In the summer of 2016 Rudi and I cycle through Ireland for two weeks. The road leads from Cork to the wet southwest coast, and from there to Boyle, along steep cliffs, over mountain passes and through lake areas. We cover about 1,135 kilometers in thirteen days, and climb 9,500 meters.
Day 1: Cork > Ballylickey (92 km)
We fly from Schiphol to Cork and arrive there at 10 am local time. After we have prepared the bikes we leave for the city center. Our first goal is the post office: here we send the bike transport packing material for the return flight to the campsite in Dublin. After that we go to the outdoor shop to buy two gas canisters. We have lunch on the green campus of Cork University.
As soon as we leave the campus, it starts to rain. Welcome to Ireland! The busy road (R618) takes us westwards along the Lee River, but we don’t see much of it due to the rich vegetation along the road. It is easy cycling, with only short and not too steep climbs. The landscape becomes more open from Inchigeelagh. Still one climb to go: reaching an astonishing altitude of 204 m is literally and figuratively the highlight of today. We descend to the campsite Eagle Point, beautifully situated at the Bantry Bay, and quickly dive into the pub.
Day 2: Ballylickey > Coornagillagh (56 km)
It has been raining and the wind has been blowing all night. And it will continue like this for the rest of the day and tomorrow. On paper, we cycle a nice route along the coast of Beara today, but in reality we don’t see much because of the low-hanging clouds and the high hedges. In Adrigole we’re so tired of it that we decide to ignore the rest of the peninsula, and instead take the Healy Pass.
The Healy Pass road was constructed in 1847 during the Great Famine. At that time the rich English rulers were of the opinion that providing food aid to the ‘inferior’ Irish was stupid. That’s why infrastructural projects like this pass road were started: at least the Irish would do something in return. A few years later also this kind of aid was terminated and the Irish either starved to death or emigrated. Oh yes, the English were a civilized people…
The pass road is narrow and winding and the surroundings are beautiful. The brutal wind gives the cycling trip an extra dimension. The descent, overlooking the Glanmore Lake, turns out to be great as well. In Lauiragh we take the R573: a narrow, quiet and beautiful road. After only 56 kilometers we reach our destination. The shabby Beara Camping is managed by unkind Frisians from the Netherlands. Paying with a bank card is not possible… We ran out of cash… It keeps raining… Ireland is boring… Grumpy Frisians… Is this vacation to be okay?
Day 3: Coornagillagh > Cahersiveen (89 km)
We have an English breakfast in the very touristy Kenmare, and then we take the busy N70. This Ring of Kerry is the most touristic route in Ireland. Well, all we see is fog and rain. As a matter of fact, and believe it or not: today it’s only dry between 1.25 and 1.32 pm. When we enter a clean café on the Caherdaniel beach campsite, and leave a trail of water behind, the waiter almost panics. “You’re not allowed to sit there” etc.
From the beach campsite follows a short climb to Sheenan’s Point: the famous viewpoint right along the wild coast, from where one should be able to see the steep Skellig Islands rising from the sea. Yet, we don’t see anything at all. It’s like the book Never ending Story. We capture the Nothing on camera. From now on we go north and thanks to the backwind we race to the campsite Mannix Point in Cahersiveen, which has superb kitchen facilities and a cozy living room.
Day 4: Cahersiveen > Dingle (106 km)
From Cahersiveen we cycle towards the Ballaghisheen Pass, which lies in the middle of the peninsula. The approach through the forestry area is gradual at first, but from Ballaghisheen Forest much steeper (8 to 13%). From the pass height we have a fantastic view of the vast landscape, with several peaks above 1,000 meters. Next to the road long rows of peat are drying. We take a very narrow road with grass in the middle to Killorgin. Again we have to climb steeply, this time up to 18%.
