Once upon a time, I spent a year living on the western coast of Ireland, in an area of Connemara called Inverin, which is thirteen miles up the coast road from Galway City. Last October, I had good cause to return for nine days, and had invited a childhood friend to accompany me sans husbands, sans children, and sans any thoughts beyond my mission, which was to photograph many of the places I’d written about in my latest novel, which is set in Connemara.

When my friend asked me where we would go and what we would do on our trip, my best answer was, “We’ll book a few rooms, hire a car, make our way from Shannon airport to Clifden over a stretch of six days, then take two days to circle back towards Shannon; we’ll just see what happens.” In short, I intentionally had a loose plan centered on nothing more than a camera and the places I wanted to photograph.

The good news is you can have this sort of plan when travelling through Ireland because it leaves room for the happy accident. It’s been my experience that serendipitous things tend to happen in Ireland, wrought from the hands of the friendly Irish people. Mind you, I’m not advocating throwing caution to the wind when travelling in Ireland, it’s just that after spending a year in Ireland, I learned a thing or two about going with the flow. Ireland has its own spontaneous rhythm, so my advice for travelers is to settle upon how many days you’ll be in Ireland, find an online hotel booking agency for the areas that interest you, hire a car, and leave the rest to unfold as it will. This is exactly what my friend and I did last October, and it afforded us the trip of a lifetime, the highlights of which I’ll share with you now.

My only real concern pertained to the acquisition of a car while driving under the influence of what I knew would be disorienting jet-lag after the eleven hour flight from California. There are such disparate driving conditions between America and Ireland that I didn’t want to risk driving in a trial by fire, so I had the wherewithal to book a car at the airport and our hotel for the first night twenty minutes away in the town of Gort. Knowing it’d be early morning when we arrived, I’d made arrangements with the hotel for early check-in. We dropped our bags at the hotel at eight AM and took to the streets, our aim being to keep moving and get on Irish time immediately.

We headed for the spectacular wooded grounds of Coole Park, less than ten minutes away, then onto Thoor Ballylee to see W.B. Yeats summer home. It was there we met a kind local who directed us to the 7th century ruins of Kilmacduagh Monastery and gave us the tip to knock on the door of the middle house across the lane to ask a woman named Lily for the keys to the abbey’s gate. We had an incredible day in the environs of Gort; we were so enamored of the area in this tourist off-season that we returned to Coole Park the following day, then made our way slowly to our next destination of Ballyvaughn.

On the road to Ballyvaughn is the seaside village of Kinvara, wherein we spent the afternoon exploring. We marveled at Dunghaire Castle, the myriad shops and restaurants, walked along the docks, then stopped at a handful of ancient churches that we spied from the side of the winding road before we checked into a charming B & B in Ballyvaughn, in which we stayed two nights. We drove leisurely the next day through County Clare on our way to the Cliffs of Moher. We explored Doolin and Lisdoonvarna along the way, and made it to the windswept cliffs before nightfall.

The next morning, we headed to Inverin, where we were booked for three nights in a privately owned thatched cottage we used as a base from which we explored Galway City, the fields of Inverin, and the coastal town of Spiddal. On our second day, we made the hour long drive to Clifden, stopping randomly throughout our journey to photograph rambling streams, flocks of sheep, and the odd ruined castle positioned haphazardly in the endless bog. We found unheralded estate hotels on the way to Kylemore Abbey, then perused the vibrant town of Clifden until well after dark.

After checking out of the thatched cottage the next morning, we drove to Limerick City and walked around, but stayed twenty minutes outside in the picturesque, historically preserved village of Adare, where we were overwhelmed by its endless architectural delights. The following day, which was our last in Ireland, we had lunch in the gallery of the five star hotel named Dromoland Castle, then drove twenty minutes to stay in Bunratty: a charming town surrounded by ochre fields with a castle and a woolen mills in the town center, just ten minutes away from Shannon airport, so there was no need to rush for our early morning flight. The wonderful thing about the way I’d booked the hotels throughout western Ireland is that no destination for the night was much farther than a one hour drive, with the exception of the distance between Inverin and Adare, which was slightly more.

And the happy accidents I mentioned that tend to happen in Ireland? They were plenty: a stranger with directions to Kilmacduagh Monastery; tips from locals on where the best Irish traditional music could be heard; directions to Poulnabrone Dolmen in County Clare’s burren by a proud local we met in a restaurant; late night Irish folklore whispered beside a fire in a thatched cottage in Inverin; a spontaneous tour of the bookstores in Galway City by a literary promoter we met serendipitously on the street; a knock on the bedroom door at five thirty in the morning from the proprietress of the B & B in Bunratty, who insisted upon driving us to the airport well before sun-up. And all because we left room for the happy accident.


