfectly acceptable to ask to see a room when you arrive and if it’s sub-par, to not take it. Fortunately, this would prove to be my only really bad accommodation experience in Ireland.
The next day made up for it. I drove all the way to Kenmare, from 10 am until 6 pm, continuing on a very scenic Wild Atlantic Way, stopping first at the Drombeg stone circle. I walked all around it and inside of it, and after having read the book Outlander recently, I waited to see if I’d get transported back in time — but instead just got wet feet as the ground was soggy and spongy, like a bog. Luckily, I had my wool hiking socks and boots in the car to change into.
Driving through Unionhall, a teeny tiny burg on a river, I stopped on the bridge to take some of the most beautiful, breathtaking panoramas of my trip — a sky full of clouds reflected in the water, along with a string of colorful buildings. And I stopped for a few minutes in the tiny town of Castletownsend, which Brian, my B&B host in Dublin had said is his favorite. It’s another colorful town, on a bay with a castle-turned-hotel on the shore and boats moored out on the water. Ireland is every bit as picturesque as I’d imagined.
At a church restaurant in Skibbereen, I stopped for lunch. It’s a beautiful building and I had a little table upstairs facing a large, stained-glass window. I couldn’t get their wifi or my data to work and I was trying to book a place to stay that evening, so the very sweet waitress gave me her phone to use — just looked up a booking last-minute site and handed over her phone, leaving it with me for the whole time I was dining. How nice is that? It cut out after a little while before I could book something, so after my disaster last night I asked the Universe to please guide me to a nice scenic place to stay that’s affordable in Kenmare, which is exactly what happened.
But first, after driving for quite a while on winding roads along the ocean past a beach full of surfers (in Ireland?), along the Wild Atlantic Way, I reached the Beara Peninsula and drove the whole loop, about three hours.
Once I got to Beara, the sun came out, the sky bloomed blue, a paler version of the sea, and it was so rugged and beautiful, I took my time, stopping at scenic spots along the way to take pictures and just admire the beauty of the world.
A rainbow of flowers blossomed everywhere — red, yellow, orange (lots of orange), blue, pink, purple, white — with mountains on one side and the sea on the other. I passed wayward cows and wandering sheep, polka-dotted with blue spots, others with pink.
And then, I reached Kenmare. I’d heard from one old man that it was his favorite town, but I’d heard from others that it’s expensive, so let’s see what the Universe has in store, I thought, figuring that if I couldn’t find anything affordable there, I’d head on up the road to Kilarny, which is more commercial but has more accommodations.
But my prayers were answered. I pulled into the first B&B I saw with a vacancy sign out front, but they didn’t have availability for a single room for three nights. The man got his wife, who told me she knew a woman who had a single available and it would be the best price in Kenmare. She even called the woman and told her she had a nice single lady looking for a room.
“The tour office told you right to just show up instead of booking ahead,” she told me. “You get a much better price that way as you can bargain.” That’s if you can find an open room and if it’s the last room, that can backfire, like it did for me with the cow-lady.
I followed her directions to a big two-story house, Finnahy, with beautiful flowers out front. Wow, that looks expensive, I thought. So I was blown away when the nice proprietress told me I could have the single room for for all three nights, including a full Irish breakfast, for about the price of one night with the cow-lady.
“I’ll take it,” I said. It’s a tiny room, just the length of a twin bed and barely wider, with a bathroom down the hall but the price is right and the place is lovely. I felt very lucky.
She poured me tea and served me cake and cookies in her pretty little sitting room and then, after settling my things in my room, I set off to town.
Lynn is a 50+ free spirit whose incarnations in this life have included graphic designer, children’s book author and illustrator, public speaker, teacher, fine art painter, wine educator in the Napa Valley, and world traveler. Through current circumstances, she has found herself single, without a job or a home, and poised for a great adventure.
“You could consider me homeless and unemployed, but I prefer nomad and self-employed, as I pack up my skills and head off with my small backpack and even smaller savings to circumnavigate the globe (or at least go until the money runs out). Get ready to tag along for the ride…starting now!”
Reprinted with permission