Irish Road Trip

I had forgotten what a thrill it can be to get behind the wheel and drive. It’s been years since I owned a car, and most of my wandering since college has been aided by buses and trains and planes. Lately, I’ve been especially religious about public transportation, and this summer I attempted, ultimately unsuccessfully, to travel all the way from Nairobi to Cape Town by bus (after more than 4,000 kilometers through six countries, I caved and bought a plane ticket). So when my girlfriend suggested driving around Ireland over Thanksgiving, I was ambivalent. “What about taking a train?” I suggested. “The buses are actually pretty convenient.”

We rented the car.

By the end of our three-day adventure, I was glad we had saved the buses and trains for Africa. There’s a lot to see in the places in between public transit stations, and nowhere is that truer than in the Irish countryside. Here are a few of the highlights.

First stop Galway. We arrived in the late afternoon, just as sun was casting is last rays over the historic shipyard, and took a stroll along the waterfront. Passing the formidable  Spanish Arch, built in the 1580s and once a part of the city’s outer wall, we followed the River Corrib as it rushes through the quays on its way into the Atlantic. From the very tip of the jetty, we watched the sun slip beneath the horizon from atop an ancient rock wall.
After a breeze through the Christmas market, we stopped for some delicious sea food and a few pints in the hipper-than-we-are Latin Quarter. The rest of the evening was spent listening to traditional Irish music in the Dail, a cozy hole-in-the-wall in the city center.

Leaving Galway in mid-morning the next day, we snaked our way around the many fingered bay and out over the rock-strewn slopes of the Connacht countryside. We passed Dunguaire castle, a somber gray edifice where WB Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, and other Celtic Revival figures gathered in the early 20th century, and headed south toward County Clair, challenging our three-cylinder Fiat to make it up the steep switchbacks of the Burren.
The Cliffs of Moher were every bit as spectacular as I’d expected, if considerably colder. We hiked along the rim of the great shale and sandstone escarpment as far as we could, and, in a moment of self-conscious millennial heresy, asked someone else to take our photo.

Evening found us in Dingle, a tiny tourist town in the county’s southwest that was all but shuttered for winter. We may have been the only two visitors in town, but that didn’t stop the chef at The Half Door, a quirky seafood joint with an appropriately bisected yellow door, from breaking out all the stops. Wild oysters, sea bass, king prawn — all hauled out of the Atlantic earlier that day.

At daybreak we were on the road again, tracing the jagged coastline of the Dingle peninsula in the direction of Europe’s westernmost extremity. The 26-kilometer Slea Head Drive weaves between dramatic cliffs and rolling green hills, winding up in a majestic panorama that was featured in the last Star Wars movie.
From there, we doubled back and drove the second half of the Ring of Kerry, ending our journey in Killarney. All told, it was a lot of time behind the wheel, but for once it really was about the journey.
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