After weeks of planning, the day of reckoning was upon us. Our mission was simple – travel the length of the Wild Atlantic Way, all 2,500km of it, in an electric car. The seed was sown over a year previously when Seán was chatting over dinner with his childhood friend, Michael Bradley. Michael and his brother Andrew are the founders of Solar 21, an award winning renewable energy development company with operations in Italy and the UK. At that time, Sean was the manager of Achill Tourism and was telling Michael about how he had recently met a man at a tourism trade show in Belfast who had purchased an electric car. While the man was completely satisfied with his purchase, he had only recently realised that his annual holiday in the west of Ireland was not going to happen that year because of the limited range of the car and the lack of charging infrastructure in rural Ireland. The two friends knew very little about the range and capabilities of electric vehicles, but both agreed that if the use of electric vehicles was going to take off, issues like this would have to be addressed. Both also agreed that it would be great to prove that EVs were just as practical for use in rural Ireland as they were in a city.
Fast forward one year and now both had a better understanding of EVs, their range and the charging infrastructure or lack there of! After another dinner and a bottle of wine, Michael reminded Sean of the previous year’s conversation. Michael had some ideas to add to their original thoughts. How about taking an EV to every corner of the Wild Atlantic Way. But not just that. He wanted to prove it was feasible for living and working in remote parts of the country. He also wanted the journey to be meaningful and to leave a positive impact in its wake. Seán’s experience in promoting Achill Island by producing his own videos which were picked up by national and international media outlets seemed an ideal way to achieve this. The grand plan now was to complete the Wild Atlantic Way by electric car, meeting the ordinary people who live there and telling their stories, promoting their businesses and their communities, telling stories of history, culture, innovation, sustainability and conservation. And so “Stories From Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way” was born.
Our mission is to DISCOVER these projects, SHARE their stories in the hope that they INSPIRE others.
To begin our journey, we set out a Top Gear (esque) challenge for ourselves. We were beginning our venture along the Wild Atlantic Way at Gieltys Bar and Restaurant, situated on Achill Island. They claim to be Europe’s most westerly bar. From here we would go in search of Irelands most northerly bar and hope to make it without charging our Tesla in between. What better way to start an Irish road trip than to go from Ireland’s most westerly bar to its most northerly. We interviewed Alan Gielty, the proprietor of Gieltys Bar and Restaurant, the evening prior to our departure. Our first story was in the can! Now it had all become very real, it was time.
Our choice of starting location was threefold. One, traveling between the most westerly pub and most northerly one would make a good storyline. Two, Sean lives a mere handful of houses away from it, and three, Alan had installed a car charger at his premises a few months previously. This was important because prior to Alan installing the charger, the nearest ones were in Westport and Castlebar, more than 60km away. Alan had opened up Achill to EVs. So by all criteria, this was a fitting location for us to begin our adventure which we are undertaking in a Tesla, a fully electric car.
In the midst of planning our journey, we decided that it would be a nice idea to keep a book of signatures and messages from everyone we spoke to along our journey. So, we got our hands on a Wild Atlantic Way notebook (Sean picked it up at a Failte Ireland workshop) and we aim to have each and every signature of the people we meet along the way.
We took off early Wednesday morning. The conditions were wet and gloomy, but it didn’t quench our enthusiasm or excitement. We made a quick pit stop in Drumcliff, Sligo at Davis Restaurant & Yeats Tavern for some breakfast and took the opportunity to top up the car after its first 149 kilometres. The car was telling us that we had the range to go to Malin Head and back to Carndonagh where there was a charger. However, the e-cars app was telling us that the charger in Carndonagh was out of service. Something we now have become accustomed to like all other EV drivers. The top up in Sligo meant we could safely complete our mission, but instead of staying in Carndonagh, our base for the next few days was going to be Buncrana. The app was telling us that there was not one but two chargers there and both were in working order.
