Kilchrohane – Caha Pass – Milltown

By the afternoon we had followed the coast road back out towards the Atlantic, cycling through Ahakista and passing the stone square towers that dot the coast here. We reach Kilchrohane by 3ish where we had made plans to visit Eleanor – a distant relative of Paddy’s dad who still resides in the house that Paddy’s grandmother was born and grew up. Paddy’s dad has fond memories of summer holiday spent in Kilrohane so we were both keen to visit the house and surrounding area. 

Eleanor was waiting with her sister and niece for us to arrive and had prepared an amazing array of cakes and scones to have with our tea – it was great to meet them and hear more about the family and the house. After feasting on all the delicious baked goodies and a quick tour of the bike we said our goodbyes and set off to find a camping spot along the coast. We didn’t need to go far – finding a small track to the left of the main road which led us down to a shingle beach on the pretty inlet south of Khilchrohane itself. We tried to make friends with the aloof alpacas before setting up the tent. 


The next morning we set off early and not having time to cycle the full circumference of the long peninsular we head inland towards the steep mountain road known locally as ‘The Goats’ Pass’. Tough but short lived we manage to reach the top and stand a while enjoying the panoramic views while Paddy tells me tales of Fin McCool the giant and his mystical dog… Down we go to the other side and within two hours we have reached the bustling market town of Bantry where a food and craft market is in full swing with musicians playing in the streets and car boot stalls set up all along one side of the square. 

After Bantry we had our first major climb to look forward to which would see us cross into Kerry over the Caha Pass – the road which twists and turns up through the green craggy mountains of the Beara peninsula.

The rain stayed away for the climb for which we were grateful and we enjoyed gaining some height and passing through the woodlands to the craggy tops above. Yellow and green flags are displayed outside almost every house. These are the chequered colours of Kerry’s Famous Gaelic football team. We also saw a sign for an opportunity offered for tourists to adopt a sheep (?!) and this prompted Paddy to explain the other well known Kerry talent – their ingenuity and lengths taken when it comes to fleecing American tourists… (excuse the pun!)

We cycled through the famed tunnels at the top of the pass and soon reach Kenmare which marks the ‘ring of Kerry’ the most trodden tourist route in Ireland. This famous loop will have to wait for another year as we had no plans to cycle it, instead wanting to reach the west coast in this last week. From here we have another 10km climb to Molls gap – which sees us reach the famed Kilarney lakes. By now the weather has rolled in and we look out on a misty landscape below. Caraun Toohil – tallest mountain in Ireland is here too.

We contemplate whether the weather at the bottom will be any better but with a stunning view at Ladies View overlooking down towards Mc Gillicuddy reeks (mountain range) we decide to make a very gnarled, twisted old oak tree our home for dinner and we can decide about camping … It’s overhanging mossy branches provide a pretty good umbrella from the misty rain And it’s not until the proper rain really arrives that we start to regret not putting the tent up straight away. We are now forced to erect it in full wet weather which is never fun. In the tent Paddy delves into Irish folklore once again with more stories involving Fiin McCool such as the Salmon of Knowledge tale.

The old oak sheltered us well all night but we woke to more rain and decided to pack up and reach lower ground before attempting breakfast. 

Mysterious Killarney Lakes
Ye olde oak tree
Too wet to come out!
Cereal on the banks of the lake – rainbow

Before long we had reached Mill town – where P’s grandfather, the original Paddy Cronin, was born. We set up a mini camp on a big grassy park section of the Main Street and used the time to dry our very damp tent. 

While Paddy was cooking a full fry up I went to get water and unfortunately was met by a very unfriendly pub owner who proceeded to passive aggressively tell me it was extremely presumptuous and rude of me to come and ask for 4 litres of tap water ‘for free’ – didn’t I know the cost of water in Ireland now?? I found the whole thing ironic largely because Irish citizens did for a time start paying for their water but the policy was so unpopular that the government rescinded it a year ago and made it free again!! I wanted to tell him he was the first person ever in 25 counties to refuse us a refill, and ask him what that said about him, but I ended up politely excusing myself instead and the next pub filled them up no questions asked.

Onwards to Listowel now… 

Schull – Barley Cove – Mizen Point – Kilcrohan 

We were met by two huge herons when we unloaded the bike on the quayside at Schull – they were gorging on fish and squid cuts from the fishing boats. The seagulls weren’t getting a look in.

