I tiptoe out of Dublin astride a Harley-Davidson Electra Glide (a touch nervous on the left side of the road, to be honest) and into a lush countryside of narrow lanes, hedgerows, and heath. Ireland is a land of storytellers and stories, and I am here to hear the stories.
The Old Military Road zigs and zags up and over soft rolling waves of the green Wicklow Mountains. There aren’t many trees here, just grasses and mosses covering rocky outcroppings. Ireland used to be covered in forest, but by 1800, population growth, industrialization, and farming had all but eliminated the trees. South of the park, the road winds through small villages, low stucco and stone buildings with slate shingles and stone chimneys crowding the road from either side. The color palette is eggshell, cream, and gray, sometimes punctuated by the odd, eccentric shopfront in lavender, orange, or sky blue. The local pub is always one of the more lavish storefronts in town, with thick layers of glossy blacks, greens, and golds. Except for the late-model cars on the curb, little has changed in a century or more. I have lunch at O’Connor’s Bar & Lounge in Tinahely and grab a double espresso at Combi Cafe, a cafe themed after the VW camper van, before getting back on the road.
Waterford carries echoes of a distant past in its bones, of Vikings from the ninth and 10th centuries, of medieval kingdoms, and, more recently, of crystal and glass known the world over for its quality. It is the oldest city in the republic, with buildings dating back to the 13th century. I wander down narrow, winding streets through the compact city center, wondering what stories these streets might tell. I stay for the night, and in the morning I cross the River Suir on a gleaming white cable-stayed bridge and then aim for the west coast.
The morning is damp as I take a national road across Ireland’s southern edge. West of Cork, a rural country road negotiates the low stone walls and hedgerows that divide the gently rolling land into neat green parcels. I park and take off my helmet, and the air fills with the chirping of birds. On a small flat clearing stands the Drombeg Stone Circle, a ring of large stones (some nearly 6 feet tall) marking an ancient people and their reverence for the winter solstice. The Circle is believed to date from the Bronze Age and to have been actively used between 1100 and 800 B.C. Fellow travelers leave flowers, seashells, and trinkets in the center. I wonder if they know that archaeologists found an urn with the cremated remains of an adolescent here? Nearby, a spring is channeled into a small pool where a small building once stood. The Celtic inhabitants of this place would heat water to cook meat or take a bath. I linger, wondering how they hauled these large stones into place.
Motorcycle & Gear
Farther west, a narrow lane navigates the undulating terrain of Mizen Head (Carn Uí Néid in Irish) before tilting upward until all that’s left is grassy heath clinging to rocky cliffs above the ocean and beneath the sky. The Mizen Head Signal Station might not be the southernmost point in Ireland (just a fistful of meters shy), but it feels epic nonetheless: a battleground where stone stands defiantly against the indefatigable sea. You can see in the tilted layers of stratified rock the tectonic forces that once shaped the island.