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Trip Report IRELAND - the driving is great: east to west, south to north!

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I'm sitting in the dining room of our hotel in Northern Ireland, waiting for the family to come down and enjoying some tea. I thought it would be a good time to start my trip report.

My husband, daughter and I left the USA 10 days ago with the intention of driving a circular route around southern Ireland. Our son who goes to Boston University is spending the summer doing an internship in Dublin so the plan was to pick him up in Dublin and go to the west for the first weekend. He would go back to Dublin for the week and meet us somewhere down south for our second weekend. We planned to take him back Sunday in time for us to leave for the states on Monday. Overall, this plan worked well for all of us, although DS wasn't too interested in our second weekend plans which caused a major change for us, all for the best!

We stayed in a combination of B&Bs and hotels, a total of 6 different places and 10 nights, a first for us. We had packed well and didn't have much luggage to lug around, and stayed in two of the places for more than 1 night. We had a great time talking to the proprietors, a wonderful way to get to know about the culture and day to day living of people here. We got great information from them and really enjoyed this part of our traveling.

I have to admit I wasn't as excited to come to Ireland as I have been for other trips we've taken. I had been here before as a student and it was nice, but of course I didn't know about travel forums back them (actually there wasn't Internet then anyway :( ) so with a bit of planning this time, although nowhere as much as usual, I was amazingly surprised at what a wonderful trip it turned out to be!

There aren't too many people who responded to my posts before my trip - i guess many people don't read about Ireland - but I thank those who did chime in for their input. We were able to follow most of that advice...so thanks!

So there is my intro. I'll try not be too detailed!

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    We loved our trips to Ireland and I usually comment on posts and try to help. We just returned from Europe and I guess I was in the planning for that and missed responding to your previous posts.

    That said, it sounds like an interesting trip and I'll be following along with interest.

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    We enjoyed our trip to and through Ireland. We did have a problem when we were driving in a Gaeltacht area, though. We were totally lost, and since the sign were in Gaelic only, we couldn't find our way out.

    We were saved when we spotted a truckdriver, who turned out to be Polish. We followed him as he drove like a bat out of hell, and we finally found our way.

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    Peg...getting lost was one of favorite parts of our trip! We saw some beautiful countryside that way! The exception to that was our last day when we were in a time crunch. Getting lost would not have been an option, but the GPS (it was unexpectedly in our second car...more to follow on that) was a big help...otherwise, the truck driver option would have worked for us too!

    Labattlovr....I hope I have some good ideas for you! We did such a huge variety that I'm sure you'll find something.

    And everyone else...glad you're along for the ride!

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    I'm in Zurich airport now on the way home :( . Started my first entry in Dublin but apparently lost the whole thing. Let's hope it works this time!

    Our trip started out so easily from PA to Dublin via Newark airport. I found a park and fly lot online and we have yet to see if the car is in one piece when we return later today. (If you have been following my "fiat is a lemon" thread you'll know we want it in good shape to get our money back, which will be happening this week!) We took Air Canada and there was no problem. The funny part was when the flight attendant sweetly asked, "would you care to join us for dinner?" instead of the gruff "chicken or beef?" demand. That was nice but the food was barely edible. Didn't matter though...at least I wasn't cooking and we were on the way to Ireland!

    Taking Air Canada was done to save money, of course, and to do that we went through Toronto. That is one beautiful airport! Rows and rows of tables with hundreds of iPads, all free to use. You can order food and track the status of your flight just while sitting there. It even notifies you when it's a half hour to boarding, asking you if you would like tea or coffee in the meantime.

    We arrived in Dublin on time and picked up our car from Dan Dooley, as recommended on Fodors. Also recommended was a automatic car, which we decided to do. Costly yes, but with driving on the opposite side, narrow twisty roads, mountain driving, and especially the amount of driving we knew we would be doing (LOTS!), we thought it would be worth it. Good decision although I have to say the driving took no time to master. One practice trip around the parking lot and we were good to go.

    By the way, I paid in advance for two drivers and they tried to charge me again so just always double check all charges no matter who you rent through! They also put an extra charge of 110 euros on the credit card, to be reimbursed if you bring the car back full.

    We drove to DCU, Dublin University University, luckily not far from the airport, killed some time by taking a 1/2 hour nap in a parking lot and met our son at the appointed time. DS is in Dublin for a summer internship and we planned our trip over two weekends so he could travel with us between working.

    Getting away from Dublin took some time due to construction but soon we were on our way through beautiful green fields, stone walls, castles, churches, sheep and cows...and narrower and narrower roads. Going west...destination Doolin, south of Galway.

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    DOOLIN

    Doolin is a tiny Irish town on the coast. What struck me is the small proportion of buildings to land. Sweeping open landscape as far as we could see out to the water.

    We arrived out to our B&B, the Roadford House, without directions, but it was not hard to find. It was about a 5 minute drive to the main strip of shops out by the harbor, but only a short walk to two of the 3 well known pubs. We loved the set up of our rooms. We had a separate entrance to our family room...two separate rooms and a large bathroom upstairs with a half bath on the main floor. Very nice for four people. We had to get used to the lock...had to lift up on the door handle to turn the key. The rooms were very pretty and everything was spotlessly clean. The proprietor was warm and helpful and we would stay there again. Even better was that this B&B had a restaurant. We decided to eat there with the 24 euro 2 course special (had to arrive before 6:45) and it was delicious. I started with a Thai fish chowder and it was out of this world! Completely full of fish but with a non-spicy light coconut curry soup base. I'm salivating just thinking of it. I followed that with a steak and that was perfect as well. It was good to have a wonderful meal after all the driving.

    Wanting to conquer our jet lag, we asked for suggestions of what to do and were directed to the Cliffs of Moher drive at the top of the cliffs. Marian suggested this as the visitor center was closed and we could avoid the crowds (and parking fee). It was about a 15 minute drive and a beautiful evening and we enjoyed the walk along the trails, looking over the cliffs and at the castle perched at the top. Definitely a nice introduction to the cliffs.

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    Back in the US on my way home. Feeling a bit punchy since my body keeps telling me it's almost 5 am. Sleep would be so nice now.

    Thanks to anyone who has commented. It's sure a lot easier to write a TR when I know people are reading and/or appreciating it. More tomorrow!

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    flpab - not the only way, as you will read soon, but a beautiful way! We so prefer to see places without the crowds and there must have been only half a dozen other people there with us. As a matter of fact, looking at my pictures of that evening, there are no other people in them and I didn't try to do that except for a couple of shots by the castle. The days are so long in Ireland. Even after dinner, it's still light out until 10:30. When I woke up early, even at 4:30 am, it was starting to get light. Must be some short dreary winter days on the flip side though.

    We were told by a local person that the land and cliffs were donated back to Ireland from its landowner with the proviso that no buildings be constructed on the land. To get around that, the visitors center and some shops were built into the hillside. Our favorite shop name: 'The Gifts of Moher'! Of course, by going in the evening, the center and shops were not open.

    Here are some helpful sites for information:

    http://www.cliffsofmoher.ie

    http://www.thebestinheritage.com/presentations/search/cliffs-of-moher-visitor-experience,46.html

    I wouldn't miss seeing the cliffs from above if I was going to be in the area.

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    A few things I missed:

    On the way to Doolin, we stopped at Kilfenora, "city of the seven crosses", to see the High Crosses, possibly used as status symbols for a monastery or carved to tell Bible stories since many could not read. A couple were located in the small cathedral under a glass roof and one other was in an unprotected area of a field behind the church. Amazing to see these enormous crosses.

    If you are driving to the west coast, do try to stop. In Kilfenora, there is the Burren Centre Kilfenora in the center of the village. (It was closed when we arrived.) Park there and walk to the church down the lane to the right. Enter the graveyard. If the door to the church is locked, you can walk through the cemetery to the back of the church, go around to the right and walk back up to the front on that side. The roofed area is free and apparently open to enter anytime. After that visit, return to the back of the church and go across the back field (you have to climb through a narrow opening in a short stone wall, but there were some steps to help) and there's another. Worth the short walk.

    http://www.megalithicireland.com/High%20Cross%20Kilfenora.htm

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_cross

    Back to our B&B in Doolin - The Roadford House - we paid 140€ for 4 of us in the 'suite', including a wonderful breakfast of our first traditional Irish breakfast of fried egg, sausage, bacon (more like ham), potatoes, grilled tomato and black and white puddings. There was also a buffet of yogurts, cereals, stewed rhubarb with ginger and juices. For people who didn't want the traditional breakfast, there was a menu of other gourmet-sounding options. Trust me when I say that we did not leave hungry!

    http://www.roadfordrestaurant.com

    And lastly, I messed up the name of DCU where my son is staying - it's actually Dublin City University.

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    DOOLIN PUBS

    We were told that there were 3 pubs to visit for traditional Irish music in Doolin. After the cliffs, we took the car back to the B&B and took the 3 minute walk to McGanns's, the one I had heard the most about. We got there at 9:00 and the place was packed. We were lucky to find a table, but it was way in the back and just under a TV which was loudly broadcasting the World Cup...and it was very hot. We realized that no one would dare turn off that TV when the music started and that we would never hear it, so we decided to try our luck across the street at McDermott's.

    We were not disappointed! The Irish music was in full swing and again, the place was packed! We stood for a while listening to the violin, guitar and small accordion players and loved it. Some people left so we took their places at a table with a couple from, of all places, Philadelphia. We ordered our drinks, whiskey and ginger ale for me, Guinness for DS, and stayed until the jet lag caught up with my daughter. A very fun evening, but I do recommend getting to the pubs early for a seat. Get something to eat in the meantime - the food in McGanns's looked amazing!

    ARAN ISLAND AND CLIFFS OF MOHER CRUISE

    When booking our B&B, we mentioned that we wanted to take a combination cruise to the Aran Islands and Cliffs of Moher. Marian said via email to not book in advance (which I had almost done), that there would be no problem booking once we were there. (I don't know if this is good advice in the high season of July and August, but we went with her advice and had no problem.) She called to book this cruise for us and got us a discount, from 25€ down to 20€ per person through O'Brien Cruises. There were other cruise lines down at the dock, but I don't know if they did the combi cruise which was recommended to us.

    www.obrienline.com

    This cruise went to the smallest Aran Island, Inisheer, population around 300, and past the cliffs and lasted about 5 hours. I had actually wanted to visit the largest island, Inishmore, because there was more to see but I was told to allow an entire day for that and that there was plenty on Inisheer. In fact, people usually go to Inishmore from Galway (can be a rough crossing I'm told though from there) and they usually go to Inisheer from Doolin. In fact, Inisheer had plenty to see in the 3 1/2 hours we were there.

