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Trip Report Back from Ireland 8/8 - 8/18 with a tan (trip report)

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Wanted to provide some highlights on our trip since I leant a lot from reading other reports before my tirp. Our itinerary was the following -

8/8 - arrive Belfast, drive the causeway coastal route and overnight at Bayview hotel in Portballintrae
8/9 - see sights and drive on to Donegal with overnight at Harvey's point hotel on Lake Eske
8/10 - see Sleive League and head on through Sligo overnight Temple House, Ballinacarrow
8/11 - drive the coastal route, see Achill island and overnight Westport at Hotel Westport
8/12 - drive the route through Louisburgh, Leenaun and Clifden w/overnight at Galway, Hotel July's Inn
8/13 - See the Cliffs of Moher and head on to Dingle overnight Dingle Skellig Hotel
8/14 - Slea head drive, Dingle
8/15 - 8/16 - Killarney, The Europe Hotel and Resort
8/17 Drive to Shannon, opernight Oak Wood Arms Hotel
8/18 fly back.

Trip from Newark to Belfast was uneventful. Landed and rented our car (booked in advance) from Budget. We had rented automatic (Expensive) with a GPS. The GPS adds to the cost but we were so glad we did that....we worth the 10 pounds a day in our opinion. I would recommend Budget based on my experience. The guys at the rental agency told us we were extremely luckly since they had experienced a couple weeks of rainy weather and this was the first clear day in some time. As my title indicates we got very lucky with the weather particularly the first week of our vacation .. pretty much sunny skies and mid 60s throughout the day. We were somewhat surprised by the late sunsets...it seemed like we could do more than we anticipated.

We then headed out of the city and took the Causeway route/A2 via Carrickfergus, Larne, Glenariff, Cushendall. If I was to do this again I would take the A2 directly to Larne to save on time. We took a lunch break in Cushendall at a lovely pub/restaurant with a sunroom but I forget the name. Folks were really friendly and the food was good. At Cushendun A2 heads inland but we take the Torr road (narrow and steep but excellent views all around). We eventually get to Ballycastle and head on to Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. At this point the hubby is quite grumpy....as I expected this is a long ride after the red eye flight. We get to the rope bridge just in time. The walk from the parking lot is about 1/2 a mile and very scenic and enjoyable in good weather. The walk across the bridge and back took about an hour in total. Amazing experience and a must for anyone going to N. Ireland. Next we drove on to Bayview Hotel in Portballintrae (a nice beach town). Our room had lovely views of the beach below and the view from thier restaurant is outstanding. Good food but its a busy restaurant (make reservations in advance). They also have some benches across the street which are prefect for drinks after a long day of driving. To be continued....

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    Day 2 - We headed over to Bushmills and the Giant causeway - interlocking basalt columbs formed millions of years ago by volcanic eruptions. My husband was impressed with the scenerary as was I. However, I felt the whole thing set up was a bit too touristy, more so than the rope bridge (huge information center, audio guides, buses etc...) which takes away a bit from the whole experience. Next on to Dunluce Castle ruins. Again, not to be missed if in N. Ireland...spectacularly situated on a cliff with sharp drop offs. A lot of history and I actaully enjoyed the visitor center here. From there a quick ride got us over to White Rock Beach near Portrush...nice but not a must in my opinion if running short on time. Onto Donnegal...drive was fine on main highways for the most part. The town has a busy center sqare...we eat lunch at the Marketplace (good sandwiches/service). Took a quick look at Donnegal castle before heading over to Harveys on Lake Eske. This was the day of our 15 yr anniversary and I had decided to splurge. Lovely hotel and great first impression. Our room was fantastic and the bathroom even better. Definately the best room of our trip and likely one of the prettiest ones we're ever stayed at. They called after we arrived to confirm that we liked the room!! We drove over to the Hotel Solis Castle Hotel on Lake Eske (a friend who grew up in Donegal recommended we do so). I had initially tried to get a room there but they were fully booked. The castle itself is pretty but the hotel is not on the lake so I was glad the way things worked out. Service was slow and drinks were very pricey. Back to Harveys where we enjoyed the patio area overlooking the beautiful lake. Headed on to the restaurant for dinner. Great experience, service, views, food etc...I highly recommend this hotel to anyone visiting Donegal.

