The best mountain roads and passes for motorcyclists in Ireland – Part 1: Overview & The South East

Last updated on February 6, 2024

The best mountain roads for your motorbike tour in the south east of Ireland. That is what this article is about.

In the following articles of this little series, we will look into mountain roads and passes in the west and north of the Irish Isle.

Motorbike in the Wicklow Mountains
Motorbike in the Wicklow Mountains (photo by Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg


Overview

Ireland is an island and islands are characterised by their coasts. The biggest highlight in Ireland is probably the famous Wild Atlantic Way, the wild Atlantic coast. With 2500km of breathtaking coastline, the Wild Atlantic Way can even be called a very long chain of highlights.

But if you look at the satellite view on Google Maps, you will notice some suspicious brown-grey spots on the map – and indeed, they are mountains! No, of course they are not comparable to the Alps, I know, but that’s not why you come to the island, is it?

There are several very beautiful low mountain ranges in Ireland with mountains up to a little over 1000m high. That’s about the same as the German Black Forest or other low mountain ranges.

Some of these mountain ranges are nature reserves and most of them do not resemble German low mountain ranges at all, but rather the Scottish Highlands. Barren rounded hilltops covered in brownish grasses, light green ferns and interspersed with large purple patches of heather. Brown gullies stretch like scars across the mountain flanks and bear witness to peat cutting, which is still done by hand in some places.

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Again and again you see large fan-shaped gravel patches – the rubble originally came deep out of the mountain and was there. There are the entrances of old tin and copper mines that were driven into the mountains about 200 years ago – in hard work by hand.

Numerous sheep roam the slopes and also the roads, because in the nature reserves they run completely free. There are also free-roaming cows and horses and, of course, deer that occasionally jump across the road.

Deer and horses are usually careful, but sheep and cows basically have the right of way! At least that’s what they believe and as a motorcyclist you should let them believe that and pass very carefully. Negotiations with sheep are long and tedious and fruitless – I have tried many times….

Mountain heather in bloom
Mountain heather in bloom (photo by Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg)

Where there are mountains, there are usually mountain passes – again, they are not too high, but still very nice to ride. In Ireland, the passes are often called “Gap”, but sometimes also “Pass”. I have put together some of the most beautiful mountain routes and mountain passes for motorcyclists for you below.

By the way, I know the Irish island very well from my own motorbike trips. My family and I come from Germany, but have been living in Ireland for several years (second home). At our location south of Dublin (at the foot of the Wicklow Mountains), we run our motorbike rental business during the summer months (www.easycruiser.tours) and also offer nice guest rooms (www.the-view-accommodation.ie).

Sheep over Lough Tay
Sheep over Lough Tay (photo by Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg)

Where are the most beautiful mountain routes and mountain passes for motorcyclists in Ireland:

  1. Wicklow Mountains National Park, e.g. Sally Gap or Wicklow Gap.
  2. The Blackstairs Mountains on Mount Leinster, e.g. Nine Stones Viewpoint.
  3. the Beara Peninsula with the Healy Pass.
  4. the Killarney National Park, e.g. Molls Gap, Ballagbeama Gap, Ballaghisheen Pass or Gap of Dunloe.
  5. the Dingle Peninsula with Connor Pass.
  6. the Connemara Highlands with several beautiful mountain routes.
  7. the Mayo Highlands with several beautiful mountain routes.
  8. the Ben Bulben with the Gleniff Horseshoe Drive.
  9. the Glenveagh National Park in Donegal with several beautiful mountain routes.
  10. Mourne Mountains and Spelga Dam

Mountain Roads and passes in the south east of Ireland:

1) Wicklow Mountains National Park

In this 3-part series of articles, we will take a closer look at the most beautiful mountain regions and routes for motorcyclists. In this first part, we will start in the south-east of Ireland. In the second part we will look at the southwest and in the third part we will look at the north.

Beautiful mountain routes and passes for motorcyclists in the southeast of Ireland:

The Wicklow Mountains National Park begins in Dublin’s south and continues southwards as a long ridge of mountains, always parallel to the coast. By the way, our motorbike rental station (www.easyruiser.tours) is located at its southern foothills, and those who take star tours from our guesthouse have the beautiful Wicklow Mountains, the east coast and the south-east coast on their doorstep.

There are many really beautiful routes in the Wicklow Mountains and I’ll just list a few of the better known examples here:

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Ad for our own business The View Accommodation

a) From Hollywood over the Wicklow Gap (Gap=Pass) to Laragh.

b) From Laragh via Glenmacnass Waterfall to Sally Gap.

c) From Sally Gap via the Old Military Road to Dublin.

d) From Vartry Reservoir via Lough Tay and Sally Gap to Blessington.

e) Once around the Blessington Lakes.


To a) From Hollywood via Wicklow Gap (Gap=Pass) to Laragh

Hollywood is a cute little town with a few old houses, a good café just down the road and an old church on the hillside. Look out on the hillside and you’ll see the Hollywood sign on the hill – a bit smaller than in California.

The road (R756) winds its way up the mountain, then the panorama opens up and you drive in wide curves up the mountain to the viewpoint at Wicklow Gap. On the other side, you pass old tin mines and see the medieval monastery of Glendalough further down on the right – well worth a visit!

