Beginning in northern County Donegal and ending in the south of County Cork, the Wild Atlantic Way is the gateway to discover Ireland’s enchanting and untameable west coast. This 2,600km network of roads is one of the world’s longest coastal routes, and one of the most spectacular.
Ireland’s west coast is spellbinding. Imposing rugged cliffs, hidden coves and unbridled wild Atlantic Ocean views are just the start. With historical sites, quaint fishing villages and plenty of opportunity to catch up with the locals, it just gets better.
Tour buses operate along the route, although a self-drive option gives you the freedom to explore and discover at your own pace. The beauty of the Wild Atlantic Way is you can join it wherever you like through the seven Counties the route traverses.
For those wanting a taste of wild, unspoilt Ireland, County Galway’s Connemara region is a must-see. Battling the elements for eons, these imposing weathered hills, denuded of trees, seemingly roll on forever. Though relatively barren, these windswept hills erupt into a brilliant wildflower colour haze each spring.
Often called the real Emerald of Ireland, one of Connemara’s true gems is Kylemore Abbey. Only an hour’s drive from Galway City, Kylemore Abbey is of grand scale. It was originally built as a castle in 1871, but is now home to a community of Benedictine nuns who arrived in 1920 after their abbey in Belgium was destroyed in World War I.
The church adjacent to the Abbey is something special, like a miniature version of a gothic cathedral. The craftsmanship and attention to detail is stunning, from the ornate stained glass windows to the striking marble columns displaying four different types of Irish marble – the green Connemara, red Cork, grey Armagh and black Kilkenny – this church is a real surprise. Originally a place of Anglican worship, it was re-dedicated as a Catholic Church following the arrival of the Benedictine Nuns.
Kylemore is as fascinating outside as it is in. If you visit, spend time walking the six acres of its plant-filled, manicured walled garden. Constructed when the Abbey was built, it has been painstakingly restored by the Benedictine nuns to its past Victorian-era glory.
The Wild Atlantic Way gives every traveler so many memorable experiences, and the Dingle Peninsula is no exception. The Dingle Peninsula is a place of intense allure and interest, with myriad green landscapes, rocky hills, long sandy beaches and staggering cliff edges. County Kerry’s mountainous finger of land jutting into the Atlantic Ocean has supported various tribes and populations for almost 6,000 years. No other landscape in Western Europe has the density and variety of archaeological monuments, and getting to see them is so easy.
Slea Head Drive, part of the Wild Atlantic Way, is a circular route beginning and ending in the picturesque fishing town of Dingle. The road is clearly labeled and, being an Irish-speaking district, road signs are in Gaelic. A good tip is to memorise the name for the town of Dingle, An Daingean – that way you’ll know which way you’re heading!
The region is littered with ancient relics from both the Stone and Bronze Ages and, more recently, the Ecclesiastical Period. This is when Ireland was known as the ‘land of Saints and Scholars’ due to its high number of monasteries and religious schools.
The extraordinary Beehive Huts, dating back to 2000BC, are a true marvel. These rudimentary homes of dry-stacked stone (using no mortar) have survived the ravages of time. Gallarus Oratory, like the Beehive Huts, is a stone construction without mortar and a testament to those ancient craftsmen. Thought to have been built between the 7th and 8th centuries, it was likely to have been an early Christian Church.
No visit to West Ireland would be complete without seeing the Cliffs of Moher, one of nature’s true wonders. The Wild Atlantic Way takes you right to the 8km stretch of some of the most rugged coastline on the planet. It’s a sight to behold!
The Cliffs of Moher are located in the County Clare’s rocky southwestern corner known as The Burren. Formed over 300 million years ago, these aged and worn, craggy cliffs are constantly weathered by the relentless Atlantic waves.
A wonderful way to appreciate these magnificent cliffs is by catching one of the O’Brien Line Doolin Ferries from Doolin town. A short hour cruise is a fantastic way to fully appreciate the vista of this seemingly impregnable wall of rock, rising dramatically from the Atlantic Ocean. These shale and sandstone cliffs reach heights ranging from 100m to over 200m.
Strolling along the cliff top paths is exhilarating. For those keen to walk the entire 8km, start in the town of Doolin and walk to Liscannor. Needless to say the drop is sheer, so always stick to the designated paths. On a clear day, visitors can look out into the expansive Galway Bay and vast Atlantic Ocean and see the three Aran Islands off in the distance. Beyond those, the next stop is Newfoundland in Canada, where many Irish people migrated between the late 1700s and early 1800s.
The Cliffs of Moher are the crowning glory of the Clare coastline. They provide an unrivalled view across the vast boiling wildness of the Atlantic Ocean, a world unchanged since pre-Celtic times and another must stop location on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way.
Visit www.ireland.com for more information on The Emerald Isle and the Wild Atlantic Way.
About the Author – Kim Syrus
Kim is the Executive Producer and Presenter on South Australia’s very own garden show In the Garden and has presented on Channel 9’s The Garden Gurus and The Gurus Explore.
A qualified horticulturist, Kim is one of the country’s most respected rose experts and Master Agent for the world-famous rose breeder Meilland International.