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    Day 3 - On our way to Sleive League. Per advice from a fodors member we stopped by killybegs tourist office to get good directions. They told us to take the coastal road when we see Blue Haven Hotel on the right. They also handed us some written directions that were helpful once we got to Carrick. The coastal route is beautiful (although narrow in certain parts) so do take it instead of going directly to on the main highway Sleive League. As others have said previously, at the bottom of Bunglass you can open the gate to the upper car park...it would be a long walk and the road is relatively safe to drive up (I was a bit nervous based on what I had read but was pleasantly surprised to note its well paved and wider than I expected). Sleive league is simply spectacular...I would say one of the top highlights of our entire trip...my husband and I were thrilled to be experience the sights on a sunny day. We hiked up the steps which gets you to an even better view....we could have gone up all the way to the top but at this point it was getting later than expected so we opted to end our hike a little past the end of the steps. On our way back down we encountered 7 or 8 RVs trying to park at the lower parking lot...it was a traffic jam ....we managed to get out but felt bad for others parked at the top since the RV guys (looked like they were travelling as a group) were completely unorganized and were blocking everyone trying to get in or out.
    Back to Donegal and on towards Sligo...the sight of Ben Bulben was awesome. We stopped Drumcliff, the burial place of W B Yeats. Its right off the main highway so cant be missed. It also has a round tower from the 10th or 11the century along with a nice coffee/sov shop where we picked up some nice books for my daughter. On to Mullaghmore and a quick peak at the beach (nice but was crowded whne we visited). We stopped by Rosses point and saw the memorial for lost sailors. The beach itself was crowded but the views especially of the bay were lovely. Lastly we decided to go by Carrowmore megalithic tombs since this was on our way to the hotel. Unfortunately the place closes at 6 pm so we could not go by the tombs. The area itself is very peaceful and I would have loved to spend some time learning more about the site...I satisfied myself by taking a few pictures from a distance. Next on to Temple house...Unfortunately the GPS failed us here and took us someone's home. The friendly husband working in the yard came by and gave us directions on how to get to Temple house...(we later learnt that we had to type in templehouse as one word for the gps coordinates to work)....temple house is a few miles on counrty roads outside of town and we almost missed it again...luckily we had slowed down to get our bearings and noted the sign on a gate indicated we had reached our destination. As you can tell we prefer hotels/inns over b&bs but I wanted to try out temple house since it looked unique. Our welcome was a bit odd...the sign by the door says that since its a big house we should wait 5 min after ringing the doorbell for someone to come get us!!!OK so we rang the doorbell and no one came for some time...rang it again...finally my husband had to get the cooks attention who came and opened the door...at this point after the long ride it took us to find this place and the interesting reception we were a bit concerned. The place is a guest house on an old georgian mansion....very intersting history...the room was large with some antique furniture (sorry not really our thing). Once we went downstairs for dinner things got much better. We really enjoyed chatting with the other guests (couple from Dublin with thier daughter, a german couple on their 7th trip to ireland and a couple from N Carolina). The meal was excellent and our conversations continued to almost midnight...we talked politics, the euro, ecomomic conditions in europe/america, sports, travellin on and on...it was wonderful. We departed the next day like old friends.

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    Sorry, its been a very busy couple weeks at work and home and didnt get a chance to post..
    The next morning our innkeeper Roderick recommended we check out Ceide Fields on our way to Achill Island. Not on my initial itinerary but since we had time we decided to check it out. Ceide Fields is a neolithic site...oldest known stone fields in the world (dates back to 6,000 yrs). It is wildly beautiful. I am so glad we took the detour to Achill..well worth it. Onwards towards Achill...some nice scenery along the way. Achill and particularly the Atlantic drive was fantastic (probably my top 3 fav/scenic experience of the whole trip). The road is well paved and the scenery is simply stunning. We checked out Keem bay beach. On to Westport for the night at Westport Inn. We really enjoyed Westport...very captivating....nice mix of the pub scene, shopping, old world charm and good restaurants. We had a wonderful italian meal at Solrio (they were very busy but the service was very attentive and the food very good). On to Matt Malloys...loved the atmosphere and the music...cozy...met a variety of folks...again an experience not to be missed.

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    Weather still looking great...we head out of Westport the next morning. The scenery out of Westport towards Louisburgh with Clew Bay on the right and the Croagh Patrick on the left is fantastic...we keep stopping to take pictures. But it keeps getting better...the drive from Louisburgh to Leenane is in my husbands words 'out of this world'...magnificient landscape particularly in the Doolough valley. Past Leenane on N59 is Klyemore Abbey and Gardens. This has to be the most scenic girls hostel anywhere...the gardens are worth a stop as well. On to Clifden and the sky road drive. Pretty coastline but based on everything I had read I was expecting more and felt a bit underwhelmed (particularly after all that we had already experienced earlier in the day). I'm sure others may not agree...We took the coastal round via Roundstone on to Galway. Scenic views of Dogs bay along the way. Overall a wonderful wonderful day...we will definitely spend more time in this region the next time we visit Ireland.

