Musings, Adventures and Tales of Lauren Hefferon, founder & director of Ciclismo Classico

9 Days Pedaling in the West of Ireland: Doolin, Connemara and Mayo

From the Lofoten islands our family traveled to Western Ireland to bike for 10 days around the Burren and Connemara combining parts of our current Ciclismo Classico itinerary with a custom tour that I had led 14 years ago with my parents and 15 of our dear Ciclismo alumni. The region is as beautiful as I remember it and, despite heavy bikes and some wet weather, my kids really loved the Ireland and want to go back in 2011. I certainly do! Who wants to come? In case you don’t want to read all the details of our trip, here are some highlights of our experience and useful travel info:

    Staying in spotless B&Bs and interacting with our hosts
    Irish Breakfasts & brown bread
    The warm, outgoing and friendly locals
    Pints of Smithwicks
    Abundant quiet roads and stunning coastal scenery
    Baaahhing at sheep, making friends with donkeys
    Enjoying smoke free pubs and excellent music nightly
    The Cliffs of Moher: Ireland’s nomination for the global online campaign to find the New 7 Wonders of Nature in 2011
    Doolin Pubs
    The rocks, geology and stunning scenery of The Burren (not the bar in Somerville, MA!)
    Music and crafty shops
    Ferry Rides
    The Aran Islands
    Rock Walls, Shipwrecked Plassy
    Reunion with June Boulger and family, CC guide from 1995
    The Sky Road near Clifden
    Ride along Killary Harbor to Leenan
    2 nights @ Delphi Adventure Center
    Coasteering with Patrick
    Westport Grand Finale Ride
    Street performers in Galway

    Walking on Burren Cracks
    Stunning late afternoon riding

    The Plassy

    A few general Ireland Travel Suggestions:
    Summer cycling weather: Great temps for cycling. Never too hot and never rains for long.  We travelled between 30-50 KM per day. Wear layers and Keep your rain jacket and pants ready but the sun comes our regularly. Winds can kick up so make sure you are going in the right direction. Best to do Connemara clockwise. We did it counter clockwise and were hit with big winds

    Bikes. If you travel on your own, you can rent hybrids or road bikes in Galway. No odometers. Have to book in advance. Our bikes were heavy

    Cars and riding on the left: Most of the roads we travelled on were very quiet. You get used to riding on the left and best to ride single file when the roads get narrow

    Maps: None of the maps I used allowed me to easily count mileage. The ones with the best detail are the Discovery Ordinance Series #51, 45, 44 & 37

    Food: Eating out was relatively cheap and kid friendly. I loved the puree vegetable soup with brown bread and grilled seafood. Fresh veggies and fruit at meals is a bit harder to find. Supermarkets are in every small town for pick-nicking

    Biking with kids. Most of the roads in Connemara are rolling so it’s perfect cycling terrain. It’s hard for kids to get into the flow. Each one likes to stop whenever they need to so one of the big lessons was learning to eat, change clothes, go to the bathroom, etc at our designated stops. By the time we hit day 5 the kids were starting to get the routine. Be patient and remember the day is made up of all kinds of moments.

    Valentina in the lead on the coastal road in the Burren

    9  Glorious days in Connemara
    We landed in Dublin and connected to Galway where we strolled the lively streets, had our first pub lunch then picked up our bikes and were shuttled to the Doolin House B&B by Alan, the proprietor of Island Bikes who, having led many a tour here, had many ideas to share with us about our next few days

    Day Two: Doolin and the Cliffs of Moher
    Hungry and thirsty is a state of mind and body that is easily satisfied in Ireland.  We strolled down our narrow street where Luca and Valentina made friends with a donkey they named Nibbles. We made our way along the coastal road to O’Connors pub where we ordered the nightly special and waited until 9:30, where in every pub, a band of musicians was slated to play. Inside it was cozy with aromas of soup and fresh bread filling the dark rooms. The pub walls were coated with dollar bill, policeman patches, old photos and license plates from all over the states. We toasted our first Irish dinner with a couple of pints Smithwicks and three orange Fantas. Once the music started, Luca took a front row seat, while Lorenzo was entranced by the spoon playing. We could have stayed there all night but these cyclists need sleep to be ready for the Cliffs of Moher tomorrow.

