I'm writing this trip report about 10 months after our arrival home, so it might not be as detailed as I might like. I'm hopeful that a few tidbits might be helpful to someone else planning a trip. First, I must say , my husband and I were so very excited to take this trip. My grandparents were from Galway and I grew up in Chicago with relatives from Ireland visiting. I had always dreamed of going to Ireland and definitely feel that closeness to heart with Ireland that many Americans describe. I became so emotional getting on that Aer Lingus plane! We've traveled quite a bit, but planning this trip seemed daunting. This forum actually helped me a lot. Please forgive errors in spelling and capitalization My iPad doesn't always cooperate with my attempts to make corrections.
Day one: We arrived at Shannon airport earlier than expected, about 5 am? We rented our car from Avis, where we unexpectedly ended up getting the best overall rate. The van driver was so kind and imparted helpful words of advice about driving in Ireland. Some of the advice included driving with the center line as a guide. He said many people try so hard to avoid oncoming traffic that they end up losing their mirrors on the other side of the car. Also, looking both ways before you cross the street as a pedestrian. This was more important than we realized as we had a near miss crossing the street the next day!! We had purchased a garmin nuvi with uk and Ireland maps through Amazon. Invaluable. (We found that driving and navigating was a two person job. The $100 spent was well worth it, less than what the rental car company charged and can be used again on our next trip). My father's cousin and his wife met us at a nearby hotel and led us to their home in Ballinasloe. They said we would never find it with a satnav and they were right! We actually found trailing John's car to be a good driving lesson, as we watched him pull over for the lorries to pass and got a sense of driving on the narrow country roads. We had some tea and breads and were offered a nice nap to recover from our trip. Wonderful people. We then headed to Galway city for our two night stay at the Park house hotel. That evening we had dinner at McSwiggins, as recommended by John, and walked around the city a bit. Too tired for any pubs or music tonight.
Day two: After a wonderful Irish breakfast, we headed off to Connemara. We stopped at a castle hotel to check it out, then to Clifden. We happened upon some sort of horse showing, which was interesting to watch. We walked around the town and we stopped at Mannions bar for the most wonderful lamb stew I have ever had. I must say my stomach had been upset since the moment I got off the plane and this food tasted like heaven. We drove round the Skye road which had breathtaking views of the Atlantic. The weather changed from sunny to hail to windy and rainy all in a few minutes! We saw some Connemara ponies grazing and took a stroll along the road. Somewhere along the way south, my husband saw the sign for the Connemara smokehouse. He loves smoked salmon! This always makes me laugh since he was like a dog after a bone. He saw the sign and made a quick hard right as if by jerk reflex. The sign said 5 km, but it seemed like much longer we passed by a huge castle and I still don't know what it is called. It was in the middle of nowhere and no readily visible way to see it up close. We finally reached the end of the road which lead up to the water's edge to find a boarded up (for the season?) smokehouse. Too funny! I just laughed and we took quite a few pictures. We decided to visit Roundstone and ate dinner there. The village was empty and quiet. We then returned to Galway city, spending the evening at 5 local pubs, experiencing different kinds of Irish music. Awesome!! Two memorable experiences. The first was hearing an Irish band sing a song about Chicago. The second was being at a local pub located under a hostel a few doors from our hotel. Experiencing the kindness of the Irish people and watching everyone stand and sing the national anthem as the pub closed. One man turned to me and said we had found the "real Ireland".
Day Three: We had arranged a hike in the Burren with Mary Howard. We met her at Blackhead near Fanore. Gorgeous scenery along the way, but horrible weather. When we met Mary, she said she was surprised we showed up In this weather. She said we were planning to hike up the Burren, but it would be miserable today. She knew I was very interested in archeology and would we like to see those sights instead, driving from one place to another? We agreed. What an energetic, delightful, kind and intelligent lady! Mary provided us with large heavy ponchos to go over our rain gear. Mary studied archeology later in life as a second career. She participated in the digs at Caherdaniel and was so knowledgeable about all the sites we visited. She went way way past our agreed upon time. When we protested that she had already spent her time with us, she said the day was hers to do whatever she wished with and we continued on. We had wind and driving rain but we visited a ring fort, pulnabroune, the church at Kilfenora, caherdaniel and the Burren smokehouse. We stopped at the gift shop at caherdaniel for some nice hot tea and refreshments. We were cold and exhausted and ditched our plan to see the cliffs of moher. Mary said it would be useless that day and we subsequently heard that the cliffs closed due to the weather. We headed to Ennis, where we had booked a b&b. We fell immediately into bed and woke up at 8pm! We ate dinner at the Old Ground Hotel and took in a music session at a local pub. We had a hard time finding any music. Maybe because it was Sunday? Ennis was not our favorite on this trip and we said we would have gladly skipped it. But, we don't think we could have traveled any further after our busy day. A hint, we would have paid a million dollars for rain pants. We now own two pairs. We had waterproof hiking boots, smart wool socks and good raincoats, but when your legs get cold and wet you are miserable.