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    Thanks for the report so far. There are some of the best drives on the island north of Galway and few tourists take advantage. The Sky Rd in Clifden is best driven from Clifden down under the coastguards station and Back towards Clifden on the High road past the viewing point. Avoids the boring part past the seaweed bays. The Bog Road over Roundstone Bog is one of my regular recommendations but you need to spend time in the area to see even a little.

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    tpayt - yes certainly came back w/a tan...we got about 8 days of sunshine out of 10. We were in the car or in the open for atleast 6-7 hours a day...so grateful for the weather.

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    Ok apologize to those reading the report for such a long break. Will try to wrap it up tonight.
    On to Galway..our first evening of pouring rain. We checked in to Jury's Inn...thank god for the GPS. The parking entrance was closed and I had to run in and the receptionist explained how to get to the back entrance. We were right by the spanish arch. We ventured out in the rain and eat at Kumar's (indian restaurant). Not bad...cozy atmosphere.
    We tried several pubs on Quay street....I was very disappointed...not the same cozy feeling or jamming sessions we experienced in Westport at Malloys. We ended up at Monroes which was better but not great.
    Next morning was cloudy...we made our way to the cliffs of moher. Today was going to be a long day since the plan was to end up in Dingle by evening. We took the shortest way to the cliffs and didnt drive through the Burren (it was drizzling on and off). By the time we got to the cliffs the sky cleared and we had amazing views. We walked over by the path and saw some extremely stupid folks standing way too close to the edge. This is a huge tourist spot so do try to get there early in the day or after the tour buses are gone. We spent a good hour plus here. On to Dingle...passed some very pretty towns (Lahinch looked gorgeous....next trip we will spend a couple days here especially since the hubby golfs...). Overall County Claire is pretty...I was pleasantly surpised by how scenic the drive was..the ferry across Killimer was convinient. The scenery past Tralee kept getting better...we took N86 down to Dingle (not the Connor pass). I kept telling the hubby to pull over to take snap shots....the scenery is completely different from the North....rolling green hills dotted with Sheep tumbling to the blue sea...I was so glad we were going to spend two nights in Dingle. We checked into Dingle Skellig Hotel (a friend had recommended the place). The grounds overlooking the lake are gorgeous and the service very very good. We went into town for a bite...again can't remember the name but the decor/atmosphere/food was very good...we came back again for some trad music and were not disappointed. The next day was slea head drive...one word summarizes it all - AWESOME. Dunbeg Fort was wonderful...the audio/visual was done well...the scenery great...next the Beehive huts...the coastline is breathtaking...every bend leads to more views...I think we pulled over every 5 min...for folks looking to do the slea head drive my recommendation is do not rush it...its in my opintion the very best that Ireland has to offer...the blasket islands are beautiful...we didnt take time for the museum...there is a wonderful tea shop overlooking Slea head which we stopped by to enjoy the awe inspiring scenery. We also saw signs for tours to the blasket island and inquired by the pier (would have taken too long) but do take a detour and walk down the path for some spectacular views. Lastly the three sisters and sleeping giant (what a view...make sure to pull over)...and Gallarus oratory (dates back to the 7th or 8th century). Lovely lovely lovely...I am so thankful we had clear skies. Decided to drive Connors pass...that was a bit scary for me...particularly the narrow parts but I gritted my teeth and let my husband concentrate on the road. Views were nice...we carried towards Brandon point...again it was very scenic. On the way we had wonderful views of Castlegregory beach (another town on put on the list for a repeat visit...it looked off the tourist path...just the way we like it). At one of the pullovers I saw a pod of 4 dolphins (atleast thats what they looked like from way above). It was only for a quick 15 sec...then we couldnt see them anymore. The drive back was uneventful except we saw a camper coming in the opposite direction on Conners pass...signs all over the place that rec vehicles are not allowed on the road but obviously he chose to ignore the signs...in anycase he was smart enough to pull over so we could pass.
    We were going to go to town again but decided to enjoy dinner at the hotel restaurant overlooking the gorgeous views...great move...the meal was fantastic. After dinner we enjoyed a wonderful walk by the lake/bay. They have many cozy parlors to enjoy an after dinner drink or late tea...One thing to note is that this hotel is Very popular with families so if you don't like kids...stay away.

