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Motorcycles, Travel & Adventure

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FEATURE STORY
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Motorcycle TourMagazine

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words and images: Brian Rathjen

DublinNightitem6I have never thought of myself as a vagabond, but the Irish poet Goldsmith seemed to have a different thought on this.

Still, the revelry from three floors below filtered into my room. In the darkness I reach for my trusty Timex Expedition watch and pressed the button, the green glow illuminating my face…1:50 am.

Holy Mary Margaret – will these people ever go to bed?

It had been a long day and it seemed that just hours before we had been back in New Jersey closing up the office and heading to JFK and the relatively quick flight to Ireland.

After checking into the Morgan Hotel and grabbing an extra hour sleep, the day had been spent exploring the city. Trinity College and the famed Book of Kells, searching for a version of Sherlock Holmes in Irish, a drop by Ireland’s oldest tavern – The Brazen Head – and the required visit to the Guinness Storehouse.GuinnessFactory1

By evening time Shira and I were in a horse drawn buggy, clip clopping our way back to the Temple Bar section of this old city where we would meet Richard and Jane Singer, the other half of our riding team for the next week while we toured the ancient and beautiful isle of Ireland.

BuggyRideBut, right now I really needed to get some shuteye; but it seemed the massive party below could care less. Before heading back to the hotel that night the crowd and party almost reminded me of Bourbon Street, in New Orleans, on Halloween eve, but there was no holiday this night.

No, it was simply Dublin on a Saturday night. Welcome to Ireland.

Dublin to Donegal

The next morning we had a typical Irish breakfast of eggs, pudding (not the pudding you are thinking of), sausage and a rash of hearty thick bacon before cabbing it over to see Paul Rawlins and Celtic Rider. We had been planning this trip for about a year now and actually had to reschedule back in the spring while I was bouncing around on crutches.

It was good to be back in Ireland and in a short time we were setting up our bikes and going over routes with Paul.CelticRiderGroup

item4Celtic Rider has a full shop and store and Paul seems to have single-handedly created motorcycle touring in the Emerald Isle.

By late morning we were making our way north and west out of Dublin.

For the first hour or so we took a main road, but that soon faded away to be replaced by a nice two-laner, closely lined with wide overhanging trees and rolling farms.

Our route brought us across the border into Northern Ireland, which we crossed into hardly noticing. Only kilometers turning into miles and the Union Jack flying high in the towns let you know you were now on British soil; unlike the last time Shira and I crossed this border only to be stopped and questioned by soldiers.

YeatsGraveHeading towards the northwestern coast the terrain opened up and we rode along some towering hills, actually small mountains that ran along the fast running rivers to finally empty into the sea.

This was the Ireland we had come to see.

item8Richard had visited the Writers Museum in Dublin and keeping with that flair we made a slight detour to the coastal town of Sligo, had a bite to eat, and then went in search of the great Irish poet W. B. Yeats’ grave which we found in a small church yard cemetery in Drumcliffe.

This day we had a bit of everything, but Ireland truly is the only nation I know where it can be bright sunshine, yet be rain too.

North along the coast we headed, in the general direction of Donegal.

The bright sunlight was cutting across the large peaks, and the last of the day’s rain painting Ben Bulben, the famed Sligo mountain, with a stunning rainbow. From our angle it looked as if the colors lay SligoRainbowLargeacross the mountain itself. In all my travels I have never seen anything like this.

This part of Ireland must be famous for these as we saw not one but three great rainbows this day. We would see many such colors on this trip. Now where is that pot o’ gold?

By early evening we slid into Donegal and stayed at a lovely guesthouse, the Ardelenagh View, sitting on a high bluff overlooking the Atlantic, just a mile or two from the town’s center.

We would be here for two nights, so we unpacked the bikes, showered and had a glass of wine to celebrate our first day in Ireland.BrazenHead1

Eileen and Tony, who own the Ardelenagh View, were kind enough to drive us into town for dinner.

