Tralee to Connemara: via the Nearest Ford Garage

Yes folks, there has been a very minor hiccup in our 2018 Tour of Ireland. Not to worry, though, we have a cunning plan……

Overview: 4 days, 255 miles


After leaving the Dingle Peninsula at the end of our last post, we drove North-East to the banks of the Shannon. Stopping for lunch in a suitable lay-by, we were lucky enough to see another pod of Dolphins, this one travelling steadily Eastwards up the Shannon estuary.

It was on this section of the drive that SOK suddenly came up with a “change engine oil soon” message. That seemed odd as SOK is nine months old and has done just under 8,000 miles. His first service isn’t due until two years or 18,000 miles. The message wasn’t going away by itself, so as SOK is still under warranty, we figured we’d swing by a Ford dealer and get it checked out.

First, though, we had a museum to visit. The Foynes Flying Boat Museum (€12 each) is a small museum that tells the brief story of transatlantic flying boat services into Foynes between 1937 and 1946.

In the 1920s and well into the 1930s, it had been thought that airships had a bright future in transatlantic travel, but that came to an abrupt end with the Hindenberg disaster in New Jersey in 1937.

Flying boats were the next big thing. They had a key advantage over land planes: not many large cities had good runways at the time, but most had nearby waterways suitable for flying boat services. Foynes on the South bank of the Shannon estuary was chosen as the site for the European passenger terminal (Shannon airport now sits on the opposite side of the estuary); the terminal is now the home of the flying boat museum.

The first commercial passenger flight landed at Foynes in July 1939 and the last flight departed in January 1946. Technology and airport facilities had developed rapidly during WW2, and land planes were now taking over. Incidentally, the captain of that last flight, Charles Blair, went on to marry the Irish-American actress Maureen O’Hara in 1968; she was patron of the museum from its opening until her death and used to visit each year.

None of the original flying boats survive, but the museum has a replica of a Pan Am Boeing B314 flying boat.

One of the surprising things, looking back from our modern-day complacency regarding commercial air travel, is just how ramshackle it all was in the late 1930s.

The flying boats couldn’t fly above the weather, so flying conditions could be treacherous. Wind was a major factor – would they have enough fuel to reach the other side? Flights often had to turn back before reaching the Point of No Return (one even landed back at Foynes after 12 hours of flight). The navigators used to drop smoke floats into the sea as a way of measuring cross winds?!

The uncertainty of the weather meant that you couldn’t even be sure when an Eastbound flight might arrive at Foynes. At night-time, a “horseman cryer” would be sent round the village to quickly rouse the ground crew if a flight was approaching!

There were lots of other bemusing bits of information about transatlantic air travel in the 1930s and 1940s. All in all, it was a good little museum and we were pleased that we’d visited.

A bit further East, still following the Shannon estuary, we had a date with Derek Walsh Camper Centre. The vent cover that clips on over the external vent from our hot water heater disappeared a couple of weeks ago. Mark rang this place, who were very helpful and said they’d order one in for us to collect as we were passing. The lady he spoke to quoted a price of €30 on the ‘phone, so Mark was a bit disappointed to be charged €35 when we got there. The lady he’d spoken to wasn’t in that day and the Post-It on our vent cover did say €35. Oh well…..

It was now mid-afternoon and we decided to skip the next possible destinations on our list (including Quin Abbey) so as to get up to the nearest Ford garage before they closed for the day. This involved skirting Limerick on the motorway (we hadn’t planned to visit the city this trip, though there does seem to be plenty to see).

The folk at Sheils Ford in Ennis couldn’t have been more helpful. They said that they’d seen this before and that in their experience it could mean a) it wants new oil, b) it’s having a funny fit and needs a software update, or c) it needs a fuel injector. The one issue that they had was that if they open a job for a warranty issue, Ford expects them to complete the job. As that’d be the case wherever we took SOK, and as they were being so helpful, we decided that we may as well press on and get SOK sorted out.

They put SOK on the diagnostics machine, which decided that SOK needs one new fuel injector, on cylinder 4.

They’d have to get the parts ordered in the morning. It has taken up to a fortnight to get parts before (yikes) but there’s no problem in terms of driving SOK so their suggestion was that we got on with our tourism activities whilst they got the parts organised.

We decided to continue on to the Cliffs of Moher for the night. Little did we know that you have to pay to look at a cliff here! €8 each would allow us to park, look in the visitor centre, and look at the cliffs (OK, you can get in for €4 each by booking a time slot at least a day in advance – but who thinks to book in advance to look at a cliff?). They’d have done better out of us if they’d just charged a sensible amount for parking….

