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Slow Traveling Around Ireland with Jeanne

Jeanne Mills

My husband Scott and I go to Ireland at least twice a year. We always rent a cottage by the week in order to absorb the culture and meet the people. We are lucky to have met many lasting friends. As we don't live there full time, we can't call ourselves true experts, but we have learned a lot.

We are delighted to pass some of this on to you (if you wish). Perhaps it will help you when you visit Ireland the Slow Travel way.

See Ireland at a "Slow" Pace

Clanmacnois Tower, photo by Jeanne Mills

Ireland's pace is slow. Everything takes longer, so being based in one place means that you have time to accommodate to the pace, not fight it. Ireland is best savored from a base from which you can take day trips and then return to your home each night. This way, you'll have time to absorb the place rather than see it from a moving car. People who have stayed one to three nights in one place and then move on to another tell us that they came home feeling as if they "don't know" the country at all.

Ireland is a gorgeous place, but most travelers' major memories are of the people they meet. Ireland's culture is shy, but incredibly welcoming. If you live in one place for a week, there is opportunity to meet people: in pubs, in shops, the next door neighbors, people who you stop for directions and stay to have a chat and a pint.

Ireland is smaller than the state of Maine. Dublin, on the east coast, is 135 miles from Galway, one the west coast, but it takes nearly four hours to drive from one to the other. The roads are difficult. They are well-paved, but they are narrow. There are no super-highways except around the larger cities (Galway, Cork, Dublin). All other roads are two lanes. You have to plan on being in a village bottleneck, behind a tractor, in road works, being lost (any of these and, often, all of these). It's part of the charm of Ireland, but it does dictate your limitations.

"We were standing in the kingdom, And by the mansion gate,
We stood enraptured by the silence, As the birds sang their heavenly song, In Tir Na Nog"
- - Tir Na Nog, Van Morrison , No Guru, No Method, No Teacher, 1986 - -

No Smoking in the Pubs!

Music is one of the treats of Ireland, another reason to stop a bit and absorb it all. In April, 2004, it became illegal to smoke in the pubs. We were there the day it happened and we were astonished that, except for some bureaucrat in Dublin who smoked three cigarettes in a pub and was immediately arrested, the country is complying without much fuss. A week into the ban, we sat for two hours in a pub in Adare listening to eight of Limerick's best musicians playing. And we could breathe! We noticed that during those two hours, not one of the musicians left to go outside to smoke - not one. Many musicians must be loving the new rule.

The Regions of Ireland

Ireland has many regional differences. These differences are expressed in the dialects, the topography, the weather, the architecture, the history. Kerry is much different from Dublin, which is much different from Galway, which is much different from Cork, which is much different from Wicklow.

All the superlatives you'll hear about the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula and the Connemara and the southeast and Donegal and Northern Ireland are true. The challenge will be to decide where to go. Remember that you will return to Ireland so don't try to do too much.

The Ring of Kerry, a 120-mile coastal circle, is one of Ireland's most beautiful drives (and one of its most popular, alas). You will travel on mostly empty road, through villages, along the McGillycuddy Reeks, Ireland's tallest mountain range, through lovely villages.

The Skelligs, two tiny rock islands off the coast of the Ring of Kerry, were home to early Christian monks.

The Dingle Peninsula is spectacular - with and without fog. The Peninsula has no full "circle" so you take the Connor Pass one way and the Camp-to-Inch road the other. The Gallarus Oratory is an interesting stop with gorgeous views. Kilmakedar Church, the stone age beehive huts and the ancient Dunbeg Fort are important sites.

Great Blasket Island, off the southern Dingle coast, was, until the 1950's, home to people who had a rich culture that, until the 1930's, had never been written. Neither of these places are inhabited, but you can visit by boat.

Blasket Deadman Dingle View, photo by Jeanne Mills

Blasket Deadman Dingle View, photo by Jeanne Mills

Connemara, in northern County Galway, is spectacular: desolate coastlines, rocky outcroppings, the Aran islands, green bogs, rolling farmland, beautiful villages, gentle people. Sheep and Connemara ponies wander along the roads and the peat bogs. Once we were traveling down a small road just as mass ended. It seemed as if the entire town was walking home together. Clifden Village has excellent shopping, some night life in the authentic pubs and excellent restaurants.

Visit Cobh in County Cork, the port from which virtually all of the emigration by ship began. The Titanic stopped here before its fateful journey. It has an excellent heritage center with a good multi-media show.

In County Clare, walk the Cliffs of Mohr and the mysterious Burren. Go to tiny Doolin village to hear some great music. The Doolin Cafe and the Bruach na h-Aille are excellent restaurants - both very busy all year. Nearby, Lisdoonvarna is a pretty village made famous by the recent movie, The Matchmaker, about their ancient yearly Matchmaker Festival.

Resources

There are 4 million Irish people in Ireland and 40 million Irish people in the US. No matter where you are in Ireland, you are never more than 70 miles from the sea.

These are some web sites that might interest you.

General Information

See our map of the Counties of Ireland.

www.ireland.com: The Irish Times newspaper -you might as well be informed!
www.dublinevents.com: Dublin events site.
www.irishrail.ie: Irish Rail.
www.doras.ie: Doras is the world's largest and most comprehensive directory of Irish and Irish related websites.General information, some of it quite interesting.

Regional Travel Information

www.jessajune.com/photos/2002/ireland/: Jessa June. This is a personal site I found. Lovely. Great photos of the Cliffs of Moher.
www.burrenpage.com: The Burren in County Clare.
www.faculty.de.gcsu.edu/~dvess/ids/medieval/clonmacnois/clon.shtml: Clonmacnois. This is a haunting place.
www.historic.irishcastles.com/rockofcashel.htm: Rock of Cashel. This too is a haunting place.
www.limerick.com: Limerick Information
www.kerrygems.com: Kerry Gems Visitor Guide Book. This is an invaluable site.
www.kerrygems.com/greatblasketcentre: Great Blasket Center. The building, the location and the exhibits are fabulous.
www.kenmare.com: Kenmare, County Kerry information.
bearainfo.com: Beara Peninsula, County Cork information.
www.galway.ie: County Galway Information.

Newgrange

Go here from Dublin. It's one of Ireland's most important sites. Be sure to see the actual site, not just the (excellent) re-creation.

www.knowth.com
witcombe.sbc.edu/sacredplaces/newgrange.html
www.bluffton.edu/~sullivanm/newgrange/newgrange.html

Book of Kells

Don't miss this if you are near Dublin. And don't neglect the fabulous Trinity library.

www.tcd.ie/Library/Visitors/kells.htm

Northern Ireland

www.interknowledge.com/northern-ireland: Northern Ireland Tourist Board
www.pacificnet.net/~fastoso/causway.html: The Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland. One has to really BE there to understand the wonder of this place.
www.interknowledge.com/northern-ireland/ukiant01.htm: The Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland.


Jeanne and Scott Mills own Great Trips Unlimited, an American company that represents holiday rental properties in the UK and Ireland. They, and their staff, have great fun sharing their knowledge and experience with clients. www.gtunlimited.com

© Jeanne Mills, 2004

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