    Once on the island, there are plenty of jaunting carts, horse-drawn buggies, waiting for hire to take you on a tour of the island. They run 10€ a person. Our driver said that our older kids could go for free, but we paid him half-price for each since he gave a great tour. There was also a place to rent bikes - be prepared for hills and narrow roads with the jaunting carts squeezing by, and an enclosed van, but most people seemed to take the carts or walk. We passed the first larger wagon which holds a larger number and met a guy who had a tiny cart so it was just us on our tour.

    The island was amazing! Go if you can! It's only two miles across and is fairly barren and the striking thing is the miles and miles of stone walls everywhere you look. There were many rocks on the island so the way to get rid of them from the land was to pile them up in stone walls.

    The Irish language is still taught in the schools, but it seems to be dying out according to our driver. Seaweed is gathered for gardens and potato fields and must be dried, a process which takes 36 hours. Sand is brought in too. Our driver's accent was pretty thick, so I might have gotten some of this wrong. If anyone can correct me, please feel free!

    We passed a shipwreck, the Plassey. I asked how an enormous rusting freighter ended up on the land and was told there was a huge storm in 1960 which washed it up, luckily killing no one. You can walk to it and look inside. Our driver said it wasn't worth walking out, but we did, as did people from all the other carts. We wondered if he was trying to get back quickly to get another group. Do take the short walk out to it. (It's rocky - wear good walking shoes.)

    We continued on and were finally let our by the path up to O'Brien's Castle on the island's highest point and inside a prehistoric ring fort. (He would have taken us back to the docks if we preferred). It was a nice hike of a 100 meter climb and gave dramatic views of the hills with their walls, the beach and harbor. DS climbed a bit on the castle walls. There was an 18th century signal tower nearby, but it was closed off.

    Next we walked to the cemetery up on a bluff with the sunken Saint Caomhan's church (10th century Temple Kevin) in the center. Since it is lower than the cemetery, sand can fill it in and must be removed every so often. There were many beautiful Celtic crosses and wonderful views. Overall, we had beautiful weather in Ireland, but it rained throughout our time in the cemetery, fitting weather for the visit I'd say, but sort of mystical at the same time because it stopped as soon as we left. The only rain of the day!

    We walked along the beach to the docks and enjoyed watching a playful dolphin following and circling a large rubber boat. There is a famous dolphin, Fungie, who follows a tour boat in Dingle. Maybe this was his lesser-known cousin...newly named Mushroom by yours truly.

    If you take the combo cruise, be aware that at least two boats leave Inisheer at the same time, only one for the cliffs. One couple was seen running from one to the other when they noticed family members on the correct one.

    Then the half hour trip to the Cliffs. This is the other way to visit them and not to be missed! There was an extremely tall rock island which the boat circled for quite a while because it is inhabited by 10's of thousands of pairs of nesting birds, the largest colony on the mainland (but dwarfed by Little Skellig Island which I'll talk about later) What a racket...and what a mess 30,000 birds can make! The ones that look like penguins are the guillemots or maybe Razorbills and they nest on the rocks down low. Kittiwakes (like sea gulls) build actual nests in the crevices up along the sides to the top. Enough of the bird lesson!

    We got back, wandered through the shops of Doolin on the way back from the docks, and left for our next stop, an hour away.

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    Hi Peg - yup - all hubcaps accounted for! My husband did hit a stone bridge with the mirror though! It folded in on its own so was no worse for the wear and tear. lol

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    BUNRATTY CASTLE TRADITIONAL IRISH NIGHT

    Definitely a touristy thing to do, if you like that sort of thing. I had wanted to do this our first night since we would be driving by, but it was full so I booked it for our second night, not having planned Doolin yet. We did not do all this in the correct order, I admit. The evening included meade or Irish Cream upon arrival, Irish breads, a decent dinner of lamb stew and potatoes, unlimited red and white wine and dessert. The entertainment was fun with various forms of traditional Irish dancing and music and our kids really enjoyed it. At one point, they pulled two young guys from the audience up on stage to participate in a traditional Irish dance, and you guessed it, DS was one of them. The guys stumbled through the dance much to the amusement of the crowd. The video may be useful in the future, you never know!

    We had booked a B&B family room for that night nearby in Newmarket-on-Fergus at Cahergal B&B. It was in a beautiful setting down a long driveway edged by split rail fences. The website shows a beautiful triple room with a large bay window. That room looked just like the picture online. Since there were 4 of us, however, we were in the Ivy Suite. It was a whole different feel with very plain furnishings and unmatched bedspreads. We entered a room with 2 twin beds, passed through to a room with a double bed and continued on to a spotless good-sized bathroom. This doesn't sound like a good description, but everything was perfectly clean, the beds were extremely comfortable, and they offered a very good breakfast (although the bacon was a tough as leather). It was a bit farther out than anticipated and once we found a better route to get there, that improved. There was nothing really wrong with it, but I'd probably try another if we were there again.

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    Thanks for the support of my TR and all my details! I'll keep them coming!

    We rented from Dan Dooley. We opted to go with all the insurance to turn the 1200€ deductible into a 100€ deductible in case of damage. I think they called that the excess waiver.

    I paid up front for an extra driver but when we picked up the car, they didn't notice and tried to charge me again. I think it was accidental and could happen with anyone so just double check all charges no matter who you rent from.

    We also had a problem with the car and their customer support was excellent.

    Here's what happened. Our car worked great but after about 5 days, the motor started revving at the top of the scale even at low speeds and we couldn't get it to stop. There was a very strong burning smell when we got out - could smell it throughout the parking lot - and the dash read 'check auto gearbox'. We called the company and they asked me to call back the next morning after letting the car sit overnight. We checked it the next day and there was no revving and the dash notification was off. However, we didn't feel comfortable driving the car back to Dublin for an hour to exchange it so they sent out a new car for us, no questions asked. They had used 1/8 tank of gas to get it to us, but told us we could return the car at the end anywhere above the half mark to make up for it. They really stood behind their name and we appreciated their service.

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    THE BURREN

    I had seen pictures of the limestone covering this area and that's what I was out to find!

    Here's what we wanted to do: Go to Corofin to pick up the free Burren bus to go through the park to hike one or two of the trails from Mullaghmore: the Orange route (1.3 km, 30 minutes/moderate) and/or the Green Route Nature Trail (1.5 km, 40 minutes/ moderate). We couldn't find the bus, and some people we asked didn't know about it, so we hoped to find Mullaghmore by driving around. It wasn't listed on the map we were using, but how hard could it be??? Turns out it was to the east of the main Burren area and we had inadvertently passed it by. By the time we figured that out, it was too late to try to get there. There are also longer and harder hiking routes, but they were too long for us.

    Here's what we did instead, and it was just as good:
    1. Burren Perfumery - out past the town of Carran - nice video about the flowers in the area, beautiful photography. The perfume making areas were not operational that day but we tested perfumes and walked through the gardens. Probably not worth a special trip, but it was still interesting.
    2. Caherconnell ring fort - north of Lemanagh Castle on Route R480 - excellent movie giving an overview of the area of the Burren and the history of the ring fort. We walked around the grounds and explored the interior of the fort.
    3. Poulnabrone Portal Tomb, just north of the ring fort on R480 - this is one of the famous pictures of the Burren with the huge stones holding up a flat rock overhead. Don't miss this stop. It's free. Best of all, this is where we first encountered the limestone outcroppings with the various wildflowers growing in the crevices. It was great just walking over the rock formations. This stop was exactly what we pictured when we thought of the Burren.
    4. drove through the exposed limestone landscape and mountains from Poulnabrune up to Ballyvaughan - just stay on 480 and go north. When two 20 year old guys can't stop taking pictures, you know you've gone the right way!

    DUNGUAIRE CASTLE AND GALWAY

    From Ballyvaughan, we took the coast road towards Galway because DS had to catch a bus back to Dublin and felt like he'd be missing something if he didn't at least see that city. On the way, we passed Dunguaire Castle. I had read comments that the entry fee wasn't worth it, but it was pictured on one of the book covers we had borrowed from the library so it deserved a short visit since we were in the vicinity. We explored the parts we could see, and checked out the inevitable shop inside, but our favorite part was walking the tiny dirt trail that circles the entire castle. If you are driving by, it is worth a stop. This castle is also the site of a medieval banquet if you are in the area in the evening. I checked out a video about it and it looked pretty good, although supposedly the guests are crowded around the tables. Again, if you are into that sort of thing.

    Turns out DS wanted to go to Galway partly to shop at Dillons 'Original' Claddagh Ring shop on Quay St to buy a Claddagh ring for his girlfriend, something all the American guys in the group were doing for their girlfriends left back home. Dillons website says it is the oldest jeweler in Ireland, established in 1750. DS really knows how to select a good store! I didn't know what he was really up to since he hadn't mentioned this reason to go to Galway so we didn't rush to get there early. We arrived 15 minutes before closing so didn't have time to visit the tiny ring museum inside - we were too busy looking at the jewelry! Well, I benefitted too as my husband saw me admiring the rings and bought me a gold one as an upcoming 30th anniversary present! I haven't taken it off since!

    After that we walked to Eyre Square, the central park of Galway. We relaxed and decided to go into a pub for dinner. The Skeff was on Eyre Square and seemed like a good choice. I had my first Bulmers there - a hard apple cider and very good.

    After dinner, we walked around until it was time for DS to catch his bus. You know you are in Ireland when the musicians on the street are a harpist accompanied by an accordion!

    We dropped him at the station at 6:30 and then it was time for the next leg of our trip...and more driving! We were off for Killarney, a 3 hour drive, via...

    ADARE

    I have always wanted to see a thatched roof cottage! When I heard that Adare had a row of them, I knew that we would have to stop, and wouldn't you know, it just happened to be on the way to Killarney! What I didn't realize was that there was an entire row of beautifully maintained TRC's just as you enter Adare on the main road. I learned that Adare is a 'Tidy Town' and was also called the "wedding capital of Ireland", at least on one website. That reminded me of my two sons' upcoming weddings - one in July and one in August!!! No wonder I fled the country!

