Friday 15 November 2019

The best of the Discover Ireland Explorers competition

We asked you to share your Ireland holiday memories and response was overwhelming. Here’s a selection of some of our favourites.

Partnering with Discover Ireland for the Travel in Ireland section on, we asked you the intrepid Ireland holiday explorers to share your best memories from your holidays in Ireland. We got so many brilliant memories, stories and anecdotes that choosing a winner was no easy task.

But choose one we did, and while Killian O’Driscoll will be heading off on a West Cork Adventure break for two, sending back posts on his adventures to appear on the Travel in Ireland section, we thought it remiss not to share some of the wonderful memories sent to us during the course of the competition.

1 On top of the world! Emer Cunningham

Every Father's Day we head down to the picturesque town of Westport, Co. Mayo, and take the coast road out to Croagh Patrick. This was the first year my little team, from 5 to 14 years, all climbed to the summit. Blessed with fine weather some marched up as if they were taking a leisurely stroll; others had to be cajoled and took in regular stops to admire the spectacular views or to read messages laid out in stones. Slowly but surely they all reached the top with an immense sense of achievement and the reward of a clear day and breath-taking views. A little slice of heaven on earth. The descent, though hairy at times, was brisk and the cool stream at the bottom was a perfect place to sit back and let them paddle their weary feet. All the effort had built up hearty appetites for which there's ample satisfaction in the many eateries in the Westport area. That evening other gently meandering through the town we hit the road home with a car of subdued, if not exhausted, children!

2 Happy Days in Bally B! Anita Clarke

The adventure began as soon as we had tied the suitcases to the roof of the car. The roof, not the roof rack, threading the ropes through the windows and being instructed to “Hang onto the rope!” every time we went over a bump. Pillows were heaped in the back, so we could take a nap (in the days before seat belts!) but we too excited, straining to see who’d get the first glimpse of the sparkling Atlantic and our beloved Bally B. Ballybunion was where we spent the last two weeks of July every year and we loved it. First staying in my auntie’s caravan before upgrading to a chalet some cute (as a fox, not a button!) Kerryman had built in his back garden. We spent the days on long stretches of sandy beach and going for walks along the Cliff Path. Dad would scare us with stories of Druid worship and how centuries ago sacrificial victims were thrown to their deaths on the rocks below! There would be the obligatory photo taken of Dad standing at the edge of the cliff, shouting like a ventriloquist from the corner of his smiling mouth – “Can you see the Castle? Make sure you get the Castle in!” The ‘Castle’ is in reality the ruins of a cliff fort built by the Fitzmaurice’s around 1500 AD but it was as iconic to us as the Fairy Tale Castle in Disneyland is for children today. And Bally B was just as magical.

3 A puffin admires the view of Little Skellig from his perch on Skellig Michael, Janet Fletcher

It’s a 550km journey from Donegal to Kerry – a 7½ hour drive. I drove it in 2013, with the aim of visiting the Skellig Islands. Next morning, as I stood in the charter boat, with another passenger, the captain received a radio message from the OPW staff on the island saying that landing would be impossible due to the rough weather - all charters were cancelled. That was my only window of opportunity – my plan was scuppered – I had to leave Kerry, disappointed. But I was determined to make it to Skellig Michael. So last summer, I again drove to The Kingdom. My luck was in this time. The weather was fine and the boat set sail as scheduled. We were accompanied part of the way by a pod of dolphins, as if guiding us to our destination. Stepping onto the ancient monastic island seemed surreal. My fear of heights immediately subsided as I bravely ascended the 600 steps to the summit. What a wonderfully holistic experience – words cannot adequately describe the feeling of calmness and fulfilment as I pondered the lives of those monks of centuries past. The seabirds too were a wonderful spectacle, and seeing puffins up close and personal was unforgettable. The boat journey back was rough as the weather took a turn for the worse, but I was in heaven, oblivious to the wild rocking of the boat and the fear-stricken, greenish face of the stranger opposite as we headed for the mainland.