    First Pub of the trip

    I enjoyed the early morning quiet of the light-filled sitting room and let the family sleep late. After our delicious home-made Irish breakfast made by our Doulinn House hostess Joan we gathered our rain layers and hopped on our bikes and headed uphill following signs to the Cliffs of Moher

    After lunch we headed for the cliffs which rise high above a freezing sea. They are simply spectacular but looking across the Cliffs I see people walking on the edge and can’t help but wonder how many people slip and fall into the freezing Atlantic. We walk along the trail, pose for pictures that distracts me from my fear of heights.

    We launched into “jumping” shot

    The ride back is mostly downhill and fast. It starts to rain. Lorenzo and I take a detour to the tiny music store where there is a huge collection of Irish music. Lorenzo and I spend over an hour there listening to CDs recommended by the the gent from Switzerland who runs the place. We head back and get ready for an evening at Fitz’s pub. More great food and music follows. W are on an Irish roll!

    Day Three: Rockin and Rollin in the Burren
    We wake to a morning of sunshine albeit the skies are filled with clouds that we know can turn on us at anytime. Today’s 50 KM ride is through the Burren, one of my favorite Ireland geographies. Due to some incomplete trip logistics, we begin our 8KM uphill ride to Lisdoonvarna. Luca is not happy about the wind or hills and we slug along. He begins screaming “ I hate biking.” I have heard this before and know that once he makes it over the hill to a resting place he will be OK. We cheer him on as he pushes had up the hill and that seems to help.

    We make it to Lisdoonvarna in an hour and have a picnic lunch in the center of town. Lisdoonvarna hosts an annual Matchmakers Festival and draws singles from all over the world. Each year, during the month of September, this small village on the western coast of Ireland offers a quest for the romance holy grail to hordes of lonely souls – the capturing of an Irish heart. Ah, ’tis a prize indeed.
    Did I mention the scene we made over chocolate in the local Despar food market?

    A typical crossroad in Ireland. The maps are OK but the signage is very good.

    After trying to understand a local on which way to go, we continue on our more or less merry way through the rock covered, deserted  fields. At the next intersection I realize that I have missed the turn to the Poulnabrone Dolmen (one of the most photographed Dolmens in Ireland) and the fort but do not have the heart to have the kids turn around. Arggggg. We continue on the main road and hit the top of the famous corkscrew hill. Decision time again. Thinking of the 30KM remaining and hearing Valentina’s whining, I opt for the direct way down but later regret it. It would have been the only chance for us to see an Irish Dolmen.  The decisions one makes on bike tour can make the difference between seeing the sights or not. Note to self. Ignore the whining when there is major historical moments to be experienced.

    Jumping Shot. Luca’s got it!

    We have a grand descent into Ballyvaughn, the kids love the switchback turns. Valentina gets cocky and goes no handed until I catch her and pull her over with the consequence of no treat at the next stop. We stop at the Burren overlook to take a few “jumping” shots, our new pose for the summer. Last year it was the funk, this year it is the jump.

    We arrive in Ballyvaughn by 4:30 and the kids begin making mahem at yet another eating establishment. I opt to wander around the town so as not to get sucked into being the referee in another game of “ Can I have” and “it’s not fair.” Mauro chooses to play, opts to buy the kids one smoothie to share between them. By the time I return, it has been spilled all over the counter and crying and arguing has replaced an otherwise happy travel moment. We clean up the mess and I suggest we get the heck out of town.

    Valentina and Lorenzo laugh at the whole thing and despite the stress these situations can cause at the moment, they are, in fact the very comical moments that make our family life unique and fun. These three mini Marx brothers can and would be, if allowed free reign, in constant comedy stunt mode. The problem is that someone always ends up getting their bodies and feelings hurt then it’s run to mamma time. The minute I step in and try to fix the situation, I am stuck in the middle of futile fairness game of which there is no return.

