Chasing Waves on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way


Ireland, from its ruins and cliffs to its sky above, is a spellbinding interplay of lightness and dark, like the Irish story itself. In the village of Ballyshannon in County Donegal an inconspicuous plaque on an old wall in a sun-splashed flowery churchyard marks the burial ground for hundreds who died of disease and starvation during the Irish potato famine in the 1800s. The vestiges of British rule and Irish nobles, forts and castles, dot the landscape, along with stone dolmens, built thousands of years ago, but for what purpose and how remains a mystery.

We’d obtained a booklet of campsites, places with electric and water hookups, and toilets. But as it turned out we camped on remote headlands and beaches every night, for free and almost always alone. Much of western Ireland remains remarkably wild and, except for the height of summer, with a little effort you can find blessed solitude.

The road north winds through Galway and Mayo, around remote Achill and Bel Mullet Islands, which are connected to the mainland. We found mountains to hike and cliff-top perches for picnics. We swam every day despite the chilly weather, staying in as long as we could bear it, the water going from tropical to arctic blue as the sun moved in and out of the clouds.

We learned to ignore the weather forecasts. One day in The Irish Times: “A cloudy start with some heavy rain which will become more showery in the afternoon.” It was sunny that day.

At Carna, in a faraway corner of Connemara, the cashier at the country market asked if we knew Marty Walsh, the mayor of Boston. You get this often in rural Ireland, the questions about Irish Americans and our two nations’ deeply connected histories, asked endearingly, as if we are all related.

“Marty Walsh’s parents were born nearby,” she said. “He came to visit recently, hundreds turned out, more than they had for Trump.”

The president came up frequently, too, as he owns a hotel and golf course in Doonbeg, County Clare, directly on a popular surf beach. Mr. Trump’s organization’s plan for a sea wall there to protect the golf course from erosion has prompted fierce opposition and protests among locals and surfers — “Trump’s other wall,” local media has taken to calling it.

By Biddle Duke

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