4 Still for a moment, Karen Hendy

Lehinch is a fantastic place full of life, adventure and laughter. After an energetic beach and surfing day we sat on the cliff top and didn't speak but watched and became completely enveloped by the sky in its changing colours and the stillness of what seemed like the whole world. Purely magical. I want to discover more of nature's magic in this beautiful country and live it all. Sometimes we forget to stop and be aware. I would love three days to do just that.

5 Sea caves on the Blasket Islands, Elaine Toomey

Every year my boyfriend and I embark on another exploration of the wonderful Wild Atlantic Way. Having been captivated by Clare and spellbound by Sligo in previous years, last summer we set out to discover what the Kingdom of Kerry had to offer. At the peak of Mount Brandon, we were blown away by the stunning 360 views (and the wind!) of vast expanses of green blanket-like hills and fields in one glance, to the deep cerulean blue of the Atlantic in the next. As we gazed down upon the Blaskets rising majestically out of the blue, we set sight on our next expedition. Led by a local kayak instructor, we set out in sea kayaks from Coumeenole cove with camping supplies, provisions and a bottle of Redbreast 12. Truly the highlight of an unforgettable trip, we found ourselves immersed in unimaginably untouched, raw beauty. While circumnavigating an Bhlascaod Mor, we encountered inquisitive soulful-eyed seals, forbidding rocky cliffs, and cavernous grottoes awash with the sound of the sea. Two wild stags looked down on us from Inisvickillane, wondering what and who we were. That night we slept under the stars, overlooking the pearly white sands of an Trá Bán as we fell asleep to the sounds of the crashing tide. This was the best holiday I’ve ever had, and with so much left to explore in this magnificent country bursting with heritage, scenery and good food, I’m looking forward to many more like it. West Cork awaits!

6 Sandy bay, Noel Mahon

As we fly high I hear someone say, “There lies below a sandy bay”, as a windswept rugged island rise from the sea, the destination for our stay. Arranmore, resting majestically below, nestled off our north coast wall. Here are many hidden delights, fauna, foliage, rocks and vales are but few of these beautiful sights. Bog lands with winding hills, trails to explore, gusting winds to ignore. Take the pathway to the top, but don’t forget to stop and view the beauty that lies around you. Mother Nature to be found, listen “not a sound”. To take a glance into the deep from the high and rugged cliffs, a step to edge, a peep to see, Atlantic waves crashing endlessly, pounding, lashing, high rise walls that have stood for time for all. Be very careful, else one might fall, that surely wouldn’t do at all. As daylight fades, begins the flickering in the hills, home fires burn and families meet, then starts evening greet. Fun with music, dance and songs proud, the whole pub fills with the crowd, and laughter pours from rooftops loud. Alas our time has gone by, it’s time to leave, we say goodbye, to this grand crowd. We wind our way down to our ferry, bound for the mainland and home. “We’ll be back”, we cry out loud, as we wave goodbye to this beautiful isle.

7 How a lost rental car key made for the best day in Kerry!, Lieke Munsters

My friend Lisan came over from Holland for 5 days to explore the ring of Kerry! In less than 24hrs after picking up the car we arrived at O'Carroll's cove beach bar, lovely spot to get the feet in the water! We spend a max of 15 min on the beach in the waves and running on the sand, when we went back to the car ... it turned out the key had gone missing, walking back down to the beach, no result! We called budget and they send the AA to break the car open... After going through all our stuff.. no key! Stress kicked in! Especially when we were told losing a key will cost nearly 300 euro! We had no choice and Budget would send a new key via post.. Only in Ireland! The people in O'Carrols cove were lovely and we were so happy all this didn't happen in the middle of nowhere at least we had an address! After the initial shock and arranging some things, we decided to leave the car unlocked at the bar and we'd go for a walk... We walked to Caherdaniel when the sun popped out! We ended up in the Sugarshack, loveliest place! from there we walked to the beach, which turned out was Derrynane beach! Wow! Absolutely stunning! As we thought it was too far to walk back, we hitch-hiked! A lovely couple then brought us back to the beach bar where we slept the night in the car! The next morning at 11am the postman arrived with our new key! He laughed at our story as he saw us running on the beach the day before. We got known as the 2 girls that lost the key in the sea! haha! A day that started with stress turned into a beautiful day, lots of sunshine, the kindness of the Irish and stumbling upon beautiful spots in what I think is probably the nicest county in Ireland! So happy to show Ireland at its best to my friends abroad!

