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Travels in Ireland 2012 PDF Printable Version E-mail


IN THE REPUBLIC OF IRELAND MAY 2012

Margaret and Barry Williamson

After a winter in Greece and a slow 2,000-mile (3,200 km) motorhome journey across Europe to the port of Cherbourg, we took a ferry to Rosslare in the southeast corner of the Republic of Ireland. Our intention was to make a slow journey through the Emerald Isle to Dublin for a ferry to Wales and thus into England. All this was to be a new route to Motorhome Medics in Cheltenham. We had it in mind to trade our 21-year-old caravan for a newer model, do some work on the Mercedes Sprinter van and then head back to Ireland, via Scotland. At the time of writing, this intention seems to be turning itself into reality.

For this journey, click: Images of May in the Republic of Ireland

From the Port of Rosslare to the Apple Farm Camping & Caravan Park, Co Cahir, Tipperary, Ireland – 82 miles
Open 1 May-30 Sept. See www.theapplefarm.com/camping.htm   €15.50 inc 13-amp elec and free showers. Free WiFi in Common Room. No dogs.  N 52.37668Ί  W 7.84340Ί

We were up early for breakfast on board the Celtic Link ferry from Cherbourg – in fact, too early as ship's time was Irish rather than French time and we hadn't put our watches back one hour! But it was worth the wait and very good value at €4.90 for a 'continental' or €7.90 for a 'full Irish', both very generous and with unlimited tea or coffee.

We arrived in Rosslare, Co Wexford, on time at 1 pm. The only parking at the port was a small 'Pay & Display' so we drove straight out onto the N25, immediately confronted by the anomaly of this wonderful Republic – driving on the left but observing prices in Euros. Petrol at €1.65 is about the same price as France and the UK (and cheaper than Italy or Greece). The weather is fine and dry with a strong back wind.

It's 20 years or more since we visited Ireland, when we used to cross from Holyhead on cycle-touring holidays. In the meantime, the country has joined the Eurozone and seen the rise and fall of the Celtic Tiger's economy. First impressions of present day Ireland, however, are of busy traffic on the highways and an air of orderliness and affluence.

Staying on N25 we passed plenty of cafes, pubs and guesthouses; green  fields grazed by fat sheep and lambs, cattle and horses; the odd thatched whitewashed cottage (usually advertising B&B); and roadside stalls selling strawberries and new potatoes.

At New Ross we crossed the River Barrow (the border from Co Wexford into Co Kilkenny) and noticed statues of J F Kennedy and family, whose homestead was here. It would have been good to stop but Aldi and Lidl car parks were full and the riverside Pay & Display had a height barrier. Posters urged us to 'Vote Fine Gael for a Working Ireland'. (The centre-right Fine Gael is the largest party in Ireland's parliament, governing in coalition with Labour.)

After 49 miles, in Waterford, we turned onto N24, passing the ruined castle by the River Suir. The pub/restaurant next to 'Castle View B&B' looked inviting but again there was nowhere to park. Continuing west along the Suir for 11 miles, we entered Co Tipperary at Carrick-on-Suir, where we had a break at last, parked at an excellent well-stocked Aldi supermarket. Through the town we also passed a Lidl store, then a Caravan Park at 63 miles.

The next town, Clonmel, was preparing for tomorrow's Annual Show at the Racecourse. We did more shopping there at Tesco and had a long chat with the check-out assistant about living in Ireland. We were already warming to the friendliness of everyone we met.

Continuing west for 6 miles/9 km, there is an ACSI-listed campsite at the Apple Farm on the right, 4 miles/6 km before Cahir. The camping is set well back from the road, behind orchards decked in apple blossom. The farm also grows plums and soft fruits and bottles its own award-winning juices, on sale in the farm shop where we were welcomed with a gift bottle of pure apple juice.

The site was busy for the forthcoming long weekend (Monday 7 May being a Bank Holiday) and our neighbours included Dutch, German and French campers, as well as Irish families. We settled in and enjoyed a tasty Salmon Wellington for dinner (courtesy of Aldi frozen food) – highly recommended.

