Driving with Aoife

As a Kiwi visiting Ireland a couple of weeks after an historic All Black defeat, I was prepared for a bit of ribbing. That happened. A lot.  I was also prepared for generous, gregarious, funny locals, plenty to talk about and too much to drink. That happened a lot as well.

However, arriving at the end of November, I was not prepared for glorious, bright, clear skies, the soft golden glow of the late Autumn sun bouncing off weathered stone and quiet, crisp, still, frosty mornings turning the countryside into a sparkling wonderland.

I was travelling with my dearest friend, Fiona (she hates the term ‘oldest’), and after a couple of days exploring Dublin on foot we headed across country in a small rental car guided by a somewhat temperamental GPS we affectionately named ‘Aoife’. Aoife was regularly on the receiving end of some earthy swear words as we turned down yet another overgrown one way track requiring careful manoeuvring and quiet curses as we met a vehicle coming the other way, but in hindsight, she also took us to breathtakingly beautiful parts of the country we really would not have seen otherwise, so thank you lass.

Staying in the Manor Houses of Ireland, our accommodation throughout was charming, luxurious, cosy and authentic. At this time of year, deep leather armchairs can be pulled up close to roaring open fires, Christmas trees glitter while endless cups of tea, or pints of Guinness (!) supplement the lively chat from both residents and locals.

Mount Falcon near Ballina in Co Mayo has been lovingly restored by the owner, Shane, who also tells a grand tale of love and loss around the estate. An up close and personal encounter with the falcons, owls and ferrets was a special highlight. Gloriously named Ballynahinch and Ballyseede Castles are an impressive sight, both set in beautiful estates looking over tree studded fields, manicured gardens and even a winding river where you can try to hook a trout if you were so inclined. At times we almost felt we should have ditched the VW golf and arrived by horse drawn carriage.

We roughly followed a section of the Wild Atlantic Way, a network of roads, walking and cycle paths that stretches 2500kms along the west coast. Magnificent sea and landscapes, captivating villages, inviting pubs and restaurants, legends and stories pepper the route; stopping to explore often resulted in long conversations with a local or two and we didn’t stop laughing with the people we met along the way.

A bright but freezing afternoon in the coastal fishing town of Dingle had us reaching for our thick jackets and scarves while a young man in shorts and gumboots laughed at us saying ‘you’ll get used to it!’ I think not.

But this delightful little place was bursting with Christmas lights and happy crowds wandering the bright array of shops so in no time we were swept away with the festive atmosphere and pretty location.

We reached Cork and our departing flight far too soon. I will admit the only thing I was ready to farewell, was Aoife.

Sláinte – you gorgeous place and you gorgeous people. I’ll be back soon.

By Kate Gohar