Cliffs of Moher: A Must See for Any Ireland Vacation

When I started planning this trip, I pictured nights at pubs, beautiful views of majestic green mountains, and mornings of sausage, eggs, grilled tomato and baked beans. I also pictured the Cliffs of Moher. I pictured standing on the edge of the cliff, looking out into the Atlantic Ocean and just taking in Ireland in all her Glory. With Celtic ballads playing on my iPhone, if I’m being perfectly honest.

Feeding your belly near the Cliffs of Moher

Our first stop when we got near the cliffs was a lunch break at McGann’s Pub. It was a perfect Irish pub. The place had a lot of character and the food was delicious. It also had the added bonus of being less than 15 minutes away from the Cliffs of Moher. The only problem was that McGann’s was a huge tourist stop. This made perfect sense considering that the pub was raved about in every tourist book around. After all, that was how I found out about the pub. However, in addition to a stop for the individual travelers, it was also a stop for many tour buses. Fortunately, we were already leaving when a gigantic tour bus pulled up.

Visiting the Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher in County Clare

There’s no other way to say it, the Cliffs of Moher are amazing. If you are travelling to Ireland, the scenic walk along the 700-foot coastal cliffs should not be missed. The cliffs turned out to be slightly more commercialized than I envisioned. It was a little less standing on top of a cliff jutting out into the ocean and more of a walking trail located far away from the edge, with countless signs showing how dangerous going outside of the restricted boundaries could be. Go figure.

That being said, the cliffs are still absolutely worth your time to visit. Many tour buses do stop by the Cliffs of Moher (as evidenced by those that stopped at McGann’s Pub). However, if you have the chance, renting a car and driving out on your own is a great opportunity to be able to see the awe-inspiring views without a time constraint.

Be Safe People!

Careful! Falling People

There are signage everywhere about staying safe and warnings of what could happen if you disregard the signs. That being said, the Cliffs of Moher aren’t policed and it is easy to go beyond the designated boundaries in search of an epic selfie. While we were there, we saw a particularly nice, flat outcrop jutting into the ocean that looked like the perfect place to take a picture. We didn’t attempt the shot, aware of how dangerous it could be, but there was a young couple nearby who did think the photos from that vantage point of the Cliffs of Moher would be worth the risk.

Outcrop

To the dumbfounded stares of hundreds of visitors, we watched the couple head out to the outcrop to take pictures. They took turns standing and sitting near the edge while taking pictures of each other. And then it happened. The girl who had just been dangling her legs off the precipice started to get up and slipped. In abject horror, I watched frozen in fear as she started to slide off the edge. Her boyfriend / husband thankfully moved fast and dove towards her, catching her and pulling her back on the ledge. They sheepishly left the outcrop and I got to experience hearing what I can only assume was the word “idiots” muttered in multiple different languages.

Hawaii Girl Travels…

Click here for the full itinerary of my big 3-0 celebration in Ireland. Click here to learn about our travels from County Mayo to County Claire, via County Galway.

Dingle: a Destination and a Journey

The road to Dingle

Is omitting certain truths the same as lying? You are probably saying yes, but I am hoping to get an exemption in this case. At the very least, Bryan has forgiven me for this omission (I think). Here’s the deal. There are two ways for us to get to Dingle. From everything I read, one road was very boring. Additionally, we’d be doing most of that drive on the way out of Dingle anyway. The other road was the only option I presented to Bryan, the drive through Conor Pass.

Driving to Dingle

Conor Pass was touting as having some of the most beautiful sights to see in all of Ireland. (Truth!) It was also only supposed to be done by the most skilled drivers as it was terrifying. So as I routed Bryan through Conor Pass, but not before I calmly mentioned that there was some difficult driving ahead for him but nothing he hadn’t already done. (I thought this was true! I was wrong.)

It started out a little treacherous but not too bad. We took a long break in order to take some pictures before continuing on. And then it got bad. And then it got worse. As in Garda (police) barreling down on us on the ledge of a cliff with no place for us to pull over. But after a furrowed brow (and perhaps a few gray hairs) Bryan showed he really was a pro at this manual car business!

Connor Pass on the Dingle Peninsula Drive

Here’s a shot of the two-lane road of Conor Pass road to Dingle. No, that’s not an optical illusion, that’s the width.

The Dingle Peninsula

Arriving in Dingle for lunch, we circled countless times before finding a tiny car park and a cafe nearby serving “the Dingle (hot) Dog.” After lunch we took a scenic tour around the Dingle Peninsula and our first stop the Dunbeg Fort. Now I’m going to come off as a huge cheapskate, but here’s the Fort…

Dunbeg Fort on the Dingle Peninsula

That’s the extent of it.  And to get any closer it would cost you 6 euros per person.  What on earth could be 12 euros better any closer? We didn’t think it would be so it was time to move on and see the rest of the Dingle Peninsula before making our way to Killarney for the night.

Dingle Peninsula

Hawaii Girl Travels…

Click here for the full itinerary of my big 3-0 celebration in Ireland. Click here to learn about our travels from County Mayo to County Claire, via County Galway.