After a delicious full Irish and with all appetites satisfied, we were back on the road again. As we neared Donegal the weather and the gods seemed to be siding against us but as usual, there’s never any predicting Irish weather and it just never seems to disappoint. By the time we reached Malin Head, the day had turned into a scorcher and not an ounce of sun cream was to be had between us. Learning lessons from minute one.
It was a long journey to Malin from Achill, but it was worth every single kilometre, 327 kilometres at that. Malin Head is without a doubt one of the nicest places that this beautiful country has to offer. Upon arrival, there were droves of people. We managed to get ourselves a parking spot, a tight squeeze beside a camper van, but it done the job. We had made it.
We spoke to Dominic Mc Dermott, the owner of Cafe Banba which is situated at Ireland’s most northerly point. The cafe is named after Banba Crown, the hill which the Martello Tower is located upon. Dominic’s mobile Cafe has been situated at the tip of Ireland since 2008. As he lives only a kilometre away, he situates himself here from Easter until September. Dominic was a bubbly character and offered us his time and assistance when he could certainly have been earning more than a pound or two. He gave us an insight into the connection between Malin Head and Star Wars and told us that he had been on the set whilst they were filming. Dominic’s task was to fuel ‘The Force’ when the legendary crew setup here in 2016. None other than thee Luke Skywalker drank coffee at this cafe. You’ll go a long way to find another cafe that can proclaim that in this galaxy.
Dominic kindly directed us to Farrens Bar, Ireland’s most northerly pub, which is located about a five-minute drive from Malin Head.
We trekked out to the aptly named ‘Hell’s Hole’ to capture our first piece of drone footage, it didn’t disappoint, the views were amazing. It’s apt that the Star Wars crew came to film here because this really is an out of the world location. Often you can be presented with spectacular horizons, but you’d have to go a long way to match this one. It had that never-ending feel to it and as we stood and glanced out onto this mesmerizing piece of scenery, Sean wandered off into a trail of thought. After about 30 seconds of silence had passed, he came back to senses and said, “sure what kind of eejit could ever think the world is flat?” Needless to say, that was the last thought on my mind at the time!
We also managed to capture a shot of the Eire Sign, one of the most impressive ones that the country has to offer. This Eire sign was restored and newly painted in a gleaming white displaying “Eire 80”. Personally, I think that there’s something special about those signs and I love coming across them. These signs acted as an important navigational mark for pilots during World War Two, to alert them that neutral Ireland lay below.
Sean and I both think that it will take something spectacular to rival the views that Malin Head offer, and this is only our first day! After getting some background footage of the scenery on ground level we went back to chat to Dominic again and to get him to sign our book, but he had sadly left. So, we chatted to Laura Doherty who was holding the fort in his absence and we got her signature. Dominic was a great help and an overall gentleman. His help was much appreciated.
Malin Head was certainly busy that day with lots of people walking around the area, taking in the sights and enjoying the fresh air and glorious sunshine. This led to another ‘problem’ with the electric car. As we tried to drive away, several people were chatting away, oblivious to the fact that we were waiting to move. The silence of the car gave them no indication that we were trying to reverse out of our parking space! Not wanting to seem impolite, Sean would not toot the horn, so I got out of the car to direct him out and politely ask them to move.
After departing Malin Head, we spotted another beautiful location just below it. We pulled up into a small parking area and we let the drone do the work. God bless the drone batteries! Alongside us were a friendly French couple, Claude and Vero, who were traveling from Rosslare all along the west coast on a beautiful BMW motorbike. We were quick to discover that our levels of French matched their levels of English. Minimal. French was never my forte, but Sean claims to have understood every word they said. I have my doubts but nevertheless, both parties nodded in agreement with everything said. They watched Sean flying the drone in amazement. It was funny to watch, but Sean found common ground with them by mentioning a song I had never heard of called ‘Les Lacs du Connemara’.
