By Margaret M. Johnson
The coastline of Ireland — all 3,500 miles of it — is undeniably one of the world’s most picturesque. Following the lead of Irish travel writer Christopher Moriarty, who dissects small areas of a region for unique itineraries that follow “byways rather than highways,” I recently spent six leisurely days in the West of Ireland and managed, at almost all costs, to stay as far off the beaten track as possible.
Arriving at Shannon Airport at the crack of dawn, we determined our route based entirely on the weather forecast. It was to be a partly cloudy day “with patches of sun,” so we debated: “Should we do coastal Clare first, or head straight up to Connemara.” With photography in mind, and hoping to catch some of those elusive sunny “patches,” we decided to wend our way through Clare (even though we would return there at the end of our trip). We headed to Ennis, then followed the coast road west to Lahinch.
I hadn’t visited the Cliffs of Moher, the highest cliffs in Europe, in more than a decade, so a stop there, just north of the famous golf links, seemed nearly obligatory. “Keeping position like broken heroes, with waves breaking upon them like time,” is the way poet Louis MacNeice described them when he first saw the imposing sight. Apt description, indeed, for the defiant natural ramparts that rise in place over 700 feet above the sea. O’Brien’s Tower, which was constructed in the early 19th century for Victorian tourists, is located on Moher’s highest cliff, and when the weather is cooperative and clear, you can view the Clare coastline, the Aran Islands, and mountains as far apart as Kerry and Connemara.
One of Ireland’s most popular attractions, the Cliffs themselves are not particularly off-the-beaten track, but the road from there northwest through Doolin, Lisdoonvarna, and Ballyvaughan takes you through some of the most remote and scenic parts of Clare. Known geographically as The Burren (from boirinn, meaning “a strong place”), the northwestern corner of Clare is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and the quieter waters of Galway Bay. A rock garden of no ordinary proportions, the Burren extends over more than 100 square miles and most of it is bare, pale gray limestone. If there were nothing but rock, a tour might become meaningless, but the rock is enlivened but incredible patches of green pasture, hazel woodland, wild flowers growing from rock crevices (most of which are in full bloom in May), and mountains that run down to the sea. Photo opportunities abound in this area, so once I had filled a roll, we headed north to Connemara, our final destination for the day.
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