The Wild Atlantic Way

Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way stretches from West Cork to Donegal, hugging the rugged coastline. Around every twist and turn of its rural roads, tourists can experience some of the most spectacular scenery in the whole wide world.

So many words come to mind when trying to describe the sheer magnificence of this scenery – wild, untamed, breath-taking, dramatic, dazzling, and dare I say it, the Wild Atlantic Way is just plain awesome.

Anyway, enough of the descriptors. Here’s a sneak peak of Ireland’s wondrous, western coastline.  This infographic was beautifully crafted by the good folks at Emerald Elite Travel. I love their specially chosen photos of some of the highlights along the route.

 

And so welcome to the longest defined coastal drive in the world……..

 

Ireland Wild Atlantic Way Infographic

Image Courtesy of Emerald Elite Group

Here’s to creating wonderful memories along the Wild Atlantic Way. Wishing everyone happy travels in Ireland.

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

 

Irish American Mom

Memories Of Secret Coves, Hidden Steps and Pirate Queens

On the hill of Howth in north County Dublin a secret pirate cove awaits would-be explorers, daring enough to descend one hundred and ninety-nine steps carved out of the sheer cliff face.

In my post today, I once again hope to take you off the beaten path, and help you discover some of Ireland’s hidden treasures.

199 Steps In Howth

When I was a little girl growing up in Dublin, my grand aunt loved weekend outings with all my cousins in tow. One of our favorite hang outs was on the beach at the bottom of the “199 steps” in Howth.

My cliff stair collage above shows how these stone steps are carved out of the cliff, winding their way from the shore to Howth summit.

Looking Towards the Bailey Lighthouse Howth

This is Grace O’Malley territory. The famous Irish pirate queen visited Howth on many occasions.

My grandaunt loved to tell us this very cove was where Grace O’Malley always came ashore in Howth. Considering Grace O’Malley, or Granuaile in Irish (pronounced Graw-nea-wale) lived between the years 1530 and 1603, the truth of this tall tale may never be known.

Undeterred my grandaunt relayed stories of pirates working by torch light to hack and cut 199 steps from the rocky cliff face, to allow their pirate queen ascend to Howth’s summit undetected by the English.

Looking Down At the Cove Below 199 Steps in Howth

We loved to wind our way along the cliff path in search of the first step to this secret pirate cove. We looked down from on high dreaming of Grace’s lost treasure, just waiting behind some rock for our eager eyes to find.

Steps Leading to a Hidden Beach in Howth

Last summer I rediscovered these secret steps with my children.

Once I told them of potential pirate treasure, the made quick work of navigating the treacherous steps.

Grace O'Malley's Secret Cove in Howth

A sense of mystery and magic awaits on the rocky shore below.

Barnacle covered rock

You can easily imagine the pirate queen herself standing on top of this barnacle covered rock issuing orders to her crew of Mayo men.

A Strange Rock on an Irish Shore

This strange rock has not shifted since I was a little girl.

I imagined a big, strong pirate flung the smaller red rock across the beach with such force that it lodged into the larger boulder.

I’m certain there’s a perfectly sound geological explanation for this rock formation, but let’s face it, nothing beats a good pirate story.

Ireland's Shoreline - Rocky Beaches

This is no sandy beach. Shoes are definitely required for pebble covered shores…..

Seaweed Covered Rocks

……. and seaweed strewn rocks.

Searching for Pirate's Treasure

My kiddos were convinced Grace O’Malley’s treasure lay beneath the large rocks at the base of these cliffs. I spent hours as a child climbing those very rocks. In four decades they don’t seem to have budged even an inch.

The Beach Below 199 Steps in Howth

A small row boat could easily have been maneuvered close to the rocky shore at this very point, allowing the brave Grace reach dry land. 

O’Malley’s connections to Howth are not just part of my late grandaunt’s vivid imagination.

In 1576 Grace O’Malley tried to call upon Lord Howth at his castle only to be informed the family was at dinner and she was not a welcome guest.

