Ireland's top rides
The author of ‘Around Ireland on a Bike’ chooses his favourite routes around the country
IT IS SO difficult to pick out just a few favourite regions in Ireland that are food for cyclists. There is so much more.
Cycling allows one to appreciate a country from within. There is no screen between you and your surroundings, and all of your senses are open to changes in views, sounds and smells as you pedal along the loveliest roads. Ireland is a feast for the eye.
Ireland is a country with a relatively dense network of small rural roads, which makes it ideal for cycling. As a cyclist and cartographer, I would tend to choose routes that are slightly less physically demanding, but many roads in Ireland used to be built in the most direct line, ie up and down hills. Of course, this takes energy, but it certainly pays back every bit of effort. As all of your senses are opened, the food you eat when you arrive at your destination or at a stop along your route tastes twice as good. Those lunches in the countryside pub or hotel will be enjoyed all the more.
Our first impressions are always the strongest. I remember the route between Florence Court (near Enniskillen) and Sligo as fascinating, where the clouds from the west were torn apart by the mountains and the rays of the sun shone like a spotlight on the green slopes below, with all of those white dots of sheep. There are no landscapes without the sky above, and here the constant changing pattern of light was fascinating.
Another aspect of this area that struck me was the change of colours in the houses. By crossing the Border, the hundred shades of grey houses in Ulster made room for an abundant use of colours in the republic. With the eye fixed on Ben Bulben, it became easy pedalling downhill, passing the Glencar Falls.
Although many visitors to Ireland would choose Connemara as the most beautiful part, my most inspiring cycling experience was climbing the Ballaghbeama Pass in Kerry. It was the typical Irish mix of sunny spells over the landscape before it all changed into a heavy rain with water coming out of every hole in the rocky ground and a fierce wind almost blowing me off my bike. For a moment, it was like entering Mordor, but the landscape was so intense, I could not help loving it.
And only a few kilometres further along the route, it all changed back again into those beautiful friendly slopes enlightened by sunshine.
Another of my favourite routes is through the wide valley of the Blackwater river around Lismore and Cappoquin. Maybe because the area is protected from northern winds and rain by the Knockmealdown Mountains, it seemed as if extra care had been given to gardens and houses, like a gentle touch of a southern wind. The pedalling was easy going here, without the breathtaking moments you may encounter elsewhere in Ireland when cycling more hilly areas.
The same applies to the area between Bunclody and Glendalough, where the cycling is easy through the valley, with lovely little towns such as Aughrim, Rathdrum and a lush, friendly landscape.
A new signposted route from Westport to Killary Harbour makes it even more accessible for those on two wheels. Here you can cycle on one of the few specially built cycletracks in Ireland (there is another in the Lagan Valley and one in Cork). You pass nearby Croagh Patrick on your way south.
A lovely route is the 42km Greenway from Westport to Achill Sound, which runs, off road, along the old railway route. Although the landscape is certainly not as flat as Holland, it makes all the pedalling worthwhile. At every bend in the road the view changes.
There should be more cycletracks like this built on old railway lines, from Midleton to Youghal, for example. Ireland is too beautiful not to enjoy it on a bike.
Around Ireland On a Bike by Paul Benjaminse is published by The O’Brien Press (€14.99)