It is said the best way to see all the marvels of Ireland is traveling by push bike. So we decided to do the next best thing and travel Ireland by car. Or in our case in a beat up Tarago called A-Team which we rented from the wackiest rental company in the whole world, Wicked Camper Vans. It's paint job was a bit shabby and every now and then we had to give the speedo a good whacking so it would work it wasn't perfect to say the least, but it was perfect for us. The only restriction we had was a two week schedule, other then that Ireland was ours to concur as we wished.
I could drive around Ireland forever, its roads edged with walls of stone and its ever green hedges being the gate way to the lushest fields of every shade of green imaginable. Looking out into the horizon each paddock was a different shade of green, from a mint green to a brighter shade of lime to a shade of emerald green. Looking out it was as if the paddocks were quilt patches all carefully sewn together by the stone wall seams to create a beautiful green quilt, the blanket of Ireland. Every aspect of Ireland is post card picture perfect. With its forever running water ways, to its green moss covered rocks to the richest ivy that covered every tree trunk insight. Even old abandoned stone buildings left for ruins were a beautiful site to see, covered in ivy and sprouting out with lively green trees.
Being spring everything was really starting to come to life. Trees were beginning to bloom, fields flourished with the wildest flowers, paddocks were filled with the fluffiest white lambs and the waterways were inhabited by the most beautiful cygnets and their mothers. Although nature began to follow suit, the weather was anything but a typical spring time picture, at least not one that I was use to. Rain, hail, sunshine and patches of snow was all in a days work. By the end of the day I was a dripping wet mess, but it was all just apart of the fun.
Picking the camper van up in a small town just outside of Belfast was the start of our road trip adventure. Already seeing what Belfast and Dublin had to offer, we decided to head around the coast line in an anti clock wise direction. In no rush we took the first couple of days at a slow pace, poking around the greenest fields and finding old estates with the most magnificent houses and gardens to explore. By night fall we would pull up in the middle of no where and set up camp for the night, taking refuge in the van. One of our first big stops was at the Giants Cause Way, a very popular tourist attraction. The Giants Cause Way is based upon an old local myth that claims a giant by the name of Fionn mac Cumhaill formed the rock formations after being challenged to fight a Scottish giant named Benandonner. The causeway was built so that the two giants could meet. It is also said that the area is full of magic. But if you want to get technical about it, The Giants Cause Way is a natural formation caused by a volcanic reaction with the natural basalt rock forming large hexagonal rock pillars and stepping stones. I much prefer the magical side to the story myself, but either way you put it The Giant Cause Way is truly breath taking.
Our next stop was LondonDerry, originally known as Derry. Sitting on the very boarder of Northern Ireland and The Republic of Ireland LondonDerry was another town that was a huge part of The Civil Rights War. With Memorials painted very similar to the ones we saw in Belfast you could sense that this city was still in turmoil. Although a peace bridge had been built in the city there was still a sense of angst. One Irish local told us that LondonDerry still have a sleeper cell of IRA (Irish Republican Army) members who are looking to reform and reignite the battle. That being said no such issues were encountered and we were left to explore the city.
Already learning so much about TheTtroubles we decided to focus our time in Derry on something a little less controversial, its city walls. We spent most of our time climbing the wall and learning about the way the city was built and run. Being the oldest walled city in Ireland and the only one that is still standing it was a very special opportunity to be able to see something so historic.
Northern Ireland being apart of England is run on the pound, where as the Republic of Ireland is run on the Euro. Spending some time in both capitals of both parts of Ireland we had noticed that Northern Ireland was just that bit cheaper when it came to the three main essentials on any given road trip petrol, food and alcohol. Before crossing over the border we decided to stock up on all three which saved us quite a few quid in the long run. Places like PoundLand and Tescos has all your essentials and is a wanderers best friend.
Driving over the boarder and back into the The Irish Republic we set off down the spectacular west coast. Never a dull moment, the roads of Ireland keep you on your toes. One minute you will be driving along a two way road admiring the scenic view and before you know it the road has some how become the width of your car, yet still is a two way road. It all gets a bit interesting when you go to take the next bend and you have a tractor staring right at you coming your way. Luckily enough this never became a huge problem but really I think it was just lucky that I was never the one behind the wheel.
Getting in amongst the coast our first stop along the way was at a little town called Bundoran. Bundoran is renowned as being the surfing hot spot of Ireland. Sitting at lovely 12 degrees we were happy just to sit on the side lines and watch the locals take on some of the huge swells.
Cruising along our next major stop was at the bohemian town of Galway. Artistic and vibrant Galway is by far my favourite city in Ireland. A place where people spill out of pubs onto cobblestone floors and dance through the lit up streets to the sound of buskers, banjos and harmonic flutes serenading you, as you explore through the ally ways finding little hide aways. Being Ireland the weather turned for the worst in the blink of an eye, sending us into a little pub called " Tig Coili" which was known as the home of traditional music. The atmosphere was like nothing else I have ever been apart of. In the corner of the pub was a couched area filled with a handful of brilliant musicians jamming away. Before long the bar man was calling order and the pub became still. Emerging from the band was an old Irish man who stood on a chair, strumming his guitar he began to sing a poetic song about Galway and friendship. It wasn't long before he had the entire pub singing along with him. I didn't know the words, but it didn't really matter. I couldn't help but join along, humming and swaying my pint with the rest of the crowd.
