June 23 – July 16, 2007
Cork – Nenagh – Longford – Drogheda – Belfast
Ireland, otherwise known as The Emerald Isle, is over twice the size of Switzerland and has a mere quarter of São Paulo city’s population. Ah! Ireland: where online means fishing and a hot spot generally refers to a resort on the Canary Islands. With an oceanic climate, even in summer it never gets too hot. We were just about to discuss the rain, but by now you should have the photos loaded up!
After an overnight ferry from Roscoff, France we arrived to a colourful, sun-kissed Cobh harbour, where we were greeted by the local stewards and Gardaí with bonjour and bon vacances! We must have had that je ne sais quoi look about us.
Albert & Ronán returning from cycling holidays in Brittany escorted us into town on the scenic route and kindly lent us their mobile phone to make contact with our welcoming party. Darina’s friends from college directed us to the Hayfield Manor saying they had booked us in for B&B.
Albert & Ronán dropped us at the gates with a you’ll-be-well-looked-after-here farewell and we proceeded up the tree-lined avenue. We found ourselves in front of a 5-star hotel on our bikes, in all our cycling gear. It was just then that we got that nagging feeling that this could well be a hoax! For fear it were, we took our pictures before entering reception, allowing for a speedy exit.
Lo and behold Darina’s name was on the guest list and we were shown around this beautiful Manor in our hiking boots and helmets! Tea and coffee were served before we retired to our posh room.
The girls finished their magnificent treat with a gorgeous meal at Isaacs, where we caught up on 2 years of scandal. What a homecoming! We should go away and get married more often!!!
Thanks a million, lads!
The best way to tour Ireland is to cycle the byroads and avoid the busy national ones where possible.
Our route was off the coastal touristy trail and brought us through the Galty and Silvermine mountains and up the centre to Longford.
Colourful country towns, rivers, passage graves, castles, ancient abbeys and lively pubs with live music featured along the road.
Campgrounds off the tourist trail are sparse, but B&Bs are hard to beat for their hospitality and smashing fry-ups for breakfast.
Of course, we did have quite a few friends and family who kindly opened their houses to two drenched cyclists. What ever happened to global warming?
The midlands are famous for their bogs. This soft composted ground covering much of central Ireland is cut and dried for use as domestic fuel (turf) and for local electricity power stations.
The midway point of our Tour d’Irlande was of course Moydow, Co. Longford. The heart of Ireland, set in rich agricultural land is home to Darina’s clan. There we chilled for 10 days while the heavenly irrigation system worked round the clock on the 40 shades of green.
We spent our time visiting family, friends and neighbours and would need another complete website to post all the faces and smiles.
All smiles in Longford
Of course, a trip to Moydow wouldn’t be complete without a victory from the Moydow Harpers!
Aoife was about the only one prepared to brave the elements with us on the bikes…
Some things just never change! Just inside the door, Guinness at hand… and the last ones out!
Not even flooding seems to dampen the spirits of the Irish… the craic goes on!
The Newgrange Passage graves are a must see. Unfortunately we weren’t the only ones who knew that.. and it was really the only time we came across mass tourism on this trip to Ireland. Dating back to 3200 B.C. they are so designed that on the winter solstice the sunlight floods the inner chamber at sunrise.
On the way, we passed through an Irish-speaking area, otherwise known as an ghaeltacht. Kurt got to practice his Dia Duit with the little old lady we passed on the road.
On the eastern coast we had wonderful views of the Cooley Mountains as we were entertained by Conor at the Glyde Inn, Anagassan. One of the Extreme Backpacker troupe, Conor is a fair lad to recount his intrepid adventures around the globe, including Latin America.
Once across the border, we took the scenic route to Belfast along Carlingford Lough and around the Mourne Mountains. Beautiful weather and better roads made cycling really enjoyable.
It happened to be the 12th of July and in Kilkeel we encountered an Orange-Day Parade. This annual event commemorates the victory of William of Orange in 1690 at the Battle of the Boyne. A sombre affair in comparison with the St.Patrick’s parades down south, but at least it continues without bombs and violence nowadays.
The numerous coastal caravan parks are strictly for caravans
alone. The signs read: No football jerseys and no campers. However on the coast there’s a lot of space to camp wild well away from it all.
We bumped into Ger & Benny cycling around the coast of Ireland in aid of the Irish Cancer Society. They had left Dingle a month before on their anti-clockwise trail.
The next day we took the direct route into Belfast in the pouring rain and were pampered no end by Frank & Marie in their cosy residence up on the hill.
We did manage to find the brighter side of constant downpours. Puddles are a great place to find that nagging puncture!
Frank and Marie took us on a tour of Belfast taking in the controversial Falls Road, Shankill Road, the City Hall, Queens University, Belfast Castle, and the docks (where the Titanic was built).
In addition, we got to see the most bombed hotel in Europe and the location of the greatest bank robbery ever! Welcome to Belfast!
The huge grim peace wall, pointed murals, flag flying and the unsightly remains of the Orange-Day Bonfires still scar the city’s image.
Although red, white and blue mark Unionist territory and tricolours still fly in Nationalist zones; there is a certain sense of peace in Belfast today.
Murals on the Falls Road
Time is still needed to heel the wounds of 30 years of bloodshed. We got the feeling though, that there is a consensus of looking forward to what could be, instead of looking back to what was.
Darina’s good friend, Fiona (from her year in Japan) and her partner Geoff spoilt us on the Sunday with afternoon tea on the coast and then back to Jordanstown for a beautiful home-cooked meal. Stories were exchanged a mile a minute and we had a ball.
From Belfast we jumped on a ferry to Stranaer, Scotland to resume our long way home!
This trip to Ireland was for us a social event more than a touristy cycling trip and we certainly got to meet a crowd. It was yet another homecoming and one-step closer to resuming our life off the road! Many thanks to all our hosts and well-wishers. There will be a “next time” for the ones we missed. Go raibh míle maith agaibh!