Few countries offer as many striking vistas per mile as coastal Ireland.
In early May I set out on an eight-day journey in a rental car around the outer edges of the Emerald Isle. My mission: to capture photos of the best of the four coasts.
I started on the western side, in Kilkee, worked my way north to the Antrim coast, followed the east coast down to Wicklow, then headed south to Youghal and Kinsale. The trip took me through both Ireland and Northern Ireland, but there were no border crossings or passport checks.
The roads were narrow and fast, the shoulders often improvised and dangerous for quick photos, but the weather was picture perfect. Like author Tom Coyne, who walked much the same route for his 2009 book “A Course Called Ireland,” I avoided the major cities but found time to listen to great music in the towns of Doolin and Westport.
Each stop included a day hike — the cliffs beyond the crescent-shaped beach at Kilkee, the Cliffs of Moher near Doolin, the half-summit up Croagh Patrick outside Westport, the deceptively sedate sheep meadows above Giant’s Causeway in Bushmills, and a two-hour hike up Great Sugar Loaf Mountain north of Wicklow.
The south offered historic walks through the old walled city of Youghal, where colorful fishing boats rested on their hulls at low tide; and Kinsale, a tourist-ready city of sailboats, pubs and great seafood restaurants. The trip finished on a high note: a golf-cart tour of the Old Head links at dusk, where ancient stone structures and a working lighthouse are perched high on harrowing cliffs above a roaring sea
The picturesque town of Youghal remains a small-craft fishing port, where boats crowd streetside docks and rest on their hulls at low tide. Steeped in medieval history, Youghal's attractions are easily walked and always worth the effort, even up stone steps beside its ancient wall.
The River Carrowbeg runs through the center of Westport, where visitors traverse old stone bridges to get to the main mall. Music is always within earshot — in the pubs and even in the streets.
Cliffs of Moher
Miles of hiking abound along the Cliffs of Moher near Doolin. The breathtaking views hundreds of feet above the Atlantic are a high point along the Wild Atlantic Way, and locals offer day-walk tours for a small fee (doolincliffwalk.com).
Colorful shops, pubs and restaurants dot the southern town of Kinsale. Situated at a sailing and fishing port along the River Bandon, Kinsale has a decidedly relaxed pace that sets it apart from Ireland's working-class towns.
Visitors roam freely up and down the hexagonal basalt structures at the Giant's Causeway in Bushmills, along the Antrim Coast of Northern Ireland. Guards keep visitors from risking a fall from the highest points.
Inisheer, Aran Islands
The sun sets over Inisheer, the nearest of the Aran Islands, from the Doolin ferry pier on the west coast. Ferries travel to the three islands daily, but make sure to get there on time. I missed a longtime dream of visiting the islands by arriving several minutes after the 2 p.m. departure.
The steep, rocky hike up Croagh Patrick is often shared with local sheep. The 2,507-foot mountain, the site of historic and modern-day pilgrimages, is located about 30 minutes outside Westport.
The brief but harrowing walk across the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge puts visitors on two shaky planks suspended nearly 100 feet above the sea between the mainland and the tiny fishing island of Carrick-a-Rede. It is located near Ballintoy in County Antrim, Northern Ireland.
Bird life abounds in Ireland, and some species are considerably less skittish than others. This great blue heron was part of a small flock that nests in the trees above Viking Wharf in Kinsale and gets its meals from fishing boats.
Old Head Golf Course
A working lighthouse sits at the southern tip of the golf course at Old Head in Kinsale, County Cork, where stunning cliff views are par for the course and ancient stone structures dot the ever-green landscape.