Galway was the first time we decided to pull up for the night in a caravan park. The closest was just a few kilometres out of town in a place called Salthill. Basically in a nutshell we over payed for a piece of grass and a freezing cold shower that cost €1 per three minutes. The place is a waste of space and we would have been much better off doing what we did the following nights and just wing it somewhere off a hidden road.
Sticking to our coastal route we found our way down to one of Irelands most famous features,The Cliffs of Moher. Standing 200m high the view from above was absolutely breath taking. We spent hours just sitting along the edge looking out into the ocean soaking in the view and contemplating life as we know it.
Completing the west coast we kept travelling around doing our thing. By day we survived on a diet of chocolate bars, cheese and jam donuts. By night we would whip up a pot of pasta. After the first night we gave up on cups and plates and decided to both share out of the one saucepan we cooked it out of and swig cider out of the same longneck to wash it all down. It was camping dinning at your finest.
The next attraction that was a must to explore was the Ring Of Kerry. Located just outside of Killarney. The 180km circuit was lined with the most beautiful castles, fortes and cliff edged beaches. We spent the entire day travelling around wandering through national parks and finding hidden waterfalls. At night we pulled up just outside of the ring, opened the sunroof and laid back and watched the rain gently come down onto the windowpane.
Eventually we made our way right to the bottom to the county of Cork. We headed to a small town called Blarney where we set up camp for a couple of nights at there local caravan park. We were taking a gamble after our last caravan park stay, luckily this time it payed off. The park had great facilities, a camp kitchen, laundry room, free wifi in all of the park and most importantly after 9 days...A HOT SHOWER!
We spent the first day in Blarney visiting the well known Blarney Castle and the Blarney Stone. The castle grounds were filled with magnificent gardens that housed the largest tulips I have ever seen in my life. The castle itself was phenomenal we climbed its narrow stair wells and through its tiny doorways (poor James could barely fit) all the way to the top to the Blarney stone. It is said that one who kisses the Blarney stone is given the 'gift of the gab' which means that right now James and I should be talking in the utmost eloquence.
Using Blarney as a base we took the day to head over to the main city Cork to spend the day exploring the town. Cork is said to be the unofficial 'true' capital of Ireland. We spent the first half of the day in the Crawford Art Gallery where they were showing a fantastic exhibit called 'False Optimism'. The exhibit was created by some of Belgium's most eccentric and talented street artists. The pieces included a room filled with yellow posted notes from ceiling to floor, a piece of glass with a crumbled piece of plastic on top and a bath tub filled with plastic pipes and balls of knitting wall. I thought at one point James' head was going to explode, he couldn't believe it was classed as art. I spent hours examining each piece, James interpretation was much simpler "Someone had a few to many pints down at the pub and thought hey lets go paint some shit".
We spent the rest of our day in Cork exploring The English Market. The market was filled with the freshest local produce. Including organic vegetables, small goods and great cheeses. James enjoyed the fresh local sausages while I found an alternative bread stand that made a fantastic slice called The Chester Cake that was made up of all the left over bread crumbs with sugar syrup and spices. Away from the food and down a little ally way was a fantastic vintage clothing store called "Miss Daisy Blues" The store was filled with original pieces from every era. Upstairs was an exclusive section filled with the most gorgeous beaded gowns that looked like they had just walked off of the set of a 50's movie. James had to escort me out of the building before I spent our entire months budget on garments.
Heading towards the end of our trip we started to become an attraction ourself. Driving around in our wacky van from the get go caused a bit of a ruckus through out the streets. Every second car would give us a huge wave and the hang ten sign. People would go out of their way to pull up beside us and give us a shout out, or we would see people travelling past laughing there heads off. We would park the van to go grab something to eat and come back to a crowd taking pictures with the van. Fellow road trippers we would see along the road would come up to us and say 'I know you, you were at the Cliffs Of Moher the other day and then you went to Galway" It was as if the Europeans had never seen anything so outrageous.
Finishing down South it was time to head up back towards Northern Ireland. Having some time to spare we couldn't resist going back up to Belfast and visiting The Vagabonds crew one last time before we left Ireland. Arriving was like returning home, we instantly settled back in and chilled out all afternoon eating burritos, playing games and drinking, before long everyone was there and we were all getting ready to head down to the local to watch a band for the evening. One of the things I love most about Vagabonds is that you can't tell the difference between who are the guests and who are the staff, everyone just mingles as one and its a great vibe. I've said it before and I'll say it again, Vagabonds is a must when travelling through Ireland.
Returning the van back to its resting place in Carnlough, 2265km later we finally completed our full circle. After spending 17 beautiful days in Ireland we were ready for the next big adventure. Another day, another country.
The Wanderers Daughter xx