Great Irish drives for staycationers, covering every corner of the island

Bob Montgomery revisits favourites from his Great Roads series in The Irish Times

The Healy Pass in Cork/Kerry

The Healy Pass in Cork/Kerry

 

With Covid-19 forcing most people to consider a staycation, The Irish Times offers a guide to some of the greatest drives in Ireland, first explored by Bob Montgomery in his Great Roads series, which started in the Motors section 15 years ago. Here, Bob reflects on the reasons he chose those routes and offers 13 of his favourite drives from the series, covering every corner of the island. So you needn’t travel too far from home – or even by car – to appreciate the beauty on view, while Bob puts a little historic context to the places on the way, alerting you to features you may have passed without noticing in the past

At the beginning of March 2005, the first article in a new series appeared in the Motors section of The Irish Times. The series was titled Great Roads, and in it I set out to discover some out-of-the-way and some not-so-out-of-the-way roads across the Irish landscape that would surprise and delight even the most discerning motorist. Often, the articles told a story of the history associated with the road. The series ran for seven years, and also resulted in a book and an app containing some of the best drives I discovered.

It’s not just motorists who have enjoyed the routes: cyclists, motorcyclists and even walkers have told me how much they have enjoyed using them to discover new places 

The series also attracted a loyal following and even today, some 15 years after the series began, readers tell me how they collected the articles, and of their own personal favourites from the roads explored. And it’s not just motorists who have enjoyed them: cyclists, motorcyclists and even walkers have told me how much they have enjoyed using them to discover new places in Ireland.

And maybe that was the key to the success of the series, for it allowed the reader to view the places they already knew, or thought they knew, with new eyes, and to discover places they had never imagined existed. The series was all about opening our eyes to the beauty and variety that exists all around us in Ireland.

It also made much of the incredible variety of the Irish landscape. I’ve also explored the roads of Scotland with its wonderful landscapes but there is a major difference between Scottish landscapes and the landscapes of Ireland. In Scotland one will often travel a considerable distance before the landscape changes, while here in Ireland it seems one only has to drive a short distance before entering another world. Think of the Wicklow Mountains and the counties that surround them and you’ll know what I mean.

Bob Montgomery exploring Irish roads in his Lotus Elise as part of the Great Roads series.

Of course, in the 15 years since the series first appeared, the world we know has changed, and never more than in this current year. As we awake from the semi-slumber of the recent restrictions, it’s clear that foreign travel will never be quite the same again, and is not likely to return in any meaningful way in the foreseeable future. So the time is ripe to re-examine some of the places and roads that made The Irish Times motoring series Great Roads so memorable.

The beauty of them is that wherever you live on this island there will be several of the featured roads in your locale, so no long-distance motoring is required. All of the articles are available from the Irish Times archive and I’ve included a list of some of my personal favourites.

A good example of what to expect is the seemingly nondescript road from Ballyboughal, Co Dublin to Drogheda, Co Louth. This is actually the original North Road and climbs after the village of Naul to give a surprising vista over the coast towards Balbriggan. But the beauty for me is the ancient landscape that reveals itself as this road twists and turns and rises and falls as it makes its way towards what was then the only bridge across the River Boyne at Drogheda. Nestled in sheltered places amongst the hills along the way are the places where dwellings were built two or three hundred years ago.

The road now ends at impressive Millmount in Drogheda, built on the site of a 12th-century Norman motte, and a set of steps now leads down to the bridge where once the road led into Drogheda. It’s a real pleasure not just to drive this road with fresh eyes but to walk sections of it enjoying the feeling of passing through a landscape in which the features of several hundred years ago can still be discerned.

The Tim Healy Pass in Cork/Kerry
The Tim Healy Pass in Cork/Kerry

Bob Montgomery’s 13 great Irish drives

Glendine Gap
A hitherto unknown road leads into a valley of unparallelled views and stunning scenery.

Ballyboughal to Drogheda
Some roads are meant to be driven, shall we say, briskly; others are born to be meandered.

Slieve Gullion
A road that winds through a neglected beauty of the North.

Loughcrew to Fore
A tour through the mystery of the Hill of the Witch and on to the anchorite cell at Fore.

The Ballaghnabeama Gap
Don’t miss out on one of the most wonderful places I have discovered anywhere in Ireland.

Poulaphouca
Haunting tales of submerged villages and steam trams in the Ghost’s Hole.

Kilgarvan to Coomhola Bridge (Shehy Mountains) Part 1 and Part 2
A rugged drive among barren hills.

Slieve Croob
Take a trip around Castlewellan, and you’ll be surprised at the variety of landscapes.

Louisburg to Leenaun
It would be hard to imagine a more perfect drive through spectacular Irish landscape.

Glenariff Drive
Through the glens to Antrim’s queen.

Black Head
The Burren region is a spectacular range of mountains and limestone panoramas.

Thomastown to St Mullins
Regard this journey as a Sunday drive for it links together some of Ireland’s prettiest villages as it zigzags around the dominant features of this landscape – the Rivers Nore and Barrow, two of the “Three Sisters”.

Malin Head
On Ireland’s most northerly tip, Malin Head, there lies a road of many contrasts that brings you through the Inishowen Peninsula.

These articles ran in The Irish Times between 2005 and 2009. Information was correct at the time of publication

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