Aillwee Cave: A Quirky Getaway in the Heart of the Burren

A Visit to Aillwee Cave

The Aillwee Cave website advertised a “30-minute stroll through beautiful underworld caverns, over bridged chasms, under weird formations and alongside the thunderous waterfall.” It wasn’t quite as grandiose as that advertisement would lead you to believe but the waterfall was pretty cool. The best part about our visit to the Aillwee Cave was just exploring the area, from the woodland trail to the delicious cheese shop.

Background information

In the 1950s, a man followed his dog into a cave opening in the side of a mountain, thereafter discovering the limestone Aillwee Cave. The tour for the public only shows a small portion of the cave. This stems from the fact that the rest of the cave was too small and dangerous. The most fascinating thing I learned from our tour of the cave was the discovery of black bear bones and bedding in the cave. After all, back bears have been extinct from Ireland since 1300.

Ailwee Caves in County Clare

The Woodland Trail and Farm Shop of the Aillwee Cave

The Aillwee cave also sells homemade cheese on their property so we went out in search of it. I started heading to our car to drive to the shop. Bryan, however, pointed out a “woodland trail to Cheese Shop” sign. Our unspoken motto of the trip was to be “active active active”, instead of our typical lazy couch-potato selves. Trek along the woodland trail it was.

The trail was gorgeous, tranquil, and just a little bit weird with random art pieces scattered throughout.

After spending some time wandering around the woodland trail, we finally arrived at the farm shop. I’m not going to lie, we sampled all their cheeses before picking up a slice for later, along with elderflower cordial and pâté. While the Aillwee cave itself was cute, the woodland trail and farm shop made this such a special stop.

Hawaii Girl Travels…

Click here for the full itinerary of my big 3-0 celebration in Ireland. Click here to learn about our travels from County Mayo to County Claire, via County Galway.

Bunratty Castle and Folk Park: A Perfect Trip Back in Time

The 15th century medieval Bunratty Castle and its charming 18th century village (known as the Folk Park) are not to be missed if you find yourself in County Clare, Ireland. Neither is the amazing medieval feast that you can sign up to be a part of.

Potcheen Time!

Our first stop upon arrive in the Bunratty area was a visit to Bunratty Winery. The best thing about this shop? They sell Potcheen (the original Moonshine) and Mead (an alcoholic drink of fermented honey and water from ye olden days). Keep in mind this important note for anyone planning on enjoying Potcheen: “one does not enjoy Potcheen, one just tries not to black out from Potcheen”. Fair enough.

Armed with our alcohol, we made it back to our room at the Bunratty Castle Hotel and made a picnic out of our new liquid refreshments and some smoked salmon and cheese purchased earlier in the day.

Bunratty Castle and Folk Park At Night

Embarrassingly enough, not long after our picnic we headed out to Bunratty Castle and Folk Park for a medieval times style dinner. I’ve always loved Medieval Times, but you know what beats that place hands down? Having a medieval style dinner in an authentic castle. It was truly the highlight of our entire trip. One additional perk of having dinner reservations at Bunratty Castle is access to the Folk Park. Surrounding the castle is an 18th century village, which closes earlier in the afternoon. However, once you give your dinner admissions tickets at the entrance, you have free reign to roam around the park until dinner.

Dinner Time at Bunratty Castle

When it was finally time to enter the castle for dinner, we were led up to a welcome reception and offered cups of mead to drink. Refreshments in hand, we were able to wander around while listening to music from a violinist and a harpist. Before long, Sir Patrick and his fair maiden collected us for dinner.

Dinner at Bunratty Castle turned out to be served in the former guard quarters. In the dining hall we sat on long wooden tables and ate with our hands. The food was delicious and we didn’t miss the utensils.

Soup in a Medieval Castle

After dinner the minstrels of the castle entertained us with singing, including my long-awaited favorite, Danny Boy. I had been dying to hear Danny Boy every night in the pubs but I suppose it would be the equivalent to waiting to hear Tiny Bubbles at a (kama’aina attended) luau.

Bunratty Castle and Folk Park During the Day

In the morning, we headed back to Bunratty Castle and Folk Park to experience the place when it was truly open in the daytime. As mentioned above, the castle was from the 15th century. Anything that had been moved into the castle post 1600 was taken out when the castle started being shown to the public. There was even a dungeon that had previously been in use! Meanwhile, the folk park showed different abodes from the 18th century. This included landless paupers whom lived in their Lords’ stables as well as the wealthy original mansion of the inventor of HP branded ice cream (an Irish household name). Some places even had scones and soda bread for us to sneak a taste. Some had fires going and Bryan took it upon himself to make sure there was enough bog on the fire.

Bunratty Folk Park

We did spend some time looking for a shrubbery. Get it? The Knights that say Ni? Monty Python? Bueller?… It’s okay, Bryan didn’t laugh either.

Hawaii Girl Travels…

Click here for the full itinerary of my big 3-0 celebration in Ireland. Click here to learn about our travels from County Mayo to County Claire, via County Galway.

Kylemore Abbey and Gardens: Worth The Trek

The fifth day of our 11th day jaunt through Ireland found us travelling through County Galway and taking time out to see the magnificent Kylemore Abbey, the beautiful walled Kylemore gardens and the breathtaking views of the Connemara.

