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Driving in Ireland - The Roadtrip of a Lifetime

They told her it couldn’t be done: driving from Dublin to the Cliffs of Moher, then to Galway and Donegal and back to Dublin. All in one weekend. And on the wrong side of the road.

It began, in our minds at least, as a small weekend trip. Reality, and Ireland, soon took hold and it turned into a four-day adventure that will be hard to forget.

It was near the end of my three-month stay that my friend Ashley winged her way over from the land of the red, white and blue to the land where green is king, queen and well, pretty much everything else. We had decided to rent a car for our journey, so with a map of Ireland and plenty of Irish tunes to keep us company, we set our compass (okay, we didn’t actually use a compass, but it adds to the effect) for the glorious west coast. Exactly how glorious, we hadn’t dared to imagine.

Admittedly, driving our car was a little scary at first – making sure we were on the correct side of the road (“You’re sure, you’re totally sure this is the right side?!”) and actually staying in the correct lane were tasks that took a little getting used to. After a few wrong turns (okay, maybe more than a few), we left Dublin heading for the Cliffs of Moher. Like any self-respecting tourists, we made frequent stops along the way to take pictures of particularly green patches of grass that we knew would fascinate people at home. We just had to snap the sheep and cows who blithely wandered at our front bumper (come on, you can’t come to Ireland and not get at least one photo of sheep!) Along the curvy roads, we made our way to our destination: The Cliffs of Moher. I’d seen them in The Princess Bride. I’d seen them in Harry Potter – but seeing, touching and experiencing them in all their very real and very right-in-front-of-me misty glory required a long cup of tea to stop my hands from shaking.

From the long journey of sightseeing that day, we decided to stop in Galway City at a Bed & Breakfast for the night (a full Irish breakfast is something to behold, as impressive on the plate as it is in your mouth). Galway City is as friendly, as cute and as compact as you have been led to believe. There’s a bohemian pep to its relaxed step, very much helped by the students who live here and populate the various coffee houses discussing how best to fix the world, etc. After dinner we headed across the street to a pub and enjoyed some good ol’ traditional music and a pint. Or two. Ahem…

Saturday morning we were headed to Dungloe, County Donegal, where I had family friends that we were meeting and staying with. Up we went, along Ireland’s rugged, dainty, astonishingly beautiful then rugged again west coast. Donegal is like nowhere else in Ireland. The effects of the Ice Age are etched on the landscape with vast series of rock-strewn mountains, countless valleys filled in with small dark lakes and long deeply undulating roads. After an hour or so of the Donegal countryside (my camera was beginning to overheat) we arrived in the small seaside town. Dungloe is a cute-as-can-be village that begins at the top of a hill and ends succinctly at the bottom. In between are a comical amount of pubs jammed with locals who make it their business to engage you in chat. All so very Irish, all so very perfect. Once we reached the family home we were greeted with tea, queen cakes and some thick slices of that very famous Irish hospitality.

Once night hit and after an afternoon of sharing stories about who’s grown up, what they were like when they were little and how much everyone from the U.S. would love to be here, we ventured into Dungloe town and visited some of the pubs and bars. Patrick Johnnie Sally’s (what a name!) was my personal favourite, with the stone arch interior and locals spending more time talking than drinking their pints.

Our time was coming to too fast an end by Sunday, but we certainly weren’t about to let our trip go out with a whimper. Instead, Ashley and I pointed our chariot in the direction of Glenveagh National Park, a collection of Mother Nature’s greatest hits of forest, mountains and valleys (I’d suggest bringing some spare oxygen – the views will most definitely take your breath away). Along with the overwhelmingly pretty nature, we found Glenveagh Castle nestled among a battalion of protective trees at the edge of one of the park’s many lakes (actually the first castle I’ve seen and I already know it can’t be topped). The tour of the castle was a real treat, especially for the fact that most of the building has been mercifully left how it was by the last owner. The pool was my favourite part, with the views of the lake and those rugged-as-hell Derryveagh Mountains.

And so it was, with much sadness but with an endless stream of happy memories, we left our little piece of heaven.

And there you have it. Driving in Ireland – the roadtrip of a lifetime.

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