In the Footsteps of Giants

I have known the Giant’s Causeway since I was a wee boy. We visited every summer during the school holidays and, like many, I was entranced by the stories of the warring Irish and Scottish Giants who created and destroyed it respectively.

Our visits always went beyond the Causeway itself and took in the cliff-top walks to the east. From here we enjoyed views to Rathlin Island, County Donegal and even Scotland.

My memory may be misleading but I seem to remember we would finish our trip with an ice cream down by the harbour at nearby Ballintoy or maybe a trip to the beach at White Park Bay – miles of sand with the occasional herd of cows for company.

When I was older we would attempt the crossing of Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, though I was never keen on such a precarious place.

In fact the whole of the “Causeway Coast” was the focus of many family holidays for us and I absolutely loved it.

Roll on some forty plus years and I found myself back there last week. Of course, there has been change. The Giant’s Causeway is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and draws thousands of visitors from all over the world. Some squeeze in a visit on day trips from Dublin – far too rushed to be anything I would ever advise! There are audio guides, a shuttle bus for the less able, toilets, park and ride etc. The focal point is the very impressive National Trust visitor centre, opened five years ago now, complete with shop, cafe and interpretation centre. The latter pleasingly gives equal emphasis to the two alternative stories of the creation of the Causeway: the geological version describing volcanoes and lava versus the mythological yet colourful tales of mighty beings. The centre is a clever design, single storey with a grass roof and pretty much hidden from the coastline itself – apparently aided by a complete lack of ninety-degree angles to draw the eye.

I admit I was worried that all this change would take away the magic of the place, the magic which captivated a small boy all those years ago. Instead I felt rather proud of my home country: people of all different nationalities were now discovering the magic for themselves. We continued our walk beyond the stones, away from many of the visitors, and onto the clifftops. From here I couldn’t help thinking that nature – or the Giants’ handiwork – hadn’t changed that much after all.

By Robert Kidd

Across Ireland to the Edge of Europe: Tom’s Car-free Irish break

When I’m exploring a new part of the world car hire is usually one of the first things I book so I know how I’m getting from A to B, especially outside main cities. So it was with some trepidation that I set off for Ireland last week on a car-free trip taking in Dublin, Galway and the wonderful Aran Islands. On arrival at Dublin Airport I was met by my friendly driver and whisked into the city centre via the impressive and rejuvenated Docklands area – the sheer number of cranes on the horizon and the number of high-tech firms who have moved in was a sign of a city on the move. I used Robert’s Recommendations, which are personally researched by our Founder and Director Robert Kidd and supplied to all McKinlay Kidd clients, to navigate my way around the Irish capital and made use of taxis, buses, trams and my favourite method of transport in a new city – walking. From St. Stephen’s Green to Trinity College to Dublin Castle I managed to get a real flavour of the city, discovered some quirky off-the-beaten-track attractions and sampled amazing food and great craic in the pubs of the city.

After far too short a visit it was time to move on to the west of Ireland and the excellent service from Iarnrod Eireann (Irish Rail) really let the train take the strain as it whisked me across the country from east to west in less than three hours with great views of the countryside of the Irish Midlands. The train comes in to the heart of Galway City at Eyre Square in the heart of the Latin Quarter, a fantastic warren of narrow cobblestone streets bursting with pubs that host trad music throughout the week as well as some of the best seafood restaurants I have ever eaten at. The hotel was located just a few minutes’ walk from the station and I spent the afternoon walking the path that runs along the fast-flowing River Corrib before sampling some local oysters, which luckily go very well with a pint of Guinness!

The highlight of the trip was the crossing to Inis Mór, the largest of the Aran Islands, accessed by bus from Galway City to the ferry port an hour to the west in the Connemara region then by a 45 minute ferry crossing. The landscape of this incredible island is marked by the distinctive limestone pavements that are also found in The Burren region on the mainland as well as the remoteness of the island’s location on the very edge of Europe – we took a ride in a jeep to the very western tip of the island with nothing out ahead of us but the Atlantic Ocean all the way to Newfoundland, an amazing thought! I would recommend staying at least a couple of nights to experience the island’s amazing Irish speaking culture and rugged scenery but unfortunately my trip was only for the day. I still managed to have a browse in the Aran Sweaters shop and enjoy a pint of Guinness before taking the evening ferry back to the mainland!