Kylemore in County Galway

The Story Behind Kylemore Abbey

I didn’t know much about Kylemore before we stopped there other than it was gorgeous but the story behind it was quite romantic if not sad. Englishman Mitchell Henry built Kylemore as a castle and a private home. His wife had fallen in love with the Connemara area on their honeymoon. Sparing no expense, Henry built the 40,000 square foot, 70 bedroom castle for his wife. Unfortunately, she only got to live at Kylemore for four years before dying from a fever.

It was rumored that King Edward VII wanted to purchase the castle. However, he ultimately decided that the property was too pricey for a king. Yes, I will say that again. The Kylemore property was too pricey for a King! In 1920, the Benedictine nuns took over Kylemore and converted it into a school. Sadly, it finally closed one year prior to our visit due to monetary constraints.

The Walk to the Walled Gardens

While Kylemore Abbey was beautiful, it seemed slightly austere. The outside of the Abbey however told a different story. Against the backdrop of the Connemara mountains, the area leading from the Abbey to the Gardens were enchanting.

It was so exciting to come across interactive art pieces along our trek.

The Kylemore Gardens

An Irish donkey (or small horse, we couldn’t tell) welcomed us to one of the most amazing gardens we have every seen. At one point I thought we had made it through the entire garden only to find out we were only halfway through. Half of the Kylemore garden was a usable herb garden, prompting me to take hundreds of pictures due to great illusions of grandeur involving me and my future herb garden (spoiler alert: 7 years later I haven’t done a thing to make an herb garden).

Kylemore Garden in County Galway

I also found more of my new obsession… bog!

Kylemore in County Galway

Hawaii Girl Travels…

Click here for the full itinerary of my big 3-0 celebration in Ireland. Click here to learn about our travels from County Mayo to County Claire, via County Galway.

Temple House in Sligo: Live Like Royalty in the Country

When I turned thirty I planned a huge trip to Ireland. For the most part, I just wanted to drive around the countryside. I wanted to see its beautiful green rolling hills and get immersed in Irish culture. But there were a couple of specifics that I wanted as well. I wanted to sleep in an extravagant house. I wanted to run through fields in wellies and I wanted to stay at a place with animals. At Temple House in Sligo, I got my wish. Temple House, a grand manor house tucked away amid pastures, forest, and terraced gardens, was by far the best part of our 11-day trip. Click here for a link to the Temple House in Sligo.

What is Temple House?

Temple House in Sligo

The Temple House in County Sligo has been in the same family for over 300 years. When we were visiting, the house was under renovations and only six bedrooms out of 96 were in use. However, in the heyday of the manor, the entire place was so filled with life that a woman was hired with the sole task of lighting the fireplace in each of the 96 rooms. That was her only job because it would take her all day to do just that.

Directions

The one problem with the Temple House in Sligo is that the place is ridiculously hard to find. We learned that the best way to find anything in Ireland was to punch the GPS coordinates into the Garmin. Not the address. The GPS coordinates. That tactic saved the day every time, except for when we were driving to the Temple House. We must have searched for almost an hour before giving up and looking up our reservation email to call for help. And there at the bottom of the email, we found that help was already given. The owners had including a note that read:

The easiest way to find us is off the N17 (9 km from the Collooney N4 / N17 junction). Look for a brown Temple House sign 0.5 km south of Ballinacarrow.

Those instructions did the trick and we ended up finding Temple House soon after that. But if you think I’m being a tad bit dramatic, here is a picture of our GPS when we were finally headed in the right direction. The Garmin didn’t even think we were on a real road. Morale of story: follow the instructions in the reservation confirmation.

Getting lost in County Sligo

Touring Temple House in County Sligo

There was so much to do both inside Temple House and outside. The patrons of Temple House generously left out wellies for guests to use at their discretion. We quickly swapped our shoes for the wellies and went to explore the grounds. Besides running the bed and breakfast, the other line of work the family was in was raising sheep. We had a fun-filled afternoon making friends with the other inhabitants on the property.

The house itself was a treasure trove of antiques that we were free to explore as well. The upper right picture below shows a proclamation written by the many servants of Temple House in Sligo to one of the past owners, explaining how they all enjoyed working for him. The lower left picture below also shows their “honesty bar” policy where they request that you write down what you drank from their bar stock. I made pretty good use of their bar.

Eating at the Temple House in County Sligo

The package option that we booked at Temple Bar included dinner. The family had staffed a french chef that served the most amazing dishes. We went to bed full but still seemed to find room in our stomachs the next morning for our first authentic Irish breakfast.

The Irish Hospitality

Everywhere we went in Ireland, we met friendly faces and kind people, but the host and hostess at Temple House in Sligo were some of the nicest people of them all. Upon checking out they asked were we were planning on going. I mentioned we were off to Knocknarea and was going to be on our way when the hostess mentioned that it wasn’t the easiest place to get to and proceeded to provide very detailed instructions of how we should get there and where we should park.

Hawaii Girl Travels…

Click here for the full itinerary of my big 3-0 celebration in Ireland. Click here to learn what I did in the days leading up to my stay at Temple House, as well as what I did once we left County Sligo.

Upward and Onward in Ireland: from Killarney to Dublin

Celebrating the big 3-0 in Ireland: click here for the full itinerary. When I turned 30 I decided to celebrate by travelling across Ireland, including through Killarney National Park, County Cork (including Blarney Castle and Fota), Glendalough National Park, and Powerscourt Estates.