Day four: Off to Dingle via Adare. We stopped for a delicious lunch there. I was so excited for Dingle and it didn't disappoint. We had clear weather on the Conor pass and it was just beautiful. Checked into the castlewood house. I could stay there for a week! Such attention to comfort and detail. We strolled the city. I was still on the hunt for a claddaugh ring and found one reasonably priced at Brian de Staic. Such nice people. They sized it for me, twice. We ate dinner at Out of the Blue. Memorable and delicious. I dont think they try to be a French restaurant, but it felt that way. Yes, Murphy's ice cream is special. I had the chocolate sorbet which tasted like it was ice cream, but richer. Yum. Favorite night of Irish music at the courthouse pub. Only one bartender there and he was so kind. Wrote my name out for me in Irish Gaelic. The tiny pub where most heads hit the ceiling in parts and the wonderful music paired for a perfect evening. We strolled back to our hotel, enjoying every minute.
Day five: We woke to the sound of sea gulls. We hired someone to drive us around slea head. Following Mary Howard, this man was disappointing. We should have just driven ourselves. I was hoping for information and some history. It continued to mist and rain, but the scenery and sights were still spectacular. We visited a stone fort and the gallarus observatory and saw all the beehive huts. We visited a local church as well as a pottery shop. We would like to come back here and do some walking or biking on our own. We traveled toward Killarney via inch beach. We walked the beach, even in the continued rain and winds. We checked into our hotel in Killarney. We ate dinner at Bricin's, which we liked so well we repeated the next night. The owner (?) makes it a point to greet each table and I noticed he connected people who had something in common. He pointed out that another tableful was from Chicago as well and introduced us.
( I'm getting a bit wordy, so I'll try and abbreviate the rest)
Day six: Beautiful Killarney! A morning visit to Ross castle. Loved the tour! And of course, the setting. Toured Muckross and strolled the area. Lunch at the cafeteria. We were hungry! MuckRoss was impressive. Felt like Downton Abbey. The tour was a bit long for me, but my husband loved it. We then hiked the steps to Tork waterfall. Once we got there we realized we could have parked at the bottom of the waterfall and avoided all those steps. thats ok. We were wanting some exercise. My favorite part was the "fairy woods". Everything covered with green moss, the rocks, the trees. I've never seen anything like it. We drove and walked another trail then headed by car to Ladies View. A beautiful drive with many scenic points for stopping. Headed back to Killarney for dinner and pubs and music.
Day seven: My favorite day! Took a boat ride across the three lakes with the O'Donahues. Their family has been running this tour for years, by rowboat before motors. The waters looked scary and my husband thought we were going to die, literally. But, it was a great adventure. We had a bite to eat at Lord Brandon's cottage and then walked the Gap of Dunloe. A highlight of my life! I didn't realize we had to walk up a mountain. I thought it would be like a valley, but it is not. indescribable scenery with streams, countless waterfalls, stone bridges and lakes. I even made friends with a sheepdogWe made it to Kate Kearney's without having to call upon the jaunting carts. Alas, it was Good Friday and no Guinness for us! Donel O,Donahue had given us his phone number and picked us up. On the way back to Killarney he gave us a tour and history of several sites. He didn't need to do that, but he did. He told us his nephews own a pub in Chicago which we've now visited twice. A nice connection. We retrieved our car and drove to Cashel. Our original plan had been to leave Killarney early and tour Cashel that afternoon, but I'm so glad we hiked the Gap instead We missed time in Dublin, but that's the trade off. Next time
Day eight: We were within walking distance and toured the Rock of casheL. A very informative tour with a great tour guide. The weather was beginning to clear a bit and we could see the vistas from the rock. Really glad we visited here. Got in the car and headed to Dublin. Arrived around 3:30 pm. Walked St Stephens green, had a pint on Grafton Street and saw the book of Kells before meeting another cousin and his wife for a pub, dinner, then back to the pub. A whirlwind. Why not? The next day would be spent on a plane.
Day nine: Nonstop back to Chicago on Aer Lingus. Easter Sunday. We are determined to go back to Ireland. How do you describe it? I guess for me the lasting impression is the people. Everyone we met was genuinely interested in where we were from, our family connections. So helpful and kind. You would think the people would tire of so many Americans with a similar story. We will be back again this Easter. I hope our next trip is half as pleasurable as this one.
"Ireland Expert" Michele ErdvigClick links for Michele's Book or Custom Ireland ItineraryVisit Michele's Irish Shop for unique Irish gifts and beautiful photos of Ireland.
I enjoyed your trip report. Finding 'the real Ireland' , whatever that is, is what it's all about. thanks