Staycationing in Ireland – Kerry & West Cork
Let’s try get through this without mentioning the ‘C’ word. (No, not that one, the other one). Obviously, we all know that in March the lives of most people around the world were changed massively. It was as if someone slammed on the brakes for the majority of people. But let’s not forget frontline workers, for whom it must have felt as if someone actually cut the brakes and sent them into a whirlwind at breakneck speed. We were all there, and I suppose no one wants to read about it again.
The bottom line was, with restrictions limiting our options for foreign travel, the Irish began a quest inward. Throughout history, we have sent our people to the most far flung corners of earth. Think Tom Crean in South Georgia, our links to the White House via JFK and Barack O’Bama, we even have people in the Caribbean (Google it, I swear, Irish accents in Montserrat, known as “The Other Emerald Isle”). However, rather than spreading our wings in 2020, we were encouraged to turn inwards and explore our own land. Advertising campaigns for Irish Staycations and roadtrips were on the radio, TV and newspapers. Discover Ireland, through TikTok, Instagram and Whateveryou’rehavingyourself encouraged us to Make A Break For It! And so we did. The Great Irish Staycation began!
Personally, I’m an outdoorsy type and while I love a nice getaway in a fancy hotel, I couldn’t justify the cost of it if I was going to be out on the hills or in the sea most of the time. Give me a warm fireside in a plush hotel in January or February and I’m there…and chance are, I won’t venture much further than that! But in the summer (whatever the weather) I think you’ve got to get yourself outside!
So, once the restrictions began to lift I got in touch with every campsite and campervan rental company. I’d emailed and called a few, and understandably they were inundated with requests and dates were filling up fast. I stumbled upon CraicNCampers and have to say I couldn’t have been more impressed! I spoke to Finnian over the phone and via email and he arranged everything. We got dates that suited me and a camper that I was just buzzing to travel in. I keep saying camper, though Finnian always says motorhome, and it’s easy to see why! You’ve got everything you’re ever going to need and it’s all so comfortable and easy to use. I’d never even been in one before but after the walk-through and face to face demonstration with Finnian I was blown away. Cooker, fridge, freezer, big bed (enough space for 6, but with just 2 of us travelling we only needed one bed), electricity (easy to charge phones, laptop, camera…), a dining area and tons of space. The cherry on top though was the hot shower in the bathroom, perfect after a surf or a cycle! There was cutlery, plates, cups, bedding…everything. You only bring what you want on the trip, the essentials are taken care of.
Driving position is amazing too, so much space and a great view of the road. I have to admit I was a little iffy about driving one of these big cam- (sorry Finnian)…motorhomes, but you’ve got an unbelievable view of everything and it’s nowhere near as scary or intimidating as you’d think. After the first few kilometers I honestly felt pretty confident (though I would say to know your vehicle height and double check any of the local roads you’re going to be driving). Anyway, you’re touring, so you’re not going to be driving fast. Give yourself plenty of time to take in the sights as you go!
Based in Roscommon, CraicNCampers are pretty much slap bang in the middle of the country and are very easy to find. When you pick up the camper, your car is kept safely locked away. You fill out a few forms, sign a few dotted lines and then Finnian gives you a run-through the motorhome. He told me numerous times to give him a call if we had any problems with anything. We never had to, but it’s nice to know that help is there if you need it.
I know now what people are wondering: how much? Well, we got away for 6 nights and it came to less than what we found hotels were offering for the same duration. We felt for the price we paid we were getting transport and accommodation as well as a great sense of adventure and novelty. On the downside: No, the motorhome does not provide you with a buffet breakfast between 8am and 10am. That was literally the only downside.
