Friday, April 21, 2017

An Amazing Journey Around the Emerald Isle

It was to be the trip of a lifetime. Ever since I was a little girl I had dreamed of visiting the green rolling hills and the historic castles of Ireland. Finally, in the spring of 2011, my husband and I were making that dream a reality. We decided to stay for 12 days, assuming that would give us enough time to see everything we desired to see without exhausting us. I did my research, picked the locations we wanted to visit and then carefully selected where we would be staying.

Our first stop was Dublin. We chose a hotel in the heart of the city centre. From here we had walking access to many of the attractions we wished to see: Saint Patrick’s Cathedral (which looks just like the one in New York City), Grafton Street, Ha’Penny Bridge and Trinity College. In hindsight I would recommend staying two nights in order to see everything that Dublin has to offer, but one night was sufficient for us.


The next morning we took a shuttle back to the airport to pick up our rental car. I do not recommend trying to drive in Dublin. For those afraid of driving on the “wrong” side of the road in a country such as Ireland, fear not! It’s not nearly as bad as you might imagine. My husband drove the entire trip and he described the experience as “natural”. Though it seems awkward at first, it doesn’t take long before something simply clicks in your brain and after that it’s as easy as tying your shoe. The only complaint that Brandon had about our little Fiat Panda was that the pedals were a tad small for his size 12 shoe. One thing I highly recommend is to rent a GPS navigation system with your car. It was the best purchase we ever made on our trip!


We drove in a clock-wise fashion around the country, first stopping in Kilkenny. Our first destination was to see Kilkenny Castle. The interior is magnificent. Even though photographs are forbidden inside most castles around Ireland, it’s not easy to forget the intricate detail of each one. Because we would be visiting so many attractions we decided to purchase the Heritage Card. For 21 euros you can access many castles and major heritage sites around Ireland for free. Just do your research and make sure it’s worth it. Some sites have no charge or a very small fee.


Our first bed-and-breakfast, called the Lawcus Farm Guesthouse, was one of the major highlights of our trip. It’s located about 20 miles south of Kilkenny and it’s exactly what it advertises itself to be, a farm. When we arrived in mid-May the farm was teeming with new life including 9 lambs and 13 baby piglets. The owners Mark and Ann-Marie were beyond friendly. They told us about places to visit in the area such as Kells Priory and Jerpoint Abbey, both of which we ended up checking out. That evening we stayed up till midnight chatting with Mark while Ann-Marie made a fresh loaf of bread with black-currant jelly. The next morning we were treated to fresh pancakes, Irish bacon and porridge. This is the typical morning fare at an Irish bed-and-breakfast and it’s the only accommodations I would recommend when not staying in a big city like Dublin.


Continuing our loop around Ireland we stopped next at the colorful town of Kinsale. There isn’t much to do in Kinsale except shop and eat but we found a little slice of heaven in the form of Jo’s Cafe. There they have the tastiest hot chocolate I have ever had. They even serve your drink with a tiny cup of chocolate morsels in case you want to add some more deliciousness. It was in Kinsale that my husband and I had our first pint of Guinness while watching a local band play in a pub. If you’re not a beer drinker (which I am not) I would recommend trying a Bailey’s coffee or, if you’re a little more bold, an Irish coffee. I found the whiskey in the Irish coffee to be a little too much for me so I stuck with the Bailey’s coffee for most of the trip.


Our next destination brought us to one of the more popular stops in Ireland, the town of Killarney. It’s here that you can start your journey around the lovely Ring of Kerry, which we did. But first we did a little sightseeing around town. As we pulled into Killarney National Park to see the Muckross House a young fellow tried to talk us into taking a jaunting car ride for 35 euros. A jaunting car is similar to a horse-drawn carriage with no top. Being touristy schmucks we agreed. Even though it seemed to be a bit of a rip-off the trip was quite enjoyable and something I would actually do again.


The next morning was our chance to drive the famed Ring of Kerry. We decided on a clock-wise loop, against the traffic of the buses. We were lucky because that day it was sunny and we stopped many times along the way to take pictures. Instead of making a full loop back to Killarney we drove west onto the Dingle Peninsula where we would stay for two nights. In my opinion the Dingle Peninsula is much more stunning and rugged than the Ring of Kerry. If one ever makes a trip to Ireland I would recommend driving both so you can make the decision for yourself. If you find yourself strapped for time, go with the Dingle Peninsula.


We stayed at a bed-and-breakfast called the Seaside Haven with views of the Dingle harbor. We had planned to take a fishing trip while in Dingle but unfortunately the seas were too rough for any kind of fishing so we spent our time shopping and listening to traditional music in the pubs. We also took a trip around the Dingle Peninsula, driving a less popular loop called the Slea Head Drive. It was absolutely amazing.


Our next stop was up the western coast of Ireland to the tiny town of Doolin. The only thing worthwhile about Doolin are the famous Cliffs of Moher and the trad sessions. Too bad we only made it to one, the Cliffs of Moher. Visiting the cliffs was an unforgettable experience, one that took our breath away (literally!). The cliffs packed a windy punch on the day we visited and it was hard to stand up straight or even to breathe. That evening we went to one of Doolin’s popular pubs to hear their famed trad sessions. While the session didn’t start till 9, showing up 2 hours early proved to be a little too late. The place was packed and there was no room to sit or even stand. We tried visiting another pub but it too was filled to capacity. Time to call it a night!


After staying in Doolin it was time to head farther north to the city of Galway. We took a scenic tour through the Burren before finding our way into the heart of the city (thanks to our trusty GPS). We spent our time in Galway getting gussied up for the Trad on the Prom show. The show has music, singing and dancing, very similar to Riverdance. It was excellent.


Of course no trip to Ireland would be complete without staying in a castle! The castle we chose wasn’t really a historic castle but aside from the Lawcus Farm Guesthouse it was the highlight of our trip. We drove northwest, deep into the Connemara area of Ireland we checked into the Ballynahinch castle. This is where we spent our last 3 days in Ireland, a luxurious hotel with fireplaces in every sitting area. We spent our days walking around the castle grounds and our evenings snuggled up next to a fireplace reading a book. Unfortunately the 3 days went by a little too fast for my liking, and before we knew it we were driving back to Dublin for our flight home.



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