- A. Dublin
- B. Kilkenny
- C. Durrow
- D. Cashel
- E. Cork
- F. Blarney Castle
- G. Kinsale
- H. Seafield Farmhouse
- I. Killarney
- J. Kerry Bog Village
- L. Ballycarbery Castle
- K. Cliffs of Kerry
- M. Kenmare
- N. Bunratty Castle
- O. Dublin Airport
We woke and returned our car to the Hertz outside the airport, which is very poorly signed. After making our way through the light security (in comparison to American airport security), we had Irish breakfast in the airport, which was surprisingly good. You’d think we would have been tired of it by now. The flight to Boston was very comfortable, and it should be noted that Aer Lingus was one of the best airlines I’ve ever flow. The staff was incredibly courteous, the in-flight food decent, and the entertainment selection excellent. And they gave us tea and biscuits.
When we arrived in Boston, however, we learned that our flight had been cancelled. This was AFTER going through security to the terminals. The American Airlines people at the terminal told us we would have to exit the terminal and go speak to the check-in people in order to resolve this. We did that, only to learn that AA had no flights going to Dallas that day. They managed to get us on a US Airways connecting flight to Washington D.C., and then on to Dallas. We rushed to get to our other terminal, went through security again, and then flew to D.C. only to find that our flight to Dallas had been delayed by an hour. An hour later, it was delayed by another hour. An hour later, it was delayed by another hour. That repeating sentence was not a mistake. An hour later, it was delayed by another hour. Neither was that one. After a total five hour delay, we managed to get on a flight to Dallas. Thank goodness we have friends willing to pick us up from the airport in the middle of the night on a Monday morning. I know AA is having financial problems, but seriously?
Despite the horrid trip home, we left with an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience. The land and people of Ireland are truly great, and we could not have had a better honeymoon.
We shared another Irish breakfast at The Truffle Pig, and made our way through Killarney National Park to complete the Ring of Kerry. The lakes in the park were a beautiful sight, though the morning was wet and foggy. The roads through the NP were the most winding we had experienced yet, and Alexis was suffering from a pinched nerve induced by the hard mattress.
We were planning on driving back to Dublin for our last night in Ireland, but we figured we had time for one last castle on our way. The very nice Irish couple we had met on our Innisfallen tour suggested we visit Bunratty Castle, so we did just that. We made our way north to Limerick, and then west to the castle. Bunratty is an impressive sight, and tour tickets include access to the thatched village on the grounds. Bunratty has been meticulously restored, and it is possible to have dinner in the feast hall (for a hefty price). We also ran into the couple we had met at The Purple Heather once again, which was a pleasant surprise.
Alexis’ back pain was worsening, and we had several hours of highway driving ahead of us, so we headed on to Swords, a suburb of Dublin where Dublin Airport is. We walked around Swords a bit, which also had a castle, though it was closed. Swords was a bit sketchy though, so we went back to our hotel, Travelodge Dublin Airport North Swords. The hotel was nice, and we had dinner at the diner inside the hotel. The food was passable, though not great. Our room was quite comfortable, though there was a group of people arguing loudly in the hall several times that night. Oh, the water in the shower could be set to burn-your-skin-off mode, which both of us experienced. We prepared to bid Ireland adieu the next morning.
Well rested and well fed, thanks to the hospitality of Tim and Nora Moriarty, we headed out to drive the epic Ring of Kerry. We decided to go counterclockwise, in the same direction as tour buses. Some would advise doing the opposite, and this may be true during peak season, but we agreed with Fodor’s suggestion that you’ll get the best views going counterclockwise.
One of the first stops we made was at the Kerry Bog Village. It was a neat little village that gave some insight into what living in the peat bogs would have been like. The smell of peat smoke was pervasive (and a bit noxious). There were also massive Irish wolf hounds there. It was kinda cool, but all-in-all I would have to say it is not a must see attraction on the ring.
Continuing on the ring, we were greeted by some gorgeous mountain scenery. And a man with a little dog riding in a basket on top of a donkey. Rocky hills and bright green valleys surrounded us on all sides. It really is a bit overwhelming just how beautiful the mountains of Kerry really are. And then we reached the ocean, and it became evident why the Ring of Kerry is Ireland’s most popular tourist attraction.
The views don’t stop there. One could literally stop every 30 seconds and get a new, breathtaking view. Rarely does the word “awesome” get used in such an appropriate manner.
We made a stop in the small town of Cahersiveen because of signs pointing to a castle and ring forts. This became one of the highlights of the trip. Just a short drive off the ring is the ruined Ballycarbery Castle, right in the middle of a cow pasture. There was a barbed wire fence around it, though it was clear that people went under it. We did just that, and got to climb around on the ruins of the castle, being careful not to do any damage to the ruins or hurt ourselves, of course. Taking guided tours of castles is awesome. Walking around in a castle with not another soul around is awesomer. Those vines growing on the castle? Those are full of bees, just fyi.