We picked up our motorhome early and headed off for Dingle. We stopped along the way to climb Brandon. We had climbed this a few times and were lucky to get a pretty clear day for it. Straight away we were huge fans of the motorhome life as we got to have a hot shower when we got to the bottom! We continued on towards Dingle, going over the stunning (windy and narrow) Connor Pass on the way. We actually hadn’t a campsite booked for the first two nights as places filled up so fast. Instead, we drove along Slea Head, which was absolutely breathtaking, and parked up at Dunquin Pier. We cooked up rice, veggies and prawns and watched the sun go down over the Blasket Islands and the broad Atlantic horizon and felt like royalty! I brought my laptop with me, with some shows downloaded from Netflix, so once it got dark we had a movie night then fell asleep to the sounds of the waves below us. The next morning we headed down to Coumeenoole Beach for an absolutely freezing (but let’s call it ‘refreshing’) dip. This beach gets pretty busy by day, so it’s cool to be able to get down early and have it to yourself. Having a hot shower and a coffee afterwards was just perfect. You feel you’re set up for the day. After breakfast, we completed the Slea Head drive taking in Dunmore Head and its old WW2 Look Out Post, the Three Sisters, Brandon Creek and a visit to Louis Mulcahy Pottery www.louismulcahy.com. Mulcahy’s pottery is kind of synonymous with Slea Head and Dingle. Well worth a trip to see his stuff, learn about his craft and even read his poetry. In normal times there is a café upstairs too. We spent the afternoon walking around Dingle town and had one of the best meals you could imagine at Fish Box on Upper Green Street www.thefishboxdingle.com . Family run, they cook up what they bring in from their own trawler Cú Na Mara each day. I can easily say it was also the friendliest staff I had ever come across as well. They literally couldn’t do enough for you! We couldn’t actually decide on what to get, so we ordered 3 main courses! If you like seafood, then this is the place for you! After that we ambled about Dingle and grabbed an ice cream at the well known establishment, Murphy’s www.murphysicecream.ie (I recommend the Brown Bread flavour…gorgeous!) Then we got ourselves a coffee at Bean www.beaninidingle.com. The queue was well worth it and based on a return visit I can also vouch for their sausage rolls!
We rang up Blasket Island Ferries www.blasketisland.com to find out if we could visit the island with them and we booked a crossing for the following morning. Knowing that we would need to be at Dunquin early the next day, we pointed ourselves west and camped at the same spot that night. We went for a short walk along Clogher Head that evening, watching the seabirds before turning in for bed.
The following morning, bright and early, we got ourselves across to Great Blasket Island. The OPW guides run a brilliant tour, packed with loads of info on the wildlife on the island, the islanders themselves and what life on the island was like. Two quick tidbits I’ll share. Firstly, no trees grow on the island so the school teacher had a picture of a tree in the classroom to show the children what they looked like. Secondly, when someone died on the island they were brought to the mainland for burial. For the crossing, the naomhógs (small boats) formed the shape of a cross with the deceased in the very centre. A sad but very emotive image, you can imagine, as the mainlanders in Dunquin watched the islanders coming across in such a procession. The beach on the island is so much bigger than you would guess from the mainland, and on it there is one of the largest colonies of grey seals in Ireland and in the summer months there can be thousands of them. You’ll hear them! A really enjoyable visit and I learned you can overnight on the island, so maybe one day we’ll return with that in mind.
Next we set off in the motorhome for Inch beach and took a long walk along its almost endless sand. We were booked to camp across the bay at Glenross Caravan and Camping Park so we made our way there, but not before noticing lots of campervans parking up on the beach. Cool place to wake up! The campsite at Glenross had it all, and was a brilliant place to stay while taking on the Ring of Kerry. The following morning we drove the Iveragh Peninsula and were so impressed by the beauty Ireland has to offer! The old railway bridge outside Cahersiveen, the views onto and from Portmagee, the Skelligs and the stunning views over Derrynane and Caherdaniel as you round the corner at the south-western edge of the peninsula. We had a long drive to our next destination at Adrigole on the Beara Peninsula, so we continued along and made our way there over the Healy Pass. Never has a roadway looked more like spaghetti! It’s amazing! We checked in to Hungry Hill Lodge and Campsite in Adrigole and settled down for the night. Here families sat around outside enjoying the views up to the summit of Hungry Hill, chatting, eating and laughing as darkness closed in.