We didn’t bother stopping at the Cliffs of Moher, but continued instead to the harbour car park at nearby Doolin (from where you can see the cliffs…). You can park here quite legitimately for €5 for 30 hours; there’s even a picture of a camper on the pay and display sign. Boat trips leave from here to the Aran Islands and to look at the Cliffs of Moher, so the car park can be pretty busy during the daytime, but by arriving in the evening we bagged a fantastic spot tucked away in a corner. There are toilets (open 9am to 5pm) but no other services.

We liked it so much at Doolin that we spent two nights and one full day there. It’s unlike us to stay put for so long! There was no news from the garage on Tuesday, but we did make good progress booking our January-March 2019 trip. We’re going to South Africa!

Leaving Doolin on Wednesday morning, we drove through an area known as the Burren, which is a huge limestone plateau. Cromwell’s surveyor back in the 1640s described it as:

a savage land, yielding neither water enough to drown a man, nor tree to hang him, nor soil enough to bury.

It’s actually quite attractive:

We didn’t go through the part of the Burren that has the impressive limestone pavements (bringing back memories of school geography field trips for both of us), but if we pass through there on our way back to the Ford garage at Ennis, we’ll stop and take a look.

There was news from Ford at lunchtime on Wednesday; they have some of the parts and the rest should arrive on Monday or possibly Tuesday. SOK’s now booked in for first thing on Wednesday morning. We put the kettle on, got the maps out, and came up with a cunning plan.

We decided to continue North past Galway (which we would probably have visited if we hadn’t felt a bit of time pressure at this point), up through Connemara and County Mayo and then follow the coast East as far as Sligo. TomTom assures us that it’s under 3 hours on major roads from Sligo back down to Ennis, or we could do it over a couple of days and have a look at some places along the way.

We made it past Galway on Wednesday afternoon after battling the busy traffic around the city. Once we got away from the crowds, all was well again. We spent a very peaceful night in the car park for the Derroura mountain biking trails (GPS 53.441511, -9.450367). The description on SearchforSites made us suspect that it might be one of those tiny turning places up a narrow forestry track that some adventurous souls tend to put online, but no: it’s a good-sized, easily accessible flat gravel car park tucked away just off the road.

We continued into Connemara proper today (Thursday), following bumpy roads very slowly through some very impressive scenery.

The photo above was taken from the site of the monument to Alcock and Brown. John Alcock and Arthur Whitten-Brown took off from St John’s, Newfoundland, in June 1919 in a modified Vickers Vimy two-seater biplane. 16 hours later, they completed the very first transatlantic flight by landing on what looked to be green grass but which unfortunately turned out to be a bog:

Apparently, there are statues of Alcock and Brown at both Manchester Airport and Heathrow (we’ll have to look out for them) and their plane is in the Science Museum in London.

We had a bit of a “moment” mid-afternoon when SOK suddenly changed his mithering message from “change engine oil soon” to “oil change required”. We rang the garage, who say they may well change the oil next week as well then ; they’ll make sure they have all they need and we’ll see what’s what on Wednesday. In the meantime, so long as he has plenty of oil in him (which he has), it’s fine for us to keep on trucking.

A bit of research online has made me feel a bit happier about it all in that the messages we’re getting are apparently 100% software-driven. SOK hasn’t got the foggiest idea whether his oil needs changing, but based on Mark’s “driving style” he’s decided that it’s time. The technician at the garage, when I asked him on Monday why an injector problem would give you a oil change message, did say that the injector problem could have “thrown the algorithms out”. So SOK knows that something isn’t quite right, and he’s blaming Mark – not generally an unreasonable assumption, I find 😂. In his defence, Mark is saying that SOK knows nothing: he’s an 8,000-mile novice whereas Mark has a lot more miles than that under his belt. I quote: “Who does SOK think he is to tell me about driving?”.

We’re now parked up in the Clifden Camping and Caravanning Park just outside Clifden, County Galway. We’ve had to splash out on a night on a campsite tonight (€24 – ouch!) as this part of Ireland doesn’t seem to have any cheaper motorhome aire-type facilities. At least it’s giving Mark plenty of entertainment watching the neighbours 😀

So that’s all we have to report from the last few days. The weather’s turned cooler but it’s still way better than we would ever have expected / hoped for. Unperturbed by SOK’s bleating, the adventure continues…….


  1. So…… SOK heard you discussing going to South Africa without him and so threw a toddler tantrum! I hope the garage manage to calm him down for you….


  2. 17 likes. WOW! You’ll be world famous soon, at least in the campervan world. Go to see the Burren if you can. It’s quite an impressive landscape.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I very much doubt it 😂 but it’s good to know that there are 17 kind souls out there prepared to humour us 😎 We’re planning to drive down through the “limestone pavement” part of the Burren tomorrow en route to Ennis. Hopefully the weather’ll play ball….


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s