We landed at 6:30 in the morning at Shannon airport. Clearing immigration and customs was not too bad, and we caught the bus to the rental car company, got a Toyota Avensis and headed out with our maps for Dromoland Castle. It only took us about 20 minutes to get to the Castle. We checked in and left our luggage. It is a beautiful castle, and the people were so friendly and helpful.
We got in the car to start our exploration of Ireland. We drove to Ennis and headed west to the Cliffs of Mohr. Ennis was a cute little town. The drive to the coast was beautiful. We arrived at the Cliffs and there was just one bus and a few cars, so we were lucky. We walked out to the cliffs, took some photos, walked into O'Brien's Tower. This Tower was built on the edge of the towering Cliffs of Moher as an observation point in 1835 by Cornelius (Corney) O'Brian, a descendant of Brian Boru, the High King of Ireland , and the O'Brien's of Bunratty Castle, Kings of Thomond. We just wandered in but did not pay the fee to climb to the top.
We got back in the car (there were now many more buses and cars in the car park) and headed north for the Burren. Along the way we saw Ballinalacken Castle on the side of the road. There are supposed to be 6,000 castles in various states of repair in Ireland. We were amazed at how many we could see just driving around: out in the middle of fields, in the middle of towns, everywhere!
The Burren is a 116 sq mile area covered in limestone. It is beautiful and very different from what one expects of Ireland. We reached the northern part of the Burren and could see the coast across Galway Bay. We tried to find someplace for lunch but were not very successful, so we drove on. We drove through the Burren, stopping at Poulnabrone Tomb. This tomb contained the remains of about 30 people who were placed there approx between 3,800 and 3,200 BC. Considering how far from everything this site was, there were many tourists there.
We drove on to Kilfenora to see the visitor's center and maybe find someplace to eat. We stopped at Linnane's Pub. It was past lunch time, but we got a wonderful vegetable soup and grilled ham, cheese, onion sandwich. Right outside Kilfenora was Leamaneh Castle, built around 1480. It had a big banner on it encouraging the County Clare team in the All-Ireland finals. We saw lots of signs all over Ireland regarding the finals which were to be held on the 22nd.
We were all ready to go to the castle to check in and rest, so we drove back to Dromoland, getting there at 2pm. Our luggage was already in our room - #104, the Beatrice Stateroom. It was a huge, lovely room in the main part of the castle, just under the dining room facing the lake. There was a complimentary decanter of Irish whiskey and a box of wonderful chocolates. We took the chocolates with us on the rest of the trip, and they served as desert or a bedtime treat for us for a week! There was also bottled water with a Dromoland label on all the bottles.
We were all so tired that we took naps from 3-6pm. We then wandered the grounds before dinner. The walled garden was lovely. Back in the room, two lovely ladies in maids uniforms came by wanting to turn down the beds. I told them we had already turned them down and slept in them. So they gave us more water, chocolates, and towels. Lovely service. We all got ready for dinner in the The Earl of Thomond Restaurant. It was a very elegant restaurant, the service was excellent, and the food quite good. There was a harpist that played throughout dinner. I had a fish consume which was the chef's complimentary appetizer, shrimp and avocado salad, cucumber/asparagus soup, veal mignon with chili risotto, bread, and a pistachio/strawberry souffle with Bailey's Irish Cream sauce.
After dinner we wandered through the castle public rooms which were large lovely rooms with Victorian furniture, fires in the fire place. Then it was time for bed!
We were up at 6:30, showered, packed, and went for breakfast in the dining room at 7:30 when it opened. Outside the dining room were two long tables with rolls, cheese, fruit, ham, salami, on one side and cereals and juices on the other side. We were seated at the same table by the same waitress as dinner the night before. We helped ourselves to the cold buffet and then ordered the hot portion of our breakfast. Bill and I got ham and mushroom omelets and Mandy got porridge.
We hit the road at 9. We were going to Limerick and then across country to Dublin. The road signs of Ireland are definitely interesting. Some of the ones that really intrigued us were: Traffic Calming, Accident Black Spot, University Conferrings, Loose Chippings, Soft Margins, Slow Acute Bend Ahead, Revised Roadway Ahead.