    Walking the Burren Rocks, learning about geology

    We begin the rolling and flat ride down the “Coast road” to Doolin. The rain comes and goes as we make our way down this spectacular road. We stop to observe the limestone rock surface, geology in action, that parallels the road. The Burren is one of the finest examples of a Glacio-Karst landscape in the world and offer a unique opportunity to ramble across ancient stone. We climb across the fissures in this smooth typical burren stone where tiny flowers grow in the cracks and water has created delightful variations of cross hatch patterns over time. As the kids jump from rock to rock, I give an amateur  geology lesson about the Burren’s fascinating rock which seems to stick.

    Onward down the road, the bushes grow high and hug the shoulder making the road extremely narrow. Although there are very few cars, we ride single file. I see a castle in the distance on the sea and try to follow a tiny grassy path to it. The path instead ends at family graveyard which offers an interesting peak back in time.

    We continue pedaling and soon the road opens up to barren hillsides with burren rock to our left and the vast sea to our right. The clouds today have been incredible–constantly changing puff of shape carved by light and wind. While waiting for Luca, the kids find a small cave that they crawl into. Small finds along the way.

    While I walked the rocks, Luca sculpted

    We come upon another vast burren plateau that stretches flat to the sea. We park our bikes and walk around. Lorenzo and I shoot pictures, Mauro wanders and Valentina and Luca build stone sculptures to add to the other tourist creations that are dispersed across the flat rocks. Throughout these Irish rides I have been enchanted by the massive rock walls built high and seemingly going nowhere and serving no purpose. Here the walls run into the sea

    It’s already 7:00 PM. We ask how far to Doolin, we hear 6KM but I believe it is more; it ends of being 16Km which takes us another hour. We have no odometers and no real sense of the distances we have travelled which on some level is fine but when trying to make it home before dark, it might be nice to know. The road descends along the coast, through the town of Fanore and then turns inland where it begins to climb again. We take a break at a large field where the bulls come to say hello. I groan at them and they groan back which entertains the kids. We keep climbing through this magnificent farmland until we see the right turn to Doolin, then its downhill all the way back to our tiny B&B on the sea

    Quick showers and another night at the pub, tonight it’s Mac Darmada’s where we have another great meal, a few rounds of Smithwicks and an hour of delightful music. We head back to our B&B for a good night’s sleep before our morning ferry to Inisheer.

    While we were in Doolin the kids made friends with a donkey Luca named “Nibbles”

    Day Four: Inisheer Island
    After breakfast we say good bye to the Doolin area and pedal our bikes to the ferry docks. The 11:00 ferry is small and filled with tourists making their way to the island. It rolls and rocks and the water gushes in and covers the floor of the boat which provides enormous entertainment for the children. I watch the horizon and try not to get seasick.

    Arriving at Inisheer, we are greeted by a taxi service that takes our luggage to our delightful hotel set back from the bay. Our breaks squeak and rub and parts are beginning to loose on our rental bikes so we stop at the bike rental shop to get a tune up and buy a small map of this 2 KM long island which we can see in an afternoon. We ride to our hotel, meet the owners, see our room have some lunch and get on our way to explore the island.

    Biking in Inisheer is easy, just follow the maze of rock walls!

    First stop is the graveyard with a tiny ancient church set into the ground and  dating back to the 11th century. We then follow the tiny road east as it begins to zig zag through a maze of rock walls leading to a fabulous site, a completely rusty shipwrecked vessel perfectly perched on the shore. The rusting hulk, the Plassy, was shipwrecked in 1960 and thrown up high onto the rocks. We explore the ship from the outside and inside. Lorenzo wants to explore everywhere inside. I get nervous that the boat’s 2nd floor might not hold us. The whole scene reminds Lorenzo and I of the last scene in planet of the apes.

    Now here is “find” they wil remember for life–The deserted Plassy

    We continue the zig zagging ride. There are only a few roads so I know you can’t get lost but Luca still yells “Mom where the heck are we going?” At that time I explain the concept of rambling and serendipity and the art of allowing your curiosity about places lead the way. He says he does not get it but of course he does—children’s minds work that way. The next site that draws us in is the uninhabited lighthouse built in 1857. We take a break here, do some jump shots and pedal back down the straight narrow way. We pedal to the other side of the island where rock walls cover the landscape in box shapes. I am determined to follow the road to the end. The kids tire of my curiosity and turn around, leaving me time to wander on my own. I meander back to our hotel and stake out a spot at the WIFI bar where I can check email and have a moment to gather my thoughts. I meet an Irish family who tells me that they are staying 2 weeks on this tiny island so their children can practice Gaelic, the Irish language. They tell me that it is taught so badly in school that children do not learn it and that it is dying out in most of Ireland. Here in Connemara, the Burren and on the Islands, the language has its strongest foothold.

