take a seat at the window of Ireland’s best train journeys

take a seat at the window of Ireland’s best train journeys

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Driven by increasingly expensive car hire and an appetite for sustainable tourism, visitors to Ireland are discovering the appeal of public transport. Fares on Irish public transport were reduced by 20% in April through the end of this year and permanently halved for people aged 19-23, the first such reductions in Ireland since 1947. Add to that the heavily discounted online fares, or the Leap Card, which offers even higher price reductions and now it’s time to discover Ireland’s most scenic train journeys. We choose six epic journeys that cover all corners of the country, from the Atlantic coast to the sunny south-east, to the spectacular coast of Northern Ireland.

Rosslare in Dublin

Look out the window and the County Wexford countryside is flat, an endless sky stretching far over the water and swampy plains. The entire area of ​​southeastern Ireland lies below sea level and the landscape itself is an 18th century engineering feat when local mudflats and a handful of islands were drained and exploited to become productive land , known as Sloblands. They now offer a winter refuge for geese and swans from Iceland, Greenland and Siberia. It is also the starting point for a two- or three-hour journey on one of Europe’s most scenic rail routes, which departs from Rosslare Europort, the hub of the French and British ferries to south-east Ireland.

In 15 minutes, Wexford Town’s church spiers appear above its brown brick and plaster architecture – the urban layout appears to straddle water and land as the train crosses the harbor like a tram, facing a quay arch flanked by beautiful three-story buildings. The sea is on either side: a statue of Commodore John Barry, a local man often credited as the father of the American navy, presides over the peaceful scene. It appears to challenge the city’s past as Ireland’s first port of call for bloodthirsty Vikings and Cromwell’s troops. As the train sneaks out of town, it casts a shadow over the Irish National Heritage Park, where turbulent history and invasions are explored in detail.

A train emerges from a tunnel on the coastal railway line on the cliffs between Bray and Greystones in County Wicklow.

A train emerges from a tunnel on the coastal railway line on the cliffs between Bray and Greystones in County Wicklow. Photograph: Alasabyss / Alamy

The train travels north and inland, but stays close to the water as it curves and winds along the contours of the River Slaney. It reaches Enniscorthy, a striking and ancient Norman settlement, through a series of tunnels and a minimalist railway bridge. It’s the hometown of novelist Colm Tóibín – and regularly appears as a setting in his books or film adaptations (along with Curracloe Beach, near Wexford Town, which also landed a role in Saving Private Ryan – as a stained Normandy landing site. of blood for the troops on D-day). Just outside Enniscorthy on Vinegar Hill, local rebel forces resisted the British infantry during the infamous rebellion of 1798. The stalemate lasted a month and that brief glimmer of triumph is narrated at the National 1798 Rebellion Center on Parnell Road.

Related: Emerald Heart: A Guide to Ireland’s Six National Parks

As the trail runs further north, past Arklow in County Wicklow, the scenery becomes decidedly alpine. We pass over gushing streams and the track hugs tall conifers as the train climbs higher and higher. It winds around curves of pine trees and over old dry stone bridges before entering the Vale of Avoca – a lush valley where the Avonmore and the Avonbeg join the meeting of the waters to become the Avoca River – and finally stopping in Rathdrum. A short walk from the village is Avondale Estate and Forest, the birthplace of politician and Home Rule pioneer Charles Stewart Parnell. The house is currently undergoing extensive renovations but the large expanse of gardens reopened to the public last month.

Further north, the train leaves Wicklow Town and veers east, parallel to the cobblestone coast. On the left, the marshes are animated by kingfishers and egrets up to the fertile and rolling hills that shape the horizon. As you approach Greystones, lone figures walk the beach and, in town, charming restaurants like Happy Pear, a plant-based cafe and bakery, line the streets.

As the track runs further north, beyond Arklow, the scenery becomes decidedly alpine

From Greystones approaches Bray Head, a high rocky peninsula that juts out into the Irish Sea. The train offers soaring views of the crashing waves from the white crest and sandy bays. Speed ​​through the tunnels, emerging into the blinding sunlight that heralds another spectacular coastal view, more spectacular than the last, then stop in Bray. From here, passengers can continue on to Dublin city center with a handful of stops, or hop aboard the DART commuter service which winds and stops at idyllic beach towns like Dalkey or Killiney.
Book on Irish Rail, from € 7.49 single

Cork to Cobh

Cobh, County Cork.

