Inspired by the beauty of Ireland, legendary country singer Johnny Cash wrote his popular ballad, Forty Shades of Green. Ireland is a magical land of spell bounding beauty, rich historic sites and welcoming people. Road-tripping through the countryside is one of the best ways to explore historic sites, connect with engaging locals, and see every one of those 40 shades of green. But don’t be surprised when a few sheep and cows join you along the way.
The Wild Atlantic Way through Ireland
Driving through Ireland is an experience like none other. For one thing, you are driving on the left side of the road which takes a bit of practice along the narrow winding streets through out the country. Ireland is best explored slowly taking in all the sights and sounds along the way which includes craggy cliffs, ancient rock fences, and impossibly green pastures filled with contented sheep and cows.
There are several driving routes to choose from but one of the most amazing is the Wild Atlantic Way. The longest coastal tourist route in the world, the Wild Atlantic Way stretches over 2,750 km (1,700 miles) along Ireland’s coastline through six distinctive regions. The route travels through coastal villages and towns, past towering cliffs including the iconic Cliffs of Moher, castles, and historic sites that tell the story of this enchanting country.
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Beginning in County Cork in the colorful town of Kinsale and ending on the Beara Peninsula where sheer granite cliffs collide with the sea and millions of seabirds take refuge in estuaries, it would take several weeks to travel the entire route. But, even if you only have a few days you are certain to get a taste of Ireland’s magic. Here are a few of my favorite stops along the route.
Culinary Delights in Colorful Kinsale
Originally a medieval fishing port, Kinsale is ideally situated on the southwest coast of Ireland making it a popular location for sailing and deep-sea fishing and the perfect start to the Wild Atlantic Way. The town is filled with brightly painted cottages, Georgian architecture and hanging baskets full of flowers in every imaginable color. Narrow medieval streets wind past restaurants and pubs that have contributed to Kinsale’s international acclaim as the culinary capital of Ireland. Kinsale is the oldest town in Ireland and was the sight of the Battle of Kinsale in 1601 – a battle that altered the course of Irish history.
Hiking and Golf in the Old Head of Kinsale
After tasting some of the culinary treats of Kinsale, leave the world behind and head west to the Old Head of Kinsale where towering sea cliffs rise hundreds of feet above the Atlantic Ocean. This is a good spot to park the car and explore on foot. The Old Head of Kinsale Loop is a gentle 6km (3.7 miles) walk that takes in a circular route around the head amid the dramatic cliffs. This is home to The Old Head Golf Links – one of the most prestigious golf courses on the planet where you can practice your game surrounded by the crashing waves of the wild Atlantic Ocean.
Exploring History Along Slea Head Drive
Any stretch along the Wild Atlantic Way makes an excellent road trip, but one of my favorites is the Slea Head Drive, a circular route around the geographically blessed Dingle Peninsula. This mountainous finger of land juts into the Atlantic Ocean and has supported various tribes and populations for almost 6,000 years. Familiar to movie buffs as the location of the movie Far and Away, this remote section of Ireland is filled with numerous archaeological monuments dating back to the Stone Ages.
There are also cottages abandoned during the tragic Potato Famine and early Christian landmarks including stone churches and beehive huts once home to monks. Marked by a crucifix facing the sea, the tip of the peninsula is the westernmost point of Ireland and overlooks a stunning beach with powerful waves crashing on the craggy cliffs.
Slea Head Drive begins and ends in the delightful town of Dingle. Characterized by hilly streets and brightly painted houses, the layout of the streets still reflect its origins as a walled borough. Although the town is known as a fishing port, the pubs of Dingle are one of its best experiences – and it has over 50 to choose from. There you will find plenty of traditional Irish folk music, local characters and lots of “craic” a/k/a fun.
A Road Trip to Share with the Grandkids
My visits to Ireland have been with my boyfriend and we have enjoyed every minute. But when my grandkids are a little older, road-tripping through Ireland will be in our travel plans. I have a feeling one of their favorite experiences will be the sheep and cows that join us for the drive – my favorite kind of traffic jam.