Ireland Trip Blog
Driving the Wild Atlantic Way, A weekend in Cobh, The K-Club and Dublin Ireland.
by John Rice - Vacation Tour & Cruise - email@example.com
This blog is dedicated to my Grandfather, John Keough who is pictured with his 3 sisters
Helen, Margaret and Babe (& uncle Syl. in the background)
After working in the Caribbean most of my life, I have a habit when flying into an island. I always peer out the window of the aircraft and look for the shadow off in the distance. Even on a cloudy day all I could see was green when we started our approach into Shannon airport in Western Ireland. I was excited to be traveling with my Wife and my Mother on a long voyage to see if we could find where in Ireland Her Fathers parents came from. John Keough was born in New York City in 1897 to John Keough and Margaret Delay. My Great Grandfather, John Keough was born in Ireland but his sister Mary was born in England to my Great Great Grandfather Patrick Keough who immigrated to Rhode Island. We have traced these people as far back as the 1870 US Census but we planned to search in Queenstown when we arrive in Ireland.
Upon our return, I am sorry to say that we still dont know which part of Ireland they originally came from as Keough (Keogh, MacKeogh, Kehoe, Kahoe) is very common like Smith in the States. From the little we found out, the clan originated between Tiparrary and Limerick in the middle of Ireland but also has some roots in the Viking country around Waterford and Wexford. I know we saw bags of potato chips marked Keogh and also bags of potatoes at a market in Tiparrary so we were in the vicinity. We also saw multiple establishments named Keough in the various spellings in Dublin. The potato chips we saw with the same name were from Northwest of Dublin area. It doesn't really matter after a good trip to Ireland, with what we learned from the attractions and meeting all the wonderful people; we feel a little more Irish after the trip.
I know some day I will be back to finish this journey but my Mom and I had planned this for years and she is getting older and we wanted to travel to Ireland together to see the country. As I tell all my senior citizen clients "Go now while you can still walk!" The Irish Government ran a program in 2013 called The Gathering which sparked the idea of this trip but Mom moved up to Sun City Center so the trip was delayed by a year. It is a good thing as Ireland was still busy in 2014 from the Gathering promotion as it is one of the most popular countries for US Citizens to travel. A figure I heard recently stated that there are seven times as many people across the world who claim Irish Heritage than there are living in Ireland.
My first thought about Ireland is the country is beautiful but the people are "Brilliant" as the Irish are fond of saying. If you go into a bar for a pint, the first question everybody asks is "Are you having a good time?" Unlike other places I have visited, the second question they ask is where are you from? For a foodie like me, the cuisine is Ireland was the second best surprise we encountered. Its not all Irish stew and potato soup as we originally expected. As we planned the trip we found that coastal Ireland where we were traveling is a seafood paradise. The country offers great beef, lamb and cheese; not to mention the great Irish breakfasts including fantastic bacon and sausages plus the ever present Irish butter and brown bread served with all meals.
When first visiting a country, you cant see everything so we selected the most popular areas that we sell on tours and fly-drives. Our trip included the Wild Atlantic Way followed by visits to Cork area, Kildare and finally three nights in Dublin.
County Clare Looking towards the Shannon River - Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland
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The Wild Atlantic Way Ireland
Day One 84 Miles
We had a strange flight time leaving JFK at 11:45P so we arrived late into Shannon airport at about 11A. Shannon is a wonderful airport in that it is not busy and you can get through pretty quickly. Irish Immigration and customs was a breeze and we were in the rental car by noon. We sell and personally use Auto Europe for cars as our travel agency gets reliable service regardless of whether we are selling Enterprise, Europcar, Avis, Hertz or any of the car companies. We were traveling with Mom and 3 passengers worth of luggage so we had a larger sedan with enough room for Mom in the back and luggage in the trunk. This would be a little harder to negotiate in the towns and cities but we needed the room especially for luggage.
Our first stop is Ennis, Ireland. We drove one loop around downtown and found a car park in the town square. Its always good to stretch the legs again with a walk after the airplane and we found a nice café for coffee and some sweet rolls. Ennis was nice small town with quaint shops, cobblestone streets and nice people. We walked a loop around town, hit an ATM and we were off. Just to mention again as I do in all my blogs that an ATM card or Debit Card is the easiest way to get foreign currency on a vacation and you can take only what you need every day or two so you dont have to travel with a lot of cash. Back on the main road after Ennis, we are heading towards Cliffs of Moher and a light mist is raining.
Cliffs of Moher in County Clair Ireland
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Cliffs of Moher County Clare Ireland
We made a heading towards Doolin, Ireland but we skipped the Burren because of the rain. In our research, we saw a restaurant called Stonecutters Kitchen Family Restaurant which is about 2 minutes North of Cliffs of Moher on the same road. This seemed appropriate first meal in Ireland since we had found in our genealogy research that Dormick Kahoe my Great Great Great Grandfather had the occupation listed as Stone Mason in the 1870 and 1880 censuses of the United States. We had seen a bowl of seafood chowder online which was one of the goals of the day and we were not disappointed. A good sized bowl was filled with fresh fish, mussels, scallops and even a cockle or two. This was served with a side of homemade brown bread and butter. 3 bowls of chowder with a big pitcher of water and brown bread came in at 18.75e. Food was not really expensive in Ireland and it was always good. We figured there was more butter and heavy cream in the soup. On a damp cold rainy day after an overnight flight this was best thing we could imagine on earth.
We had seen some glimpse of sun along the way but we headed into that cold damp rain again upon leaving the restaurant. We stopped a local woolen outlet to look at sweaters for Mom hoping the rain would slow down before we waked the Cliffs of Moher. When we came out, we were pleasantly surprised that the rain had stopped when we arrived at the Cliffs of Moher.
Cliffs of Moher is a pretty large site so we knew Mom was not going to walk the whole thing with two artificial hips. It was a paved path with quite a few steps but everybody was able to get a view of the cliffs, even Mom. Entrance was 4e for a Senior and 6e for Adults not including the entrance to Obriens Tower. This does include all the walking paths and the Visitor Centre Building which was pretty interesting. Gina and I went up the hill to get a few more vantage points but the Aren Islands were not viewable on this foggy day. After looking around and shooting some pictures we went inside to the visitors center that was very interesting with exhibits and a movie where you got to fly the cliffs with one of the birds and dive into the Atlantic Ocean from the viewpoint of a seal. It was one of those cold damp Irish days where you were glad to get inside.
It took us almost two hours to drive what we thought was an hour because of the rain and the windy roads we were in no particular hurry, but we arrived at our B and B with light still available.
Kilrush County Clare Ireland
When planning the trip, we were looking for a stop not too far from Shannon/Cliffs of Moher so we picked a B and B called Hillcrest View in a town called Kilrush. I had a client whose family was originally from Kilrush and we did not have any information on drivers for her in the area so this top will make double duty and it was convenient. My client is taking an escorted tour with Brendan Tours but wanted to spend a few days with her daughter in Kilrush as it was the Ancestral home but she did not want to drive and neither did her daughter. Through the local chamber of commerce I had contacted a driver but I wanted to meet him and go over plans since this was a special client from my Moms retirement community.
We stayed at the Hillcrest View Bed and Breakfast in Kilrush. Ethna was a gracious host with a super nice 4 star b and b that served a great breakfast. We checked in and had a well deserved shower for the first time in two days and cooled out for an hour or so. Then we headed off to Crottys Tavern in Kilrush for dinner. I joked with the barkeep that this was my first pint of Guinness in Ireland so he had a special responsibility. He joked back that after 10 or 15 pints this week I wouldnt really remember the first one by the time I got to Dublin. He poured a good pint as they say in Ireland but the girls had red wine and they had a pretty good red wine according to pub standards. Many of the pubs worked with the little bottles so my wife reverted back to beer on day three. We all looked at the choices and ordered crab claw platters all around. The Irish Brown Crab has a claw like a stone crab claw in the states and we got a big pile of these with butter sauce, veggies and the ever present potato. Even though Crottys is a pub, the meals came as a huge platter with salads. Fisherman are only allowed to have 1% of their catch in claws as like the stone crab they can break a claw off and the crab grows another back so it is a sustainable fishery and delicious. For 17e per person, we had at least 25 claws each so it is a LOT cheaper than eating stones in Florida.
Crottys is more known for music and this could be a great stop for traditional music sessions in the summertime. Elizabeth Crotty was a concertina player so they hosted music sessions from the bars inception in 1914. Crottys also operates a b and b upstairs that looks less fancy than where we are staying and we dont see them in the B and B Ireland. I imagine it could be a good stop for young people wanting to have the bar downstairs. That is a good point about searching on the internet versus using an agent. We buy b and b vouchers that are issued by B and B Ireland. This is the membership organization for registered b and bs that have been inspected by the Government and assigned a certain number of stars based on amenities and quality. Quality certified suppliers are always used by agents, which filters some of the internet content.
Ethna and Austin at Hillcrest View are ranked as a 4 star B and B but this was one of the nicest we saw on our whole trip. We commented that Kilrush could be a great last stop on a fly drive before you head out the next morning from Shannon Airport. There is less music in the fall/winter/spring as there is in the summer as much of the music is put on for the large crowds of tourists and I understand Crottys is one of the most famous places in Western Ireland to see music. There is also a picturesque drive in County Clare that we skipped called the Loop Head with a lighthouse at the end. This is one of the spectacular coastal drives in Ireland.
On day 1 the concept of the potato famine starts to seep in to the psyche as it came with boiled potatoes but also with some fries on the side. After a week or so it starts to sink in how important the potato is to the Irish diet as you get them fried, boiled, mashed and pan fried with breakfast sometimes. We are making a pilgrimage to the land of my ancestors and slowly day by day, the we realize about the hardships persevered by the Irish people that caused the great migration. After a great dinner, were gone by 10P since we had little sleep the night before. If you have read any of my other European blogs, you will realize my theme of staying awake until 9p or 10p in the new destination is important to reset your clocks when moving east in the World.
