There is no better way to get away than to fire up a motorcycle and to make for the horizon. My bike is normally used for the dreary purpose of commuting to work. Today, however, I would be taking it to Ireland’s Atlantic coast. I had been hankering after a deep draught of the west of Ireland for some time. So I negotiated the relevant permits from my wife and, with my paperwork all in order, I packed up the bike.
For parents of small children, time alone is rare and welcome. A typical day starts any time from 6am, with nappies and breakfasts, and ends with the late-night preparation of school lunches, before you collapse into bed, only to repeat the process. Being woken a few times during your paltry few hours of sleep is also part of the deal.
An understandable aversion to this sort of lifestyle is presumably the reason that many continental Europeans have become disinclined to reproduce. As a result, disastrous economic and social problems now loom for countries like Italy, Spain and Germany. Ireland is now the only European country that is sustaining its own population. That accolade is paid for by the sleep deprivation of Irish parents who surely deserve the odd night off from doing their bit for the future demographics of Ireland.
Leaving the M50, the city quickly fades behind you. The motorway traffic thins out as you go deeper into Kildare.
Motorways are boring and unpleasant for motorcyclists, providing a deafening rush of wind-noise that sounds like a de-tuned TV at full volume – even through earplugs.
I duly turned off at Tullamore and wended through undulating autumn landscapes to Birr for lunch, before skimming past Lough Derg, deeper into old Ireland, smelling peat bogs and turf smoke, then over forested mountains and into Co. Galway, leaning through twisty bends, with the late autumn trees shimmering golden above.
At Kinvara I had my first sight of the ocean. I greeted it like an old friend, before heading out along the Wild Atlantic Way, deeper into the Burren.
Ballyvaughan is my father’s hometown. It feels like home to me too, being the scene of many happy childhood summers.
Riding down the coast toward the village under glowering October skies, I remembered stories of my uncle Tony riding his motorcycle home from London in the 1950s, through storms and freezing weather, to be with his family for Christmas. There was little work in Ireland then, and there were no Ryanair flights home for those who went away to find it. The old family house stands unchanged, and the village is still resonant with sunlit childhood memories.
It’s more than nostalgia that draws me to the west. It’s a yearning for its primeval purity – that sense of being at the ends of the earth, before the infinite Atlantic opens a beautiful windswept awe-inspiring chasm. Rounding Black Head, the subtle forms of the Aran Islands are painted grey on the horizon, the very last outposts of Europe.
As dusk fell, the rain came down from the mountains, driving me into the warm embrace of a small pub.
As I sat by the fire, the kids rang to say “I miss you” and “goodnight”. After a luxuriant night of strangely uninterrupted sleep, I was up at dawn to traverse the island again, back to our busy, messy, happy home – renewed.