To the page for Ireland of the Trento Bike Pages

Cycling the Northwest Coast of Ireland

By and Copyright © of Klaus Offermann
The author is a free lance journalist (text and photos) and can be reached under the following address: Klaus Offermann, Tegernseer Str. 18, D-83607 Holzkirchen, Tel. 0049/8024/1075, Fax 0049/8024/489839, E-Mail:
Klaus Offermann has also a bicycle travel agency and is specialized on guided tours in Upper Bavaria, Tyrolia (Austria), Poland and New Zealand

Cycling in Ireland is a lot of fun, providing you know how to do it right. Preparing the trip well in advance is essential. Ireland - known as the Emerald Isle - has lots of surprises regarding the weather. Sunshine, rain, clouds, drizzle, cold wind - it all happens and changes within a matter of minutes. Being on the bicycle for many hours a day, raingear as well as T-shirts have to be on top of the cyclist luggage to be reached within seconds. Sometimes it is wise to wait for a few minutes under a tree until the shower is over instead of changing clothes.

The wide variety of nature offers all different cycling conditions. You will find endless flat plains as well as hills, mountains and even alpine passes. In order to find the right area you would like to travel through, you should use a good map to prepare the whole trip as well as your daily excursions. Very helpful are the Ordnance Survey Maps with a scale of 1: 126,720 which is _ inch to 1 mile. However, these maps, which are available at bookstores or gas stations in Ireland, are being superseded by a new system in a scale of 1: 50.000. Whenever you can get the old maps, purchase them.

Be careful in scheduling the length of your daily trip. Hills and wind from the front (usually westwind) can give you a hard time and your expected average will drop down rapidly. These facts are important to know in case you have to reach a specific place at night which is why you should avoid too strict a schedule.

We cycled Ireland with our complete camping equipment: tent, air mattress, sleeping bag and gas cooker. Campsites are sometimes rare, especially up North. They are classified in different categories and are usually in very good shape and clean. It is useful to get a directory of campsites before starting the trip. Some new campsites may not be included in the directory. However, any tourist office will assist you. Tourist offices are in all major cities and often also in smaller towns. They have quite a wide variety of informative material, i.e. maps or different directories for almost any purpose.

If you do not like to camp, you have the choice to either stay in a hostel or a Bed & Breakfast place. Sometimes hostels belong to a campsite and the owners allow campers to use the facilities of the hostels. Should the weather be bad, it is very nice to use the kitchen of a hostel. You will find B & B signs all over Ireland, even in the small villages. Prices range from approximately 10 to 15 Irish Pounds and include Irish Breakfast, which is similar to the American breakfast with eggs, toast, sausages and bacon. Black pudding, served also for breakfast, is a specialty of the country. Irish people are very friendly, especially the ones who offer B & B. Usually they welcome you with a sandwich and a pot of tea.

In Ireland you will find a lot of rental stations for bicycles. We recommend to take your own bicycle along, especially if you intend to stay longer and travel a long distance. Supply of bike parts can be a problem, unless you are looking for a wear and tear part. I was in need of a derailer and had trouble to find a bicycle shop that could provide the one I wanted. In spite of the great nature in Ireland and the good chances for cycling, it is not as popular as in Germany. This might be partly due to the strong winds, the change of the weather as well as bad road conditions on smaller roads. In order to survive these smaller roads it is a must to have your tires under full pressure and the luggage on your bicycle very well balanced. Low riders are highly recommended. If you should use a mountain bike it might be worthwile to use one with at least front suspension. Roads in Northern Ireland are a little bit better and since the political situation has become stable, it is no problem to cycle through parts of Northern Ireland.

To prepare your bike for the flight, the airlines require that you take off the pedals and turn your steering bar sideways. Also, you have to deflate your tires completely. It is very wise to pack your bike very carefully. We used mainly air bubble packing foil. If you can, cover your bicycle completely with a few layers of foil. Since we needed our packing material for the return transport, we decided to stay the first night in a B & B where we could deposit our packing material. Naturally, we spent the last night at the same place.

We flew from Munich, Germany within 2 _ hours to Shannon, which is approximately 15 miles east of Limerick. Direct flights from the U.S. to Shannon are also available. Our trip took place in May and we experienced temperatures between - 2° Celsius at night and approximately 23° Celsius during the day. Once again, if you should travel at that time of the year, make sure that you have all kinds of different clothes with you. Should you go camping, a good sleeping bag is essential unless you want to put on several layers of clothes besides using your sleeping bag. Since I did not expect such low temperatures at night, I took a light summer sleeping bag along. There were a few nights I went with sweater, velo jacket and shoes in my sleeping bag. But this was not enough and I was still freezing. I even discovered frost during the night at the outside of my tent and in the grass. But somehow I made it through the night and recovered soon during the next morning with a good cup of tea for breakfast.