A short distance from the castle are some unmortared ring forts, where ancient farmers would have lived. Some believe these were the homes of fairies. On our trip we saw many of these ring forts, and were in awe at how something so old (they were built about 700 C.E.) could last for so long almost untouched by time.
Moving on, we stopped in Portmagee to have lunch at The Moorings Restaurant. I had fish and chips again, and Alexis had a sauteed Sole with lemon butter. This was the best fish we had in Ireland, and I highly recommend it. We were going to visit the little island of Valencia, but were sidetracked by a sign declaring “the best cliff views in Kerry”. We were not disappointed.
Seriously, go visit the cliffs of Kerry.
A bit pressed for time, we decided to skip Valencia. There was no shortage of beautiful coastal views however, and we made plenty of stops to snap more photos. The winds off the ocean are pretty biting, but the vistas are endless. Alas, the coastline finally gave way to the forest of Killarney National Park, and we made our way to Kenmare.
Kenmare is an interesting little town. If any place that we had visited in Ireland could be called posh, it was Kenmare. Everything was a bit more upscale than we had been seeing. Including the lodging. This was the only night we had not booked a room somewhere, and most of the B&Bs were full. While we pondered moving on to Killarney for the night, we had a cup of coffee at The Truffle Pig (entirely because of the awesome name, though the coffee was very good) and dinner at Prego Restaurant. Yep, an Italian restaurant in Ireland. It was delicious. Alexis got a shrimp pasta dish that was very good, and I ate an Irish breakfast pizza. Bacon, sausage and black pudding on pizza is great, seriously. We inquired about hostels with the staff, and they told us there was only one, Failte Hostel. They only had one private room left, so we took it. It was a nice hostel that seemed to cater to a more adult crowd, and we liked that. The beds were rock hard though.
We ended the night by listening to Irish music at Davitt’s Restaurant. We loved the music of Janet Dowd, a nice mix of traditional and contemporary Irish music, and purchased her CD. You can read Alexis’ thoughts on it here.
It was a good day.
Eileen cooked us a very nice breakfast, and we thanked her and headed out toward Killarney. We were completely off the highway the entire drive, and the roads weren’t very busy, so we took our time and soaked in the ubiquitous greenery of the Irish countryside. On our way, we saw a castle that appeared to be in someone’s back yard. History everywhere!
We arrived in Killarney mid-morning. We had heard that Killarney was one of the country’s worst tourist traps, but it wasn’t all that busy at all. We spent a bit of time wandering the gift shops. Alexis purchased some CDs of Irish music to set the mood in the car (why we had not done this sooner, I don’t know) and I bought a penny whistle to be annoying with. We had some very good fish and chips at Sceale Eile, and decided to walk through Killarney National Park to Ross Castle.
After a half hour walk we arrived at the castle. It is quite beautiful, nestled in the mountains of the National Park and on the edge of Lough Leane. We were a bit castled out, so we opted out of paying for the tour and just walked around it. We saw some men in motorboats giving rides to somewhere on the Lough. We asked how much, and were told ten euro each for about about a 45 minute trip, including a walk around some island. Completely on a whim, we paid the man and jumped on his boat with another Irish couple.
Turns out he was taking us to Innisfallen Island, where there were the ruins of an ancient abbey on a deserted, tiny island. Awesome! He dropped us off on the island and told us to come back in about half an hour. Walking through the ancient, unmortared abbey with no one around, it was easy to see why the monks had set up here to live in isolation. Life would not have been easy, but there was plenty of beauty to be had. We walked the perimeter of the tiny island, and the views of the National Park were simply astounding.
We were returned to Ross Castle, and made our way back through the Park to Killarney. We got a bit turned around and took the long way, effectively doubling the walk back.
We had reservations at The Purple Heather, a B&B near the Gap of Dunloe, so we made the short drive and got checked in for the night. At the B&B, we met a nice couple from California who were doing a trip very similar to ours. They recommended the food and nightly live music at the famous Kate Kearney’s Cottage right at the entrance to the Gap of Dunloe. There was still some light left in the day, so we drove to the Gap. The roads here are clearly meant more for carriages than cars, and there is only room for one vehicle to pass at a time. The view, however is totally worth it. We only wish we had more time to do some hiking in the area.
We made our way back to Kate Kearney’s and settled in for a pint and some warm food. I had the roast leg of lamb and Alexis the lamb shank. Both were excellent. Kate Kearney’s has a warm, welcoming ambiance. There was a three-man band playing traditional music while two teenagers did some Irish tap dancing. It was a lot of fun! During intermission, we spoke to the musicians, and they were delighted to learn that Alexis was a violinist. They insisted that she play a song with them. She played “Wild Mountain Thyme” with them, and the whole audience loved it. It was a memorable experience, to say the least. You can read Alexis’ thoughts on the experience on her blog. We ended the night with some Banoffee Pie (banana coffee cake) and a hot Irish whiskey. It was the perfect Irish evening.
