"Ireland is all about coastline, isn't it? But I also like to ride twisty mountain roads..."
Ireland is an island and islands are characterised to large extent by their coasts. The biggest highlight in Ireland is probably the famous Wild Atlantic Way, i.e. the wild Atlantic coast. With 2500km of breathtaking coastline, the Wild Atlantic Way can even be called a very long chain of highlights.
But if you look at the satellite view on Google Maps, you will notice some suspicious brown-grey spots on the map - and indeed, they are mountains! No, of course they are not comparable to the Alps, I know, but that's not why you come to the island, is it?
There are several very beautiful mid height mountain ranges in Ireland with mountains up to a little over 1000m high. That's about the same as the German Black Forest or other mid height mountain ranges.
Some of these mountain ranges are nature reserves and most of them do not resemble German mid mountain ranges at all, but rather the Scottish Highlands. Barren rounded hilltops covered in brownish grasses, light green ferns and interspersed with large purple patches of heather. Brown gullies stretch like scars across the mountain flanks and bear witness to peat cutting, which is still done by hand in some places.
Every now and again you see large fan-shaped gravel patches - the rubble originally came deep out of the mountain. There are the entrances of old tin and copper mines that were driven into the mountains about 200 years ago - in hard work by hand.
Numerous sheep roam the slopes and also the roads, because in the nature reserves they run completely free. There are also free-roaming cows and horses and, of course, deer that occasionally jump across the road.
Deer and horses are usually careful, but sheep and cows basically have the right of way! At least that's what they believe and as a motorcyclist you should let them believe that and pass very carefully.
Negotiations with sheep are long and tedious and fruitless - I have tried many times....
Where there are mountains, there are usually mountain passes - again, they are not too high, but still very nice to ride. In Ireland, the passes are often called "Gap", but sometimes also "Pass".
I have compiled some of the most beautiful mountain routes and mountain passes for motorcyclists for you below.
The best mountain routes and passes for motorcyclists in Ireland:
1. Wicklow Mountains National Park, e.g. Sally Gap or Wicklow Gap.
2. the Blackstairs Mountains and Mount Leinster, e.g. Nine Stones Viewpoint.
3. County Cork, e.g. the Vee Valley with the Vee Pass.
4. the Beara Peninsula with the Healy Pass.
5. the Killarney National Park, e.g. Molls Gap, Ballagbeama Gap, Ballaghisheen Pass or Gap of Dunloe.
6. the Dingle Peninsula with Connor Pass.
7. the Connemara Highlands with several beautiful mountain routes.
8. the Mayo Highlands with several beautiful mountain routes.
9. the Ben Bulben with the Gleniff Horseshoe Drive.
10. the Glenveagh National Park in Donegal with several beautiful mountain routes.
11. the Mourne Mountains with the pass road over the Spelga Dam.
In this 3-part series of articles we will take a closer look at the most beautiful mountain regions and routes for motorcyclists. In this first part, we start in the southeast of Ireland. In the second part we will look at the southwest and in the third part we will look at the north.
Beautiful mountain routes and passes for motorcyclists in the southeast of Ireland:
The Wicklow Mountains National Park starts in the south of Dublin and stretches southwards as a long ridge, always parallel to the coast. By the way, our motorbike rental station is located at its southern foothills (www.easyruiser.tours), and if you join our star tours from there, you will have the beautiful Wicklow Mountains, the east coast and the south-east coast on your doorstep.
There are many really beautiful routes in the Wicklow Mountains and I'll just list some of the better known examples here:
a) From Hollywood via the Wicklow Gap to Laragh.
b) From Laragh via Glenmacnass Waterfall to Sally Gap.
c) From Sally Gap via the Old Military Road to Dublin.
d) From Vartry Reservoir via Lough Tay and Sally Gap to Blessington.
e) Around the Blessington Lakes.
Hollywood is a cute little place with a few old houses, a good café just down the road and an old church on the hillside. If you look up the hill you will see the “Hollywood” sign on the hill – it is a bit smaller than in California though.