    We stopped for half an hour to walk and admire the cottages, and I walked back to the bridge we had crossed over the River Maigue. I had seen some people taking pictures of a castle from that bridge and I need to stretch my legs so back I went. What I hadn't realized was that there was no sidewalk, so after some moments of indecision, I snuck along the walls by the side of the road until I reached the perfect picture taking spot. I don't really recommend doing this - there was a lot of traffic, but in the end I got some good shots. On the way back I passed the St. Nicolas Church with its Augustinian Friary. Parts were open, like the little cloister, so I just entered and enjoyed the silence.

    Lastly, SH and I walked around the Adare Town Park and took in the Washing Pool where the towns' ladies used to do their washing, the flowers and a thatch roof gazebo. Very pretty and relaxing.

    But Killarney and the Southwest of Ireland were waiting and we had a reservation at another B&B so off we went again to finish the day's driving.

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    Loved the ferry view of the cliffs, we saw puffins everywhere on the day we did it. Both Islands are wonderful in their own ways. I love Doolin and all three pubs. I can taste the seafood chowder.

    I have never been to Adare. I somehow always go a different way but still on my list. Sounds like a great photo op.

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    Kwren, really enjoying your report. Don't skimp on the details!

    You mentioned the long daylight hours this time of year and wondered about the flip side. I lived in Ireland in for a couple of years early on after college, so I can tell you from experience, that winters are tough! It was dark in the morning till 9ish, worse on overcast days, and the sun was low in the sky when we finished at 4. I found it dreary, though on a sparkling sunny day it could be great. In spite of the darkness, the weather seemed mild in winter compared to New England. I usually just wore an Irish knit when going out for a walk. In winter it was often as cold inside the house as outdoors. We had peat fires in the rooms but they didn't throw a lot of heat in the room and the hallways were very cold.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing your report.

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    We were so lucky with the weather irishface. It was chilly enough for jeans and a sweater most days, so I can imagine that the winters must be cold and damp inside and out. Many of our rooms had little radiators in them. Made us realize how we take central heating for granted.

    We were also lucky with the lack of rain. Everywhere we went the locals marveled at that on our behalf. They were actually starting to hope for rain and we could see the effects of it with the low water lines in many rivers and lakes.

    And you're welcome!

    flpab - try to get to Adare if you can. Those roofs are amazing. I wonder how often they have to redo the thatch. They all looked brand new and in perfect condition. I can't imagine the work involved in the upkeep.

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    One of my Irish friends remarked recently, "Sixty years ago, if you had a thatch roof, you were poor. If you have a thatch roof today, you are rich." I think she mentioned the sum equivalent to thirty thousand dollars to put one on the new houses.

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    Do thatch roofs require any sort of regular maintenance? Most of the ones we saw were thick and luxurious, absolutely pristine., with every stalk perfectly cut. Are they treated with anything?

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    OUR KILLARNEY B&B

    We got to our B&B at 10 pm: Ross Castle Lodge. We were so surprised when the hospitality started immediately - we were offered tea and scones even though it was late! We sat in the living room after taking our luggage up and this snack just hit the spot. The owner spent some time talking to us and it was very relaxing.

    We had booked another family room - 2 bedrooms with double beds and a bathroom met off the little entry hall. We had a round window over our bed and it looked out onto a beautiful garden - very colorful. The rooms were very pretty, the beds were comfortable and breakfast was included for 32€ per person. Each night we could consult the breakfast menu and wrote our order on the sheet in the main entry and it was ready at the time we chose. Very organized. We usually chose the traditional Irish breakfast, but there were other options too, fresh fruit, yogurts, cereal, etc.

    http://www.rosscastlebnb.com

    This turned out to be another favorite B&B of the trip. We were so happy to be staying there for 3 nights. It was a very short walk to Ross Castle and we could also walk into Killarney from there. It was a pleasure to wake up to the clip-clop of horse drawn carriages each morning and to return the end of each day.

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    What an interesting trip report! Thank you.

    The long day light is wonderful....unless you are trying to sleep. :)

    Silly question...Did the light keep you awake and affect your rest--either at night/morning?

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    GAP OF DUNLOE

    Yea! No driving today! :) But a lot of riding.

    During breakfast, we arranged for a Gap of Dunloe trip for today. The nice thing about staying here is that we were told that we would have a guaranteed place in case there were too many people waiting. I suppose because the trip started from the Ross Castle Lodge, they were somehow connected.

    We could have walked, but instead we were picked up by the "vintage bus", a trolley. The ride took about a minute, we paid the driver 30€ cash per person (mainly for the boat ride), and walked to a dock at the first of the Killarney lakes. We boarded a long motor boat with talkative skipper Tom, who also drove the bus, and had an informative 14 mile ride through the 3 lakes in the area. This part took about 1 1/2 hours. We learned about the history of Ross Castle, passed through the "Meeting of the Waters" where supposedly the 3 lakes meet, and just enjoyed the beautiful scenery between 2 mountain ranges, the Mac Gillycuddy Reeks and the Purple Mountains. We also passed under The Old Weir Bridge, where you "shoot the rapids, water levels permitting". Well, water levels did not permit since it there had not been the usual rain in the previous weeks (good for us!), but we had a much more interesting experience. Everyone except for the captain and two "volunteers" got out and walked a short path from one side of the bridge to the other, while the 2 remaining guys grabbed ropes and pulled the boat through the shallows under the bridge. It was slow going but the boat would have never made it fully loaded. We boarded again from the jetty on the other side and continued the journey. We ended near Lord Brandon's Cottage which used to be a hunting lodge but is now an open air restaurant and had a snack. Our boat driver in the meantime said he would go back to the starting point, pick up the bus and meet us at the end of the next leg.

    The next part of the tour involved going through the gap of Dunloe. There were two options: walk the 7 miles or take a jaunting cart, a horse-drawn buggy for an additional 20€ each. We chose to ride and it was a good thing. Beautiful scenery comes with a price...mountainous terrain! Each minute was more spectacular than the last! Those horses really work hard but at least the driver asked a few people to walk the steepest section to help them out. I was happy to oblige, even though the driver tried to keep me in the cart, but walk I did! The roads we followed were very narrow and it was very difficult when people drove cars through. There weren't many, but whenever we met one, there was some negotiating to do. We met an RV once while we were descending the mountainside and as they waited and waited, it seemed they thought that a horse could just back a cart up the hill to make way for them. The RV finally backed up give us room.

    If you hadn't noticed, this trip was amazing and I wholeheartedly recommend it!

    We got through the Black Valley and gap between the mountains, crossing tiny stone bridges and passing more lakes and boulders and ended at Kate Kearney's Cottage, really another place for snacks, ice cream and souvenirs, were picked up by our trolley and smiling Tom and were dropped back at the B&B. Plan on a whole day for this trip and relax!

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    polly - no, the light didn't affect me at all, but then again I sleep through anything. It was just weird to wake up at 4:30 and see the sunrise!

    And thanks for your comment. I'm glad you're enjoying my report.

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    KILLARNEY FISH AND CHIPS

    We walked to Killarney after a nap and found a restaurant recommended for its fish and chips by a couple of people: Quinlan's Seafood Bar. It was a tiny place with a bright blue shopfront on the main drag with the kitchen in the end of the room. They had about 6 fishes listed as fish and chips options....whiting, plaice, cod, haddock, and a couple of others. DD was going to order whiting, but the waitress mentioned that that was the one most likely to have bones so she switched to plaice, which was very mild with a soft flesh. I think cod is the usual fish for fish and chips, but I ordered the haddock and OMG! How delicious!!! It came with either a huge pile of chips (French fries) or half fries and half salad. DH ordered pan fried salmon and that was delicious too, but if you are in Killarney and want fish and chips do not miss this place!

    Afterwards, we stopped in a pub for some live Irish music, had a couple of drinks and walked back to the B&B. A great day!

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    Although I had many highlights this trip, and more to come, this was THE highlight of Ireland for me! I will never forget this day!

    SKELLIG MICHAEL - WORLD HERITAGE SITE

    A rock island 8 miles off the coast of SW Ireland, 714 feet high with a monastery founded by St. Fionan in the 6th Century near the top, built out of the stone by monks who wanted to live in total isolation. The monastery is comprised of beehive huts, retaining walls, a church, a cemetery, terraces, all reached by a long gradual path then an arduous climb of 600 uneven rock steps with basically no railings or supports the entire way.


    Today we left early (the B&B was nice enough to put out cereals, fruit, breads and fixins for tea since it was before serving time) and took the northern road along the Ring of Kerry - it was pretty but nothing to write home about - with the specific destination of Portmagee at the very end. Portmagee is a place where the boats leave for the Skellig islands. (I read of a boat company which also left from Ballinskelligs, but the review was so TERRIBLE with accounts of the boat swamping and no way to call for help that I wanted to avoid the entire town to be sure I didn't end up on that one.)

    Despite being stuck behind a slow truck much of the way, the trip from Killarney took under an hour and a half. Once we arrived, we stayed on the Portmagee side - don't cross the bridge to the visitors center - and found a small crowd waiting by the gate to a dock of boats. Most had reservations, but a few didn't, like DH and me. (DD had decided to stay back at the hotel for the day) We nervously watched as more and more groups arrived with reservations and the 13 boats were filling up fast. Why didn't I make a reservation what could easily be canceled without paying??!! Anyway, now and then I asked a few of the waiting captains if they would have room for me and the answer was always the same - we are full and you have to wait until last minute to see if there are no-shows. The was no organization for the many others who arrived after us and some people got on before we did. In the end, they had one spot (!) which DH, since he had injured his leg anyway and couldn't climb to the top of the island, insisted I take...so I did.

    I'll mention here that there is a shorter boat tour which does not stop at the island for people who don't feel that they can navigate the steps. DH took this tour and they circled both islands without stopping. He enjoyed that tour as well and it was considerably cheaper, I think 30€

    The boat ride took about a 45 minutes and the sea was like a mirror. No seasickness for anyone today! First we circled Little Skellig, the neighboring island which was actually bigger than Skellig Michael, to see the 30,000 pairs of nesting birds. This was like the rock at the Cliffs of Moher, but hundreds of time larger, and completely covered with nests and sitting Gannetts, with hundreds more circling the island and screaming. What a sight! Mostly the gulls flying and sitting on the straw nests, but also the Guillemots and Razorbills which were at the lower levels and looked like penguins. I won't soon forget the odor on the downwind side of that island!