It was turning out to be the sunny day that our crystal clear morning had promised and I couldn’t have asked for better weather for my first introduction to Schull – the seaside town which Paddy grew up in until he was seven. With its curved, sweeping harbour and many yachts moored in neat rows, bustling peer with the small scale fish factory still in business and the main shopping street populated with locally owned shops, Schull struck me as a lovely little town.

We visited Paddy’s old house and then went to call on Mary his old babysitter who was more than surprised to see us I think! 

Mary and Paddy
Outside the old house
My lasting impression of Schull was that it must have been a very happy place for a seven year old to grow up in – particularly one who couldn’t be more addicted to the sea if he tried – i kept thinking (and hoping) that our planned new start in Cornwall at the end of the trip might hold in store a similar life.

The weather remained amazingly good for the rest of the day. This was fortunate, because we had some stunning coastline views awaiting us as we continued south towards Mizen head. With the picturesque Long Island straddling the mainland and the vast, piercingly-blue Atlantic Ocean stretching out beyond, we didn’t make great progress because of all the stops we kept taking. The way was pretty up and down but we were so eager to get to the peaks to enjoy the panoramic views we at least made good progress on the climbs. 

In the afternoon we linked back up to the main road which brought us right back next to the coast again. We stop next to the Altar Wedge Tomb – an old Bronze Age burial chamber – and thoroughly enjoy a leisurely picnic of smoked mackerel salad and bread. We spend a good hour sunbathing, listening to the waves lap the rocks below and the sound of excited German tourists exploring the rock pools. After some time a lovely Irish lady and her dog ‘Lucky’ sit down next to us and starts chatting away about the bike.

Burial chamber
Enjoying the sun
Panoramic views of Long Island
The aim was to reach the famous Barley Cove beach by late-afternoon so we climb back on the bike and make our way down and along the road which skirts the fortified natural harbour of Crookhaven. The beach is still busy and we can’t resist running into the sea for our second swim of the day. As the beach empties we pull out the bottle we had been storing in the pannier since Schull and get set up on the sand dunes above the beach. We watch the tide slowly engulf the sandy beach as we sip our mugs of wine waiting for the pasta to come to the boil. It takes a while to find a suitable camping spot and it’s pretty late before we begin to pitch the tent in the semi-darkness. We hear a cry of greeting from the road as we’re locking the tent poles together and Paddy goes to investigate. 

Helen who had seen our parked bike on the beach earlier had cycled all the way up the hill from her camping ground below to offer us a bed in her caravan for the night. Overcome by this kindness we gladly accept and hurriedly pack up before following her back down the hill. We spend a very comfortable night in Helen’s caravan and even get treated to fried eggs, bacon, and black pudding in the morning. Word soon gets round that we are travelling by bike and we enjoy meeting many of Helen’s camping neighbours over a leisurely morning. 

Helen’s niece was in fact cycling in Tajikistan with a friend so it was great to hear about their recent travels as well as Helen’s own hitchhiking and cycle adventures! 

With plans to meet Helen and her sister in Durras for lunch and wanting to visit the famed lighthouse at Mizen head beforehand we decided it was time to get going. It was a pretty tough climb up to Mizen point but we had a really enjoyable hour exploring the lighthouse and the views along the coast were spectacular. There was a good exhibition on the construction of the lighthouse and we were delighted to discover that the entire structure was made of beautifully interlocking stones all carved at the turn of the 20th century in Penryn, Cornwall – very close to where we are soon to move!

We hang over the rail and watch a family of seals playing in the swell before giving the Fastnet rock one final glance before heading back down and onwards North to the next peninsular. 

Rugged coast line
Pointing to Wales!
Final picture of the Fastnet or ‘the tear of Ireland’

We have an amazing cycle towards Durrus as we head inland and with the wind pushing us along we’re only 45 mins late for Helen!

After lunch we make our down the south coast of the Sheep’s head peninsular towards Kilcohane. The peninsular is famous for its walking routes, ring forts and towers. It was now time to delve even further back into Paddy’s past and visit the house his great grandmother was born… 

Cobh to Cape Clear – via Kinsale, Clonakilty and Glandore

We said our goodbyes to Ger and Christine and set off on a wet morning to continue our journey south. We reach a town called Kinsale in time for lunch – Paddy has fond memories of sailing here including competing in lots of races. A gap in the rain allows us enough time to have lunch on the quayside where we repeatedly have to scare away a persistent seagull who is intent on stealing what he can of our sandwiches.