Day 8 – Killarney to Kenmare

We had stayed at Earls Court House for our overnight in Killarney and started our day with ANOTHER huge Irish breakfast before we packed up and headed out to Killarney National Park.

Killarney National Park

The park was huge and since we didn’t realize we had parked 5 KM away from the actual entrance, we had a lot of walking and picture-taking to do.

Killarney National Park

I think we logged about 10 miles in that park. Not too shabby if I say so myself.

Below are some of the hikes you can take throughout Killarney National Park:

  1. Blue Pool Nature Trail – 1.5 miles from Muckross village through woodlands and past small peaceful lake known as the Blue Pool.
  2. Clogherren Nature Trail – a small section of the Blue Pool.
  3. Mossy Woods Nature Trail – starts near Muckross House and rambles 1.5 miles through yew woods along low cliffs.
  4. Kerry Way – for serious hikers, the entire route is 125 miles long.
  5. Old Boat House Nature Trail – from 19th century boathouse below Muckross Gardens and leads 0.5 miles around a small peninsula by Muckross Lake.
  6. Arthur Young’s Walk – 3 miles. This hike starts on the road to Dinis and traverses natural yew woods and then follows a 200-year-old road on the Muckross Peninsula.
  7. Torc Mountain – provides spectacular views of the Killarney Lakes and nearby MacGillycuddy’s Reeks. Start at the Torc Waterfall parking lot about 3 ¾ miles south of Killarney. Follow the trail to the top of the falls. Note: MacGillycuddy’s Reeks is one of the “Best Natural Wonders” and one of several mountain ranges on the Iveraugh Peninsula.
The road less taken: Other options at Killarney National Park

Note: One option you could choose at Killarney National Park was renting bicycles from David O’ Sullivan for €15 /day. I originally had this in our plans, but we decided to forego them in lieu of a leisurely walk. There are several outlets for these bike shops throughout Killarney town. From any of those locations there were numerous tracks and trails leading to Killarney National Park.

If you’d prefer not to bike or hike, another option I looked into (but also didn’t use) was for buggy tours. These are quaint horse driven buggies known as “jaunting carts” or “jarveys” that constantly clip clop down the lanes around the lakes. Rides were approximately €35 – €55.

Kenmare

After leaving Killarney National Park we took Moll’s Gap for a shortened Ring of Kerry drive to Kenmare. Kenmare was a postcard perfect town located at the mouth of the River Roughty on Kenmare Bay. Kenmare was loaded to the gills with flower boxes, enchanted shops, and places to eat. We found our bed and breakfast, Hawthorn House, and dropped off our car since Kenmare was just like every other town in Ireland we came across, tiny roads and no parking.

769-Kenmare

We ended up at Prego (an Italian restaurant) for dinner. I’ll admit, I’m a pretty big foodie snob and shun my nose at people eating McDonald’s in Poland (which I bring up because I’ve done that!) and yet I had pizza in Ireland. But I was really missing pizza!

Day 9 – Kenmare to Cork

Just a quick shout out to the Hawthorn House. This place was amazing. It was run by only two girls and I really don’t know how they managed to do it all. They checked people out, served others breakfast, and got the rooms ready for the next group all at the same time. If you are ever in Kenmare, stay there!

After a delicious breakfast we were off to the Drombeg Stone Circle on our way to Cork County. Drombeg is the Stonehenge of Ireland. It is a little smaller as you can see, but the coolness factor is sky high since you can touch and pose next to stones that were last used in 5 AD. These 17 standing stones are the finest example of a megalithic stone circle in County Cork and the circle itself dates back to 153 B.C.

Drombeg
Kinsale

From Drombeg we headed for Kinsale, the unofficial gastronomic capital of Ireland, for lunch at Fishy Fishy Cafe. Despite the ridiculous name, the restaurant was amazing. Everything tasted so fresh due to the fact that the fish were caught that morning right next to the restaurant. It took us awhile to get to Fishy Fishy Cafe. First, we got completely lost. Seriously, what does Ireland have against addresses? Listing your address as “next to the pier” is not helpful when the pier is not just a couple of blocks long. Once we found the restaurant there was a long wait for a table. In any case, I highly recommend Fishy Fishy Cafe and it is worth the search and the wait.

Blarney Castle and the Famous Stone

The delay did create a problem though as I wanted to squeeze in kissing the Blarney stone before heading to our hotel in Cork. Yes, I realize I’ve already been gifted with the gift of gab. The internet stated the castle was open later than it actually was so with 15 minutes to spare we sprinted to the castle and up the MANY stairs.

Blarney Castle in County Cork

We made it to kissing that blarney stone (we were the last two people they took). So yes, I dangled off the edge of a tower to put my lips on a nondescript stone that thousands of lips have touched already. And I’d do it again!

Blarney Castle in County Cork

By the time I finished kissing the blarney stone the park was officially closed. However, since no one looked like they would chase us off the property we decided to stroll through some other areas of the park. We followed the signs to the Rock Close though we weren’t sure what it was, and ended up in a partial enclosure surrounded by different storied rocks. So of course we had to go on a hunt to find the Rock Close.

Blarney Castle in County Cork

We thought maybe it was this.