    Next, we continued on to the main island and were let off at the pier, and as the boat pulled away, we started the long hike up the gradual incline of the "road" to the beginning of the steps where a guide was waiting to give safety instructions. Since there were for the most part no handholds or railings, and since most often there was not even any ground along at least one side of the rock slab steps, we were told that if we became unexpectedly afraid, to let another climber know, who would in turn notify either the top or bottom guide and they would then come to help. They said at least one person a day ended up sitting on the steps and going down rear first. They mentioned a couple of fatalities in 2009 (yikes!) and then we were ready to go.

    I took my time going up for two reasons...the obvious one that I could never climb 600 uneven steps quickly, but the more important was that this island was covered in hundreds (thousands?) of puffins! OMG how adorable. I hadn't realized that they fly - if you could call it that with their chubby bodies dangling below their little furiously beating wings. Puffin nesting season lasts here until mid-July and they don't have traditional nests. Instead they dig holes, and there were holes everywhere. Sometimes dirt was flung out into the air as if a dog was inside furiously digging for a bone. The puffins would come out of the holes to sun or take to flight, dive-bombing from the island straight down and then would come back up looking like giant bugs with their bodies one way, wings outwards and bright orange webbed feel sticking out for an ungraceful landing. I could barely tear myself away from taking dozens of pictures the entire way up.

    The trail passed a cove at one point where the Gannetts were nesting in the crevices in the walls and again, what noise! Hundreds were swooping around the entire area and some sounded like they were in a fight for their lives.

    The steps, which would be treacherous when wet, were actually slabs of rock, not nicely carved stairs, that as the guide warned us, stuck out waiting to catch the toes of anyone not paying attention. At times they were open to the air on both sides, other times bordered by rock on one side. Once going down, they came to a complete stop at a sharp turn with nothing but a tiny yellow sign with a arrow directing you to turn right. If you didn't, pure nothingness would await. It was very interesting meeting other people going the opposite direction. Who would pass on the outside? Conquering these steps felt like such a victory!

    The monastery was built and occupied 1400 years ago. The monks left the island in the thirteenth century and it became a place of pilgrimage. By the time I arrived, there were quite a few people wandering around, but since I had taken an hour to get there, most of them left shortly. I loved the feeling of being up there almost alone, although there was another guide present to answer questions. I learned that it was estimated that about 15 monks had lived here, that they were very self-sufficient catching fish and birds to eat and growing veggies in a garden plot behind a wall protecting them from the wind. There were 6 dry-construction corbeled beehive huts, completely waterproof, the largest probably used for cooking and eating. The large cross was possibly to indicate the burial of the founder or used to show status. How could this amazing site be built 600 feet above sea level on a steep rock island? Just amazing.

    The way down was trickier for me. The lighting caused the steps to blend into one another and I could not help looking down past the steps...down! I didn't suffer from any of this, but when I reached that little yellow sign, I had a bit of trouble continuing. What if I couldn't stop as I approached it? I got around that corner OK and just took my time getting down. There were a few stopping points along the way where people were picnicking on the rocks, but they had brought their food with them. Don't expect any shops, bathrooms or souvenir stands here. The only thing that looked out of place was the helicopter landing pad near the water which I glimpsed from a few different vantage points. I didn't really want to think about what that would be used for.

    My timing was perfect. I approached the dock after my allotted 2 1/2 hours on the island and got on our boat which had just arrived. My backpack had a little "souvenir" from a bird or two if you get my drift, as did my T-shirt. Not bad considering the thousands of birds flying overhead. Before returning to Portmagee, the captain waited for his 50€ fee and posed for a picture. The pictures I took are my most treasured ones of the vacation! I get scared just looking at some of them as I realize just what I accomplished that day.

    On the way back, we spotted a whale and a bit later a large pos of dolphins. Each time the captain changed course to circle around, giving us excellent views.

    Once on land, I stopped at the pub across the street from the docks and had a steaming bowl of creamy fish chowder. Delicious if you want a quick snack chock full of huge pieces of fish.

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    From Portmagee, we decided to take a detour through the Dingle Peninsula. The views here were more beautiful than the northern side of the Ring of Kerry in our opinion. The patchwork fields on the rolling hills and mountains were spectacular. The best (scariest?) was that the way we went took us over Connor Pass. Twisting turning narrow roads were at their scariest when a big bus would appear out of nowhere from behind a blind curve and need to squeeze past. There were a variety of pull off points which we definitely used. We passed lakes and sheep on the way back down and entered Dingle, a cute town of colorful buildings. We walked around a bit, visiting the statue of Fergie the dolphin who meets a tour boat every day, before continuing back.

    One of our Ireland books said to avoid the southernmost road of the Dingle Peninsula between Anascul and Castlemain if you were afraid of tricky driving, but we decided that it would save us a lot of time to go that way since this was turning into a long day. I don't know what all the fuss was about. It was no problem driving at all. There was a cool beach at Inch along that road, the sand bar sticking way out into the water.

    We got back to Killarney fairly quickly (compared to other driving trips that is) even though this time we were stuck behind a big tractor for a while. We wanted to get dinner there and circled around for a bit looking for parking. Somehow we ended up in the narrowest lane between cars and a wall and could only proceed by folding in the mirrors and attracting some locals who had a laugh watching us navigate through that narrow space. We made it, found parking and proceeded to the Killarney Grand (also called Sheehan's Hotel) where Irish music was starting within an hour. We had decided to get there early, get a table, have dinner and be ready for drinks and music at the appointed time. Unfortunately, they didn't serve food. What to do? We didn't want to lose our table so I asked if I could bring in food, to which they said no problem. I went back to Quinlans from the previous night and got us fish and chips "take-away". It felt strange to go back to the same place - aren't we supposed to keep on trying new places?, until I noticed some people who had been sitting next to us the previous night. They waved at me so I went over to say hi after ordering and it turns out that this was their THIRD time eating there. Even more fun was they didn't speak English so I got to practice my French! I invited them to join us at the pub for the music after they finished eating and left food in hand. They showed up, we all drank together and listened to some wonderful music. Nice end to the day.

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    I love the idea of zillions of Puffins and Gannetts!

    I have mixed feelings about Skellig Michael since I have a "heights" thing. I remind myself there are others who have gone before who may not be as agile as I am.
    For example, the monks who occupied the island....
    :)

    Can you advise? For example, what would you guesstimate was the oldest person on the day you hiked the Skellig Michael?

    Thank you again--I love your trip report!
    PD

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    Hi polly - thanks for chiming in and I'm so glad you are reading along.

    I don't know how old you are, but from pictures online I saw that all ages from kids on up go on this trip and I do recall seeing a couple of guys in their 60's the day I was there, but I'd say it's more about ability, and honestly, fear, rather than years. For me it was not a matter of the height, but more being out on the open steps with no railings, although there was a chain rail in two of the most treacherous places. I did quite well with it though, I'm proud to say. I'm not the most fit person and I just took my time. Anyone with a balance problem should not do this in my opinion. We met a couple on our Gap of Dunloe trip. The wife said she hung on her husband's arm on the way up. Would you have anyone to travel with?

    I went with Patrick Murphy and his boat the Shelluna, but there were others online that I could have used:

    http://www.esatclear.ie/~skelligsrock/

    No matter which company you use, if you make a reservation (which I recommend) and are told to call the day before to confirm, please do so. One guy waiting had reserved but hadn't called and his spot had been given away because they didn't think he was coming. In the end, he did get on another boat, but that would be an upsetting experience.

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    We did Connor pass, it was lovely but scary when the big trucks took their half out of the middle. Folding the mirrors in is what we did also.
    Anyone with walking sticks? Wet stones are treacherous at our age!

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    Really enjoying your report, kwren! I did skellig Michael 40 years ago when I was fitter and lighter and had not developed a fear of heights. I had forgotten a lot of the hard details, just remembered the feeling of accomplishment, the wonderful sights, and the feeling of holiness about the place. I had thought I might like to redo it someday, but only in my mind. Fortunately there are lots of other things to do and see in Ireland.

    Thanks for sharing!

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    I am fit, agile and will have company.

    I was glad to hear there were some railings--it is when one is high up in the wide open that concerns me.

    I must decide soon, so your speedy reply is much appreciated.

    Thank you too for the link and the good information!
    PD

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    Polly...only two sections with "railings", and although they are loose chain suspended on poles, they are sturdy. However, they don't go for very far at all. Don't want to give you false hope ;) The steps are mostly open on at least one side, even the high ones.

    There are lots of pictures online to give you an idea. I think there are Tripadvisor reviews with pictures too.

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    I had added the following to my post above but for some reason it didn't make it. Apologies if there ends up being a duplicate.

    Irishface - you're correct, there ARE lots of other things to do and see. Stay tuned!

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    =D> What a great report!
    Details are what we Fodorites are looking for and you have provided them.
    We loved the SW of Ireland and it was fun reliving our travels through you.

    I was glad to hear your success with Dan Dooley car rental. They have provided great service on our trips. It pays to take the extra insurance. For peace of mind it's worth it. Will your cc company pay? Who knows, and I don't want to spend a lot of time finding out.

    So happy you took the time to post. I've taken many notes as I'm sure we will return.

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    Miami and RPAYT - Thanks for letting me know that you are enjoying my travels, and Miami, no one has ever said they were going to print one of my reports before. I am humbled.

    polly - good luck on your decision! I don't mean to talk you out of it, just wanted to give you all the info I can. You are fit, agile and have company. I hope that makes the decision easy on you!

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    ROSS CASTLE and KILLARNEY NATIONAL PARK

    Ross Castle - a really interesting tour in this medieval castle. Really got the idea of what it would be like to live there. Highly recommend this 1/2 hour tour!

    Muckross House - family didn't want to go in so we toured the gardens instead. Nice, but not spectacular. Maybe it was the time of year.

    Torc Waterfall - a great hike to the falls, but better to hike up steps for a beautiful view of the lakes. If you continue even farther up past that first viewpoint, you will come to a second one with an even better view. We continued past that too until we came to a bridge over the falls and where three hiking paths split up. DH was waiting for us so we went back at the point. It was a very nice and quiet hike through the woods since most people seemed to get to the falls, snap a picture and go back from there.