Donegal is absolutely the quintessential Irish town. Built along the river Eske that runs to the sea it has an old world flavor and charm you simply cannot recreate and dinner that night was an excellent way to power down after the long day.

item7Later in the evening Shira and I found a local pub with traditional Irish music, or craic as it’s called. It was simply wonderful as young girls danced traditional steps and the house band let musicians that were traveling through play along. One young gal from Germany with a fiddle wowed the crowd and an older, very slight man from Boston blew all away with an incredibly powerful operatic voice.

We hoped to return the next night.

Free Day in Donegal

item10Ireland’s weather can be a fickle beast at best. After a glorious ending to the previous day I awoke to hear a howling banshee of wind rushing in from the Atlantic. It blew so hard I was worried that we would find the bikes toppled over in the morning.

Bands of rain held us at bay in the early part of the morning but there was something comforting too; hearing the patter of rain and the wind blowing while nice and warm inside the old farm house.

In Ireland they have another saying, “If you don’t like the weather, wait a few minutes.”

This couldn’t be more true this day. At ten to ten it was still pouring like all get out, but ten o’clock chimed and blue skies rolled in from the sea to the west and by 10:15 we were on the motorcycles and heading north.

DonegalRiding1We rode through the town of Donegal and the Donegal Castle, built in 1474 and found in the very center of the town. We continued up along the two-lane N-15 through Barnes Gap. Here, back in the day, this tight pass had no large highway through it, rather a tight twisting road that wound its way through the gap. It was a good place for an ambush and Barnes Gap was known for its highwaymen and rapparees.GlenveaghCastle

We passed with no worries this day.

Continuing north we rode through the fairly good-sized city of Letterkenny and then through the Derryveagh Mountains and past the birthplace of St. Columba. As is our way we found some tiny Irish backroads on our ride to Glenveagh National Park, the tight farm and marshlands crossed by tight lanes and old stone bridges.

Glenveagh, from the Irish Gleann Bheatha meaning "glen of the birches" is the second largest national park in Ireland. The park covers 170 square kilometres of hillside above Glenveagh Castle on the shore of Lough Veagh.

Here you will find the most stunning of Irish castles and a wonderful walking garden as well.

The estate was established by John Adair, who became infamous for evicting 244 of his tenants and clearing the land so they would not spoil his view of the landscape.

Nice guy.

The gardens and castle were presented to the Irish nation in 1981 by Henry P. McIlhenny of Philadelphia who had purchased the estate in 1937.

Although some will tell you that Henry Plumer McIlhenny was part of the Tabasco family in Louisiana, he was not. But, that does not stop all the locals from telling you such. He was, however, a friend of McIlhenny Company president Walter S. McIlhenny, who once visited Henry’s castle, Glenveagh, in County Donegal, Ireland. Despite the absence of a genealogical link, Walter and Henry referred to each other jokingly as “cousin” and kept up a correspondence for many years.

The park is home to the largest herd of red deer in Ireland and the formerly extinct golden eagle was reintroduced into the park in 2000.GlenveaghLunch

We parked the bikes for a stretch here and took the small shuttle bus to the castle and gardens.

Sometimes it pays to walk around a bit, as the valley, with its high cliffs and the lovely lake and castle, looked like something from a J.R.R. Tolkien book.

Back on the BMWs we ran along towards the sea and the coastal roads.

GlenveaghHorsesStopping in one seaside town we found a little place for seafood chowder and bread and Shira walked the beach for a spell finding a bunch of riders on horseback enjoying the rocky coastline of northwest Ireland.

We were ready to park the bikes again and join them.

From this point we turned back south and did our best to stay as close to the water and cliffs as we could.

We did a pretty good job at it.

We stopped for some time at the area the Irish call Bloody Forelands. It sounds far more dire than it really is. No battle or feud was fought here; rather it speaks to the way the sunset’s light plays on the cliffs shading them with a dark red that resembles blood.