In front of the sailing club in Kinsale!

From Kinsale we keep to the coast and reach Timoleague beach – another childhood haunt of P’s. 

The plan was to reach Clonakilty by late afternoon where we would be meeting up with lads Noel, Paul and Shane. The last time we saw these guys was in a hostel in Dushanbe, Tajikistan where we spent a great evening swapping stories and beers having crossed paths – us heading west to Uzbekistan on the bike and them east towards the Pamirs in their 1.2l Nissan Micra – part of the mass organised Mongul Rally challenge. We reach Clonakilty which, is a really lovely town, in plenty of time and so decide to cycle down to the nearby Inchydoney beach which is a stunning sandy paradise. The headland used to be an island before the British built a causeway which over time has silted up. After a nice stroll on the beach Paul picked us up in his van from a nearby supermarket and the lads were waiting for us with a pile of amazing food and the barbecue already smoking. It was an amazing evening – slightly surreal – but great to follow up on our hurried promises of meeting back up in Ireland.

The next day was a classic Irish ‘soft day’ and it was all a little miserable and damp. Not cold though and we kept our spirits up as we made our way down to a lovely coastal hamlet called Glandore. The kids sailing club was in full swing in the sheltered harbour when we arrived and we stopped for a cuppa and a scone while we watched them all whizzing about in their dinghies. On our way out we stopped at the local church where there were lots of info boards containing snippets of local history including one about the mythological goddess Cliona who had three brightly coloured birds who would lull the listener into a healing sleep. She was drowned in Glandore harbour after falling into one of the three magical waves of Ireland. – Irish mythology is so epic!! 

There were some horribly stiff climbs waiting for us after Glandore and we spent a hard hour grinding up them sweating into our rain jackets. It’s incredibly rolling here and we were beginning to miss the Italian Alps!

If you ever spend any time in west Cork you won’t be able to ignore the red fuschia plants which adorn the hedge rows in the whole region. The plant isn’t native to Ireland being originally from Chile I think but the delicate, dangling red flowers are so ubiquitous that they have become the official symbol of west Cork. 

By mid afternoon we’ve completed the rolling hill section and the rain has all but stopped as we free-wheel down into Baltimore. Here we take the small passenger ferry over to the island of Cape Clear. We get loaded on along with all the packages, post and other passengers and head out through the misty and rain  towards it. We couldn’t see much and when we arrive into the small harbour a new weather front rolls in. Nevertheless we decide to take a bracing walk around the island and end up climbing the steep hill in the centre and hiking across the fields along an old foot path to where the church stands at the top. Soaked, we stomp back to the harbour by which time the rain has stopped and the clouds are beginning to part. 

We cook our pasta on the quayside next to the village shop and get chatting to some of the local kids who are jumping into the water from the jetty. We’ve heard quite a bit of Irish being spoken here which is great to hear. After dinner we head over to one of the two island’s pubs for some Guniness before cycling round to the other harbour to hopefully find a free camp spot. There’s a convenient patch of flat ground right next to the water and despite the ‘No Camping’ sign and the island’s only official campsite staring down at us from the other side of the bay we pitch up our tent on the grass behind some handy rocks. It’s so dark by this point anyway that no one can see us and we fall asleep to the waves crashing on the rocks below.

The bad weather blew itself out completely overnight and we woke to a beautifully clear, fresh morning. We pack down quickly, push the bike down to the beach, put on some coffee and then brace ourselves for an early morning swim. Stunning (!) but we didn’t stay in for long – mainly due to the fact that two mischievous crows started to attack our breakfast cereal.

Wanting to capture the beautiful morning I reach for the camera from the handlebar bag and to my hotter realise it’s not there and I obviously left it in the public toilets on the other quay. Luckily it’s still early and we still have an hour and a half before our ferry leaves for Schull. I leave Paddy to clear up and run round to the other harbour to investigate. The camera isn’t in the toilet and the shop connecting to them isn’t open for another two hours so I wonder down to the quay and the friendly crew of the Baltimore ferry start ringing round the houses (literally) to find out who might have it. After speaking to Nellie who cleans the toilets and Tom who owns the shop we discover that Neal indeed had our camera and promised to drop it down to me before the second ferry was due to leave at 9:30am. The whole episode was a lovely way to finish off our time in this little community before heading onwards to Schull.