Cliffs of Moher From Shannon we cycled up northwest and had our first major stop at the Cliffs of Moher near Doolin. These cliffs are one of the main tourist attractions of the country. They are very steep in an angle of 90° to the sea level. Despite the heavy rain and wind that we had at that time we were very impressed by the dimensions of these rocks that have a height of almost 600 feet.

Our next destination were the Aran Islandīs which can be reached directly by ferry from Doolin. The islands consist of three islands: Inishmore, Inishmaan and Inisheer. We chose to spend two days on the largest island, Inishmore. The ferry from Doolin to Kilronan takes about 1 _ hours and it is no problem to take a bicycle aboard the ship. In the Aran Heritage Centre in Kilronan you will be introduced to the landscape, traditions and culture of the Aran Islands. James Joyce, the famous Irish poet wrote about Inishmore in 1912: The holy island that sleeps like a great shark on the grey water of the Atlantic ocean.

For those who are interested in history, they should visit Dun Angus, an ancient celtic Fort which was built from stones about 2000 years ago. Experts assume that it used to be a theater at that time. Close to Dun Angus there are cliffs, similar to the ones at Moher, but not as high. The harvesting of seaweed was the main industry on Inishmore, nowadays it is fishing. The islanders still speak Irish as their everyday language.

After our stay on Inishmore, we took the ferry to Rossaveal, which is at the southern coast of Connemara. Connemara is a mountain area with the well known Twelve Pins which are up to 2300 feet high. In spite of the mountains, cycling in this area is easy and a lot of fun. The roads are not very steep and usually between the mountains. Also, this area is sheltered from the wind by the mountains. Connemara is a must for all cyclists because of the beauty of the nature. If you use side roads you will encounter very quiet areas where you can cycle for miles and miles without crossing a town or village. Make sure that you take enough drinking water and some food along. Connemara does not offer as many campsites as other parts of the country. However, camping in the woods or someplace else is no problem as long as you donīt bother anybody or damage harm nature. We set up our tent close to Lough Inagh where we found a beautiful spot with a little river that provided us with water for cooking and washing. Worthwile is also a little trip to Lough Fee, northeast of Lough Inagh. Connemara is also a highlight for photographers who should not forget to take plenty of filmrolls along.

Leaving Connemara north via Louisburgh we had a beautiful view of Croagh Patrick (2510 feet), which is considered a holy mountain and visited by many pilgrims who climb up the mountain barefoot to pray in the little chapel on the summit. After passing Westport and Castlebar we reached Ballina, a mid- sized town at the River Moy with a charming flair of all kinds of shops, banks, places to eat and old fashioned pubs. Having a small downtown area, the town is easy to walk while leaving the bicycles somewhere locked.

Shortly after Ballina, we reached Iniscrone at Killala Bay at the Atlantic Ocean. The coastal road lead us, always having a wonderful view of the sea, to Easky and Beltra. In order to visit Sligo, we decided to camp on the campsite in Strandhill, only a few miles away from Sligo. This ideal situated place offered us a mountain view as well as a nice view of the beach. The local pub The Venue is a meeting point for young and old with a lively atmosphere. After 10.30 pm it really got crowded and everybody was in a good mood. Sligo offers many historic and cultural places to visit. In order to decide what to see and where to go, we recommend to get the necessary information at the Sligo tourist office.

From Sligo we cycled to Donegal, which is also a nice little town with its own flair and worth a visit. We encountered strong westwinds on our way west along the southern coast of Donegal Bay and spent a night at a campsite a few miles west of Killybeg. We would not recommend this campsite because the facilities were in a terrible condition and the price was much too high.

The following day was a highlight of our trip since we cycled Glengesh Pass after passing Carrick. On our way to Carrick it was quite steep but then we could roll downhill again. From Carrick it takes approximately 10 miles uphill to the pass. The total altitude to climb was only 1000 feet but strong winds, some rain and our heavy luggage gave us a hard time. However, the weather improved on top of the mountain and the climbing paid off by rolling downhill to Ardara.

In Ardara we met a young couple from Munich. They were touring the country with a tandem and also with their camping equipment. We cycled together for a while and met again in the evening on the campsite in Dunglow. After dinner we went to a local pub and shared our experiences of cycling through Ireland.

Ruin of an old church at the foot of Mount Errigal   Ruin of an old church at the foot of Mount Errigal
Ruin of an old church at the foot of Mount Errigal

Our next stop was Dunlewy at the foot of Mount Errigal (2466 feet). Mount Errigal and the surrounding area is also a tourist attraction but not very many tourists will be there at that time of the year. The Dunlewy Heritage Center is the first place one should visit in order to get familiar with the culture, tradition and customs of that area of the country. As in all Visitors Centerīs all kinds of helpful informations are available. Unfortunately, there is no campsite in the area. However, the friendly people at the center advised us about a place where we could camp without bothering anybody.

