The first week in Ireland brought us down from Dublin into Kilkenny and then west through Cork and into Western Cork. The second week would take us up the west coast along the Wild Atlantic Way into Galway/Connemara and then further up north to Donegal for the final four days. Lastly we would wind our way back to Dublin to fly home.
With the wind at our backs (or just in our hair) we continued on …
Days 7-9: Kilkieran, County Galway
Part I ended with our failed attempt to see some areas such as the Dingle Peninsula and Killarney National Park. So we decided to see those spots on our very long drive from Bantry up the coast to the Connemara region, our next “home,” about an hour and half due west of Galway city. We headed out bright and early the next day for another marathon drive and our hosts were kind enough to show us some good shortcuts for the route. We loaded up a bag with dinner left-overs in the hopes we could find a spot outside for a picnic along the way.
First we headed up to the Dingle Peninsula and ventured out to see some amazing seascapes. The wind was blowing like crazy and the waves were no joke … we jumped out of the car along the way to take in the scenery and get some pictures but each time scrambled quickly back into the car to get out of the crazy weather.
At some point we got hungry and considered finding a spot to eat outside, unfortunately the weather wouldn’t cooperate so we ended up picnicking in the car. Not the worst thing with these views!
Our route then looped back and so we could drive up through Killarney National Park. Wow. When I go back to Ireland I want to spend some time here … honestly, there just weren’t enough hours in the day to really explore this amazing place. We stopped at Ladies View, named for Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting that visited and were so taken by the view that it was named for them, and a couple of other spots along the way but had to keep going to get to our next destination.
Our next milestone was crossing the River Shannon on a ferry, which was luckily a short trip so I didn’t have to deal with my seasickness issue. Plus, the skies were blue so we spent the whole ride out of the car and watching from the deck.
At this point we were only about halfway to our next house and we had already traveled many, many kilometers! And we had a few more things to see on the way. But first, a quick stop along they way for a refreshment.
This next leg of the trip is where I really wished we had more time. And certainly I was wishing for better weather! We wanted to see the Cliffs of Moher and although this stop was definitely the most “touristy” thing we had so far on the trip, we couldn’t NOT do it. The blue skies had disappeared, the wind had picked up considerably, and it was chilly. We headed out to the cliffs and started our way up one side when the skies opened up and I can’t even say the rain was coming down on us because it was so windy the rain was actually pelting us from the sides! We clamored up to O’Briens Tower because it was the closest shelter and took refuge inside with a slew of other rain-soaked tourists! We waited for the rain to stop but the Irish weather Gods had other plans that day so we finally threw in the towel. I’m glad we went and I’m so glad I saw them but I would love to spend a little more time exploring these cliffs some day. Slightly defeated, we headed back and got back into the car soaked to our skin.
In order to get to Kilkieran (Cill Chiaráin) before dark we had to spend a few more hours in the car. Since it doesn’t get dark until about 10ish I figured we’d manage that without a problem but as we started getting closer to Galway I started to think we might not make it. Originally we thought we might stop in Galway for dinner but then thought better of it and decided to get closer to the next home base and find some food. The area west of Galway is known as the Connemara region and it was the first time we were in a Gaeltacht area. Gaeltacht indicates that the area is Irish-speaking and from what I could gather, it also means the signs are in Gaelic only. I didn’t find that to be true in all cases but certainly on the small back road of the Connemara that was the case. So luckily our hosts had sent me a note saying to look out for the town of Cill Chiaráin or we would never have found it!
After a bit of trouble (ok, so it might have been more than a “bit”: couldn’t find the place, drove by it about 10 times before we went into a pub to ask for directions, bartender came outside to show me where it was, still couldn’t find it, drove by it 10 more times, got frustrated, finally found it, couldn’t find the key, phone was dead, it was dark and raining, couldn’t see where we were going, FINALLY found the key exactly one second before I totally lost my shit), we arrived at our next house. Since it was dark we couldn’t appreciate the view but the next morning we woke up to this and it was all worth it.
