To join your exciting Cliffs Of Moher, Bunratty, Burren and Galway Bay Rail Tour, you should make your way to Heuston Station, Dublin by 0640h (6:40am). The tour operator’s representatives (wearing yellow jackets) will be waiting for you beside the customer service desk. They will check you in and show you to your reserved seats on the train. A dedicated host will be available on the train to assist you and may also act as a guide on sightseeing tours.
Your departure station, Dublin Heuston, was opened in 1844 as the headquarters of the Great Southern & Western Railway and is now the official principal station of Iarnród Éireann – Ireland’s national railway company. As your train departs, you will travel in a south westerly direction, passing some of Dublin’s western suburbs – and will soon be travelling through the lush fertile countryside of County Kildare. The train goes through the town of Newbridge, which marks the northern boundary of the Curragh of Kildare.
The Curragh (pronounced ‘curra’) is famous for its racecourse, home of the Irish Derby, and there are many stud farms in the vicinity. At this time of the morning, you are likely to see some of Ireland's finest bloodstock being exercised. The Curragh is also the headquarters of the Irish army and their buildings can be seen in the distance to the south. Shortly after the Curragh you will pass the town of Kildare, and the Church of Ireland (Protestant) cathedral of St. Brigid’s – completed in 1223 AD – can be clearly seen to the south (left hand side when facing direction of travel).
Your first stop is the town of Portlaoise (pronounced ‘Port Leesh-eh’), the location of Ireland’s only maximum security prison – ask your host to point it out. You will pass the town of Templemore – home of the Garda Síochána Training College –Ireland’s national (and unarmed) police force. Shortly after Templemore, you pass Loughmoe Castle, which can be clearly seen on the southern side of the train. Built in the 15th century, the Purcell family (of Norman origin) lived there until 1760, when it went into ruin.
The train stops at the town of Thurles, where the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) was founded in 1884. The GAA is the sporting body responsible for promoting Ireland’s national sports, Gaelic Football and Hurling.
At Limerick Junction you will change trains. The journey to Limerick is a short one and your party will normally not have seats reserved. Please take the nearest available seat or as directed by your host. Please use the ladies and gents facilities on the train before arrival in Limerick to ensure a swift transfer from the station to the tour bus.
Arrive in Limerick at around 0915h (9:15am) and board a coach for a city sightseeing excursion. Limerick has a population of about 90,000 and its city charter was granted by 1197AD, making it older than London!
As you cross the river Shannon – Ireland’s longest river – there are views of King John’s Castle to the right. The castle was completed in around 1200 AD and marks the origins of the city. Limerick’s most famous author, Frank McCourt, grew up here and the town was the setting for his book, ‘Angela’s Ashes’. Limerick is also the birthplace of celebrated BBC radio DJ, Terry Wogan and home of 1990s pop sensation, The Cranberries. You will pass the GAA grounds of Páirc na nGael –the home ground of County Limerick’s Hurling and Gaelic Football teams. Limerick is also the home of Irish Rugby and the grounds – Thomond Park – is located nearby.
After seeing the city, you head out to Bunratty Castle and admission is included in your tour. The majestic castle was completed in 1425 and, after many years of neglect, has been restored to its former glory. There is also a Folk Park here and many of the buildings – including the village – were dismantled at various locations in the region and rebuilt brick by brick at their present location. Even the 18th century church was relocated to its present position using this method!
There is a lunch stop at O’Connor’s Pub in Doolin (payable direct) before you arrive at the mighty Cliffs of Moher – among the highest sea cliffs in Western Europe. Rising slowly from Doolin they ascend to over 700 feet (213 metres) stretching south for nearly 5 miles (8km) to Hags Head.
From here the tour takes the coast road for much of the way to Galway, with time for photos along The Burren. This unique lunar landscape of limestone was described in 1649 by one of Oliver Cromwell’s men as: “No tree to hang a man, no water deep enough to drown him and no soil deep enough to bury him”.
Today the Burren is noted for its diverse flora with few parallels elsewhere in Ireland or indeed, Europe. Continue along the coast road to Black Head, passing the quaint coastal villages of Ballyvaughan and Kinvara before joining the main road to Galway, where you will arrive shortly after 1700h (5:00pm). Ask your host if there is time to explore the streets around Eyre Square.
Departure is from Galway Station is at 1805h (6:05pm), arriving in Dublin at around 2045h (8:45pm) – you should be at the station in Galway 10 minutes beforehand, or as directed by your host. There is a snack service on this train, serving tea, coffee etc (payable direct). There is also a selection of alcoholic beverages available. Your host will be able to advise you of the location of the snack car. Sit back, relax and enjoy some refreshments on the journey back to Dublin.
Leaving Galway the train crosses Lough Atalia and heads east towards Dublin, with splendid views of Galway Bay to the right. Athenry is our first stop and in recent years the song "The Fields of Athenry" has become Ireland’s second national anthem – particularly at Rugby and Soccer internationals. Continuing through vast expanses of variable land comprising bog and scrub we arrive at Ballinasloe – home of the world's oldest horse fair.
After crossing the River Shannon, the train arrives at the town of Athlone. It continues past Clara Bog – one of the great undeveloped blanket bogs – before arriving in Dublin at 2045h (8:45pm).
The tour ends at Heuston Station, Dublin, and you will need to make your own arrangements for returning to your accommodation.