Thursday, October 13, 2016

Ireland, Part 3: The Cliffs of Moher and the Dingle

The first three days of our Great Irish Road Trip included a tour of Dublin and two days wandering Galway. Mrs. Tires and I met Pia and Masha of Slovenia during our last night in Galway. They were headed in our direction the next day, so we offered them a ride.

Smiling despite the early hour and armed with cupcakes, Pia and Masha hopped in the back seat of our tiny rental car, and off we went towards the Irish countryside.

Our companions made for great company. They knew a lot about the surrounding area, and they were more than willing to act as our personal photographers at scenic stops along the way. We joked and laughed as we passed by Ireland's flatlands and swamps, which eventually gave way to more hilly and dramatic terrain.

Our drive brought us by the adorable Dunguaire Castle, a great place to snap a few photos and stretch our legs.

After about two hours of driving, we reached a town near the Cliffs of Moher, where we bid Pia and Masha farewell. The car was much quieter during the final stretch of the drive.

We arrived at the cliffs, where we were greeted by a huge, jam-packed parking lot. As it turned out, the cliffs are one of the most popular attractions in all of Ireland.

The Cliffs of Moher impressed right away. The huge cliffs combined to present a dynamic jagged edge to the shoreline. They were amazingly tall, with the tallest point more than 700 feet above the water. We spent most of our visit admiring the cliffs while we walked up and down the shoreline, and we enjoyed photographing them from different vantage points.

Eventually, we made our way to the O’Brien Observation Tower, which acted as a bookend on the other end of the public area that encompassed the cliffs.

We couldn't believe how close we could get to the edge. While we couldn't set foot on the cliffs themselves, the shoreline we walked along also stood quite high up. In the US, guardrails aplenty would prevent visitors from getting too close to the edge, but at the Cliffs of Moher, some comedic signage acted as the only safety precaution. If our experience disappointed, we easily could have ended our misery by jumping to our deaths.

On the way back to the visitor center, we stopped to listen to a harpist strumming for the pleasure of the visitors.

After a quick perusal of the exhibits and a snack in the expansive visitor center, we hopped back in the rental car and hit the road. We had our sights set on Cork, but we still had plenty of driving ahead to get there. That left us with a decision to make: drive right to Cork, or stretch our time on the road and head to the Dingle Peninsula? We knew the detour would make our already busy schedule that much more jam-packed, but after acknowledging that life is short, we decided to go for it. Off we drove to the Dingle.

After passing through Limerick (which is nicknamed Stab City), we made a bee line to the peninsula, which is known for its beautiful scenery, winding roads and beaches. When we reached the Dingle, we immediately fell in love with our surroundings. Rollings fields of various shades of green and yellow popped up at every turn, and the view changed frequently as we drove. The narrow roads were a thrill to navigate. We also ran into a few surprises along the way.

Inch Beach was a highlight, as it stood in sharp contrast to the surrounding fields. We stopped off to have a look, and the beach awed us with its beauty. Ireland isn't really known for its beaches, but this one was gorgeous, and its surroundings elevated it above the norm.

Eventually, we reached the town of Dingle, a quintessentially Irish town featuring beautifully colored buildings and loads of charm. We only had time to grab a quick bite, but we instantly connected with this lovable little town and fretted over not having more time to explore. The town of Dingle is now on the “Next Time” list.

We had some reassessing to do after dinner, with the hour getting late and lots of driving still ahead. The main roads of the Dingle Peninsula made up a mangled figure-eight, with the town of Dingle serving as the crossroads between the two rings. The western-most ring was called Slea Head Drive, and it housed the most impressive views on the peninsula. Sadly, we realized we didn’t have time to make it around Slea Head, having already pushed our arrival time at the Cork B&B back twice. We continued on the east ring.

Our drive brought us through Conner Pass, a famously narrow road flanked by an exposed cliff face. This road supposedly accommodated traffic in both directions, but it seemed barely wide enough for our tiny car. Fortunately, we didn’t encounter any cars driving in the opposite direction, though we did have to stop for an intimidating sheep making its way through the pass.

A quiet, contemplative mood took over the car as we concluded our cruise around the Dingle Peninsula. We smiled as we sat in silence, enjoying the setting sun while looking back on our day on the road, the highlight of our Great Irish Road Trip so far.

We had no regrets over our choices that day, but we definitely paid the price for our extra long journey. We left the peninsula as darkness set in, and we still had over two hours of driving before we would arrive in Cork. The roads we traveled were heavily wooded and not well lit, so driving became quite difficult, especially after fatigue set in. We white-knuckled our way through, but we weren’t sure we’d ever make it. All the while we knew the owner of our B&B sat waiting for us, and we had to call two more times to push our arrival back some more.

We made it to Cork at about 1:00 AM and found Higgins B&B. Despite the late hour, Breeda, the B&B’s owner, met us at the door and cheerfully showed us to our room. We hit the pillow that night and instantly fell into deep sleep. It had been an exhausting but wonderful ride, and there was more in store the next day.

Coming soon: Ireland, Part 4: Cork, Kinsale and Carragaline

See also:

Ireland, Part 1: Dublin
Ireland, Part 2: Galway

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