Continuing on to the east we could see Mount Errigal that looked, to all the world, like a volcano about to erupt.

Errigal is well known for the pinkish glow of its quartzite in the setting sun. Another noted quality is the ever-changing shape of the mountain depending on what direction you view it from. Errigal was voted 'Ireland's Most Iconic Mountain' by Walking & Hiking Ireland in 2009.

We just thought it striking and a little out of place.

CastleRuinI had planned a route that would hug the coast and assumed it would all be fairly good-sized roadway and adequate pavement.

Not to happen, as the route wound up a mountain and quickly shrank from two-lane to one-lane to a semi-paved two-track with a lawn down the middle.GlenveaghDickCoast

Nearly 40 kilometers of up and down, twist and shout, offering the most spectacular views of the northwest Irish coast. Wrecked towers, abandoned farms, the occasional home carved into the very rugged and rocky side of these cliffs.

I wouldn’t have traded this part of the day for anything.

We finally ran back into civilization and from here it was a short ride back to Donegal and the B & B.

The day, that had started out so badly, had turned into an absolutely smashing venture.

An hour or two later we were showered and dressed and ready for another night of pints, dancing and traditional music in Donegal.

Donegal to Westport

GlenveaghRiding2We were due to leave this part of Ireland this next day, but there were still a few things I needed to see for myself.

Near the hamlet of Ardara you will find the Glengesh Pass.

Paul had told me this was a must ride, if at all possible, as the views, the ride and the region were remote and as natural in beauty as the Emerald Isle gets.

I was intrigued so I rose early at dawn and rolled the bike out of the barn and down the hill so as not to wake the others.WestportRainRide

Some 45 minutes later I was rolling past Ardara searching for the tiny road sign I was told would point me to the Glengesh Pass.

Paul did not lie, as the pass wound up and over the rocky green peaks.

Sheep barely moved out of my way and the only other person I saw on the entire ride was the milkman out for his early deliveries.

In typical Irish fashion a nasty black storm cloud rose over the peaks as I hit the summit and I got the first pounding of rain that day.

This road dropped me near the folk village of Glencolmcille; well worth the stop and I vectored back in the direction of Donegal, once again on a one-lane road with grass and weeds running down the middle.

These grassy roads demanded attention but paid off with views of an Ireland rarely seen by visitors.

Adventure bikes have a distinct advantage here.

Rolling back to the sea I could see the giant sea cliffs, called Slieve League, just to the east. Considered the highest in all of Europe, they are stupendous and are more than two and a half times higher than the more famous Cliffs of Moher to the south.

On the road heading east I passed through the deep sea fishing town of Killibegs, which seriously reminded me of Ushuaia, Argentina.

HouseBoatBike1So many of these fishing villages look the same with great homes surrounding them and heavy industry ruling the main part of the town.

I made it back to the B & B in time for a late breakfast.

By mid-morn we were back on the road and heading south.

Passing through Sligo we waved at Yeats, but he didn’t wave back…Hmmm poets, and then went in search of something very, very old.CairnHappy

How old, you ask?

Well the stone burial tombs at Carrowmore were started 2,000 years before the first stone was laid at Egypt’s pyramids.

Let’s take a moment here and think that one through, shall we? So Christ and the Apostles were walking around Jerusalem and then we fast forward to men walking on the moon.

That is two thousand years. After that the Pharaoh woke up one morning and said, “Hey, I had this crazy idea…!”

6500 years ago the people of this land created Passage Way Burial Tombs.

Around 30 megalithic tombs can be seen in Carrowmore today. The tombs were almost universally 'dolmen circles'; small dolmens each enclosed by a boulder ring of 12 to 15 meters. Each monument had a small leveling platform of earth and stone. One of the secrets of the dolmens longevity was the well-executed stone packing set around the base of the upright stones. The combination of 5 of these orthostats and a capstone enclosed a pentagonal burial chamber. The boulder circles contain 30 to 40 boulders, usually of gneiss, the material of choice for the satellite tombs. Sometimes an inner boulder circle is present.