The Beara Peninsula is surely one of the more underappreciated or certainly less spoken about destinations along the west coast. It’s stunning! And so different from a lot of the rest of the coast. Huge rocky outcrops seem to bulge out of the ground, forming mountains and a landscape that beckons you to explore. We drove out west beyond charming Castletownbere and on to Allihies. Here we undertook a walk around Knockoura and the Copper Mines of Allihies. We didn’t have the best of weather, but a good pair of boots goes a long way! It was a beautiful coastal walk full of gorgeous scenery and glimpses into a past in Allihies that was both vibrant and tragic. The people of this area were employed by the wealthy Puxley family and as long as the copper was mined, they had employment. However, numerous disasters befell the mines and the generations of men who worked down the shafts. Some of the old engine houses still stand today and the Allihies Museum & Café is well worth a visit.
The following day we had a trip booked with Whale Watch West Cork www.whalewatchwestcork.com so we made our way to picturesque Baltimore to meet Nic and his crew. We boarded at the harbour and set off in search of life that spends over 99% of its time below the water. We wanted to catch a glimpse of dolphins, whales or porpoises on their rare ventures above sea level. What a great tour. Expertly led by our passionate skipper Nic, a zoologist by training, we set off around the Beacon, Sherkin Island and Cape Clear off the south-west coast of Cork. While we spotted plenty of shy porpoises and had a few dolphins swim alongside the boat, we sadly never got to encounter any of the larger whales. That said, it’s been a record year for sightings and we will be returning to Whale Watch West Cork to try our hand again!
We ate like kings at O’Connor’s Seafood Restaurant in Bantry and on our way back to Adrigole on the Beara Peninsula, we took a detour (quite a significant one!). The sunset was shaping up beautifully to the west, so we pointed the motorhome to Sheep’s Head. A while later we found ourselves at one of the most amazing spots on the west coast of Ireland, watching the sun go down over the Atlantic and waiting for the lighthouse below us to begin its watch. Sheep’s Head is amazing and I would recommend anybody to go out there, walk along its ridges and rocky terrain until you get to its hidden lighthouse. We watched the colours change in the sky and once the lighthouse began to shine its beacon we turned back to the motorhome. We probably could have stayed here too, as others were, but given that we were exploring more of Beara in the morning we tipped back to our camp at Hungry Hill.
Our last full day in Beara was possibly the best. After an early breakfast in the motorhome, we drove out west again. This time, beyond Allihies and towards Dursey Island. Here you’ll find Irlenad’s only cable car. I had heard that queues can be quite long after midday so we got there early. The cable car is worth a mention. Forget you fancy ski lifts and gondolas from your holidays in the Alps, this was used in its early days to carry people and animals too. Nevertheless, its safe as a house and carries you high over Dursey Sound and the rocky reef below. It’s a smooth journey and after 7 minutes or so you land on Dursey Island itself. With only 2 permanent residents, no shops, pubs or restaurants you’ve stepped onto a remarkable land. We followed the well worn and well marked trail along the highpoints and out to the most westerly point with spellbinding views out over the sea. Gannets could be seen in great numbers far below as well as dolphins popping up for air every once in a while. Around us were numerous islands and rocks: The Cow, The Calf to the west and Scariff and Deenish to the north. It was a great place to take out the flask of coffee (made fresh in the motorhome) and sit and relax. We made our way back to the cable car via the road (only one on the island!) and had a laugh at the 100km/h speed limit sign that someone had put up! After returning to the mainland we had a delicious meal in Breens Seafood Restaurant in Castletownbere. It’s a lovely town, but sadly MacCarthys Bar was closed. If you haven’t heard of Dr. Aidan MacCarthy nor read his book “A Doctor’s Sword” I’d urge you to get onto it now. If ever there was an Irishman worth knowing about… The bar is run still by his family and I would have loved to visit and find out if the samurai sword can be seen.
The next day, we made our way back over the Healy Pass, into Killarney via Ladies’ View and after lunch headed back to Roscommon and CraicNCampers. I simply handed the keys to Finnian, received my own and the transaction was complete! We chatted a while and he was genuinely interested in where we went, what we saw and how we found the whole experience in a motorhome. I have to say, and I admit to being an easy convert, but I would be very happy to take all summer holidays throughout Ireland with a motorhome from here on. And, once green lists and so on no longer exist, we’re eyeing up Europe. A motorhome adventure through the Swiss Alps? I can’t wait…
Images and blog post by Enda McGuane.