    The jolly proud owner of our B&B

    I head back to our lovely hotel  to shower and get ready for dinner. We sit down and toast another great day. I have a delicious baked haddock with dill and boiled potatoes.
    After dinner, it’s pub time. There’s also a pool table that entertains the children while Mauro and I listen to music. Three young girls have come to accompany the main band. Their expressions are enchanting and their pride to play for us is beaming from their blue eyes. Luca, Lorenzo and Valentina soon gather round to hear the sounds before heading to bed.

    Redheaded sisters serenade us

    Inisheer to Inishmoor: Mishaps and Mahem

    Day Five: Inishmoor
    We wake up early to Anna’s delicious Irish breakfast in their light filled breakfast room. Today we are off on another ferry to Inishmoor, the largest of the three Aran Islands. Luggage down, we take a picture with our host Anna and Rory and ride our bikes 5 minutes to the ferry. Their B&B luggage delivery system is a brilliant solution to our 10 day tour here. With the help of our friendly B&B host we load our luggage and ourselves onto the tiny ferry to Inishmoor. It’s a bumpy ride so I take a seat and cuddle with Luca who prefers to sit outside and feel the sea mist on his cheeks. Upon arriving, we leave our luggage, get a map of the Island at the desk and orientate ourselves on where to ride.

    Although it might seem that everything is going smoothly on our bike adventures. I assure you that kids are kids whether they are home or on the road. While traveling, they still don’t listen, they still don’t get up when you want them to and they still bicker and whine. The big difference is that we are doing something we love and they know that we hold the map, the money and the hotel keys so the power struggles are actually less.

    As parents we just try to find the gold nuggets, photo ops, funny, poignant and the every day learning moments however our day on Inishmore flowed so badly; it’s best to reflect and laugh at the day through our top ten list of mishaps, that started right after breakfast

    Seal Cove

    Top Ten List of Inisheer Mishaps
    1. Mom looses her glasses again and we almost miss the ferry to Inishmoore. Never lost just deep in her pocket.
    2. Luca has a crying fit and we are not sure why.
    3. No more Euro. No exchange place open until 2:00. It’s 11:30 and we want to ride
    4. We completely disagree on lunch options. It’s cold and I want hot soup. Mauro wants to get sandwich stuff at Spar and have a picnic. Kids want chocolate. We gather stuff at the market that no one wants but we eat it in the cold anyway. Peanut butter gets stuck in Lorenzo’s braces so I get him soup. Tension mounts
    5. The weather turns and we do not have enough warm stuff. We go back to the B&B. Luca revolts claiming we will never get to the fort
    6. Back at the B&B. Kids play chicken on their bikes. Valentina plows into a wall, gets a pinched flat and rips the tire. No spare either. Mechanic is unavailable until 1:30. We get it fixed, did she learn a lesson?
    7. We change money and get on our way. Tough headwind defeats Luca. He rides but screams the whole way and claims we will never get to the Fort
    8. Lorenzo goofs around on his bike. Slips on his pedal and scrapes his leg, bad.
    9. We arrive at the Fort. It’s all uphill. Luca claims we will never get there. We get a tourist shop fix
    10.We make it to the base of the fort but realize we forgot the locks. The ticket lady hides our bikes so we can go in. Gotta pay all this goodness forward.
    11.Walk uphill to the magnificent Dun Aengus. I read from a guide book about how the place is a spiritual pilgrimage site; no one (except Mauro) listens. At the top there is 300 foot drop to the sea. I beg kids not to mess with my mind here and be good. They listen, thank God no major mishap here!  We take some great “jump” photos. All is good and wonderful
    12. Return ride to B&B. After a day of mishaps, we are blessed with a wonderful tail wind that pushes us up the hill and all the way back. Trip out took 1 hour. Trip back takes 30 minutes. The trips seems back in alignment
    13. Off to dinner after showers. We sit down, order beers. Whoops. No Credit card excepted.
    14.Walk to next restaurant. Kids fight over their ITOUCH, Angry Bird game. Even though this seems to entertain the family next to us, I quickly take it away.
    15. Good food. Good time until Luca puts the napkin too close to the candle. Small fire is put out quickly. We laugh and make a toast to our day of craziness
    16. We pass on music tonight to get to bed early to catch our 8:00 AM ferry to the mainland tomorrow. All in all, another wonderful day on the road with kids

