Ireland 2023 – Flying Boats and Fairytales

On to day four of ‘Lap of Ireland’ and we beginning to get into the rhythm of the trip. All the dull planning and the anxiety about catching ferries etc a distant memory. Now, it was all about riding, enjoying the company of good mates and taking in the gorgeous countryside that we were lucky to be traversing.

Day Four – Into the Valleys

Today we worked our way along the coast and headed from County Donegal through, Co Mayo and onto Galway. A glorious 233 miles during which we enjoyed seeing so many beautiful sights.

We set up for the day with a hearty Irish breakfast (I had the salad option obviously…), over which we chatted with two German lads. They had also stayed at Moran’s overnight. Both were riding BMW 1200 flat twins of various types. These seem to be the weapon of choice for well over half of the bikers we came across over here touring the sights.

Initially a little rain dampened our spirits, and a lingering mist did obscure the coastal views a little. However, it also added to the atmosphere somehow.

We called at the Ballycroy National Park Visitor Centre which enjoys spectacular views of the surrounding hills. The centre housed a great little tea room where none of us, especially Matt, had a huge slice of chocolate brownie. Oh no, we are better than that…

Somebody left these on our table…nothing to do with us!

Sweeping views that my decrepit smart phone in no way does justice

Matt, as our group ‘youngster’ we allowed him to do some reading and colouring in

Magical Landscape

We pressed on across the lowland areas with mountains tantalisingly looming in the distance. What a fabulous way to spend a day’s riding. The thing it is, it only got better. As we worked our way around the coast and into the Connemara National Park were blown-away by the landscape. The Doolough Valleywas just jaw dropping. Many people just pulled up, as we did, and looked on in awe.

Magical landscapes, and it was even more beautiful than this picture implies

I thought I had best include some pictures of our motorbikes

Here we chatted to a lovely German couple who we had seen on the road a couple of times already. He was riding a heavily loaded BMW R1250GS, whilst his good lady wife had the better deal. She was riding a nippy and unburdened 401 Husqvarna Svartpilen. She had only passed her test just over a year earlier, and here she was revelling in touring Europe. They had also been to the TT. Great to see people out there enjoying life and exchanging stories with them. All an intrinsic part of a good road trip, the people you meet and experiences you share.

Blessed to be able to do this

We had to suppress the urge to stop every few minutes to take pictures. So breathtaking was our backdrop. As it was, we pulled up several times. I was amused to note that a slow-moving Skoda we swept past more than once, kept chugging along and going past us as we photographed this or that.

Later we reflected later how lucky we are to be able to experience and enjoy days like this. Life is short, sometimes it pays to pause to saviour these times.

We had hoped to sample the delights of Galway. A town well known for its friendly welcome. Unfortunately, we were not the only ones with this idea, and we became snarled up in a maelstrom of teeming, heavy traffic. Even filtering on a bike progress was painfully slow. On a warm day it was also uncomfortably hot. So, after thirty minutes or so, we called it quits and headed for our digs. We had been enjoying a fabulous day, and it seemed a shame to undermine it.

After our daily hunt for supplies we managed to find our digs for the evening and settled in. Red Robins Nest is a small complex of wooden cabins in a pretty, rural location. Basic, but comfortable. Here we enjoyed a simple meal, one or two beers and whiled away the evening chatting and laughing.

The people we had met had universally been warm and friendly. The Republic has an almost continental feel, especially in the small towns and villages. A relaxed and easy-going atmosphere pervades somehow. Even the roads, which we had been led to believe would be in a poor state, were generally in good repair, well signposted and logically laid out. Halfway around our lap and it could not be going better.

Day Five – Classic cars and flying boats

A bit of an easier day on the bikes. However, it was no less enjoyable as we made our way towards Limerick. As ever rather than go the direct route we hugged the coast and followed ‘The Wild Atlantic Way’ in the main.

Once again, our journey was peppered with great sights and historic buildings: Dunguaire Castle being just the first. We had great fun attacking ‘Corkscrew Hill.’ A tight series of switchback bends up the side of the hill, obviously. The view from the top was expansive and impressive.