Driving through Limerick we saw St John's Castle, also known as Limerick Castle. No time to stop, though, as we wanted to make it to Dublin by noon. The drive across Ireland was lovely. The roads were fairly good as we took the main road between Limerick and Dublin. However, once we got in Dublin, it was difficult to find our hotel, Jury's ChristChurch. The street names tend to change from one block to the next, so driving is basically an intuitive thing! We did stumble across the hotel, turned the corner and lucked upon a parking garage that was connected to the hotel. We zipped in, found a spot, checked in, and found our room. Jury's is pretty much a budget hotel chain in Ireland. But this one was right in the middle of where we wanted to be, so it sufficed. We had called them on the phone to make a reservation but were told it was fully booked. I got online and made a reservation, and that seemed to work as we got a room. One double bed and one rollaway! Not much room for anything else.
Then we set off to see the things we wanted to see in Dublin. First was ChristChurch (1172) across the street. I had read somewhere that Handel may have practiced the Messiah here, but that cannot be confirmed. We took a walking tour inside. What I found most interesting was that the crypt was open, and we got to walk down there. Then we took off walking for Trinity College. Mandy bought stamps on the way. We made it to the library at Trinity College and walked through the exhibit regarding the Book of Kells. At the far end of the exhibit in a darkened room were two of the books of Kells. http://www.tcd.ie/Library/visitor.htm One shows an example of text and the other shows an example of the graphics. Very impressive. Then we went upstairs to the Long Room. This long and impressive room houses 200,000 other old books and a harp which is the oldest to survive from Ireland, and probably dates from the fifteenth century.
Then we walked back through town on the way to the Guinness Showroom. We stopped for a quick lunch at a Greek place. Bill had a lamb kabob sandwich and I had a chicken sandwich. Not wonderful, but sustenance. The Guinness Storehouse was about 8 blocks from our hotel. Not a bad walk. http://www.guinnessstorehouse.com/# There were 7 floors to explore telling all about the making, packaging, and shipping of Guinness. On the 7th floor was the Gravity Bar, glass enclosed walls with a great 360 degree view of Dublin. There we got a free sample of Guinness. Mandy loves it. Bill and I think it is vile stuff!
We bought stuff in the gift shop. I found some neat Xmas gifts which made me happy! Then it was back to the room for a small rest before we headed to the Temple Bar area for dinner. We walked across the Ha Penny Bridge over the Liffey River. We looked at various restaurants, and Bill decided on the Osteria Antica Ar Vicoletto because of the spaghetti carbonara. I was not impressed. The waiters were rather abrupt and the food was not all that great. But it was food. I found an Internet Cafe in the Temple Bar area after dinner, and we all went in and logged on and got our email.
Then it was back to the room and to bed!
We were up at 7, had room coffee, showered, dressed, packed, checked out. We had a horrible time getting out of Dublin. The street signs were not useful, and the road we wanted, the Military Highway R115, was not prominent enough to warrant signs. So we spent about an hour wandering around til we finally got where we wanted. Driving in Ireland is very intuitive!
The Military Road R115 is an incredibly beautiful road that goes through the Wicklow Mountains south of Dublin. It is a spine of road, constructed by the government with a purely militaristic use in mind. It begins in Dublin and runs on down through the mountains to the Glen of Imaal in Wicklow. The total length of the road is about thirty five miles. This road is absolutely beautiful. The northern part goes through tree-lined countryside as it climbs up to the mountains. It is maybe a lane and a half wide, but we didn't encounter too much traffic. The first stop along the way was Powerscourt Waterfall. This waterfall is the highest in Ireland and Britain: 100m +. It was very beautiful and an enjoyable stop.
We continued on the Military road. It got higher and higher and soon it was just a wonderful vast expanse of heather and grass covered rounded peaks. It is truly lovely: one of my favorite sights in Ireland and well worth the drive!
