Thursday, August 12, 2010

Our Great Irish Vacation

The best vacation ever, by far, was our trip to Ireland. We were there from the end of May into June. The best time to go is probably July or August for the best weather, but we lucked out only needing an umbrella once anyway!

We flew into Shannon Airport from JFK after about 7 hours of flight. When we landed it was light drizzle, as to be expected, temperatures in the 60s (Fahrenheit). It took a couple hours to settle with the rental car, the place didn't open until 9am. We picked up our Ford Focus hatchback and were off (on the other side of the road). My husband did all the driving, and did a very good job, I must say.

Our first day (click for all the pictures) was exhausting on such little sleep, but a great experience nonetheless. Bunratty was where we stayed our first night, walking distance from the Bunratty Castle. After freshening up we drove up to Dysert O'dea, an old Castle and archeology center. We toured the grounds, walked through an old Church, through a field of cows, by the High Cross.

We stopped in Ennis on our way back to Bunratty for an Irish music festival, called Fleadh Nua, where we enjoyed a pint of Guinness and local musicians.

Back to Bunratty, we walked through the Bunratty Folk Park (the castle was closed by then) and went to Durty Nellie's, a famous pub in Bunratty.

The second day was a great experience, we learned a lot about the culture of this area of Ireland. We drove into Doolin and took a ferry to Inisheer (Inis Oirr) one of the few areas where Gaelic is still spoken. The island is very small, we toured most of it in about 45 minutes on a guided tour. It was an amazing experience. The school house is tiny, teaching I think 19 students, our guide said and only about 250 people live on the island. We saw the shipwrecked Plassey that has been on the shore since 1960. It was originally left because it was too expensive to take care of, and has since become a tourist attraction. We also enjoyed walking through the ruins of the O'Brien Castle. The day started off cloudy there but the sun was hot and bright by the time we caught the ferry back to Doolin.

After the trip to Inisheer, we drove over to perhaps my favorite part of the trip... the Cliffs of Moher. They are absolutely amazing. Light drizzle and clouds could not ruin our views. We walked along a good portion of the cliffs and up to the O'Brien Tower. We could have probably saved a couple Euros and skipped the tower, there is an amazing view from below as well.

We checked into the Bed and Breakfast (Nelly Dee's) and went into the village for dinner. We met a couple from the Boston area and listened to local bands in the pubs. One band provided us all with cake for the violinist's birthday. The neat thing about the bands that play in these pubs is that some appear to not even have a gig set up, they just go for dinner and take out their instrument and start playing. Others call the audience up to share their talents, and those that participate really are talented!

Day 3
was along day, stopping off at the Blennerville Windmill on the way to drive the Dingle Peninsula. The advantage to not being in a tour bus is that we could drive up Conor (Connor) Pass. The road was narrow, windy, bidirectional, and on the side of a cliff during most of the ride. Sheep crossing much like our squirrels do here in New York, except at a much slower pace.

I climbed up the waterfall at Conor's Pass and up to Pedlar's Lake, a corrie lake that feeds the waterfall. The views were spectacular from up there. The mountains are a lower elevation than our high peaks in Upstate New York, but they start at sea level giving the illusion of being much larger. They also lack the trees that our mountains have here, making them seem so much different.

We meant to drive the rest of the peninsula in an organized fashion but somehow managed to make the loop more like two semicircles. We stopped at the Beehive Huts (Clochan), Dun Beg Fort, and the Gallarus Oratory, sturdy ancient structures made from small stones, resembling beehives. The clouds started rolling in faster and it was raining as we made our way passed Inch Beach on our way to Killarney. By the time we arrived at Muckross Stables, our B&B, it was a full rain. We went to dinner, needing the umbrella, but after that we put it away for good!

We began Day 4 at Killarney National Park. We took a horse and carriage ride through part of the park, stopping at the Muckross Abbey, Muckross House, the oldest tree in the park (500 year old Cedar) and the Torc Waterfall. I wanted to hike to the top of the waterfall but our guide only gave us 20 minutes.

