Driving the Gap of Dunloe in Kerry – it can only be done in winter.
To give you a flavour of what it’s like to drive in Ireland, I’ve put together a few of my favourite photographs of the roads we’ve travelled. Sometimes I wonder if we will get to the point where we take for granted the spectacular scenery which is such an everyday occurrence for us, but then we find ourselves pulling over once again to wonder at the wild landscape, the grandeur of the mountains, the way the sea cuts deeply into the sandstone cliffs, the old castles and ruins that dot the fields – and we know that we will never tire of Irish roads.
I’ve chosen only photographs that have roads in them, so you can get the feel of travelling in Ireland. And yes, it does rain in Ireland and the clouds come down and cover everything and then driving isn’t as much fun. Find a pub to hole up in, wait a while, and try a prayer to St Medard.
Of course some of you, dear readers, do this every day, like we do, so tell us your own favourite Irish roads – or share a photograph on our Roaringwater Journal Facebook page if you like.
Obstacles are common – so don’t drive too fast along the rural roads as you never know what might be around the bend.
And there’s no point in being in a big hurry…
There’s only room for one at a time
We do have freeways/motorways in Ireland, and tolled highways, and congested city streets with honking traffic. Our advice is to get off the highways and out of the cities as soon as possible. Get on this road, for example, that runs through the Black Valley in Kerry, and see where it takes you.
Happy driving in Ireland!
Roadside Shrine in Donegal
On our drives, it has become a game to be the first to spot a shrine and yell out “Grotto!” They are everywhere. While some are standards of Christian iconography (Calvary groupings, crosses) and others venerate local saints, the vast majority are Marian and based on the apparition of the Virgin Mary to Bernadette of Lourdes. In 1954, at the height of Catholic fervour in Ireland, the Vatican declared a Marian Year – a year of special devotion to Mary. Ireland embraced this with great enthusiasm and suddenly the countryside was decorated with statues (like the Pieta on the Sheep’s Head), hills were topped with crosses, and every community sported a Lourdes grotto. Ireland at that time was poverty-stricken so it is particularly striking that when the Irish had nothing – there were few cars, no modern conveniences, little spare money – parishes managed to put together enough to erect devotional shrines.
Holy Well and close up
The best ones, of course, are the rustic shrines you stumble across on a drive or a walk. Sometimes an ancient holy well will have been ‘Marianised’ by the addition of a small carving or rosary beads, or a summit or mountain gap will have a simple rocky structure to house a statue. Pilgrims or passers-by leave small tokens either as a mark of respect or to support a special intention.
Ballinspittle: The Moving Statue
There is an elaborate grotto near here in Ballinspittle. In the mid 1980s the country was galvanized by reports that the statue of Mary had been seen to move. Pilgrims flocked to the site, overwhelming the small town of Ballinspittle for a while. The 80’s were very different from the 50’s: many of the older generation believed, and still do, while others had lost that simple devotion that characterised earlier times and the apparition was greeted by many with a scepticism that would have been unknown in the 50’s.
When I was a schoolgirl, we were arrayed in veils for a walk down through the school grounds every day in May to visit the grotto. Hands folded in prayer, we sang
“Oh Mary we crown thee with blossoms today, Queen of the angels and Queen of the May.”
The tradition of choosing a young girl to be May Queen to preside over spring festivals is common to many cultures and probably pre-dates Christianity. In Ireland, as we often see, this tradition has become Christianised. The ubiquity of Marian images here is yet another aspect of the rich fabric of Irish culture.
Ruined medieval church, converted to a grotto