A family adventure in Ireland’s west

    Spotlight 3/2019
    Cliffs of Mohar
    © iStockphoto/iStock.com
    Von Jessica Mann

    The family road trip is a classic holiday for a number of reasons: the scenery just outside the window, the many different places to visit and the quality time spent together in the car, to name a few. But it’s the type of holiday I associate more with travelling in the US than the kinds of trips that my friends here in Europe typically take with their own families. old habits die hardalte Gewohnheiten lassen sich nur schwer ablegenOld habits die hard, however, and, when searching for a place to spend a week with family visiting from abroad, we quickly settled on another favourite for a classic family road trip: Ireland.

    A rocky, ruggedschroff, felsigrugged island off Europe’s North Atlantic coast, Ireland has long held a fascination that far exceedübertreffenexceeds its size. In fact, the number of tourists that visit the country each year is greater than the Irish population itself. About two million of those tourists come from the United States, where more than ten per cent of the population identifies as Irish-American. beyondzusätzlich zuBeyond that Irish pride, though, it’s the dramatic scenery and warm-hearted hospitalityGastfreundschafthospitality that draw people from around the world to the Emerald IsleIrland (die smaragd¬grüne Insel)Emerald Isle. And that’s what we’re after, too.

    Castles and sausages

    We arrive in Dublin with our young son and meet my sister and brother-in-law at a quaintentzückendquaint bed and breakfast. After an overnight stay in the capital — and a hearty Irish breakfast in the morning — we’re headed west to County Galway. The M6 motorway gets us to Galway City quickly, but we first want to drive a bit farther west, to the scenic coastal region of Connemara.

    The drive goes from typical motorway scenery to spectacular sights in what feels like no time at all. Connemara is covered in bogSumpf, Moorbogs, a type of wetlandFeuchtland, Sumpfgebietwetland, and dottedübersät, vollerdotted with lakes and hills. It’s a hikerWanderer, Wanderinhiker’s dream — and a cyclist’s, and we pass several on our way. As attractive as a more active holiday would be, we’ve to opt for sthsich für etw. entscheidenopted for scenic drives since it is difficult to hike far with a young child. My son enjoys the car ride and comments excitedly on the sheep that wander alongside the road or on to it (and which, in such cases, have the right of way).

    We do make frequent stops to take photos and to skipspringen lassenskip stones across picturesquemalerischpicturesque lakes. We soon reach Connemara National Park and make our way to the visitor centre, which provides a general history of the park’s nearly 3,000 scenic hectares and its geology. My son is particularly interested in the animal displays — but perhaps even more so in the playground next door.

    Galway has a reputation for being one of Ireland’s most enjoyable cities

    After getting in as much easy walking as we can with a small child, and in the rather rainy and windy weather — not terribly uncommon in Ireland — we ask for advice on the prettiest route south, then drive to our next bed and breakfast in Galway. We are greeted by the owner, get checked into our rooms and immediately head out for some food. It’s a quick walk into the town centre and it seems like everyone else is out for a windsweptwindumtostwindswept strollSpaziergangstroll as well.

    Galway has a reputationRufreputation for being one of Ireland’s most enjoyable cities. We end up in the Latin Quarter, at a family-friendly pizza place called Fat Freddy’s on Quay Street. We’re lucky to get a spot anywhere at all as the street is full of people. Brightly coloured flags are to tringaufhängenstrung between the buildings and there’s music coming out of at least every other door. After the delicious pizza, my sister and I head across the street to the 1520 Bar, where musicians are playing live music.

    Traditional music, often just called “trad”, enjoys a popular following here. Its attraction extends well beyond Ireland, of course. During the high season, many restaurants and bars to caterausgerichtet seincater to the numerous tourists and offer live trad music nearly every night, with musicians playing instruments like the fiddleFiedel, Geigefiddle, accordion or tin whistleBlechflötetin whistle. We enjoy the music while drinking ciderApfelweincider and Guinness before finally to turn in (ifml.)schlafen gehenturning in for the night.