It was a beautiful morning – making up for the misty crossing the night before. The Fastnet lighthouse could be clearly seen on the horizon and as we headed into the beautiful harbour of Schull we were met with clear blue skies. Paddy was back in the town where he grew up and we wheeled the tandem off the ferry to explore the town. 

One of the island’s forts

Enjoying the sun as we head back to the mainland
Fastnet Rock

Spike Island – a slice of history on many fronts

Before we departed from Cobh we were keen to take a day trip over to Spike Island. Spike has a fascinating history but it also holds a strong personal connection for Paddy and his dad’s family because it was where Paddy’s grandad and great-uncle were posted during their service in the Irish Army. 

Uncle – Jimmy Cronin
Grandfather – the original Paddy Cronin

Due to its natural protection thanks to its shape and size Cork Harbour has always been an important tactical naval base and Spike Island was the keystone for its military defence. The town was a stronghold for the British Navy ever since the Napoleonic Wars. Cobh was also the major embarkation port for Irish men, women and children who were committed and deported to the penal colonies such as Australia and Spike for an extended time acted as a mass prison for these ‘convicts’. It remained a prison throughout the War of Independence. 

After the establishment of the Irish Free State, Britain retained control of three strategically important Irish ports one of which was Cork Harbour and consequently Spike Island remained a British Royal Navy stronghold until 1938. Paddy’s grandfather and great uncle attended (and raised the Irish flag) at the ceremony. 

After the handover the island remained an Irish navy base, prison and ‘correction centre’ until 2004. In 1985 an infamous incident happened where the prisoners managed to ‘escape’ to the island’s quayside and, finding that there was no boat to take them to the mainland, consequently broke back in to the prison with an abandoned JCB, set fire to their prison block, and climbed the roof of the main building before being re-captured! Brilliant!! The island is now a 103 acre museum. 

It has been great to visit sites like Spike Island and learn more about Irish history and the part Britain played in it. Although the pass-over of Spike was a peaceful and apparently jovial affair, I know the handover of most of the other Irish territory by the British was not so convivial! Since learning more about Irish history I feel a bit embarrassed that I hadn’t known much about it before. I have felt the same kind of feeling when visiting other countries on the trip such as Myanmar and Iran. I’m no historian and I know we can’t necessarily link the British occupation with the civil war that happened after – or everything that happened during the troubles – (the same is true for Myanmar and Iran), but I can’t help thinking had Britain not been so god damn greedy and arrogant in the first place, world history would look a lot more peaceful today. 

I bring this up now because visiting Spike Island was an important part of my learning about past British foreign policy. This has been a really important strand for me throughout the trip. Questioning what it means to be British in an international context, and my relationship with my home country when learning history through new perspectives; the other side of the lens as it were. I think we still have a terrible knack of glorifying and justifying the British Empire at home. I certainly remember being fed the positive rhetoric of the Empire in school – looking at a world map, half the landmass stained red, to show just how ‘powerful my country once was’. 

I guess what I’m trying to say, is that we Brits have a lot to answer for, and I don’t think we are very good at knowing the full truth regarding our past political actions abroad. I’m not justifying anti-British sentiment in any form – more that it’s our duty to understand our link to certain situations – such as why the border crossing between north and south in Ireland is such a sensitive topic for the Brexit negotiations currently or why it’s so difficult for Brits to get an Iranian visa. Visiting Spike Island and learning about Paddy’s grandad and great uncle was an invaluable milestone for me in all of the above. 

Week 1 – Roslare to Cobh

So off we went from Roslare and headed south to Waterford and the mouth of the river barrow where we crossed on a short car ferry to Passage East. We decided that the village provided a good spot to set up camp. We absentmindedly ignored the ‘no overnight camping’ sign because Paddy insisted no one would care and that the Irish all have a tendency to not do as they’re told anyway. I had been invited for a Skype interview scheduled for a few days time so Paddy offered to set up camp and cook dinner while I spread out over the picnic table and started researching and note taking. 

It was a stunning evening and we woke up early to another killer clear blue day. With a 6:30am start we were well on schedule to reach Dungarvan by mid-afternoon where we were meeting up with Paddy’s parents for dinner in a fancy restaurant called The Tannery. They had also booked us into the luxurious hotel opposite and we had a lovely evening with them. 

