The one thing you have to expect when you make any outdoor plans in Ireland is, of course, rain. It’s definitely a plan for the worst, hope for the best scenario—if you go in thinking, even in the back of your head, that you might be lucky, you will almost inevitably be disappointed. Whereas, if you just assume that it’ll probably rain the whole time you are wherever you’re going, you may occasionally have a pleasant surprise. Over the weekend, Steve and I went up to Doolin, in Co. Clare, to look at a wedding venue (!). We were hesitant to book a place to stay overnight as we didn’t want to spend an extra day if there was going to be nothing but rain, but by last Wednesday when the forecast was still clear, we decided to chance it, and we definitely made the right decision.
The drive from Killarney to Doolin took just under three hours. There are two ways to get there—drive through Limerick or take a car ferry from Tarbert to Killimer. We decided to go up the Limerick route and come back along the coast and take the ferry on the way back. After our appointment at the venue, we headed out into the Burren, a national park full of karst bedrock and epic cliffs. It’s one of those places that is amazing on a grey and rainy day (luckily, because that’s the usual weather) but it was also amazing to see it in full sun under clear skies.
We drove up the narrow, winding road that is the Wild Atlantic Way, sandwiched between the crashing surf and the impressive blackrock earth, for about an hour until we reached the small Galway town of Kinvara. There we stopped for lunch and wandered around for a bit before heading back down inland through the Burren. Our route also took us through Lisdoonvarna, famous for its matchmaking festival. Although of course the festival didn’t go ahead this year, it remains the biggest offline singles event in the world (here’s a fantastic article about it’s official matchmaker from the NYT a few years ago).
Back in Doolin, we parked by the famous Gus O’Connor’s pub (unfortunately fully booked for the night or that would’ve been our choice of dinner spot because of their amazing Guinness) and walked down to Doolin Pier. This is where boats take off for the Aran Islands or to do scenic tours at the base of the Cliffs of Moher. Even if you’re not catching a boat, they’re a great spot to get a glimpse of the cliffs from a distance.
Then we got back in the car and headed closer to the cliffs. The main parking lot costs €10 per person as it includes entry to the visitor’s centre. While this is worth a visit, explaining the history of the cliffs and how they were formed, Steve and I had both been there before and so instead we drove on and instead we turned off at a sign for Guerin’s Path. Here we found a family-run carpark that charged only €3 per car, a more than fair price, we felt. If you want to walk from this carpark to the “main” part of the cliffs (near the visitor’s centre), it’s 4km and takes just over an hour. Since we arrived around 6pm and were planning to stay through sunset just before 8, this was perfect for us.
We walked along the cliffs, which were nearly devoid of tourists (I’d say we passed less than 20 others on the same path), and as we turned back to retrace our steps as the sun began to set, we experienced something truly lovely. Near the edge of the cliffs, there was a man playing the pipes. His son was sitting in the grass nearby, and there were a few other visitors listening, and we were all transfixed by the music and the beauty of the nature around us. It was a very special moment, one that could only happen in Ireland.
One of my favourite things about sunsets is the timing: you look at the sun when your watch tells you there’s only seven minutes left until sunset and you think there’s no possible way the sun can drop all the way down past the horizon by that time. But it seems to speed up as it goes, and at the risk of sounding like a melodramatic teenager, it reminds me a bit of that line in John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars about falling in love “slowly, and then all at once.” Just as the sun disappeared the tiniest sliver of moon came out, and we walked back to our car while the sky turned pink and purple behind us.
Just to add: this was our first night staying somewhere other than my or Steve’s parents’ homes since we left Vietnam and we were impressed with the precautions the accommodation at took. We stayed at the Dale View B&B, which I would highly recommend (not just for covid compliance, but in general)—comfy beds, delicious breakfast, and friendly host!
The next morning, we got an early start and took off along the coast again, this time south to Spanish Point and then Kilkee. The Kilkee Cliffs are nearly as spectacular as the Cliffs of Moher, and much less well-known (although they were more crowded when we were there due to it being a gorgeous Sunday morning) so if you’re looking to get slightly off the main tourist track they’re a good alternative. We parked in town and did the 5km walk up to the top of the cliffs. Afterwards, we continued on around the Loop Head peninsula, making short stops at the Bridges of Ross and the Loop Head Lighthouse before circling back to reach the ferry that would take us across to Tarbert and back into Kerry.
All in all, it was a perfect weekend away, especially with the wind and rain that has come our way in Killarney this week. The memory of a good sunset is enough to keep me going even when the skies are grey.