I can’t really tell when my desire to explore the Irish shore came to me. I learned about it through Ben Howard’s music, which was translated into images by his bass player and amazing photographer: Mickey Smith. Thanks to them, I was already in love with this country without ever having set foot there. Determined to discover its landscapes and its unique atmosphere, I booked my flight to Ireland during winter, in mid-January. I was convinced that choosing this tricky period would make me feel the very soul of the Emerald Island. I could already imagine myself filling my eyes with waves crashing against the cliffs and losing my sight in its brown and limitless lands. With my girlfriend, we decided to initiate this journey together, and to drive along the west coast from the Cliffs of Moher to Donegal. A south to north trip, full of promises.
The Cliffs of Moher has something special. It’s a mystic place, one of the first I’ve heard about, and one of the most famous as well. I’ve never felt a wind as strong as the one on the top of the Cliffs. It’s hard to stay stood up and even harder to stay on the most exposed places. It was impossible to go further, our walk along the cliffs had to stop, way too early for me… Before leaving, we stood and watched, and we could feel those thousand years of history. Those years of creation initiated by the howling wind and the waves licking the rocks.
Spending time to inspect the map is something I adore. This makes me feel adventurous. I like losing my mind in it and think of our daily goal: find a place to park the van and sleep. Daytime is short in Ireland so we were always parking at the end of the day, when the night has come. The ritual is the same everyday: cooking, cleaning and sleeping. The most beautiful thing when you travel is to discover, the next morning, when the dark veil has risen, a brand new scenery. The same one you couldn’t really see the night before. A switch between being blind and suddenly sighted, which highlight the outside world and the magic of this trip.
Achill Island is one of those travel crushes. It’s a surrealistic island where the cosy pubs are close to the cold sea and the deep cliffs. Through the roads and without any fences, a flock of sheep is walking. This place is split by a main road which goes along amazing colourful houses and ends in an out of time cove. We found it after reaching a mountain pass. The panorama from above gives us a surprising view as the road continues and reaches a beach surrounded by shades of the different elements. We decide, in a rush, to go down and walk on the beach. Alone. Covered from the wind and the waves, this empty and peaceful bay offers us a show of a seal, playing in a quiet, cold and translucent water.
Interested by finding out what surfing in Ireland can be, we decided to meet local surfers on Achill Island. During this trip, the forecast wasn’t very good because of the winter's swells, bringing a rough mix of wind, rain and hail. But islands often allow to find a spot which can work with any forecast. We met Kalani, a young surfer from the West Coast who gave us a meeting the next day on a point break, sheltered from the wind and the swell. When we arrived in the early morning, we’ve been amazed by what we saw. A bunch of surfers, sharing a point break providing long and quiets waves. Pure and perfect lines slicing the overwhelming roughness of winter under the caring eyes of the mountains away. Surfing in warm water is pleasant. But when I see these folks, wearing a wide smile despite the thick layer of neoprene because of the freezing water, I’m sure that surfing doesn’t need to be something simple and easy. It is beautiful when it’s harsh, shared and deserved. I believe that’s what surf’ soul really is, a swing between trouble and peace, pride and frustration.
Now, back home, I know deep inside of me that I’m not done with this country. It has got a lot of stories to tell and I’d love to capture all of them with my camera. To capture this Emerald Island, which some people call the European Hawaii.
See more from the author, Alex Peneau