At the Apple Farm, Cahir, Co Tipperary

We were free to wander round the farm and use the WiFi in a large common room shared with the workers. The shop sold a range of still and sparkling juices and cordials, jams, cider vinegar, apples and apple pies, as well as local honey. Who could resist? In addition to apples, we bought a fitted cloth carrier (useful later for wine) containing 4 bottles of apple juice, 1 blackcurrant & apple, 1 strawberry & apple. Delicious.

From the farm it was possible to cycle into Cahir on quiet back lanes and we rode into and around the town (19 km return). The substantial castle on a rocky islet in the River Suir, one of the largest in the country, dates from 1142. See www.heritageireland.ie/en/south-east/cahircastle/  A large variety of water fowl gathered at the weir opposite the castle, where we photographed geese, swans, ducks and a magnificent grey heron. Further along the river, a mighty19th century railway viaduct bore a heritage plaque. The pleasant town had a range of shops and cafes round the central square, as well as Aldi and another supermarket beyond the castle.

To Nagles Doolin Camping & Caravan Park, Doolin, Co Clare – 94 miles
Open 11 March-14 Oct. See www.doolincamping.com   €21 inc 10-amp elec (and 7th night free). Showers €1. Free WiFi throughout the site. N 53.01626Ί  W 9.40200Ί

Taking the N24 northwest, past M8 junction 10 at Cahir, it was not a long way to Tipperary (18 miles)! Pausing at a petrol station to check tyre pressures, we were again impressed at the warmth and friendliness. We didn't need fuel, so should we pay for the air? Of course not, it's free for all. We did buy some stamps, as there was a post office counter - the only place allowed to sell them in Ireland.

At 40 miles N18 led us westwards around Limerick, continuing through a tunnel (toll €1.80, same as a car) under the Shannon and onto motorway M18. We appreciated the small toll (unlike expensive France, where large motorhomes are Class 3 and caravans Class 2). There were no services or rest areas before our exit for Ennis at 64 miles. From Ennis we headed northwest on N85, turning north onto R476 at 70 miles - a narrower road to Corofin, where we planned to camp and meet up with friends in a holiday cottage at Carran, a few miles north.

After parking for lunch by a quarry along the way, we arrived in the tight village of Corofin at 76 miles. The campsite proved unsuitable, being the small sloping garden of a hostel on Main Street. According to our new 'Ireland 2012 Caravan, Camping & Motorhome Guide' (available from campsites for €5, see www.campingireland.ie), the next sites were on the coast at Doolin, less than 20 miles away. It proved a very good choice.

The R476 continued for 9 miles to Kilfenora, then on to Lisdoonvarna. This is the Burren, one of the largest areas of limestone pavement in Europe and one of the natural wonders of Ireland. www.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Burren

From Lisdoonvarna it was southwest on R478, turning off at 92 miles for Doolin. There are 2 campsites here, one in the village by the River Aille and another opposite the tiny harbour, a mile or so later. We chose the second, with a marvellous view of the Cliffs of Moher to the south, as well as the small ferries serving the offshore Aran Islands.

As we settled in over a pot of tea, we were about to email John & Lisi, the friends staying at Carran, when they appeared at our door!! Quite by chance, exploring the Burren, they had driven down to the quay and spotted our motorhome. Recovering from this coincidence, we arranged a day out with them tomorrow – which happens to be Barry's birthday.

We took advantage of a lift back to Doolin village, where we browsed the tourist gift shops (there was no other sort) and bought an excellent Ordnance Survey road atlas of Ireland, including the British North, as well as a splendidly tweedy Irish Newsboy's Cap for Barry. After walking back to the camp for dinner, M made a chocolate gateau for tomorrow.

Birthday At Nagles Doolin Camping & Caravan Park, Doolin, Co Clare

Barry's birthday celebration was a great success, thanks to John & Lisi, who arrived for mid-morning coffee just as we put the finishing touches to the gateau. There was a cold wind but it was fine and dry.

John took us north along the Burren coast road, soon pausing for a walk on the incredible expanse of limestone pavement. From a distance it appears to be a barren landscape but on closer inspection the fissures and holes in the karst support an amazing variety of wild flowers, including different orchids, quite unexpected in this climate near the shore. Lisi opened our eyes to the flora and fauna, expertly naming and patiently photographing plants, butterflies and insects, just as she had done when walking with us in the olive groves near their home in the Greek Peloponnese. See her work on www.lisisnaturepics.blogspot.com. John's passion is for Ireland's literary and artistic heritage, described with liberal quotations and excellent photographs in his blog at www.sensateman.blogspot.com.

