THE WILD AT­LANTIC WAY, IRE­LAND

No red dust, but Ire­land’s Wild At­lantic Way pro­vides the per­fect op­por­tu­nity to get your tyres dirty in this part of the world. Plus it has links to Aus­tralia’s out­back his­tory.

4 x 4 Australia - - Contents - WORDS RUSS RYAN PHO­TOG­RA­PHY RUSS RYAN AND MARK O’TOOLE

IT’S BEEN said that sim­ple ideas are of­ten the best. Well, when some­body re­cently came up with the no­tion of link­ing all of the coastal roads and tracks that hug the western seaboard of Ire­land, who would have thought it’d end up be­ing one of the most spec­tac­u­lar coastal drives in the world?

We sim­ply had to see what all the fuss was about. So we loaded two Land Rover De­fend­ers and, over two and a half weeks, planned to take in as many re­mote tracks as pos­si­ble along this 2500km route.

The ad­ven­ture started in the pic­turesque town of Kin­sale in County Cork, where we fol­lowed the coast­line through the coun­ties of Kerry, Clare, Gal­way, Mayo, Sligo and Leitrim, be­fore end­ing on a high note as we tack­led a maze of dirt tracks in the moun­tain­ous County Done­gal. Al­ter­na­tively, you can start in Done­gal and work your way down the coast to Kin­sale. The first phase of this epic coast­line drive took us along the County Cork coast, where ar­eas of in­ter­est in­cluded Bal­ti­more, Sk­ib­bereen, Schull, the scenic Mizen Head, Glen­gar­riff, and the beau­ti­ful yet re­mote Beara Penin­sula, be­fore ar­riv­ing at the busy town of Ken­mare.

We de­cided to stay in a camp­site in Kil­lar­ney, one of Ire­land’s most fa­mous tourist towns. After a good rest fol­low­ing a few pints of the black stuff, it was off to ex­plore the Ring of Kerry en route to the Din­gle Penin­sula.

On the way to the Din­gle Penin­sula, we de­cided to set up camp early at Inch Beach. This pro­vided the first op­por­tu­nity for some beach driv­ing, and we found the per­fect spot to camp just a cou­ple of kilo­me­tres near the end of the beach. As you drive down the beach you can’t help but no­tice the spec­tac­u­lar views of the Macgilly­cuddy’s Reeks moun­tain range – the high­est in Ire­land – and the Din­gle Penin­sula in the dis­tance.

After agree­ing on the per­fect camp­ing lo­ca­tion, we set up a camp­fire and re­laxed in the deckchairs to chow down on some hot bread cooked in the Dutch oven. After din­ner we sat back and watched the spec­tac­u­lar scenery change colour as the sun went down be­hind the dis­tant moun­tains.

After some good, strong cof­fee the fol­low­ing morn­ing, we packed up and took the short drive to the vil­lage of An­nascaul. We were keen to visit a fa­mous pub in the vil­lage once owned by one of Ire­land’s most fa­mous

We loaded two Land Rover De­fend­ers and planned to take in as many re­mote tracks as pos­si­ble along this 2500km route

ex­plor­ers, a man called Tom Crean. Crean passed away in 1938, but in his pub, the suit­ably named South Pole Inn, his pres­ence is very much still alive.

Tom Crean was a gen­tle gi­ant and is of­ten de­scribed as an un­sung hero who served with Ernest Shack­le­ton on nu­mer­ous po­lar ex­pe­di­tions. He took part in three of his­tory’s most gru­elling Antarc­tic ex­pe­di­tions, whereby he re­ceived the Al­bert Medal for Brav­ery. He re­tired in his home vil­lage of An­nascaul, where he bought the pub.

After a hearty break­fast in the South Pole Inn we con­tin­ued to­wards Din­gle to visit an­other fa­mous Ir­ish site: Saint Brendan’s Port, just out­side of Din­gle. Din­gle is as close to Amer­ica from Europe as you can get.

You can also take a boat trip to the Skel­lig Is­lands UNESCO World Her­itage Site. Th­ese un­usual pyra­mid­like is­lands, perched 13km from the main­land, were re­cently used to film scenes from the flick Star Wars: The

Force Awak­ens. You will see the is­lands in the dis­tance as you drive along the coastal Slea Head Route.

The County Clare sec­tion of the Wild At­lantic Way of­fers a very dif­fer­ent and unique coastal ex­pe­ri­ence. It’s packed with big-hit­ting at­trac­tions in­clud­ing the Cliffs of Mo­her, Bur­ren Na­tional Park, stun­ning beaches packed with surfers, and an abun­dance of an­cient sites that are of na­tional sig­nif­i­cance.

As you con­tinue along the nar­row, me­an­der­ing coastal road you will soon see the Cliffs of Mo­her ap­pear over the hori­zon. We spent two days in this very un­usual moon­scape en­vi­ron­ment, which was just a short walk to the vil­lage of Doolin.

Doolin boasts a num­ber of ex­cel­lent fish restau­rants. You can also ex­pe­ri­ence vil­lage pub life, with one of the lo­cal pubs show­cas­ing tra­di­tional Ir­ish mu­sic. This mu­si­cal ex­pe­ri­ence will give you an in­sight into the cul­ture that has echoed within this town for cen­turies.

The word ‘Bur­ren’ comes from the Ir­ish word ‘Boíre­ann’, mean­ing a rocky place. The Bur­ren, cov­er­ing an area of 160km2, is prob­a­bly Ire­land’s most unique

na­tional park. Hu­mans have set­tled here since the Stone Age and Ne­olithic times, with ev­i­dence of their ex­is­tence – tombs, dol­mens and forts – scat­tered through­out the park. One of th­ese well­p­re­served tombs is the Poulnabrone dol­men, which dates back be­fore the pyra­mids of Egypt.