We swung by Ross Castle before heading to the Beara Peninsula. We didn't go inside the Castle but walked around the grounds. They also offer boat rides from there further into the Killarney National Park.

Before beginning the Beara Way, we went to the Kenmare Stone Circle in Kenmare, and stopped for a quick lunch where I enjoyed my favorite meal in the country, Tiger Prawns with Dipping Sauce.

We didn't stop much at places along the Beara Way, just to take pictures of the amazing views and for a quick Guinness at a pub where we talked to some locals. Across Healy's pass we drove, stopping at the grotto and to admire the view. We wanted to take the cable car to Dursey Island, but according to our calculations, the car would stop running by the time we got there. It took much longer to get around the peninsula than Google Maps had predicted. It was such a beautiful day for a drive!

Returning to Killarney, we went out to dinner and pub hopped a little. The locals are very friendly there. It's interesting to talk to them, they know a lot more about American politics than most Americans, and my husband was trying to clear up all his questions about the professional sports in Ireland such as Rugby. He found the World Cup to be a sore subject.

Day 5 was another travel day. From Killarney, we drove to Cork City for a couple hours of shopping and up to the Blarney Castle. We toured the the castle and the grounds, but skipped on kissing the Blarney Stone.

The Rock of Cashel was the last stop before arriving in Kilkenny. This was my favorite non-natural wonder. We had arrived just in time to catch the tour, and I'm grateful we did because we got a lot more out of it than we would have on our own.

Our first night in Kilkenny was a rager, making us regret the number of pints we had had the next morning.

Our sixth day began sluggishly with a stop in the town to buy tickets for a comedy show that night. We drove quite a ways to the Kildare National Stud and Japanese Gardens. We watched the horses graze for a while and walked through the areas where these horses are boarded. The Japanese Garden was very interesting, telling the story of life as you walk through, from the Cave of Birth to the Bridge of Engagement, from the Marriage Bridge to the Hill of Mourning and the Gate of Eternity.

Wicklow National Park was our next stop, where we walked through the park and saw the Glendalough monastery. On the way to the park we drove through Wicklow's Gap and happened upon an old mining site and a view of a corrie lake.

Back in Kilkenny that night we watched some comedians at the Carlsburg Cat Laughs Comedy Festival. The comedians were from all over the world and most of them were great!

We had to leave early on the morning of our seventh day because our car was due to be returned by 11am. We found the friendly cab drivers of Dublin to be much better with directions than our GPS, getting the car back just in time. The cab ride to our hotel was much like a tour of the city. It was too early to check into our hotel room, so naturally we walked over to the Guinness Storehouse while we waited. We toured the storehouse and my husband pulled his own pint of Guinness.

The hotel room was very strange, requiring our key card to operate the lights and two buttons to flush the toilet, neither one operating independently of the other.

We spent most of the rest of the day shopping for a short sleeve shirt for me since I had worn all of mine early on in our stay as a result of the warmer than expected weather.

We found Trinity College and the Temple Bar area, shopped on Grafton St and tried to find some of the popular pubs that we had seen on the Travel Channel.

Our final day began at St. Patrick's Cathedral before sampling a Jameson Irish Whiskey Sour at the Jameson Distillery. We did more shopping and ended our day at the National Leprechaun Museum. We weren't quite sure what to expect there, but it wasn't exactly what we had in mind. It was probably the one thing I would have omitted from our stay in Ireland.

You can see all of my pictures here.


storybeader said...

Isn't Ireland amazing!? I noticed you went to some of the places we visited! That Japanese Garden looks wonderful - didn't see that! Glad you had a nice time! {:-Deb

knittingdragonflies said...

O wow!! Thanks for sharing all of your wonderful photos!
It looks like the best trip!

guest house accommodation in killarney said...

Amazing Photos. Killarney is a refreshingly unspoiled destination for travellers seeking an escape from the crowded city. Visit for an authentic country experience.