After getting a much better night’s rest, we left the wonderful little town of Kilkenny and headed out in the general direction of Cork. This was easier said than done. Our GPS decided quite literally to take us in circles, and it wound up taking about half an hour to find our way out of Kilkenny. We headed Northwest toward Durrow to get back onto the M8 toward Cork, as Fintan had suggested the road was much better, despite the slightly added distance.
Also on the advisement of Fintan Murray, we stopped in the small town of Cashel to visit the Rock of Cashel, a ruined castle towering over the town from a natural rock outcropping. We had a quick bite of breakfast at Ladyswell Restuarant, and made our way up to the castle. The castle is very impressive, made even more so by its location several hundred meters above the town. While it is nice to visit castles that have been restored, such as Kilkenny castle, there is a certain reverence owed to castles in their ruined states, standing for centuries without care.
On our way back down to the town, we stopped in at the Cashel Woolen Store. Alexis purchased an Aran wool scarf. We were very impressed with the woman running the shop. She was the perfect example of Irish geniality, and we heard her speaking at least three languages in the few minutes we were in her shop. It’s one of the better shops we visited during our vacation.
After an enjoyable morning in Cashel, we got back on the road. Next stop: Blarney Castle. After a quick (and sort of stressful) drive through the bustling city of Cork we arrived at the castle, an impressive monolithic structure standing tall above some truly gorgeous grounds. You could spend all day walking the grounds, as there are extensive walking trails on the property. In addition to the castle, admission gives you access to these trails, as well as some gardens, including a garden full of poisonous plants! We also saw the largest thistles we’d ever seen. These things were the size of my outstretched hand. You can see in the picture the stem is the size of my index finger.
As there were plenty of tourists, it can take awhile to navigate through the winding staircases and tiny rooms of the castle, but we still really enjoyed it. Various placards give you insight into what life in the castle would have been like. This was also the first castle we’d seen that had murder holes, which soldiers would have poured boiling oil through onto unwanted visitors. We had previously told ourselves we were not going to kiss the famous Blarney Stone, as one of our Irish friends told us other bodily fluids might be on it other than saliva, but once we were in line with the rest of the tourists, we decided we would probably be fine. A man hangs you upside down over the edge of a murder hole and has you kiss the stone. I didn’t so much kiss it at as I did smash my nose into it.
Having our fill of castles for the day, we moved on to Kinsale, a quaint seaside city. We had heard very good things about Fishy Fishy Cafe, and one of the things we wanted to do on our trip was have some good, fresh seafood. We were still full from Irish breakfast, so we both ordered a bowl of seafood stew and we shared a sampler seafood platter. Bread and butter came before the meal, and it is worth mentioning that the butter was the absolute best both of us had ever had. It was rich and flavorful, almost like eating brie. The seafood stew was quite good, though we wished it had had more chunks of seafood. It was tomato based, unlike the white chowders we had had before. The seafood sampler had crab claws, mussels, clams, smoked salmon, and seared tuna. It was all good, but served cold, which we weren’t expecting. The seared tuna was the highlight of the meal, and while all of it was certainly fresh, we felt that Fishy Fishy may have been hyped a bit too much. It was good, but not spectacular.
Though we wanted to spend more time in Kinsale, we were both tired and the farmhouse we were staying at that night was a ways out of town. Not wanting to try and navigate there after dark, we drove the short distance to the Seafield Farmhouse.
When we arrived, the owners’ daughter was the only one home. She made us a nice cup of tea, and we settled in to our room. The room was very comfortable, and the bed was very inviting. So much so that we had to have a quick nap. We awoke around sunset, which presented one of the most spectacular views we would see on our trip, right from our B&B window.We spoke to our gracious host, Eileen, for a bit and then took a brief walk down to the fields, which are aptly named. As the sun set, the mosquitoes came out, and we called it an early night. Having a nice, comfy bed was a welcome departure from the rock hard hostel beds we’d become accustom to.
Despite the noise of the party-goers, we manage to get some sleep (due largely to complete exhaustion). We rose bright and early, with plenty of time to grab breakfast before our pilot service taxi arrived. The free breakfast at Isaacs Hostel consisted almost entirely of toast and juice, so we walked the short distance to O’Shea’s for their very reasonably priced, and very filling, Irish breakfast.