We stopped to take photos at the head of the Glendalough Valley. It was breath-taking!! We headed on down to Glendalough and tried to stop for lunch at noon, but they didn't start serving until 12:30. So we headed on to the Monastic Settlement. St. Kevin established a monastery here in 600 AD. Most of the present buildings date from the 10th -12th centuries. The Round Tower was the first of many that we saw that has the door at least 10' off the ground. The community would use a ladder to scramble up into the tower and then pull the ladder up after them. We then drove on down a little farther to more monastic ruins. Luckily there was a take away shack there and we got some lunch. I had a hamburger, Bill had fish and chips, and Mandy had a veggie burger. Not too bad. Bill and Mandy hiked around the upper lake while I sat and looked at the splendid scenery.
Back on the road again. The Meeting of the Waters is situated in east county Wicklow and is approximately forty five miles from Dublin. It is a region rather than a village or town in which the River Avonmore and the River Avonbeg meet and is located in the beautiful Vale of Avoca. The area was made famous by Thomas Moore, who wrote a poem and a song about it. There is a monument dedicated to him at the Meeting of the Waters which is a significant tourist attraction.
We drove through Enniscorthy, a cute little town with its own castle. We were now driving to get as far along the coast road as we could before it was time to stop for the night. We drove through Waterford and past the crystal factory, but no time to stop. However, we could see some beautiful chandeliers in the showroom window. There was a lot of traffic which slowed us down.
At 6pm we had reached Dungarvan in County Waterford. Now we were staying at B&Bs. We had vouchers and a book of B&Bs. We found one called The Old Rectory. We never did make reservations at B&Bs, and we always found a place. This one was a very small room with 3 twin beds in it. No room for suitcases, so I just drug out what I needed and left the suitcase in the car.
We drove into Dungarvan which was on a bay. I changed some money and Bill and Mandy went to an ATM. We had drinks at our first pub, The Lady Belle. I had a pale ale, Mandy had her Guinness, and Bill had a whiskey. We wandered around the town looking at menus and finally settled on The Moorings. They were fully booked in the restaurant, so we ate in the pub area. Mandy had a vegetable lasagna, Bill had seafood chowder and mussels, and I had a steak, salad, and fries. It was filling but not outstanding. Back to the B&B and in bed by 10.
We were up at 7, showered, and had coffee in the room. Most of the B&Bs we stayed in had tiny bathrooms with even tinier showers. Most had no washcloths. But we seemed to manage. We went down for breakfast at 8:30. All of our B&Bs included a full Irish breakfast. This consisted of a buffet with cold cereal, orange juice on the table, and a hot breakfast: fried egg, 2 slices of bacon (more like Canadian bacon), 2 sausage links (these were very smooth sausages, almost like a pate), half a small tomato grilled, toast with various jellies, and a brown bread that was served everywhere. Mandy had either a poached egg or scrambled eggs. At this B&B, the proprietor had many photos of herself with Tiger Woods.
We were off at 9 and headed to our first destination: The Jameson Distillery in Midleton, County Cork. I really enjoyed this tour. It was a guided tour only. Whiskey has been distilled here since the 19th century, and the old works were opened to the public after the new works were built in 1974. We sat through a short movie first, and then toured the buildings. We had read in the guidebook that at the end of the tour, we got a sample of Jameson and that two volunteers were selected for a taste testing. Mandy was prepared and was the female selected along with a guy named Allan Gordon from Manchester England. They got 6 tastes of various whiskeys and a certificate proclaiming them official Jameson taste testers. Bill and Mandy both got some whiskey in the gift shop. And Bill bought a Jameson short sleeved shirt since it was much warmer than we had anticipated.
At 11:30 we were off again. 11 is way too early to be drinking whiskey! We made it to Blarney Castle at noon. It was an interesting castle tour. This castle was not reconstructed much, but was made accessible for tourists. We followed a line going through and up the castle. Most castles had narrow circular steps in each corner of the keep. It got rather claustrophobic at times. When we reached the top, we had to jump a cloth barrier to get out of line and not kiss the blarney stone. I think I would just as soon have kissed the floor in the NYC subway! On the way down, we followed a family that I didn't think would make it down. Mom had a babe in arms with two toddlers in front of her. Dad led the group down, but it was touch and go whether they would all make it down intact.
