It rains a fair bit on the west coast of

5 Ireland. and during the dismal

I summerof I985 it rained a fairbit

more than a fair bit. For two weeks I

spent my time either being wet or

. getting wet. and it seemed as though the bogs of Donegal had become permanent residents in my shoes. However. the charms of this part of Ireland are so persuasive that my constant dampness was soon relegated into the type ofminor irritant you always get on holidays; like local licensing laws. and the fact that public toilets never seem to be open abroad.

The county of Donegal lies directly

to the west of the border with Northern Ireland. and crossing the

border is an eventful holiday in itself.

Checkpoint Charlie

The unique and intense tensions of Strabane soon evaporate once in the republic. and the sense of relief you get from crossing Britain’s answer to Checkpoint (‘harlie gives you an almost intoxicated vigour with which to approach the south. You are left with that peculiar type ofenergy you only get after you‘ve successfully faced severe apprehension: and there is only one cure known to man


Hitch—hiking can be a supremely demoralising experience anywhere. but it can also be the most effective and fulfilling way ofseeing a country and meeting its people. In Ireland. everything is either one extreme or the other. and very often a mixture ofextremes. Contrast a seven-hour wait on a main road in Sligo with a two-hour discourse on the meaning of life from a Galway florist that would have put Bertrand Russell to shame.

()ne thing you do learn very quickly from hitch-hiking in Ireland is that the Irish are a highly eccentric lot (at least the ones who pick up hitch-hikers are). ()ne lift enjoyed

leery looks

our company so much that he took us miles out of our way and eventually dumped us in the middle of nowhere. simply so that he could continue talking to us. Ifthat wasn't bad




Duncan Swan hikes and bikes and philosophises in the Emerald Isle.

enough our next lift was from a baker whose leery looks we first attributed to our British accents (after we had discounted the obvious). until we realised that he was blind drunk and the strange looks only meant that he

generous with his vodka

was trying to focus properly. The next hour was one ofthe most frightening and entertaining of my life. IIisobservations on Ireland and the Irish were close to genius (the Irish love talking about the Irish). and he turned out to be more than generous with his vodka. I Ie eventually left us laden down with Madeira cake and fruit sponge and feeling not altogether sober ourselves you can't accuse the Irish of not having style.

Hitch—hiking in Ireland means that it is impossible to plan ahead with any degree of certainty where you will eventually end up and when. and our little escapades kept us confined to the west coast between the towns of Donegal and (ialway. Donegal 'I'own itself. is a small village geared towards tourism. Its

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diamond-shaped centre is packed with tourist shops selling plastic leprechauns and Irish joke books. It is. however. very pretty and has several points of historical interest with which to redeem itself. But more importantly. it is surrounded by some stunningly beautiful countryside.

The best way to see the Irish countryside is by bike. and as Donegal is blessed with a good quality and reasonably priced hire shop we decided to indulge ourselves and set off yonder into the unknown.

Galway‘s Guinness

We soon discovered that while Irish countryside may be beautiful. it is all uphill. and often found ourselves stopping off for refreshment in the numerous small villages you encounter along the way. These villages are one of the main joys of Ireland. and although there may not be much to do. there is always someone to talk to. and a barmaid to fall in love with.

(ialway on the other hand is a large picturesque town that boasts a large




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and turbulent history. Being a University town there is plenty to do here. Theatre and folk music are

[excellent. and the numerous bars

i serve incomparable (iuinness with which to wash down (ialway‘s‘ many ; cultural inputs— and it is true what

they say about not having tasted (iuinness in Ireland. ()ne tnore than usually poetic Irishman we met described it like ‘drinking spring water'. which seems a ludicrous description until you actually do; lo and behold. it‘s just like drinking spring water. Although I‘ve never yet fallen over from excesses of spring water.

Accommodation is easy to come by

and moderately priced. Donegal has a youth hostel which like most youth hostels is cheap. uncomfortable and full of bronzed (ierman couples called Rolf and I Ieidi who go to bed at 9.30pm and become apopleptic when you stagger in at midnight trying to remember which is your bed. Alternatively there are bed and breakfast houses which are innumerable in Ireland. 'l‘hese tend to be more expensive but offer far more comfort and a hearty breakfast to boot. It‘s also possible in a bad season to bargain for lower rates. There are no hard and fast rules to touring Ireland. Its main assets are the countryside. the people and its infinite capacity for surprises. So to

experience Ireland to the full it‘s best

to organise your holiday so that you encounter all three to the maximum.

I low to get there:

Doigs Tours (041-554 505.») CIE (Dublin 7-1630] 7429-11 ) (ilasgow to Dublin Iixpress coach (via Stranraer Lame Sealink ferries) From 30 May £50 return AerLingusm41-2Js4121 (Bl-225 7392). Ach (book 14 days in advance) (ilasgow or Iidinburgh to Dublin £87: to (‘ork Shannon £1 10. Super savers from £105 return. Normal fares from £154 return. Intercity/Sealink (0232 227525 (I776 2262) Glasgow to Belfast I.arne £3033 return (from Edinburgh LIN-38): (ilasgow to Dublin return {38-43 (from [Edinburgh {43-49).

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