The Wild Atlantic Way
Breathtaking Landscapes with Enchanting Legends
When I went to Ireland for the first time I was surprised, utterly shocked at the notion that, every local I asked about Irish legends offered a vague retelling of a random ambiguous place. The only direction I was getting was the one leading me to our next pint. I was so frustrated! How in the world was I finding it so difficult to pinpoint places related to Irish legends when Ireland is exploding with them?
I was starting to think there were no places in Ireland related to these legends outside of book shops and fireplaces. Then, I went on a journey along the Wild Atlantic Way and what I discovered was so much more than what any local could ever share over a pint in Dublin. What I found was the legends themselves lived in the very earth that I stood on. In every valley. On every cliff, and in every moss-covered woodland. They were intangible and scattered, they were literally everywhere.
Now before you go mapping your itinerary, there is something you need to understand about Irish legends. For many years the Irish lived in very harsh conditions, especially along Ireland’s western coast. The earth was a crucial element to Irish Mythology with an irregular landscape that spawned curiosities. Many Irish legends and myths served to rationalize things the people could not explain, and often still can’t. With the western coast of Ireland being such an isolated land, these mystical, magical and enchanting stories were preserved well. They made a natural transition into modern times especially in the most distant parts of Ireland like Achill Island, the Connemara region, the Burren and the Dingle Peninsula.
There are so many sites, monuments, and locations that are tied to Irish Legends I would have to write an entire book on my findings. From the magpies to the sea cliffs, there is an echo in the air. Here are 5 really cool, enchanting and stunning trips to take along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way that are rich in legend and will leave you mystified.
Wild Atlantic Way, Achill Island Co Mayo
Fairy Legend and Entrances to the Other World
Ireland is home to countless mystical monuments dating back thousands of years. According to Irish folklore the fairies dwell in these prehistoric megalithic sites. In part, this can be attributed to a means of rationalizing obvious questions like, “How were these made?”, and moreover, “How were they placed along astrological alignments?” That’s not to say if you asked around, you wouldn’t hear a tale or two about a malevolent fairy.
These ancient sites of tombs, cairns, forts and mounds were also believed to be the entrances to Tir Na Nog (the Other World), a perfect place where no one fell ill or aged. Magical right? So why not set out and explore some of these ancient enchanted sites! With a sense of adventure, boots, and the desire to hike, you can take a tour of these places with the Achill Archaeological Field School. Like how cool is that? Gearing up with archaeologists to find enchanted prehistoric sites, yes please!
Some Other Interesting Legends on Achill Island
The Banshee – A type of fairy that warns people of pending death in their family. It is said that she can be seen on the Sidh Groigin, the raised bog mounds which are NEVER ever cut by man. These are thought of as homes of the Banshees, and a sitting place for them to cry.
Booley Sites – Remote sites known to be haunted by fairies, Banshees and even the Devil, and every local will tell you so. No one is brave enough to hike to the booley huts and spend a night.
The Children of Lir – A tale of the four children of Lir banished by their jealous step mother for 900 years to 3 different places in Ireland, Lough Derravaragh, the Sea of Moyle and on the waters of the Bay of Erris near to Inishglora Island which borders Achill Island.
If you’re looking for some local tales I can recommend you visit the Achill Island Hotel’s Pub and ask for Edward McNamara. He is the pub manager and just the right type of local to bring you into the legends of the land.
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Wild Atlantic Way, Westport Co Mayo
Grace O’Malley the Pirate Queen
Home to the Pirate Queen, you can visit the Westport House which was built on the ruins of Grace O’Malley’s home. With 30 antique rooms and hallways, a Grace O’Malley Exhibit and even a dungeon, this is an exciting place to explore for all ages. Check out their Pirate Queen Festival for a full on pirate experience.
Wild Atlantic Way, Connemara Region Co Galway
Tuatha De Danann
According to Irish Mythology, this was a race of magical demigods born of the Goddess Danu. It is said that they came in from the western sea and succeeded the Fir Bolg on the shores of modern-day Connemara. A drive along the Sky Road will lend a portal for you to imagine the mythical invasion of these ancient people. The 7 mile loop at the foothills of the Twelve Bens Mountains is not only exhilarating, but enchanting. If you still have your boots on, you can brave the trails for an outdoor adventure. You will find that this region has some of the most breathtaking views that Ireland has to offer.
Check out Walking Connemara, Brian Hughes and Gerry MacCloskey are amazing guides and can show you the most enchanting places off the beaten path.
In Clifden Brian also runs the Abbeyglen Castle Hotel if you are looking for an enchanting evening to top your magical day in Connemara. Complete with dinner, pub and breakfast with a view of the mountains.
Wild Atlantic Way, the Burren Co Clare
Visit the Poulnabrone Dolmen, a Neolithic portal tomb dating back between 4200 BC and 2900 BC. This is one of the few megaliths that actually have a car park. It is maintained by the OPW, (the Office of Public Works) because it is a protected site.
To learn more about Ireland’s protected heritage sites click here.
Near the Cliffs of Moher I love the Sea View House in Doolin and its owners Niall and Darr. This luxury B&B with gourmet breakfast overlooks the Atlantic Ocean and is rich with comfort and Irish hospitality. This is the charming view from the balcony overlooking to tiny village of Doolin. It was so nice to rest here, exhausted from our adventurous journey. They treated us like family, and holy cow their beds are comfortable!
Near Limerick in Newmarket-on-Trent I felt like an absolute princess at Dromoland Castle Hotel! I kept thinking, “I wish I was staying longer, this place is amazing!” This five-star property is a real life fairy tale. I’ll never forget this completely magical experience of elegance and luxury. A member of the exquisite Preferred Hotels & Resorts brand.
Wild Atlantic Way, the Dingle Peninsula Co Kerry
Much like Achill Island and the Burren, the Dingle Peninsula has a great deal of fairy legend that remains in the shadows of their dense population of archaeological sites. Dingle is one of those places where you can feel the echo of ancient Ireland in the sea sprayed air. Its sloping mountains, water-laced valleys, craggy sea-beaten cliffs and ancient ruins recall a much more tumultuous Ireland, one that gave a foundation for the very legends that we know and love today.
For a scenic tour of the best of the Dingle Peninsula get with John and Elaine of Dingle Coastline Tours. They are amazing and know the area well. Plus, now that they have met me, they know exactly what you’ll be looking for!
In Tralee If you’re looking for some extra enchantment why not try Ballyseede Castle Hotel just outside of Dingle. This finely appointed property is a member of the Manor House Hotels of Ireland and delivers excellence in both quality and service. It’s not stuffy at all. I totally felt like I lived there. We even walked around for a late night adventure in our pajamas!
To plan your Wild Atlantic Way trip, please visit www.Ireland.com
Achill Island, Theresa McDonald I.A.S Publications 2006
The Sacred Mythological Centres of Ireland, Jack Roberts, BANDIA Ireland 1996
Peter Curtain, Burren Tolkien Society
Philip Byrne, Storyteller at the Food, Folklore and Fairies Dinner Show at the Brazen Head in Dublin
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