Ireland, Memoirs -- fact and fiction, photography, Uncategorized, Writings

Walking Ireland

On the road to Fanore from Doolin on the Wild Atlantic Way, County Clare.

A walking vacation in Ireland was supposed to be a birthday present from Rose Alcantara to me a couple of years ago. We both thought that the idea of a 70-year-old man walking around the Emerald Isle was perfectly sound and a touch romantic.

Albert Sharpe (left) as Darby O’Gill and Jimmy O’Dea at the Leprechaun King — this is the image I was working with as I envisioned walking around Ireland.

You know: a shaggy old gent dressed in tweeds, canvas spats, a carved walking stick, one of those adorable wool caps the sheepherders wear, a small daypack with wine, cheese, and brown bread. Maybe a pipe.

I envisioned gentle green-carpeted trails beside burbling brooks from which I could snag a trout on a fly rod for dinner back at the lodge. There would be castle ruins, steaming beef stew, leprechauns, sheep a plenty, and fey red-headed colleens waving from windows as I walked through quaint and ancient hamlets.

You know what happened. Because it happened to you as much as it happened to us. And it wasn’t banshees, laddie.

Buskers on High Street in Galway, late afternoon on a Sunday.

Time stopped for all of us.

Though we all got older. Only two years older — but at my end of the spectrum, two years, that’s a big deal.

And now the trip has morphed into five days hiking the rocky hills of The Burren Way and along the Cliffs of Moher — follow the Wild Atlantic Way. That comes out to roughly a mile for every year that I have been on this planet.

Three words that should have been red flags right away: “wild,” “cliffs” and “Burren.” The last, Burren, comes from the Irish “Boíreann,” meaning a rocky place. This vacation is no longer a gentleman’s walk, in tailored tweeds.

Walking across the karst at the top of one Burren on the way to Ballyvaughan. As you can see, life thrives in the crevices where seeds, soil, and dead plants become trapped and create their own fertile environment.

I know it is a dialect thing, but when people kept saying “The Burren is a karst landscape” what I heard was “The Burren is a cursed landscape.” Now I now know, karst is exposed limestone that can be seen for scores of miles in all directions atop high rounded hills with steep trails and switchbacks.

But you can see how I might confuse the two.

I marvel at how a country could turn a barren, desolate, rocky moonscape into a highly prized tourist attraction. I believe that I am gaining insight into the Irish sense of humor.

Come for the uphill slogs and rocky trails and stay for the rain and freezing wind!

Sign me up.

Here is an excellent description of The Burren from that is simultaneously compelling and repelling: “The vast, moon-like Burren in County Clare is one of Ireland’s most compelling landscapes. Here, cool grey rock etched with crevices and cracks tumbles down to the wild blue Atlantic Ocean. The result is one of nature’s most extraordinary phenomena: a huge rocky pavement dotted with rock formations, caves, and fossils, as well as an incredible array of flowers, from native species to Arctic, Alpine and Mediterranean plants.”

Circumnavigating one of the Burren hills, Galway Bay opens before us, on the trail to Ballyvaughan from Fanore.

In describing this five-day trek, the Irish trail guides use words like “fairly moderate” and “gentle” and “fantastically varied” and “superb views” to describe walks around the western coast.  It is sort of an inside joke. 

Think about it. To reach “superb views” you must go one way: Up.

Sometimes, almost straight up. 

And frankly, more than one local person confided to me that the Irish didn’t think much about walking around the 200 square-mile Burren region, even though it has been in their backyard for 300 million years. Then health authorities confined everyone to 5-kilometer zones during the Covid lockdown.

Music after dinner in Corofin, a good old-fashioned craic.

Hiking these hills became an escape route for many.

Now, they tell me, the locals love hiking the Burren.

Would I?

Oh, hell yes, I would. Or, oh hell yes, we did. 

