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SECRETS OF THE WILD ATLANTIC WAY - EXPLORING IRELAND`S RUGGED WEST COAST
 
(2014 - Spring Issue)

Writer: STEVE GILLICK



Pat Sweeney grew up on a farm overlooking the iconic Cliffs of Moher on Ireland’s rugged west coast.

He’s a hardworking farmer, father, footballer, fundraiser and boxing coach. His dream was to share with visitors his passion for the power of the Atlantic Ocean, the stunning cliffs and the local history that engages both the locals and visitors with the land.

A Dream Come True

Pat shared his thoughts with me as we walked the path he was instrumental in creating, which stretches 5.5 kilometres from the village of Doolin to the Cliffs of Moher. His dream involved the monumental task of obtaining approval from different levels of government as well as convincing 38 farmers to relinquish portions of their land for the path to pass through. 

Pat epitomizes the promotion that Tourism Ireland has appropriately named “The Wild Atlantic Way” where “wild” is the operative word and refers to both the natural state of the coastline and the furiously turbulent power of the Atlantic Ocean. The entire route covers 2,500 kilometres from Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coastal Route, to the towns and attractions around Donegal and Sligo, past Connemara to the Ring of Kerry and on to the town of Kinsale, just south of Cork.

The Wild Atlantic Way was formally inaugurated in March 2014, and has excited the imagination and creativity of eco/cultural tourism pioneers such as Pat Sweeney, but has also energized travellers who are seeking that “what else can we do” experience when they visit a destination. 

Coastal Treasures

Having travelled in Northern Ireland in the past, I flew into Shannon Airport and began a shorter 1,100-kilometre journey to discover some of the secrets of the Wild Atlantic Way. After a 90-minute drive I found myself in the town of Spiddal, just west of Galway where I met Charlie Troy and Dearbhaill Standun and their labour of love: the restored hill-village of Cnoc Suain. Guests can rent a thatched stone house dating to 1690, learn about local music and cooking, walk the hills and fields, hear the legendary tales of the bog men or just revel in the fresh air and the peace and quiet.  

The evening was spent at Ballynahinch Castle in nearby Recess, complemented by a morning walk through the beautiful estate with its cottages, woodlands, lakeside trails, salmon fishing rivers and mountain views.   

Following a stop at Oliver’s Seafood in Cleggan to savour a bowl of chowder, chocked full of smoked salmon, haddock, crab, mussels, whitefish and prawns, I met Henry, my Irish Cob horse at the Cleggan Riding Centre. With Siobhan guiding, we set out on narrow back roads and past curious cows and braying donkeys, before crossing the low-tide land bridge to Omey Island. There we explored the beach and trotted in the water next to black and white seagulls before reluctantly heading back.

That evening was spent in Galway, slurping juicy, fat Galway Bay oysters at the Seafood Bar at Kirwan’s Lane and then heading to the Tig Coili pub to tap our feet to the rhythmic “trad” music, accompanied, of course, by a freshly poured Guinness beer. 

Farther South in Doolin, I met with Pat Sweeney for our walk to the Cliffs of Moher.  The sheer drops, huge cracked rocks, feisty foaming ocean, and the personable conversation with Pat made this “Wild Atlantic Walk” a never-to-forget experience.

Following an overnight in the busy little town of Dingle, I met Pat Buckley for a drive around Slea Head, highlighted by small communities, narrow roads, dramatic vistas of the ocean and the Skellig Islands. But the secrets of the area included “turning a pot” at Louis Mulcahy’s Pottery and exploring the Clochán beehive stone dwellings. Claiming “we had bar coding here before you did,” Pat pointed out the Ogham stones on which the earliest form of Irish writing appears as bars and crosses.

In Portmagee, a fishing village just off the Ring of Kerry, a bridge crosses over to Valentia Island where the circle road leads to windy heights, awesome views of the Atlantic, hiking trails, a dramatic slate quarry, dinosaur footprints and picturesque Knightstown.

In fact, just about every town and village along the route is an excuse to park the car and explore. In Sneem you can gaze at the “knot” in the river, after which the town is named, and visit the sculpture garden. In Kenmare you can discover the colourful buildings, pubs and shops. 

The most southwesterly point of Ireland is Mizen Head, where the lighthouse and the teardrop of land were often the last glimpse of the country etched in the minds of those departing for North America. Museum displays feature life in a lighthouse, the birds, seals, whales and dolphins in the area, and the ships that fell victim to the winds and the waters. Stairs and pathways lead across an arched bridge where spectacular views allow visitors to get up close and personal with the wild Atlantic.

The final section of the route continues along the southern coast and carries you to the scenic towns of Skibbereen, Clonakilty and, lastly, Kinsale. 

The Wild Atlantic Way is the culmination of the unrelenting passion of many small towns and visionaries to bring local attractions, activities and stunning views to travellers who search for incredible experiences and unforgettable memories.

Travel Planner

For more information on Ireland and the Wild Atlantic Way, visit tourismireland.com/wild-atlantic-way.

Starting in 2014, Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) provides year-round access to Ireland from major Canadian cities.

For accommodation, consider: Ballynahinch Castle Hotel and Estate, Recess: ballynahinch-castle.com

Brook Lane Hotel, Kenmare: brooklanehotel.com

Dingle Benners Hotel, Dingle: dinglebenners.com

Dromoland Castle, Newmarket-on-Fergus: dromoland.ie

Hayfield Manor Hotel, Cork: hayfieldmanor.ie

The House Hotel, Galway: thehousehotel.ie

The Moorings Guesthouse, Portmagee: moorings.ie

 
 
 
 
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