Unlike any place in the United States you can freely roam the grounds and reach up and touch something that is as old as humankind itself.

It was humbling to think of the time that has past since primitive men and women created these tombs.

Right about then our streak of decent weather took a left turn and the rains that had been flittering about the atmosphere saw us and made their charge.

About twenty heavily soaking minutes later we rode out into bright sunshine and began that long drying out process every touring motorcyclist knows of.LunchCobble

We found lunch right after we crossed into County Mayo in the seaside town of Killala. Hearty soups, salmon and crab made the day and we even did a bit of shopping in the town’s center.

CeideFieldCliffsOur route this day would, once again, stick to the coast as this offered the most enjoyable roads and that spectacular Irish ocean view.

Along the high cliffs we came upon the Céide Fields Visitor Centre, near Ballycastle. Another significant area the Céide Fields are the oldest known field systems in the world and change all of science’s paradigm about stone age people.

They also have some of the prettiest cliffs we had seen in Ireland yet.

Heading further south we crossed along a road that went along the Nephin Beg Mountains and through Ballycroy National Park, with smashing water views on a road that ran along a wet grassland spaced by the occasional peat bog that had bags of peat dug and cut and drying for use as fuel.

The views were too good to just speed by, so we found a small restaurant and stopped for a bit and a got a cup of coffee and a chair on a deck and sat back and soaked it all in, reaching for our inner leprechaun.

Our destination that night was the busy port town of Westport, along the Clew Bay. And, although I don’t mind the occasional busy town, I was glad we were staying at a comfortable B & B just outside Westport with a thatched roofed pub across from the bay a short walk away.

PeatBogsThe lobster, mussels and clams tasted strongly of the sea from which they had been plucked earlier that day and we found it hard to order lamb or beef when there was so much salt in the Irish air.

Free Day in Westport

Westport1We had a steady dose of friendly weather so far in Ireland, as rain is a common, but usually a fairly swift event as westerly winds from the North Atlantic push the weather fronts through quickly.

Today our Irish luck ran out and when the local postman stops his truck to simply tell me that we might reconsider getting on the motorcycle today you might want to listen.

Rain is one thing in this country, but an ocean storm coming hard into Ireland is a beast entirely.

Still, undaunted by the dire warnings from the locals we suited up tightly and took off in search of something one might not expect in Ireland – a fiord.

We approached Killary Harbor from the seaside and immediately the winds and rain picked up, pelting us with heavy, sharp drops. The wind caused the rain to move sideways and visibility got tougher by the mile.

Still, the scenery seemed happy and beautiful in its natural moist environment and we continued on down along the bottom of the fiord’s valley.

WestportStormNewsKillary Harbor is Ireland’s only true fjord and extends 10 miles from the Atlantic to its head at Aasleagh Falls. Here we found the border between Galway and Mayo and it boasted some of the most spectacular scenery in the west of Ireland and we had already seen so much.

Killary Harbor and the fiord is fairly deep, over 150 feet at its center. This offers a very safe, sheltered anchorage, because of the depth and the mountains to the south and north. It is a center for shellfish farming, and strings of ropes used to grow mussels are visible for much of its length. Mussels and clams grown in Killary Harbour can be found in local markets and on menus for miles around.WestportSunset

We knew this first hand as we had our fill the night before.

By the time we reached the top of the fiord, at Aasleagh Falls, the winds had picked up from simply annoying to dangerous. Sheep were scattering across the fields and cliffs and the sky became as dark as they get.

Rounding another turn the water cascading off the cliffs covered the roadway. Instead of just a splash I ran into a crater on the road jolting my teeth loose and almost pulling the bars from my hands, putting a good-sized dent in the GS’s front rim.

That one would cost me, but better that then another foreign ambulance ride.