The road (R756) winds up the hill, then the panorama opens up and you take wide curves up the hill to the Wicklow Gap viewpoint. On the other side, you pass old tin mines and see the medieval monastery of Glendalough further down on your right - well worth a visit!
A little further on is the Laragh crossroads with petrol station, a popular meeting place for motorbikes at the summer weekends.
Behind the small petrol station in Laragh, turn left towards Sally Gap and then just follow the road (R115). First drive through the forest, then along a small river up a gorge until you see the Glenmacnass waterfall on your left.
Be sure to stop before and above the waterfall, the viewpoints are great! Follow the small river further into the open uplands, the landscape becomes increasingly barren. Peaty moorland follows and after a few bends you reach the top of Sally Gap pass.
When you reach Sally Gap from Laragh, you can turn left to Blessington, right to Lough Tay and straight on to Dublin. The Old Military Road (R115) was originally an unpaved military road over the mountains. Today it is paved and runs along the ridge of the Wicklow Mountains to the southern outskirts of Dublin.
Vartry Reservoir is a beautiful reservoir in the eastern foothills of the Wicklow Mountains. From there, the R759 leads up the mountain to Lough Tay. “Lough” means lake in irish, almost similar to Scotland, but it is spelt “loch” there. The area around Lough Tay is private, the land belongs to the Guiness family - that's right, they also own the brewery of the same name.
The loch served as a filming location for the film series “Vikings”, and the town of Kattegat was situated on its small beach. The small road takes picturesque bends above the loch and then stretches a little further through the mountains. Via Sally Gap, the R759 descends again to the N81, which leads to the small town of Blessington to the left.
The N81 leads south out of Blessington. After some time, you can turn left onto the R758 and reach Blessington Lakes via a bridge. Follow the road (the lake is on the left), then there is another bridge and a small road on the left to Lake Drive (L4365 towards Lacken).
You can follow the road around the lake until you come back to Blessington via a final bridge. Granted, it is not a mountain pass, but it is a road along the mountainside around the lake and it is just too beautiful for not to mention!
The Blackstairs Mountains are the extension of the Wicklow Mountains southwards to New Ross and Waterford on the coast. Less high than the Wicklows, they are nevertheless wonderful for motorcyclists with many beautiful winding roads. One of these beautiful stretches leads around Mount Leinster, which at just under 800m is the highest mountain in the old province of Leinster.
At Bunclody, the main road, the N80, heads northwest. From there, Barke`s Road branches off to the left, signposted "Mount Leinster Heritage Drive". Follow this road uphill until you reach the top of the wooded ridge. Just before the hilltop, a small road leads to Mount Leinster on the left, signposted 9 Stones Cycle.
Ride through a patch of woodland and then over a cattle gate into the Mount Leinster nature reserve you see in front of you. Continue uphill to the 9 Stones Viewpoint and car park at the top of the pass. If you want to admire the great view on the way up, stop, there are no guard rails and it's deep down....
Follow the road down the mountain on the other side and turn left at the next junction. Follow the L3001 until you come to the larger R702 road. Turn left to Kiltealy and follow the signs back to Bunclody.
The north of County Cork has some beautiful ridges and if you are in the area, it is worth exploring them.
Probably the most beautiful route, starts at Lismore Castle in the town of the same name, Lismore. You can visit the picturesque castle at the river, or at least the castle gardens.
From there you start on the N72 in a northerly direction, cross the river and shortly afterwards turn left onto the R668. The small road winds in narrow bends through the forest, along a small stream and slowly you gain height.
At the next junction, stay left, cross the bridge and continue along the R668. The landscape opens up, you see barren mountain peaks above you and soon you are at an elevated observation car park with a wonderful view of the landscape.
The trail continues uphill until you reach the top of the Vee Pass. There, another viewpoint awaits you with incredible views of the north side of the mountains. A sharp bend and then it's downhill again and through the forest to Clogheen.
With this, we have got to know some of the most beautiful mountain routes and passes in Ireland's southeast.
In the following second part of this series of articles, we will head west, where we will take a look at the most beautiful mountain routes in the southwest of Ireland.
Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg, January 2022
Picture credits: Map sections are taken from Google Maps 2022, all photos are by easycruiser.tours