    Ladies View - we had seen this from the boat during our Gap of Dunloe tour and our guide recommended going up to it if time allowed. Since it wasn't far past the waterfall, we continued up the mountain. The view did not disappoint at all (and there was the inevitable souvenir shop across the street), but the owner of our B&B told us that there was an even better view if we would continue past that point for another 100 meters, at the junction of the turn to Kenmare. Beware - this stretch turned out to be the hairiest of the trip - the roads were more narrow than usual and those big busses really tore around the curves. One zoomed onto a one-lane bridge from behind a rock just as we were pulling onto it. We swerved out of the way just in time, but were really scared by that narrow miss! Anyway, the second view was indeed gorgeous, especially since there was a young guy sitting on a rock playing an unusual Irish bagpipe, adding to the atmosphere (although it would have been better if he had been wearing a kilt instead of baggy shorts and a Mr. Grumpy T-shirt!!!) He told me he had been playing for 10 years.

    We were actually on our way to Waterford at this point, but it was really nice to spend the day in Killarney Nat'l Park. I recommend it! Leaving the park, we went though Kenmare on the way. Another colorful town with a small flea market on the square which we browsed before getting a '99' ice cream.

    We found out that the reason the buildings in Irish towns are painted so many different pretty colors (pink, sky blue, lavender, salmon, purple, you name it!) is that towns have some sort of point system to attain a rating (many towns have 'Tidy Town' signs when we entered them, but I'm not sure if that's involved in the point system). They get an extra point for each different building color.

    We left Kenmare for Waterford, passing through more beautiful scenery, until all of a sudden I just couldn't drive one more km! I looked a DH and he was dozing a bit. No help there. I decided to pull off at the next exit and rest by the side of a road in whatever town it was. I grabbed a 15 minute nap and awoke to the sound of pounding rain. Hey, if it had to rain, we might as well have been 'inside'. We continued on to Waterford, the ride about 3 hours if not for one more stop.

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    A break in planning for my son's wedding Saturday...time to continue!


    DUNGARVIN - SHELL COTTAGE

    I like shells.

    I read Karen Brown's driving tours of Ireland and she mentioned a house covered in shells on the way to Waterford, not even out of the way. Sounded like a no brainer to me as we entered the outskirts of Dungarvin.

    Of course, we couldn't find it.

    We finally asked a little old lady, hoping that she might have lived there her entire life and might have heard of it, and sure enough, she had. She directed us through that neighborhood, across the causeway and bridge over the river, past the harbor to the opposite side of the town called Abbeyside. Once there, we asked another person and it turns out we were about 2 blocks away, near the pretty harbor.

    The front of the neat white house, Shell Cottage inscribed on its gate, was indeed covered in large shell designs of vases and all sorts of flowers, the Irish flag, a huge ship, vines and letters, interspersed with small ceramic flower pots, figurines, decorative lids and tiny animals. The story goes that a sea captain collected shells each time he went sailing and covered the house in designs and mosaics of shells. Unfortunately, some of the shells and ceramics have not quite withstood the test of time and many were broken, but we could see past that to the artistry involved in decorating this house. This is not a tourist site so you can't enter, but we could see down the side of the house to the back which seemed to be completely covered with many beautiful and intricate patterns. Some were really amazing. We could only have a glimpse of the best designs out back, but it was what we had been in search of and we saw enough to know that someone had really put a lot of time and effort into this original work. The trip was worth it to us.

    Scroll down to the entry of January 30, 2008, 13 sections down the page as of this writing if you would like to see some pictures:

    http://www.virtualtourist.com/travel/Europe/Ireland/County_Waterford/Dungarvan-296001/Things_To_Do-Dungarvan-TG-C-1.html


    OMG! NO PLANS FOR THE WEEKEND YET!

    As we continued on to Waterford - this was Wednesday evening - we considered that we had asked DS if he wanted to spend our second weekend with us, that the weekend was fast approaching and that we still didn't know what he planned on doing. Did I mention that he wasn't too keen on our tentative plans - he had already been to several castles we were interested in and was not interested in our idea to visit the National Stud and Japanese Gardens. Additionally, he had promised his roommate that he would go to Northern Ireland that weekend and didn't want to desert him. He was torn whether to go with us or go north with his friend and it sounded like we were losing.

    Because of all this indecisiveness, I had not planned anything or booked any lodgings past that night in Waterford. I had wanted to incorporate DS's desires, but nothing was forthcoming - he was frozen in indecision! Here we were Wednesday night with a reservation in the Waterford Marina Hotel and planning to visit the crystal factory Thursday morning, had no lodgings for Thurday, Friday and Saturday nights, and no exact plans for what we were going to do Friday, Saturday and Sunday days. (Sunday night was booked near the airport since we were leaving Monday.) I had promised myself that we would not pressure him to make plans with us, but I also didn't want to plan anything which would not appeal to him and thus guarantee that he wouldn't be with us. Such a dilemma! And, if I had to admit it, I was not as excited about my possible plan for the next 3 days in southern Ireland either, which made it even harder to convince DS to join us.

    Now I don't panic at the thought of no plans or hotels. We have driven through much of France without either, so that wasn't the problem. The real issue was that when I started planning this trip, I read constant advice that we HAD to pick either a circular route through southern Ireland, or the northern loop up from Galway given the 10 days we had, but NOT BOTH!!!!! We could absolutely see the logic of this thinking and had quite a bit of trouble going back and forth until we finally agreed on the southern half, while giving up what we really wanted to see up north. Things went along swimmingly...until now.

    I started thinking that if DS and his friend could go from Dublin to Northern Ireland for the weekend, then why couldn't we??!! What was stopping us other than subscribing to the general consensus that we should not do this. So...we Facebooked DS and asked him and his friend to join us on an unplanned trip to the Antrim Coast. They were thrilled, and truth be told so was I! I had wanted to go up north and now my dream was coming true. Who cared that we were at the farthest point south and we were venturing all the way up north. For the first time, we completely threw important Fodor's advice out the window. (Hard to admit that here ;) Please take it easy on me!!!)

    The wishes that I had carefully avoided all came into focus so quickly. Within 5 minutes, the rest of our time in Ireland was tentatively planned and I was so happy!

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    kwren, Enjoying the report as it's bringing back lots of good memories from our trip there this past May. We were in many of the same places. I need to find time to do a TR, too.

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    Sometimes it is better to threw caution to the wind. Looking forward to this part. We stayed the night in Dungarvan. Was amazed that they did the Tour De France through that village many years back.

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    Dcd - looking forward to your TR too! I'll appreciate the memories just like you are now.

    Flpab - yes, it was a great decision to go against popular sentiment and I should have listened to my heart when I couldn't get excited with my own possible plans. If I had been able to come to this conclusion sooner I might have organized our time differently but better late than never! This way, we also had one of our best days at the end! It will still be a couple of days till we get there...an unexpected and stressful adventure first!

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    WATERFORD MARINA HOTEL

    Since we were planning on going to the waterford Crystal factory the next morning, I had made reservations at the Waterford Marina Hotel, just a 5 minute walk away, for convenience. In addition, they had emailed me to say that we could leave our car in the lot while we went to the tour. Win win!

    We found the hotel quite easily down by the river. Parking was in a covered secure garage which you accessed by a speaker at the gate. We did note big signs saying 'tow zone' in the outdoor parking immediately outside the door, so don't park there!

    We had a nice room overlooking the river and it was very comfortable and clean, the perfect location for us given our plans. WiFi worked in the room.

    http://www.waterfordmarinahotel.com

    We were hungry and tired so decided on eating in the hotel bar instead of venturing out, and it was a good decision. It was a very pretty bar with a stained glass skylight. We had the "Blaa" (funny word for sandwich), a delicious seafood salad and the best bangers and mash of the trip. Add a glass of wine and a glass of Bulmers (a hard cider) and the bill was about 40€.

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    WATERFORD CRYSTAL

    After breakfast of a beautiful buffet of everything you have ever dreamed of to create the perfect traditional Irish breakfast, along with fruits, cereals, breads and absolutely delicious croissants which rival those in patisseries I've been to in France, we walked over to the Waterford Crystal buildings. There was already a line, but we got into the next tour.

    I had read mixed reviews about this attraction so was pleasantly surprised! The guided tour took us through the actual factory and we saw the process from the glass blowing, molding, smoothing, marking the crystal with a weird contraption of sharpies sticking out at all angles and cutting, to the final engraving stages. It explained how apprentices have 5 years of training, capped by the requirement of making an "apprentice bowl", the ultimate test in crystal cutting which includes every cut used in any Waterford piece cut into a blank bowl. If the apprentice fails to replicate this bowl perfectly, he can either leave the company, or restart the entire apprenticeship!

    The most impressive part of the tour was the cutting section. These guys must have nerves of steel. Tours coming by and standing 4 feet away from them as they hold a piece over a a spinning wheel to hand cut their elaborate design. One slip and the item would be lost. Nothing like having a group of people breathing down your neck!

    Waterford makes trophies and plaques for many pro sports championships. An amazing story is how they had created a beautiful $30,000 football trophy which was accidentally knocked over and shattered by one of the player's fathers. They now make backup trophies just in case. Those are on display.

    The tour ended, where else, in the showroom, where we could admire (and buy) all that is Waterford, including of course all their crystal stemware, but also lamps, Waterford encrusted mirrors, chandeliers, and specialty pieces such as a life-size sword and harp! (Not sure who would buy those!)

    This tour was one of the highlights of the trip for DH (I apparently save my highlights for more rugged endeavors!) but we definitely recommend it if you like to watch intricate procedures. We received Waterford stemware as a wedding gift years ago, so it was particularly interesting to us.

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    On to the previously unplanned part of the trip! While we sat in the bar the previous evening, we had researched hotels for Northern Ireland and were set with Friday and Sunday nights. The only night unaccounted for was tonight, Thursday, but how hard could it be in a country with as many B&Bs as Starbucks in the USA? I swear we passed a B&B about every minute while we were in western Ireland! (More to come on that.)

    Next, knowing that we had to pick up DS and friend in Dublin at 2:00 Friday, we had about 24 hours to play with. The first debate was Rock of Cashel or Kilkenny Castle. There was a difference of opinion, but I said OK to DH on Kilkenny because we could avoid the smaller roads in the intermittent rain and Kilkenny was on the direct route to Dublin so we would have more time to play with.


