Photo Adrian Brady
Fresh air, relaxation, spectacular scenery and a bit of craic are a great antidote to the stresses of city living, and thankfully very affordable and easily accessible from any city in Ireland.
Siobhan, Lawrie, Paul and myself are looking for an ‘out of city’ experience and drive for two hours to the market town of Gort in east Co. Galway, our starting point for a visit to the Burren.
The internationally-renowned region of rocky limestone is a mysterious lunar landscape of swirling hills interspersed with verdant green pockets and valleys.
An appointment for tea in Fr. Ted’s house means we have to press on with gorgeous takeaway coffees from our Airbnb at the Gallery Café in Gort.
On the road from Gort to Corofin, we observe the ancient monastic settlement of Kilmacduagh with its leaning round tower, which would give Pisa a run for its money.
After passing Boston Castle and Lough Bunny, we turn onto a narrow by-road with a grassy middle, which meanders beneath the swirling mountain of Mullaghmore.
Less than three hours from Dublin and we are completely transported mentally and physically into this bizarre landscape of flat-topped rocks, milky lakes and wildflowers. Imagine, at this stage, we might only be boarding a flight if taking a trip elsewhere.
It’s a beautiful day and walkers are heading up the well-marked trails to Mullaghmore, but we continue around the corner to Fr. Ted’s house. It’s not Craggy Island, but there is no mistaking the isolated dwelling standing in the field with its distinctive white gates and grassy driveway.
‘All the outside scenes were filmed here, and the indoor shot in a studio’ owner and organic farmer Patrick McCormack tells us.
There’s no sign of Mrs Doyle, but Cheryl serves tea and a delicious selection of freshly baked cakes and scones on the big stone table in the kitchen.
This is no theme park, but a warm friendly home full of stories from the family that hosted Dermot Morgan, Frank Kelly and co. The experience is entertaining and we finish it off with a photo shoot using character masks and placards outside.
Photo by Tristan Reville
A minute away, Mullaghmore crossroads has ample parking and we follow signs for the Lough Avalla Farm walk, which is graded easy and offers plenty of variety.
A hazel wood carpeted in moss and ferns is a cool and mystical reprieve from the heated rocks. At a holy well, the fairies have left out drinking glasses so we can taste the curative water.
Emerging from the forest we clamber up a dramatic stretch of Burren rock with classic linear carved gaps and crevices, mindful not to drop anything as nothing would ever be retrievable from the deep narrow cracks.
Climbing higher we find a stone circle that’s been made recently. A very apt addition to the natural landscape makes us wonder if the fairies are at it again.
Rare and unique wildflowers cling to the rocks. Botany enthusiast, Prince Charles, made the Burren his first port of call when visiting Ireland in 2015. David Attenborough filmed the special area in the 1980s as part of the Private Life of Plants BBC television series.
Entomologists monitor moths and butterflies that thrive on the rare plants in this unique eco-system. Without scientific information, we are absorbed in the natural beauty of this unique landscape, which is a protected national park that conceals human inhabitants under groves of trees.
As the end of the trail, we find tea rooms but head for the flask in the car, which we brought in case nowhere was open. There’s nothing like a hot cup of coffee in the middle of nowhere.
Driving back to our Airbnb in Gort we are once again bopping up and down on tiny ancient roads between the fields of rocks.
Hipsters from Brooklyn, Hackney or South William Street would be elated to land at the fab pad home of Gallery Café proprietor, designer and artist Sarah Hearty, who has lived in the UK and US.
Downstairs, craft beers and fine wines complement local seasonal and organic produce, at the multi-award winning café. Sarah is passionate about cooking everything from scratch and she sources ingredients from local farmers, fishermen, chocolatiers and producers. My steak is just divine.
The attention to detail stretches to the plates, which are hand thrown by potter Michael Kennedy and locally grown flower bouquets are beautiful. This feels like a community meeting place which hosts a monthly art exhibition and regular living room style gigs in winter.
Photograph by Alice Donovan
Next day we are off to explore coastal Burren and head straight to New Quay where we have a walk on the Flaggy shore overlooking Galway Bay. After a visit to the Russell Gallery, it’s time for lunch at Linnane’s Seafood restaurant on the harbour. Chowder with a glass of stout is the order of the day.
The Burren landscape dominates the drive to Ballyvaughan, where we follow the scenic coastal road to Fanore beach. There is little here but surfboards for rent and people enjoying the fine weather on the long stretch of sand that faces the Aran Islands.
Fanore is beautiful and isolated with plenty of shelter under the rocks and dunes. The shop and pub are about a mile away so picnics are all the go.
Further along, the Burren rolls right down to the coast at Doolin pier, where boat owners operate the Aran Islands ferries and trips under the Cliffs of Moher.
Photograph by Elias Emhann
Having already walked along the cliff top it’s amazing to see the mighty rocks from beneath, and breath in the sea air. The evening is a great time to sail as the sun illuminates the rock face and the large bird population are busy coming and going.
Our boatman points out the ‘Aillens’ or the Wave of Moher, a phenomenon that attracts surfers from around the world.
Returning to Doolin, there is no better place to land than the Rainbow B&B, perfectly located next door to two of the village’s best pubs.
After two days of adventure, beautiful scenery, fresh air, fabulous food and relaxation we are ready for the ‘craic’, and Doolin doesn’t disappoint. There is a mighty session of uilleann pipers in McDermott’s and a traditional group playing in McGann’s.
Photo by Mariana Vusiatytska
A rather brilliant Clare singer is crooning outside, an American girl is practising Irish dancing beside the musicians and basically, everyone else is in good form and enjoying holiday mode.
Sharing the euphoria of those who have travelled around the world to get to his little village in West Clare, we marvel at how lucky we are to have this on her doorstep.
By the time we return to Dublin it feels like we have been away ages and realise how relaxing it is not to have flight deadlines, specialist bag packing for airport security and a language app.
Fresh air, fab scenery, gorgeous food and lots of craic amid one of the wildest and most unique landscapes on planet Earth is just magical and little over two hours from a Dublin door.
Organic, original and oh so magical, the Burren is open for visits all year, even at short notice. Ah, go on! You will, you will, you will. You’d be mad not to.
Driving is the ideal way to see the area.
Train to Gort/Ennis and arrange local transport or hitch hike – yes it’s coming back. A few sightings around the Burren!
THINGS TO DO
Tea at Fr. Ted’s house – Booking Essential
www.fathertedshouse.com €10 per person
Burren Beo Landscape Charity– Great information on walks, talks and activities.
Cliffs of Moher boat trip – A number of operators run boat trips from the pier. Obrienline.com and other operators. Booking recommended to avoid disappointment. Approx €20
Bicycle Hire is offered by most hotels, hostels and B&B’s in Doolin
Airbnb Gallery Café, Gort Co. Galway €90 per night/sleeps 4
Rainbow Hostel and B & B, Doolin, Co. Clare
See website for great deals including free bike hire.
B&B Contact Carmel and Mattie Shannon, 065 707 4415
€25/€30 per person
EATING & DRINKING
MUSIC & SESSIONS