On the road again. We stopped at a Top gas station/store for bread, cheese, apples for lunch on the go. We stopped at the Drombeg Stone Circle. There was a trailer at the car park with a gift shop and a small one-room museum. Two teenagers gave a short talk on the circle. This circle dates from around 100 BC. No one is really sure what it was used for, but it was an interesting stop.
We drove through one of the prettiest towns, Glendore. We all would have liked to have spent more time there, but we didn't have the time. We did stop at Bantry to have a look and take some photos. It was an other lovely town, but we wanted to get further along before we stopped.
Between Bantry and Kenmare is the Caha Pass. The road goes along the ridge and is just incredibly beautiful. Unfortunately there were no turnouts to take photos. We reached Kenmare just about 6pm. We tried one B&B, but it was fully booked. We ended up at The Arbutus B&B which wasn't too bad. The room was much bigger than the night before (still the same small bathroom!). We then drove into Kenmare and had dinner at the Horsehoe. We barely made it into the dining room at 7, but we lucked out. We had ribs, salad, and chips. The dinner was excellent. Mandy had a vegetable stuffed philo dish with potatoes au gratin. For dinner I had a chocolate brandy mousse which was divine. It was a slice from a pie with lady fingers on the top and bottom and an almost candy like rich filling of chocolate and brandy. Mandy had a raspberry ice cream dish which was also excellent. We made it back to the room and to bed at 9.
Up at 6:45, showered, coffee in the room. We went down for breakfast at 8. This was the same breakfast except this time we had black and white pudding. This is a pork sausage. The black pudding has pork blood in it, and we all passed on that.
At 8:45 we left on our tour of the Ring of Kerry. This is a road that goes around the Iveragh Penisula in county Kerry. We drove it clockwise as most of the tour buses leave from Kilarney and go counter-clockwise. It was a beautiful drive. Our first stop was at Staigue Stone Fort. We then stopped at the Staigue Visitors Center which was in a hotel. It appeared closed, but a gentleman said that the lady in the hotel would open it for us, which she graciously did. She played a movie about the fort and we browsed the few exhibits that were there.
Continuing on the Ring of Kerry we came to Derrynane which had a beautiful beach. There were even a couple of people swimming there. Then it was on to Coomakesta Pass. There was a big parking area at the top which afforded beautiful views on both sides of the pass.
We picked up some more cheese and bread and had a picnic outside of Kells. In Milltown, I got a picture of just another lovely Irish town. On our way back to Limerick, we drove along the River Shannon which was very wide and beautiful. We stopped for a photo of the castle at Glin. Driving north of Limerick, there was a wide grassy path alongside the road with a dog-walking sign.
We arrived at Bunratty Castle at 3:50. The castle closed at 4:30, so we quickly toured the castle. This castle was restored and furnished. However, the flow of traffic was not good, and people were trying to come down the narrow circular stairs as others were trying to go up. We couldn't figure out how it worked when the castle was really crowded. Once the castle closed we wandered through Bunratty Folk Village. This is a reconstructed traditional Irish village. I went into a shop that sold lovely Irish lace and found a couple of Xmas gifts.
At 5:30 we began the search for a B&B. Many of them near Bunratty had no vacancy signs out. We finally stopped at one, and the guy told us to try across the street at the Manderly B&B. There was a vacancy and we took it. This had the largest room we had stayed in yet, almost hotel room size, but still the tiny bathroom. We dropped our luggage off and went back to Durty Nelly's next to Bunratty Castle. We had beer on the patio where we heard the end of some local music. We had a delightful chat with a gentleman who has been a stone mason at Bunratty for years. Finally at 8, he had to go meet his wife, and we had to order some food before they stopped serving. I had some more wonderful vegetable soup and a grilled salmon and cheese sandwich. I like the ham, cheese, and onion version much better. Bill had chowder and fish and chips. Mandy had a veggie and cheese melt.
