Our journey up the Wild Atlantic Way begins in Ireland’s Cliff Coast in the town of Doolin. Set at the edge of the Cliffs of Moher and the Burren National Park, Doolin is a small village, spectacularly set among the cliffs that lower to the shoreline. It is less a single main street than a winding narrow road dotted with B&Bs, pubs, and a handful of shops with immense views, until ultimately the road deposits you at a parking lot for the ferry to the Aran Islands.
Famed as a music destination, no more than three pubs fill up whilst a few musicians take a table, not a stage, and sit around it in a beautiful procession of flutes, guitars, violins and the like playing traditional Irish music. Listeners proceed with their pints, unquieted by the performance as though it was the most natural thing to see folks from very young to very old finding a tune together, and yet we discovered that in Ireland it is.
The Aran Islands, slightly visible to North, lie at the mouth of Galway Bay — Inishmore, Inis, and Inisheer.
Ruins of a castle bearing my own family name stand on Inishmore — a curious quest for me given no knowledge of Irish heritage despite the stereotypical head of red hair (and a very true one along the western coast). Alas, Vikings? In high winter months, the seas are too rough to cross — but ferries are available daily from Galway.
Without a reservation and the 4:00 p.m. sun soon disappearing we wandered into the tourist office to see if they knew where we might say. December marks the offseason with many places closed for the winter, yet the single multi-story hotel was full hosting a wedding the same night!
We stood in the empty, unlocked tourism office and a youngish man bearing a name tag Miley walked in and was quick to call his friends running the neighboring B&Bs to find us a room. Alas, he secured us a bed at Glasha Meadows, just up the single road which drifted down toward the sea. Fortunately, we hadn’t lingered too long despite the immense light from an early onset of dusk and the southward, if distant, view of the Cliffs of Moher.
We headed out for an evening of music, beginning at Fitz’s Pub. In an idyllic wood-paneled bar with candlelight and a working fireplace, we sipped their delicious homemade Dooliner Beer and slurped possibly the greatest oysters I’ve ever tasted — absolute North Atlantic salty goodness.
A bit early for the musical festivities, we headed up the street to McGann’s. Rich soups and brown bread can keep you warm all along the Wild Atlantic Way in the December months, and so we dined on this tasty, simple fare in the heat of another roaring fireplace as musicians set-up at the table next to us by way of ordering teas and passing a small electronic tuner to prepare their instruments.
An older man with an earring, north of age 60 and a young male twenty-something chatted quietly amongst each other between traditional instrument-only songs which they played with their eyes closed. The tradition spans generations and it’s a pleasure to see and hear.
With additional spots closed for the season, the upcoming Christmas holidays, or locales simply unbeknownst to us, we return to Fitz’s where a table of four speaks with piccolos, guitars and a violin while the now more crowded pub goes about their conversations. We ask the bartender for Irish whiskeys he’d recommend we sip and begin with the light and zesty Distiller’s Safe, from Jameson’s Whiskey Makers series. We follow this with Irish-made Green Spot, a slightly darker, single pot still, and deliciously smooth conclusion to the evening.