Its five years since we were last in Ireland. Since then the Irish economy has been taken to the very brink of collapse. As it is, it is in deep recession, so we wondered how expensive would it be and how badly hit would it look.
This was to be a different sort of visit. This is because we now carry out campsite inspections for Alan Rogers Guides. So we had to agree a route beforehand for our mileage claim. We built in plenty of slack in our journey, so that if somewhere on, or close to our route, took our fancy, we could stop for a while or take a detour. The campsites don't know in advance of our arrival so apart from our ferry bookings and the need to complete all 22 inspections we were fairly free to dally or meander.
Before we could book our ferries we needed to put the sites that we were to visit on a map and do some planning. The result, a very roughly rectangular route starting and finishing at Rosslare. We planned a pause in Co Mayo after a week or so, then another week at leisure also in Co Mayo. If we kept to schedule there would be three or four days to explore the Wicklow mountains near the end.
We have in the past used all the ferry routes, The Pembroke - Rosslare crossing is a compromise between the length of the crossing and the distance and ease of travel from Salisbury. We travelled through the night and arrived in Ireland at around 6am, then drove to a nearby beach to have a little doze before heading to our first site near Athy. I won't be boring you with photographs of campsites or lists of every one that we visited. You will have to buy a 2013 Alan Rogers guide to read my pithy prose.
Sleeping off the crossing near Rosslare
The first week saw us hard at work. Quite a bit of driving, some frustration, one of the sites was not open in fact it looked abandoned. The weather was patchy, dry for the most part but we did get caught in a heavy shower or two. The way we had planned it, the sites that needed detailed assessments, because they were either new or hadn't been seen for a while, were mostly in the first week. By the end of that week we were able to relax a bit.
Relaxing 1st Guiness of the Trip - Sleeping off the Guiness!
We've been here before
This is our fourth Irish trip, and inevitably we went to some places this time, that we had visited in earlier trips. Some of these were planned, others just popped into view when we weren't expecting it. One of the planned ones was this pebbly beach near Louisberg Co Mayo. On our 2007 visit we were introduced to this beach by Catherine and Greg and one night we lit a fire and sat around it drinking, chatting and generally having a magical time. They couldn't come with us this year but we paid homage by lighting a smaller version of the fire and having fond rememberances.
A Special Beach Mayo
We went to Achill Island in 2004. This time we went twice, once to do a site assesment and once to meet up with some ex-Trinity House friends. Achill Island is a brilliant place, some parts are very exposed to gales though and on one of our nights, on a windswept camp site, we had trouble standing up. These next two photographs were taken at the southwest corner of the island, which as you can see, if you get the right weather is just perfect.
Lachan Bay is in the north east corner of Co Mayo, between Downpatrick Head and Killala. We were there in 2004 and in 2007. Each time we have parked up our van in the same place and with the tide out, seen this huge expanse of sand, a doggy heaven. Even at their advanced ages, Lottie and Jake knew this was the 'big one' and ran their hearts out. We also stayed at a campsite near Ballina twice before, this time we stayed there again, once for an assessment and once for a holiday. You might begin to get the impression that we enjoy going to Mayo you would be right!
Lacken Bay Mayo
Right down at the bottom of Co Mayo on its border with Galway is the village of Cong. This place is on the tourist trail because it was where a lot of the 1950's film 'The Quiet Man' was set. Starring Maureen O'Hara and John Wayne, it isn't on my list of 'must watch' films but the extremely friendly owners of the campsite in Cong have made it their business to promote it even to the extent of showing it every night on request in their mini-cinema. It is a very pretty village and it can be fun spotting the film locations. At one point I sat with Lottie and Jake on a wall and were photographed by many an american tourist.
Of courrse not all the places we've been before were in Mayo. We also revisited places in Galway, Clare, Sligo, Roscommon, West Meath and Wicklow. Wicklow figured in our first trip in 1996. One of the places there that we revisited this time was Glendalough. As well as the beautiful scenery there are the remains of a monastery and other church buildings. There are two main car parks, one near the visitors centre is free at the other a kilometre up the valley you pay. Its really no trouble to walk between the two. In 1996 we had our first pint of Guinness on Irish soil in a pub in nearby Laragh. It had been enlarged and is now a hotel but the bar we sat in is still there.
