We traveled to Ireland for two weeks of our summer vacation this year — something that was on John’s bucket list and I was happy to oblige. After deliberating the past few years partially due to the value of the dollar and partially due to other life reasons, we decided this was the year. We wanted to try and see as much as possible so we planned to circle the island, finding spots to stay in for a few nights in each area.
I know I’ll forget so much if I don’t write it down so here goes … a recap:
Days 1-3: Dublin
We arrived in Dublin on a Monday morning and headed straight to our first Airbnb rental* in town. Since neither of us managed to catch much shut-eye on the overnight flight we put our heads down for a couple of hours. Then off we went to the Guinness Storehouse for their tour and tasting. Our first Guinness in Ireland. It’s true, it does taste different there!
After a very good night’s sleep we hit the ground running on day two … after a fortifying breakfast, of course! We went to Trinity College and had a fabulous tour from one of their students, viewed the Book of Kells, quickly visited Dublin Castle, walked around Temple Bar, and found a brand-new (opened the previous week) tiny little restaurant called “Klaw” that served the most delicious lobster rolls I’ve had outside of Maine. Our “fancy” dinner that night was at the Winding Stair, a slightly less tiny little restaurant on top of book store that serves modern Irish food. In between we MIGHT have a had pint or two.
Our gracious Airbnb hosts had stocked the fridge for us so we were able to enjoy a slice of brown bread and Irish butter with a fried egg at home for breakfast on our last day. Then we were off for our adventure … getting the car. Somehow, someway, we managed to get out of Dublin in one piece. My big road map was useless (I later discovered that the main highway to Kilkenny, our second “home” was fairly new so NOT ON THE MAP?!!?), we were stupid and didn’t get a GPS thinking our phones would work (not really), and did I mention we were driving on the wrong side of the mother-effing road?
Days 3-5: Kells, County Kilkenny
In some ways I wished we had visited Kells at the end of the trip because I think it was my favorite part. But on the other hand, having this experience at the start definitely had it’s advantages. Why was it so great? The house … perfect. The garden … spectacular. Our hosts (Dave and Jadzia) … the best. The location … amazing.
Dave met us when we arrived and gave us a run-down of the cottage and some really great info on ways we could spend the next couple of days. We started off on a walk (mostly because I was scared to get back in the car) over to Kells Priory which was basically in their back yard. We strolled through the ruins, hung out with the sheep, and found our way back to the local village where we had our favorite vacation lunch: ice cream. Then back to the house to explore Jadzia’s garden and plan our evening. Dave took us out to one of their local pubs and we found out he was a musician (who played the bodhran, among other things), had lived in NYC, toured with Lord of the Dance, and was overall a really cool guy. We did venture out again later on for dinner in Kilkenny which was sadly the worst meal we had on our whole trip. I mean, it was BAD. And the driving was still a shit show.
So the next day John cooked us some eggs that Dave had left for us (from their own chickens) and then we said a prayer to the car-Gods and hit the road. We were heading towards Waterford. In Waterford we strolled around town a bit and then headed to the House of Waterford Crystal for a tour. Crystal isn’t really my thing but holy moly that tour was cool. The level of craftsmanship required to produce the pieces was mind-blowing. Each specialty (blowing, cutting, engraving, etc.) is a craft unto itself, with many years of apprenticeship required to become a master. The tour takes you through the working factory so you watch the actual pieces being made by those masters. And like any smart tour, they funnel you right into the gift shop at the end to take your money, any currency will do!
Our next stop was the little fishing village of Dunmore East. Someone had recommended the Strand Inn for lunch on the water and at this point we were pretty hungry so we headed straight there. I didn’t have high hopes — a hotel restaurant in a tourist town with tables overlooking the beach? I know what kind of food I’m getting at a place like that in the States! But as it turned out, it was one of many excellent meals we would have in Ireland that caught us completely by surprise. We shared a plate of excellent fish and chips (we at a lot of fish and chips on this trip but this was one of our favorites) and a ham/cheese sandwich on brown bread with Irish butter that I am still thinking about. One thing to note here is that people were at the beach, IN THE WATER while I was wearing a sweater, scarf, and jacket. It was about 50 degrees so go figure.