County Clare to the end of the Dingle Peninsula
Day Two 68 Miles
Breakfast is wonderful at Hillcrest View Bed and Breakfast in Kilrush. Ethna has a cold bar and an endless coffee machine but also brings us scrambled eggs or omelets in the morning. The breakfast room is an all glass patio room. I started off for the day with a ham and cheese omelet plus plenty of toast. Considering the fact that b and b vouchers are about $70 per person per day double with a big breakfast, they are one of the best vacation values I know of. This is especially true when you find a lovely upscale one like this. I am surprised to learn that owners must live on premise, even though this is a purpose built house for tourism. Hillcrest View has six bedrooms, each with TV, hairdryer, tea/coffee facilities, private car park, conservatory and patio. The back yard had places to sit and the house had free wi-fi.
As an Ireland Specialist with the Irish Tourist Board, I regularly sell Fly-Drive Vacations with b and b vouchers but we have a booking engine to pre-make reservations which are required in the busy season. Ethna is a lovely host and is scurrying around serving others breakfast as we leave and say a quick goodbye. We head into Kilrush for an ATM visit and a 15 minute walk to look around Kilrush and what a beautiful town it is. As we walk a couple of locals strike up conversations including an older man that seems delighted to find a conversation with some tourists on his morning walk. Roads are well marked as we leave Kilrush.
We stop to visit Vandeleur Walled Garden a couple of miles south of Kilrush. The day seems to be breaking clear and we are told by all the locals that the weather is very unusual for Ireland. As she was the youngest child, most of Moms family including her father, brothers and sisters plus some cousins have already passed away, we figure the ancestors have placed the fix since she is the first in the family to ever visit Ireland. As we walk around the gardens, we cannot believe that it is shirtsleeve warm on a sunny day in Ireland.
The Vandeleur Walled Garden is about 2 acres and is completely surrounded by stone walls. As such, it creates its own micro climate and is warmed in the winter by the nearby Shannon River which exits to the sea past Kilrush. This revival project began in 1997 through job initiative projects and volunteers from the people of Kilrush. This is definitely a stop that visitors would want to make if they are in this area as you can see this by making a small requested donation to the project.
View from the Conor Pass looking down towards Dingle Ireland
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Dingle Peninsula County Kerry Ireland
We leave Vandeleur Walled Garden and drive south about 15 minutes to the edge of the Shannon River. As we sit waiting for the hourly ferry, we have a coffee and cannot believe what a beautiful day it is becoming with hardly a cloud in the sky. As we ride the Shannon Ferry, we have crossed into County Kerry. The drive is beautiful across the Shannon River to Tralee. As we are in no hurry with our schedule, we allow some local drivers to pass by pulling off the roadway from time to time. The locals appreciate the gesture and your passengers on vacation will enjoy seeing something and not holding on for the ride. After we hit the Tralee bypass, we are moving along Tralee Bay with some beautiful panoramas in front of us on our way to Dingle. All in front of us, the mountains are on one side and a panoramic view of the bay in front of us including bathing beaches that must be filled in the summertime.
We choose the road up and over the Conor Pass to Dingle and it is the right choice in at least one direction on to the Dingle Peninsula. In Ireland if you have a clear day, take the scenic route as the next day we were socked into fog as we departed. We stop twice near the top to see back to Tralee and then on to Dingle from the top. These are the first of the beautiful panoramas we will see in Ireland. Conor Pass looks out over the highest points in Ireland and we have a beautiful clear day to see in both directions. From one side of the car park, you look down to Dingle and from the other side, you can see all the way to Brandon Bay and 950 meter Mount Brandon. The farm valley is beautiful.
We make our way down to Dingle and stop at the bayside car park which is loaded with day tripping busses. We count about 20 busses but we are late for lunch so tables are available overlooking the marina. We ate another great seafood meal at The Boatyard Restaurant and Bar in Dingle. Dingle reminds me of Maine with live lobster tanks in the restaurant. It is definitely the most "touristy" feel that we have experienced yet. The girls have open crab sandwiches and I opt for fried monkfish nuggets with a great dipping sauce that is roasted pepper mayo that they made from olive oil. We start the meal with a bucket of mussels that are also local fare again served with the ever present brown bread. We all comment again that we did not expect to be immersed in seafood but this coast produces an abundance and variety of choices.
We check into the Dingle Skellig hotel but head right back out while we still have the light to drive the Slea Head Drive loop road at the end of the Dingle Peninsula. This is one of the prettiest coastal drives in Ireland and this loop does not disappoint. Every turn has a beautiful view of the coastal waters backed up by stunning ridges. You get views of the Blasket Islands off the coast. When you get to the Slea Head point, you are pretty much in a car perched by the cliffs but the road is good. I am glad we are doing this late in the day as I can imagine busses along the route where you would have to give them the whole road. Also there are still some bicyclists and we imagine many more in the summer. When we get back to the hotel we are pretty tired but we sit watching sunset over a mountain ridge across Dingle Bay and we watch the boats come through the cut at the end of the day.
Mom decides she is done for the day and stays at the hotel for a bowl of seafood chowder. B and Bs are nice but also full service hotels have restaurants for dinner and even room service so Mom eats in the room. We head out to Dingles Pubs and stop at John Bennys for our first night of pub food and music. This is the first time that we realize we are surrounded by Americans but the waitress explains later that the Americans make up a big percentage of Irish tourism. The pub food is pretty good and Gina has her first Guinness stew of the trip. I am having the Irish (lamb) stew but we agree hers is a little better than mine as we share tastes. When I speak of potatoes and the Irish culture, my stew has a few potatoes plus the veggie is roasted potato with carrots. We laugh as there are no fries. The musical group is pretty good and consists of an older lady playing flute with two younger performers on guitars and fiddle. Many of the musical groups we learn later are actually families that go out and play together. We are still recovering from the jetlag so we walk back to the room by 11:30p and are fast asleep until morning.
I have set a 9A call for the group and we go down to Dingle Skellig Hotels wonderful breakfast buffet that has everything from yoghurt and granola to fancy cheeses with eggs cooked to order and our first discovery of the wonderful bacon in Ireland. Their bacon is great compared to US bacon as it is almost like lean ham but tastes and is cured like bacon. We are pretty full when we head to the car and all agree our stop at the Dingle Skellig Hotel was a nice stop for the evening.
Dingle Skellig Hotel is close enough to walk to town but we ride with Mom back into town. The whole town is socked in with pea soup fog and it starts raining while we are walking the shops in Dingle. Check out time is not until noon so we head back to pack up and drive to the Ring of Kerry. Dingle is a nice town but seems much quieter in the morning without the day business that comes in from Killarney. Many of the escorted tour companies use hotels in Killarney and then drive Dingle for the day and/or drive Ring of Kerry for the day. That is always a good tip to stay in some of these day trip destinations as they are quieter in the evening and morning when the tour busses head out. The fly-drive allows us to overnight in Dingle and on the Ring of Kerry so we can experience the quieter evenings when the tourists have headed home. Dingle also has bike tours and kayak trips so you could get out of town for a few hours if you stayed here for more than one night.
Ring of Kerry (Day #1 to Portmagee/Waterville)
Day Three 69 Miles
We head out towards Ring of Kerry in a thick fog. About 10 miles up the road, we start seeing fog peek out from the clouds. As we depart Dingle in the AM another round of tourists are heading south past us in busses. By the time we get to Castlemain, Milltown and Killorglin the sun is in full shine and the locals keep telling us that this is very unusual for September. We head down the Ring of Kerry towards Port Magee for lunch. On this third day driving up the Dingle Peninsula to Ring of Kerry we stop again for a panorama and all discuss how green the emerald island really is as we look out over farmers fields.
Our b and b called to say that they had a medical emergency with family and they have rebooked us at a different b and b up the road. We are grateful for the rebooking but sorry that we wont meet one of the owners that we have worked with over the years. Her elderly father is off to the hospital so we have a change of plan.
We stop in Caherciveen to shoot pictures of a Daniel Oconnor Memorial Church and I am drawn into a bakery simply by the smell. The people at Café Globe are very nice and we get some apple muffins with crunch topping and a heavenly hash like we used to get in New Orleans with chocolate, marshmallow and dried fruit for along the way. We are surprised how quick we get down towards Portmagee in about an hour and a half from Dingle. We have planned our fly-drive for only about 60 to 100 miles per day so we can enjoy the drive. The roads are good but windy and narrow so my suggestion is not to push too far each day so you too, can enjoy the ride. Driving is on the left in Ireland and you have to share the road with trucks and other vehicles that are traveling pretty fast at times. The driving is up and down hills plus you have the twists and turns along the way but I think it is the narrowness of many of the roads that will keep you alert as you drive the Irish Coastal roads. Most of my clients that have problems with the rental cars involve the tires as the stone curbs are not kind to a rental when you are traveling at 30 or 40 mph. We keep stopping to view panoramas and shooting pictures as the scenery is some of the prettiest we have seen and we have been to many, many countries with very pretty scenery but Ireland is one of the best we have seen as of yet.
Fishing boats parked by Portmagee Ireland
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Ring of Kerry
Portmagee and Waterville Ireland
As we travel down the Ring of Kerry, the fog and rain starts to come in again as we get near the water. It looks like a good time for a lunch stop so we turn off the main towards Portmagee for another great seafood lunch. We do public parking, and stop off for a public bathroom stop before walking around. Ireland like many European countries usually has good public facilities but we all laughed as this one was Government award winning and the town council had erected a sign to announce the award on the side of the bathroom. The ladies complimented how clean the bathrooms were and I just pointed to the sign and said "award winning".