Sunset over Passage East
Early morning
Tasting menu at The Tannery

The next morning we needed to get to Cobh but after our lazy start a bus was needed to help us along on our way. We got dropped in Midleton just north of Cobh and Cork and met a friendly Dutch family who were also cycling around Ireland for three weeks. We would stop in Cobh for four days staying with Paddy’s uncle and aunt Ger and Christine and catching up and meeting lots of Paddy’s family. Cobh (formally known as Queenstown until 1920) is a lovely city, which sits on its own island (Great Island) in Cork Harbour -the second biggest natural harbour in the world (after Sydney). The town tumbles steeply down all the way to the water’s edge where a long high street runs the length of the town full of shops, restaurants, pubs and small fishing harbours. The harbour is so large and deep that cruise ships, car carriers and naval vessels are able to berth right alongside the town’s long quay. So the water is constantly bustling with little boats and slow moving cargo ships. The town is famous for it’s emigration legacy – it was Titanic’s last port of call before it’s infamous maiden voyage.

We had a fantastic time with Ger and Chris, they are super company and we enjoyed our evening sea swims and wholesome dinners. Chris owned her own hair salon for many years so I enjoyed a haircut on our first evening too. 

Statue of 17 year old Annie Moore and her brothers – the first immigrant ever to be admitted to the USA though the new administration centre at Ellis Island.

Feasting on Milly Filly dessert
Salon Chris

The next morning I had my job interview over Skype and we headed into Cobh where the internet speed is better. P’s aunt Miriam and uncle Danny had kindly offered their house up for me and after I was done Ger and Christine took us into town to take my mind off the ‘result’ later that day. Cobh town centre was heaving as the whole town was celebrating what has become to be known as ‘Australia Day’ – The day when the biggest Australian cruise ship docks in the harbour and 2000 Australian tourists pour out into the shops and pubs. At 4pm I got the call to say I’d got the job and with no further excuse needed we all piled into the local pub for a few ‘scoops’. Miriam and Danny joined us a bit later and it ended up being an hilarious night with much dancing to live music and Chris getting the whole pub singing… 

Outside the famed cathedral with Ger and Bren, Paddy’s friend from Dublin who just happened to be over visiting from New York.

Ireland Country No.24!!!! 

I wouldn’t want anyone to think that my tardiness in posting our Irish blogs reflects any negative feelings about our three weeks there. On the contrary, it was possibly some of the best weeks we’ve had. 

Unfortunately mundane things like work and house viewings have prevented me sitting down to write up all my notes. And thank god I did take notes too because it has ended up being over two months since we disembarked from our French ferry (the ‘Oscar Wilde’) and pushed tandem into Roslare harbour.

Suddenly and for the first time we were in a country which was incredibly familiar to one of us and fairly new to the other. Apart from the holiday to Doolin in Feb 2013 on which Paddy and I first met, I have only ever visited Dublin. So I was delighted to have such an in depth opportunity to learn more about Paddy’s Irish heritage not to mention having time to spend with members of the extended family. 

And that’s not even mentioning the fact that I too have Irish blood running through my veins. That my great great great grandfather came over to London from Ireland to work as a weaver probably sometime in the mid 19th century has always been a source of interest for my dad’s family. We have been able to track our genealogy back this far but the tragic fire at the Dublin public records office in 1922 has meant we haven’t been able to dig any further.

For Paddy it was special to come home for this length of time and cycle through all his old childhood haunts – it is nearly a decade since he spent such an extended period in Ireland. The plan was to head to the south tip from Roslare, down through West Cork largely sticking to the coast with a few island hops in-between. 

Then to head back up the east coast hitting Doolin for a trip down memory lane before catching a coach from Galway back to where we started before our ferry to South Wales. Paddy acted as my official tour guide and there ended up being a few surprises along the way!! 

When most people think of Ireland they think of rugged coastline, green fields, mist & rain, Guinness in cosy pubs, traditional music, extremely friendly hospitality… and of course leprechauns! All of the above we encountered in abundance during our time there… even the leprechauns… 

It would be fair to say that I was more than mildly concerned about the weather. But we were incredibly lucky and enjoyed back to back sunshine for the majority of the time. It wouldn’t have been an Irish holiday without a few ‘grand soft days’ (misty, damp, rainy days) but they were few and far between and they added to the whole Irish mystical charm.