    KILKENNY

    The easy trip from Waterford to Kilkenny took the anticipated 45 minutes. Finding parking took just about as long. Tip: try to have a map of Kilkenny before you arrive. There is no parking at the castle so public parking lots are the way to go, unless you get lucky. We used the one by the river because it is close to other historic sites as well.

    Kilkenny Castle was built 1100's, and of course went through various stages of history. Some sections are currently furnished as in the late 19th century, although parts of the tour also took us through some of the medieval foundations. It was presented to the city of Kilkenny for 50£ by one of the later owners back in the 1960's.

    We were told that there were only self-guided tours that day, although I did listen in as a group leader gave a formal tour a couple of times. There were the typical halls, reading rooms, bedrooms, etc. but it was the Picture Gallery which stood out. To get an idea of the scale compared to the rest of the castle, it was long and high-ceilinged similar to the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles (but without the mirrors, fewer windows and no where near as grand). The walls were covered with portraits of I suppose all the owners and other important people of the time. The painted beams were the most interesting part to me, along with the golden lion heads at the base of each. Would I go out of my way to visit? Probably not. Nice way to spend an afternoon, but I still wonder what we missed at the Rock of Cashel.

    ST CANICES CATHEDRAL AND ROUND TOWER

    After we left the castle the plan was to walk down the "parade", one of the main roads, in the town. This wasn't much fun since it was raining increasingly harder, so we gave up on that and went to the car. Of course, once we got the car, the rain stopped, so we drove to St. Canices Cathedral at the end of town. DS had gone up the Round Tower there and really enjoyed it, so DD and I decided to climb it too. The beautiful Gothic Cathedral was built in the 13th century and the 9th century tower is the oldest standing structure in Kilkenny, as well as only one of two medieval round towers in Ireland which can be climbed to the top. The story goes that monks lived in it and accessed its high door by ladder. In the case of an invasion, they pulled the ladder up after them and could pour boiling liquids from a safe height onto the invaders heads. There was a set of metal steps placed to access that door.

    The practicalities of climbing are to buy a ticket for cathedral and/or tower in the cathedral. There is a person who collects the tickets inside the tower. The top is reached by a series of very steep ladders, each accessed by a tiny round landing, and finally by a few steep stone steps through a narrow opening to the top. The view from the top stretches over all of Kilkenny and is beautiful. I particularly enjoyed seeing the cathedral's roof and cemetery from that vantage point. Definitely recommend the tower if you can manage it.

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    After Killarney we wanted to get a good part of the drive to Dublin out of the way to free up the morning.
    Destination: Kildare area, +/- an hour from Dublin
    The plan: find a B&B b in the vicinity of the Rock of Dunamase, and the National Stud and Japanese Gardens, our possible Friday a.m. plans, but on the way….

    MOONE HIGH CROSS

    Traveling up the M9, DH noticed the icon of a high cross, Moone High Cross, on the map. I had been on the lookout for high crosses so DH said to get off at Castledermot just north of Carlow and we could drive by. Well…we exited, drove north along the main road and turned left at the high cross sign, saw one more sign the way we were going, and then nothing! We went up and down every little road in the area marked on the map. (It was beautiful through – an old little hexagonal stone structure, hay bales, birds, fields of yellow flowers, poppies – just no high cross.) I could tell that DH was getting frustrated and was ready to give up, but I pressed on. We finally turned right by a sign for a couple of B&B’s and when we saw someone exiting one, we waved them over and finally got directions, a bit off from where it was marked on the map. They said to continue down that road past the half dozen or so houses, continue straight as the road narrowed through the woods, go to the end, turn left and it would be found very quickly on the right. If they had had a sign at the turn for these B&B’s, it would have been so easy!

    Luckily there was a sign on the road pointing across the street because we would have missed the narrow chink in the solid stone wall. We parked in a slight pull-off area, sidled through the chink in the wall (and past a porta-potty on the other side LOL), and a followed the path to an old graveyard and the ruins of a church, except for the new protective glass roof. This cross was maybe about 18 feet tall and was in remarkable condition. There were plaques explaining the stories depicted on it. One plaque said it one of the two highest high crosses in Ireland. There were fragments of another next to the tall cross.

    I love going off the beaten path for things like this and we were rewarded with our find.

    Onward to Kildare and for the unexpected part of our trip!

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    Wow - thanks so much TPAYT!!! What a nice compliment! That will keep me writing for sure, but tomorrow is my son's rehearsal dinner and Saturday the wedding, and I have to drive son #3 to Philadelphia Sunday so he can go back to Dublin to finish up his internship (yes, the DS in this TR) so there will definitely be a brief intermission! Luckily I should be able to finish the TR up before DS2 gets married the end of next month!!!

    Photos - Hmmm I always want to do something with them, but never know what to do. One TR, I put the pictures on Facebook, which I do each time anyway, and posted a link, but that really didn't seem to be the best idea. What do you use?

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    kwren, as to the Rock of Cashel vs Kilkenny Castle, I think you definitely made the right choice. We hit the Rock, along with Blarney and Cahir Castles, on our last day en route from Kenmare to Shannon.

    The Rock of Cashel is fairly impressive on the outside, but surprisingly spartan on the inside. Just a lot of open space. A tad disappointing. We didn't have time to get to Kilkenny which looks marvelous, even if much of it was reconstructed in the 1800s.

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    So are they still in the original Waterford building or did they close and open a smaller one since they are only making trophies and special pieces now? I am glad they are still employing some craftsmen as it was a huge loss to the area when they started making everything else in Poland I think. I have a lot of Waterford so really bummed me out when they stopped making in Ireland. I have my aunts collection but have a pattern for myself that you could only get in Ireland. Very simple but beautiful. It is an amazing process and my husband enjoyed seeing the craft.

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    They didn't mention anything about the building so I don't know if it was a new one or not. The day we were there, they were glass blowing and molding vases and I think they were marking a bowl if I recall correctly. They certainly didn't mention any difference between Waterford and House of Waterford.

    They had an area in the showroom where a lot of stemware was listed as "archive". My pattern was there and it's 30 years old so I took that to mean they had been discontinued. Prices were listed though.

    One other thing that surprised me is that they have a big machine which can make a carved item very quickly. Ithey were making a vase in it.

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    Outstanding trip report! My wife has been bugging me for several years to travel to Ireland. Looks like next year may be the one. Driving through all of Italy must not have been enough. The one thing that concerns me is driving on the left. Have been driving on the right for all of my life. Even in Italy the driving was not a concern except for the crazy Italian drivers! How long did it really take you to get comfortable and were there any near misses? Thank you.

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    Here I am again on the other side of the weekend of my son's wedding! It was perfect and wonderful.

    And tonight is my 30th year anniversary dinner.

    Wedding, anniversary and Ireland all in under a month.

    Whew! I need a glass of wine!

    Tomorrow I'll try to get back to my trip report. :)

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    Hi debjulmar - I really wouldn't be concerned about driving on the left. If you fly into Dublin and pick the car up there, there is a very quiet road which circles around all the rental car lots that you can practice on until you feel comfortable. There was even a tiny traffic circle to try out. I honestly felt comfortable just about immediately.

    It was the narrow country roads which were harder when a car, or worse - a bus! - came from the opposite direction. You just pull over as far as you can. DH did scrape the mirror on a stone bridge in one of those situations, but near misses? None!

    There were many warnings on Fodors not to drive in Dublin so we didn't do that except for one time. It was later our last Sunday night when our son was in the car with us to point us in the right direction. That wasn't overwhelming at all, but then again, we weren't trying to go anywhere specific. Just a general tour. Would driving in the daytime be that bad? I don't know, but since we were warned, we had no desire to try. I'm sure parking in Dublin would not be easy in any case.

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    OK, so where was I? It's hard to come down off of cloud 9 to continue writing! :D

    LOOKING FOR A B&B

    So we got to Kildare and figured it wouldn't take long to find a place to stay. After all, we had seen nothing but B&B's everywhere we went, usually at least one about every 2 minutes. They were EVERYWHERE in western Ireland. We also hadn't booked this night because we weren't sure how far we wanted to drive today. Never thought we'd have a problem finding something - anything!

    We drove and drove and didn't see any B&B's or otherwise (except for one at the beginning which didn't look so great - if only we had known we wouldn't see another, we would have stopped!) We were everywhere through the countryside as well as through small towns. Nothing!

    In the meantime, our car was acting strangely. I haven't mentioned this yet in my report, but a couple of times before, the engine had started revving unexpectedly even though we weren't increasing our speed. Our car was an automatic, but with a manual stick shift override. We thought maybe we had bumped the lever since moving it stopped the revving each time. This time, however, the high pitched revving continued without stopping at all (if you drive a stick shift, it sounded like we were driving about 90 mph in first gear), no matter what we did and no matter how slowly we were going. There was also a dashboard indicator saying "check auto gearbox" which remained illuminated the rest of our drive that night. Yikes!

    So we couldn't find a place to stay, our car sounded like it was about to take off, it was getting late and we were hungry. We came across a foodstore so decided to go in and buy things to make sandwiches instead of finding a restaurant - which were also in short supply - just in case we became stranded. When we got out, the entire parking lot smelled of burning car! It was terrible!

    Luckily, we were directed to the one hotel in the area, the Hazel Hotel in Monasterevin. We got there, told our story to the sympathetic clerk who confirmed he had a room and gave us a great rate. He was so nice and invited us to make our sandwiches in the pub area, which we did, and of course we ordered drinks as well. My new favorite of the trip was whiskey and ginger ale! He also let us use the phone to call the car company, who said to call back in the morning. We spent the rest of the evening in the pub (WiFi didn't reach the rooms) eating, drinking and especially working online to find a place to stay for the next 2 nights, Friday and Saturday. That took 4 hours because most reasonably priced places were booked or only had 1 room left, too small for 5 people (the 3 of us, DS and his friend). Popular area up north! Connor, the clerk/bartender/breakfast waiter, was very friendly and talkative and hung around quite a bit. We really enjoyed his company, and more importantly, finally found a place to stay! We also heard his opinion of why they had the best Guinness around! Interestingy, it was the only Guiness that didn't make me gag (I don't like beer) so there was definitely a difference there.

    We went to the room which was spotlessly clean, to the most comfortable beds and were asleep immediately.

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    DAN DOOLEY, HAZEL HOTEL and PAY IN EUROS OR DOLLARS? and A TRAVELLERS WEDDING

    So the next morning I got up and drove the car around the parking lot. It had cooled down overnight, was not revving and the dash light was off. Called the car company and they were great. They said I could drive the car back to the Dublin Airport and get a new car since I was going to that vicinity anyway (gee, wasn't that nice of them??!!), but I said no way, I didn't feel comfortable driving it a long distance in case we might have the same problem and worse, get stranded when we were supposed to be meeting my son. They said OK they would bring us a new car and to wait at the hotel. Again, I said no, that I preferred they meet us at the National Stud and Japanese Gardens, our destination for the morning. I was not about to sit in a hotel all morning waiting for them when I had places to go! People to meet! At first they said we shouldn't drive the car at all, but since it was only 10 minutes away and I promised to drive slowly, they relented. We called them when we arrived at the National Stud and set the time to meet in the parking lot at 11:30.

    Breakfast at the Hazel Hotel, by the way, was great. Traditional Irish breakfast or choice off the menu, and who served us but Connor from the night before. He sure gets around at this job! Great way to start the day. The cook also came out to greet us and I told him that the black pudding was the best of the whole trip...tender and tasty. They told me that it is more expensive than that which is normally ordered by hotels, ordered directly from a local farm which only uses organic ingredients and very little filler. They were so pleased that I noticed and appreciated the difference.

    As an aside, I recall responding to a thread a while back about a credit card scam where, especially in Ireland, clerks try to charge unsuspecting Americans in dollars instead of Euros. As I believe the thread went, Americans thought they were getting a deal, when in actuality, an extra fee was charged to change the dollars back to Euros, then the credit card company would tack on another exchange fee to change it back for the billing in the US. It ended up being more expensive according to that thread. (I hope I have this right) We were the guinea pigs to test it.

    When it came time to check out, we were asked if we wanted to pay in Euros or dollars. I remembered the advice and said Euros! I gave her my credit card and she tried the old card not working in the little machine line. I said there is no chip so you have to swipe it. She was "sooooo" surprised! Imagine that she couldn't get the card oriented correctly to swipe it either. Tried every way except the magnetic strip by the machine. I pointed out how to do it so we moved along. Well, the woman said, "Oops, I accidentally charged you in dollars, but don't worry, it's cheaper for you". I said, noooooo, I want it in Euros and I told you that. Sorry, too late. Noooo, it's not too late, please void out the transaction. She saw that I was holding my ground and she voided it and I asked for that receipt. She then proceeded to put the charge through in Euros.

    Our credit card bill was posted online the next day. Both charges were there. The one which had been initially charged in dollars and then was credited back to the account was $6 more than the room fee which was initially charged in Euros. So - never push the button which says do you want to pay in dollars! Only pay in Euros!

    Before we left, the woman checking us out and I started talking about weddings, and she mentioned that there was a ballroom at the end of the hotel set up for a wedding that night. Since I was in full wedding mode, I asked if I could see it. She said sure and what a set-up! Huge ostrich feathers made up the extremely tall centerpieces and there were little sparkling white lights everywhere, including the backdrop behind the head table. It looked like a starry sky and was beautiful. I asked about the cake, but it hadn't arrived yet. However, she took me to the desk and proceeded to show me pictures of the most amazing cakes I have ever seen. One stretched over probably 5 long tables and included cake figurines of every bridal party member (I think they had 8 on each side), buildings, vehicles and more. She explained that traveler weddings (she also mentioned the word gypsy) take over the entire hotel and they don't allow non-wedding people to book a room at the hotel those nights because the weddings often get out of hand and that would not help the hotel's reputation. They also don't allow the travelers to stay for the same reason. She said they are ostentatious, lavish affairs, with wedding dresses often covered in Austrian crystals, brides wearing huge tiaras, and extreme cakes showing status or wealth. Some cakes could have up to 25 tiers or separate sections. That explains all the tables!

    I found a picture online of a travellers wedding cake, but it was not as ornate as the pictures she showed me:

    http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2012/02/14/article-2101255-11BDE173000005DC-195_634x366.jpg

    I'm glad that my son's wedding was a bit ;) tamer that what she was describing!

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    Have you seen my big fat Gypsy Wedding? It is unreal. The dresses weigh more than the people.

    So what was wrong with the car? It wasn't a fiat? That is weird.
    How did your wedding go? I think you have had an extremely busy month!

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    Having just decided to visit Ireland the end of Aug I started by reading TR's and am very much enjoying yours. Hadn't considered Skellig Michael till I read of your adventure, maybe I'll try it.

    Karen

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    Having just decided to visit Ireland the end of Aug I started by reading TR's and am very much enjoying yours. Hadn't considered Skellig Michael till I read of your adventure, maybe I'll try it.

    Karen

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    flpab - no I haven't seen that show. Is it in the UK? I have, however, googled it and some of those dresses are amazing. They say some have 25 petticoats!!! :o There is a picture of one girl in a limo amidst a huge fluff of ruffles poofing all around her. Only her face was showing. Ugh - poor thing!

    I don't know what was wrong with the car - not a Fiat ;) ...a Renault. Our theory was transmission. They brought us another of the exact same type and it was fine. We should have paid attention when the revving first happened within the first two days. I do know that the guy who picked it up made it back to Dublin ok.

    The wedding, and rehearsal dinner (on the Pride of the Susquehanna paddle wheeler) which was one of our contributions, were perfect. No glitches and everyone kept on saying how much fun they both were. I couldn't have asked for anything to be different! Our next rehearsal dinner next month will be at a fondue restaurant. I hope it's as much fun - I'll have to see that it is!!! Thanks for asking!

    https://www.google.com/maps/uv?hl=en&pb=!1s0x89c8c10c221cb2ff:0xa50269ffd993c4f5!2m5!2m2!1i80!2i80!3m1!2i100!3m1!7e1!4shttps://plus.google.com/112902310756908678051/photos?hl%3Den%26socfid%3Dweb:lu:kp:placepageimage%26socpid%3D1!5spride+of+the+susquehanna+-+Google+Search&sa=X&ei=tQPIU-C5FMOMyATPuYHwBQ&ved=0CHYQoiowCQ

    Thanks for joining in KRNS. You might end up considering our last day too! You'll soon read how awesome that was as well!

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    ANOTHER SHELL HOUSE - NATIONAL HOBBY?

    Have to mention that on the main drag between Monasterevin and Kildare, we spotted an adorable little cottage on the left which looked like it was covered with colorful designs made from round pebbles. I stopped for a picture, but while zooming in, I realized it was actually covered with painted shells. Unlike the house in Dungarvin, this one was much simpler with only a few larger shell designs such as a shamrock, a tea kettle suspended over a fire, and my favorite, shell shutters and trim around the front window, and was in perfect shape. It's obvious people live there and I never saw it listed as a tourist sight, but it was worth a few minutes to stop while passing by.

    NATIONAL STUD AND JAPANESE GARDENS

    We are not really horse fans, but this was a very interesting stop and we were glad it was recommended. We started with the tour of the horse breeding facilities and then walked out with the guide to the fields of 'famous' (i.e. won the most money in racing) stallions. Each paddock listed the horse's name and what they 'earn' when they cover (mate with) a mare. For instance, the breeding favorite, 'Invincible Spirit', had total race winnings of 384,982€ (over $500,000), is insured for 60,000,000€, and his fee to cover a mare is an incredible 70,000€ each time ($91,000)! And to imagine that there are waiting lists for this guy! The mare has to practically be interviewed to make it to that list.

    Horse breeding certainly is big business!!!

    Personally, I sort of liked 'Big Bad Bob', although his cover fee was a measly 6000€. Peanuts! He hasn't been there as long so he has yet to prove himself by producing some famous racers.

    The other name that made me chuckle was 'Beef or Salmon'. I texted a picture of this guy to my son who will be getting married next month since those are the choices for his reception dinner! :))

    We also saw a few of a rare breed of Argentine miniature Falabella horses. They were very cute with their long shaggy manes and range from 12 - 22 inches tall when born.

    The tour continued to the nurseries where successful mares were grazing with their foals. We were then free to walk around or back to the visitor center when the rain let loose. All the horses ran for cover (not in THAT way!) under the trees.

    We waited out the rain until 11:30 until we met the guy with the car and then went to the Japanese Gardens and its Path of Life. All of life's stages are represented by various beautiful Japanese plantings, a Japanese bridge, tunnels, rock formations, a traditional tea house, etc., from birth to the Gateway to Eternity (the exit gate). It was very imaginative and serene.

    There was a small museum on site which housed the skeleton of the "greatest steeplechaser in history", Arkle. That horse had very good teeth. Just saying'. There were some interesting horse facts, but we didn't have time to find the video of the foal being born due to lack of time.

    It is obvious that Ireland takes great pride in their horses. This was a beautiful place whether you have an avid interest in horses or not.

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    Finally it was time to head on over to Dublin and end the western/southern loop of our trip. Those two areas of Ireland were beautiful and everything we had hoped for when we made the decision to go that way. We hit an amazing variety of sights and activities and if our trip were to end here, it would have been completely wonderful. However, we were about to see more awe-inspiring places and we're so glad we changed our itinerary to accommodate having DS with us that weekend.

    Dublin was about an hour away so we headed off to pick up DS and friend at Dublin City University for the second of our two weekends, and to head up to Northern Ireland, the initially unplanned part of our vacation.

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    kwren

    Great report, Loving all the info! A late question back to the skellig Island tour, you included a link of the boat company you used but I don't see any mention of the shorter tour your husband took. Do you know if that was a different company and if yes, who it was? Thanks in Advance.

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    Thanks for the encouragement USAGirl!

    We didn't look into my husband's boat trip in advance because we thought both of us would be going on the trip that stopped at Skellig Michael so I don't know if there are multiple boats circling the islands. That being said, DH said that there was no problem getting on the boat that only went around, it cost 30€ and it lasted about 3 hours, 10:30 - 1:30. I think it left from the same dock as the other boats did. If he says otherwise, I'll get back to you.

    There are two ways to get to Portmagee from the northern road of the Ring of Kerry. The first sign directing you to this town will necessitate taking a ferry to Vallentia Island first. That sign has a little picture of a boat on it. We did not take that one. Keep going straight. The second sign will take you straight to Portmagee by road only. Take that one. Once you arrive, if you are looking for the boats that I'm describing, do not follow the signs to The Skellig Experience. That is a visitor's center across a waterway/bridge. Instead, just before the bridge, stay to the left. The docks will be on the right next to a little parking lot. That lot was full when we arrived so we just parked on the street along the buildings.