 

Dublin Ferry From the Beach in Howth

This rejection did not sit well with the bold Grace. The Lord of Howth soon felt the full brunt of this pirate queen’s wrath, when she abducted his grandson and heir.

The terms of the child’s release included a promise from Lord Howth to keep the gates of his castle open to unexpected visitors, and to always set an extra place at every meal.

This pledge is still honored at Howth Castle to this very day, with an extra place setting laid at table.  I wonder if Grace’s ghost ever inspects the distance between the knife and fork.

This ferry passed as we roamed the shoreline, following in the wake of pirate vessels from years gone by. What a day, imagining ghosts and pirates roaming around searching for treasure.

199 Steps in Howth

And so, after an energetic day playing on a secret pirate cove in Howth, the long trek upward and homeward began. There are no cable cars or lifts to take treasure hunters back to the cliff top. The only way home is to shift one foot after the other until all 199 steps are finally surmounted.

For anyone interested in a stiff climb to a secret (or not-so-secret anymore) cove, access to the 199 steps lies on the left hand side of the cliff as you walk out the headland towards the Bailey Lighthouse. That’s all the information I’m willing to part with, and if you can’t find it, perhaps you’ll find the way on an old pirate treasure map.

Wishing you all happy trails, discovering your very own hidden Ireland.

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

 

 

Irish American Mom

 

Irish Fireside – A Wonderful Website For Planning A Trip To Ireland

Irish Fireside is a warm and welcoming website, where you can explore all that Ireland has to offer from the comfort of your own home. 

From Ireland’s ancient past to current day festivals and fairs, Irish Fireside provides a wealth of information, especially about some of Ireland’s lesser known sites.

Evening Over Lough Derg, County Tipperary Image Credit

Irish Fireside’s Creators:

 

Corey Taratuta is a freelance writer and designer, and his partner Liam Hughes provides private tours of Ireland from his cottage in County Tipperary.  Here’s what they say about their writing and photography:

 

“We created this site for anyone dreaming about Ireland.

So sit back, relax, and explore as we share our insight

into the Emerald Isle’s destinations, culture,

and items of interest to the Irish diaspora.”

 

This is not a typical tourist website, with emphasis on Ireland’s famous attractions. Instead you can take a visual and informative tour through the Irish countryside, visiting castles and ruins, ancient ring forts and dolmens, without ever setting foot on an airplane.

 

Benbulben, County Sligo Image Credit

I receive many e-mails and messages on Facebook from readers asking advice on how to plan a trip to Ireland.  I love to share stories about my childhood memories of Ireland, and trips I have taken when home, but my site is more of a ramble through Ireland and America, not an in-depth resource for tourists.

And so where do I send my readers who are planning a trip to the Emerald Isle?  To Irish Fireside of course. Corey’s and Liam’s blog posts have helped me on numerous occasions to answer many readers’ questions. Thanks guys for such a wide variety of topics and interesting reports and podcasts.

Climbing to the Beehive Cluster on Skellig MichaelImage Credit

Ireland Travel Kit:

 

Tourists flock to Ireland’s more well-known attractions such as the Ring of Kerry and the Cliffs of Moher, but at Irish Fireside they know Ireland has much, much more to offer. To meet the needs of inquisitive tourists, their Ireland Travel Kit takes you where many have not gone before. The folks at Irish Fireside gathered the best Irish travel experts and bloggers to take you to “Ireland’s unique, off-beat, and often-missed sites”.

Here’s what they say:

 

“We love enchanted fairy forts, trinket-laden holy wells, and eerie graveyards.

The nearby dolmen holds our attention, as does the local music session.

We can’t resist haunted pubs, beloved movie locations, and shops run by colorful locals.”

 

I highly recommend the interactive map, where you can click on icons to explore Ireland’s hidden gems. Truly, this tool is invaluable for tourists wishing to explore hidden Ireland.

Irish Fireside - Best Blog of the Irish DiasporaImage Credit

Awards and Recognition:

 

In 2013 Irish Fireside was named the Best Blog of the Diaspora by Blog Awards Ireland. The blog has been recognized by Lonely Planet and GoOverseas.