This stop had one of the best seafood lunches, so far, at The Fishermans Bar in Portmagee, County Kerry, Ireland. The room out back is called the Skellig Restaurant. Gina and Mom selected an open faced lobster salad sandwich on the brown bread. I had a broiled seafood platter that had haddock, crab claws, fried and sautéed shrimp, crab salad and baby sautéed squid. The girls think this is the best lobster they have ever eaten. The proprietor said they come in daily fresh off the boats. My platter is one of the best I have had with an interesting variety of seafood and most of it is pan fried or sautéed which is delightful as it is so fresh. Of course fries on the side. We are joking that we are not sure our bodies can take bacon and fries daily along the way. The boats are across the street from this restaurant and Portmagee looks like seafood is the only thing they do besides a few trips to the Skellig Islands with tourists or researchers who study the bird life on the barren rock outcroppings in the sea.
After lunch, we drive around Portmagee but the walk to the cliffs which are supposed to be similar to Cliffs of Moher but the Skelligs are closer than the Aran Islands. It looks kind of rainy at this point and a pretty long walk to the cliffs; so we opt to drive around Valentia Island and take the ferry across to the main at Cahersiveen. We check into a 3 star b and b named Klondyke House that needs a little work but the family is nice and the beds are comfortable. It is about 5P so Mom takes a rest and we head off for a hike along the Kerry Trail for an hour or so. We cant find the trailhead in Waterville but we park along a deserted road and hike up into the hills. We only see one car in an hour of hiking along Lough Currane but we do see a few boats fishing on the lake. We are trying to depart Waterville by about 8:30A in the morning and we are not sure what we want for dinner so we head into town about 7P based on the menus at the b and b.
We are surprised how upscale the restaurant is in this unassuming town but the Waterville Links Golf Club is one of the best in all Ireland. Sheilin Seafood Restaurant has white linen tablecloths and the restaurant is crowded. We realize pretty quickly that it is British and Scottish golfers from the hotel next door and it looks like the restaurant does a good business with a strong wine list. We are still out of whack with the time change and the big Irish breakfasts which seem to cascade into late afternoon lunches. Mussels are not available because of a local red tide. We have red tides in Florida but we are surprised to hear they also are characteristic of the North Atlantic where the waters are colder. We have a couple of appetizers and split a couple of pastas family style with a good bottle of wine.
Waterville to Killarney National Park Ireland
Our second day on the Ring of Kerry
Day Four 94 Miles
Breakfast is good at Klondyke House and the proprietress is a nice lady. It is a cool morning but also sunny so we drive out with anticipation of another day in Ireland. Fly drive is a nice way to tour a country as we have planned some things but also left time for spontaneous stops along the way. Today we have Killarney National Park but Rick Steves also suggests The Staigue Fort so we make a stop. After our planned stop at Killarney National Park, we also have an impromptu late lunch in Kenmare and enough time for the drive from Kerry to West Cork through the second mountain gap of the day. Every fly drive will need a day or two of aggressive driving if you are trying to get into twelve nights as we did. If you have a month or so you may be luckier than us but we get a move on early and keep moving all day so we pull into the hotel about an hour before sunset.
Charlie Chaplin was the resident guest for many years in Waterville. He loved the people and the town so he is now immortalized on the seafront with a bronze statue. There is also a small Chaplin museum downtown for 1e but it was closed when we went past in the AM. We also missed the Waterville Craft Market and Heritage Trail as it was too early, but the craft market looked like it might have been a nice stop. We have a good early start as we are covering 94 miles today which includes two mountain gaps and a visit to Muckross House in Killarney National Park. We take the Ring of Kerry Road along the coast and we continue to see panoramic views.
We pull off at the Staigue Fort sign and work our way up the one lane road to Staigue Stone Fort. This is a beautiful drive up a mountain valley with a small car park at the top of the road. The gate states that it is private property and asks 2e donation to allow trespass. We are mindful of the cow patties and sheep sh - - as we walk up the path to the fort. The fort was erected in 300 or 400 AD and was built with no mortar as all the stones are perfectly fit together in a geometric pattern. The surrounding countryside is beautiful around the Staig Fort and you can see all the way back down to the Atlantic Ocean from the fort once you are up at the site.
As we exited Staigue Fort, we see a display of small paintings in the car park. They are of the beautiful surroundings in the valley and village near the fort. The display has a box with an honor system and the display was not there on the way in so we suspect we have the pick of the day. Gina and Mom select a picture and we both put 20e in the can attached to the display. We drop in a business card and get an email later in the day from Sharon Jones who paints the pictures thanking us for the purchase. We work our way down the mountain at a slow pace.
The road is so narrow, I stop to pick blackberries from the drivers seat which worries Mom and Gina in case I am not picking an edible berry. I assure them I have picked a few in my time of being a boy scout in Maryland and Virginia but nobody wants any. Too bad for them as the blackberries are very ripe and juicy so I have to stop off and wash my hands with the bottled water. The waiter last night at The Sheilin Restaurant said he had picked 10 pounds as his wife made jam that they sold at the restaurant. He said they should be finished by now but were very late because of the strange summer weather they had this year. Everybody just keeps hoping no cars come the other way until we get down to the main.
Past the town of Sneem, we turn up from the Ring of Kerry Road towards Molls Gap. We pass the tour busses so it looks like Sneem is one of the stops on the escorted tours for a little local Ring of Kerry color. The road is still good and the views are getting better by the mile. As we climb into the Killarney Mountains we see the first stop off point at Lough Barfinnihy which is a beautiful freshwater mountain lake. We talk to some people from West Cork who confirm that the end of our day will also be beautiful from Kenmare to Ballilickey. Everywhere we go in Ireland, people just want to talk and are excited to hear that we are of Irish heritage and ask about our family name. Everybody seems to want to make sure we are enjoying ourselves in Ireland. We are very impressed with the Irish people at every step of our journey. After a few pics, we pile back in the car up to Molls Gap. At the top is a very classy boutique and coffee shop with a real weaving machine like we see used to make wool material.
Coffee is good and we discover Keogh Potato Chips with the family name at this store. We head out to the car to see the valley below and break out the apple crunch muffins from the bakery yesterday with the coffee. Once we drop into Killarney National Park we stop for the overview for Upper Lake and also Ladies View further into the park. As we are going all the way to West Cork tonight, we skip the hike to Torc Waterfall as we want to tour the Muckross House. We are thinking depending on time, we might take a horse drawn Jaunty Car ride.
View from Muchross House in Killarney National Park Ireland
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The Muckross House can only be viewed by guided tour and another one starts in about 40 minutes so we buy tickets and go out to view the gardens. We view the walled garden out back and Mom is saving energy for the house tour so she sits looking at the lake while we jog around the rest of the gardens. Behind the house is a very large garden with huge trees and various sections. We did not see any of the famous red deer but we did not go very far into the park past Muckross House. In 1982, the park was declared a Biosphere Reserve under UNESCO. The Park is to the South and West of Killarney and is 10,289 hectares in size. It contains three lakes, Lough Leane, Muckross Lake and Upper Lake. On the way down, we stop at Ladies View as you always want to see what view they showed the Queen when she was in Ireland.
The guided tour of Muckross House is pretty interesting with the stories of the various owners. The House has quite a bit of history and period furnishings that help you envision how the upperclass lived. There is also the story on the Queens visit to Muckross House and a tour of the basement so you can also see how the help worked including the system of bells that alerted staff when they were needed and the extensive kitchen that was used to host parties upstairs. I think the areas where the help worked were even more interesting than the upper house if you are trying to understand Ireland. Muckross Weavers are also in the basement with an exhibition about weaving cloth and my Mom bought a beautiful scarf. The tour runs about an hour and a half so we decide to skip the Jaunty car ride since we have another mountain pass to cross into West Cork. Jaunty cars are horse drawn wagons. For about 35e you can get a ride through the park, and you can also hail Jaunty car drivers in Killarney to take you into the park from that end.
The day is still beautiful and we are thankful for all the sunshine on one of our longest and most arduous drives of the vacation. After Muckross House, we head against the bus flow on the ring of Kerry back up to Molls gap for the drive down to Kenmare. We have always been told that it is best to drive counter-clockwise on Ring of Kerry and this taste of driving against the afternoon busses coming down the mountain gives us an idea why. We are glad that we are only going against the flow for 15 minutes and then turning left to head for Kenmare. The diesel is getting great gas mileage so we make our first stop for 55e worth of fuel in Kenmare.
Kenmare is larger town but very cute so we stop for a light bite and a walk around. Kenmare comes highly rated and is even suggested for many guidebooks as the place to stay when driving Ring of Kerry. Everybody is a little hungry but we cant decide if a 4P stop to eat makes any sense. As usual it is up to me to pick a spot and I decide on a restaurant called Jam which is a coffee shop/bakery where you pick an item like the goat cheese tartlet or the quiche and they give you two salad picks like pickled cucumbers, mixed bean salad, cold cus cus or carrot salad to go along. All the salads were dished up in fresh lettuce leaves. After a late mostly salad "lunch" everybody agreed (as they always do) that I can always figure out what to do food-wise on a trip.
We depart Kenmare for the drive between County Kerry and West Cork. As you head out of Kenmare the first picturesque stop is Molly Gallivans traditional Irish Farm. There is a visitors center, craft shop and tea room along with some famine cabins that are available for viewing. This is the Sheen Valley Heritage Area. The sheen Valley Heritage Area stretches from Kenmary in County Kerry to the Caha Pass that leads through the Kerry tunnels into West Cork. It comprises 80 square km of breathtaking beauty and amazing history. The Glengarriff Nature Preserve provided us with panoramic views down to Bantry Bay and the North Atlantic in West Cork. We all agreed that this drive rivaled Dingle Peninsula and the Ring of Kerry for best views along the highway.