    The next morning, after another full Irish breakfast — bacon, sausages, baked beans, eggs, mushrooms, grilled tomatoes, toast and, of course, black puddingBlutwurstblack pudding — we are on the road again. Today, the plan is to drive through the Burren and, on the way to Ennis, stop by the famous Cliffs of Moher.

    The unforgettable Cliffs of Moher, one of Ireland’s top tourist attractions
    The unforgettable Cliffs of Moher, one of Ireland’s top tourist attractions

    Just outside town, we decide to make a quick stop at Dunguaire Castle near Kinvara, on the south-eastern shoreStrand, Ufershore of Galway Bay. The castle was built around 1520 and was restored in the 20th century. Tourists can explore it during the summer and climb to the top of its 23-metre-tall tower. There is also a banquet room decorated for themedThemen-, inszeniertthemed dinners. My son’s eyes light up at the sight of all the medievalmittelalterlichmedieval decor, and he runs and plays between the long, impressive oakEichen-oak tables.

    Dolmens and pub food

    After another half hour of driving, we’ve entered County Clare and find ourselves in the Burren. We know because the terrain suddenly looks as if we’ve landed on the moon.

    The Burren, which in Irish means “great rock”, extends across the northern part of the county and truly does look like something out of this world. Consisting of 250 square kilometres of fracturedgebrochen; hier: verkarstetfractured grey limestoneKalksteinlimestone, the land is essentially an ancient seabed. It was forced above sea level by tectonic shiftVerschiebungshifts that occurred about 270 million years ago and that created the long cracks in the rock in the process.

    Our first stop here is something my son and husband are both excited about: caveHöhlecaves! There are a few different cave systems in the Burren, but we opt for Aillwee Cave to see what this landscape looks like from an underground perspective. The 30-minute tour takes us through some beautiful cavernHöhlecaverns and even past a waterfall. The caves are about two million years old and contain the remains of a brown bear, an animal that has been extinctausgestorbenextinct in Ireland for at least 10,000 years.

    But we’re not here just for the interesting geology. The Burren is also home to a number of fascinating sites from human prehistory. Among the best-known — and one of the easiest to visit as a tourist, with good signageBeschilderungsignage and parking — is Poulnabrone dolmen.

    Poulnabrone dolmen
    A mystical sight: Poulnabrone dolmen, a portal tombMegalith-Grabportal tomb that has been standing here for thousands of years

    Consisting of one large, flat stone atopaufatop two uprightaufrechtupright stones, this portal tomb is more than 5,000 years old. The remains of more than 20 people were found here when the site was to excavateausgrabenexcavated in the 1980s. potteryTöpferwarePottery and jewellery were also discovered inside the tomb, which would have been entirelyvollständigentirely covered by soilErdesoil when it was built, during the Neolithic period. After spending the better part of the day driving around this bizarre landscape, our next stop is one of Ireland’s most famous sights. The Cliffs of Moher are visited by more than a million people each year and, in an attemptVersuchattempt to avoid the crowds at the visitor centre, we decide to take a boat tour to see the cliffs from the water — up close and hopefully bathed in late-afternoon light.

    The most impressive part of the boat trip is not the Cliffs of Moher themselves but rather the number of seabirds you can see up close as they to perchhocken, sitzenperch on the dark limestone

    Tour operators at the harbour in Doolin offer hour-long boat rides to see the 214-metre-high cliffs from below. However, the most impressive part of the boat trip is not the cliffs themselves — although they are stunningatemberaubend, umwerfendstunning — but rather the number of seabirds you can see up close as they perch on the dark limestone.

    The boats get close enough to be able to identify multiple species clearly. We’re all amazed — but also getting just a bit queasymulmigqueasy: we’ve underestimated just how rough the Atlantic can be. Still, we try to focus on the beauty of the scenery as the boat makes its way back to dry land.

    After we regain our land legs, we wander slowly back to the car, taking in the charming countryside around us. From here, it’s a 45-minute drive to Ennis, where we have decided to spend the night at the Old Ground Hotel. The hotel is in a beautifully restored manor houseGutshaus, Herrenhausmanor house and our rooms are enormous.