Apparently, the song was a huge French hit in the early 80’s and has motivated millions of French to come and visit Connemara. Without further ado, Sean and Claude broke into a verse or two. At this point, I was beginning to wonder did Sean actually possess a few words of Le Francais? Is that how they say it? Anyway, one thing is for sure, his French most surely outclasses his singing. We decided to interview the couple much to their delight, of course. Again, Sean brushed up his French and produced ‘en petite peu de Francais’. After a brief chat with the French couple, we parted ways and off we went to Farrens Bar a whole three minutes’ drive down the road.
The Whole three-minute journey to Farrens was very enjoyable, we even managed to fit in a verse or two of the ‘Whole of the Moon’. With the car being fully electric, it possesses a Spotify account, so at the moment, I’m being treated to a daily dose of playlists from Molloy’s DJ years. It’s all good craic until the windows are up, and the volumes sky high.
On our way to Farrens Bar, we bypassed a road sign, with “R2D2” printed on it. It struck a chord in both our heads and we soon realised as to why. The sign was renamed from the R242 to R2D2 in tribute to one of the Star Wars characters who had been on set in Malin Head. A clever tourism initiative by all accounts, originally suggested by Jack Murray who we would meet a few days later.
Anyways, we arrived at Farrens Bar, and it immediately reminded us of home. It was a bar which was located up a side road where there were a number of houses. The ideal spot to have a bar if you ask me and looking at the houses next door, I was thinking that I’d quite like to be living next door to a pub like this myself. It was scorching, and there was thirst coming upon me. I was beginning to learn that this was awful thirsty work.
We were greeted by Hugh Farren, a sixth-generation owner of this nearly 200-year-old pub. Hugh was an intriguing character and we established that very early on. He was also a huge Star Wars fan so that gave us plenty to talk about too. We interviewed Hugh and spoke to him about his memories of the Star Wars film crew being in the area. He had some good tales to tell.
Our other objective was to tie in this bar being Ireland’s most northerly pub and to learn the history of it. We had travelled from Ireland’s most westerly bar and here we had made it to its most northerly. So, we spoke to Hugh, and to his credit, he gave us and in-depth insight into the history of it. The pub has been at the heart of Malin for nearly two centuries. It has always played a central role in the locality as a bar and as a shop stocking all the necessities for the locals.
After a wonderful day of filming and sourcing stories, we wandered down to Portmór Pier for a look around. Here we met Eileen and John McCafferty a lovely couple who were from Derry originally. They had spent the last few weeks travelling all around Ireland, starting in Derry, working their way down the east coast and back around up the Wild Atlantic Way. They had strong connections to the Malin area as Eileen’s grandmother came from the area and she spent lots of time here when she was young.
After a good chat with the couple about our documentary and ideas, we set off in search of accommodation. The evening had turned damp and blustery, so we decided that we’d park up in Buncrana for the night. It’s a nice lively town and it suited us well. I may add that it also had a few charging points for the Tesla, fairly important to us if we want to complete this journey! After a few phone calls to hotels and B&Bs with chargers nearby, we managed to get a bed for the night in St Columbs House. We went to the B&B to offload our equipment before parking up to charge. This would save the equipment from getting wet in the rain if not Sean who would have to walk back 500m or more after parking the car at the nearest charger. However, it worked out perfectly for us, as upon our arrival, we were greeted by Brian, the owner of the B&B. He noticed that we had an electric car and was so very kind to offer us to charge up at the back of his house. It was truly a god send. He couldn’t have been any more helpful. We owe Brian a huge thanks for his kindness and hospitality.
After a few hours of editing footage and writing, we decided we’d catch 40 winks. It was a memorable first day and we’ve already encountered some extraordinary characters. Tomorrow is a new day and I look forward to seeing what these Alpacas are all about. I’m a bit frightened by animals, but according to Sean, life’s all about bringing yourself out of your comfort zone. Hopefully I’ll pluck up the courage overnight and might even pose for a picture with the main men tomorrow!