We arrive at Seaview House in Ballylickey at the same time as a large wedding party. Everybody is checked in quickly and the proprietress introduces herself as Kathleen OSullivan and asks who we are for check-in. We did this one last minute just because it looked nice and the area nearby also looked very pretty. We did not want to drive all the way to Cobh after Killarney and we were not disappointed with West Cork. We are assigned rooms on the third floor and I ask if the hotel has a lift. We get Mom switched to the second floor as I apologize to the owner for not making the request in advance. She seems to personally know a lot of her guests and says that the tour company bookings are harder as she is not sure what to expect. As an agency owner many times my trip is the last thing done during a busy season like the shoemakers kids needing shoes in the fable. I explain that I should have made a special request for Mom but not to worry even with the wedding going on Ms. OSullivan can accommodate the request.
We shoot a few pictures of the hotel and pop a bottle of wine in the room. We have the windows side open on an 80 degree day and the view of the gardens is spectacular. We go down to the Victorian restaurant at about 8P for a lovely dinner on fine china. With a wedding in-house plus a lot of local Irish business, the restaurant is busier than we expected. Dinner choices include veal with butter sauce and Mom opts for the fish which also is very nice. Dinner is served with fresh veggies and potatoes along with brown bread and a killer garlic bread served warm from large tin foil packages. We all have seconds on the garlic bread when the tinfoil package comes around again. Service is good and the food is imaginative at Seaview House Hotel.
Sometimes as a travel agent I see something when looking for something else and trip itineraries can always be shifted to accommodate a nice stop. We simply cut a day off of Cork and this route ended up being one of the best we have traveled since we landed in Ireland. Gina and I agree that we will come back to West Cork again when we have a week to simply stay there and explore the Beara Peninsula during whale watching season some time in the future.
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West Cork to Cobh, Ireland
Kiss the Blarney Stone & Visit Cork English Market
Day Five 67 Miles
Breakfast is also great at Seaview House with a full choice including eggs and bacon. We also have some oatmeal and baked breads. Every morning we have some type of fruit on the Irish breakfast. We are not usually breakfast people but we have been enjoying the large breakfast daily. This also adds value to an Ireland trip as your hotel cost will fill you up until at least 2P daily.
This morning as we turn out of the hotel, it is a little foggy but seems to be clearing quickly. We head away from the Wild Atlantic Way here at Bantry Bay/Balllickey we are heading up to the main road towards Cork. The scenery is still pretty as we work out way north and it is only about an hour up to the Main Highway. We get on that towards Cork for a while but turn north towards Blarney Castle before we get into Cork.
Blarney will be the first castle that we see in its entirety. You do see bits and pieces of castles all along the road as this is an ancient land filled with warring tribes so castles dot the topography all along the way. The Blarney site is large and after you pay the entrance fee, you walk along the river and through the gardens toward the castle. Blarney Castle is an imposing structure that seems to jut straight up from the landscape. The path takes you around the castle and you can see the dungeon below that is dripping with water.
My mom took one look at the steps to the top and opted for a bench outside the castle to wait while we climbed the steps to the top to kiss the Blarney Stone. Half way up, we decided she had made a great decision as it was not an easy climb even at 55. We got half way up and you can rest in a kitchen of the castle. I looked behind me and there was an elderly gentleman barely making the last few steps. We offered him a hand and he stopped on our level to rest before continuing the climb. He was Irish from Canada and having his 85 birthday trip to Ireland and England. He promised himself that he would kiss the Blarney Stone again before he passed away thus the climb to the top. We all headed out as a group with me ahead and his brother and Gina coming up behind. The top section has a spiral staircase carved into the rock. It is kind of slippery and has a rope ladder and you are climbing about 30 degrees into the steep stone steps. He needed a little more help up to the top but was very proud to have completed the climb and he kissed the stone at the top. His brother and Gina decided not to kiss the stone as you have to hang backwards from the top of the castle to kiss the stone. I took my turn kissing the Blarney stone even though I am probably already eloquent enough given my sales background.
After kissing the Blarney Stone we toured the Blarney Castle grounds and walked the paths through the gardens back to the entrance. After that, we headed into Cork to take a look at English Market. I had to meet with the head of the Cork guide association to pay for some work she had done for us a week earlier so we decided to meet at English market as we had scoped out a car park right next door. This was the largest city we had done in Ireland but it was busier on a Saturday than we expected. After driving country roads for six days the traffic and city noise were kind of shocking and the entire area near English market had packed streets both with pedestrians and auto traffic.
We found the car park but it had the littlest spaces we had ever seen plus it was very full. We finally found a space, folded up the rear view mirrors so we could fit, unloaded Mom and Gina and gingerly inserted the car in the small hole. The car park was only one block over from English Market so we headed inside past the picture of Queen Elizabeth who visited the market before and down past the fish stalls at our entry point. Most of the Irish car parks had machines by the entrance so you paid and took a receipt that you inserted into the automatic kiosk at the exit. Kay said she would meet us at the fountain about a half an hour after we arrived so we stopped and bought some items to eat along the way we tasted olive samples and bought a great mozzarella and sun dried salad. We shared a sausage sandwich and then met Kay. She was a very nice lady and our groups in Cork are in able hands when she does the walking tour of town or takes them down to Cobh for the day.
These types of markets give you a good local way to eat your way across the country and English Market does not disappoint. We stopped for some of that great Cashel Blue Cheese along with a fresh Irish Cheddar and some unique, smelly French Brie that we packed up for the room at Cobh. After that we stopped at the bread vendor for something fresh with the cheese. Last stop at the English Market was the wine merchant for a couple of good selections as you are in the EU so good French Wine is pretty cheap.
Ok, now to get out of this incredibly small parking space. I crawl into the car and begin to back up but I cant see anything since the rear view mirrors are folded up. Just as I see Mom and Gina begin to jump up and down, I bump a column in the parking garage and scratch the bumper of the rental car. I finally extract the car from the space and look to see the scratch is not too bad so with a little discussion, we are back on the highway with a mood that is not so lighthearted. We discuss the fact that the gold Mastercard has excess rental car insurance and I was alert enough to know that I needed a written binder from the company before departing for Ireland so I am not worried but Mom worries about everything. In the end, they did not notice when we turned in the old car anyway.
We get a little lost on the way to Cobh but mainly from turning too soon off the highway so we just backtrack and get back on. Cobh is not hard to find once we pick the right sign and we are heading back into town. We are glad that we picked Cobh as these two nights seem like they will be less busy than if we had stayed in Cork. Cork has a little bit more in terms of shopping and historical sites plus it has some college life so the nightlife is a little more exciting with a performing arts center and multiple bars.
A Weekend in Cobh (Cove) Ireland
Locked In and then Locked Out
Watersedge Hotel in Cobh is right on the Cork Harbor. The River Lee goes up into Cork and this is one of the safest and finest harbors in all of Ireland. We have pre-booked this hotel with a special request to be on the bay on the main floor. David the Manager of the hotel has us set with side by side rooms with an adjoining porch so the ladies set up the bottle of French wine and the various cheeses on the porch while I go park the car. I am not used to renting a mid-size and parking underground at the Watersedge is another challenge for me with the mirrors folded up. After inching in for a half an hour and straightening up to the amusement of the Polish sailors eating in the hotel garage from the tugboat parked out back I am finally heading upstairs for a well deserved glass of wine.
It is a cool afternoon about 60f and the boat traffic outside the hotel is fun to watch. We have a deal at the hotel for Irish breakfast each morning and one dinner but the restaurant is packed on Saturday night so we schedule dinner for Sunday night. All of the cheeses are delicious but we are still most fond of the Irish Cashel Blue Cheese. We sit on the porch until we are cold and the sun has set. Being a fisherman, I comment that the herring must be thick in the Cork Harbor as the gulls are diving the river into a thick school of fish that goes on for hundreds of yards.
We ask about dinner but there are only a couple of choices in town. We do some menu shopping and decide the advice from the hotel is best and we head into the Titanic Bar. We are surprised as it is crowded and they look like they are making the conversion from restaurant to bar at 9P but the kitchen is still open. Again were not sure what to eat tonight so we are doing an appetizer selection with mussels, a fancy bruchetta with olive tepanade but we all start with a bowl of vegetable soup. It is a cream of veggie soup with the vegetables pureed and it is one of the best soups we have had in days. The mussels were not as fresh as we would have liked but the other appetizers were good and the people watching was fantastic.
It is strange as nothing is as you expect on vacation. We had expected Cobh was a sleepy town but it appears young people came down here for a cheap weekend and this bar was a pick-up joint type of place with young women in six inch heels and young guys in sport jackets cruising the crowd. As we were leaving a dj was setting up and tables were being cleared for a dance floor. Mom announced that it was a very full day with the drive and the walk around English Market and the Blarney Castle grounds so she headed home and we headed back out with a new appreciation of Cobh and the chance for some Saturday nightlife.
We commented if nothing else, we can always go back to the pick up bar and dance to British pop music but we found a sandwich board sign announcing live music a couple of streets up. We headed into the Rob Roy with some apprehension as it was pretty crowded by 11P. We stopped at the bar and looked around by now I was in an all Guinness mode but Gina is in to reds so she had one of the Rebel Reds from the Franciscan Well Microbrewery in Cork. We couldnt get to the band from this side, so we exited and re-entered a back door and two ladies on barstools pointed to the table in front of them and said those two chairs are empty and those people are nice.
It is not abnormal to just join a table in Ireland and everybody was very gracious to welcome you to the party and introduce themselves. Gina struck up a conversation with the restaurant chef next to her and I joined the conversation with a couple of locals on my side. It was pointed out that the squeeze box players were "all-Ireland" and the owner of the bar Martin had invited them down from Tipparary to play on a Saturday night. He had leased the bar only this past April as it used to be a Goth bar for young people before that. I noticed the Tipparary colors flying over the bar and also the County Cork colors so I asked was this soccer that everybody was crazy over but I was explained that it was the Celtic sport of Hurling.