Driving on round Black Head, we fully appreciated the ease of exploring Ireland's rural lanes in a smaller vehicle. We rounded Black Head, with lighthouse and viewpoint, then passed the oblong 16th century tower of the ruined Gleninagh Castle, which looked down from a hillside to guard the north coast of the Burren. In Ballyvaghan at the foot of Black Head Bay we enjoyed lunch by an open fire in Mona's Pub/Fish Restaurant at the harbour. The menu title 'Crab sandwich' did not do justice to the platter of fresh crab, salad and delicious brown bread and butter that was served.

A little further round the coast, we parked by Flaggy Beach for another breezy walk, watching gulls and terns diving. At Bealaclugga we turned inland and a few miles south to Carran, for tea and biscuits in our friends' holiday cottage. Finally, they returned us to Doolin: a scenic drive on the most minor of country roads across the folds of the Burren. Back in the motorhome, we finished celebrating with coffee and birthday cake.

We are very grateful to John & Lisi for this memorable day, which convinced us that we should return to Ireland with the caravan and a smaller vehicle. Like them, we are enchanted by this country and will rank it a 'Thin Place', sharing the honour with the coast of the Greek Peloponnese. A Scottish friend, Ian Inglis, once wrote to us describing his Highland Glen, Balquhidder (where Rob Roy McGregor is buried), as the Thin Place - the place between heaven and earth, the closest you get to a spiritual home, where the distance between life as we know it and our spiritual abode is tissue thin. The name is from a song by Dougie MacLean about his home, the Isle of Lewis:

“The old man looks out to the island. He says this place is endless thin.
There's no real distance here to mention. We might all fall in, all fall in.
No distance to the spirits of the living. No distance to the spirits of the dead.
And as he turned his eyes were shining and he proudly said (Chorus):
Feel so near to the howling of the wind. Feel so near to the crashing of the waves.
Feel so near to the flowers in the field. Feel so near.”

Still at Nagles Doolin Camping & Caravan Park, Doolin, Co Clare

The coastguard's base is at the campsite entrance and we were entertained watching regular lifeboat practices, as well as Irish Hares bounding across the meadow.

We also had a good view of the quay from which 3 companies run small ferries over to the Aran Islands (an hour or so off-shore), as well as short cruises along the Cliffs of Moher. They take bicycles but not cars and the competition keeps fares reasonable. See www.aranislands.com and www.aranisland.info/wordpress/news/doolin-ferries-to-the-aran-islands.

Tempted to take our bicycles across for a day on Inis Mor, the largest and furthest of the isles, we strolled down to the pier to check sailing times.

To our surprise, we were warned that they wouldn't sail for the next few days as a Force Ten Gale was forecast! This was on a warm and calm afternoon, so we made the most of it and walked along the Burren shore for the next hour or two. We saw Dolphins at play in the sea and talked with an American couple who'd just returned from the Moher Cliffs Cruise. Margaret asked about the sea birds – 'Oh yes, there were some Gillywags' replied the woman. Hiding our amusement, we wondered if they'd seen the Puffins advertised on the posters? 'No' she said. 'Yes, they were flying all around us' interrupted her husband. No comment ...

The Force Ten arrived on time the next day, with horizontal rain forcing its way into the motorhome windows on the Atlantic side! The Cliffs of Moher disappeared from sight, the wind raged for another 2 days and sailings were indeed cancelled. We abandoned the idea of crossing to Aran, or visiting the Great Stalactite in Doolin Cave (www.doolincave.ie), restricting outdoor activity to a blustery walk into Doolin village.

Sitting out the storm, we made good use of the campsite WiFi, which remained reliable throughout. Margaret completed the account of our recent journey from Greece to France and also edited new articles from fellow-travellers (Audrey Pocock in Turkey and Rosemary Newton in the Balkans). Barry put these on our website and circulated a piece about our 'Winter's Work'. We did some forward planning, booked a ferry from Dun Laoghaire to Holyhead and made various arrangements with friends, campsites and Motorhome Medics. The weather remained disappointing but no-one visits Ireland on account of the climate. When asked which is the best time of year to visit, the friendly campsite owner, Ken, said 'May'!! We wonder which year that was.

