BY JUDY ENRIGHT
SPECIAL TO THE BIR
Going green doesn’t necessarily mean going to the Emerald Isle but it could.
There is much focus in Ireland today on visitors enjoying their stay without adding to the carbon footprint. Where bus tours and car travel were once the only way to see the countryside, many tourists today choose walking, cycling, and equestrian vacations.
There are, of course, many who still prefer having a car because, after all, it’s difficult to fit all those wonderful Irish craft shop purchases into a bicycle saddlebag or your backpack if you’re walking. And, there are some travelers who need to get where they’re going faster than they could on foot or by bike or they, like me, might be toting cameras with multiple lenses that are better accommodated in a car.
One company (and there are many) that specializes in walking and cycling vacations is Freewheeling Adventures out of Nova Scotia. The company offers varied tours all over the world and has two cycling tours through Ireland – Connemara/Clare (eight days) and Kerry/Dingle (seven days), both utterly magnificent areas to see slowly from the seat of a bicycle. There are also seven-day walking tours of Kerry/Dingle as well as the Antrim Glens and the Northern Ireland coast, also magnificent areas. The tours are offered a number of times during the year.
We met a Freewheeling tour cycling through Connemara several years ago and the participants couldn’t say enough about the route, quality of the bikes, the leaders or places they stopped for meals, picnics, and overnights. They loved it all.
The company is flexible, according to its brochure, and happy to work with those interested in arranging special trips, itinerary modifications, and more.
For more information, visit freewheeling.ca, e-mail email@example.com, or call 800-672-0775.
Another company that offers guided, self-guided, and customized tours is Connemara Adventure Tours, which has organized cycling/walking, equestrian, guided, and self-guided adventure tours for about 20 years. In addition, you can sign up for a history, island hopping, or gourmet-Connemara tour or choose from many other options. See connemaraadventuretours.com for details.
Old railroad beds have been recycled in recent years and utilized for off-road cycling and walking paths in various parts of the country. One such path is the Great Western Greenway that runs from Westport to Achill Island in Co. Mayo, along a former railroad route.
Another – the Great Southern Trail (GST) – is an 85km stretch through West Limerick/North Kerry that also follows the route of a former railroad – the Limerick-Tralee railway that closed in the 1970s. Isn’t this a perfect way to recycle those abandoned tracks?
Bike and walking routes have also been developed in many other areas of the country. For instance, there’s the 100km route from Dungarvan to Tramore, Co. Waterford. And, if you visit the website newryandmourne.com, you can learn about some wonderful walks and cycling routes and many other activities in the Newry and Mourne area in the southeast corner of Northern Ireland in Counties Down and Armagh. There are many more, too.
And, if you are quite fit, there’s a five-day guided tour you might enjoy called “The Heritage Cycling Tour” that visits seven heritage towns in five counties. Accommodation is in approved hotels with dinner and breakfast included. For details, visit cyclingholidays.ie.
As I said earlier, there are many, many companies that offer walking and cycling tours and others that offer golf, adventure, equestrian, garden, and other types of travel. You can find lots of information online especially at Tourism Ireland’s website, Ireland.com. When I visited the website, I was stunned to see that it lists 146 equestrian, 960 walking/hiking, and 348 cycling events and routes. That’s plenty of food for thought and Tourism Ireland updates the website constantly as new information is received.
Don’t forget your favorite travel agents when planning your trip as they often have had experience with Irish companies and can give you great suggestions, ideas, and information.
If you’re not into walking, cycling, or horseback riding, but enjoy horses and want a different kind of vacation, how about a seven-day tour in a horse-drawn caravan? Sounds like a lot of fun and it’s certainly a unique way to see the Irish countryside.
Kilvahan Horsedrawn Caravans, off the N7 in Coolrain, Co. Laois, is an award winner and offers participants the freedom to explore the countryside at a slow, relaxed pace and, according to the owners, no previous experience with horses is necessary.
Kilvahan has full facilities at the base where renters spend the first and last nights. At the base, in addition to toilets and showers, there are picnic gardens and barbecue, playground, a petting zoo, and more.
According to the website, Kilvahan has 16 “authentic caravans,” each fitted to luxury standards with sleeping accommodation for four adults and one child and each comes equipped with sheets, stove, sink/basin, kitchen equipment and enough seating so meals can be served on board.
Horses are purchased from Dublin coal yards, where each has been exposed to years of city traffic so they are not easily rattled out in the country and are therefore ideal for pulling caravans. The caravans are available from April to October.
For information, visit horsedrawncaravans.com, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
PONIES AND HORSES
If you enjoy horses and ponies but don’t want to hire a caravan or take part in a riding adventure, the Station House Museum in Clifden, Co. Galway, is a great place to learn all about Connemara ponies as well as the history of the area. The museum is in the original (1895) but restored Engine Shed at the Clifden Railway Station complex. The museum is open from May 1-Oct. 31, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and from noon to 6 on Sundays. See connemara.net/the-station-house-museum for more.
Dartfield Horse Museum, between Ballinasloe and Loughrea in Co. Galway, is another interesting place to visit. Set on 350 acres, Dartfield claims to be the only museum in the world dedicated to Irish horses, Connemara ponies, and Irish dogs. The museum also has an exhibit on Irish country life from 1800 to 1900 and there’s a café and craft shop on site. Visit dartfield.com for more information.
For even more horses, visit the beautiful thoroughbreds at the Irish National Stud in Tully, Co. Kildare, about 30 miles from Dublin. Set on 958 acres, there are 288 stalls for mares, foals, and stallions. The property is also home to Japanese Gardens, created between 1906 and 1910, where rare plants flourish, and there are acres of woodland and lakeside walks through a garden dedicated to Saint Fiachra, patron saint of gardeners. There’s a café and craft shop as well and there are guided tours daily of the stud farm. The property is open from February to November. For more information, visit: irish-national-stud.ie.
If you are anywhere near Doolin, Co. Clare, on the last full weekend of February (21-24 this year), do take in the Russell Memorial Weekend events. See michorussellweekend.ie for more details.
The festival began in 1995 to remember Micho Russell, the world-famous traditional musician, who died in 1994. In 2006, by request of his family, the festival was renamed the Memorial Weekend in memory of Micho as well as his brothers Packie and Gussie. It’s a great time and attracts trad music lovers from all over the world. Doolin really comes to life in the midst of what might otherwise be a dreary winter month.
And, in Killarney, Co. Kerry, from Feb. 19-23, there will be ceilis, concerts, sessions, and workshops at the 15th Gathering Traditional Festival in the Gleneagle Hotel there. See thegathering.ie for more information.
Enjoy your visit to Ireland whenever you go. There are often air/land deals available from the various carriers that service Shannon and Dublin airports. By the way, Dublin airport welcomed its 20 millionth passenger in December, marking the first time since 2009 that the airport reached the 20-million mark.