Drive: Molls Gap and Slea Head Loop, Ireland (90km)
The charming locality of Adare is rated with justification as one of – if not the – prettiest villages in all of Ireland.
If you’re looking for a base from which to tour and experience some of the Emerald Isle’s best parts, this is the place.
Just outside Adare is RetroVentures, awaiting our pick-up is a white, well-maintained 1973 Triumph TR6 in US-specification with twin Stromberg carbs and 15-inch wheels.
The TR6 and I are getting on just fine, apart from start-up.
I had been warned by RetroVentures that the four-speed gearshift needed an assertive touch, especially when cold.
Even when up to operating temps, it’s still more of a push through the gate than a glide.
The 2.5-litre inline-six seems flexible and agreeable enough, and at highway speeds the Laycock overdrive comes into its own.
Activated by a stalk to the right of the steering wheel, it drops revs cruising at 100km/h from 3000 to a lazy 2500.
Need a bit of urge when overtaking, or to better exploit the twisties — just flick it off.
The interior is classic British sports car, with walnut veneer dash, large by today’s standards three-spoke steering wheel and leather trim.
Best of all, despite passing showers, we’ve been able to drop the roof – and leave it down.
The trek south down the N21, 23 and 22 (in that order) leads us to County Kerry and Killarney, not an unpleasant drive for a major road — to be sure to be sure.
Our target is Molls Gap, one of the classic rally stages of the iconic Circuit of Ireland, a time and place when the inimitable Paddy Hopkirk and other local hot-shoes would provide tough competition for visiting works drivers such as Tony Pond and Jimmy McRae.
Then, heading north on the way ‘home’, we’ll tackle the Slea Head loop (48km) of the Dingle Peninsula.
Our drive takes us past the highly-regarded Killarney National Park.
There’s a real rhythm to our drive.
Pushing on through glades of fir trees and ferns, we enjoy more twists on the approach to a T-junction, where the N71 meets the R568.
A left-hook points us in the direction of Kenmare and in minutes we’re in the embrace of Molls Gap.
Wikipedia explains that the name behind the name is Moll Kissane, who ran a ‘shebeen’ (unlicensed public house) while the road was under construction in the 1820s.
Think about that for a moment. Where else but Ireland might a main road feature be named after a publican! Australia, maybe?
By European mountain pass standards, Molls Gap is fairly tame.
It doesn’t possess the vertiginous scale of most; ascent and descent are fairly modest and corners open and flowing except one or two — but it’s still a tasty strip of blacktop.
Traffic is light and, with the luxury of long sight lines, I’m able to ask more of the TR6.
Being a carburetted export car, there is a shortness of oomph and grunt compared with the UK-spec fuel-injected model – 79kW and 180Nm (versus 93 and 194) – but keep in the meat of the torque band (about 2500 rpm in 2nd or 3rd) and it gets along nicely.
The unassisted steering is heavy (no surprise), but you get accustomed quickly.
Instead of wrestling the car through a corner, it’s best to compensate by lifting off the throttle, which helps tighten the line and turns the nose in.
Typical for the age, a combo of servo-assisted front disc and rear drum brakes also commands a circumspect approach, though 1123kg is not a huge amount of heft to arrest.
The longer we drive, the more it becomes evident just why the six proved so successful for what was, essentially, a fill-in between the TR5 and 7.
Some 90,000+ sold in seven years.
Leaving Killarney, we make our way back up the N22 onto the N86 and along the Dingle Peninsula — but not before turning right off the latter on to the R560 to take in another must-do, Conor Pass.
At 456m above sea level, on offer is the experience of traversing Ireland’s highest mountain pass, a road tight, narrow and, in parts, precarious, weaving around sharp cliff faces.
Thankfully, vehicle length and weight restrictions apply, thereby prohibiting mobile chicanes such as coaches, caravans, camper vans and trucks.
From the carpark at the summit, you can see the Aran Islands off County Galway on a clear day.
It’s a tad less than 8km from here into Dingle where, heading clock-wise, the Slea Head loop along R559 starts just before the Milltown Cottages.
Etched out of the steep and rugged coastline, the road is narrow and winding for some of the way.
The views out to the Atlantic are mighty impressive, particularly across to the Blasket Islands.
Eventually, the road turns inland, flattens out and opens up, particularly as Mt Brandon looms into view, at 952m one of the highest peaks in Ireland.
Here is the scene of several aviation tragedies; one of the worst occurring on the morning of July 28, 1943, when a BOAC flight from Lisbon, Portugal, to Foynes in Limerick crashed in thick fog.
Of 25 crew and passengers on board, 10 died and the others were injured.