Motorcycle at bog (high moors) in Wicklow Moountain National Park
Motorcycle at bog (high moors) in Wicklow Moountain National Park (photo by Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg)

A little further on is the Laragh crossroads and petrol station, a popular motorbike meeting place at weekends in summer.

To b) From Laragh via Glenmacnass Waterfall to Sally Gap.

Behind the small petrol station in Laragh, turn left towards Sally Gap, and then just follow the road (R115). First you go through the forest, then along a small river up a gorge until you see the Glenmacnass waterfall on your left.

Be sure to stop before and above the waterfall, the viewpoints are magnificent! You follow the small river further into the open highlands, the landscape becomes increasingly barren, peaty moorland follows and after several bends you reach the top of the Sally Gap pass.

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To c) From Sally Gap via the Old Military Road to Dublin

When you reach Sally Gap from Laragh, you can turn left to Blessington, right to Lough Tay and straight on to Dublin. The Old Military Road (R115) was originally an unpaved military road over the mountains. Today it is sealed and runs along the ridge of the Wicklow Mountains to the southern edge of Dublin.

To d) From Vartry Reservoir via Lough Tay and Sally Gap to Blessington.

Vartry Reservoir is a beautiful reservoir, in the eastern foothills of the Wicklow Mountains. From there, the R759 heads up the mountain to Lough Tay. Lough means lake, as in Scotland, but is spelt Loch there. The area around Lough Tay is private, the land belongs to the Guiness family – that’s right, they also own the beer brewery of the same name.

Motorbike at Glenmacnass Waterfall
Motorbike at Glenmacnass Waterfall (phoo by Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg)

The lake served as a filming location for the series Vikings, and the town of Kattegat was situated on its small beach. The small road leads along picturesque curves above the lake and then stretches a little further through the mountains. Via Sally Gap, the R759 leads downhill again to the N81, which continues to Blessington on the left.

To e) Once around the Blessington Lakes

The N81 leads south out of Blessington. After a while you can turn left onto the R758 and cross a bridge to reach Blessington Lakes. Follow the road (lake is on the left), then there is another bridge and a small road on the left onto Lake Drive (L4365 towards Lacken).

You can follow the road around the lake until you come back to Blessington over a final bridge. Granted, this is not a mountain pass, but it is a road down the mountainside around the lake and it is just too beautiful not to mention!

Two bikes and a rider near Sally Gap
Two bikes and a rider near Sally Gap (photo by Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg)

2) The Blackstairs Mountains on Mount Leinster

The Blackstairs Mountains are the extension of the Wicklow Mountains southwards to New Ross and Waterford on the coast. Less high than the Wicklows, they are nevertheless wonderful for motorcyclists with many beautiful winding roads. One of these beautiful stretches leads around Mount Leinster, which at just under 800m is the highest mountain in the old province of Leinster.

At Bunclody, the main road, the N80, heads northwest. From there, Barke`s Road branches off to the left, signposted “Mount Leinster Heritage Drive”. Follow this road uphill until you reach the top of the wooded ridge. Just before the hilltop, a small road leads to Mount Leinster on the left, signposted 9 Stones Cycle.

Two motorbikes at Mount Leinster
Two motorbikes at Mount Leinster (photo by Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg)

Ride through a patch of woodland and then over a cattle gate into the Mount Leinster nature reserve you see in front of you. Continue uphill to the 9 Stones Viewpoint and car park at the top of the pass. If you want to admire the great view on the way up, stop, there are no guard rails and it’s deep down….

Follow the road down the mountain on the other side and turn left at the next junction. Follow the L3001 until you come to the larger R702 road. Turn left to Kiltealy and follow the signs back to Bunclody.

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To Part 2 of this series of articles

Now we have got to know some of the most beautiful mountain routes and passes in Ireland’s southeast. In part 2 of this article series, we will head west to see the most beautiful mountain routes in the southwest of Ireland.

More interesting articles for you

THE MOST BEAUTIFUL MOUNTAIN ROADS AND PASSES FOR MOTORCYCLISTS IN IRELAND – PART 2: THE SOUTHWEST


THE MOST BEAUTIFUL MOUNTAIN ROADS AND PASSES FOR MOTORCYCLISTS IN IRELAND – PART 3: THE NORTHWEST & THE NORTHEAST


IRELAND MOTORBIKE TOUR – 11 PARTICULARLY PRETTY IRISH TOWNS TO STROLL, STOP AND STAY IN

8 GREAT CASTLES YOU SHOULD SEE ON YOUR MOTORBIKE TOUR IN IRELAND

Photo credits cover photo: Two motorbikes in Wicklow Mountains National Park, photo by Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg (www.easycruiser.tourswww.the-view-accommodation.iewww.irland-insider.dewww.ireland-insider.com)

Picture credits Map: Google maps, numbers have been drawn in by me (Ulrich).

Uli Written by:

Hello and welcome to my blog. Originating from Germany, my family and I now live in Ireland (at least part time). We have travelled this amazing isle many times and know many parts of it very well. In this blog, I would like to share valuabe tips and information for your next trip to Ireland with you. Enjoy the content, yours, Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg