Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Sea kayak Ireland

We did not manage to get into boats while in Ireland and in fact saw very few sea kayaks in harbors and quay areas. We did notice a fair number of river kayaks and the water was running high and fast due to the rains from the Shannon estuary up to Clew Bay in Mayo. The sea kayaking potential in the area seems to be phenomenal though. Islands, sea stack, sea caves, and both exposed areas and sheltered bays appear to be tailor made to get out in a boat and play. Here are a few spots that would seem to be perfect.

Ballyvaughn is a small village on the south side of Galway Bay. It has one of the finer seafood pubs I've been in, Monk's Pub right on the water, and a dangerous whiskey bar that has a dazzling array of rare Irish whiskey and an independent owner that opens when he damn well feels like it, usually around 4 or 5pm. I have done three cycling tours with Irish Cycling Safaris, a Dublin tour company that I can highly recommend. On one of them we spent a rest day in Ballyvaughn and a few of us kayaked the bay with the local outfitter who, I was informed by the locals, has returned to Brittany. As much as I love Lake Superior there just aren't that many seals to view or tidal races to play in. Its well into Galway Bay but the Atlantic swell is still pronounced and adds to the fun.

The Cliffs of Moher, a major tourist attraction and finalist in the Seven Wonders of the Natural World contest looked like some crazy paddling. I think both Chris Duff and our local Marquette guy, Sam Crowley, would have to say that paddling at the base of 900 foot sea cliffs was a spectacular experience. We watched the big Atlantic swells from the top and when the waves and wind combined to throw salt spray 1,000 feet in the air and spot my camera lens, we figured it might be a bit more than we were interested in that particular day. There is a new company in Doolin, home of traditional Irish music on the west coast, called North Clare Sea Kayak Touring Co, which does local lakes, rivers, Ballyvaughn area, and Liscannor Bay on the Atlantic. We will need to check them out next trip over.

On this land based trip we decided to hike to the top of Croagh Patrick, the mountain where St Patrick allegedly drove the snakes out of Ireland. This could have been a religious pilgrimage had we climbed a couple months earlier. Three stations involving several Our Fathers and Hail Mary's, and for some a barefoot climb as an act of penance, are part of the experience for the devout but since we were there on an off month (and my feet hurt) we decided to just climb the thing with our boots on. Unfortunately we did not make it. 50mph wind gusts with an intermittent rain made for a challenging day. The summit was in the clouds and when a couple experienced hikers who had climbed 'The Reek' many times told us that it was too windy and too foggy to summit, making the path back down difficult to find we listened. Plus I had seen a sign at the Murrisk village pub we parked next to with their motto: "The pint you seek when you climb The Reek". On our way back down we had a fabulous view of Clew Bay and its hundreds of islands and remarked that the kayaking would appear to be superb in that bay. Its the home of Grace O'Malley, the Pirate Queen, the woman who ruled western Ireland in the 16th century and faced down Queen Elizabeth I. We did some checking and found that there is a mobile sea kayaking company that shuttles paddlers out of Westport at the head of Clew Bay called Saoirse Na Mara Sea Kayaking. Once again, another thing to check out on a return visit.

We had a wonderful land and pub based trip and saw some amazing sights, met some interesting people, listened to some fine traditional music, and sipped some sublime pints of Guinness. Don't tell anyone but the VoiceOfReason would appear to have developed into a connoisseur of 'the Devil's Buttermilk', remarking on the subtleties that one finds from pub to pub in the Guinness. We did hear the siren's song of the long skinny boats however and next time we are in the west of Ireland we plan to listen to that song and get out on the water.


Jeremiah Johnstone said...

Nice. Love the photos. I would like to see all the photos from Ireland. JJ

mesmreyes said...

In Skibereen, west of Cork, is North Atlantic Sea Kayaking. It is the best outfitter in Ireland and also does tours worldwide. http://www.atlanticseakayaking.com/
Jim Kennedy is a wonderful guide and they kayak everyday year around. They have a wide variety of tours of different intensities and time.