    We might have mishaps but we always have fun

    One of the highlights of the day is that I was able to connect with June Boulger, the amazing woman who designed and led our very first bike tour in Connemara 14 years ago. Our Irish luck is with us. She is in Connemara for the weekend with her husband and three year old son Liam. We will pass by her house tomorrow!

    Day Six: Inishmoor to the Connemara
    We rise early. Valentina is suffering a very sore throat. Her glands are swollen and she is feeling miserable. She has probably caught the same bug that Lorenzo had the previous week. Luckily no fever and knowing she will survive and there is not much we can do, we get them up help them pack their bags that will be transferred to Clifden and head down to breakfast.

    Leaving B&B
    Clowning in Connemara

    We board the large Aran Island ferry at 8:15 after 45 minutes of a relatively calm trip, we arrive  at Rossaveal where our luggage shuttle has arrived. It’s a windy but sunny day. We pack layers in Mauro’s panniers and make our way up the coast stopping first at a SPAR market to get each child a ration of chocolate.

    The Bog road has bog!

    Lorenzo wants the sign to say, we have arrived

    We head in the direction of Cashel. The road is long and uninteresting for the children although I love the clouds and the rugged landscape. They continue to ask me how far it it is and unfortunately none of the maps I am using have reliable KM markings as my Italy maps do so I can only guess.  We get to crossroads and I get a text message from June wondering where we are. I let her know that at the intersection of route 465 & 496 and are near the bog road and she says we should be to her house in 45 minutes. I tell the kids and we continue on our way turning right off the coastal onto the bog road which cuts across through a wild wilderness with full view of the twelve bin mountain range. I find the road glorious. The head winds make Luca anxious and very angry. He looked at the mountain range and was convinced that I was taking him to the top. On a road that, for a seven year old seems to never end, he claims that I am a “white liar.”  He must have heard the term white lie and thought it meant a worse lie than most. Whatever he meant, he was not a happy camper and cried, whined and screamed for most of the 6 mile ride across the bogs. There was not much we could say; just had to get through it. The other two weren’t much happier and did not allow me to take any pictures. “We just hate biking mom”

    We hate bogs and biking

    I love bogs and biking

    From the map it appears that There is a triathlon and a police at the corner. We ask how far it is to Cashel. He says 8 miles. “What?” I ask again. “We are going to June Boulger’s house, do you know June?
    “Oh yes, that will be four miles” he replies

    Happy to see Fresh Eggs

    We ride a few more minutes and take a left to Cashel. I see a old man on a bike and ask him how far it is. He says one mile. I text June and tell her where I am. She says we are five minutes away. She tells me to take a left when we see a FRESH EGGS sign.  The kids now understand that  everyone is a “white liar” that distances depend on who you are and what you know.

    Off the bog road, away from the wind and knowing that we cannot be far, the kids mental state takes a dramatic shift for the better. We follow a winding coastal road, the smell of the sea is strong and my excitement to see June again is mounting. I begin to recognize the scenery and then I see June’s mother’s house, take another turn and hear a ping ping on my phone. “Where are you now?” she writes. “At the Fresh Egg sign!” I reply.  We take a left, ride a mile and I see her standing there welcoming us with open arms. I jump off my bike and give her a big hug. Her singing voice and big smile warms my heart. She welcomes the whole gang inside her white cottage with a view of Cashel Bay.  The “45 minute” ride took two hours but whose counting?