Through the pelting we saw the brake lights of the car ahead of us come on as the driver made a quick run to the far side of the road, avoiding a tree crashed down across the road just in front of him.

We followed his move and made our way around the fallen tree and decided that maybe today discretion was indeed the better part of valor and we called it an early riding day and set our course back towards Westport.

WestportRainbowWith a good part of the day still ahead of us we did some Backroads’ housekeeping and then took a cab ride into Westport proper. Here we found a great seaside town with a good deal of shops, galleries and just one or two pubs and pints. Sitting at the bar we watched the rain come down in torrents and heard one fellow comment he was waiting for Noah to float on by. WestportTavern

Another woman said it was the worse storm in years.

Being that we got caught in the middle of it that morning, I was all ears.

Shira and I have been caught I some wild weather situations over the years, but today was pretty bad and not to get all Fred Rau about the situation, but indeed this was more than just any storm. The woman at the bar showed me the day’s newspaper that said the very thing.

The “weatherguy on the telly” was saying that the monster off the coast was showing the lowest barometric pressure in Ireland in the last 26 years and all the news and papers could talk about was this great Irish tempest.

Great. They say timing is everything.

By early evening the sun was back out, with another perfect rainbow in tow, although the hard winds refused to fade away. Still, we had high hopes for far better riding weather the next day. We’d see as our route continued ever southward along the Irish Atlantic coast.

Westport to DoolinRidingNarrowRoad

The day rose the next morning bringing with it the sun and clearer weather.

Sort of, but with the sun doing its best we had …yes, another rainbow over Clew Bay.

Because of the storm the previous day we had missed out on a loop of the famed Connemara National Park so we double back on some of the ride we did the previous day, looping around the fiord, which was a bit brighter this day, and then down to Clifden.

BurrensBrianWe stopped at the Connemara Visitor Center and learned a bit about the area and the history of the Irish Peat Bog. For thousands of years they have been farmed, drying the peat and burning it for duel. In ancient times the bogs were incredibly dangerous to travel through and locals made wooden roads called Tougher Roads – maybe the very first highways of the world. These days, the supply of these ancient bogs is dwindling and the Connemara Park bogs are now protected by the Irish government.

Our loop brought us out of the park proper and along some tiny roads that Shira had laid out with the GPS. As usual she did a super job and some of the tiny roads we traversed brought us to parts of the peninsula that most tourist and travelers rarely see.

Heading back east we crossed by the range known as the Twelve Pins, which were as striking as they come, especially now that the day had cleared and it was perfect Irish riding weather… cool in the 60’s and sunny.item9

I grew up in New York City and every Saint Patrick’s Day WPIX, channel 11, would show The Quiet Man on the 8 O’clock Movie. For those of you who have never seen this marvelous John Ford film it is about an American boxer – Sean Thornton, played by John Wayne, who returns to Ireland after killing a man in the ring and swearing he will never fight again. Once there he meets and falls for Mary Kate Danaher, played by Maureen O’Hara. Thornton eventually gets the girl but not before making a serious enemy of her brother Red Will Danaher, portrayed by actor and fellow motorcycle enthusiast Victor McLaglen. Not to give it all away but the donnybrook at the end is a film classic, as is the entire production.

CohanBarThe Quiet Man was filmed in and around this region and the main scenes were filmed in the tiny village of Cong. We had been here a decade ago, but it deserved a return trip for the beef stew and soups across from Cohan’s Bar and the stone Duffy Celtic Cross. Those of you who have seen the movie know what I speak of.CliffsofMoher

After lunch we made our way around the city of Galway and then headed for something very different from what we had experienced so far in Ireland – Burren National Park. This massive region is composed entirely of limestone karst and dates back some 10,000 years. The road that wound up through the park was far different than the rest of our trip and was more moonlike than anything resembling the Emerald Isle. These limestone pavements with criss-crossing cracks known as "grikes", leaving isolated rocks called "clints". We spent some time high above Galway Bay on this lunar landscape and then headed back down towards the sea and one of the high points of our Irish journey - the Cliffs of Moher.

