This is Part III of III chronicling a trip to Ireland for 12 remote radio shows and a media trip surrounding St. Patrick's Day by the Karel Cast, Karel, Niall Forester and Dennis Cope. It started at the end of the trip with St. Patrick's Day and that article can be found at the HuffingtonPost Travel section here. Part II of the story from Dublin out to Westport can be found in the list here.
All Photos Karel, Dennis Cope and Niall Forrester
There's so much to see along the Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland -- the longest continuous route in the Atlantic -- that it simply can't be done in one trip, let alone a few days. So, highlights had to be picked out.
Since we were to drive from Westport to the Mount Falcon Estate in Ballina, County Mayo we took a southern turn so we could take in the Famine Memorial in Murrisk. We packed up the rental car, the MiFi hotspot (invaluable) the BMW 1200 Adventure GS's and headed off in to a laid back day of travel in the West of Ireland.
On the way to Murrisk we rounded a corner outside Westport and I was immediately reminded of the subtle grandeur around almost every corner in Ireland. Suddenly, before us, was a marvelous harbor shrouded in fog, with Croagh Patrick, their sacred mountain, to the left, again, shrouded in mist. Homes dotted the harbor with chimneys filled with white smoke and the smell of burning bog was everywhere. It would be the first of many such stops, stops just to take a moment and soak it all in.
We made it to Murrisk where there's a car park if you want to hike up Croagh Patrick from this angle. Hiking wasn't on our list of things to do this trip, but the Famine Memorial and old Monastery certainly were. We turned right off the main road on a small road that led down to the waterfront. There were no massive national park gates, just a sign asking you to be respectful. We would find out that it is a working cemetery.
The monastery was built in the 1400s. A matter of land and landlords is what eventually chased the monks out and there are no known surviving members of the order. The entire area is also dedicated to the Famine Memorial and the many who were lost both on land and in the coffin ships headed towards America from these very ports on which so many died.
And it was here, with no one else around, that we saw a man walking towards a grave and just had to stop and talk. Kind, informative, candid, he embodies the Irish heart and soul.
Next it was on to Irish Coffee, Tea and Scone with clotted Cream and the most delicious vegetable soup and brown bread yet at the Derrylahan in Louisburgh, Mayo. It's a perfect pit stop, a dreamy town with quaint shops and even a Wild Atlantic Way art studio and gallery.
Then the country of ever-changing scenery took another turn, literally, as we made a left just cross the bridge out of town and began our journey in to the Doolough Pass. This is where hundreds fled, this pass, when there was no place else for them to be. The Famine was in full swing. There were no jobs, no money, no food, no space on the coffin ships, no one to help them at all. They traveled in to the pass, never to come out, a storm and the lack of food sealing their fate.
The monument in the valley is simple and moving, a stone cross with inscription. The beauty of the area marred only by the feeling that something wrong happened here. We walk over and drink from the freshest stream ever, gasping at the water's freshness. We stand by the water's edge and wonder what it could have been like, a place so beautiful now, so filled with sorrow then. We drive some more, silently.
As motorcycle rides go, this is the best in the world for me, and it's been named one of the top three by Top Gear riders; it's got it all , corners, straightaways, vistas, places to stop and look, smells of it all, I cannot imagine a better motorcycling experience.
We drove for some time just taking it all in, hardly seeing another car. In fact, there were more sheep than anything else, dotting the hillsides, drinking from the various streams that feed down from the clouds themselves.
We came upon a sign that said Delphi Adventure Center, "Stop in and say hi!" So, we did. No appointment. No clue if the place was even open, literally, in the middle of no where. Would we be thrown out? Shown the door? Told to turn the cameras off? On the contrary, we were greeted, given a full tour and then conversation and drink at the pub. The hotel and adventure center was gearing up for opening day, St. Patrick's Weekend. With just hours from going live, people could be seen setting up, preparing for the full house that was planned.