Dunguaire Castle


On through Lahinch and its lovely cliffs and beach. We stopped off briefly at Spanish Point. So named as in 1588 ships of the infamous Spanish Armanda sheltered here in a storm. Members of the crews that went ashore were executed and buried in a mass grave! Luckily, we received a somewhat warmer welcome!

The sweeping beach at Lahinch

Assuming the pose at Spanish Point

My trusty BMW R1200RS

As is tradition we enjoyed a mid-morning halt for refreshment. Once again Matt resisted the fantastic looking lemon drizzle cake. Andy and I were not so strong. You must admire his bravery!

From Porsches to a mighty Boeing

From here we had a couple of options: We could head around the River Shannon estuary or trim the route by taking the ferry across. We opted for the ferry. It leaves from Killimer and for the princely sum of €12 takes you over the estuary. Dropped off at Tarbet and directly onto the N69 coast road. Joining us on our crossing were a group of Porsche enthusiasts from the Netherlands. All were driving immaculate 1970’s and 80’s 911s. Impressive

Glamorous company

Sister ship to the ferry we were aboard

Yet again the views were lovely. The N69 overlooks a stunning bay. On a sunny day like today a bike is the perfect way to take it in. The pace, once again, was unhurried. Why would you want to rush past this? Then something very odd happened: The back of an old flying boat sticking out the side of a building swung into view! Obviously, we had to stop. Turns out we had stumbled across the ‘Foynes Flying Boat Museum.’

An amazing find

This opportunity could not be missed: We pulled up and headed in to check it out. The aircraft is in a fact a full-size replica of a Boeing 314 Clipper. Similar in size and configuration to the ‘Empire Class’ flying boats made by Short Brothers. In the late 1930’s and through the years of WW2 huge flying boats flew from here across the Atlantic. At one point it was one of the largest international airports in Europe. It closed not long after the war and the existing international airport opened on the other side of the estuary.

That was some landing…

The museum is an interesting distraction. Currently it is undergoing expansion, but we enjoyed checking out the interior of the Boeing 314 replica and the views from the control tower. Foynes can even lay claim to being the home of Irish Coffee! You learn something new every day. If you are in the area, pop in. Entry fee was €5. This is a bargain. Might be worth checking it out once the expansion is complete.

Yankee Clipper and Kidderminster nipper!

Andy found the Boeing 314 easier to handle than his BMW R1200GS

Time to head for our digs. This time we were stopping for a couple of nights as had hit the halfway point of our ‘Lap of Ireland’. The N69 is good road and sweeps through some great countryside. Our accommodation was located near a Forest Park, but initially we rocked up to the wrong cottage. We have form for this…

Adopting a dog!

What was amusing here was just how laid-back people are here in Ireland: Three strangers on 1200cc motorcycles roar into your courtyard and park up. Nobody batted an eyelid. The elderly lady wondered out serenely and chatted away as if she was expecting us. We eventually established we were about a quarter of mile from our proper destination, ‘just after my brother’s cottage’ she said. Like we knew her brother too!

Anyway, we rolled out and quickly found the right place. I was overwhelmed by the heat we had been out in it all day. Not the problem I had been expecting to have in Ireland! The lads popped for provisions while I cooled down. It wasn’t too long before we are eating and enjoying another evening with a few beers and lots of banter. The landlords dog even seemed to adopt us. Unsure of her name, we called her Kerry.

After going past her brother’s cottage we found it ok!

Wee ‘Kerry’

So far, the trip was going brilliantly. Each day we’ve had good riding, amazing views and come across friendly, welcoming locals. The bikes had all run like clockwork too. Spot on.

Day Six – Like being in a fairytale

In a trip that has been rich in fabulous countryside and expansive views it was going to take something special to top what had gone before. Well, we need not have worried. After an initial section on the open and quick N21 we peeled off and headed for ‘The Black Valley’ home to the ‘Gap of Dunloe’ a jewel in crown of County Kerry that separates the wonderfully named MacGillycuddy’s Reeks mountain range from the Purple Mountain group.