Once again we were back to the B&B and in bed around 9.
We were up at 6:20, showered, coffee, pack - usual routine. We had breakfast, but this time we had a choice to get some waffles. We all did and were sorry. They were just toaster waffles.
We got Mandy to the airport in about 15 minutes and made sure she was all checked in. Then we left her and started the trip back to Dublin. This time we took a more northern route to see some sights along that way. At 10, we stopped in Loughrea for a break and fed some ducks on the lake. At 11 we were at Clonmacnoise monastic site. It overlooks the River Shannon and has many buildings that are in fairly good shape. We toured the site and then watched a movie on the site. Before we left, we had lunch in the lunchroom attached to the visitor's center. I had vegetable soup and a slice of quiche. The soup was standard. They seem to puree it all so that it is a fairly smooth consistency but very tasty!
From there it was on to Trim Castle. We arrived at 2:30 and took the 3:15 45-minute tour of the castle. This was not restored, but accessibility had been created by the use of bridges built from one side to the other and special stairs. It rather reminded me of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter movie.
At 4 we headed on the Newgrange. We arrived at the visitor's center at 4:45 and all the tours that day were filled. They weren't taking any reservations for the next morning, but we were told to show up about 9. We did go through the visitors center and watched a 7 minute artsy movie. So we were ready for the tour in the morning. Bill asked at the accommodations desk about a B&B. They called around and found one for us. She kind of got her wires crossed because she told us we needed to get right over there. When we reached Bondique B&B, the proprietor told us that she had told the chick to tell us to go for dinner before we headed up there. She told us that today had been the All-Ireland Finals in Dublin, and that County Armagh in Northern Ireland had just beaten County Kerry. Kerry had won 32 times previously but this was Armagh's first win. Therefore, everyone would be headed through the area in a great mood and stopping in various pubs along the way to celebrate. She directed us to Daly's Pub in Donore, which was back by the Newgrange visitor's center 7 miles away. There was a couple from New Zealand who were checking in with us that also made it back there.
So off we went to Daly's. We were given a table, but it looked iffy at first. There were some Armagh players in the pub, and while we were eating, it appeared that the coach came in as he was given some grand applause. I had some fried brie with a fruit sauce that was quite good. Bill had fried mushrooms. I ordered Steak Gemini which turned out to be a very small filet with pepper sauce and a small pork filet with a cream sauce. It was quite good. Bill ordered a 12 oz steak that looked like it was 3 lbs! But it was good, too!
We made it back to the B&B at 8:45 and were soon in bed.
Up at 6:45, showered, coffee, dressed, packed. At 8:45 we left for the Newgrange visitors center. We bought tickets for the Newgrange tour only which left at 9:30. Normally there are 24 people on the tour, but for our tour there were just 4 of us. A bus took us from the visitors center to the Newgrange site. We had a 10 minute talk outside the tomb and then went inside for about 20 minutes. Newgrange is a huge dirt mound with a tunnel that goes in about half way with 3 side rooms off the middle. They are not sure what it was used for, but it was built about 5000 years ago.
The passage is built in such a way that every Dec 21st, the sun rising shines right into the passage into the center of the tomb. Bill got us all started by laying his head on the ground and looking back down the passage to the opening. We could all see light. Once outside we had about 20 minutes to tour the outside of the tomb.
At 11 we headed back across Ireland for Kilarney. We stopped for gas, bread, cheese, and cokes. We made it through Dublin this time without too much trouble.
At 3 when we arrived in Kilarney, Bill was pooped from driving so many miles in so many days. We checked into Chutehall, the best B&B or our trip.