After spend­ing a cou­ple of days in the Bur­ren, it was time to point the Land Rovers to­wards Gal­way and the next sec­tion of the Wild At­lantic Way.

Ar­riv­ing in Kin­vara, near the Gal­way and Clare bor­der, I knew we were close to the home and birth­place of Robert O’hara Burke – the Ir­ish­man who led the ill-fated ex­pe­di­tion across Aus­tralia in 1860.

Hav­ing had the op­por­tu­nity to take my Land Rover along part of this route in the Aus­tralian out­back, I was keen to see where he was born and visit the house he grew up in. We couldn’t get into the pri­vately owned house, but we did get a chance to talk to the care­taker who told us there was a plaque on the wall of the man­sion doc­u­ment­ing Burke’s achieve­ments in Aus­tralia.

After en­joy­ing an­other great camp­site close to Burke’s home, we packed up early and de­cided to head to­wards Maam Cross. Here we picked up the coastal track at Kil­lary, Ire­land’s only fjord.

We were one week into the trip as we en­tered County Mayo, which has of­ten been de­scribed as the heart­beat of Ire­land’s Wild At­lantic Way, and our first port of call was to see Dun Briste, Ire­land’s largest sea stack. This spec­tac­u­lar site is also the lo­ca­tion of one of World War II’S stone aerial let­ter mark­ers, which was placed along the Ir­ish coast to iden­tify the land be­low as neu­tral. It was in­scribed ‘Eire’, for Amer­i­can bomber pilots cross­ing the At­lantic Ocean.

Achill Is­land, con­nected to the main­land by a small bridge, boasts great 4WD tracks, pris­tine un­pol­luted wa­ters with five Blue Flag beaches, and great wild camp­ing sites.

If you’re into sea an­gling – or any type of fish­ing for that mat­ter – you will not be dis­ap­pointed, with the is­land’s wa­ters hold­ing a num­ber of sea an­gling records. The most no­table record took place in 1932, when a por­bea­gle shark weigh­ing 365lb was caught with a rod and line by a man called Dr O’don­nell Browne. You can still see the head of this spec­i­men mounted and dis­played on the wall at

Around most cor­ners of this coastal route you will be pre­sented with mag­nif­i­cent views

the Achill Head Ho­tel in Keel.

An­other highly rec­om­mended track on the is­land is to the top of Min­aun Heights. To get there, take the main road through Dooega and you’ll reach a left turn that leads to Min­aun Heights. We drove to the top of the moun­tain in the Land Rovers, only to get badly stuck on the sum­mit. It’s best to stay away from the boggy sur­face at the top – it’s a bit like black soil com­bined with quick­sand. We ended up be­ing stuck for five hours be­fore we were even­tu­ally re­cov­ered by a lo­cal in a JCB.

There are a cou­ple of great camp­sites in Achill. You can camp at the base of Min­aun Heights, or you can stay at the well-es­tab­lished Keel Sandy­banks camp­site lo­cated right on the beach just a cou­ple of kilo­me­tres from Europe’s high­est cliffs.

As we headed north to­wards County Done­gal we con­tacted Shane Gal­lagher, who re­cently set up a web­site called Green­lane Done­gal. This site pro­vides plenty of in­for­ma­tion to help you plan your 4WD ad­ven­ture in this re­mote part of the Wild At­lantic Way. Shane kindly agreed to spend a cou­ple of days tak­ing us to some of the county’s best 4WD tracks and hid­den-away camp­ing gems.

Done­gal, lo­cated in the coun­try’s north­west, is the last county you will hit along the Wild At­lantic Way, and it’s one of the largest in Ire­land. Two thirds of the land con­sists of rough pas­ture, lake-filled val­leys, windswept moor­land and up­land bog, mak­ing it the per­fect play­ground for some 4x4 fun.

Our first Done­gal chal­lenge was tack­ling the Glen­veagh Na­tional Park and the sur­round­ing green lanes and moun­tain tracks. We then hit the tracks near Sheep­haven Bay, be­fore fi­nally ar­riv­ing at the Inishowen Penin­sula, which is the most northerly point of main­land Ire­land.

Our last camp was in Leena, a small, pic­turesque coastal fish­ing vil­lage. The fish­ing was ap­par­ently pretty good here, so we de­cided to camp on the pier and throw a line out. We had just set up camp when one of the lo­cal fish­er­men kindly of­fered us a whop­per of a crab for tea. This was the per­fect end to a great ad­ven­ture along the Wild At­lantic Way.

This trip more than lived up to the sur­round­ing mar­ket­ing hype. Around most cor­ners of this coastal route you will be pre­sented with mag­nif­i­cent views of the west coast’s rugged shore­line. With the end­less coastal vis­tas, di­verse at­trac­tions, great pubs and an­cient sites, you can eas­ily spend more time than orig­i­nally planned in any one area.

Bet­ter still, if you ex­plore the Wild At­lantic Way in a 4WD you will be guar­an­teed to ex­pe­ri­ence the hid­den gems that don’t al­ways get into the tourism brochures.

Check­ing our bear­ings in County Kerry. Camp­ing at the Keel Beach camp­site in County Mayo.

A stop for a pint of Guin­ness in Tom Crean’s old pub. County Kerry. Coastal tracks in Done­gal.

Fish­ing in Easkey, County Sligo. A 5000-year-old tomb in the Bur­ren Na­tional Park, County Clare. One of Ire­land’s most fa­mous ex­plor­ers, Tom Crean. Green­lane track, on Achill Is­land.

Ire­land’s largest sea stack, in County Mayo.

Tra­di­tional mu­sic in Doolin, County Clare. Yes, that’s Russ’s D90, which you’ve seen in plenty of Aus­tralian ad­ven­tures.

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