Open the Map and find a tiny green island next to the United Kingdom. This is a must see destination for anyone who loves unspoiled landscapes, history and adventure. My family traveled to Ireland in August of 2014 when I was 11 years old. My late grandfather, affectionately known as PopPop, and his wonderful traveling companion Betsy joined us. We did not book a formal tour. My mother did lots of research and planned a driving trip that took us through the southern half of country.
We flew into Dublin and picked up our rental cars at the airport. My dad and Betsy had to quickly adjust their old habits to drive on the “wrong” side of the road and on the “wrong” side of the car. Dublin is a large and bustling city with lots to see and do. We oriented ourselves with a city tour on the Hop On/ Hop Off bus. We visited Trinity College and the Book of Kells, the Guinness Storehouse, Dublin Castle, St. Patrick’s cathedral and Christ Church Cathedral. The best food is pub food is The Stag Head Pub next to Dublin Castle which was especially good.
We departed Dublin and drove south to Wicklow to watch the oldest regatta in Europe. Despite it being late summer, it was really cold and windy on the beach. Be prepared and pack a jacket! We then ventured on to Glendalough. Now just stone ruins, it was once a monastery set in a valley. Our next stop was Kinsale, a charming coastal town thriving with summer tourists to enjoy the sailing, shops and many restaurants.
Our next long stay was in Cork, famous for once being the butter capital of the world. Cork is admittedly not the prettiest city but its location provided a home base for us. We stayed at this quirky little bed and breakfast mainly because it had a car park for our two vehicles. It was not the Ritz, to say the least, but we laughed at the many oddities and the breakfast was really tasty and hearty. One night my mother popped up and said “Who is up? Get back in bed!” However no one was up and the loud lumbering footsteps in our room left us all musing we had a ghost!
From our stay in Cork we went to Blarney Castle. Most people know of Blarney and the tourists who line up to kiss the famed Blarney Stone. Did you know you had to lay on your back and be suspended over a high opening at the top to kiss it upside down? But the real magic of Blarney is its grounds and gardens. They were magnificent. There was a poison garden, a giant fern garden and even a witch’s grotto which was a spooky cave in the trunk of an ancient tree. We also went to Killarney to start our drive around the Ring of Kerry. Tip: Drive counter-clock wise so you are not looking at the back end of a tour bus your entire journey. The Ring of Kerry takes all day to drive but you will feel like you have been through every possible ecosystem. There are sheep everywhere. Some in the road. We rolled down the windows and said “baah” only to have them look up and “baah” right back at us, thoroughly annoyed at the tourists ruining their lunch of green grass.
Our next stop was in near Shannon in County Clare at what was the opposite of our quirky Cork B & B: Dromoland Castle. What a posh and beautiful place this was. Huge and fancy rooms, five star service and food, five star everything! The grounds were stunning with many manicured and colorful gardens, an 18 hole golf course, a pool and spa and our favorite: a Falconry School. We all went on what is called a Hawk Walk. A trainer and his hawk took us deep in the lush forests and we were allowed to go falconing and learn how these raptors were used not only for hunting small prey like rabbit, but in war they were trained to kill homing pigeons taking messages back to the king from the battlefields. They were even last used for that purpose in WWII. Dromoland Castle is a short drive to the stunning Cliffs of Moher on the west coast. The rocks seem to come straight up for hundreds of feet from the ocean and Puffins can be seen flying all around. The view of the sea from the top of the cliffs seems to go on forever.
Before returning to Dublin to fly home we stopped in County Tipperary to tour the Rock of Cashel. Just ruins now it was also a monastery, like Glendalough, that had been ravaged by soldiers and the monks brutally murdered. It is a solemn place and a reminder of the brutality our ancestors faced just to practice their religion.
We flew home from Dublin and experienced something new at the airport: U.S. Customs before the flight to the States. Tip: Get there early because Immigration will do passport control in Dublin, not the United States. There is some reciprocity between our two countries that allows for this, but some travelers were caught off guard at the long line before their flights and barely had enough time to board their planes (like us).
Our trip to Ireland was one of the best travels I have ever taken. The country was so beautiful and green. No wonder it’s called the Emerald Isle. The many castles and ruins never got boring because each had their own remarkable history. It is a country you can navigate on your own and do not need a tour group. The people who live in Ireland really do have good luck! So Open the Map! Find Ireland and plan to put it on your bucket list!