The following day it was a seamless journey back to Dublin on a spacious, brand new train to connect with my short flight back home to Scotland and without realising it I had become a car-free holiday convert! So next time you travel why not consider leaving the car and travelling by public transport as the locals do – you see your destination from a whole new perspective.

By Tom @ McKinlay Kidd

Have a bit more time for your own holiday? Check out McKinlay Kidd’s Grand Tour of Ireland by Train.

South by Southwest: Hamish’s home from home

Given that I was brought up in the South West of Scotland, it seemed apt that my first visit to Ireland with McKinlay Kidd was to the South West of the Island to discover the Wild Atlantic WayCork and Kerry. The similarities were uncanny; rolling hills, lush green forests, rugged coastlines and long sandy beaches. Not forgetting of course, the warm and friendly locals.

Flying from Glasgow to Cork, a journey of around an hour and fifteen minutes, you get a wonderful view of the whole of Ireland. My approach was augmented by some wonderful autumnal sunshine which bounced off the Celtic Sea.

The Dingle Peninsula, one of the Gaeltacht areas of Ireland (where Irish is widely spoken), was my first stop. What struck me instantly was the slowing in the pace of life, everyone from locals to the tourists seemed to be going about their business in an unhurried fashion. A must see stop is the Inch Strand, a long sand spit backed by a dune system reaching into Dingle Bay. Popular with surfers as illustrated on my visit, I was rather wishing that I had brought my own wetsuit to go for a swim!

Next was the famous Ring of Kerry. I drove round the entirety of the 120 mile circular route which is one of the country’s most popular tourist trails.  As a Star Wars fan, I was hoping to have had the opportunity to take one of the boat trips from Portmagee to view the dramatic island monastery at Skellig Michael, but alas the weather thought otherwise. However, there are plenty of other options to enjoy the open views of the mountains, coast and islands of the area.

West Cork was my last destination, with the fishing village of Baltimore first on the list of places to see. En route to Baltimore, the section from Kenmare in Kerry to Glengarriff in Cork was one of the most spectacular I’ve ever had the pleasure of driving. Jaw dropping scenery is around every corner and the road scythes through the mountains via tunnels carved into the rock in the mid-nineteenth century during famine times.

Rock Tunnel Drive, Old Kenmare Road
Rock Tunnel Drive, Old Kenmare Road

Baltimore is the place to be if you want to see Wildlife in West Cork. Marine life is bountiful, with whales topping the bill, as well as seabirds which frequent the cliffs of Cape Clear Island, just a short boat journey from Baltimore.

Kinsale was my last stop in West Cork and Ireland. What a place to finish, despite my visit coinciding with the winding down of the tourist season, the town was buzzing. Unfortunately, I was a week late for the famous Kinsale Gourmet Festival, which celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2016. However, Kinsale is known as the “Gourmet Capital of Ireland”, meaning there is good food to be had all year round! My trip came to a wonderful end in a cosy bar, full of locals and visitors alike enjoying a pint of Guinness whilst listening to a local band playing traditional Irish Music.

The recurring theme of my visit to Ireland was the friendliness and generosity of the people I met. No matter where I went, I was greeted with a smile and an enquiry as to how I was enjoying my time in Ireland, with recommendations of what to do or see next. The genuine interest all my hosts had in my trip and their eagerness to show off their homeland was incredibly endearing. I can’t wait for my next visit!

On a nostalgia trip to the west of Ireland

As a child I spent a very memorable holiday in Connemara, in the west of Ireland. Although we had explored many parts of Ireland and Scotland before, I can still remember the first sight of the white sandy beaches near Roundstone, contrasting with the beautiful bleakness of the boglands, just a few miles inland.

