One of the longest (and most defined) coastal routes in the world, Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way is 1600 miles of cultural, culinary and active discovery. And let’s not forget the scenery – wild for sure (think: crashing waves against craggy cliffs, golden beaches, green meadows of sheep …)
Going Off The Beaten Path Right Into Ireland’s Beating Heart: The Wild Atlantic Way
Following the Coastline
Starting in Donegal in the north (though not Northern Ireland), land where Gaelic is still the mother tongue, and ending in culinary star foodie destination, Kinsale in Cork, anywhere you venture on any portion of this route is sure to delight and connect your personal interests with the destination.
The route is along smaller roads that follow the coastline closely, allowing for meandering, stopping at places of extreme wildness and jaw-dropping beauty and small villages. It is a photographer’s dream, as documented on Facebook pages and Instagram accounts dedicated to the WAW. Marine and land wildlife abound.
Big-name tourist places are along the route as well: The Ring of Kerry, Dingle, the Cliffs of Moher, Connemara, for example. But for pure cultural immersion, nature, and the feeling that each day will bring a unique adventure, the Wild Atlantic Way will take you off the beaten path and into Ireland’s beating heart.
Visiting Ancestral Routes on the Wild Atlantic Way
A traveler can take as much or as little time along the route as their dreams (and time) warrant. I decided to check out portions of the Wild Atlantic Way and bring my sister and daughters with me. The idea was conceived when we decided to visit both family and ancestral roots in Donegal, the northern-most county in the Republic of Ireland and add in other portions before finishing in the Burren.
Family Roots in Donegal
My grandparents were born In Donegal, and my father returned often and has wonderful stories of good craic (lots of fun and laughter), gab sessions til 3 in the morning, relatives showing up to take him fishing, boating, or for a pint at a favorite pub.
Deep family roots stretching back to the time of kings is well-documented in our history – and in lore. My great grandmother’s home is still there, along with the strand of beach in her name. There is a church graveyard with our names, and a forced-abandoned island where crumbling stone houses are testament to a hard life forbearers led. My father’s cousin is a treasure trove of memories and history of the area, and is encyclopedic in her knowledge of family lines. She has a life experience Forrest Gump-like in all she is connected to.
Gaelic, Traditional Music, and Nights in Pubs
So we will begin along the Atlantic sea coast in places where Gaelic is still spoken before English. The Wild Atlantic Way winds up the coast to Malin Head, the northernmost point in Ireland and down to Slieve League, the tallest marine cliffs.
Donegal is home to both traditional music, found in pubs like Leo’s Tavern, in Meenaleck, owned by Enya’s father, and Irish country music, typified by its celebrated native son of Dungloe, Daniel O’Donnell. No surprise that both are distant relations, as my family originates in this small portion in the center of the county’s coast. We look forward to nights in pubs!
Bounty of Outdoor Adventures
The best thing about the Wild Atlantic Way in my opinion, is the bounty of outdoor pursuits it affords.
- In Donegal we will do walks with a local historian out to Cruit Island and through small villages like Cloughglass.
- We will take a marine tour on a boat that happens to have the same name as my oldest daughter, but in Gaelic, and operated by the son of a friend of my great aunt’s family.
- We will ride horses on a deserted beach.
- We will visit Donegal tweed weavers who are resurrecting the art.
- And, mostly, we will soak up all the intangible soul of the land we are from.
Where Irish Take Vacations in Ireland
When we leave Donegal, our next stop will be in County Mayo where again we will explore places more vacationed in by the Irish rather than the international set.
- explore quaint maritime towns,
- bike across a causeway to an island,
- sea kayak, and
- meet a local to go foraging for food in the ways inhabitants of the area have done for centuries, while learning about the history of the area.
The amount of activities that would please any interest or passion are endless.
Leaving Mayo we will wind through Connemara on our way down to Doolin, the center of the rebirth of traditional music in Ireland. From our seaside nest, we will explore the Cliffs of Moher, and take a ferry to the Aran Islands and explore in a horse trap. At night, our quest is to dance, sing and clap along in renowned pubs to local bands.
Exploring, dancing, singing and clapping to traditional Irish music, that's a perfect Ireland vacation. Click To Tweet
Accommodations Along the Wild Atlantic Way
There are all types of accommodations along the Wild Atlantic Way to fit any travel style and budget from camping or camper van sites, to self-catering cottages, to B&Bs and guesthouses, to small family-run hotels, to luxury hotel, castle and manor stays. We will end our 10-day trip in The Burren with a luxury manor estate stay to relax and spend time on a local sheep farm to learn about life in this unique UNESCO World Heritage area.
Returning with Lifelong Family Memories
I know my daughters will return to their homes with lifelong memories to share, a connective sense of family history, and the immersion into their ancestral home they desired. The Wild Atlantic Way, wherever you choose to journey, will provide you and your loved ones with the same feeling of real exploration.
If you’d like to have more ease in your travel planning in 2019, I’d love to help!
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