Of course we found out later that the entire enclosure WAS the Rock Close. Oops! Live and learn. The one (sort of) interactive piece in the Rock Close was the Wishing Steps. The point is to walk down the stairs blind and walk back up blind, thinking about nothing except your wish. Doing this will guarantee that it will come true.

Blarney Castle in County Cork

I tried to concentrate on my wish but most of the time I kept thinking to myself, “don’t fall.” So maybe that was my real wish, which did come true. So look at that, the steps worked!

Cork

We finally left the Blarney Castle after getting worried that we might get locked in the park. From Blarney we drove on to Cork for dinner. Except that Sunday in Cork meant that there was barely anything open. So we pulled the typical American faux pas and ended up at Burger King (for myself) and a fast food Indian place (for Bryan), which just so happened to serve garlic cheese fries. Yum.

Fries in Cork
Day 10 – Cork to Kilkenny

We spent our morning in Cork at the Old English Market which was like a huge indoors farmer’s market dating back to 1610. It would have been so awesome if we had had a kitchen at our hotel. The Old English Market sold everything from pounds of pork belly to sheep’s liver and buttered eggs. Fun fact of the day: buttered eggs are eggs that are dipped in butter after they are laid. Because they are coated in butter, they can never be hard boiled – only soft boiled. We ate breakfast there at a cafeteria-style restaurant and picked up sandwiches for a lunch later on.

We headed to Cobh from Cork to see the Annie Moore statue as well as the last port of call for the R.M.S. Titanic. History lesson of the day: Annie was the first immigrant to the US to pass through Ellis Island. In honor of that remarkable moment in history, a statue of Miss Moore has been erected at both Cobh and Ellis Island.

Cobh in County Cork
Fota

After the port we headed to Fota. If you love animals, Fota is the place for you. Fota is a wildlife park where there was a limited cages separating you from the animals.

Fota in County Cork

Kangaroos were hopping around outside of a cage. A group of them even sat right next to the picnic table where we had lunch.

Fota in County Cork

This was the extent of the cages many of the animals inhabited at the park.

Fota in County Cork

Unless you were a cheetah. Cheetahs were caged.

Bryan’s favorite part was feeding the ducks. I swear he was like a kid in a candy store. There was him and a couple of preschool aged kids feeding the animals. And then there was me and all the moms taking pictures proudly of our “kids”.

They loved Bryan (or the food that he gave them anyway) that they started following him through the park.

Fota in County Cork

Okay, last animal picture I swear, but baby monkey pictures are automatic posts.

Fota in County Cork
Kilkenney

After Fota it was time to drive up to Kilkenney for our last night’s stay in Ireland (at Pembroke Hotel) and our last dinner. After a quick stop to view the outside of Kilkenney Castle, we ended up at Kyteler Inn. Legend has it that a woman was accused of being a witch and sentenced to death. Her friends hid her and she escaped to Great Britain where she was never seen again. In her place, the mob captured her barmaid and burned her in a pyre. The ghost of the barbmaid supposedly remains to this day.

(Left picture – Kilkenney Castle, right picture – dinner)

Day 11 – Kilkenney to New York

In the morning we drove through Glendalough National Park on our way back to Dublin. Built around two dark lakes, Glendalough was an old abandoned monastery.

We made one final stop at the Powerscourt Estates for lunch and then it was off to the Dublin airport for our flight back to New York.

The jaunt continues across the Emerald Isle (north to south on the western coast)

Click here for our full itinerary for Ireland and our days in Dublin. When I turned 30 I decided to celebrate by travelling across Ireland. We trekked through County Galway (including Kylemore Abbey), County Clare (including the Cliffs of Moher and the Bunratty Castle and Folk Park) and County Kerry (including the Dingle Peninsula).

Day 5 – County Mayo to County Clare (Via County Galway)
Kylemore Abbey in County Galway

Another day, another Irish breakfast. These breakfasts were really screwing with our appetites as we weren’t hungry again until around 4 PM on most days. But if we must we must. After leaving Westport we headed towards Galway via an out of the way stop at Kylemore Abbey.

Kylemore in County Galway

Click here for a detailed write-up of our visit to Kylemore Abbey and its walled garden.

Clifden, County Galway

After the Kylemore Abbey we headed around the Galway coast and stopped at Clifden for lunch. Popping into the first restaurants we saw, I ordered one of my favorite meals of the entire trip: open Connemara smoked salmon sandwich. The smoked salmon in the US does not compare. At least not in either the NY/metro area or Hawaii. Their smoked salmon was so fresh it tasted as if the salmon had just been caught and smoked. Which may not have been far from the truth.

Lunch in Clifden, County Galway
Galway

After completing our drive around the County Galway coast we arrived in Galway and encountered something we hadn’t experience in Ireland before, traffic. Arriving during after work commuting traffic does that to a person, I suppose. So after a long wait we finally made it to our hotel and were soon enough off to tour Galway. I was initially worried that I hadn’t given Galway enough time to see. However, the town was really small and quaint and we were able to finish our self-guided tour in no time and were about to focus on more important tasks: souvenir shopping.

Galway

(Top left) Lynch’s Castle – now the A/B Bank; (top right) I finally got my claddagh ring; (bottom left) Lynch’s Window; (bottom right) the Spanish Arch.

