WILD FOR YOU

Drive along the rugged west coast of Ire­land from Gal­way to the repub­lic’s bor­der with North­ern Ire­land

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3 more along the west coast. To fly past all of them would surely de­feat the pur­poses of vis­it­ing. And that’s not to men­tion the dots on the map tan­ta­lis­ingly close to the route proper that beg to be vis­ited – a preChris­tian stone fort, a 12th cen­tury church or even a magic road. No, re­ally.

We be­gan in Gal­way, spend­ing Fe­bru­ary nights dash­ing through swirls of rain and wind, find­ing sanc­tu­ary be­side a pub’s peat fire with a pint in hand, the hum of con­ver­sa­tion en­velop­ing us. Sanc­tu­ary too was found in the city’s House Ho­tel, close to the city’s old cen­tre and con­sis­tently an ex­cel­lent place to call home in Gal­way.

It is im­pos­si­ble not to make de­tours on the Wild At­lantic Way, not just to leave the road but even the main­land. From Gal­way it is an easy bus and ferry jour­ney to the Aran Is­lands, a group of three just off the coast.

Inis Meain, the least pop­u­lated, called to us and we an­swered. An is­land of stone, Padraic Fa­herty who owns and runs the An Dun B&B with wife Teresa, ex­plains that cen­turies ago is­landers filled the stone with sand and kelp and planted pota­toes. Even­tual soil formed by a process bor­der­ing, in our minds at least, on magic. We re­marked that the fields were rel­a­tively small. Padraic drily told us “they’re big enough when you’re dig­ging pota­toes”. Walk­ing around the is­land in a si­lence bro­ken only by the whis­tle of the wind, we visit Dun Chonchuir, a pre-Christian fort with stacked stone walls more than 8m high, its size and achieve­ment a hum­bling ex­pe­ri­ence.

Around the is­land’s north­east side, cliffs of lime­stone have been bat­tered for cen­turies by the im­mea­sur­able power of

1 the At­lantic swells and we stand trans­fixed watch­ing wave after wave crash and spray up the sheer walls.

At Cong we tackle the Pi­geon Hole Walk, which turns out to be longer and wet­ter than an­tic­i­pated but the hole is a trea­sure – gin­gerly mak­ing our way down drip­ping con­crete steps, clutch­ing the cold steel handrail, we de­scend to the rush­ing, freez­ing river at the bot­tom of the cave­like hole and make the usual jokes about never be­ing found if you fell in.

Driv­ing north again, we cross peat bogs on roads that dip and dive while ahead moun­tains, streaked with snow on their peaks, loom large. Aban­doned houses and peat piled high and cov­ered in blue tarps dot the land­scape. Trac­tors are a reg­u­lar road­block and sin­gle-lane stone bridges slow us to a crawl.

Us­ing our map or serendip­ity, we veer off the Way to ex­plore, find­ing an­cient tombs of stone … press your ear against gran­ite mega­liths and lis­ten for echoes from the dis­tant past.

In Sligo, act­ing on the as­sur­ances of the man­ager at our Strand­hill ho­tel and armed with his map, we search for a magic road, first de­tour­ing past the Glen­car Wa­ter­fall, which roars a tor­rent of sil­ver and white just me­tres from the road.

Map in lap, we follow the road un­der the shadow of the ta­ble-topped Ben­bul­ben moun­tain to an in­nocu­ous stretch of bi­tu­men. Scep­ti­cism gives way to open­mouthed amaze­ment then giddy laugh­ter as our hatch­back de­fies the laws of grav­ity, rolling back­wards up the slope.

Slieve League in County Done­gal is a draw­card on the Way. Soar­ing 601m above the ocean, time your visit for dusk on a clear evening for the chang­ing hues of the set­ting sun il­lu­mi­nat­ing the ver­tigoin­duc­ing cliffs in pink and gold.

Dur­ing another de­tour the spirit of this trip, and per­haps the Wild At­lantic Way, is summed up. Search­ing for the Kil­clooney Dol­men in County Done­gal, we park be­hind the church as per our guide­book’s in­struc­tion and set out across a soggy field, ig­nor­ing the dark­en­ing clouds.

The sun blazes be­tween those clouds as we reach this beau­ti­ful por­tal tomb but it’s not for long. We shel­ter un­der the dol­men and re­alise this isn’t rain. It’s sticky and, well, weird. It’s hail, but it’s soft like a slushie and pea-sized. As the pel­lets be­come firmer it drives us laugh­ing and squelch­ing along the muddy farm track back to the car in wet socks and hands red with cold. We sit in the car, heater blast­ing, wet jack­ets draped over the back seat, muddy boots shoved in plas­tic bags and watch the ground be­come blan­keted in the white of the “frozen rain”.

You can’t book ex­pe­ri­ences like that, they just hap­pen. Along the Wild At­lantic Way, if you keep your eyes open and your foot off the ac­cel­er­a­tor, they’ll find you.

Trav­el­ling though the rocky land­scape of the Bur­ren, County Clare Glen­car wa­ter­fall The Pi­geon Hole Walk at Cong

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