It was ok that Martin flew both flags as the locals respected him as he had brought traditional Irish music back to Cobh plus he was a great banjo player. There were at least 10 or 15 locals playing music with the professionals and everybody took a turn starting the music so the others could jump in. One guy was the local parish priest and another used to be a nun and was married to a local guy on guitar. Irish music kind of grows on you with the pints and after a while we were singing along when we knew the words. About 11:30 I bought a round for the table and the guy next to me said he preferred to buy his own but I insisted. He then told me I need two as my friend over there is Irish Special Forces and he was only home for five weeks. He had said he wouldnt let the guy buy a beer tonight as it was his first weekend at home. I told him dont be embarrassed to add him to the round as he is out there fighting with our guys so its an honor to buy him a pint too.
After that a couple more rounds were bought by others at the table and I made noises to go home at 12:30 but somebody put another pint in front of me and another half in front of Gina. About 1A, the proprietress of the house got up and locked the front door. Just like a cue, everybody else in the bar got up and closed the big wooden shutters, pulled the drapes and locked the back door. My companion said we were really Irish now as we had experienced a "lock in". Apparently in Ireland if you are a quiet local bar you can lock up and keep drinking for hours longer with everybody already in the bar. I saw the priest at the urinal about 1:30 and joked I dont think I am going to make 8:30A in the morning Padre to which he quipped well we have 10A and noon also my boy so have fun tonight.
For us, every trip has one or two highlights where we really connect with a city or a local population. This was that Saturday night at the Rob Roy in Cobh, Ireland. I was accepted as an Irishman from another shore and we were made to feel welcome and invited for the evening. As the songs started, sometimes we learned about the life of that person or the fact that a couple of the old guys we met come down every Saturday night just to bang the drum called the Bodhran. They are in a circle and usually one person starts and then another and another as the song gets fuller, louder and rowdier with more instruments and voices. We all talked about things that people from distant shores speak about so we talked about our lives and our families and our travels and our work and their country and the music. This was done for hours over a few rounds. When I travel the world sometimes I end a day where I head towards the hotel and feel very special but then if you travel the world with open eyes and a kind heart you are always accepted.
About 2A we said our good-byes and headed out of the bar towards the hotel. When we got to the front door of the hotel we were shocked to find that we were locked out and our door key did not fit the front door of the hotel. Luckily there was a buzzer for the night manager who came and let us in. I am sure we woke people up at the hotel as it seemed extremely funny after a few pints that we were "locked in" and then "locked out" all in the same evening.
The Queenstown Story is a must see for anyone of Irish Ancestry
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Cobh Heritage Center and Museum
0 miles traveled today.
We awake to a Sunny Sunday and have another great breakfast on the water at the Watersedge Hotel in Cobh. After breakfast, we head across the street to the Cobh Heritage Center The Queenstown Experience. This is a must see for anyone with Irish Heritage as it describes the experience that our forefathers had when leaving Ireland. The scenes of the coffin ships at the museum are horrifying when people took to the sea in 3000 ton sailing vessels. The average cruise ship today is about 100,000 tons and the largest are more like 150,000 tons. Between 1848 and 1950 about 6 million Irish Emigrated with about 2.5 million leaving from Cork. The Genealogist was unable to find my Keoughs but there is a good chance they left from Liverpool as one of the children was born in England. Many emigrants left Ireland to work in England and then eventually immigrated to the USA so I suppose that is what happened with Patrick and John Keough even though we still dont know.
Your family would have organized a house party or "wake" as you were probably not coming back when you left to cross the ocean. This would include music and dancing that lasted most of the night. After that, your immediate family would sometimes even travel to Queenstown with you to see you off as you boarded a small sailing ship to cross the North Atlantic. Later this trip was done by steamships that were more like 10,000 tons so the crossing was a little easier but in the early to mid 1800s this was tough crossing with massive seasickness and even death to some but it was better than conditions in Ireland in the mid 1800s once the potato famine struck and people started dying .
The museum has very lifelike scenes of life aboard the lower decks in steerage and movies of the crossing where waves were breaking across the ships decks. The water must have seeped down to the cabins so it had to be cold and damp the whole way across. One scene shows a group with a fiddle dancing on what must have been a good smooth day. They wore the best clothes to debark the ship but they must not have felt very good after such a rough crossing. Coffin ships seemed to be a very good description of this harrowing crossing where you knew you might die for a better life. Between the movies they show of the crossing, the pictures and the life size replica cabins in the museum, you can imagine it was quite a trip. I got tears in my eyes knowing that people in my family boarded these ships and made this journey for a better life. People were seasick and many died or some of the boats sank in the cold North Atlantic. After this day, I partially understand what it means to be Irish and why Margaret Delay (my Great Grandmother) desperately wanted to be American and never looked back once her parents arrived in this new world.
My Mother always said that her grandmother did not want to be identified as being Irish. In the research process with Ancestry, I noticed after John Keough passed away, the 1910 US Census stated that the childrens father was born in Rhode Island. This was the first time that Margaret had completed the questionnaire as head of household. When he was alive the census reports said Ireland for his country of birth. This white lie that was repeated twice over ten years led me to two generations of family and a death certificate in Rhode Island for my Great Great Grandfather.
Upon arrival, the Irish were not treated very well in America. They worked as laborers and drank heavily at night. My Great Grandfather actually drank himself to death as a bartender at about 38 years old. This was just about the time that my Grandfather was born as Margarets 4th child. The Irish generation that was born around 1900 like my Grandfather worked hard and was able to achieve a nice brownstone in Jersey when he worked in accounts. My aunts were all telephone operators and the family was very close getting together on weekends. Margaret became a custom dress maker for important people in New York City. Two generations later most of my cousins went to college like me so the Irish work ethic did very well in the next three generations.
The Queenstown Experience also has information on the Titanic that made its last port of call at Cobh and also the Lusitania that was sunk right off of Cobh by a German U-boat in WW2. The museum is housed in the original train station where the Irish arrived on the way to America and they also have an arm of the museum that handles research of genealogy for Irish Americans who make a donation to the museum.
We had a great seaside lunch at the Quays next to Waters Edge after the Cobh Heritage museum and then took a walk around Cobh. Ireland has changing weather off of the sea and our sunny day took a turn towards rain so we ducked into a bar. We met some locals that were interesting including some old guys that were funny as everybody wants to talk to tourists when you are in Ireland. One guy was a taxi driver that was also a funeral director, another was a welder that had traveled the world and was back to his home city of Cobh for retirement and the third guy was a college professor that now was a poet living by the sea for motivation. After a pint, the rain stopped and we walked the rest of town to the foot of the steps up to the St. Colemans Cathedral.
We were surprised that Mom said she was game to climb to the top of the steps to see the Cathedral. This particular church has a carillon that was doing the afternoon concert when we made the climb. The carillon player was doing modern songs from the carillon bell tower like the Beatles but the music was beautiful bell music even though not traditional. St. Colemans in Cobh was completed in 1915. The Carillon has 47 bells with a total weight of 17,380 kilograms. In the lobby they have a live feed from a webcam to a tv so you can see the gentleman play. Hour long recitals take place on most Sunday afternoons at 4:30 from May to September. This is a pretty church and the view of the whole Shannon River basin was worth the climb to the top of the steps. Many of the mosaics in Ireland have four leaf clovers rather than the traditional symbols done in floors of other churches I have seen in Europe and the inside is very pretty.
We make the way back down to town and stop at the Rob Roy again as they have more traditional Irish music being played at 5P. Mom missed the lock in evening the night before but enjoyed the kids playing traditional Irish music for happy hour. While we were in the bar, a Globus bus pulled up and a lot of American tourists came in to enjoy the music with the tour company guide. Escorted tours are all striving to offer "cultural tourism" which is the new buzzword in the travel industry. We have had a great fly-drive across Ireland but I dont suggest this to everybody unless you have driven on the left in a foreign country. We sell packages from Globus, Brendan, CIE and Specialized Ireland that offer many of the same experiences we had by ourselves. The escorted tour guides will also suggest on your own experiences that you can do on the afternoons and evenings that you have off.
After some music at the Rob Roy, we headed back to the hotel as our package included one evening meal. Even though we are at the sea, the best entrée was a good Irish steak so we all had a steak after eating fish for almost a week. Watersedge is a great hotel as you are right by the Shannon River and the restaurant looks out over the river which is busy with commercial traffic, naval vessels, a water taxi and other seagoing traffic. As the sun sets on a rainy Irish night the boats become lights in the night.
We got one more great nights sleep and it was good to be two nights in the same hotel. On a fly-drive, you have the tendency to stay a night in each place but after a week, it was good to be two nights in the same place for a change. Cobh was a great stop and we were glad that we chose Cobh over Cork as the small town vibe that was relaxing. Cork would probably be a better choice for younger people and others who were looking for a more diverse choice of nightlife.
We enjoyed staying by the sea and the locals were very friendly in Cobh, Ireland. Watersedge was a great choice. The hotel was very clean, they had comfortable bedding, large rooms, parking included if you are driving and the balcony rooms overlooking the boats and river are one of the prettiest hotel views we had on the trip. The restaurant was efficient and the bar area was comfortable views of the sea. They had tables outside but they werent used on the drizzling day we spent in Cobh. Overall I would highly suggest Watersedge as a good value for the money and a comfortable hotel.
Cobh is a working port that handles cruise ship arrivals so make sure you visit the Queenstown Experience if you are in Cobh on a ship. The proprietors of the Rob Roy will be having traditional Irish music whenever the ship docks. Everybody is excited for a biggest day yet when the Oasis was scheduled to arrive later in the year. With nearby Cork and Blarney Castle, Cobh would make the perfect cruise ship port if you get the chance. You can drive to Cobh or you can also take the train from Cork or Dublin if you are traveling around Ireland.