From Killorgin we cycle ten kilometers on a busy, wide road to the north. Fortunately drivers here keep distance. At Castlemaine we head west, over the boring and busy R561. At Inch we suddenly arrive at a surf beach with ‘perfect waves’. After a few kilometers of beautiful coastal road we dive inland again, where we cycle over a busy road and with some climbs to the touristic Dingle. At the end of Camping Rainbow we see, yes, a rainbow!
Day 5: Dingle > Tralee (89 km)
This morning we do a side trip around the far west of the peninsula. First we cycle on narrow roads through sparsely populated agricultural areas. The coastal strip that follows is more densely populated. At Dunquin we see the Blanket Islands, behind them the very steep Tearaght Island rising 200 m out of the sea, and a little further in the distance the Skellig Islands. For the new Star Wars film series, shots were made in this harsh environment; may the Force be with us! We round the cape (Slea Head) on a narrow road carved into the cliffs, without paying much attention to the prehistoric beehive huts.
We have lunch in the harbor of Dingle, where many tourists get on the boat to catch a glimpse of dolphins in the bay. And then we start to climb the 420 m high Connor Pass, which turns out to be quite boring from the southwest side. Until Tralee follows a slightly sloping, somewhat monotonous and sometimes busy N86. Tonight, close to the campsite in Tralee the annual election of the Rose of Tralee takes place: a kind of Miss Promoting Ireland from Abroad Award. This is a popular television event in Ireland.
Day 6: Tralee > Doolin (121 km)
This morning we leave before Maggie McEldowney, the new Rose of Tralee, will visit the camping (no kidding). Until Listowel we cycle on the boring R557 through the rolling hills, and from there on a small road to Tarbert. Here we take the ferry to the other side of the Shannon River. We pass an obsolete power station, and in the distance we see the new one at Kilrush. Next we have to go through the interior of the country again, often on narrow and sometimes steep roads. But thanks to the backwind it’s doable.
At Quilty we reach the sea again. We race over the N67 to the northeast along the beautiful coast. We pass Spanish Point, named after the soldiers and sailors who drowned or were killed here in 1588 after their ships were separated from the rest of the famous Spanish Armada due to a storm. After the surf beach of Lehinch we climb to the gigantic parking lot at the tourist ‘star attraction’ Cliffs of Moher. Thanks to the evening sun we are able to take photos of this spectacular coastline.
We descend over a narrow road to the nicely situated Doolin. After pitching the tent we have dinner in the famous, old (1832) O’Connors pub. While enjoying Irish folk music and a few pints of beer an Irishman from Dublin, who claims to be a distant descendant of an Irish king, tells us the tragic history of the island (Celts, Vikings, Norsemen etc.) – actually all of them except the English, who are totally ignored in his story. Around 1 am we head back to the tent.
Day 7: Doolin > The Burren > Inisheer (44 km excl. ferry)
Today we take a day off. That means: we do a tour through the Burren area before we take the ferry to Inisheer. The Burren is a 300 km2 limestone area, full of archaeological monuments. Because of the rain and bad visibility we ride a relatively short tour, so we see little of the area. Actually we only find the coastal road special: there we see how the stone plateau abruptly ends, with all kinds of crevices and beautiful shapes.
Back at the campsite we pack our things and wait for the ferry to Inisheer. Which does not show up, without notification. Another ferry from the same company that arrives an hour later almost forgets to pick us up. In the end we manage to arrive on the cute Aran Island. There we camp at the foot of a hill, on top of which stands O’Brien’s Castle from the fourteenth century. This ruin has an illustrious land history of being conquered, with leading roles for the O’Brien and O’Flaherty clans. This is a very special camping spot!
Day 8: Inisheer > Ardnagreevagh (95 km excl. ferry)
At 8 am we take the ferry to Rossaveel, on the south side of the rugged Connemara. This rocky with wide views, is hardly cultivated. We ride on the R336 and R340 before we take a narrow, hilly road to the west. In the north on the other side of the plain we see high hills. We meet an older but very sporty couple from Colorado on rental bikes. `Next we go via an inland road and the boring N59 to the neat Clifden.
