For three days in the early days of April 2019, I experience an incredibly scenic and inspiring drive across the southwestern portion of the island of Ireland.
Why Only Three Days in Ireland?
Originally scheduling myself for 21 days of driving in Scotland, but having procured a great plane fare into Dublin, I felt like I needed to at least see part of country I was landing in. So I cut my Scotland trip down to 15 days and decided to spend the first four days of the trip tooling around Ireland looking for great scenery along the Wild Atlantic Way and as many castles as I could fit in.
As you will see, it was a pretty aggressive itinerary, especially noting that this was my first time driving on the left side of the road, but I had an amazing time. The following will show you the route I took and the places I visited. In many cases, these places are way too important to leave down to a single paragraph description, so I will link to deeper writeups I did on each if you want to investigate further.
My Starting Point: Tullamore, Ireland
Since I was planning a Castles and Drams Tour (a dram is apparently considered any unit of alcohol that a friend shares with you) of Scotland, I had originally planned on going to the Kilbeggan Distillery near Tullamore, but my plane was delayed and so I just went straight to my bed and breakfast, just over an hour down the motorway from Dublin Airport. I loved this beautiful setting. The look of the house and surrounding grounds made you feel like you were walking into a fairy tale. Lucy, the proprietor, was warm and welcoming and I had a fantastic stay.
The Traditional Irish Breakfast
I enjoyed one of these to start just about every day of my journey. What you can't see here is the white and black pudding, nor the grilled tomatoes. Those were on a plate off to the right. Sometimes referred to as "blood pudding" I didn't really know what I was eating, but I had a sneaking suspicion and I ate it before asking. It had an interesting texture that helped you figure out what it was, but it had a really nice taste. I had varying degrees of quality in black pudding between Ireland and Scotland, but I never turned it down.
The Rock of Dunamase and Dunamase Castle
About a 45 minute drive south of my bed and breakfast in Tullamore, I enjoyed my first wide awake day of left side of the road driving. The backroads gave me an opportunity to get comfortable with the experience. It was only the last 3.7 km of the drive that turned to single lane roads, but there was little traffic.
Following GPS I arrived to find a church and a hill top castle ruin. Parking in front of the church, I made the moderate climb to the top of the hill and investigated the castle ruins inside and out. The view from the hill top was fantastic with sloping mountains and farmlands as far as the eye could see. Recorded habitation of the rock may go back as far as Ptolemy, as he mentions a hillfort in this area, it in his early maps. But it is the 9th century Viking invations and 12th century Norman conquests of Ireland that bring this castle to the attention of historians. Learn more about it's destruction and the treasure legend that also live on by reading my Dunamase travel guide.
Church Ruins Between Dunamase and Kilkenny
What I loved about Ireland was you never knew when you might happen upon a piece of history. While driving between Dunamase and Kilkenny, I had a rare opportunity to find a shoulder on the road so I could snap a picture of this church ruin.
The Kells Priory
As I made my way south, just below the medieval town of Kilkenny I found the Kells Priory. To be honest, I had little idea what I was in for. Driving here, I found this beautiful spot overlooking the borough of Kells. My GPS took me right past the car park (parking lot) that I figured was for the Kells. I found a locked gate at the place Google Maps was taking me. I later found out this would lead you into the center of the Kells fortress, ooops.
As is normal, they had scaffolding up, so I shot a picture without the large tower covered by white sheeting. This was a pleasant walk and I'm sure incredible when you can see the whole thing and explore it. I learned later why this place looks like a fortress and about a witch burning that happened here. Find out more in my Kells Priory travel guide.
Rock of Cashel or St. Patrick's Rock
After taking a bit of a side route down what could have been, but wasn't a single lane road, I reached the town of Cashel. On the approach from the north I could see this imposing castle and hill, but there weren't any good places to pull off the road. I finally managed to get a good spot and shot this picture. GPS told me there was parking on the back side of the castle, but there wasn't. I tried to park near the Hore Abbey, but all the spaces were taken, so I parked in town. At 1€ per hour, I only gave myself 2 hours, which didn't end up being enough for seeing the castle, the abbey and then maybe the town which looked inviting.
The history of this castle is steeped in St. Patrick lore. Find out about the legend of how the rock came to be here and how St. Patrick really stuck it to King Aengus when he converted him to Christianity by reading my Rock of Cashel Travel Guide.
Cahir Castle and Excalibur
Talk about the stuff of legend. Just thirty minutes down the road I hit the town of Cahir. My original plan was to tour the castle where a part of Excalibur was filmed and the grab some lunch. Neither happened. I thought I saw another castle on the hill and decided to do some castle chasing. Turns out, it was a fancy bed and breakfast. With time waning and snacks in the car, I decided to walk a bit of the town and take some outside snapshots. I give more details on how this castle has remained in such great shape even after a breach and seige sanctioned by Queen Elizabeth I in my travel guide for Cahir Castle.
Blarney Castle and the Blarney Stone
Did I bite off more than I could chew for this first day in Ireland? Admittedly, yes. In fact, I had a hard time keeping my eyes open while driving the motorway to Blarney Castle. But the castle and a coffee revived me.
It started with an embarrassing moment where I followed some other tourists into a cave under the castle. I'll tell you how to avoid that. I also almost missed the Blarney Stone, more details on that as well in my Blarney Castle travel guide. If you're afraid of heights, kissing the stone might not be for you, but unlike the old days when people could fall to their death trying to kiss it (it hangs out over the edge of the castle), they have wrought iron guards there now to save you.
Clonakilty and Michael Collins
Now, if you told someone in Ireland that I visited all of these places in a day, they would probably figured I would stop in Cork for the night and start fresh in the morning. Oh no. Not me. I still had another 100 km to travel to get to my bed and breakfast in Baltimore. And I needed food.
It just so happened Michael Collins, the early 20th century Irish revolutionary's home town was on my way. So I found a place to eat and then walked down through the only rainstorm I encountered in 3 weeks of Scotland and Ireland (I know - amazing)!
I thought there would be mixed opinions about Collins, but he is considered a national hero by everyone I talked to.
With a full belly, I made my way down the last road toward the southwestern tip of Ireland. My bed and breakfast was right above the water, a wonderful end to a very busy day. I had a great conversation with some other travelers then made my way up to bed and slept like a log.
After a restful night above this beautiful spot, I started my next day on the hunt for beautiful scenery and more history as I headed toward the Ring of Kerry and Dingle Peninsula on Day 2 and my first day driving up the Wild Atlantic Way.