We picked May to hike because it seemed like such a nice month for that sort of thing. Who knew that Ireland’s weather operates under its own set of rules. Or as a Dublin wit said to us, “Ireland has two weather forecasts: It might rain today and it will rain today.”

The Yellow Submarine at the end of a wonderful walk from Carron to Corofin. Just in time for a warm fire, coffee, and a half-size Irish breakfast.

That was surprisingly on-target.

Our plan became this: Trade in the old visions of tweed for some lightweight, quick-dry clothing, rain gear, hiking poles, full backpacks, and serious trail boots. 

We decided on 10 days, starting with an overnight flight to Dublin where we could grab a morning bus to Galway. After two nights of pure self-indulgence in Galway, we’d take the local Eireann 350, a 2.5-hour, gut-churning, coast-hugging bus to Hag’s Head, the southern-most point of the Cliffs of Moher. 

From there, The Great Burren Way is a tried-and-true, well-documented, hiking experience and we saw no reason to deviate. Walk to Doolin, and on subsequent days to Fanore, Ballyvaughan, Carron (aka Carran), and Corofin. From Corofin we’d somehow get to Ennis for a bus back to Dublin where we’d spend two nights trying to deplete the city’s storehouse of Guinness before flying back to Mexico and home.

Dublin scenes:

The route is so perfectly mapped out (with lots of reassuring “fairly moderates” and “gentles” tossed in) that you can book B&Bs or hotels ahead of time with confidence. In fact, I highly recommend it, because Ireland’s tourism industry is roaring back to life. This summer will be the “Time of No Vacancy” across the land.

Three years ago, we walked from Porto, Portugal, to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, over 14 days – an excellent and achievable Camino for people who don’t have a lot of time on their hands –  and it was life-changing. The Great Burren Way and Ireland are also, in many ways, life-changing.

Isn’t that what we want out of travel? After all that effort, we don’t want to return home just as we left. We want to feel, be amazed, learn, be challenged, grow, to expand our consciousness. If the best we can do from travel is a souvenir T-shirt, why bother?

Strolling around Galway, looking back toward Nuns Island and the River Corrib. The Anglican-looking structure to the left is really just a facade for some pretty ordinary buildings.

Walking The Burren will change you. I promise.

It is just challenging enough, the views are just dramatic enough, the generosity and kindness of the people is more than enough. We came away thinking that maybe this whole Ireland thing is worth a second, third, and fourth look.

But before I hit age 82. I’m not walking 82 miles to anywhere in 10 years’ time.

Over the next series of days, I’m going to post about our experiences in Galway, Dublin, and the Burren Way. I have lots of pictures that have not made it onto O’Facebook and, I hope, some fresh insights.

So, come along for the ride … um … hike.

Welcome to Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way.

I’ll post something new from every day of our trek. Come on back, and, if you like, share the joy of Ireland with your friends. Thank you.

Dusk in Dublin, crossing the River Liffey into the Temple Bar district for dinner.

Ireland and The Burren Way Series:

Introduction: Walking Ireland

Living it up in Galway before hiking the Burren Way

Day 1: The Burren Way: Hag’s Head to Doolin and not fiddlin’ around

Day 2: Doolin to Fanore, flirting with the edges of the Burren

Day 3: Fanore to Ballyvaughan, up and over the Burren

Day 4: Ballyvaughan to Carran, and not walking the Burren

Day 5: Carran to Corofin “Turn right at the castle”

Sunday morning and Ennis slowly stirs awake

One last day, walking Dublin with James Joyce by our side


4 thoughts on “Walking Ireland

  1. Pingback: Day 2, The Burren Way: Doolin to Fanore, flirting with the edges of The Burren | Musings, Magic, San Miguel and More

  2. Pingback: Day 4, ‘Not’ Walking the Burren: Ballyvaughan to Carran | Musings, Magic, San Miguel and More

  3. Pingback: Sunday morning and Ennis slowly stirs awake | Musings, Magic, San Miguel and More

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