We ended up at Da Tang Noodle House (apparently now just called The Noodle House) for dinner after 1) needing a break from the heavy food we had been eating thus far and 2) reading that it was one of the best restaurants in Galway. Results? It was okay. Ireland may have cornered the market on smoked salmon and fish and chips, but I’ve definitely had better noodles in New York and Hawaii.

Day 6 – Around County Clare to The Bunratty Castle
Driving around County Clare

The next day we left early to travel out to Aillwee Caves. I found my usual place with the Budget Rent-A-Car Map, google maps, and GPS (yes, all three were necessary) and noted that the drive didn’t seem to be too difficult. That is, until we came to a detour. At a loss, we put ourselves in the GPS’s capable virtual hands and let her guide us up a steep cliff which was barely wide enough for one car, let alone two-way traffic. However, we did get breathtaking scenery views out of the deal.

County Clare
AILLWEE CAVES

We finally made it to Aillwee Caves. Their website advertised a “30-minute stroll through beautiful underworld caverns, over bridged chasms, under weird formations and alongside the thunderous waterfall.” It wasn’t quite as grandiose as that advertisement would lead you to believe but the waterfall was pretty cool.

Ailwee Caves in County Clare

Click here for our trip to the Aillwee cave and the nearby farm shop and woodland trail.

From the caves we headed out to the Burren smokehouse for some of the best smoked salmon sold around. The employee at the shop told us he had just started shipping to Dean and Deluca’s in New York.

County Clare and the Cliffs of Moher

After all this food shopping it’s a little embarrassing to admit that our next stop was to eat lunch. In any case, we made our way into County Clare and stopped at McGann’s. It was a perfect Irish pub. The only problem was that since McGann is raved about in every tourist book around, it was filled with tourists. Fortunately, we were already leaving when a gigantic tour bus pulled up.

Our next stop was the one place I knew I wanted to visit even before I opened my first guide-book, the Cliffs of Moher. I pictured standing on the cliff, looking out into the Atlantic Ocean and just taking in Ireland in all her Glory.

Cliffs of Moher in County Clare

Click here for our detailed write-up of our visit to the Cliffs of Moher.

Craggaunowen

On the top of my list of things to do was visit Craggaunowen. It sounded just like Jamestown or Williamsburg with people dressing up as if it was a century (or several) ago. I love that kind of gimmicky stuff. Unfortunately, every place I turned had a different information listed in terms of when the place closed down for the winter. The actual website was still selling tickets but I wasn’t able to get in touch with anyone. Bryan offered to do his best in getting me to the park on time and actually floored that Skoda gas pedal to the speed limit of 100 kmh. The reason we weren’t actually ever going the speed limit was because… well picture a not-well paved road with about 1.5 lanes for dual way traffic. Now picture doing that at 60 mph? Exactly.

But he did it. And he got us there with minutes to spare before last admissions of the day. And… Closed for the season! So if you ever get out to Craggaunowen, please let me know if it was as fantastic as I picture it being.

Bunratty Castle

I was sad about the closure but it did give us more time to head on over to Bunratty. The 15th century medieval Bunratty Castle and its charming 18th century village (known as the Folk Park) might have been the best part about our 11-day trip. We stayed overnight at the Bunratty Castle Hotel and spent the evening at the Castle and Park. We even got to be a part of an  amazing medieval feast. Click here to learn more about our amazing time at the Bunratty Castle, the Folk Park, and the medieval dinner served in the castle itself.

Day 7 – Bunratty Castle to Killarney
Bunratty Castle Take Two

In the morning we headed back to Bunratty Castle and Folk Park to experience the place when it was truly open in the daytime. Click here to learn more about our time at Bunratty Castle and Folk Park during the day.

Bunratty Folk Park
Blennerville Windmill

After Bunratty Castle we headed out to drive around the Dingle Peninsula. While not his most enjoyable time, the Dingle Peninsula continues to be one of the most memorable experiences for Bryan. Before arriving in Dingle we drove by the Blennerville Windmill, supposedly the most photographed object in all of Dingle. I’m not really sure why… but since it was on the way, I decided to join the masses.

Blennerville Windmill
The Road to Dingle

From Blennerville there are two options to get to Dingle, the Conor Pass or through Camp village. Conor Pass was touted as having some of the most beautiful sights to see in all of Ireland. Conor Pass was also only supposed to be done by the most skilled drivers because it was terrifying. Wooed by images of a beautiful first view of Dingle, I routed Bryan through Conor Pass. I did mentioned that there was some difficult driving ahead for him, but nothing he hadn’t already done. How wrong I was.

Driving to Dingle

It started out a little treacherous but not too bad. We took a long break in order to take some pictures before continuing on. And then it got bad. And then it got worse. As in Garda (police) barreling down on us on the ledge of a cliff with no place for us to pull over. But after a furrowed brow (and perhaps a few gray hairs) Bryan showed he really was a pro at this manual car business!

Connor Pass on the Dingle Peninsula Drive

Here’s a shot of the two-lane road of Conor Pass road to Dingle. No, that’s not an optical illusion, that’s the width.

The Dingle Peninsula

Arriving in Dingle for lunch, we circled countless times before finding a tiny car park and a cafe nearby serving “the Dingle (hot) Dog.” After lunch we took a scenic tour around the Dingle Peninsula.