We quickly proceed to the Sky Road: a beautiful road along the south side of a narrow peninsula. The road climbs steadily to over 100 above the coast. From here we have an amazing view of the many islands. After the descent we take the N59 further north. Along the way we enjoy beautiful views of the more than 700 meters high Twelve Bens. From Letterfrack we take a narrow and steep road to Renvyle Castle – actually hardly more than a donjon. The campsite near Ardnagreevagh is beautifully situated directly on the beach.
Day 9: Ardnagreevagh > Westport (68 km)
From the campground we cycle eastwards: first on a diverse road along the coast, and then inland along small lakes to the N59. We round the Keenan Lough and take the R335 all the way back along the other side of the water. After the Delphi Holiday Center we turn right on a small road into the Sheeffry Hills. The landscape here is very beautiful: it reminds me of the English Lake District. After this hilly road we reach the campground in Westport, which is situated on an estate with fairground attractions.
Day 10: Westport > Doogort (86 km)
The GPS track guides us through a true labyrinth of narrow roads in the area between the N59 and the coast. After Newport we see country flags, in this case the green/red of Mayo, hanging more than elsewhere. As far as I’m concerned such ‘artificial’ regionalism is outdated. We also see a lot of cyclists coming from Newport. Just like them we use the well-constructed bicycle path over the former railway line (1894-1937) to Achill Sound. This is a really nice trip.
From Mulranny we go clockwise over Corraun Peninsula. From the south coast we have beautiful views. Next we cycle over the bridge to Achill Island. Also here we go clockwise first. On the southwest side we have perhaps the most beautiful view (on cliffs, the bay and Clare Island) of the entire holiday. We spend the night at a beach campsite near Doogart. On the beach we see the sun setting beautifully behind the dominant Slievemore (671 m).
Day 11: Doogort > Ballina (103 km)
The first fifteen kilometers of the day we have strong headwinds. After that we reach the cycle route over the old railway line, which is a bit more sheltered. At Mulranny we go north on the N59. Up to Bangor the landscape is boring and anyway we don’t see much because of the low-hanging clouds and drizzle. However, the backwind makes it bearable. From Bangor we head eastwards over a plateau at an altitude of about 100 meters. After the busy road between Crossmolina and Ballina we reach the fine campsite on the north side of town. It was a day without any highlights.
Day 12: Ballina > Strandhill (83 km)
Today’s route is simple: follow the coastline. The road first takes us along Killala Bay, where numerous boats are floating on the water. Then we continue on the R298: first along the downright ugly Eniscrone, then to the nicer Easky, and finally on a nice coastal road along an old tower. From here we can see the Slieve League, with almost 600 m one of Europe’s highest cliffs, on the other side of Donegal Bay, about 40 kilometers away.
At Beltra we suddenly see the Knocknarea: a striking hill on the peninsula on the other side of the bay. The hill consists of limestone and at the top (328 m) is a burial mound (cairn) that is clearly visible from a great distance. We cycle along it on narrow roads close to the coast. At the surf village Strandhill we stop, pitch our tent and dive into the pub. It starts raining.
Day 13: Strandhill > Lough Key (103 km)
Via Sligo, filled with cars, we take the meandering R286 to the east. We cycle along Lough Gill, where Parke’s Castle is beautifully situated on the bank. After Dromahair we take a very steep shortcut. Just like everywhere else this holiday there are plenty of blackberry bushes along the road; there is no shortage of vitamin C. After lunch in Dowra we climb from Ballinagleragh very gradually along the Yellow River to an unnamed pass (400 m) in the Iron Mountains. In the nice descent over narrow roads we are especially wary of crossing sheep. The road via Drumshanbo to today’s destination Lough Key, goes up and down continuously.
From the campsite we will cycle to Boyle tomorrow, before taking the train to Dublin. By bye Ireland!