It’s a part of Ireland I am always thrilled to return to. This year, for my birthday, we had the chance for another short visit. Just to add to the nostalgic theme, we drove there from Dublin in a car from the same year as my first visit- a 1974 MGB roadster.

The intervening period has of course seen enormous changes, both in the island of Ireland and in the cars we drive. The first challenge we met was trying to reach the motorway toll booth from the driver’s window – clearly cars are rather higher now than forty years ago. Mind you, there were no tolls in the seventies and certainly no roads worthy of charging for!

Once we reached Connemara, with its small roads sweeping over the dramatically beautiful flatlands between the lakes and mountains, our wee MG seemed right at home.

After an evening enjoying the craic in Clifden, we headed off to re-visit another place which made a big impression on me in 1974 – the memorial marking the landing site of Alcock & Brown’s first transatlantic flight. Years ago this was just a white beacon with some sketchy notices in the middle of a Connemara bog. This year, as part of the Wild Atlantic Way project, an impressive visitor experience has been developed. With boardwalks so you can explore the bogland, and a range of interpretation areas, the fascinating history of “Derrygimlagh” has been brought to life. Not only was this the site of the famous, though somewhat unscheduled landing, but it also marks the spot where Gugliemo Marconi established the first ever commercial transatlantic wireless station. This was an extensive complex, with massive condenser house, staff accommodation, even a social club.

Alcock and Brown certainly picked the right spot to touch down, meaning news of their tremendous feat could be rapidly broadcast. It is still hard to grasp that this one, pretty remote part of Ireland played a key role in two of the last century’s most important innovations – flight and communications.

It seemed a very appropriate place to visit in a classic car. A true nostalgia trip.

And, to round off the day, it was time to enjoy some open top motoring and find those sandy beaches again.

By Robert @ McKinlay Kidd

(Featured photo taken in Connemara)

Dingle, Co Kerry – A music-lovers’ treat

While it’s true that the hotbed of Irish traditional music arguably lies further North in Co Clare, with its myriad week-long festivals and whole villages steeped in ‘trad’, Dingle in Co Kerry does a great job of providing visitors with an authentic music experience in some of the country’s finest pubs.

The entire spectrum of Irish trad is available here, from the gentle lilt and misty-eyed nostalgia of classic Irish balladry, to frenetic, virtuoso playing by some outstanding Co Kerry talent. Often on the same evening, in the same place.

Dingle Main Street is lined with really terrific pubs, many of which feature live music on any given evening, with chalkboards on the street displaying attractions forthcoming. Apart from the music, many of the pubs are worth a visit to catch a glimpse of the past; Foxy John’s is one of the most famous, and continues to operate as a hardware store and a pub. So, if you find yourself needing a new bradawl or some sharp sand, pop in here and enjoy a pint of Guinness at the same time.

Another famed pub is Dick Mack’s, a leather goods workshop on the one hand, and a place to enjoy some Irish hospitality and great craic on the other, while Curran’s Bar is the place to go if you fancy a new pair of Wellington boots, or to choose one of their range of porcelain figurines or from an array of flat caps.

O’Sullivan’s Courthouse on the Mall is renowned for presenting great Irish trad every night of the week, often in ‘open session’ form, where musicians are encouraged to turn up and join in. You’ll find everything here, from bodhrán to flute, fiddle to tin whistle and all points in-between.

One of the most popular spots is John Benny Moriarty’s on the seafront, a larger pub with plenty of space, though you might struggle to find a seat on busier evenings. Music here is just about as important as the craic, Guinness and whiskey, the proprietors being musicians themselves. Some of the finest talent around is to be found here every night, playing a wide repertoire to an appreciative crowd.

Kerry really does have it all: superb, secluded beaches, breath-taking scenery, magical driving routes, brilliant pubs and an array of musical talent to delight even the most discerning audience. Even those strict listeners from Co Clare!

By Chris @ McKinlay Kidd

(Featured photo taken in Dingle)