Cobh, County Cork. Photograph: Joana Kruse / Alamy

This 24-minute train journey departs from Kent station in the city, but in that short time the tracks offer spectacular seaside scenery to Cobh, a very picturesque town on one of the world’s largest natural harbors. The train travels the contours of the Belvelly Channel then, veering east, stops at Little Island before heading to Ireland’s only natural park: Fota Island. The red brick Cobh Station is the terminus – and was also the terminus for many aboard the ill-fated RMS Titanic as the final departure point for the ship on April 11, 1912. Hop off beside the Cobh Heritage Center to discover Annie’s story. Moore, who left Cobh just before Christmas 1891 to become the first immigrant to be tried on Ellis Island, New York.
Book on Irish Rail, € 3 single (Leap Card)

Western railway corridor

Thoor Ballylee was once the home of the poet WB Yeats.

Thoor Ballylee was once the home of the poet WB Yeats. Photograph: David Lyons / Alamy

Leaving Galway for Limerick, this old line follows the less-traveled tourist trail for 80 minutes through off-the-radar ancient towns and villages. Low stone walls cut through the countryside, creating a mosaic of greenery all the way to Gort, a market town near the historic gardens of Coole Park Nature Reserve, or to Thoor Ballylee, where poet WB Yeats lived (and director John Ford filmed the scene opening of the 1952 film The Quiet Man). From Ennis, the train makes a curve around Mooghaun Hill Fort and the woods, before stopping at Sixmilebridge. From this riverside village it is easy to cycle to Craggaunowen, a park that explores Celtic life during the Bronze Age, or the pretty village of Quin, with its magnificent Franciscan abbey ruins. Spend the evening at Limerick City’s Locke Bar, in a riverside setting in the shadow of St Mary’s Cathedral.
Book on Irish Rail, € 7.49 single

Dublin to Belfast

Marina of Malahide.

Marina of Malahide. Photograph: Eimantas Juskevicius / Alamy

Leaving Dublin’s Connolly station, the train skirts Malahide Marina and crosses the estuary before heading north through the countryside. Expect long stretches of coastline to Drogheda, a fortified town with narrow alleys that straddles the River Boyne. It is located just 8 km from the archaeological site of Brú na Bóinne, a UNESCO heritage site, an engraved landscape with impressive prehistoric tombs. As the train lowers and plunges through the fields and coast during the two-hour journey, it crosses the 18-arch Craigmore Viaduct, which spans a quarter-mile over a valley. Reaching your destination at Lanyon Station, follow the River Lagan north on foot for just over a mile to discover the birth of an ocean giant at Titanic Belfast.
Book on Irish Rail or Translink, € 13.99 single

Derry to Coleraine

Downhill Strand, Co Derry.

Downhill Strand, Co Derry. Photograph: Johannes Rigg / Alamy

Described by Michael Palin as “one of the most beautiful rail journeys in the world”, this extraordinary 40-minute journey winds along the banks of the River Foyle before reaching a large stretch of plain near the estuary. Once you reach the coast, the train follows the sandy dunes of Benone Strand, entering and exiting the tunnels, like strobe lights, with breathtaking views that go in and out. The temple of Mussenden, a folly – and once the tiny library of an old estate – staggers high on the edge of a cliff. The quiet seaside village of Castlerock leads to Coleraine, where visitors can travel by bus to the windy Antrim coast.
Book on Translink, £ 10 single

Longford to Sligo

Path along the Shannon River;  Carrick-on-Shannon.

Path along the Shannon River; Carrick-on-Shannon. Photography: Design Pics Inc / Alamy

From Longford, rail and river intertwined for an 80-minute journey. In 40 minutes, the train crosses a bridge over the Shannon, the longest river in Great Britain and Ireland. It connects counties of Roscommon and Leitrim, before skirting Albert Lock, where pleasure cruisers wait patiently on a canal. As you approach Carrick-on-Shannon, Connaught’s nautical capital, the river periodically disappears from view, so it may magically reappear beyond a grove. Pause in this pretty, flower-drenched seaside town to see Ireland’s smallest chapel, before moving to Boyle. It is the hometown of actor Chris O’Dowd and film legend Maureen O’Sullivan, Mia Farrow’s mother, as well as a magnificent medieval abbey. The last leg of the journey ventures into the hilly region of Yeats: Sligo.
Book on Irish Rail, € 9.35 single

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