Spectacular sights and lashings of good 'aul Irish 'craic' are virtually guaranteed when embarking on any journey in Ireland. Most Irish trips will doubtlessly involve exploring some ancient ruins, boat rides to a mystical monastery (or two) and you'll be exposed to plenty of foot-tapping traditional Irish music.
Meals will often involve locally caught seafood, washed down with copious quantities of fine wine in convivial locations. Sounds almost Portuguese, doesn't it? However, all these are genuine and quite authentic Irish experiences. They're all part of what this fabled coastal road trip is renowned for. If you do the whole shabang - count on a trip covering nigh-on 1,600 miles.
This article will barely scratch the surface when it comes to covering this awesome route. Any attempt to furnish you with too much detail will only upset the editors here at The Portugal News. That's because I would need to submit an absolute epic which would doubtlessly require an entire supplement to carry the tale. So I'll just do my best to chew it down as best I can.
OK. The Wild Atlantic Way is basically Ireland's silver coast. Just like the glorious Portuguese west coast, Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way flanks the open Atlantic. Those brisk Irish winds are just as strong as those experienced on Portugal's westernmost flanks and the weather in general is (perhaps) a little bit less predictable than what we tend to experience on Portugal's west coast. Bank on feeling the full force of those strong Irish winds! They will doubtlessly cut right through your bones at pretty much any time of year. It's deemed 'wild' hereabouts for good reason.
As I begin my southbound trek in Donegal, I think it might be fair to draw just a few parallels with Scotland's Western Isles as I make my way along the first few miles of Éireann's Wild Atlantic Way. Sure enough, a stopover in the town of Ardara will confirm this parallel because it, just like Scotland's Western Isles, is home to some master weavers. They sit at their large 68-inch (wide) timber looms producing fine Irish tweed.
It's quite astonishing what can be done to produce an array of incredible and truly beautiful tweedy designs. Once woven, these unique Irish fabrics are passed to talented tailors and seamstresses who create garments with this wonderfully traditional and highly sustainable natural fabric.
Further south to County Galway, we drop into Clifden, which just so happens to be a convenient base for exploring this region. County Galway boasts many archaeological sites with standing stones, Iron Age forts, Neolithic tombs and much more besides.
The area boasts some pretty diverse landscapes too, ranging from the dramatic Atlantic coastline to boggy, windswept and often baron-looking lakeland wilderness. There are also craggy mountain peaks to explore. None of it is for the faint-hearted!
“Love at first-visit”
Further south, we arrive in County Kerry. I just love this County and the town of Killarney. I've always loved Killarney. It was simply a case of love at first-visit when, as a young man of 26, I checked into what was then (I believe) the old railway hotel - then known as the Great Southern Hotel. This establishment was definitely grand and seemed very opulent to my rather youthful eyes. I checked in to what would turn out to be my week-long base in this fabulous 'relic of auld decency.' From here, I would explore this extraordinary and charming corner of Éireann.
I confess to having long had a wonderful love affair with this delightful and charming Irish town. It's not just Killarney itself I adore. It's the whole region. It's the majestic lakes, the lofty mountains, the spectacular gaps and passes with their narrow winding roads. I appreciate all this incredible region has to offer any wide-eyed traveller. I never fail to be taken aback by the sheer beauty of Ireland, and this corner simply encapsulates all of that beauty. It really is breathtakingly unique - a must on any road trip in the west of Ireland.
As if to personify the spectacular aspect of Country Kerry, the ancient stone monastery on Skellig Michael is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was used as a location to film some of the Star Wars movies. The monastery was precariously perched on a sheer rock, seven miles off the Kerry coast. To reach these incredible ruins, one must sail from Ballinskelligs or Portmagee - but only when angry seas permit. Six hundred steep, winding stone steps await making this yet another location that might deter the faint-hearted. I think there's a theme emerging here!
Staying with our sea legs firmly fixed on, we take a look at the infamous Fastnet Rock located eight miles off the mainland. It earned its infamy with an iconic photograph of a huge wave crashing over the 150-foot-tall lighthouse. Then, of course, there was the freakish Fastnet Race disaster of 1979, when a vicious storm toppled many of the sailing boats.
Fastnet is often referred to as Ireland’s teardrop because it was the last bit of Ireland that many emigrants beheld as they sailed off to new lives in North America. I recall a conversation with an old gentleman in an Irish pub. He wondered at some modern-day aversions often displayed towards immigrants. He declared that those who seem to worry about such things ought to experience the tragedy of emigration recalling how entire Irish families were wrenched apart, often with little chance of reunion. A heartbreak he'd himself experienced as both his own sons had sailed off to Australia.
Happily, today's Fastnet Rock Tour from Baltimore or Schull is an entirely happier affair. The tour calls into Cape Clear Island where a heritage centre chronicles the history of the light and the yacht races from England. Then, the boat circles Fastnet Rock, again depending on sea conditions. Happy tourists, these days, seek out dolphins and whales meaning that Ireland's teardrop has perhaps morphed into Ireland's big cheesy grin, especially when all goes to plan and you don't suffer from sea sickness!
So, just as suspected, I've barely scratched the surface. But the whole point of this article is to perhaps whet your appetite. To sow that seed. Itchy feet might thereafter take you a few steps closer to Éire magical west coast. Dizzying sheer cliffs, roaring waves and the taste of sea salt on your lips are just some of the things that might remind you of Portugal's Atlantic coastal routes. But this is Ireland and, just like Portugal, it's unique in its own very special way.
Douglas Hughes is a UK-based writer producing general interest articles ranging from travel pieces to classic motoring.