To our surprise, our taxi was waiting for us when we got back, a full half-hour before our designated pick up time. We gathered our belongings, checked out, and jumped in the taxi. Fintan Murray with Corporate Transfers was quite the gentleman, and made some recommendations as to some of the sights we should see on our drive. He was also very encouraging when it came to my driving in Ireland. However, seeing him drive through Dublin, with its very aggressive drivers, did little to ease my nerves. He drove us to Hertz in the city center. Getting our car was painless, and after Fintan gave me a rundown of our bright blue Ford Ka, we were off.
Mr. Murray drove carefully in front of us, allowing me to follow as a comfortable clip. Having someone to follow out of Dublin’s confusing layout did wonders for easing my anxiety, and for anyone who is driving on the left side for the first time, I highly recommend Fintan Murray’s pilot service. 35 Euro well spent!
When we reached the roundabout to get on the highway, Fintan waved us on, and we had successfully escaped Dublin! Almost immediately there is a change of scenery, and we found ourselves surrounded by beautiful green rolling hills, framed by the majestic Wicklow mountains in the hazy distance. Driving on the highway was quite easy, and before too long I was feeling comfortable driving the Ka. Just stay out of the fast lane (the right one) unless you’re passing. People seem to take that offense quite seriously.
Once we arrived in Kilkenny, the driving changed. It is a bustling little city, with very narrow medieval streets. People here don’t drive particularly slow, and Sygic’s iPhone GPS wasn’t tracking us too well. After getting completely turned around, we managed to find some pay parking not far from our hostel. Speaking of, we discovered that keeping a pocket full of Euro coins is important, as most of the parking in almost every city cost 2-5 Euros a day, and the meters took only coins.
Despite being early for check-in, our room at Kilkenny Tourist Hostel was ready for us. The very nice receptionist gave us our room key, and some suggestions for lunch. The hostel is obviously older, and a bit rough around the edges, but very charming and in a GREAT location. Our room was very clean, and the hostel didn’t seem to have very many occupants. We were glad to have some peace and quiet after the raucous that was Isaacs Hostel.
On the advice of the hostel receptionist, we stopped off at John Cleere’s for a sandwich and soup. Alexis enjoyed her cheese sandwich and lamb stew, and my mushroom soup was good, but my ham sandwich (which was just that: ham and bread) was a bit bland. I got the feeling the place was more of a bar than an eatery, but it served its purpose.
As it was the main reason for our stopping in Kilkenny, we walked the short distance to Kilkenny castle. Kilkenny is a wonderful medieval city, and its many multicolored shop fronts give it a decidedly European feeling. The cobblestone streets and many cathedral spires are icing on the cake. By the time we reached Kilkenny Castle (perhaps a mile from our hostel), I learned one of the most important rules of Ireland: never leave your rain jacket behind. It was sunshiny and t-shirt comfortable when we walked out of our hostel. In less than fifteen minutes, it was grey, rainy and had seemingly dropped twenty degrees (Fahrenheit, of course).
The sight of the castle quickly made me forget my damp clothing. The castle is absolutely stunning from the outside, with a beautiful and fragrant rose garden out front. We paid the 6 Euro apiece entrance fee, and took the self-guided tour of the castle. Though the castle has a very rich history dating back to medieval times, its interior was completely redone during the Renaissance, and has been restored to that era. Its interior is very lavish, and was a great look into what it would have been like to live in aristocratic Renaissance society. Due to the fragile nature of some of the original tapestries and paintings that remain on display, no photography is allowed within the castle.
When we had our fill of Renaissance luxury, we took a brief walk through the woods on the castle grounds, and along the bank of the River Nore. There is a fantastic view of the castle and river to be had from John’s Bridge. Alexis and I both remarked about how lucky the residents of Kilkenny were to have such beautiful views in their town.
We spent the rest of the afternoon visiting the various cathedrals and abbeys through the city. There is no shortage of them! Everywhere we went, we were surrounded by an almost overwhelming amount of history. From the 800 year old stonework to the richly detailed stained-glass windows, there is a palpable sense of awe in these places.
Worn out from all of the walking, we grabbed a cup of coffee at Nostalgia Cafe. At this point, I’m realizing that the Irish don’t really use drip coffee machines like we do in America. If you order coffee, you get a cup full of espresso. It’s wonderful.
We then settled in to Kyteler’s Inn, a storied medieval pub whose original owner was believed to have been a witch. After a pint of Smithwick’s (which is brewed right in Kilkenny, next door to our hostel) and some more Irish stew, we participated in a beginner bodhran session in the pub’s top bar. Damien Walsh taught a group of us the basics of playing the traditional Irish frame drum. He had a great sense of humor and encouraged a lot of audience participation. The whole thing was silly and fun, and a great way to spend our evening. When the session was over, we moseyed on down to the pub’s main bar to hear some traditional music. As we were getting weary at this point, we didn’t last very long, and made our way back through the eerily empty streets to our hostel.