Hidden gems and historic tales of wild Atlantic ways
ON THE WILD ATLANTIC WAY: PETER MURTAGHstays off the beaten track but still bumps into Dutch friends
THE ROAD west from Clonakilty, an early stretch of the Wild Atlantic Way being developed by Fáilte Ireland, starts well. The verges on either side of the road out of the town are grassy and laden with ferns; the banks full of foxgloves, alexander and cow parsley – all in bloom.
Farmers are gathering in an early cut of silage and hay; the air is filled with the aroma of fresh-cut grass. The sun is shining, the wind is light . . . this is heaven in west Cork.
But it is only when you take the odd left turn, a random impulse to which the holidaymaker should succumb, that you experience the full magic and beauty of the place.
But before all that it’s breakfast in An Súgán, a bar, restaurant and guesthouse run by Brenda and Kevin O’Crowley and their daughter, Sinéad ( ansugan.com).
If the welcome and service here at the start of the Wild Atlantic Way are replicated throughout, tourism in Ireland has little to be worried about.
The guesthouse is named Strand House, a former dairy that was the birthplace of Mary Jane Irwin, “poetess, Fenian and wife of O’Donovan Rossa” as the plaque on the front wall proclaims it (Clonakilty is seriously into its history and very proud of its association with Michael Collins).
The building adjoining the former dairy was for the cows and now it has been tastefully converted by the O’Crowleys into apartments.
Next to that, on the corner, is the bar, An Súgán, itself. “It’s €30 bed and breakfast,” said Asia when I arrived on Tuesday night.
“Is that A-S-H-A,” I asked, taking notes. “No,” she said. “It’s Asia like the country but it sounds like Asha.”
Asia is from Poland, near Krakow, and she and her colleague Kasia (pronounced the same way just preceded by a K), who comes from northern Poland, are front-of-house in the restaurant for the night.
They have worked for the O’Crowleys for years and, with cheerful efficiency and speed, they serve more than 20 diners in about an hour and a half.
The O’Crowleys love their business and are excited at the prospect of the Wild Atlantic Way and what it might bring to the town.
“I did the Ocean Road in Australia when I was there for the Rugby World Cup in 2003,” said Sinéad. “It really got you to see the smaller towns and meet real Australians. Here, so many people come to Cork or Shannon and head straight to Killarney, or wherever, missing the small towns.”
After breakfast (bacon, eggs and black pudding – what else in Clonakilty?) I leave Brenda (who never quite lost that Elephant Castle, London, accent but, after over 30 years in Clon, wouldn’t dream of going back) and head west.
If the N71 is to be the spine of the Wild Atlantic Way in these parts, then spurs and loops aplenty will be necessary to lure visitors to the hidden gems and delay that headlong rush to Killarney.