Sunrise over Irish fieldsImage Credit

Photo Albums:

 

The contributors at Irish Fireside share many of their photographs on Flickr, creatively organizing their shots into photo albums.

I cannot thank them enough for uploading their stunning photos with a creative commons license, allowing bloggers like me to use them, once credit is linked back to their original images.

These amazing shots I used for today’s post all come from Irish Fireside’s albums. Thanks guys for doing such a fantastic job, helping people discover and fall in love with Ireland.

View from the Blackstones Bridge, County KerryImage Credit

Where To Find Irish Fireside:

You can follow Irish Fireside on:

Facebook

Twitter

and on Pinterest.

I hope you find all the tidbits and facts you long to know about Ireland on one of these extensively researched resources from Irish Fireside.

Wishing everyone happy and informative travel planning.

 

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

 

Irish American Mom

The Beaches Of Ards Friary, County Donegal

Ards Friary, with its spectacular grounds and beaches, lies on the edge of Sheephaven Bay, and boasts magnificent Donegal scenery. Here you find wooded trails and coastline paths, just begging to be explored.

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I was sorting through some of my photos from our trip to Donegal last summer. I took some lovely, sunny shots mid-July, when the sun nearly split the stones in Ireland, much to the delight of all the locals.

One advantage of being married to a Donegal man is that he knows his home county’s hidden hideaways. We can always get off the beaten path to find a perfect spot for fun in the sun.

Looking across Sheephaven Bay from Ards Friary

When Donegal’s big beaches are crowded on a a sunny summer day, my hubby takes us straight to a quiet secluded strand, far from the madding crowd.

Sandy Beach in Ards Friary, Co. Donegal, Ireland

Last summer we found a beautiful sandy beach in Ards Forest Park near Creeslough. We spent the day soaking up the rays of the usually infrequently seen Donegal sun.

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Ards Forest Park and Friary is a haven of peace and tranquility. This woodland gem, with miles of walking tracks and secret little coves and beaches, is a truly refreshing getaway. I would go so far as to say this little enclave boasts some of the most beautiful scenery in Ireland.

Sheephaven Bay, Creeslough, Co. Donegal, Ireland

The varied landscape just makes the heart sing with happiness, strolling past sandy shores, grassy dunes, cliffs, salt marshes and beautiful woodlands.

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Donegal’s rugged coastline looks its very best on a sunny day beneath blue, cloudless skies.

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My kids were so happy to be here, they declared -

“This place is better than Florida.”

 

I wonder if they would vote for Donegal over Florida on a typical rainy summer’s day.

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No beach rentals to be found in this neck of the woods. If you need a deck chair, you better lug it along yourself. This is going to the shore Irish style.

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We walked about a mile along the coast to find a secluded beach that simply took our breath away.

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No crowds to deal with here. Just a few sunbathers scattered across the sands, and sail boats bobbing in the water.

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Airplanes heading westwards towards America passed overhead. The kids delighted in spotting contrails in the clear blue sky.

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A glorious day was had by all swimming in the cold waters of the Atlantic. Never be deceived by an Irish sunny day. The water is always freezing, no matter how hot the day may be.

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And don’t forget the sunscreen!!!

My crew have luminous Irish skin, that burns to a crisp in double quick time.

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And so, if you fancy a day building sandcastles in the sun, Ards Forest Park is the perfect getaway. Ireland’s beaches are simply breathtaking.  All we need is a little sunshine, to truly confirm the Emerald Isle is a little slice of heaven.

Here’s hoping Ireland’s summer in 2014 will be as good or even better than last year. Wishing Ireland’s tourists happy, sunny days in the months ahead.

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

 

 

Irish American Mom

Lough Gur – A Magical Lake In County Limerick

Lough Gur is a mystical lake in County Limerick, reported by locals to hide a magical realm beneath its glistening surface.  Lough Gur may not feature on most tourist’s lists of places to see when visiting the Emerald Isle, but believe it or not, it is one of Ireland’s most important historical sites.

Scenic Lough Gur

Lough Gur boasts rich evidence of ancient Irish life, Neolithic dwellings, man made islands (crannógs), pillar stones, ruined castles, a large Bronze Age stone circle, and a wedge tomb.