    We spend the next two hours in her kitchen with her husband, Neil and brother Cliff feasting on a continual flow of delicious food: fresh bread, cheese, fresh fruit, tomatoes, chicken and pasta. She prepares most of the meal with her three-year old son Liam clinging to her body and pulling so hard on her hair that her head tilts to the right.  I am feeling the glow of being reconnected with an old friend and great memories of our 12 day Ciclismo Classico Ireland tour 14 years ago.

    The GREAT June Boulger Reunion

    With another hour or riding ahead, we begin wrapping up lunch and planning the next 12 miles to Cashel. We take a family potrait and a picture of June and I. The headwind is still strong so June offers to take Luca by car to Clifden. Luca is reluctant as he does not want to “wimp” out on the miles but eventually realizes that it’s a good idea.

    The skies are gray, the winds are strong and there is misty rain but our spirits and stomachs are full so the riding comes easy. It’s 5:00 PM and with 12 miles to go, I calculate that we will make it by 6:00. We avoid the coast and take another “bog” road to Clifden. The winds have shifted and are now almost at our backs. We ride at a good clip until Lorenzo has some problems with his shifting. He gets very mad at his bike. The wheel is blocked; I fix it by centering the wheel. Back in business. I see a cyclist pedaling the other way. He says it’s 3 miles to Clifden. I believe him since cyclists get mileage. We pull into town at 5:50. Lorenzo and I sprint to the bike store to get his brakes and gears adjusted since we have no tools. A very large mechanic smoking a cigarette takes a look but admits he is anxious to close his shop and head to the pub.

    We indeed make it to Clifden by 6:00. We check into the Kingston House B&B and before taking showers take a walk around town and arrive at the supermarket where Valentina happily picks up nail polish remover, shampoo and a chocolate bar. We wander back to the hotel and take a seat in the warm and tiny “tea” room complete with fish tank, piano, TV, fresh fruit, a comfy couch and a tea and coffee table. What more does one need on a rainy afternoon in Ireland? Well we are still missing Luca who was delivered soon after by June. Her car is filled with kids so she cannot stick around. We say our sad goodbyes and hope to see each other again in Ireland or Boston

    Kindred Cycling Spirits

    Post showers we walk around the street to Guys Bar and Snug where we take a seat by the music. We meet up with some folks from Maine who have been living in Heidelberg Germany for the year and are on their way home with Ireland as their last stop. We exchange adventures and my imagination wanders to a year abroad with the kids. Where would we live? What would that be like?

    The beers and dinner arrive and we savor another delicious meal. I start with the classic vegetable soup puree’ and finish with a lightly Cajun spiced baked salmon with wild rice. Nice. The next morning I rise early to sit and write in peace in the tea room. By 9:00 I check on the kids who are crowded in their bedrooms watching Tarzan on TV. I start rustling them and demand that they get dressed and down for breakfast in 20 minutes. It will take much barking to get them out and ready.

    Our hostess prepares us a lovely breakfast. I have fresh fruit with yogurt and Luca and Lorenzo get pancakes! Just as we are ready to roll we discover Mauro has a flat. Luckily the bike shop is next to our B&B but the woman running the shop has just gone to church. We manage to find her and I get the tools and spare we need to change the flat. I take the time to patch the tire and give the kids a lesson in fixing a flat.

    Day 7 Clifden to Leenan: A glorious day!

    We finally head out the Sky Road and it is as beautiful as I remember it 14 years ago This is going to be a good day! The skies are clear and the views are incredible. We take our time climbing up this steep but glorious road. At the top of the climb Valentina whines about her sore throat and throws her water bottle, helmet and threatens to go back to Clifden. Mauro looses it, the boys start teasing and small battle ensues followed by a collective tantrum. I am feeling so happy, nothing can get me worked me up. I take it all in stride and do a series of jumping shots. Valentina choose to sulk but perks up when we take a picture together. Overall I am so proud of our children. They have been riding hard and strong despite the rain and heavy bikes.

    We continue along the Sky road as it descends toward the coastline and heads back along the inlet to the main wall. We keep stopping to check out the views. Sheep are everywhere baaing at us. Luca keeps leading the way. It as if raising his seat has given him new energy.