8 The 12 Bens and 10 toes, Killian O'Driscoll

We took the ferry from Cleggan out to Innisbofin, the island of the fair cow. Sailing away from the mountains of Connemara, Croagh Patrick was glimpsed in the distance - the tiny white oratory gleaming on its summit. The promise of a beautiful and all to rare summer's day. The harbour in Cleggan welcomed us in past its ancient stories of Cromwellian forts and Gaelic pirates. Up on the bikes and away down the quiet lanes. Each view more glorious that the next - the best place in the world, when you get the weather, sure why would you go anywhere else? We could almost believe it. Free wheeling down to Horseshoe Bay, the 12 Bens showing-off in the distance. The race not to be the last one into the cool, clear sparkling sea. To heaven or to Connaught - a tough choice on a day like this.

9 Day Trip to Inis Oírr, Tracy Keogh

We board a ferry to the small island. Stiofán and Matilda are waiting on the other side. We take a jaunt on roads that were hewn from rock by bare hands and desperation. A cyclist hands Stiofán a discarded horseshoe that is not Matilda’s. Stiofán inspects it. “It’s a big one”, he says. “I know the horse”. We pass a school for twenty five children with a wild Atlantic view. It’s the kind of view that forms you, the kind you never leave behind. “I want to live here”, I tell Stiofán. “You can’t”, he says. “We only sell land and houses to our own”. “I could marry an islander”, I offer. Sidelong glance from Stiofán. “What time is your boat back?” Emergency matchmaking declined, we eat salty chips and saunter to the sea. We pass a sign that reads “Guidelines for Interacting with A Wild Dolphin”. We don’t need those signs in our coastless county. A wild dolphin duly appears, to frolic on cue. The water is blindingly blue. We board a ferry to the mainland. A Gaeltacht girl waves a lonely hurl at her receding Bean an Tí. We step off the boat at Doolin, dreaming of that other island life; white sands, heartlands and boys who walk barefoot to the beach.

10 The heartbeat of the Wild Atlantic Way, Daria Blackwell

We happened upon magical Gola Island, Donegal while cruising along the Wild Atlantic Way in our sailing boat. The island was abandoned, but descendants of the islanders are returning to their ancestral homes. On arrival, we were immediately welcomed by fishermen in a small craft, who invited us to stay for the weekend festival. We were asked to dress ship and invited ashore. We walked to the spectacular cliffs, home to thousands of seabirds, where kayakers rowed colourful vessels under the natural arches down below. We met Maria at the ‘visitor’s hut’ who described the history of the island and showed us photographs of life here long ago. When time came for Mass on the pier, boatloads arrived from the mainland, young musicians played, and the priest in sandals accepted offerings of a miniature lobster trap and boat. The Mass was in Irish but we recognized it all by the cadence. Everyone joined in Holy Communion while the musicians played below and children played above the Blessed Mother’s alcove. The priest blessed the fleet with holy Ballygowan and festivities began. My husband was happily coerced into taking part in the racing currachs demonstration and rowed between two experienced men. He was congratulated for his skill and consoled for Mayo’s loss to Donegal in football. The warm reception given to us is the heartbeat of this wild coast. It inspired us to write a book about all the places we stopped from Donegal to Cork while Cruising the Wild Atlantic Way.

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