IN HONOUR OF TURNING 30, I drove all over Ireland. I’d never been — an embarrassing fact for someone with the last name Mulligan — but I did know there was so much to see that the only way to see it all was to hit the road. As it turns out, that was the best decision I could have made. Check out why.

Author’s note: A special thanks to Bunk Campers and Discover Ireland for sponsoring parts of this trip!

1

It’s an island

My husband and I like to drive, but we prefer it when we don’t have so much ground to cover that we barely have a chance to stop. Ireland was a perfect fit for our next road trip, because we could see the whole thing in three easy weeks, including lots of stops. Top (North Ireland) to bottom is about 7 hours, and east to west is as little as 2.5. We wanted to drive the Wild Atlantic Way, and thus took longer, smaller roads — and still covered a ton of ground in three weeks. For some, a good road trip means crossing a lot of borders — but I’d argue limiting your space lets you see more, and see it well. In this shot, we're high above the ocean en route to the Slieve League Cliffs, County Donegal.

2

Islands have coastlines

I don’t know about you but I’d rather carve along some cliffs and coastlines than through a valley. Luckily, Ireland has both, but it’s got coastline in spades. The Wild Atlantic Way starts in the northern part of Donegal (and on the North Ireland side, it’s still there, it’s just called the Coastal Causeway) and goes 2,500 km along smaller roads all the way to County Cork. This is O'Brien's Tower in County Clare.

3

The drives are winding, hilly, and scenic

Unlike some places I’ve been where the highways plow straight along, the smaller roads in Ireland weave and bob, wind and turn, and include valleys, hills, waterfalls, farmland, peaks, and cliffs. It was one of the more entertaining drives we’ve ever done, watching beautiful landscapes unfold over each horizon and rhythmically carve along through them. Above: Heading south on the R335 between Cregganbaun and Aasleagh, County Mayo, fog lingers up ahead.

4

Because towns like this are real

Yup, this is a real place. How could you not want to pull up to towns like this and not just stay forever? Above: Kinsale, County Cork — the southern end of the Wild Atlantic Way.

5

Because the sheep will cheer you along

You’re never alone when driving in Ireland — sheep, sheep, and more sheep are there to look up and watch you pass. I can attest that after three weeks of driving, I still tapped my husband’s arm and said “Sheep!” These guys were just outside Ballycroy National Park, County Mayo.

6

All the sunsets

Especially for those of us on the Wild Atlantic Way along the west coast. Take this route and you’ll be treated to a light show every night along the way. This image is of Achill Sound at sunset (County Mayo)

7

Because you can sleep in a castle

Like this one, Kilronan Castle, just 45 minutes inland from Sligo in County Roscommon. Whether it’s an en route splurge, or a visit to the day spa, or just to walk around a real life castle, it’s worth the stop. And yes, we stopped in even though we had a campervan, just to have the experience.

8

Or explore the seemingly endless ruins

There’s megalithic stone formations just next to the road, castles crumbling into fields or perched on cliffs, and random walls and forts and towers remain scattered around the country. This one is Dunluce Castle outside Portrush, Northern Ireland.

9

Surfing

Surfing road trips are usually stereotyped as places like Costa Rica or California, but more dramatic surf experiences await on Ireland’s west coast. The Wild Atlantic Way is dotted with surf spots that fire off year round, and best of all, you can cosy up in an Irish pub after. Here, a SUP bboarder makes his way out to the waves in the early morning, just outside of Sligo, while we enjoy our morning coffees after having camped out at (and enjoyed a number of pints in!) Beach Bar Sligo.

10

Beautifully eerie forests

You almost feel the legends when you step out of your car. There’s a mystery to the Irish land that is impossible to put your finger on. Possibly because you’re near the homes or haunts of dead poets whose words linger in your mind, or flashes of kings and wars and glory and pride. Whatever it is for you, there’s something in the air here, and these woods have stories to share. This was the lush road leading into the Ring of Kerry, County Kerry.

11

Traffic jams

The good kind, taken in County Cork.