Cobh Ireland to Kildare Ireland
Visiting Tipperary and Cashel.
166 miles traveled today
Monday morning we got the car back out of the underground garage and headed out for Kildare. This was our first experience with a highway but we got out of Cobh easy and onto the highway. We drove about an hour north of Cobh and got off the expressway for a detour to Tipperary and Cashel. We have chosen this detour as the Keoh/Keogh clan was originally from Tipperary County according to our research. We are also finding that they were from Wexford County as we see bags of potatoes with the Kehoe but the potato chip people are north of Dublin.
Tipperary is beautiful with mountains and small towns dotted with castle ruins along the way. We pull into a public parking lot in the Town of Tipparary and wander around town. Some of the locals direct us to a coffee shop that is located in the towns old movie theater. The French Quarter Café is a nice surprise with lots of local ladies having morning coffee with each other. We have a cappuccino and some fresh baked goods before heading out on the highway to Cashel.
It is about another half hour from Tipparary to Cashel and we wind our way through towns using the directional signs to the Rock of Cashel. The Rock of Cashel with its dramatic silhouette of ecclesiastical medieval buildings rises steeply above the fertile plain of the River Suir. Once the seat of the overkings of Munster, the Rock of Cashel first attained importance as a fortress. In 1101 the king gave the site to the Church. The site was originally abandoned in 1749 as it was up a hill and not suitable for weekly services as people could not always get up the hill. It is run by the Irish Heritage Trust at this point and is being restored at this point to preserve some of the original frescos and architecture.
The Rock of Cashel
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As it is on a hilltop, its a pretty good walk up to the site from the parking garage. Once you get to the top, you have a 360 degree view of the Irish countryside. The site is also a graveyard which gives you a serious look at all of the local families who could afford to be buried by the Church up the hill. Some of the original buildings are in place and restoration work is actually happening while you tour the site.
Once we complete our tour of Rock of Cashel, we head into town for lunch. We have a list of pubs that serve lunch and we end up in John J Feeneys bar for some pub food. We all order the fried sole fish and chips as my grandmother always said if you get a chance to eat sole dont pass it by. Granny was right as these fish planks are light and breaded with a beautiful crispy coating. We are discussing that most days, we have eaten fries (chips) at least once a day since arriving in Ireland. These are served very hot and the side salad is not what we expect of pub food as it has beautiful garnishes and is mixed baby greens topped with great balsamic vinaigrette.
One of the guys from Cobh said to make sure we headed north from Cashel on the local road before joining the highway again. He was right, this is beautiful country to tour on the local highway so we see more of local Ireland for about half an hour before joining the highway towards Kildare. We stop and call K Club about a dinner reservation and are told that they are very full tonight so we are set up for dinner at the golf course clubhouse. We are kind of surprised as a week earlier the hotel confirmed rooms at a good agent discount so we thought the hotel would be pretty empty on a Monday night.
We got off the interstate at Kildare but that was about 4 exits early and we are stuck in the afternoon traffic jam. We stop to call K Club and after ascertaining our location we are advised to re-enter the highway and go a few more exits. We do and the trip to K Club is pretty quick once we exit the highway at the right point in time.
A Night at the K-Club
Upon arrival at K Club, we can see that we are entering a five star environment as multiple bellman literally attack the car as we pull up. The place is crazy with people so I unload bags for the girls and direct them inside with the bellman. I have to park in a lot away from the main building so I send Mom and Gina inside to check in. They send a golf cart to pick me up even though it would have been a short walk back to the main building.
By the time I get back to the building the bellmen are ready to take us upstairs. We are joking that the Keoughs left Ireland in steerage but Mom is certainly returning in a much better class as we check into K-Cub which is officially the Kildare Hotel, Spa & Country Club. This hotel is surrounded by a beautiful golf course. They offer trout fishing in the stream and horseback riding on the hotel grounds. This Irish Country House is steeped in history and restored to its former glory. The art on the walls spans a number of centuries and is an essential part of what gives the K-Club its authentic Irish atmosphere. This is an excellent last night stop-off on a Fly Drive if you have already seen Dublin as it is about 45 minutes to the Dublin airport but seems like a world away.
The girls already have found out that the place is so busy as there is a horse auction the next morning at Kildare race course and this is the host hotel for the events of the local equestrian club. Apparently everybody is at the cocktail party while we are checking in and they are all have been in the bar a while with a cocktail function beforehand by the time we get there so the people watching was some of the most interesting any of us had seen in years.
Our rooms have been upgraded to Jr. Suites as a nice gesture by the hotel along with a decent agent rate. Ours is a little bigger than Moms and right next door to the Presidential suite that was actually used by Bill Clinton and Tiger Woods when they stayed at the hotel. We joked that the Secret Service were probably partying in our room.
This was a host course for the Ryder Cup so it is a prestigious golf club and the level of service was very good. Dinner was great, even though we were at the golf course clubhouse and we have already decided we are probably not dropping the car on-time so we can lounge in luxury before heading off to Dublin. I hold up dinner as I order the lamb shank but it is worth the wait when it arrives. Mom and Gina have a chicken entrée that is also good and we enjoy a great bottle of French wine with dinner.
Tiger Woods and Bill Clinton stayed at the K-Club.
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Heading into Dublin
Kildare to Dublin with a stop at Dublin Airport to drop the car.
In the AM, Gina and I wander the grounds on the walking trail that takes us behind the great house, along the golf course and crosses the river at two points. This is a spectacular site with beautiful topography including the river. The golf course looks beautiful and we are very happy with this one night stop. When we read the local paper in the AM, we see that 39 million Euros in horses will be sold this morning so we realize that most of the rich and powerful from the UK and even the Middle East were among the group that we saw last evening at K Club. Everybody is at the auction this morning so we have the place to ourselves when we get down to breakfast just before 10A. K-Club was the second best breakfast of the trip behind Dingle. It was a little fancier surroundings but quite a few choices including a cold bar, a hot bar and fresh cooked eggs from the kitchen.
I meet a chauffer outside the lobby in the AM and we have a talk about chauffeured driven vacations. Shay Ryan is a nice guy and actually the owner of S.R Chauffeur Services so I take a card and we look to maybe do some business as we both go forward. I arrange for a pick-up at our hotel on Friday so we can check out his service and see what his other vehicles look like. I have decided to drop the car at Dublin airport rather than making our way to a city center rental location. Even for an experienced driver like myself the experience of making your way into a European city is not worth the savings on an airport taxi. We gas up the car near the airport and drop the car. The car rental bus drops us at the terminal and we pick up a taxi to head into town.
Temple Bar District in Dublin Ireland.
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Temple Bar Happy Hour
We check into the Trinity City Hotel (formerly the Capital Trinity Hotel) in Dublin. Mom has a top floor room at the end of the hallway. It has windows on two sides so it is light and airy. We are in a Jr. Suite in the middle of the top floor overlooking Trinity College and we are surprised about the upgrade but most grateful for the early check-in. After a couple of hours at the hotel, we head out to Temple Bar District for some lunch and happy hour music.
We pass a Mongolian BBQ and I am pushing hard for something besides soup and brown bread. Mom is not so sure. Once we get inside and explain the concept, everybody agrees that something different is a nice choice. This one has a great choice of fresh veggies and sauces plus "one plate" is a lunch special of 5e. It all comes with a big bowl of community rice and we get a pitcher of cold ice water to go along. I often find when traveling that something completely different on the food front besides the local food can be a nice change.
As we walk towards Temple Bar district we start to see buskers in the bars and on patios. We see a couple of guys singing in a place called The Quays Bar that look pretty good so we head inside. This one had that old Irish Pub look, smell and we liked the music that was coming out of the open doors.
Temple Bar District is brightly painted and has a lot of action in the afternoon. We never got down there late at night but it looked like it would be a younger crowd since we saw plenty of college age "bar crawl" tourists working their way across Dublin. You should expect a touristy feel in entertainment district. Many clubs have menu people inviting you from the street and there are patios plus street musicians. We drop Mom at the hotel and we head out for a late afternoon walk across the street at Trinity College.
The architecture at Trinity College is worth a walk around the campus.
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We are right across the street from Trinity College. This is promoted as a tourist attraction because of the architecture and the fact that they house The Book of Kells so the tour busses are frequently parked out back. We are in the city so there is no public entrance right across from the hotel. We head to the corner and enter through the student union in a modern section of the campus. As we walk through the beautiful courtyards we are struck by the juxtaposition of the old buildings and young students actually living with i-phones throughout the historical buildings. It is nice to be in the city center as you can always enjoy a tourist site informally at the end of the day. After we pop out of one of the gates, we walk the perimeter as college neighborhoods are always interesting and sometimes cheap food is available in student neighborhoods.
We see a neat local bar with pub food but we are intrigued by Napoli Italians that appear to run a deli/wine bar across from Trinity College. We decide to stay with our trend of something besides Irish food so the group votes for Italian. It only looks like it has three or four tables so we call for a reservation and we are invited down at any time as there is plenty of room. We take a taxi, even though it is only 4 blocks as a light rain is falling. In all cities, taxis can be expensive but necessary for super short trips as the meter gets a minimum charge and sometimes a charge for extra people or per person. I still contend regardless of cost you owe it to yourself to indulge in taxis and airport drivers, in some instances, even if you are public transport type of tourists. I always budget for some taxis even if we are using public transport.
When we get to Il Caffe di Napoli, we are surprised that there is an entire large restaurant and pizzeria in the basement. The limited tables were just a walk in coffee shop like in Italy. We start the meal with a vegetable antipasto that comes with home made beautiful foccicia bread. The chef Giuseppe is from Naples and is using the fresh Irish seafood in a great way. Gina has mussels and clams pasta. Mom and I have a seafood risotto that has a "slab" of black sea bass on top but also has shrimp, squid and scallops. We are in the EU so the wine list is beautiful with great picks of Italian wines at cheap prices. After all the food, the rain has stopped so we take a cold walk back to the hotel which is only a few blocks from the restaurant. After all the food, the cold air and walking do us all good.
