10. Poets and Painters

Published on 4 May 2023 at 08:22

Slieve League

Today (day 10 of our road trip) we journeyed along the Wild Atlantic Way from Clifden to Ardara. This is a coastline of plunging cliffs and deserted beaches that are constantly being pounded by the wild Atlantic Ocean. It is an area of extreme landscapes that have inspired painters and poets for thousands of years.

In Irish pre-history myth and reality are woven together into compelling tales. Before the establishment of the monasteries the role of the seanchaí, the storytellers who traveled from village to village was an important one and the stories they told were passed down through an oral tradition that endured until the coming of the monasteries when these sagas were transcribed for the first time.

This area was once the power base of the warrior, Queen Maeve of Connaught. The Cattle Raid of Cooley tells the tale of how Maeve, in comparing her wealth and possessions to those of her husband Ailill, found that in all things they were equally matched, save for a white bull belonging to Ailill. Consumed with jealousy she sent her troops to Ulster to capture the Brown Bull of Cooley. Cuchulainn - perhaps the most famous warrior in Irish mythology - learned of the plot and set out to protect the bull. 

He ended up defeating the queen's men single handedly, however, while the battle was raging, some of them managed to steal away with the bull. Maeve was delighted and put the bull in the enclosure with her husbands, with the result that the two bulls clashed and gored one another to death (I think there is meant to be a moral in there somewhere!). 

The Irish people’s incredible gift for storytelling has been passed down through the ages. From 19th century playwrights Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw, to the 20th century Nobel prizewinners WB Yeats and Samuel Becket, Ireland has a history of producing literary giants.

County Sligo is officially considered Yeats country as it was the childhood home of WB Yeats and his brother, the painter Jack B Yeats.  As a schoolboy in London, Yeats longed for his home in Sligo, and as an adult he often returned here. You can follow a laid out driving trail around this lake studded landscape that haunts his poetry. Sadly, we only had time to visit his grave site in the Drumcliff churchyard. 

We reached Killybegs, one of Ireland’s busiest fishing ports, just in time for a late lunch and enjoyed the most delicious freshly caught fish from a local "Chippy" while sitting on the harbor wall. Then it was on to our main destination for the day - Slieve League. Some say that these cliffs are even more spectacular than the Cliffs of Moher. Not only do they supposedly boast the highest cliff face in Europe, but if you catch them in the golden hour, they are a spectacular sunset color - streaked with shades of red, amber, and ochre. It was overcast when we visited, but the views were still spectacular! 

After hiking up to the cliffs it was back to the car and on to our final two stops for the day, the Caves of Maghera and the Assaranca Waterfall. We drove the scenic route via Col Glengesh which was breathtaking - and just a little bit terrifying (its an extremely steep, windy, narrow road). You have to time the Caves of Maghera just right as they are only accessible at low tide.  Unfortunately, the tide was in so all we could do was walk on the beautiful deserted beach. Assaranca is a lovely waterfall that cascades into a pool right on the side of the road so it is super easy to access.

By this stage we were exhausted from our longest driving day (214 miles/6h20min without stops) and looking forward to relaxing at our B&B in Ardara. The hitch was that there was no one home when we arrived to check in. The problem with relying on WIFI rather than buying data (we hadn't needed it up to this point so we kept putting it off), was that we had no way of confirming our arrival time, especially when we were running a little late. Airbnb works well as you can easily message with WIFI through the app, and most villages have free town WIFI. However other sites like Booking.com don't have the same ease of communication. Anyway, long story short, our hostess had been trying to call us (impossible when your phone is on airplane mode) to communicate instructions on where to find the key. We did eventually manage to get a hold of her - an hour later - but it was a very tiring end to an already long day!

Drumcliffe Church, Kellybegs (best fish and chips ever!), Slieve League, Col Glengesh, Caves of Maghera, Assaranca Falls

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