We started out from Kate Kearney’s cottage, where there is also an excellent little tearoom called The Coffee Pot. Here, yet again Matt DID NOT, repeat DID NOT, have a huge slice of lemon cheesecake. His strength should serve as an inspiration to us all. Here, just as we mounted our bikes to tackle the gap an elderly gentleman wondered over and just started chatting away to us. A lovely guy, he admired our bikes and seemed impressed by our plans. He even offered to make us a cuppa from his camper. This encounter is yet another example of the warmth and friendliness we met throughout our trip.

One of the highlights of the entire trip

A word of caution here. The road that crosses the gap, whilst metalled and well surfaced, is narrow. It’s only freely open to cyclists, walkers and horse-drawn buggies. Cars and motorcycles can go over but you do need to take great care. As we gently picked our way along the track, we always stopped and turned off our motors for passing buggies. Progress is slow. However, this is a great thing as the valley offers views that are magical. You feel like you are moving through a dreamscape, almost other-worldly.

Dunloe really is that good. We did take pictures obviously, but they utterly fail to convey the spellbinding beauty of this place. It is like time has stood still for generations. To be honest, our presence did almost feel intrusive here. Such was the peaceful and tranquil atmosphere of the place. Our pace was very slow and if you do ride this road, please do the same.

Taken to another world

The track winds up through narrow passes and over babbling brooks. For 30 minutes or so you are whisked away in your head to a world at peace with itself. This is a special place…

The excellent Coffee Pot

The pictures speak for themselves here:

The other side of the valley continued to delight. Rather more than the searing heat. Is this really Ireland? Where is all the rain and cold? I decided to change into normal jeans from my riding gear here. Risky, yes, but I was cooking!!

Chilling out and cooling down

Next up was the Killarney National Park. Once again, we were almost overloaded with views that my humble skills as wordsmith cannot do justice. Expansive lakes, picture perfect valleys that ironically pictures do not entirely convey. Ireland just keeps giving. I was concerned that it might be underwhelming and similar to the UK. In some regard it is, but in so many others the beauty when mixed with the serene atmosphere, makes for an enticing combination.

Assuming the pose again

Ireland’s NC500?

This also meant we did ride some of ‘The Ring of Kerry’. If the Wild Atlantic Way is Ireland’s Route 66 then this is it’s NC500, Scotland’s pride and Joy. The Irish will argue (correctly) that this route became famous first and from the section we did ride, it is very easy to see why. However the air is filled with the gentle ‘thrum’ of turbo-diesel engines straining to pull heavily laden coaches and campervans up hill and down dale. This accompanied by a base line provided by BMW flat twins. Its looks like somebody invited loads of people to a Charlie and Ewan look alike competition and everybody came!

Put more simply, the area is really popular! The downside to this popularity is crowds. God knows what it is like in the peak months?!  However, this doesn’t detract from its beauty in anyway. We checked out the waterfall at Torc. Beautiful but you can tell that many months of dry weather have had their impact on the actual flow down the fall. Had the weather been let’s say more traditionally Irish I think it may have been even more impressive!

The Waterfall at Torc

A full days riding that will live long in my memory. We headed back to our base via the little town of Raithkeale and picked up supplies (ready meals and beer!) at a local supermarket. Incidentally supermarkets seem surprisingly thin on the ground, but there were way more petrol stations than I expected.

Not in my Lifetime!

We parked the bikes up outside the supermarket and a young lad came running over to look at them. His mother appeared and asked he could sit on Andy’s GS. We happily let him aboard. His mother took his picture and then proclaimed very loudly, that was the last time he ever went on ‘one of those things’ while she was alive. Funny. The poor lad looked a mix of little crestfallen and rather embarrassed! Irish mother’s – you’ve got to love them!

Back to the digs with our supplies. More banter and a few cold beers followed. Also our dog collection now expanded to two. Kerry had a friend we christened her Terri. Kerry and Terri!

The rather more timid Terri

In the morning we head east and the final stage of our lap. It has a lot to live up to

Words and pictures: Tony Donnelly

Part One can be found here

A bit more info for you:

A Guide To The Gap of Dunloe: The Walk, Tours + Warnings