“What a great trip,” my friend said as we boarded the plane.
“I know,” I returned, “it couldn’t have gone better had we planned.”

This article first appeared on the travel site GotIreland.com.

Views: 428

Tags: Clare, Connemara, Galway, Limerick, Tourism, Travel


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Comment by Joe Gannon on April 9, 2015 at 12:46pm

My wife and I use a variation on this "loose plan" on our annual trips to Ireland. We rent a cottage and a car and usually confine our sightseeing to things no more than about an hour or so from where we are staying. After seven straight years of traveling there, driving on the other side and the narrowness of many Irish roads no longer present any problems. We'll have a list of places we want to see, but we leave plenty of time for merely roaming the area. Any sign we see something that sounds interesting, we'll take the turn and go.

We often find ourselves on roads barely wide enough for one car and in rural towns that are far off the normal tourist trails, and that is when we have often had our most memorable times, whether it was seeing wonderfully amazing landscapes or meeting and speaking with locals. We also got directions once from a local farmer while looking for Kilmacduagh Monastery, who knows if it might have been the same guy. His directions were highly creative with regard to the landmarks on the way, but sure didn't they get us where we were wanting to go, as he might have said. ;-)

One of the ways we creatively wander the area we are in is by buying the Irish Ordinance Survey maps of the local area and searching for the castles that are shown on them. You never know if they'll be recognizable as a castle any more, or just a big pile of stones until you get there, but the getting there is the fun most of the time. Sometimes they are inaccessible on private land, but once in Co. Mayo when we ran into that problem the owners allowed us on the property and we ended up at the former home of the infamous Capt. Boycott, now owned by a lovely retired couple that used to sell Connemara ponies in the US. 

Comment by Claire Fullerton on April 9, 2015 at 12:52pm

Joe, I smiled all the way through your post and have decided the next time I go to Ireland, I want to be sitting in the back seat of your car!

Comment by Bit Devine on April 9, 2015 at 2:15pm

I call these types of trips.. Faery Led... and I am more apt to be Faery Led when I have nobody to be responsible for other than myself... I have found some of the most amazing places by listening to the Faeries... and the locals...

I always tell my clients to NOT be in such a rush that they push away conversations with locals they encounter.. That is where the memories are made... in those small moments...

An old man in old-fashioned garb...riding an old fashioned High Nelly style bicycle... Entertains you with stories of the people who grew up and resided in the ruin of a home you are photographing.. and then tells you all about working in the Mill that is also in ruins a short three fields away... Then seemingly disappears in to thin air when a car approaches... And the driver of said car who nods knowingly and says "So ya met him then did ya?"... offers no other explanation and drives on ... after making sure you are all set and not in need of help, of course...


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Comment by Joe Gannon on April 9, 2015 at 4:18pm

In Kerry a few years back our landlord living down the hill from us over looking Lough Caragh walked up the hill one evening and sat at the picnic table outside our thatched roof cottage telling us stories of the locals.

The view across the lake was fantastic, with the Macgillycuddy Reeks in the distance. He pointed across the water to the farm across the way and told us how that was the largest farm in the area (the name of the family escapes me). Well, he says, it was one of the sons, went away to Australia, ya see, and hit it big there and didn't he send back money to is Da every month so the family was able to buy up lots of the land surrounding their little farm so now it was the biggest farm in the area. I asked how long it had been since that son went off to Australia. Oh, he says, I tink it was not long after the Famine.

I had to hold back a laugh, not wanting him to think I thought he was silly, for surely I didn't. I was just amazed that anyone could talk about events from over 150 years ago like it happened last week. But then his family had built the cottage we were staying in sometime around 1609. So generation after generation passed down an oral history of the area. It's one of the things that keeps us going back, that and the fact that there has always seemed to be some subconscious pull telling me, "this is not a foreign country, this is home."

Comment by Bit Devine on April 9, 2015 at 6:33pm

Time has a different pace there, Joe... It is why we feel things so much deeper ... Because one hundred years passes the same as 100 days

Comment by Claire Fullerton on April 9, 2015 at 8:57pm

I heard it said from a certain Irish traditional musician that there's a thin veil in Ireland between this world and the next!

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