    Once on the main road we decide to head straight to Letterfrack for lunch. It’s a main road and busier than the Sky Road so we ride single file with Luca in the lead. The road is fast and we have a great spin into Letterfrack. Lunch is soup, sandwiches and pizza at a small café then we are off to the Kylemore Abbey, one of the most gorgeous castles in Connemara. 3 tour buses have just unloaded dozens of Italians and as we wind our way through the crowd of Italiani, Lorenzo gets thumbs up for his Italia blue cycling shirt. Although he has no interest in the history of the place, this makes his day. We roam inside the castle, the Gothic church and on the grounds for an hour and then depart for the last 25 miles of our ride.

    Lorenzo poses reluctantly with me

    We make our way up the road to the village of Tully Cross and Lettergesh following another gorgeous coastal road lined with flowers, sheep and high above the sea. It’s called the Tully Cross Loop. The road eventually dips down the bay and heads along an inland lake I am in heaven and I know it will end soon. Although they hate to admit it, the kids get along best when they are biking. They can’t get in each others way and must take turns following and leading

    We love all the sheep!

    A glorious lake road

    We pass a group of fisherman wrapping up the day and although it is already 7 PM and we have another 10 miles to go, I stop and ask the man to demonstrate a fly cast. With a jolly smile he takes a fly from his box, ties it on, casts and tells Luca how it’s done. I ask “ How do you know what fly to put on? “ We just follow Johnny he replies with a laugh.

    We learned the tricks of fly fisherman
    A glorious road

    We leave the lake and climb gently towards the Killary Harbor. A left turn takes us on the main road and a long descent swoops us down to a road that follows the harbor. The temperature, the light, the moment is perfect. Luca is cruising and he races ahead until I whistle for him to stop so we can enjoy the views. I don’t mind dragging the miles on now. We may never pass this way again. We reach Leenane by 7:30 and stop to get a snack at the tiny Spar market. Fig newtons and cookies will do. I go in and check out the Pub which is hopping with folks of all ages including a gang of kids playing pool in the backroom.

    Luca races ahead to Leenan
    The end of the glorious road in Killary Harbor

    11 more KM until the Delphi Mountain Resort and Adventure Center. We ride down and around the harbor. At the very end of the harbor, facing North, is graveyard with a few dozen headstones. We all agree that this is a wonderful place to rest in peace.  The car free, sheep full road followed the eastern side of the harbor. Flat and downhill we cruised along. As we turn inland and face a mountain range. Luca gets anxious fearing the road will never end. His excitement quickly turned to tears. Before I had to distract him for another few miles, the sign for the Delphi Center appeared, he sprinted and was the first one into the driveway of our lovely 4 star home for two nights. We arrive at 8:20 with just enough time to shower and head upstairs to the airy bistro. It was late, we were tired but nothing could take away the glow, sense of accomplishment and bonding we all felt.

    Our four star home for two days

    Day 8 Coasteering at Delphi
    We had a well deserved rest day today. It was pouring rain outside so rest came that much easier. For the morning we hung out in the big comfortable seats in the lounge. I caught on on emails and writing, the kids were totally entertained by a new ap on their IPOD called Angry Bird and Mauro made hotel and shuttle plans for the rest of our trip. Our time in Ireland is coming to a close and we are all sad. This has been a very special trip for all of us. Although the kids said they would like more rest days (agreed), I think that they absorbed with their bodies and souls what bicycle travel is about.

    After lunch we loaded up in the van to go coasteering. an activity that I never heard of but that is apparently very popular in Whales and Great Britain. The definition of coasteering according to wiki is “a physical activity that encompasses movement along the intertidal zone of a rocky coastline on foot or by swimming, without the aid of boats, surf boards or other craft. It is difficult to define the precise boundaries between, for example, rockpooling and ocean swimming. “ This sounds like what we do in Southern Italy but the only difference is that here the water is cold and the swells were big.

    Now this is FUN! Cold waters sharp rocks and fast currents
    Captain Seaweed

    We put on wet suits and followed our guide Stephen to the rocky coastline at Old Head. We started out in mild waters and as we worked our way around the coast the rocks, waves and swells got bigger and bigger. Our guide took great care to let us know where to climb and where to swim. The kids followed instructions and did beautifully.  The water was definitely cold and the swells were strong but we all did very well to swim, float and grab onto the rocks.  It was a great little new adventure for all.