This was our little place in Kilkieran.
We were pretty much in the middle of nowhere so decided that we would find the closest town, find a breakfast spot with free wi-fi, and kill two birds with one stone. Not having the ability to constantly “plug-in” is a challenge for us spoiled Americans, that’s for sure. So we ended up in Roundstone for breakfast with plans to come back the same way for dinner — word on the street was there was a really great seafood restaurant in this little town.
That day we headed out to Clifden, the largest town in the Connemara region, and spent part of the day just poking around, taking a few short scenic drives, and eventually looping back to Roundstone for dinner. We did find a really cool spot along the way thanks to our trusty Back Roads book — a little island called Omey that you could walk or drive to during low tide, right over the sand.
It was a much deserved “rest” day, knowing we would be hitting the road again the next day for Donegal and another marathon drive.
Days 9-13: Horn Head, County Donegal
The next stop would be our last before heading back to Dublin and also our longest. We were scheduled for four nights at a little place all the way at the northern-most point of Ireland. I was excited to have a little more time to explore the next region. With that in mind we decided to not make too many stops along the way and head straight there. We also had our host meeting us at this house so we couldn’t show up in the middle of the night! By this point of the trip we had our driving system pretty well down — my navigation skills had much improved, we could tackle roundabouts like pros, and John was only taking down occasional shrubbery. We were feeling like champs.
One of the really cool things about Ireland is that each region is so different and unique. I’m so glad we had the opportunity to explore so much of the country and of course I realize we didn’t get to see a ton of it, I do feel like we got a taste of what the areas we visited had to offer. All the driving was totally worth it.
So our next place was built into the cliffs above Dunfanaghy, a little fishing village that seemed to be a big summer vacation spot. Considering the temperature when we were there I was a little surprised to hear people summered here, but whatevs. The guest house, which was built right next to the main house, was a little tiny one room building with a sun porch that looked out onto the most amazing view. Our hostess greeted us with a pot of tea and we just sat down on the big comfy chairs, drank our tea, and stared out to the sea. Well, what we could see of the sea, that is, since it was raining and cloudy again! But not for long … the rain cleared up and we were rewarded.
We headed into town that night and roamed around for a bit before we found this quirky, crazy place making the most amazing pizza. So unexpected and SO appreciated after many meals of fish and chips!
We started our first day in Donegal with a hike up to Horn Head.
After our hike we jumped back in the car and started retracing our steps from the day before. But first we had to stop to get some lunch. We drove around a bit and quickly realized we were going to have to wing it — the signs were seriously only in Irish — so we just found a pub that looked like it might have food and went in. And boy, we were pleasantly surprised. In fact, I had the best fish and chips of the trip at that pub. And it was HUGE. I somehow managed to eat almost all of it because it was SOOO good. Oink oink.
We were headed back southward to Ardara to poke around. We had read that Ardara was known for handweaving and John was specifically on the lookout for a nice sport coat. After some disappointing touristy shops selling the same-old machine-knit aran sweaters and other crap, we stumbled about a tiny little treasure of a store selling the most beautiful handwoven coats, blankets, hats, etc. Eddie Doherty was sitting there when we walked in and I realized pretty quickly that he was the man behind all of the beautiful woven goods in the shop. We ended up spending quite a bit of time there, talking with Mr. Doherty, watching him demo the loom, and of course (ahem), buying some things. We later found out that Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick visit Mr. Doherty when they’re in Ireland to buy their hand-woven tweeds! Shopping like the celebrities, we are! John got his sport coat and he was so giddy about it that I thought he might wear it to bed that night. Love.
Since we had a nice clear day we kept retracing some steps from the day before so we could revisit a few of the spots we couldn’t really see due to the clouds/fog.
That night we were still full from our lunch so we did the only thing you can do in these circumstances. We drank a couple of pints of Guinness and had an ice cream for dinner.
Next day we were off for another full day of adventure — Northern Ireland. Embarrassingly, I really didn’t know what to expect traveling into Northern Ireland. Was there a “border”? Would we need to show passports (it’s a different country, after all)? Truly clueless. So when we crossed the border without even realizing it, we drove for a while really slowly — because the speed limit signs had switched to miles per hour versus kilometers per hour and we missed the sign that told us that rather important bit of info! After driving in this foreign country a while the things I noticed were this: the road numbers changed — we were on a “N” road that changed to an “A” road, the currency changed to pounds (noticed first at a gas station), we lost our trusty radio station that had sustained us through the rest of our country-wide excursion, and oddly, everything just seemed a little nicer. It took a few miles (kilometers?) before it all started to sink in, but all of a sudden we definitely had the feeling that we weren’t in Ireland anymore. Weird, right?
First stop was the Carrick-a-Rede bridge, a pretty cool tourist attraction that takes over a suspended rope bridge onto a little island with some pretty spectacular views. It was actually sunny out and I think for the first time on the trip I took my sweater and jacket off and was actually in short sleeves!! Wooohooo for short sleeves in the summer. Sorry, I digress.
Next stop was Bushmills for another Irish Whiskey tour and tasting. Don’t judge.
Then we went to Giant’s Causeway. We were sort of on the fence about going and I can’t even emphasize how glad I was we didn’t pass it up. Holy wow. It was spectacular. We picked up our audio guides and geeked out on the geology tour, walked around on the basalt columns, took a thousand photos, and were just generally blown away by this place. Like the Cliffs of Moher, it’s touristy, but honestly, not in a bad way. There were definitely some idiots there I wanted to dope slap (some bimbo in platform sandals and a tube dress…. come on, seriously?) but overall it’s just a much more chill tourist situation than we have here in the States.
We headed back home that day pretty pleased with our day and excited for another night of pizza. Unfortunately the wait was too long that night so went across the street to a pub for dinner with every intention of trying again the next night. Seriously, that’s how good the pizza was.
The last day in Donegal we decided to tour the immediate area — the other peninsulas just east of us. This was our rest day and unfortunately the weather had turned crappy again so after a couple of hours of exploring we headed back to Dunfanaghy, did a little shopping and then headed back to our “house” to hang out, read, and look out to the sea. And we did get some pizza again for dinner!
Days 13-14 : Dublin
So here we were, our last full day in Ireland and we were heading back to Dublin. We got an early start and took the most direct route back because we had to get the car back by 1:00pm. I hadn’t planned that well — places close early (or aren’t open at all!) on Sundays in Ireland. But we got there with time to spare, returned the car (in mostly one piece!), made our way through the throngs of locals going to or leaving from a hurling match (the stadium was directly across the street from the car rental place!), and found our next “home” for a night. We were Starvin’ Marvin’s at that point so we headed immediately back to the Klaw for lunch. And we ate everything on the menu. Ok, we ate two of everything on the menu. But it was SO worth it.
Ok, and now I’m going to make my big knitknat confession — this was the first time on this whole trip that I walked into a yarn store. I am slightly ashamed. But seriously, Irish wool is a little (a lot) itchy and I’m kind of spoiled brat. DO NOT JUDGE ME, PEOPLE. I had seen some yarn on our journeys but most of it was either intended for weaving or was just too darn scratchy. So when we visited The Constant Knitter in Dublin and only saw a couple of local yarn choices and a lot of commercial yarn that I can get anywhere I was feeling a little sad that I didn’t find that gem of perfect Irish cashmere on my trip. Oh well, maybe that’s my next business plan. Aran cashmere goats.
The last night in Ireland we decided to have Indonesian food (!). It was awesome. Then we discovered the smallest pub in Ireland which happened to be directly across from our apartment and had our very last Guinness in Ireland.
So that’s a recap of our travels. Our first visit will certainly not be our last — but like I said to John on the way back home, usually when we “tour” a country we find places we want to see again and some others that we don’t feel warrant another visit. But not Ireland. There was not one part that I wouldn’t be happy to spend a full two weeks exploring during another summer vacation. Or maybe longer, someday.