Ireland’s Galway Bay on the west coast forms a crescent around the Aran Islands. Today, after leaving Kylemore Abbey, we traveled south to Oughterard, Galway, the Dunguaire Castle in Kinvarra, Bell Harbour, Bealaclugga, Ballyvaughan, and into the heart of the Burren.
Road Trip Essentials 101
For every road trip, you need a playlist, junk food, a spirit guide, and a few good puns. What Irish radio lacks, we made up for by singing our favourite songs at the top of our lungs. The Cult’s “Fire Woman” is our old standby:
We named our rental car the Clarevoyage for two reasons: after collecting her in Dublin we voyaged onward to County Clare, and because she was our all-knowing clairvoyant that saw us into that future.
Another joke resulted from the GPS system we rented that displayed a double pink line to guide us along our way, so we referred to our journey as #twointhepink and giggled ourselves silly.
We named this sheep Spreaghad, the Irish word for “Encouragement” and he was our spirit guide the entire trip. Any time we felt nervous about driving, or when we got frustratingly lost or felt too exhausted to keep up the momentum some days, he cheered us on.
After our stay at the Letterfrack Lodge, we spent most of the day coasting through the mesmerizing Connemara National Park and exploring Kylemore Abbey before heading south toward Galway.
We stopped in a small town called Oughterard before reaching Galway to stretch and get a drink. Oughterard has fewer than 1400 people and its main attraction is Glengowla Mines.
At Glengowla you can tour the farms, herd and play with the sheep, learn the history gold panning, and about the ongoing research facilities used to track seismic activity in Ireland. Glengowla Mines also has a museum, cafe, and shops.
I walked over to Powers Pub and had a nice chat with strangers. Oughterard is a really cute area, and on the way out you will pass the Aughnanure and Ross castles.
Galway was magnificent from what we could see of it but Hurricane Ophelia had hit the previous night and there was a lot of destruction. Fallen trees had blocked traffic toward the town center, so we switched routes and chased another dream on our Bucket List, the Wild Atlantic Way.
The Wild Atlantic Way
Sli an Atlantaigh Fhiain, the Wild Atlantic Way, is the longest coastal route in the world. It spans over 1500 miles along Ireland’s west coast from Donegal in the north and tucks into Cork down in the south.
The WAW runs right on the edge of rocky cliffs and shorelines of the Atlantic Ocean from dramatic heights. Each sharp turn is full of suspense and surprise, and we had to stop periodically to take it in.
Porsche produced a cool video if you would like to see a bit more:
We first joined the WAW near the end of the Bay Coast segment and continued through the Cliff Coast segment, which took us from Galway to Kinvarra, Bealaclugga, and Bell Harbor, where we discovered the Dunguaire Castle.
A 16th-century tower overlooks the Galway Bay between Kinvarra and Bell Harbor called the Dunguaire Castle. It was closed when we visited, but we were able to see a great deal of it still.
Well known literary icon and doctor Oliver St. John Gogarty bought Dunguaire Castle in the 1920s and began restoring it. The castle became a meeting place for notable Irish writers such as William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, and others.
It was acquired in the 1950s by a new owner and now hosts a variety of private and medieval events.
Bell Harbor is a small town in the Burren National Park where we stayed for the night. Just across the water from Dunguaire Castle is the main town junction.
We had seafood chowder for dinner and walked around the town center, though the shops and galleries had all closed for the evening. I kept returning to where the road met the Galway Bay to watch tiny ships glide by.
The sky lit up with stars that actually seemed to be twinkling. It was so bright and clear that we could see several constellations. Out in the Burren it seemed like we had fallen into a cave and were looking out through the top, in total silence and pitch black except for those stars.
This Airbnb was one of the coolest places we stayed during our trip. Our host’s daughter is a young painter and the whole house is filled with her artwork. I slept like a lamb with Lemmy and Bowie watching over me.
Next morning we rejoined the Wild Atlantic Way through Ballyvaughan into the Burren, past the Gleninagh Castle to the Black Head beaches and Murooghtoohy, and through Fanore into Doolin.
Burren comes from Boireann, meaning great rock, and it is one of Ireland’s top visited sites. A visit to the Burren National Park takes you on a journey through this rocky “karst” landscape, rough plates of limestone, sandstone, fossil and sediment deposits, caves, and archaeological discoveries.
The Cliff Coast segment of the WAW also includes the Aran Islands, a cluster of three islands that vary in size. Inis Mór (Inishmore) Island is the largest, known around the world for its collection of religious and mythological monuments.
Inis Meain (Inishmann) Island is in the middle. It is the least populated, least visited, and most serene of the three islands. Inis Oirr (Inisheer) Island is the smallest and closest to the mainland and the Burren. Inisheer is a fishing village full of island bars, live music, and it is most suitable for those seeking a beach atmosphere.
I found a pretty cool Youtube video of the islands, but prepare yourself and your speakers for another one of those drone video with epic music combinations:
We decided against a boat trip to the Aran Islands because our sights were set on a cruise to the Cliffs of Moher that same day, but the rest of the journey was full of magic scenes like this cemetery and dairy farm.
We followed the Wild Atlantic Way all the way into Doolin, where we boarded our ship.
Follow me to Doolin & the Cliffs of Moher.
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I’ve never driven in a foreign country. You are brave!
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