Wild and Domesticated
One of the campsites that we had to check out was on the shores of Louch Derg in Co Clare. Its not the only Lough Derg in Ireland, there is the one in Donegal which is arguably the more famous being the one in Donegal the site of St Patrick's Purgatory mentioned in the book McCarthy's Bar. There was great excitment at our L Derg because a pair of sea eagles were nesting in an island just off-shore. You could see the birds with the naked eye when they flew but enthusiasts had brought large telescopes to a nearby carpark and were pleased to show the female on the nest and the perching male nearby. Now we have seen a sea eagle once before on the Isle of Mull but this was still an exceptional treat.
Later in a village called Belcarra, Co Mayo we saw a baby donkey just a day or so old when we first saw it in the pouring rain. I didn't realise how big a baby donkey's ears were. The donkey belonged to the campsite owner and was in the next field, so we had plenty of opportunity to see it in better weather later.
The owner of the campsite near Ballina got a shock when a camper knocked on his door early one morning, to say that a foal had arrived in the field at the end of the campsite. It was expected but not just then. We saw it when only a few hours old, already it had bonded well with its mum and was doing canters up and down the field to the delight of all who watched. If there were only one or two onlookers mum would bring the foal right up to the fence.
In the Wicklow mountains there is a lake known as the Guinness lake, its real name is L Tay but whether it gets its other name because it's on Guinness land or because it looks like a pint of the black stuff I cannot say, perhaps you can decide. It is on the road from the Sally Gap to Roundwood and we spent one night wild camping overlooking it.
Near to the grounds of Powerscourt House, Enniskerry Co Wicklow, in part of the estate the Dargle river comes down a series of waterfalls, its a really nice place to while away a few hours. We went there because the formal gardens and house are out of bounds to our dogs and who needs formal gardens anyway.
Killary Harbour is the name of one of Ireland's three glacial Fjords and it marks part of border between Galway and Mayo. We had driven past it on our 2004 trip but stuck then to the main road going down to a campsite near Clifden. One fact I knew about this place is that the rocks forming the mountains on either side are from completely different geological eras, that were squashed togeter and the join became a point of weakness which the glacier exploited. We saw that you could take a boat trip from near Leenaun to the harbour/fjord entrance. However we decided it would only be worth it in reasonable weather. We had decided to revisit this general area and stayed on a campsite in Connemara. Just when we were on the point of giving up on our trip the weather broke to give us a few good hours for the trip, well not exactly good but at least it didn't rain!
So Ireland - is it expensive?
Well yes and no, we were on holiday and I guess spent no more than usual but then we always cut the cloth to suit the budget. We bought some presents that were cheaper and better than we could have got in Salisbury. We don't do meals out very much and when we did winced at some of the prices but, for example, a coffee was still about the same as at home. Campsites were expensive and some of them were clearly overpriced for what was on offer. If we weren't camp site assessing we would have spent less by virtue of doing more wild camping. Fuel was cheaper, but not by much and you had to shop around. Food shopping was more expensive I likened it to Waitrose prices for Aldi quality. I was expecting to pay around £5 for a Guiness so was pleasently surprised to find that it was the same price as at home and of course over here has a far better taste, but even in Ireland they serve the super cool variety, shame.
There were some places, that judging by the boarded up shops, had been really badly hit by the recession and the talk was of younger people leaving Ireland for jobs in other countries.
And the hospitality?
Still second to none, its easier to remember the incidents of less than a perfect welcome than to recount the many many examples of how welcome we were made to feel but I'll stick to the positives and try and give you a taste of it. In one village we casually asked the campsite owner if either of the pubs allowed dogs in. He wasn't sure. A little later he came back to us and said yes I've spoken to the landlady and yes you can but it might be busy because there is a post confirmation party in the bar. When we went there it was packed but the bar staff were ready for us and had reserved us a quieter corner where we could see all the action but wouldn't get trodden on. Just about everyone spoke to us. In another campsite we shared a cooked lunch with the owner's family.