The Irish have a great talent for making a lot out of a little.
As we drove to Rosslare to catch our ferry back home, we couldn’t help but smile at a sign announcing ‘President Obama’s Ancestral Village’. This is Moneygall where a young man called Falmouth Kearney lived before he emigrated to the United States in 1850. He was Obama’s maternal great-great-great-grandfather.
Now this might seem like a distant connection to you and me but for Moneygall it’s enough for a visitor centre called the Barack Obama Plaza and the preservation of a terraced house as his ancestral home.
We found a similar story when we stayed in New Ross on our first night in Ireland. Birthplace of John F Kennedy’s great-grandfather, it now boasts a Kennedy homestead, Kennedy museum, Kennedy arboretum, Kennedy summer school and Kennedy hotel.
As far as we know, there isn’t a Trump visitor centre in Ireland yet … just an ostentatious golf course and luxury hotel that took us a long time to cycle past.
During our last two days on the Wild Atlantic Way, we cycled from Doolin to Galway, staying overnight in the lovely small town of Kinvara.
This took us through the Burren, one of the finest examples of a glacio-karst landscape in the world. Huge limestone sheets have been eroded by glaciers and then by rainwater which gets into any cracks and crevices.
The effect is dramatic. Limestone pavements with perfect parallel lines sit beneath smooth hills that are strewn with so many rocks that they appear from a distance to be sugar coated with snow.
The name Burren comes from the Gaelic Boíreann which simply means a rocky place. Many years ago, farmers cleared all the rocks from the fields, piling them into a striking mosaic of dry stone walls.
The walls go right down to sea, sometimes running across vast limestone pavements. Cattle were brought down onto the flat rocks for winterage, as they held onto the summer heat for longer encouraging the grass in the crevices to keep growing.
Galway turned out to be a vibrant city with a lively centre full of small shops, restaurants and music bars, all buzzing with people chatting away in Gaelic. So much so that it’s often referred to as the bilingual capital of Ireland.
There were lots of amusing shop signs, including a trading notice outside this jewellers…
And a special offer from this café…
To our surprise, the highlight of our visit to Galway was an extraordinary show that’s been entertaining tourists for the last fourteen summers.
Trad on the Prom is an evening of traditional Gaellic music and dance presented by some of the creators of big, famous shows such as Riverdance or Lord of the Dance. Despite taking place in the unlikely surroundings of a leisure centre sports hall, it was magical and captivating as the quality of the musicians and dancers was so high. Indeed, many of them were world champions.
As we caught the train back to Ennis to pick up our car, we added up the distance we’d cycled on the Wild Atlantic Way.
It came to 961km cycling and 438km driving*.
This means we did fulfil our carbiking promise to cycle more than we drove. But we missed our 1000km target … defeated by the weather on the Dingle.
So how was our first experience of carbiking?
There are lots of good things:
- It’s really easy to get to the place you plan to cycle from. You don’t have cram your bikes onto public transport.
- It’s more versatile. You can take a detour, stay in different places or get to a remote restaurant.
- You can miss out those parts of the route with lots of main roads or boring scenery.
- If you need to, you can check out a mountain pass in the car before you ride over it.
- You can drive on rainy days.
- For day rides, the panniers can stay in the car.
- It means you can bring loads more stuff such as heavy camping gear, a box of food or even that all important hairdryer!
And a few less good things:
- You always have to get back to your car, which can mean cycling in a circle.
- The comfort of the car makes it feel less adventurous, less of a journey.
- It makes it too easy to bring loads more stuff!
We thought it worked out surprisingly well especially as there were so many peninsulas to loop round on this trip. We’d definitely recommend it.
Now … we’ve heard some people say that the Wild Atlantic Way is one example of the Irish making-a-lot-out-of-a-little.
It is a clever way of joining all the small roads together and claiming that it’s ‘the longest coastal touring route in the world’.
But … the southern half is so beautiful, so varied and, yes, so wild that we think it’s actually making-a-lot-out-of-a-lot!
Now we can’t wait to return and explore the northern half from Galway to Malin Head.
Clare and Andy
Southern Half of the Wild Atlantic Way: Kinsale to Galway
By bike: 961km, 11825m climbed
By car: 438km*
* If we cycled and drove along the same roads, we only counted the cycling distance.
* We didn’t include driving to Ireland and back.
* Which is not cheating!