The following day we hiked up to the summit of Mount Errigal which took us only one hour and was real easy since we did not need any hiking equipment, not even hiking boots. The view on the top of the mountain was breathtaking as the weather was very good.

View from the top of Mount Errigal
View from the top of Mount Errigal

During the next day we reached our most northern point of the trip, Carrigart, from where we turned south to Milford for an overnight stay in a B & B. From Milford we cycled through Letterkenny, a bigger town which we just used for a coffee break. The final destination for that day was Enniskillen in Northern Ireland. The so called Green border to Northern Ireland between Castlefinn and Castlederry is hard to locate. There is only a sign for motorists that they have to have their vehicle insured which is, of course, not of interest to us.

Enniskillen is a big city where you can get almost anything. After having tried to get the derailer in many other cities before, I was finally lucky in Enniskillen to receive the part I wanted in a bicycle shop. We used the time during the bicycle repair for a short sightseeing walk through the city.

Can you believe that we experienced a hail shower on May 12 in the early morning in Northern Ireland? It happened to us while we were in a cafe in Enniskillen! But this was not our last hail shower during that trip. It happened a few more times a couple of days later. After the repair of the bicycle we left Enniskillen and cycled towards the Irish border again. After crossing the border we got into the Iron Mountains with quite some climbing parts, similar to the ones at Glengesh Pass, which led us close to the spring of the Shannon.

Within the next few days we very much enjoyed cycling almost always downhill along Lough Allen via Drumshanbo, Carrick on Shannon, Lanesborough and Ballymahoon to Ballykeeran. Ballykeeran is a very small village a few miles north of Athlone with a very nice and well-kept campsite.

In Athlone we visited the historic castle, the old part of the town as well as a few churches. We spent two nights at the local pub Dog and Duck in Ballykeeran, where we were entertained by different bands with Irish folk and rock songs as well as contemporary rock music.

Restaurant in Galway
Restaurant in Galway

Galway was our next destination. This is a city where one could stay for many days since there is a lot to see. Approaching the city, we were already fascinated by the great view of the city at scenic Galway Bay. There are a few campsites west of the city at the northern shore of Galway Bay. We took the bus to get into the city for sightseeing. The downtown area is rather small and one store is next to the other. You will also find a shopping mall in the center of the city as well as all kinds of restaurants, even ethnic restaurants. We stopped for a coffee break at the Cafe du journal in Quay Street. This place offers 16 different flavours of coffee to drink there as well as to purchase and take home. Major newspapers are at hand while relaxing over a good cup of coffee or tea. The pub Paddy won an award in 1990 and 1994 and is also worth a visit.

The last highlight of our cycling trip through Ireland was the crossing of the Burren. The center of the Burren is the area between Ballyvaghan and Corrofin, approcximately 10 - 15 miles east of Doolin and the Cliffs of Moher. These limestone mountains are up to 1100 feet high, but the roads only lead to an altitude of about 700 feet. You will find several megalithic tombs in this area. We cycled from Galway through Kinvara, a scenic little village at the southern shore of Galway Bay to Ballyvaghan. On our way to Corrofin we visited Ailwee Cave. This large cave was discovered by a local farmer by coincidence when he was looking for his dog that was chasing an animal in a hole in the ground. This was in 1940 but the caves were not opened to the public until 1976. The guided tour takes about 35 minutes. We liked the cycle stands were we could lock our bicycles and take the luggage off our bicycles to leave it in a luggage locker. After the visit of the Ailwee caves we reached the highest parts of the Burren and had to do some alpine climbing with our bicycles. Afterwards we had a long distance of downhill rolling to Corrofin.

Ruins of monastery Kilmacduagh
Ruins of monastery Kilmacduagh

Since we decided to stay in Corrofin for two days, we did a day trip on the following day. The tour led us to Portumna at the northeastern end of Lough Derg. After cycling along the edge of the Burren and Lake Bully, we reached the ruin of the former monastery Kilmacduagh. The monastery has been founded in the seventh century by St. Colman Mac Duach. Around 1200 it became a Bishopīs See. From 1327 till 1358 it was the Bishpric of Tuam. The ruins of the cathedral, the three churches and the housing area of the former Abbey can still be seen.

The last city we visited on our trip was Limerick. Unfortunately, King Johnīs Castle was closed at the time we were there. However, the city has much more to offer than the castle. The churches are quite interesting and many restaurants and cafes offer a wide variety of food. We preferred scones, muffins, donuts and cake, not only in Limerick.

Pub in Limerick
Pub in Limerick