Day Two Dublin
Riding the Hop on Hop Off Bus
We have ditched the Irish Breakfast that we were eating on the road so we head out into the city to explore Grafton shopping district at a quiet time of day. That is always a good tip for traveling, if everybody else goes shopping in the early evening on Grafton Street, go in the morning when you have it all to yourself except for the Fedex guys delivering goods. We see a sign for St. Teresas Priory Cafe. We are back to my knack for picking places so they hesitantly follow me through a stone portico to the morning coffee stop. Adding to the scene is an older lady trying to park too big of a car in too small of a courtyard. I am blessed as I travel through the world with my eyes open and once again, my God delivers me for a respite with a group of Irish women who run a beautiful little coffee shop as a fundraiser for the church. We all have fresh baked goods that are still warm that come on real plates. They had pitchers of ice water on the sideboard so what more could a tourist want? Gina and I order cappuccinos and Mom has a choice of teas from the pretty wooden box. We all agree that this was a great quiet local way to start the day in Dublin with the nice ladies of St. Teresas.
We continue to walk Grafton Street to see the jewelry shops and specialty stores that line the smaller alleys behind the fancy chain stores that front Grafton Street. One jewelry street was particularly neat with antique jewelry but also some very high end merchandise. We make our way up the street and are very surprised to see the John Kehoes Bar just a block or two from the fancy shops. Not only that, it was John Kehoe plus John and Patrick were both bartenders in the New World. We stop for pictures and walk into the empty bar to buy some t-shirts and look around.
When researching this blog, I discover the "Heritage Bars" Kehoes and The Quays (our Temple Bar stop on day 1 we are in Dublin) are owned by the same Irish company called Louis Fitzgerald www.louisfitzgerald.com that also controls the Arlington Hotel where the popular Celtic Nights is performed. Good going to this company for being able to make a profit keeping the Irish culture alive. I know I enjoyed seeing a family name up on a bar from 1803 and also catching a little FREE music in the afternoon in Temple Bar District. The music was good, the beer was cold and the barstools were comfortable. What more could you want from an Irish pub? I have clients who are looking forward to Celtic Nights next month in Dublin. At 39.95e with dinner and the show, it looks like a pretty good value and it is right downtown Dublin by the river.
We head up the street to a beautiful church that is surprisingly not catholic. St. Anns Church Dublin is Anglican/Episcopal and is open to welcome tourists. The building is from the 1700s with a heavy Gothic looking outside but it is surprisingly light, simple with natural colors. It did have some great stained glass windows and very intricate small mosaics. It was the church where Oscar Wilde was baptized and Bram Stoker (Author of Dracula) was married in St. Anns on December 4, 1878. This was the parish of some of the aristocracy living in Dublin in the 1700s.
Then we head up the street to purchase some hop on hop off bus tickets. You can get on or off these busses anywhere but you can only buy tickets at a couple of stops. We head up to St. Stephens Green to buy the tickets. They park a bus there as the sales office so it is easy to spot. We can also pre-sell these tickets at our travel agency with your tour packages but again, my trip gets done last and 2014 was a very busy year for Europe. We take a discount package with the Guinness Tour just to skip the line at Guinness. These type of activities can always be purchased on a credit card. The plan is to take the whole loop today rather than stopping at the attractions just to soak in the city. We are lucky enough to get one of the busses that has live commentary and the lady has a cute description of the city attractions. It is getting towards 2P so I ask the lady doing the commentary which would be the best stop for lunch. We agree on a spot where some of our US Presidents had eaten and she even asks the driver to make an unscheduled stop so my Mom can save a few blocks walking so we get dropped off right near the restaurant.
Ryans Original Victorian was a neat pub that offered a pretty full pub menu including steaks, fried fish and chips and even fancy salads. We sit at a high pub table near the window so we are watching Dublin walk past as we are in a residential neighborhood out near the Phoenix Park which houses the US Ambassadors residence and the Dublin Zoo. The Hop On Hop Off makes a loop through the park with a stop for the Zoo. Always on vacation, the day seems to slip away from you so we are back on the hop hop off about 3PM. We have enjoyed the day and I highly recommend hop on hop off busses in many cities to "get your bearings" and generally take a cheap tour of the city. Most tickets are good for two days so you can just ride around a whole day if you want to see the city.
Last stop Dublin Castle
Dublin Castle tells the story of Irish Independence.
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We make our last hop off at Dublin Castle at about 4P as we are heading over to the Irish House Party tonight. This also was more interesting than we thought it would be with the Vikings and the explanation of Irish Independence. Again the historian talked about how tough life was in early Ireland which got worse when the Vikings landed and took over your town. After the tour you understand the development of Dublin from a Viking City to part of the British Empire to an Independent Ireland. With this particular historian, you could stand in the courtyard after the tour of the Viking dig and think about the revolutionaries outside the walls in the Irish War for Independence that ran roughly from 1917 to 1919 but was finally settled by truce in this very courtyard in 1921 that led to a free state in 1922.
Overall, the Viking dig and the story of the revolution were more interesting than the walk around the inside of the Castle but it was a beautiful building. We were late in the day and missed the garden out back. The tour guide that worked for the Irish Government was very good and did a thorough history tour in half an hour or 45 minutes.
We walk out and look for one last ATM stop for the evening. Our plan is a pub crawl with two stops that ends at the Kehoe bar for the last pint in Ireland. At the ATM, we notice a strange foreign girl that is very well dressed and playing with a cellular phone. She is obviously working the two ATMs trying to get pin numbers and maybe has a chip scanner in the phone or her pocket. She is forward and moves back and forth around a pole to try to see pins over peoples shoulder. We put up a blocking wall and Gina gives her a good stare so she works on the other innocent tourist. Just away from the ATM, we give a policeman a description of the girl and the activity and he flags down plain clothes officers who speed off towards the ATM. Just a point that you need to be vigilant when using ATMs overseas even though they are the easiest way to get cash as you travel through Europe or the world.
Irish House Party
Nice music and food
We found out about the Irish House Party as it is one of the stops on some of the Collette Tours of Ireland. We prepaid for this dinner while we were in the States so we hop in a cab and head off at 6:30P. The venue is the Landsdown Hotel in Ballsbridge. Ballsbridge is an upscale neighborhood of Dublin where quite a few of our tours use hotels. This is about 15 minutes from Trinity City Hotel. Tables are set in the restaurant of the hotel and the owner is helping to serve dinner with a couple of staff. Bottles of wine are only 25e and you get a choice between a Guiness stew or a chicken or a salmon. We all have the Guiness stew. It is served with a nice salad, potatoes and dessert. A little before 8P, we have settled up on the wine as the meal is included in the 45e tickets that we pre-purchased. We are all ushered down the stairs to the nice theatre in the basement.
I figure I am at an Irish House Party so I need a pint of Guinness and Gina has a glass of wine. There is a pretty bar half way down in the basement from the performance hall. The story of an Irish House Party is the continuation of the Queenstown story. You decided it was time to leave for America and this was almost certainly a one way trip given the transportation in the mid 1800s. Your family had everybody over to the house for a nice meal, some drinking and dancing at the house as you would set off for the boat in the next morning. Your friends all came by to eat and drink, people brought instruments to dance a little and say good bye as this had kind of the spirit of a wake for a live person as you would no longer see any of these people ever again once you got all the way across to America or Canada. It was usually great fun and it would be well into the early hours of the morning when the final good byes were said.
The Irish House Party describes itself as a delicious 3 course Irish dinner from a choice menu. Live traditional Irish music performed by all-Ireland champion musicians and dancers. A humorous explanation of Irish music, dancing and the instruments from entertaining hosts, including the brush dance and great stories about Dublin. The Landsdown Hotel is a neat venue with theatre style seating for the show and tables set for dinner. The hotel is an intimate 18th Century townhouse setting in Ballsbridge.
The group is comprised of mostly all-Ireland musicians playing a fiddle, a guitar, a squeezebox and a bagpipe like instrument called the Uilleann Pipes or "Union Pipes". There is one pretty girl who shows the audience some of the dance steps that are indicative of Irish dance including the broom dance that was done at weddings and wakes. It includes a mix of "sea shanty" type songs along with the haunting Irish melodies. The Irish House Party group has a good comedic sense as they teach everybody about Irish music and show examples. The show lasts about an hour and a half and we head back to the hotel at about 9:30.
As we belong to a community radio station in Tampa, WMNF, they have a show called songs of the Islands with Gaelic music from Ireland and Scotland. WWOZ in New Orleans also an Irish music show for a few hours a week. Even though I knew I was a part Irish, traditional Irish music seemed kind of sad sometimes like the vibe of original country music. It is a story of hardship, hope for the future and longing for far-off people mixed with Sea Shantys. Once you understand the struggles and hardship of the Irish people, traditional music always fits into that context. Even the later rockers like U2, Sinead Oconnor, Flogging Molly and Rory Gallagher reflect the working class aspirations of later generations of young Irish who are immigrating again for economic opportunity. I have seen some fantastic local musicians as I have traveled across Ireland over the past twelve days.
Day Three in Dublin
National Gallery, St. Patrick's Cathedral and Guinness Brewery tour
We get up and get going early at my suggestion. We are heading to the Irish National Gallery to see some paintings. Mom is looking at a knit yourself sweater kit and we stop at the Kilkenny Design Center for breakfast. Even though we swore off bacon upon arrival to Dublin we are aching for the big Irish breakfast one more time. This is the deal of the century where pick three is only 6e and can include hot scrambled eggs, Irish bacon or sausage, cooked mushrooms, potatoes. Toast is included and is not one of the items. We have a cup of coffee and again Mom can pick a good tea.
