Day One of our Amazing Race through Ireland’s Southwest Coast has us waking up in Waterford and on the move.
Today was a busy productive day, we managed to hit a bunch of sites on a lovely day for a drive through Ireland. We left our hotel room at about 9am for a quick visit in the town of Waterford, just a few minutes drive from our hotel. First stop was the Waterford Crystal factory where we quickly visited the shop, deciding we didn’t have enough time for the tour we grabbed a coffee, a breakfast bun and headed out onto the highway.
Our mission was the Hook Head lighthouse, the oldest, still working lighthouse in Ireland and thought to be in the world! We got a little lost on route as it wasn’t in the GPS and stopped at a small coastal town to ask for directions at the post office. They directed us onto a small ferry to cross the bay and onto a coastal route to the lighthouse beginning our day’s adventure. We stopped by a ruined castle, a manor house said to be the most haunted in Ireland and continued on some twisty, windy roads to find ourselves at the lighthouse. The lighthouse is over 800 years old made of stone walls over 4 meters thick and incredibly the original structure is still fully intact and functioning today, now that’s built to last! The wind was blowing hard and the seas quite turbulent, we took our photos and off to the next stop- The Dunmore Cave.
Somehow we missed a turn and found ourselves on a narrow, single track road through some very rural areas. Getting lost was awesome as we got to see some of the most idyllic country scenery you’d image in a postcard from the emerald isle. The roads were a bit tense, fun to drive, long as no one was coming towards us as we drove the leaf covered donkey trails, snaking our way around sharp turns under a canopy of trees. Thank god for GPS, we’d be lost with her and she got us back onto the main road and to our next destination-the caves of Dunmore.
After a quick orientation video we headed down 355 steps into the caves with a tour guide that educated us on the geological history as well as the human history of this subterranean world. The caves have been visited by man for many centuries and were first mentioned in the 9th century Irish Triads, told to be visited by the Vikings who massacred a local tribe at the cave in 928 AD. Coins, jewelry, cloth and human remains were excavated here telling the stories of what took place here over 1000 years ago. Back at the car it was now late in the afternoon, we whipped up some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and drove to the town of Kilkenny.
Kilkenny is Irelands mediaeval town in the southeast and has many buildings, shops, pubs and side streets to explore. It has a beautiful castle and grounds you can visit that was built by the Normans in 1195. The town is anchored by many churches and monasteries which can be explored, one of them the impressive St. Canice’s Cathedral and the Black Abbey Dominican priory dating back to the 13th century. We arrived late in the day so we just ran by both to take some photos, grab dinner to go and headed back to Waterford before dark. We wished we had planned to spend one of our nights in Kilkenny as it had a lot of charm and we could have easily spent a day here visiting the sites and enjoying the town. I preferred its ambience and depth of mediaeval buildings over Waterford and would have liked to have spent at least a day.
On day 2 of our Waterford sojourn we got up early and drove into the cities medieval center with plans for a quick tour of the museums and historical walk. As with most of the sites there is an entrance fee and for the sake of our travel budget we had to pick and choose, so we decided to move on. We did do a short walk through town which was nice, grabbed some breakfast and hit the road again.
We were off to drive the Copper Coast route which took us into the early afternoon driving from Dunmore to Tramore and ending at Dungarvan. It was a scenic drive through a number of coastal towns, mostly on double and some single track roads with peak a boo views of the ocean and shorelines. By the afternoon we were headed up the Knockmealdown Mountains and the scenery continued to change every few miles. Another beautiful town we stopped at was Lismore with its fairy tale castle perched above the river and bridge as you enter the town, it closes late September for touring so we took some photos and backtracked a short distance to Cappoquin where we headed up the hill to visit the Mount Melleray Abbey. The Abbey was open in the morning for sightseers but closed from 12-3 so we had to photo bomb and move on once again. On the way down the mountain we stopped at the Melleray Grotto, an ambient hillside place of worship were claims of miraculous apparitions from the Virgin Mary has made it a famous pilgrimage stop. Despite drinking from the stream of holy water Mary didn’t decide to say hi to us and we left without a miracle but it was a poignant stop.
From here we made our way onto another scenic route called The Vee, an astonishingly beautiful drive in the Knockmealdown mountains, its namesake from a V hairpin turn on the Sugar Loaf mountain. The scenery is ever changing with many panoramic views through the pass as you rise 2000 feet above sea level and back. At about 3pm we hit the town of Mallow and made a quick stop to grab some lunch as we were starved and back onto the freeway to make our way to our next 2 day base in Killarney. Wow, it was a long day of driving but we got to see some quintessentially Irish countryside!
Tomorrow the amazing race continues with the famous ‘Ring of Kerry’ road trip. Here’s a short video of our tour and link to the photos- Waterford-Hook Head-Kilkenny or The Copper Coast Train and The Vee