AMERICAN MOTORCYCLIST October 2019
Emerald Isle Adventure
A Dublin Fly And Ride
By Tim Kessel
My wife, Cheryl, believes I may have misplaced priorities. When planning overseas trips, I research the availability of rental motorcycles in the destination city before I book flights, secure lodging or study local customs and currency.
I don’t see that as skewed planning at all. In my humble opinion, the best way to really experience a new place is on two wheels. Therefore, securing two wheels is priority No. 1.
After a bit of internet research, I find a company called Celtic Rider just outside of Dublin with glowing reviews and a long history of quality. After a chat with owner and founder Paul Rawlins, I decide on a BMW R1200GS, which is nearly identical to the one I ride at home in Arizona. It makes sense to be on a familiar motorcycle, considering I will be riding on an unfamiliar side of the road and covering ground in a distance and signage system that is not second nature to me.
Less to think about on the riding side frees up more gray matter for navigation and enjoyment.
With the right bike secured, I turn my attention to the lesser necessities, such as flights and beds.
After finding roundtrips, we book a vacation rental in the heart of Dublin, which is central to many of the things that we wanted to see in the city. When not on a motorcycle in a foreign land, I prefer to walk or take local public transportation. All that’s left is packing our bags.
Arriving on the Emerald Isle
After the leapfrog chain of travel legs, we arrive at our lodging. The two-story brick complex displays the vibrantly colored array of lacquered doors that are ubiquitous in the historic buildings in central Dublin. Our home base happens to be directly across the street from Becky Morgan’s, one of dozens of historic Dublin pubs.
Of course, we drink our first frothy, cascading glass of Guinness on the pub’s scarlet-hued porch.
Experience has proven that, if time allows, it is best to let the jet lag settle before hopping on a motorcycle. We spend the next day taking local buses to several Dublin attractions.
We walk the Temple Bar district, with its historic buildings, narrow streets and slightly overwrought tourist bent. We sample Dublin’s amazing public parks, including the expansive St. Stephen’s Green, which offers overwhelming hues of its namesake color, as well as several peaceful ponds replete with white swans.
We sample bangers and mash, Irish whiskey, and steak and Guinness pie. Of course, we tour the historic Guinness brewery and enjoy 360-degree views of the city in its Gravity Bar.
Our first hours in Dublin bring to light something that we would find to be the rule, not the exception in Ireland—warm, friendly and supremely vibrant people. Not to stereotype or over simplify, but I have found few cultures more welcoming and ambassadorial than the Irish.
The Ride Begins
On our second full day in Ireland, we embark on a short bus ride from Dublin to the quaint village of Kill.
A quick call and Paul arrives in his Celtic Rider van to drive us the short way to his compound. Both my wife and I feel an instant connection with the smiling Irishman.
After Paul’s charming daughter, Louise, fits us with gear from the company’s impressive stockpile, Paul asks if we would like a riding partner for the first leg of the trip. Who could refuse the benefit of riding with a thoroughly entertaining individual with a wealth of local knowledge?
On the road, I work to adapt to the left lane and the tight reverse-direction roundabouts as we head to the first of our stops. It is more than a little disconcerting meeting a bounding box van approaching on the right in a blind curve when the conditioned brain is used to the opposite.
Just a few kilometers from Kill, we pull up to a pastoral farm in Ardclough. Paul leads us up an inconspicuous trail to a historic graveyard. There, in the Oughterard Cemetery, we find one of Ireland’s most scenic surviving hilltop round towers and the burial place of Arthur Guinness.
After a walk through the beautiful stone structures of the site, we are back on the bikes and heading into the Wicklow Mountains south of Dublin. Paul leads us through the beautiful Wicklow Mountains National Park on a series of entertaining old military roads. The undulating and serpentine asphalt ribbons are a perfect proving ground for the long suspension on the GS. The narrow roads with nonexistent shoulders make me supremely glad I am on a motorcycle.
The ride is a gorgeous roll through a pastoral mix of farmlands, forests and water features.
“Emerald Isle” is a well-earned nickname for Ireland. Acres of conifers give way to heaving expanses of grasslands, which, in turn, dive into peaceful lakes. The landscape is divided by the distinctive Irish stone fences that, on close inspection, display an impressive level of craftsmanship honed over the centuries. Throughout the ride, countless sheep are languid and disinterested observers of our travels.
We stop at another inconspicuous trailhead, on which Paul leads us to an overlook that reveals a large mountain lake, Lough Tay. Adjacent to the lake rests the vast, white-walled Guinness family Luggala mansion. Success has its rewards. It is a happy accident that the historic Guinness beer empire is becoming a subtheme of our Dublin visit.
After some peaceful time imbibing all that this bucolic viewpoint has to offer, we are on the bikes for a short ride to our lunch stop at the historic Lynhams Hotel in the village of Laragh. We talk about the route, the mountains and motorcycles over Irish beef stew.
I don’t know if Paul has kissed the famed Irish Blarney Stone, but he certainly possesses the proverbial “gift of gab.” After our meal, Paul heads back to Kill, and we head toward our next adventure.
The Ride to Kilkenny
Now on our own, we continue our trek through the Wicklow Mountains.
Our next destination is the historic southern village of Kilkenny. The roads are a blacktop rollercoaster with an 80 kph speed limit that seems overly generous in these mountains.
When two cars or trucks meet, one often needs to pull to the side for safe passage. The roads seem scaled to motorcycles, and that is fine with me. The route is so circuitous that it seems we may be going in loops. If the GPS were not indicating that we are getting closer to Kilkenny, I would certainly be doubting my navigation.
After many more miles of mountain riding, we merge onto the highway. At this point, it is actually nice to shift into high gear and simply eat up some large chunks of Irish landscape at 120 kph. Sheep, cattle and farm houses dominate the lush, green landscape as we carve ever farther south.
We pull into the village, which has a skyline dominated by a majestic hilltop castle. Kilkenny Castle is a perfectly preserved medieval fortress with pristinely manicured lawns and gardens. The castle sits proudly on the banks of the river Nor. From the castle battlements, we watch local Kilkenny boys working to impress the girls with enthusiastic leaps from a stone bridge into the cold waters of that river.
We walk the cobblestone streets of the village, sit in the shade of centuries-old buildings and visit the historic Smithwicks Brewery that predates Guinness. It is with nearly simultaneous and audible sighs that we resign to leaving Kilkenny. We ride out of town to the side opposite the castle and marvel at more historic churches and structures.
We select a northern route back to Kill that avoids a repeat of the highway on which we made our approach. The ride is slower than the highway, but much less technical than the Wicklow section.
Our ride ends with the same thing with which it began—the smiling face of Paul.
Our Dublin Exit
There are other European countries on our itinerary, so we have to bid Ireland a fond farewell. However, our last day in Dublin is as pleasurable as the first.
We enjoy fish and chips on the Dun Laoghaire Pier and marvel at the historic lighthouse that looks out into the Dublin Bay.
The last evening, we take in the raucous atmosphere in Aviva Stadium, as Ireland battles the USA in a soccer “friendly.” We walk back to our room in the midst of green- and orange-clad celebrants. Ireland has defeated the Americans 2-1, and the country has won over our hearts.
Tim Kessel is an AMA member from Clarkdale, Ariz.