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    Next couple days were Killarney and The Europe hotel. It rained pretty much the whole afternoon...we still managed to cover Ross castle, Muckross house and Torc waterfalls before checking into the hotel. What a hotel...beautiful lobby overlooking louch leane...spectacular location and have to give it 5 stars. Wonderful room w/the best views. The common areas are very very tastefully done...the library I enjoyed immensely. The pool/spa area to die for (we made time for this both days). They had a huge conference going on the same time we were there but they seemed to handle the crowd quite well. Dinner was excellent. Next day was cloudy...rain expected around noon...I wanted to do the Beare penn today...Made it to Kenmare and no rain so we continued on on R571 towards Tousist. The views by Cloone lakes were nice...Made it to Eyeries (no rain still)...again some nice views and it got prettier still by Allihies and for a while past the town. Because of the weather we decided not to continue on to Dursey island and drove on instead to Castletownbere. Again some nice views...past Castletown all the way up to Glengarriff I have to say I was simply not impressed. Overall my impression of Beara is that although pretty in a rugged way it does not hold a candle to Dingle. Sorry for those who love Beara but either the weather had something to do with it or the fact that we had been wowed by so much scenery for the past 9 days....It was now past 3pm and no rain so we Garinish island/gardens (although I had not planned on it). The highlight were the seals we saw along the way on the ferry over. Had lunch and picked up some soveniers in Glengarriff. The drive from Glengarriff on to Kenmare had some nice scenery including the Caha pass. Back at the hotel and pool/spa dinner etc. We enjoyed the views of the mountains/lake from the outdoor jacuzzi...heavenly. The next morning we woke up to clear skies and took some more pics around the hotel grounds....enjoyed the scenery some more from their restaurant before checking out. Since we had clear skies we hit the Gap of Dunloe. The buggy ride was nice but if you have time its easily walkable. Nice views and a great way to end the trip. Our last night was in Shannon...On the way we went through Ardare (was not planning on it but it happened to be on the way and we stopped for a bit). Enjoyed the gardens at the village park..the beautiful abbey/church. Nice place with a lot of history (castle etc) but was very crowded...lots of traffic. On to Shannon for the night. We stayed at oakwood arms hotel (not bad for the price and very convinient to the airport etc).

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    To summarize - Wonderful trip...exceeded my expectations. I spent hours and hours nailing down my itinerary but it was well worth it. There is a lot to see and do so set your expectations accordingly and you will not be disappointed. I know we got extremely lucky with the weather and it might not have turned out so amazing had it rained everyday. I was happy with the hotels for the most part. The food certainly exceeded my expectations. The meat particulary the ham tastes entirely fresh and diff than the stuff we get here. The people...I have never experienced such friendliness (what an entirely diff experience than the attitude we experienced in Italy and even Switzerland to a certain extent)...
    What would I do different - not much ... maybe skip Galway. We did skip around the country some but it helped me get a good feel for the places I would want to come back and visit. Pls feel free to ask me any qns.

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    Thanks for sharing your experience in so much detail. I am starting to plan our first trip to Ireland and this is very helpful. Hats off to you for crossing the rope bridge - I'm terrified of heights and saw one photo of that bridge and decided that would not be on our itinerary. Am thinking the same of Connor Pass! Were there a lot of narrow cliff roads and mountain passes to navigate on the overall trip? If so, a private driver may be in order for us.

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    Hi Pugtraveler, the trick to crossing the rope bridge is to not look down. If you are going to be in N. Ireleand then even if you decide not to cross the bridge I would stop by and do a short hike just to enjoy the stunning views. You won't miss out on much if you don't cross the bridge.
    If you dont like heights then you should avoid Connor Pass. Actually similar to you I am scared of heights as well...lucky for me my hubby did all the driving and all I had to concentrate on was to not freak out!!! I was somewhat pleasantly surprised by most of the roads...in good condition and generally wide enough. Exceptions that come to mind are Connors pass, the last section of the road right before Brandon point, and the coastal section of the road to Sleive League from Teelin. That road was completely isolated (no oncoming traffic) but certainly narrow. If you stick to the main highway to Carrick and on to Sleive league, the road is not too bad. Parts of Torr road are a bit narrow but generally traffic is in one direction so its ok.

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    I agree with the rope bridge - fantastic views, one of the best parts of the North, even if you don't cross the bridge.

    Conor Pass is not, indeed, for the faint of heart, but it is spectacular. I love Dingle, I agree it's prettier than Beara, but I think Beara is better than Kerry - and much less crowded. Again, we had a gloomy day on Beara, but it was still lovely.

    I'm glad you had a lovely trip! We drove through Galway and decided not to stop overlong. We prefer the villages in Ireland to the cities, though some have their attractions to visit, of course.

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    Great report and I'm so glad you had such a good time too! I have walked across the rope bridge myself--and I was in my 60's at the time--and heights are NOT my favorite thing but I really wanted to do it and experience the great views. However, like it has been said, the view is there for all to see, regardless of crossing the rope bridge. Traveling with a younger crowd can sometimes be a help AND a hindrance!

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