This is the place for family fun. There's over 21 activities, from zip lining in the forest to kayaking, camping, archery, fishing, you name it. And the entire philosophy of "leave no trace," meaning, leave nature as good or better than you find it, plays well for the serene surroundings. A private tour, a quick pint, and fabulous conversation all unexpected and delightful. That's Ireland and its people all in one. An open door and heart. Far too soon it was back on the road to Ballina back through Westport and off to Mount Falcon.
After Delphi and the kindness, the breathtaking views of Doolough Pass and the drive along the Fjord, yes, a fjord, back to Westport we all realized it would take weeks to explore all the stores, shops, towns, villages... all the little Irelands along the way. There are so many countries within one, each unique yet brilliant, vibrant and alive.
After tea it was off to Mount Falcon Estate in Ballina, Mayo. I've had the pleasure of staying at Mount Juliet in Thomastown near Killkenny so I was excited to stay here. We had been driving a few hours, through villages each with something we wanted to see. There were seaweed baths in Sligo, yes, baths, in sea weed, and sea weed products of all kinds. There were salmon fishing centers along the Moy River, the best salmon fishing in Ireland. And all along the way "car boot sales" (garage sales) as well as flea markets with brightly colored jackets of all kinds, fluorescent. It was soon we realized these were being sold in such demand because people walk from town to town, village to village and need to be seen on the roads. What none of us have seen the entire trip (nor would we) were large numbers of citizens obese in wheelchairs or hover-rounds.
Pulling up to Mount Falcon, or any of the other estate properties you can find all over Ireland for a night or a month, is overwhelming. 110 acres surround a giant guest manor that looks out of the pages of Downton Abbey.
Luckily for us inside was a state of the art spa with steam and sauna, pool, massage, facials... the works. It is so nice people in the nearby town buy memberships and workout with hotel guests. A quick trip to the spa and then a pint in the on-site pub wore off the road; the dinner prepared by a French Chef with Irish Soul would take us through the evening our taste buds dancing all the while.
Mount Falcon is privately owned and has been for years. Originally built to house a noble's wife, it was the pride and joy of a single woman until her retirement and death. The estate prides itself on growing much of what is eaten there, even catching it (the menu says look out for buckshot in the quail and pheasant). This is common on many properties around Ireland, as well as entire villages and cities. Irish food for Irish People. Now there's a concept.
The grounds offers enough activities from archery and boating to clay shooting and salmon fishing that one could spend weeks here. Our time was short, but we were all happy to have experienced it even briefly. It's the Ireland of fairy tales, of Kings and estates and thrones and games and such. And again, remarkably affordable especially in the off season.
Two days and so many experiences on just a piece of the Wild Atlantic Way it's easy to see why so many are booking multiple trips over to explore it. We had to head back to Dublin for the parade and festivities, which is the article this series all started with (see link at top of page). We've been in the "Venice of the West" of Ireland, held Grammy awards, met locals, eaten incredibly locally sourced food, had an unexpected tour in an unexpected place, been moved to tears more than once and every single time we all thought our beauty meter had risen to its max, something else came along. We've met marvelous locals in cemeteries and had five star treatment in manor houses.
Dublin would be a world apart, an experience so cosmopolitan you could be in New York. But here, in the West, in the middle, along the way there's so much to experience one could spend a lifetime on the small island seeing it all.
But one constant remains: stop and look, listen to the radio, the TV (which everyone must have a license to have a TV, the fees go towards their public broadcasts); talk to the people, all kinds. Pay attention, read the papers. You'll find that we're so very much the same, the Irish and Americans. The same dreams and hopes for our families, ourselves, our country. The same problems and fears.
And we all like to have fun.
To find out more about any of the places mentioned or discover your own go to Discover Ireland.
More Highlights of the Trip Include:
Pour the Perfect Pint with Guinness Brewmaster in Connoisseur Bar, St. James Gate
The Lord Mayor of Dublin Oisin Quinn