The Irish National Gallery is free and they are redoing the space so it was all put into one room which made it easy to see. This was a nice selection that included some Irish painters but also some French Impressionists and even a Dutch Master or two. No matter what European country, a visit to a local museum can help you understand the culture and history. After the visit, we catch the hop on hop off right outside and head around St. Patricks cathedral. Today we are using the hop on hop off to visit attractions. We are back to the beginning of the loop as we pass St. Stevens Green and St. Anns again. It is only about a ten minute ride to St. Patricks Cathedral.
St. Patricks was more interesting than we thought as it is a Cathedral, but also has information from Dublins literary day and a nod to all the Irish that fought in wars along the way. This church was originally built by the Normans. It was named after St. Patrick who is said to have baptized converts to Christianity at a well that once existed alongside the site. The Cathedral is said to have contributed much to Irish life during its long history. Jonathan Swift was Dean from 1743 to 1745. Handels Messiah received its first performance in Dublin in 1742 at St. Patricks It emphasizes that the building is not a museum but rather a building embracing the past to herald the future.
At the very back of St. Patricks I came upon the Lady Chapel. This seemed to be the brightest area of the church with huge stained glass windows and a big brass chandelier. My wife and mother were at different parts of the Cathedral at the time and I was almost overcome thinking about the strong Irish women in my family. I now realize much of that strength came from their Irish roots. I cannot imagine how Margaret Delay felt with a 1 year old fourth child and a 38 year old husband who recently passed away. Yet she raised my Grandfather to be a very sweet man that was successful in his age and owned a house in the suburbs. My aunts Babe and Marie all led independent lives and worked when that was not the norm in America. My cousin Linda who passed very early of breast cancer was a leader in her community. My own mother endured a divorce when I was 11 then she went to work and changed her life to become a successful salesperson so she could afford to send me to college. I lit a candle, said a prayer and put a donation in the box in honor of the whole group including my Mom.
St. Patricks more than any other building in Ireland embodies the history and heritage of the Irish people of all backgrounds from the earliest times to present day. It continues to function for which it was founded the worship of God through the medium of choral music. There is a schedule of sung services on the St. Patricks website. Visitors of all denominations are welcomed at the services.
John at beer school
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We get back on the hop on hop off for the Guinness brewery. The hop on hop off salesmen included the Guinness ticket with the hop on as a combo so we head right in. You work your way up in the building and see the history and how the beer is made today. Everybody gets a beer ticket with their entrance and Mom is not a beer drinker so I use the extra ticket to get into the beer pouring class. We all taste the beer, pick up the certificate for passing the "class" and head upstairs to the Gravity Bar which is on top of the brewery. We are lucky enough to get three seats and we order the two other beers. I notice a glass of water for Mom is never a problem so we sit for a while and enjoy the view. As frequently happens in itinerary planning, we are behind schedule at this point but sitting with a pint and the 360 degree view of Ireland from the top of the Gravity Bar, who cares?
At Guiness, we switch over to the blue line and head out to Glasnevin Cemetary but we are too late and we are on the second to the last bus. We make a quick stop to pick up the genealogists card and a sandwich and head back out on the last bus. It is our last night in Dublin and Ireland so we head out to Oneals. They are supposed to have "Carvery" tonight which is a concept we have seen along the way but not partaken. We head in and are luckily able to get a table as it seems to be the place to go in Dublin for pub food. It is too busy for waitresses so I head up to the bar and decide tonight I will work half a pint at a time as they have 30 taps at Oneals. I start with a local red craft beer and bring Gina one too since she likes reds. In addition to the carvery, you can get things from the kitchen so we start with a bucket of Irish mussels with the first beer. Sometimes you have to ask a local about the procedures but the people at the next table were from Dublin on a night out so they directed us to the end of the carvery to order the mussels and then indicated you went back through the line like a buffet after that. The place was so crazy that you just kind of paid as you went for each step along the way.
The way the carvery works is you pick a meat and that fixes the price of the meal. I have pork at 12.95e and then after they carve your meat, you head down to the starch and veggies like cabbage and potatoes (of course). You can have as many or as much of that as you want including a home-made apple sauce with the stuffed pork. We have another beer and I am on to a local craft wheat beer but Gina is back to Smethwicks which became her go to beer for the trip. I had half a pint of harps ale with the meal from a tap on the other side of the room. There are also self serve taps of Heineken at one table that the college kids from Trinity College seem to like. If you are a college kid, what is not to like about a table built around a beer keg with a tap in the middle. I think those tables were metered or on the honor system, I am not sure how that all worked as I was working from craft beer to craft beer. We need to head to Kehoes for the last round in Ireland. Mom is tired after a long day so we head into the rickshaw/bicycle thing for the three block trip to Kehoes.
When we stumble out of the rickshaw, Kehoes is absolutely packed. The thing was only built for two and three of us get out of it so we are quite a site to those people in suits standing on the patio drinking beer. We were expecting a quiet place but it is absolutely packed in ever nook and cranny. I say follow me and we head inside to find two stools right at the main bar for Gina and Mom. The ancestors probably just had them vacated and we all imagined a good bottle of Irish Whisky up in heaven as the group joined the last toast.
Everybody in the bar is well dressed and what we find is that the Irish legislature is a couple of blocks up the street. The place is filled with lobbyists and junior staffers who work for legislators as it is in session. It appears that politics works the same in Ireland, that the lobbyists buy all the drinks. I choose a traditional pint of Guinness as the last on in Ireland. As it settles for the second pour, I am thinking how cool is this? Its my last night in Ireland and I am drinking in an Irish bar with my family name over the door.
In a nod to our immigrant ancestors the rickshaw pedal cab driver and the taxi man were both tipped generously as they indicated they were new to Ireland (through the porous EU) and obviously not Irish. Just far away from their families, working late at night with the hope of a better life.
Departure with Pre-Clearance in Dublin
We have Shay get us about three and a half hours prior to departure and it is not a moment too soon. As we plan to do business and he is in Dublin, he comes for the run himself. A good driver is a touch more than a taxi but I notice when we get to Dublin airport he knows right where to pull up for the luggage carts and he gets three of those for each persons luggage. He gets the bags out of the car for us and loaded on the trolleys and even has a moment to push Moms into the departure hall and get her carry on stuff adjusted. US Customs offers pre-clearance in Dublin but it is backed up and moving slowly. We barely make the plane and we are off to the USA.
Overall Suggestions for a Great Irish Trip
This is a pretty small country with a half finished rail system. It is not as easy to get from place to place by train as you can with other European Countries. The best things are in the country, not the city centers so you need to be able to move around and see things. Driving was not easy but not as difficult as some people think. The roads and signage were good but they were windy and narrow in some places (especially small towns). Most of them were two lane but there are some good highways connecting major towns like Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway. After my experience in Cork as an experienced rental car driver in places like the Jamaica and Sicily I sometimes have the driver deliver guests to Dublin and put them on the train to Cork. Then they can pick up the car after Cork if they want to drive "a little" like West Cork, Ring of Kerry or Dingle or County Clare. Lastly with the fly drives, we regularly put folks into Dublin and out of Shannon so they dont have to backtrack. We can always help to lay out the itinerary so you are comfortable and dont over-reach as it takes away the fun if you are trying to do too much on windy, curvy roads. Our agency has a whole set of tools to help you with independent travel including small hotels, large resorts, castles and manor houses plus we handle B and B Ireland vouchers and make pre-reservations that can be paid for via the vouchers. We can also provide you with prepaid vouchers which we used at a few hotels along the way as it fixes the price in US dollars at time of purchase and helps budget for a trip. Plus they usually include all the VAT taxes and an Irish breakfast in many instances but they do require payment of a small local tax in some cities in Europe.
If you dont feel comfortable driving, we sell a bunch of different tour vendors who do motor coach tours (41 to 55 passengers in a group) and also small group tours (20 to 25 group size). These are targeted to those who want to see it all in a couple of weeks but they also have different itineraries for people who are on a second trip with country themes or specialty themes like cooking or ancestry. Some of these companies do hosted tours where you are partially on your own but have a host in Killarney, Limerick, Dublin or Belfast, a tour in each city and local advice about attractions and restaurants. Hosted is kind of between independent travel and an escorted tour. We have all the best suppliers that handle Irish Vacations including CIE, Trafalgar, Brendan, Globus, Monograms, Celtic Tours and Specialized Ireland
The last option if you are traveling with your family or a group of friends is a Chauffer. The cost of this is similar to an escorted tour when you start to get to six or eight passengers traveling together. We have sold as few as two ladies a chauffer vacation but allocation of the chauffers cost and lodging does make it expensive if you only have two. That said the people we did that trip for were not concerned about cost and said it was one of the best vacations they ever had. Once night he asked them if they wanted to see music and had arranged two seats right down front in a pub owned by a friend of his. These really are Irish Ambassadors that drive nice vehicles. My chauffer friend in Dublin told me the Americans always want to get going early but Ireland doesnt really work like that. He encourages them to have a slow breakfast and get started about ten but he said the day ends at 6 or even into the night if you are so inclined.
No use planning your Ireland trip all by yourself. Get the help of an Ireland Specialist like myself that has traveled to Ireland, taken the Ireland Specialist Course offered by Tourism Ireland. Tourism Ireland is the organization made up of Failte Ireland, the national tourism development authority of the Republic of Ireland and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. As you can tell from this blog, we know the destination but our tour vendors also provide us with specific knowledge of Irish destinations, packages, golf, sightseeing, attractions or hotels. As an Ireland Specialist, we attend seminars with the Tourist Board as we recently did with Failte Ireland in Tampa. These keep us updated on product including hotels, destination changes and things to do. A good travel agent like myself can help you decide the right way to see Ireland so you have a great time.