12

Giant’s Causeway

Located in Northern Ireland, this geological formation is worth the trip. The hexagonal basalt columns are larger than your feet, of all different heights and shades of grey. I have to say, I’ve seen a lot, and this is one of the top 5 coolest things I’ve ever seen in my life. If you go, spend the whole day. Don’t rush it. Just sit and take it all in.

13

The Cliffs of Moher

The iconic Cliffs of Moher are about an hour south of Galway, in County Clare. They truly are massive; the earth just drops straight into the ocean. In many parts there are no rails, leaving your stomach doing flip flops. Sadly there’s a charge to park, but it’s still worthwhile. Stay for sunset.

14

There’s enough camping for everyone

Campgrounds are ample and well maintained. There are ones you can reserve online, but also smaller family-run joints that might need a bit of googling to discover. You can camp in fields, next to beaches, surf camp, pubs right on the ocean, lakeside, in valleys, on working farms, behind hotels, and many more options. We camped at Boortree south of Donegal Town, and Clifden Eco Camp in Connemara outside of Galway.

15

The pubs

Needless to say, Irish Pubs are the greatest of all pubs. We did this road trip in the off-season and thus got to crawl into a snug (the term for a private booth) at the end of each day driving, often with a piping hot coal fire, live music, and chatty locals eager to hear why we were passing through. We liked the pubs so much, many nights we camped out in their parking lots over formal camping grounds or rural roads. This program is called Safe Nights Ireland — and for a small fee you can park up at a pub and use the facilities. More often than not, if we went in and had a few pints, owners were more than happy to let us camp out for free (this may have been due to the off season as well). You know what’s great? When your stumble home is just a few feet. This was a classic pub in Clonakilty, County Cork.

16

The people in those pubs

While the atmosphere of the pubs is almost addictive, the people you meet inside them are not easily forgotten. The open road can get a bit lonely, but not in Ireland. Each night locals would be asking about us, our trip, wanting to know where we were headed and offering up countless insights and advice for what lay ahead. Without a friendly tip we picked up in Sligo, we wouldn’t have known about Matt Malone’s pub in Westport or the epic live music that goes down there (see next image). And when someone gave us a tip to visit De Barras in Clonakilty, we wouldn’t have met Ray Blackwell, the manager pictured here, and learned all about the long and interesting history of this iconic pub, recently voted (again) as one of the best pubs in all of Ireland.

17

… And the music In those pub

You’re probably thinking that I spent a suspicious amount of time in pubs for something classified as a “road trip,” but sometimes a long day in a car, or even so many days solo in the great outdoors, and you just crave the community found in pubs. In Ireland, part of life is the pub. The pub was a great place to grab lunch, a great place to meet people, there was always one in walking distance, every town had one (actually, the smallest town we saw still had two!), and the only place to end a long day. Top it all off with traditional Irish music, like in the above image. This night we ended up at Matt Malone’s — owned by one of the members of The Chieftains — of the same name — in Westport, County Mayo, taking in some of the most thumping Irish music my little heart had ever heard.

18

Okay, yes, there is some rain

But rain is all the more reason to go cosy up in a pub! Or, if you’re like us in a campervan, you can use it as a reason to watch a movie, make a hot lunch, and take a nap in your bed. It’s also why the country remains such a lush green even through winter. This was some sun after the rain in County Cork.

19

And sometimes storms

Substantially more fun that some rain is a good, solid storm. Because of Ireland’s place in the world, storms coming rolling in with an immense force. From inside our cosy campervan, we got to enjoy nature put on a show while doing things like baking nachos in our oven and using the downtime to take a hot shower. All part of the reason I’m completely addicted to campervans… but I digress. This particular storm rolled in while we were driving down the coast of County Mayo.

20

But after that, there are rainbows

It’s Ireland — after the rain comes a rainbow. It just doesn’t get old. This one made an appearance on a rather foggy day in the Ring of Kerry.

21

And after the sun goes down, stars

Some parts of Ireland, like the Ring of Kerry, are recognized as some of the darkest, least polluted skies on Earth. If you fancy a stargaze, just look up.

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