The cliffs take their name from an old fort called Moher that once stood on Hag's Head, the southernmost point of the cliffs and at nearly 700 feet their arresting beauty bring in over one million visitors each year.

The cliffs stretch for a full 8 kilometers.

CongIrishStewWe hiked up to O’Brien’s Tower, built in 1835 by a local landlord named Cornelius O’Brien, to take in the views and then spent some time at the excellent visitor’s center.

From Moher it was a short ride to the tiny hamlet of Doolin and our guest house for the night.

Wouldn’t you know it but not five minutes after we parked the bikes the skies opened up reminding us, once again, of the fickle nature of the Irish weather.

As with most of these guest houses, a great local pub was nearby and we strolled through the sunset and the light rain drops for dinner.

Doolin to Killarney

Brilliant sunshine greeted us this morning and stuck around for the entire ride this day. I have always thought that all successful motorcycle journeys always needs a bit of a water crossing involved.

Ferries usually work well and they would this day as well.

To go around the long way to cross the Shannon River would take nearly 100 miles, but the 20 minute ferry at Killmer cut that time and mileage right out. We even got a chance to see a pod of dolphins following in the ferry’s wake. We had planned a lengthy route along the Dingle Peninsular; so in the town of Tralee we headed west along the northern part of this large spit of land. ArdfertCathedral

If Backroads had a patron Saint it would be Saint Brendan the Navigator.

As a young man Brendan was known for his acute sailing skills and legend has it that he was the very first European to sail to North America. In fact Christopher Columbus, on the eve of his famous voyage to the West Indies said, “ I go seek the promised land of Saint Brendan.”

Or, so another legend says.

TwelvePinsRegardless In 1976, Tim Severin, a modern day explorer, built a leather-hulled boat based on the vessel described in the manuscript, and on the Currach still used on Ireland's West Coast. He and his crew then made the voyage with stops on the Aran Islands in Galway, in Co. Donegal, the Hebrides and in the Faroes, over-wintering in Iceland, before sailing onward to North America and proving it was possible for St. Brendan to have made the voyage to Canada in such a craft. Brendan is also known for spreading the Christian faith through Ireland and along our day’s journey we stopped at Ardfert Cathedral, which was founded by Saint Brendan back in the 6th century.

The cathedral is now a combination of architecture, faiths and styles and lies mostly in ruin, but was well worth the stop.ConnorPass

One thing that I had noticed in this land is the great respect folks have for their elders and I had seen many people, around my age, walking with far older relatives; mothers, fathers or grandparents.

When we approached the motorcycles leaving the cathedral a woman about 60 was walking with a woman well into her 90’s. The older woman smiled at me and asked me if I “would be wanting a passenger?”

She might have had the weight of years on her but her smile and her eyes showed a powerful love of life.

ConnorPassRideI told her, “Mother, you are so welcome to ride with me!”

She laughed and told me I was a sweet man and she hoped that God would bless me and Shira on our ride. It’s funny, when an Irish woman says something like this, with that lovely Irish lilt in their voice, you can almost believe God is actually listening.

I got on the BMW falling in love with this land.CowCrossing

The north and south in Dingle are far different from each other and are cut down the middle by high sandstone cliffs, the Slieve Mish Mountains. One could ride around the land; but why would you when the Connor Pass cuts up and through those very same peaks? The Connor Pass was everything we had hoped for; tight, twisty and offering stupendous views of the land in all directions. For those who love a sporting ride the Connor Pass is for you.

The far side of the pass led down to the town of Dingle. We made our way through the bustling tourist town and picked up the road that looped around the very western edge of the peninsula – the Slea Head Drive.