    We enjoy the tea and biscuits that have been left for us in the rooms as we get settled, but we’re keen to try out the pub downstairs, the Poet’s Corner Bar. It’s a lovely, satisfying evening with typical pub food favorites, such as a warming seafood chowderdicke Suppe aus Meeresfrüchtenseafood chowder with treacle (UK)Melassen-, Sirup-treacle bread, and more trad music. When the musicians play a particularly lively number, my son takes a break from his cheeseburger to dance, much to the amusement of a number of the other patronhier: (Stamm-)Gastpatrons.  

    Where puffinPapageientaucherpuffins rule

    The next morning, we explore the streets of Ennis for a little while after breakfast. It’s a pretty town, with brightly coloured flowers hanging from the lamp postLaternenmastlamp posts. We don’t have much time to stay, though, since we’re off today to County Kerry. Our goal is to drive the Ring of Kerry anticlockwise (UK)entgegen dem Uhr¬zeigersinnanticlockwise — the best direction for avoiding getting stuck behind tour buses, or so I’ve read.

    The Ring of Kerry is another highlight for tourists in Ireland. It’s a scenic drive around the Iveragh Peninsula, the largest peninsula in the south-western corner of the country. Once on the drive, it quickly becomes clear why it is so popular — the constantly alternating views of stunning beaches, islands and the deep-blue Atlantic are astonishingerstaunlichastonishing.

    One of the highlights of the Ring of Kerry is the view of the rocky Skellig Islands and, in particular, Skellig Michael, the larger of the two. Skellig Michael was home to monks who lived in isolation there from the sixth to the 12th century. They built beehive-Bienenstock-beehive-shaped stone structures, cut hundreds of steps into the mountainside and lived among the seabirds, practically cut off from the rest of the world. The islands were recently used as a filming location for Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Star Wars: The Last Jedi — and the nerd in me is excited to see them in part because of this recent fame.

    puffin on Skellig Michael, a wild island off the Atlantic coast

    At home up on the cliffs: a puffin on Skellig Michael, a wild island off the Atlantic coast

    My son is excited to see the islands, too, but not because of Star Wars. He’s a fan of the Irish children’s TV show Puffin Rock. Narrated by the wonderful Irish actor and comedian Chris O’Dowd, the show follows a family of cartoon puffins living on an island off the Irish coast.

    Since it’s trickyschwierigtricky to visit the Skellig Islands themselves with a small child — the terrain is rocky and steepsteilsteep, and I’m not even sure we could to stomachhier: ertragenstomach another Atlantic boat cruise — I figure that the next best thing is to visit the Skellig Experience exhibition. As we near the end of the peninsula, in Portmagee, we cross the bridge on to Valentia Island to get to it. The Skellig Experience includes a film that gives viewers an overview of the islands, the monks who lived there and to featurezeigenfeatures many sweet little puffins.

    I’m finally ready to see the real thing for myself, if only from a distance. We drive back across the bridge to Portmagee and then head on to a portion of the Skellig Ring, a smaller, 18-kilometre ring within the much-longer Ring of Kerry.

    The road takes us higher and higher, until we reach a car park with signs claiming to offer County Kerry’s best views. We to take the baitsich ködern lassentake the bait, park the car and follow other tourists to the edge of the cliffs. The sun is to gleamfunkeln, leuchtengleaming off the ocean and the raggedzerklüftetragged outlineUmrissoutline of Skellig Michael becomes visible in the distance. “Puffin rock!” my son to exclaimausrufenexclaims in delightEntzücken, Begeisterungdelight. This has indeed been a trip to remember.


    If you go...

    Getting there

    The best international airports for reaching Ireland’s west coast are in Dublin or Shannon. Renting a car is easy and a good idea — just keep in mind that the roads can be narrow and windingkurvenreichwinding.

    Where to stay

    Book all hotels or bed and breakfasts well in advance, especially if you are planning to travel in the high season. Small bed and breakfasts are a classically Irish way to spend a night in a new place and have a homely feel.
    For a little more luxury, try the Old Ground Hotel in Ennis.

    More information


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