Dingle Peninsula

Click here to read more about our trip to the Dingle Peninsula.

Once we got our fill of the beautiful sights of Dingle, we made our way to Killarney for the night.

Next Up: Upward and Onward in Ireland: from Killarney to Dublin.

The Luck of the Irish: sightseeing across Ireland in a tiny little Skoda (From County Dublin to County Meath, County Sligo and County Mayo)

Celebrating the big 3-0 in Ireland: click here for the full itinerary. When I turned 30 I decided to celebrate by travelling across Ireland, including through County Meath, County Sligo and County Mayo.

Our beloved blue Skoda

“What did you do to piss them off? Were you being a bit too cheeky when you made the reservations?” This was the good-humored response from our cab driver when we told him we were on our way to the rental car agency to pick up a Skoda for our trek around Ireland.

On  our third day in Ireland it was time to say goodbye to Dublin and hello to our mode of transportation for the rest of our time in Ireland, a beautiful blue Skoda. It was tiny and quaint and I loved it. Bryan the driver, not so much.

Now the roads in Ireland are an adventure in themselves. Here’s a place where bigger is definitely not better. The roads are narrow, the speed limits high, and addresses are hard to find. Note: we found that keying in the latitude and longitude of locations we wanted to visit worked best. Pick the smallest car you can fit into. Remember to stay on the left side of the road (for those of you that drive on the right as we do). Do not get freaked out (or at least try not to) when other cars bear down on you. Most importantly, take time to look out the window because the view is breathtaking.

1020-Fota

Taking a break in our sightseeing so Bryan could teach me how to drive a standard car. It didn’t stick. (No pun intended.)

Day 3 – From County Dublin to County Sligo
County Meath

Our first stop now that we had a car was the Hill of Tara, located right outside of Dublin in Couty Meath. The Hill of Tara is renowned for being the original seat of the ancient kings of Ireland (going as far back as the 3rd century). Tourists flocked for miles to see the mounts and passages dating back to the bronze age.  However, I’ll admit it, I am a huge Gone with the Wind fan. There was only one reason I wanted to visit the Hill of Tara.  Gerard O’Hara took with him a piece of earth from Tara before coming to America. He placed this earth on the grounds of his plantation in Georgia. The plantation that he then named Tara.

More windy than normal on account of Hurricane Katia, which was getting close to the coast at this time.

Newgrange

Since County Meath is known for its archaeological sites, next we were off to Newgrange. Newgrange is Ireland’s best-known prehistoric monument. Built as a burial mound over 5,000 years ago, it is only accessible via the Bru na Boinne Visitor Center, which we could not find at first and got hopelessly lost. We finally passed by a County Meath cop (garda) and stopped to ask directions. The Garda started to explain what we had to do, but possibly alarmed by the lost looks on our faces he got in his car and gave us a police escort to the center.

County Meath’s Newgrange consisted of 200,000 tons of stone, many of which were hauled from farther away counties. These stones fit perfectly together in a pattern that created a water-tight structure. The coolest part of Newgrange takes place during the winter solstice. During that time, a shaft of sunlight travels down the arrow-straight passageway for 17  minutes until it hits the back wall of the burial chamber. Still, standing inside the monument with all that tons of stone on top of me and knowing it was built by people over 5,000 years ago had me a little freaked out. (Possibly a lot freaked out.)

Temple House @ County Sligo

After Newgrange, it was finally time to head out to County Sligo for our night’s stay at Temple House. Click here for a detailed write up of our time at Temple House.

Temple House in Sligo
Day 4 – County Sligo to County Mayo

After our first and very hearty Irish breakfast, we left Temple House armed with very detailed instructions from our hostess and set out to find (and then hike) Knocknarea mountain. I’m not the world’s best navigator and I quickly proceeded in getting us lost. We just could not find the place. I was expecting a lot of signs directing us to a giant car park but instead, all we saw were spaces for a couple cars to pull over. We parked and started to climb, figuring that must be the place. We climbed for a few minutes until we came to a fence set up to keep the nearby grazing cows from wandering off. The climb took only a couple minutes on account of the fence that stopped us before we barely climbed up the mountain. Could this really be Knocknarea? It turned out, no. Nonetheless, the views were spectacular.

The real Knocknarea mountain in County Sligo

Driving along I started to mumble that maybe we should just give up when we saw a tiny sign pointing back into the mountain. Lo and behold, we found Knocknarea! Sitting on the top of Knocknarea is a gigantic unexcavated cairn (or grave mound). Folklore says it was built for the mythical Iron Age Queen Maeve. Maeve was buried standing in the cairn in full battle gear, spear in hand. Clearly the goal was to make it to the top. Sadly, this was a goal I did not succeed at.

I blame it on my tiny feet and some remnants of Hurricane Katia. I got blown off by industrial-strength winds every time I tried to climb the last mound. After three failed attempts I finally parked myself at the bottom of the cairn and tried to figure out how I could catch Bryan if he blew off the cairn (just kidding, sort of). After Bryan returned from his trek up the cairn we ran back down to lower ground and as we did the sky let up. That certainly made me believe that Maeve really was buried in the cairn. And Maeve was not happy that we were disturbing her!