    For the last ride we dress the part!

    The Last Ride: Delphi to Westport
    We hoped on our bikes for the last time on this wonderful journey in the West of Ireland and began our ride up a spectacular road that followed the Doolough Pass to Westport. The Dolough Pass may be gorgeous today but in 1847 100 of those starving from the potato famine walked to Delphi to ask for relief. When they got there, the Board of Guardians were at lunch and could not be disturbed. When they finally did meet with them, the people were refused help. That day it rained and snowed and there was a piercing wind. On the return journey to Lousier, over 100 of the starving were blown into Doolough by the fierce wind where they died. The memorial commemorates those who died at this point. The sun peaked out of the clouds and painted the lush mountains in an array of tonalities. Today this landscape feels nothing but joyous. I could not help but be a bit sad to see it all end—it has been a magnificent trip.

    What an amazing view. Hard to imagine such a tragedy occurred here.

    Like every day, today was not without a problem or two. On the road for a few miles we noticed that while at the Delphi center, someone had borrowed Luca’s bike and lowered the seat. The seat was not a quick release and we were without tools so we had to stop at someone’s home and ask for tools. Frustrated and crying, Luca would not calm down. I stopped at several houses before we found the tool we were looking for (and a kind woman who knew how to use it). She raised the saddle and Luca was back in business.  Riding away, waving at the family, I repeated  one of my favorite mantras: There are no problems, just solutions.

    Only 21 KM to go

    We were riding at a great clip, making great time towards Westport. We used a bit of biking math conversions and calculations to figure out how fast we were riding, how many miles were left and our approximate arrival time. By the last day, they were beginning to think and act like real bike tourists. I felt very proud. We stopped in Louisburgh for a quick snack. We peeked into a gallery next to the supermarket and met a painter and graphic artist working on his computer. We discover that he use to live in LA where he worked on many animated movies. Small world.

    To all my Irish friends: Here’s the real St Patrick!

    Pedaling the last 12 miles was a breeze. More sheep, distant farmland and miles of seascape. Just before Westport we stopped at Croagh Patrick, Croagh Patrick has been a site of pilgrimage since before the arrival of Celtic Christianity, Saint Patrick reputedly fasted on the summit of Croagh Patrick for forty days in the fifth century and built a church there. It is said that at the end of Patrick’s 40-day fast, he threw a silver bell down the side of the mountain, knocking the she-demon Corra from the sky and banishing all the snakes from Ireland. Unfortunately we did not have time to climb all the way to the top but we did take a celebratory picture with Saint Patrick, a nice way to finish our last ride in Ireland!

    We’ve arrived!
    Westport Quay

    We rode the last five miles to Westport taking the coastal road that passed majestic homes and elegant hotels. We arrived in Westport at 3:30 with just enough time to walk around, eat lunch, shower at our B&B and enjoy our last evening of pub food and traditional Irish music at the famous Matt Malloys, owned my one of Cheiftains

    The next morning we wake early, have our last Irish breakfast, portrait with our host Noreen and rush to the bus to Galway It is a two hour trip to this bustling city. We say good bye to our bikes which albeit heavy have served us well.  We drop our luggage off at the train station so we can roam the town. Kids have waited for a souvenir shopping day and it has arrived and Galway with it abundant shops, is the place to do it.We only have a couple hours so we go from store to store seeking out hats and T shirts.

    We leave for Dublin by bus. The trip takes longer than we think and we arrive just in time to catch our plane. One last problem: Ryan Air is very cheap for a reason–your luggage must be less than 15 kilos and of course ours is not. We scramble to rearrange and repack our luggage but still end up paying a hefty price for our layers. Gotta work on my packing!

    We make it to the plane just on time for one last portrait. Good Bye Ireland. With any Irish luck (and planning) we will be back next year with friends!

    BYE BYE ireland we hardly know yee but we will be back
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    2 Responses to “9 Days Pedaling in the West of Ireland: Doolin, Connemara and Mayo”

    1. Lauren Hefferon. AKA Bici Pazza says:

      Good Times =)

    2. giulietta nardone says:


      You are one fun mother!

      Bike Across Italy Fall 2008

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