Up until now we had been mightily impressed by Ireland’s rugged coastline, but this loop took our breath away. High jagged and rocky cliffs dove down into a crashing sea. The high peaks were lined with large stonewalls that must have taken generations to build. Along the southern end ancient stone bee hive cottages still stood where they have been for centuries. In the distance it seems that the Irish coast and the many islands that lay on her shore went on forever.JohnShiraKillarney

SleaheadSheepWe found a small restaurant along the way and had lunch and then continued on around the tip of land’s end, enjoying the occasional sheep herd, stopping now and again for that digital moment and riding through the occasional waterfall; as they simply let the water pour over a section of cobblestone and down the rest of the cliff.

By late afternoon we were speeding towards Killarney, and the very fine Crystal Springs Inn, which would be our home base for two nights.

That night we were met by our friend John Connolly. We had met John and his club, Celtic M.C.C., years back and have stayed friends since. John brought us out on a Friday night in Killarney, showing us the town and a good number of pubs. It seemed that in every Irish port o’call for us there were a number of great local bands playing everything from traditional Irish to traditional rock. Music rules in Ireland.

A great night it was!

But, alas this Irish sojourn was starting to wind to an end, but we still had many miles to go on the Emerald Isle before we were through.

Free Day in KillarneyNarrowRoadRide

 

item12How can one have a free day in Killarney, a motorcycle and blue skies and not go to ride the Ring of Kerry?

One cannot.

After a breakfast of the best oatmeal porridge we have ever had (Eileen the owner told me the secret, but, well, you know I can’t tell you), we got going towards the Ring of Kerry and the wide mountain range called MacGillycuddy’s Reeks.

KerryCastleCoveThe Ring does a loop of the Iveragh Peninsula and we had heard that the tour buses do this loop in a counter clockwise way. So we, not wanting to spend the day passing these hated behemoths, went clockwise heading down the coast roads, and to the south of the mountains, with the most spectacular views of the mighty range to the right and the ocean to the left.item11

If at all possible one lookout stood out from the other vistas. Ladies View, so named after Queen Victoria’s Ladies in Waiting, who expressed their pleasure at this sight during a visit back in 1861.

Riding south along the peninsula’s shore we stopped for coffee across from the beach at Castle Cove and watched the waves and the rocks for a time before carrying on through this spectacular land.

Rounding the westernmost point the sandstone cliff, that poured into the sea, were cast in a shade of deep purple and atop one hill I spied a stone pillar megalith, a testament to this part of Ireland’s ancient history.KerryPillars

Rounding the northern part of the Ring of Kerry we took a short cut along some tiny one-lane roads that wound through farm and horse pastures.

KerryDunloeGapWe were making our way back towards MacGillycuddy’s Reeks and the brilliant Gap of Dunloe.

The Gap of Dunloe, hewn two million years ago by giant, slow moving ice is probably the finest example of a glaciated valley in Western Europe.

We found it to be a stunning and very technical ride.

The roadway is only a lane wide and it is a two-way road.

The real problem for motorcyclists is that the first part of the pass is full of hikers, bicyclists and pony and trap (horse drawn cart) that people hire to experience the reeks and the gap the way they were crossed back in the day.

Most of the hikers are brain dead from the arduous walk and will march right into you, the pony drivers feel they own the entire gap and the bicyclists are just plain oblivious to the slowly approaching motorcycles.

With just so much room to deal with we pulled over often to allow the ponies to trot by, while being given the evil eye from the drivers and cars and vans coming the other way. You had to be very alert of what was happening around you during this ride through the gap.

Still, the tough ride was worth it as the Dunloe Gap through MacGillycuddy’s Reeks was truly one of the most magnificent and outstanding places we have ever ridden through in our travels and the Gap of Dunloe is worth heading to Ireland all by itself.

This pass opens up to the region called Moll’s Gap which wound in a ? lane fashion around some more peaks and eventually dropped us back at the main road and the short ride back to Killarney for our last night on the road.

Killarney to Dublin

GlenveaghNarrowRoadI am sure some Irish poet has said it better; but all good things do end.