That night we headed out to hear Dave play at his weekly gig and afterwards he invited us out for a pint. We met Jadzia, Dave, and another local named Pat at Shirley’s, the pub in town. One pint turned into another (somehow they kept appearing in front of me, and well, I didn’t want to be rude) and the story-telling was on! Pat, as it turns out, was a leprechaun. Well, at least he spent a year dressed as a leprechaun somewhere on the Ring of Kerry taking lots of money from the tourists! He was quite a character and was happy to give us good local advice on how to view the Ring of Kerry without seeing “all of our neighbors.” I could understand about 2/3 of what he was saying and I knew my Guinness-numbed brain would remember nothing the next day so I took good notes on my phone while he talked. This is what I wrote: Killargen, Glenbeigh, Pass pub on right, Red Fox, Glencar, In mountains and lakes, Stay fucking going, Carin toughl, Kerry Leprechaun, Sneem. WHAT THE ????
The next day, surprisingly not hungover, we hit the road for our next stop. After a bittersweet farewell to our hosts, we started making our way to the Southwest of Ireland.
Days 5-7: Bantry, West County Cork
Holy God the drive from Kilkenny to Bantry was an adventure. The map worked now (all roads seem to be on it, an important aspect of mapiness) but the GPS on my phone said to go a different route — the “shorter” route. So we did. I had been warned about these narrow country roads but I thought, how bad can it be? Oh, it’s bad. Narrow is an understatement, there are hedge walls on either side, and oh yeah, tractors, buses, and other speeding cars coming around every blind corner. GAH!
We had one stop along the way to visit the Jameson Distillery in Midleton, County Cork. I am not a whiskey person — can’t stomach any of them (scotch, bourbon, Irish, whatever) but the tour was pretty cool and I learned a lot about the process. We had lunch at a little local bakery cafe and picked up some scones for breakfast the next day.
After some more driving, getting lost, and more driving, we arrived at our next “home”, this little octagon house in the woods. It was pouring when we arrived so we headed into town to get some provisions for dinner. We had our most unpleasant pub experience in town that night, ironically at a place called the Snug. I have never felt so unwelcome and out-of-place as I did at this pub. We couldn’t get out of there fast enough!
The next day we woke up to blue skies! Unfortunately they didn’t last long but I learned to REALLY appreciate any sign of blue by this point. Today was going to be a big driving day (I hadn’t made the official proclamation to intersperse big driving days with “rest” days) — we were basically going to do a three-day excursion in one day. Maps are misleading because the distances shown don’t take into account the narrowness of the roads, the slow drives through tiny village streets, and getting stuck behind tractors or sheep. So it looked manageable, but, oh boy.
My plans for the day included: The Ring of Kerry, the Dingle Peninsula, and Killarney National Park. With some other stops along the way.
We stopped in Kenmare, strolled around a little, and asked a local shopkeeper for a recommendation for lunch. One of the suggested places, The Purple Heather, again, surprised us with delicious food. We each had a bowl of spectacular seafood chowder and shared a cheese plate of aged Irish cheddar.
Then we headed onto The Ring of Kerry. I had heard nightmare stories about how the Ring of Kerry was clogged with tour buses and I have to say, although we certainly saw our share of them, “clogged” would be an overstatement. Maybe I’m comparing it to NYC traffic so it didn’t seem all that bad. We started in Kenmare and drove west along the Ring, stopping periodically throughout to take pictures and check out the local highlights. Although I would have loved to take a boat to the Skellig Islands I knew that wasn’t in the cards for me — sea sickness is no fun, kids — so we did the consolation prize of seeing them from afar. There was a viewing spot from the Cliffs of Kerry out to the islands and even a reproduction of the beehive huts from Skellig Michael.
At this point I realized were not seeing the Dingle Peninsula or Killarney National Park. We headed home, exhausted, and found a little pub in Glengarriff on the way back to Bantry.
A good nights sleep washed away the previous day’s drive and we got back in the car for the next day’s adventure. After the marathon of the last day we decided to keep it simple and head towards Kinsale with some stops along the way. Kinsale is great little seaside town and again, we managed to find a pub with fabulous food for lunch. By the time we headed home it was pouring again so we stopped along the way and picked up provisions for dinner. Once back at our little octagon house we lit a fire and listened to the rain for the rest of the night.
I can’t believe at this point we’ve been in Ireland for a week! In some ways it seems like a year and in others like we just arrived. So the next day we pack up our suitcases, load up the car, and get going for the next leg of our adventures. More on that next time.
*I booked all of our lodging for this trip on Airbnb and overall I was thrilled with the places we stayed. The two places in Dublin (on the front and back end of the trip) were probably my least favorite — not because they were bad, but because the pictures on the website made them look SO much nicer than they actually were. While I was booking the trip I kept complaining about some of the horrible pictures people use to market their homes. I can’t tell you how many places I dismissed just because of crappy (or too few) photos. These two places, on the other hand, looked so new and cute on the site when in fact they were both pretty old and worn. Not terrible, just not great .