We took our luggage up, rested a few minutes, and then walked into Kilarney town. We stopped to have a drink at Laurel's Pub. The food looked good, but Bill wanted a real table and chairs, so we went next door to the Laurel's restaurant to eat. Now, the guidebook said that this pub catered to the "tourist bus crowd", but we found a lot of locals there and it was not crowded and was pleasant. I finally got to try some Irish Stew which was excellent as long as I didn't think it was lamb I was eating. Bill had kind of a croquette thing made of potatoes with chicken and mushrooms inside. While we were eating, we heard Dixieland music coming from the street. It was 3 guys on a large Guinness trailer being pulled around town. The waitress said it was probably to cheer up the residents because they had lost the All-Irish finals. However, she said they were all pleased that it was to Armagh that had never won before. She said "the lads" ie, the team, were due into town at 9 that night. After dinner (which was quite good) we walked down the street. I found a wonderful shop where I got quite a few Xmas presents. As we made our way back towards the B&B, we walked by a large public parking lot which said no parking any time that day. There was a stage set up at one end with 3 Irish musicians playing to a crowd of about 100. Along the street were mimes, jugglers, a guy on stilts. So we wandered in to look. We found that the team was to arrive at 9 at this car park. The crowd kept growing. There were lots of people carrying the Kerry flag (yellow and green) and lots of people in Kerry jerseys. At 9, fireworks went off and the team arrived on the top of a double decker bus preceded by several marching bag pipers. There must have been about 1000 people there by then. We listened to the start of the speeches and then decided we had best head back to the B&B. Once again we fell into bed exhausted.
Up at 7 to the usual shower, coffee, pack. We went down for breakfast at 8:30. Same breakfast, but this time on the cereal buffet were yogurt and bananas. We left at 9 and drove to Killarney National Park. We went first to Ross Castle, but it was not open yet. This castle looked like most of the others that we have seen except its setting was on a beautiful lake. We did see one cute cat wondering the castle grounds. She came up and was very friendly.
From there we went to Muckross House. We were intrigued, so we went in and took the tour. We bought a beautiful tour book about the house for only $3.15. The great thing about this house was that we got to tour it on our own. We could go at our own pace. No one else seemed to have purchased the book which we both found strange, as it contained all kinds of wonderful information about each room.
After that tour, we wandered through the informal, but expansive, gardens. Then it was back in the car and the drive up to the Ladies View of the 3 lakes in the park. The view was lovely and there was a gift shop/tea shop across the street. We got Irish coffees (our first in Ireland) and watched the view. It was an incredibly beautiful day once again! We drove on beyond on the road to Kenmare to Moll's Pass. On our way back into Killarney, we stopped at the Torc Waterfall which was nice but not nearly as impressive as the one at Powerscourt.
We stopped back in town to reserve our B&B back at the Manderly in Bunratty near the airport. Bill didn't want to fuss with it and have to worry about getting there right on time. Right next door to the tourist association was an Internet Cafe, so we sat down for an hour. Then we went to the grocery across the street for more cheese, drinks, and Bill got a chicken avocado sandwich which turned out to be the best buy. In an environmentally sound decision, all plastic bags cost 15cents. However, we were willing to pay for them as trash bags.
On the drive back to Limerick and on to Bunratty, we stopped in Adare. This is a cute town with some houses with thatched roofs. We parked and walked around. There was a beautiful park and across the street an interesting church ? The Trinitarian monastery. It was originally built by the Fitzgerald Clan for the Trinitarian order of monks in the early 13th century. This order of friars was founded in France, with the main purpose of raising ransom money in order to rescue Christian captive taken, by the Moors, during the crusade wars. Bill found this very interesting. We also went into one of the gift shops across the street. The interesting thing there was a letter posted on the wall in the back. It was a thank-you from a tourist who left his credit card in the shop. The owner chased down the bus and returned his credit card!
Then it was on to Bunratty and the Manderly B&B. The owner recommended Kathleen?s Irish Pub in the Bunratty Hotel. We went there for dinner. It was okay but nothing special. I just had some wonderful mushroom soup and some vegetables. For desert I got a wonderful pear/apple crisp. Bill had chowder, a bacon(pork chop) cabbage dish and an Irish whiskey cheesecake. We had a view of Bunratty Castle as we ate. Then it was back to the B&B to pack for the return home.