Our ride today would be our final one in this land, as we would need to cut across the island nation from the southwest to the northeast to Dublin.

We could have simply taken an M-road, but we had all day and the day looked good so why not make the best of this last jaunt in this land of cliffs, valleys, rainbows and music?

We followed the rising sun east and rode through the town of Blarney. Here you will find the Blarney Castle and the famous Blarney Stone.

Legend has it that if one kisses the Blarney Stone, which you will literally half to bend over backwards to do, you will receive the “Gift of Gab”, which is the knack for eloquence in flattery or persuasion.

I thought I had enough of that already and any more would be a touch of overkill, so I passed and my close friends celebrated.

The final route brought us along the east coast and through some of the larger port cities and towns such as Waterford, home to some of the most beautiful crystal on the planet.

Once near the eastern coast we dropped off the N-roads and headed towards Dublin on the smaller and more enjoyable R-roads.

It was a Sunday and like everywhere else in the civilized world motorcyclists were out enjoying a ride.

They didn’t call the film “On Any Sunday” for nothing.

On the tiny R-roads that sped us towards Wicklow National Park we ran by dozens of local riders out enjoying the day.

Both Shira and I thought the same thing; we must have picked the right roads for this day, ‘cause if the locals are riding them then we wanted to as well!

Just before heading down from the mountains into the busy city we had one last gift to give ourselves and we rode across the Sally Pass for one final mountainous jaunt up and over some exceptional Irish cliffs and valleys before we were done.

The Wicklow Mountains form the largest continuous upland area in Ireland. There are dramatic remains from Ireland's early history to be found in the Park. Tombs, cairns, standing stones, rock art, and bullaun stones have all been found. More recently, charcoal platforms, millstones, and ironworks have left their mark. The pure water that comes from this magical place is the very same and only water used in making Guinness Stout.

All too soon we found ourselves in Dublin traffic and winding our way back to Celtic Rider’s garage to return the machines.

Our ramble through the Emerald Isle had, sadly, come to an end.

We had only been on the road for a week but had seen so much. Mighty sea cliffs and limestone moonscapes. Castles, both noble and in ruins. We met wonderful people and tasted superb food and had more than a few pints while listening to heavenly traditional music and voices that always seemed to go with the pints.

We had ridden to the far reaches of this land and found that Ireland, although it has its share of fine modern cities and fair old villages, also has a vast and wild side that seems untouched by modern man. The rocky cliffs and majestic mountains filled in by so many verdant valleys, streams and rivers seem unchanged since before the Normans came here.

This island nation, which is so close to us, just a few hours flight from the United States, is a grand place to visit and what better way than by motorized two-wheels. This had been our second time to this stunning land and I dare say, sometime soon, there will be a third.

Ireland is calling…” "Céad míle fáilte!”CelticRiderUs1213

 

Celtic Riders • www.celticrider.com+353 (01) 866-5777PaulRawlingCelticRider

Owner: Paul Rawlins • Unit 54, Premier Business Park, Ballycoolin, Dublin 11, Ireland

A good variety of bikes to take on your self-guided tour. Bikes available in Dublin or Shannon. Rates include transfer to/from Celtic Rider, orientation course (remember, you’re riding on the ‘other’ side of the road), Celtic Rider swag, lodging with full Irish breakfast, motorcycles equipped with Garmin GPS, luggage and waterproof bags, and excess baggage storage at site. Check the website for full details.

2014 will see the opening of the Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland's first long-distance touring route, stretching along the Atlantic coast from Inishowen in Donegal to West Cork. The Wild Atlantic Way is officially the Worlds longest coastal drive. Celtic Rider staff members are official ambassadors, chosen by Tourism Ireland,and we are proud to be associated with this incredible ride along our western seaboard. Check out this 90 second promo filmed in October 2013 by Renee Charbonneau, alias 'Belt Drive Betty' from Canada.

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