Resolved to return to Ireland with a smaller vehicle, we decided to head for Cheltenham and collect our Sprinter and caravan.

To Lough Ree (East) Camping & Caravan Park, Ballykeeran, Athlone, Co Westmeath – 94 miles
Open 6 April-23 Sept. See www.camping-ireland.ie/parks/westmeath/58-lough-ree-east-caravan-a-camping-park.html  €23 inc 16-amp elec. Showers €1. No WiFi. N 53.44841Ί  W 7.88903Ί

From Doolin village it was 5 miles to Lisdoonvarna (the nearest post office or supermarket, though parking difficult). Here we took the N67 northeast across the Burren, a surprisingly narrow main road which climbed over Corkscrew Hill before dropping to sea level in Ballyvaghan at 15 miles. The N67 followed the coast to the tiny fishing village of Kinvarra, 12 miles later, then passed the ruins of Dongory Castle. It looked interesting but the small car park was full. We stopped to make lunch in the next village, Killeenara, at 32 miles.

It was a relief to meet the wider N18 at 35 miles and turn left for Galway. After another 5 miles we turned off for a shopping mall signed on the left and found a Lidl store, which had basic supplies. Back on N18 northwards, then we joined the M6 junction 19 (east of Galway) at 57 miles. This new 4-lane motorway runs, smooth and quiet, coast to coast across the country, from Galway to Dublin. There was one toll (a mere €1.80) after 8 miles. We passed no services, though fuel was indicated at exit 15.

Near Athlone, on the east shore of Lough Rea (fed by the River Shannon), there is a campsite just 2.5 miles from the M6 (take junction 9 or 11, as exit 10 is closed). It was easy to find, on the left of N55 in Ballykeeran village, shortly before the 'Dog and Duck' pub. We broke the journey to Dun Laoghaire here, parked by the lake among the coots, ducks and drakes.

We watched a patient angler under his broad umbrella (yes, it's raining) and enjoyed the company of the warden, John, who came round in the evening. He's a great man for the Craic (definition: chiefly Irish 'enjoyable entertainment; a good time' or Scottish/North English 'conversation').

To Dun Laoghaire - 88 miles – and so to Holyhead, Anglesey, North Wales
Stena Line Terminal for Fast Ferry 'Stena Explorer' to Holyhead. www.stenaline.co.uk/ferry. N 53.29662Ί  W 6.13309Ί

Just 2.5 miles back to M6, junction 9, then east on the quiet motorway across 'the Bog' –  a flat land of cattle and sheep pasture, altitude around 280 ft, with large tracts of peat cutting. The M6 merged with the M4, after which we stopped at the only service station (Infield) at 49 miles. Here we bought a bargain souvenir of our visit: a box set of 6 DVDs 'Ireland: The People and Events that shaped the Emerald Isle'. Four discs cover history from Cromwell onwards, while the others focus on James Joyce and J P Donleavy. We look forward to them all.

There was only one toll point (charged at car rate: €2.80) at 56 miles. We crossed the River Liffey at 67 miles, traffic becoming heavier as we approached the capital. Take care on meeting the Dublin Ring, M50. For the Dun Laoghaire ferry, follow signs Southbound (toll-free), but for Dublin Port ferries follow Northbound  (and pay a toll, perhaps through number plate recognition, or so we were told).

We turned north for Dun Laoghaire, with a view of the Wicklow Hills through a mist of rain to the south. From exit 14 at 83 miles we followed the ferry signs along Seapoint Beach, then left on Harbour Road and into the port. Having booked on-line, check-in was smooth. We cleared the 3.8 m height limit and took our place on the dock, with plenty of time before the 1.15 pm departure. 'Free WiFi' declared a sign on the terminal building and indeed there was – for just 30 minutes, once you had registered your details. The connection was so slow that we just had time to check for incoming email.

Once on board, the Irish Sea was so calm and the fast ferry so stable that we scarcely noticed the 2-hour crossing, as we tucked into excellent fish & chips in the self-service restaurant. We arrived on time in busy Holyhead and joined the A55 along the north coast of Wales, a much more congested country. We already missed Ireland – and we'll be back.