Visiting Lough Gur is always on my “to do” list when I spend time in Ireland. One of my favorite childhood haunts, it lies less than twenty miles from our family farm. Here my imagination runs wild. I love to recount old legends to my children.  Faeries, enchantresses and wild knights inhabit these shores and waters.

Today I thought I would finally share some of last summer’s photos of this glorious spot.

A Swan By Lough Gur

Lough Gur’s current shape is very different to its circular outline of ancient times.  Today, meandering shores kiss the feet of surrounding hills. Before the 1840′s the lake’s water levels rose much higher.

The Hill of Knockadoon lies on its eastern side, but once formed a large island in the middle of the lough. Drainage schemes in the 1840′s lowered lake waters, revealing many of its archaeological treasures.

Visitor's Center at Lough Gur

The Interpretative Center, built in a thatched replica of a Neolithic hut, offers audiovisual overviews of the area, bringing to life over 6,000 years of archaeology and history.

“The Giants Grave” is a wedge shaped tomb dating back to around 2,500 B.C..

Grange Stone Circle is composed of 113 standing stones. Dating back to 2,200 B.C., it is the largest stone circle in Ireland.

Crannogs at Lough Gur

On the summit of the surrounding hill, Knockfennel, there is a ring-cairn of stones. Upon archaeological excavation pockets of burnt human bones were found.  Yikes!!!! Our ancient ancestors were a crazy bunch.

Island in Lough Gur

Bolin Island – a man made island.

Over one thousand years ago the local inhabitants built Bolin island as a defense against their enemies. This artificial island is called a ‘crannóg’, from “crann” the Irish word for tree. When under attack the farmers of Lough Gur retreated to their island by an underwater causeway, lifting the bridge to deny admission to their attackers.

Lough Gur, County Limerick

During excavation of one of Lough Gur’s ring forts a hoard of Danish silver was discovered suggesting the presence of Vikings.

Castle at Lough Gur

Bouchier’s Castle is a typical tower house with defensive balconies and a causeway guarding its approach. It is currently listed for restoration, so hopefully government budgets will soon allow work to begin.

Informational Sign at Lough Gur

An Informative Shield Sign Recounting An Ancient Mythical Tale Of The Lake

Stories of a mystical past abound. One folk tale of the lake recounts the enchanted fate of Gerald Fitzgerald, 3rd Earl of Desmond  (1338 to 1398), a Chief Justice of Ireland and a poet in both Irish and French.  Supposedly he never died, but now lives beneath the waters.

Lough Gur in Ireland

Every seven years this lost Fitzgerald emerges from the lake, riding his white steed, shod with glistening silver shoes. He gallops around the shore and across the lake before returning to his watery home. The legend foretells he will regain his mortal form when he finally wears away his horse’s silver shoes. If I ever bump into him, I must remind him to stick to the hard shores for his midnight rides. He’ll never wear out those shoes riding across the water. When he returns for good he will restore the glory of the Desmonds.

Lakeside Walk at Lough Gur

Another famous Fitzgerald with connections to this area is Honey Fitz, Mayor of Boston and grandfather of the 35th President of the United States. The family of John Francis Fitzgerald (1863 – 1950) emigrated to Boston from this area.  He was known as “Honey Fitz” because of his beautiful singing voice.

View of Lough Gur from top of the scenic walk

Many other folk tales exist recounting tales of the goddess Áine known to sit by the lake combing her golden tresses.

I found a wonderful website, Voices From The Dawn, which dedicates a full post to the history and folklore of Lough Gur.  Here you will find short videos of the late Tom McNamera, the storyteller of Lough Gur, recounting the mythical tales of these waters.

For anyone interested in visiting this beautiful lake, the Lough Gur website includes plenty of helpful and informative information.

If you’re the type of tourist who enjoys getting off the beaten path and visiting the treasures of hidden Ireland, then a trip to Lough Gur should feature on your list of places to see.

Wishing visitors to Ireland, this summer and always, happy, educational and exciting adventures.

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom