Ireland

When I created my bucket list, the first country I put on it was Ireland. Out of all the destinations in the world Ireland went straight to number 1. I have seen so many movies which were shot in Ireland and the breathtaking beauty, varied landscapes and impressive nature that came to me across the big screen made me fall in love.

I like to escape home when my birthday comes up. It is not about getting older, but I and what better excuse than to treat use any excuse to go on a holiday. So I am going to treat myself to a 2 week holiday in Ireland. One of my long time friends Astrid is going to accompany me on this road trip. I have booked our flights, rental car and accommodation with Buro ScanBrit, the tour operator that took me to Scotland and Norway last year. I cannot be bothered searching for accommodation during my holiday and waste precious time. Not on this holiday anyway.

Day 1: from Amsterdam to the Wicklow Mountains

So on a Friday afternoon we meet at Schiphol, Amsterdam from where we fly to Dublin with Aer Lingus. It is only a short of an hour an a half. Upon arrival in Dublin, we will start our road trip straight away and we have to pick up our rental car. We have a short ride by shuttle bus to the car park. I have rented a simple and small car that will get us anywhere we need to go. We have to get used to driving on the left side of the road, but it goes a lot smoother than expected. The good thing is that neither of us is scared and a bit of confidence makes a world of difference when driving.

We leave Dublin and go south on the M50. We have to pay toll and the car rental company tolds us to register our rental car within 24 hours after arrival. He adviced us to find a shop with the toll logo on their window to register the license plate, so that we are covered when getting checked (I am pretty sure in future they will find an easier system for this).

Our first B&B is located in Rathdrum and we take a scenic route via the coastal town of Wicklow to get there. I prefer to get off the highway and we both love driving through small villages, alongside the coast or in the countryside. As soon as we are off the highway we get to see why Ireland is called the land of 40 shades of green. We are lucky with the weather, because the reason Ireland is so green is the amount of rain that comes down quite often. But not today and we get to enjoy our first day even with a bit of sun that makes everything even more green.

Our B&B Lettermore is 2 km outside the centre of Rathdrum and easy to find. I chose to stay in B&B’s mostly because I love the cozyness and the personal touch these places offer. We are welcomed in the most friendly way by Ann Griffin, the owner. After having checked into a comfortable room for the next 2 nights, we go out in the evening to find a place to eat. Ann has given us tips on where to go and we end up at the Jacob’s Well Pub, where we have a decent meal with a pint of beer. Life is good!

Day 2: Wicklow Mountains and Powerscourt House & Gardens

We had a good night sleep and we start our day with a delicious breakfast that Ann makes for us. She gives us tips for today and after breakfast we drive to the beautiful Wicklow Mountains National Park. Today again we are blessed with the sun shining, what a gift. We park our car at the lower car park in Glendalough, where the visitor centre is located and we get ourselves a map and go for a walk. Just behind the visitor centre there is plenty of history to be found. We stop at St. Kevin’s and St. Kieran’s churches, the Glendalough Roundtower and Catheral and its beautiful graveyards.

From lower lake we walk to upper lake passing Poulanass Waterfall, St. Kevin’s Bed and Reefert Church. We enjoy the immense beauty of Irish nature. It is the first of September today, but there is still plenty of purple from the heather on the mountains. All of a sudden I remember the movie P.S. I Love You (I watched this out of love for Ireland, not because I am a hopeless romantic 😉 ), a love story that started with an encounter in the Wicklow Mountains. We see no Gerry here, but maybe that is because Gerry was actually played by a Scotsman!

After a few hours we leave the park and take the R115/Old Military Road from Laragh and drive to Powerscourt House & Gardens. The road is quite a challenge, but our little car is doing fine and the drive is beautiful. Powerscourt is an impressive estate with the most beautiful gardens. First we get something to eat and drink at the Avoca Store and sit down on a bench in the gardens to enjoy our lunch. We take our time to walk around the estate and it is true: Ireland has 40 shades of green if not more.

At the end of the day we drive back to Rathdrum and relax with a cup of tea at Lettermore; it is such a lovely place. In the evening we go back to Jacob’s, for another delicious dinner. Life happens in the pub in Ireland. This is where you drink and eat, have a good time and sometimes you can even stay for the night. The pub is a kind of extended living room I guess.

Day 3: from Rathdrum to Waterford

Today we leave Rathdrum behind us and head towards Waterford, which means we go further south. Our first stop is in Avoca, known for its famous copper mines and hand weavers. You can find Avoca shops all over Ireland with beautiful knitwear, ceramics, kitchenware, cook books and delicacies (we saw the first shop yesterday at Powerscourt). Woolen Mills is an old weaving factory, which is still in use and we decide to go inside. We get a small weaving demonstration and what a lovely place to stop. Next to the weaving mill there is a big Avoca store and we go inside. It is difficult not to buy anything, all the products being sold are beautiful and buying something is very tempting. But we have a lot of travelling ahead of us and we will visit the Avoca store in Dublin, where we end our road trip. We do get something for lunch and get back on the road.

Our next stop is the North Slob near Wexford, an internationally renowned wild bird sanctuary. Up to 35% of the world population of Greenland White-fronted Geese come here each year for winter, along with other species. But I did not read my guid book well, because the geese arrive at the end of September instead of at the beginning of September. I can see about 20 geese, instead of 6,000. One of them is walking underneath a sign “only geese beyond this point” which I think is quite funny, like it is trying to make a statement. The area is really pretty, so no time was wasted by coming here.

It is time to drive towards Waterford where we will be staying tonight! Waterford is known for its crystal and you can visit the famous crystal factory. It is a Sunday and it is closed, so we drive straight to our B&B, Blenheim House, which is located just outside of Waterford. It is an amazing 250-year-old building and probably the most beautiful B&B during our trip. It stands on 4 acres of lawns, shrubbery and has a private deer park. The building has a long history but now functions as a B&B and is furnished with antiques and art objects. We are literally in the countryside, it is quiet and peaceful and only a ten minutes drive from Waterford.

Blenheim House, Waterford

A lovely lady named Clare welcomes us and shows us our room. We feel like going back in time: it is so beautiful. She makes us leave our suitcases behind and advises us to drive to Dunmore East, which is only 10 minutes away. It is a beautiful afternoon and we should be outside to enjoy it. We park our car opposite of The Strand Inn and Lawlor’s Beach. The Strand Inn is a hotel and pub and there is live music and lots of people enjoying their weekend. We sit down on the terrace, listen to the music, soak up the sun and have a good meal with a beer. We go back to Blenheim House and I enjoy a warm bath before going to sleep.

Day 4: from Waterford to Clonakilty

Clare serves us a good Irish breakfast and she asks about our plans. I tell here I would love to stay longer in this area and that Blenheim House is amazing! But we need to move on to our next stop, but I hope to return here some day! Guess what? Today again the sun in shining!

We go west and drive alongside the coast towards Midleton. When you go for a holiday in Ireland, you have to visit the Jameson Distillery, so that is what we do. Jameson moved from Dublin to Midleton in 1975. They needed more space than they had in Dublin and Midleton offered everything they needed. We make sure we have some lunch first before we join a tour. The property is bigger than we thought and we walk quite a bit; what a great place to visit. Our guide tells us all kinds of funny stories and anecdotes. After the tour comes the best part: we get to taste! The Irish are very proud of their whiskey and they have every right to be. I do not drink whiskey very often, but when I do it is Jameson.

After Jameson we move on to Blarney Castle. People come here for the kissing the famous Blarney Stone, but the castle has much more to offer, like the beautiful Gardens, Rock Close and The Stable Yard Café. We take our time to walk around the property before entering the tower. I you want to kiss the Blarney Stone you should not be afraid of heights! You have to go all the way up in the tower and you have to lean backwards to kiss the stone (you do get some help of course). Why do people kiss this stone? Well, for over 200 years world statesmen, literary giants, and legends of the silver screen have joined the millions of pilgrims climbing the steps to gain the gift of eloquence, meaning a promise to never again be lost for words. Somehow I do not think I am ever lost for words ;), but up we go and we kiss the stone. I try not to think about how many people kissed this stone and how hygienic it is, but we will become one of millions.

After our visit to Blarney Castle we drive to our overnight address in Clonakilty. We would have liked to visit Cork, but when putting this trip together it was quite difficult to make choices. But I decided I would like to visit this city separately and take my time to do so. We arrive a bit late at our B&B, The MacLiam Lodge Guesthouse. After freshening up we walk towards the centre and have dinner in The Phoenix and have a beer (or 2) after. So far our trip is pretty great and the amazing weather helps a lot!

Day 5: from Clonakilty to Killarney

MacLiam serves a good breakfast. It keeps us going and usually we just need a light lunch or a snack at lunch time. We try to get up early every day and go to bed on time. That sounds boring and maybe it is, but we prefer to get up early to have as much time as possible during the day and see things during daylight. We relax at night, usually there is not much going on in the country anyway, so we have a good night sleep and start the next day well rested.

We cannot believe our luck with the weather and feel so blessed. Our first stop today is at Bantry Bay. We park our car at the harbour of Glengarriff and from here we take the ferry boat to Ilnacullen / Garinish Island to visit the famous gardens. It only take 15 minutes to get there and the ferry comes and goes every 30 minutes. We see seals lazing around on the rocks in this beautiful bay. I saw Garnish Island on a TV program once and am glad I remembered it. One we arrive we go for a walk. The gardens are amazing and a lot of special plants and flowers can be found here, some you may not expect in this Irish Atlantic climate.

On our way back on the ferry I chat with Captain Paddy (75 years old). I tell him that I love Ireland and that I could live here then he asks me to marry him. I answer that I would be honoured to be his wife, but even at 42 I am still not marriage material. He cannot stop laughing and says that his offer still stands! Back in the harbour we have a delicious lunch at the small church that lies across the road and since the sun is shining again today we sit outside.

After lunch we head towards Killarney and before we know it, we are driving on the famous Ring of Kerry. The scenery is absolutely stunning, it seems to get more impressive every day. We stop quite often just to admire the view and to take photographs. By the end of the afternoon we arrive in Killarney.

Tonight we stay in a small-scale and very stylish B&B called St. Anthony’s Lodge. We are welcomed by the owner Mary who is a very sweet lady (they all are). We get a cup of tea, chat a bit and check into our room, which is lovely. Mary gives us advice on where to go for dinner tonight. She names a few places and we end up going to the famous Bricin restaurant (and shop), located in the centre of town. We take the car, since we are a bit lazy, but we should have walked. Parking is difficult in the centre and not for free. But we do find a place to park. We walk around the shops a little bit, before sitting down at Bricin where typical Irish food is being served and it is a popular place. We order a Boxty, which is their house speciality. It is a traditional Irish Potato Pancake cooked on the griddle and you can choose your own choice of fillings. They are delicious. It can be busy here, so a reservation is usually a good idea.

Day 6: Ring of Kerry

In the morning we enjoy a delicious breakfast, Mary bakes fresh scones every day (if only I could get the hang of it back home). Mary’s son give us advice about where to go today. That is another thing I love about staying in B&B’s, friendly people and good advice! Today we further discover the Ring of Kerry. Our first stop is at Muckross Abbey, also know as the Franciscan friary of Irrelagh. It was founded for the Observatine Franciscans about 1448 by a Mr. Daniel McCarthy. The ruins are very well-preserved; there is a church with a wide, square tower and fine windows, and a vaulted cloister with an arcade of arches around a square courtyard. In the middle of this courtyard grows an ancient yew tree and they say it is as old as the Abbey. The graveyard in the grounds surrounding the Abbey is still in use.

From Muckross Abbey we go to Muckross House & Gardens. Muckross House is a 19th century Victorian and it stands close to the shores of Muckross Lake (one of Killarney’s three lakes). This is such a pretty part of Killarney National Park. We do a small tour inside and learn that Muckross House was built for Henry Arthur Herbert and his wife, the water-colourist Mary Balfour Herbert. There is more to see than just the house; the gardens are pretty impressive as well. There is a farm, pottery, restaurant and much more.

Muckross House

We continue our drive along the Ring of Kerry. Our next stop is at the Meeting of the Waters. As the name implies the Meeting of the waters is where Killarney’s famous lakes converge. The Upper lake, Middle Lake (known as Muckross Lake) and Lower Lake (Lough Leane) all come together here. You can only get there by foot or bicycle, so we park our car a few hundred meters after Torc Waterfall and go for a walk. The place is peaceful and tranquil. There is an lovely old teahouse where we sit down for a drink and something to eat; a late lunch. The windows of the teahouse are engraved with names and they tell how old this place is.

At the end of the afternoon we drive the world famous Gap of Dunloe in the opposite direction (a tip we got from Mary’s son). This is only possible after 4 p.m. when there are no longer horses & carriages on the road. It is a beautiful and scenic route and at the end we find Kate Kearney’s Cottage; a picturesque place to stay, drink and eat. We sit down in the big garden and enjoy a beer; of course we make sure we do not drink too much! Once more the sun is out and we celebrate this perfect day! It does not take much to make us happy. It is evening when we return to Killarney and we go for fish and chips on High Street before we drive back to St. Anthony’s.

Day 7: from Killarney to Kilkee

The next day we drive to the Dingle Peninsula, where an impressive coastline starts and beautiful beaches can be found. We stop to visit the Beehive Houses, the Dun Beag fort and take a break at Coumeenoole. The beach here is stunningly beautiful and you really do not expect a beach like this in Ireland. I need to put my feet in the sand, so down to the beach we go. We have an ice cream, it’s another sunny day… we are 2 Lucky Travellers! But seriously, what are the odds? For 7 days in a row we have sunshine, we are truly blessed on this trip.

Coumeenoole Beach, Dingle peninsula

We move on to Kilkee. We take the Killrush Ferry from Tarbert to Killimer. This way we save about 1,5 hour. I would have loved to go to Limerick as well, but decisions had to made when planning this trip and it makes us want to come back someday. In Kilkee we stay at the Bay View hotel, so not in a B&B. But the location is great, so we were OK with this decision. Upon arrival we go for a walk and pass by a wall painting from Che Guevara, definitely not the person to be expected on a mural (there is no gravity at all in this picturesque coastal town). But he once visited Kilkee when apparently he got stuck at Shannon Airport due to heavy fog. At night we have dinner at Naughton’s Bar; the friendly bar owner loves a chat and gives us tips for the next day. The bar is only a few steps away from the hotel so we can have a beer (or 2… maybe 3). It is weekend and there is a pub below the hotel, which means it could be a bit noisy, so we might as well stay at Naughton’s and enjoy ourselves.

Day 8: Aill na Brun, Loop Head and Kilkee

Breakfast at Bay View is good; we have been served up to now, but here we can choose from a buffet. On the advice of Naughton’s owner, we discover the Loop Head peninsula. Our first stop is at Carrigaholt where we visit mediaeval Carrigaholt Castle or what remains of it. It stands at the end of the fishing pier and overlooks the Shannon Estuary and the harbour. It is enclosed by a courtyard and high walls on one side, and by rocks and the bay on the other. We cannot go inside, it is closed, but it is worth to stop here anyway and take some photographs.

We drive via Kilbala to Loop Head Lighthouse / Aill na Brun. If you have read my other blogs you know I have a thing for lighthouses and this one is real pretty. We walk around it since it is closed as well, but this area is so amazing; we are not in a hurry to leave. We walk along the beautiful cliffs, my friend wants to know to high the cliffs are and gets on her belly to have a look. I do not! I am clumsy so I will either drop my camera or fall down myself. We both enjoy the impressive coastline. The more north we travel, the rougher the coastline seems to get.

Loop Head Lighthouse / Aill na Brun

Back in Kilkee we leave the car at Bay View and have lunch at The Strand. Apparently this is where Che Guevara was a guest in 1961. After lunch we go for another walk, it is nice to leave the car behind for a while. Around Kilkee there are quite a few walking paths; . In the middle of Kilkee there is a little beach. On the west side you can walk the Cliff Walk (we passed it by car on our way back from Loop Head). You can visit the little beach for a break and we walk north towards Georges Head and Corbally Cliff and sit down in the to enjoy the amazing view. At night we return to Naughton’s for dinner. We enjoyed it last night, so why not go again.

Day 9: from Kilkee to Galway – Cliffs of Moher

After a relaxing day in Kilkee yesterday, today we get in our car again and continue our road trip. Today we will visit the famous Cliffs of Moher! It is probably the most touristic spot on the west coast, but rightfully so. It was quiet and peaceful at Loop Head, here it is really busy. But it is a must see. We go for another beautiful and long walk this time. I want to see Puffins and I try to find them, but this time we are to late to see them. So… If you are afraid of heights, then walking here is not always easy, because you sometimes walk dangerously close to the edge. Just be careful, wear sensible shoes and do not take any dangerous selfies. After the walk we have lunch at the visitor centre and move on to Galway.

In Galway we stay at the Rock Lodge. It is nice to be staying in a B&B again. We check in, leave our car and explore Galway on foot for the rest of the afternoon. Galway is full of life, it is a vibrant university city and there is always something going on here. It is Sunday, meaning most people are enjoying their day off and go out for a drink and a meal. We do a bit of shopping and then have a very tasty dinner at Italian restaurant Magnetti. After we go for a drink and have a Galway Hooker (the name of an Irish beer brand) in a pub nearby. Tastes pretty good I must say 😉

Day 10: from Galway to Westport – Connemara

All of a sudden time is going quick, but we have 5 more days to go. From Galway we go to Westport but of course not directly. Our first stop is at Kylemore Abbey and Victorian Walled Garden. For the first time it is very cloudy during our drive and before we reach the Abbey the rain all of a sudden comes pouring down. But when we reach the Abbey it stops :). Kylemore Abbey and Victorian Walled Garden were originally built as a Castle in 1867 as a romantic gift (from husband to wife). This place is steeped in history and full of tragedy, romance and royal visits. It became home to a community of Benedictine Nuns in 1920 and has been renowned as a place of spirituality and education. To me this place is pretty magical. Upon arrival you have to stop on the way and just admire the view. Kylemore looks pretty dark and gloomy on the outside, but the interior is totally different and not what you expect: just beautiful. The walled gardens surrounding the Abbey are just as beautiful and we enjoy a walk and the sun comes out again now and then.

The afternoon we drive to Connemara National Park. Here also there is still some heather in bloom. We decide to go for a long walk again, the skies go dark again but the sun keeps trying to break through and it makes this rough looking part of Ireland even more stunning. I feel like singing Lacs du Connemara by Michel Sardou out loud, ha ha… I love the ootdoors! We only get to see the famous horses in a meadow, unfortunately not in the wild. But what an incredible part of nature we are visiting here!

Connemara National Park

At the end of the afternoon we arrive in Westport. It is at the south-east corner Clew Bay. and voted as the best place to live in Ireland and as the most tidiest town several times. It is colourful, has lovely bridges, amazing food and pub scene. We are here on a Monday night though, so it is a bit quiet. In Westport we stay at Altamont House for 2 nights, another friendly B&B where we feel right at home. In the evening we eat in the Clock Tavern and have an early night.

Day 11: Achill Island

The next morning after a lovely breakfast we have to choose between climbing Croagh Patrick and a visit to Achill Island. We have done quite a bit of walking these last few days, so we go for the second option. We have to cross the Michael Davitt bridge to get to Achill Island. The scenic views are impressive the moment we arrive. The weather is a bit rough, but it is dry and the wind and waves hitting the coast just give us spectacular photographs. We stop at Keel for tea and scones and drive to Keem Bay, where we take a walk on its beautiful beach. We keep on touring till we covered the entire island and drive back to Westport, where at night we have a delicious meal at O’Malleys and a pint at Matt Molloy’s where there is live music. Oh, we really love Ireland!

Day 12: from Westport to Boyle

Today we leave the coast and drive inland to Boyle. After the beautiful, impressive and rough coastline on Ireland’s west coast, the inland is a completely different landscape. Boyle is quiet and peaceful. We check in at our last which B&B and it is really beautiful. It is the Abbey House and right next to it are the remains of the old abbey. We get a lovely and spacious room. There is not an awful lot to do in Boyle, but we do not mind a quiet day. We walk around in the village, visit the old Abbey and King House Historical and Cultural Centre. Halfway the afternoon we have a late lunch and grab a burger somewhere. We walk a bit more and at the local supermarket we get something to drink and some snacks for later at night. We return to the Abbey House and decide to have a lazy evening in front of the TV; why not!

Day 13: from Boyle to Dublin

Breakfast again is lovely. I will miss the B&B’s and their personal way of looking after their guests. They have made our stays so much more comfortable. We leave Boyle early and drive on the highway back to Dublin where we landed on day 1. We drive straight to our hotel. Mespil Hotel lies a bit out the centre, but it is only about a 15 minute walk, so not too bad. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the room or the hotel, but we miss the cosiness from the B&B’s we stayed in. After we checked in, we return our rental car; we took it from the airport but can leave it at a station in the city. We do not need it here in Dublin.

Arriving in Dublin

After having returned the rental car, we stroll through the city for the rest of the afternoon. It is a very friendly city, no high-rise buildings; all very well organized and arranged. We have some Chinese street food for lunch and admire The Spire and after lunch just continue our walk. There is a good atmosphere in Dublin and plenty to do and see. At the end of the afternoon we go for a drink in a pub (I cannot remember its name 😉 and have some snacks on the side and stay there until we think it is time to return to the hotel. By the way… you can find plenty of cafes, bars and restaurants in Dublin and for every budget!

Dublin

Day 14: birthday in Dublin!

We have one more full day to spend in Ireland. We are in Dublin and today we decide to explore the rest of this friendly city on the Hop on Hop off bus. We have walked so much yesterday and today we let the green bus help us to see the rest of the highlights. First stop is at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, it is one of the most impressive cathedrals I have ever seen. As its website says: “The Cathedral is a place where history is alive and tradition breathes, where lives are remembered and transformed, and where all are welcome to experience and explore the loving presence of God.” Now I am not religious but am interested to learn about all kind of religions and I love to visit cathedrals and churches. The buildings are often very old, have loads of history, interesting architecture, art… and when visiting I always manage to learn a bit about the history.

Today is my birthday (OK… I will tell you: my 43th!). I like being on holiday during my birthday. I do not mind getting older, but see travelling to me is a big gift, so what better way to treat yourself for your birthday?! Our next stop is the Guinness Storehouse, an experience that you cannot skip while being in Dublin! The visitor area is built as a huge glass pint and slowly you go up and learn everything about this black gold. At the top of the pint is the Gravity Bar and here you get a pint of Guinness. The view from here is beautiful, you can look around you and see the entire city and beyond. I am not used to drinking Guinness and breakfast has been a while, so we are getting pretty cheerful.

Halfway the afternoon we leave and have to eat something to absorb the alcohol. We have a few more stops on the Hop On Hop Off and end our tour at the centre of Dublin. We visit the Temple Bar (and have a drink of course), the Molly Malone statue and Trinity College. We attend a free street concert by Mutefish, listen for almost half an hour. We end our walk at Portobello Road where we see Italian restaurant I Monelli and I get treated to a delicious meal as a birthday gift by my friend. We return late at night at the hotel. Our Irish adventure is coming to an end, but what a great day today to end the trip with.

Day 15: from Dublin back to Amsterdam

Our last breakfast in Ireland, we check out and just around the corner of the hotel there is a bus that takes us directly to the airport. The departure hall is modern and full of shops, bars and restaurant. Oh well… let us have one more pint before we leave this amazing country; one more cheers for Ireland. We had the most amazing, relaxing holiday!

Being in Ireland for 2 weeks was great, but still too short! The country has so much to offer and I think we covered a lot. We came here the first half of September and were extremely lucky with the weather. We loved staying in Bed & Breakfast’s, almost everywhere you will be met with a cup of tea and you will receive the most valuable tips for your stay. We booked 4 star B&B’s, which are more comfortable and then you have your own facilities. In the small villages you eat in the pub where the food is simple but good. We did not need more! The country has left a big impression, but its population even more, the locals are incredibly friendly and hospitable! I am definitely going back someday!

Travel Blog by Elisabeth, One Lucky Traveller

September 14, 2012

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