Onward to County Mayo

From County Sligo town we drove northwest (the most northern point we stopped at on this trip) near dramatic sea-cliffs to Ballycastle. Ballycastle was home of Ceide Fields, a neolithic farming settlement in County Mayo preserved for nearly 6,000 years beneath bog.

After the awe-inspiring sites of Newgrange back in County Meath I have to admit, I was expecting a little bit more. County Mayo’s Ceide Fields laid out white stones to depict where the farm stood several millennia ago. The visit did teach us about something that had us enamored for the rest of the trip… bog.

Spending the night in County Mayo

From Ceide Fields we were off to Westport in the southwest of County Mayo for the night. After quickly checking into the CastleCourt hotel we headed out in search of dinner. An easy task until we realized that nothing was open save for a dark pub with a couple patrons lingering to hear the live music. So we crowded around a tiny table set up in a separate room from the bar itself and ordered fish and chips. And I tell you, it was the best fish and chips I’ve ever tasted.

Next Up: the jaunt continues across The Emerald Isle (north to south on the western coast).

Dublin: an amazing beginning to our Irish getaway

The Details

Day 1 – Dublin

Back in 2011, we lived 45 minutes outside of JFK international airport in NYC. Therefore, our amazing trip to Ireland started with an easy nonstop red-eye flight on Aer Lingus into Dublin. Once we landed, we made our way to our hotel in the Temple Bar district, dropped off our luggage, and grabbed breakfast at Queen of Tarts. Mark this place down on your “must eat at” list. The Queen of Tarts was amazing, serving everything from fresh fruit and granola to smoked Irish salmon with scrambled eggs. Ten days and endless taste tests later, the husband still ranked Queen of Tarts’ brown bread as the best in all of Ireland. Not an easy feat.

Sightseeing around Dublin

After breakfast we took a small (self-guided) tour of Dublin. The tour took us to Christ Church Cathedral (below right), Dublin Castle (below left) and the Chester Beatty Library (below middle).

And of course no trip to Ireland would be complete without a visit to St. Patrick’s Cathedral (below).

I decided to spend the afternoon catching up on sleep but the husband roamed the city. He checked out farmers markets and obtained Cuban cigars. (This is clearly a lesson in stop wanting what you cannot have. We never really enjoyed Cuban cigars but always made it a point to buy and smoke a couple every time we traveled outside of the U.S. Just because we could.)

An evening at a two star Michelin restaurant

We finished off the night with dinner at Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud, a two-Michelin star restaurant. How funny that just seven years ago I was afraid to take pictures of food for fear of getting scolded. But back then, taking pictures of your plate of food was not something a lot of high-end restaurants embraced. I was however, able to sneak a picture of their tome of a wine menu. Needless to say, Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud was well worth the price and was a delicious meal.

Day 2 – Dublin

Our first full day in Ireland started off with a stroll through Temple Bar in search of breakfast. We found the perfect place at Hanley’s Cornish Pasties. Now, my grandmother and great-grandmother made a living by cooking pasties for decades. Even when it became a lot more difficult due to her arthritis, my grandmother used to spend a full day cooking her delicious pasties for dinner each time we came to visit. This means that I am truly the world’s worst granddaughter when I say that this little fast food joint produced the best pasties I have ever tasted. I am so sorry Grandma!

33-Pasty
Touring Dublin on the Hop-on/Hop-off Bus

After breakfast we got tickets for the hop-on/hop-off bus and rode around on the top deck for awhile, snapping pictures and laughing at the tour guide’s jokes. We finally decided to get off at the Guinness Brewery, a building shaped like the world’s largest pint glass. The picture on the top left shows the original lease signed in 1759 by Guinness for 9,000 years. Talk about rent control! The building, although separate from the actual brewery, was a walking exhibition that took us through the stages of Guinness from barley to glass.

View from the top of the Guinness Brewery, named the Gravity Bar (below left). Note: this is where you are given free pints of Guinness after the tour. Verifying that Guinness distributes both to Hawaii and Connecticut (below bottom right)… phew!

After the Guinness Brewery we stopped to tour the Kilmainham Gaol. This was the jail where political prisoners (and others) were incarcerated, tortured and killed from 1796 to 1924. The tour gave a lot of good historical background. That being said, my biggest takeaway was the gaol was used in the filming of The Tudors.

Our last stop on the hop-on/hop-off bus tour was the Old Jameson Whiskey Distillery. While apparently no longer a distillery, we were given a nice tour of how Jameson Whiskey is prepared. We also learned how Irish whiskey differs from Scottish and American whiskeys (distilled three times). Then we ended up in the tasting room for either whiskey on the rocks or with some juice / sodas.

Dublin final stops: The Ha’Penny Bridge and the Statue of Molly Malone

I wanted to stop at two more places in Dublin before calling it a night. First I made us travel to the north bank of the River Liffey just so we could walk across Ha’Penny Bridge. Next I made us track down the statue of Molly Malone, a.k.a. the Tart with the Cart. The thing to do is to apparently take a picture groping poor Molly. Bryan was not feeling it (haha – I’ll be here all night folks) but I yelled at him to “grope the tart” so I could get my perfect touristy pic.

Next up: Sightseeing across Ireland in a tiny little Skoda (from East to West).

Click here for a summary of the entire 11-day Ireland vacation, in our tiny little skoda.