    I looked online to see if I could find info about circling the islands and found these two websites:

    http://www.skelligmichaelcruises.com/skellig-michael-tours/

    http://www.skelligexperience.com/the-sea-tour/

    It seems like these have general info on the trips that don't land so I'd start there. I know I saw another site before my trip, but I can't find it now.

    There are supposedly 13 boats which go and stop at the island. I googled and found Joe Roddy before going to Ireland, but I ended up going with Patrick Murphy that day. If you want to book a stop at the island, I'd start with them. No problems with Murphy and he was very nice. Book ahead, but be prepared that if it's too windy or too rough, the trip might not go.

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    ANTRIM COASTAL ROUTE, NORTHERN IRELAND

    Long drive north into Northern Ireland, but a great time to catch up with DS and get to know his friend.

    Two funny trucks seen along the way:
    The Knights of the Damned Jousting Stunt Team
    TK Maxx - does my chassis look big in this? (Irish version of TJ Maxx)

    We went out of our way to take the Causeway Coastal Route along the Antrim Coast. The sparkling water, the cliffed coastline, rolling hills dotted with sheep, tiny villages, ivy covered houses, short tunnels carved out of huge rock outcroppings once blocking the road, rocky islands, a glimpse of Scotland on the horizon - it was beautiful. The roads were empty and curving, but not overly narrow, and the driving was easy.

    Interestingly, we started noticing a lot of items in bright pink in every town, not a color you would normally associate with Ireland. Pink bicycles, pink tractors, picnic tables, garbage bins, strings of pink flags across the roads or along buildings. Even later, the trim on our guest house was painted a bright pink whereas it had been black on the website. What was going on? Turns out the Italian cycling race, the Giro d'Italia, came through this entire area in May and the townspeople showed their support by adding pink, the race's official color and color of the lead racer's jersey, all along the route. It was actually quite festive.

    We stopped for dinner at the Diamond Bar and Bistro in Ballycastle. We passed through the pub and pool table area to the back section which was their "award-winning" restaurant. You never know what sort of awards these claims refer to, but in this case, the food was delicious. I had fettucini carbonara and it rivaled the best I had in Italy (although a bit more sauce). DD had a wonderful vegetarian curry. It was nice to have a gourmet-like dinner after a long afternoon of driving. I recommend stopping there for a nice dinner.

    We arrived in the teeny tiny coastal town of Ballintoy and one of the few buildings was ours - the Fullerton Arms. We had booked the family room for the 5 of us and didn't know what to expect. What was NOT expected were the two incredibly long staircases, but thankfully two barmen were enlisted to help carry our suitcases. This is a beautiful guest house with beautiful wallpapers, curved wooden bannisters and little chandeliers hanging in the halls, all in nice taste on the first floor (second floor for Americans). It got plainer going up to the second (third) floor as that was the area once used for staff, but it was very private - we were the only ones using that staircase and floor.

    Our room was like nothing I had ever stayed in. It took up right side of the building, a long dorm-like room with 5 beds. From one end to the other, a double, two twins and finally, a set of bunk beds. There were the 5 beds, a regular sized table and chairs, a tea and coffee making center with some cookies, and an armoire spread out under the slanting ceiling with skylights. So. Much. Space!

    Even better for all of us were the double sink, a small room with just a shower, and two more individual rooms with commodes. Everyone could be getting ready in some fashion at once (not that it worked out like that!) I would definitely stay there again. Very clean and comfortable - and fun!

    Breakfast the next day was also wonderful in a nice dining room, which served as the restaurant at night. There was the typical traditional full Irish breakfast, but this one was served with potato bread and soda bread, both delicious, a pancake and mushrooms or baked beans. There was also a menu of other possibilities and a cereal and fruit buffet. Excellent.

    http://www.fullerton-arms.com

    I'm going to add that the town Portrush was recommended to us for a hotel, but we drove into it the next day and drove right out. It was more like a city in comparison to where we stayed and was very busy. Obviously there would be many more restaurants, pubs and nightlife if that is what you might be looking for. Our town only had 2 pubs, one was where we stayed, and was a bit farther out, but very well placed to get to the area's attractions. Late that first night, DS and friend went to the "other" pub and there was a fundraiser going on with Irish dancers and by the end, everyone was up and dancing with the girls. I wished they had come back to get me!

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    Today was amazing. We did the four main attractions in the following order without rushing. I'm so glad we decided to go up north!

    CARRICK-A-REDE ROPE BRIDGE

    Definitely get there when it opens as we had the place almost to ourselves without the crowds which were just starting to arrive when we left.

    We bought our tickets and walked all alone on a meandering path over rolling hills, along the top of the cliffs past fields of flowers and beautiful views of crystal blue water until we approached the bridge linking the mainland to Carrick-A-Rede Island. It was a bit of a hike, but not difficult. The end of the path was down steps to the entry gate. Down more steps then there was the bridge swinging 100 feet above the water. It's a 60 foot long rope bridge, but also has planks to walk on. I didn't find it scary in the least, but when we were leaving, I saw a woman pretty much frozen in fear in the middle. A little girl went out to help her across.

    Once across we spent a bit of time walking over the small rocky island. There is no fencing on the island so there are warning signs to to stay back from the edges...well, duh! There were the requisite nesting birds settled in the crevices down the sides of the cliffs. We passed a small hut and boat down the side of a small cliff. Fishermen used to use the bridge to access the island so they could string up their nets to catch salmon.

    Fun stop!

    GIANT'S CAUSEWAY

    It was funny to get caught in a traffic jam between attractions: a group of cyclists, a huge tractor and a herd of sheep all tangled up together in the road, and trying to sort themselves out. :))

    Anyway, the Giant's Causeway was another good stop for the morning - the main crowds had not yet arrived when we got there around 11. Admission includes audio equipment and/or a guided tour. We decided to take the tour (they said it lasts 40 minutes, but our guide was very talkative so it went for an hour) and while we waited, we hiked the trail at the top of the cliffs for a spectacular view of the lava formations from above. The tour left from the visitors center where a huge video was playing explaining both the formation of the site and also a cartoon version of the legend of the giants of Ireland and Scotland. Short video - worth watching.

    The tour was excellent, but we also had a booklet explaining the different points of interest, so if you don't have enough time, I'm sure the audio tape and booklet would explain quite sufficiently. If you like more detail and have the time, go for the tour as well, although I might leave the tour at the main formations instead of continuing past if I were to do it again. It was too hard to keep on listening instead of starting to walk into the site.

    Of course the highlight was walking over the lava columns. They were like stepping stones of differing heights and some form little mountains, great picture taking spots. If you aren't taking the tour, and after exploring and climbing, keep on walking past the main formations through a smaller opening to see the really tall columns from the back. If you continue that way, you can reach another formation set into the cliffs beyond, and can also access the upper cliffside path. I had read that you should do that entire loop past the causeway up to the top. Definitely either do the loop or at least walk along the path along the top of the cliffs for great views.

    This isn't my picture, but it shows you what it all looks like:

    http://celticmythpodshow.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2008/04/giantscauseway1.jpg

    There is a good gift shop area where I would have bought some souvenirs, but we felt that we should push on.

    Leaving the parking lot, it was a mad house! The crowds and busses had arrived!!!



    Next - Bushmills Distillery and Dunluce Castle

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    BUSHMILLS DISTILLERY

    It seems that you can't go to Northern Ireland without going on the tour of this distillery so after Giant's Causeway we took the short ride over to the town of Bushmills. We were lucky in that the 3:00 tour was about to leave so off we went. Bushmills is supposedly the oldest licensed distillery in the world, since 1608. We were taken through the all work areas, starting with the vats of raw ingredients and ending at the stage where the maturation in different types of wood barrels is explained. Some areas are very hot so be prepared.

    We learned how Scotch whiskey is distilled twice and the grain is dried by burning peat which gives a smokey flavor, whereas Bushmills is distilled three times and uses clean air to dry the grain for a clearer and lighter taste. The bottling area was not in operation that day (it doesn't run Friday afternoons or weekend), but we were shown a video instead. It's funny that Jameson's whiskey is shipped up there for bottling, but can't be stored or sold there. It comes in in trucks, is bottled and shipped right back out.

    The liquid souvenir at the end was very nice too ;) with a choice of whiskeys to taste.

    Our timing was good in that in certain times of the year the distillery goes 'quiet' for a while for maintenance and was supposed to start in early July. I think tours are given then with explanations but you don't actually get to see all the equipment operating.

    I read that in the height of tourist season, there aren't enough tour slots for everyone. That wasn't a problem for us, but if I had an extra day in the summer, I'd maybe buy tickets in advance for a certain time or get there sooner than 3:00 just in case.

    DH didn't join us on the tour due to the many stairs, but he received a voucher for a taste and met us in the restaurant area after our tour.

    DUNLUCE CASTLE

    The last stop of the day was to this ruined castle right on the edge of the cliffs. Entry includes a very informative self-guided audio tour through all the different outbuildings. The kids were given a special scavenger hunt to find hidden artifacts in the castle. The views were spectacular, both of the castle and the surrounding scenery. There are paths at some of the outside walls too, which the boys explored.

    If you want a great view of the entire castle, drive a bit towards Portrush. On the right is a parking lot with a wonderful view of the entire complex. (I also visited with a wonderful herd of cows there who followed me back and forth from their side of the fence. Great photo-op if they are there!)

    WAITING FOR THE MUSIC!

    We knew our guest house was having music that night, so we went to take a nap, then went into the pub for dinner and to have a good table for the entertainment.

    So, one of my absolute favorite meals of the trip was here! Colcanon chicken and mash! The traditional colcanon mashed potatoes were prepared with bacon and cabbage, and the chicken had a sauce of bacon and leeks. So delicious! DD had a very good curry dish and DS had the Bushmills chicken with, what else, a whiskey sauce and champs, mashed potatoes with scallions. Everything was wonderful, but the joke was on us...the 'music' that night was modern played by a DJ, not the traditional Irish music we had been anticipating. (Turns out the nights for that at this pub are on Tues and Thurs.)

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    I love your report! Northern Ireland is on my to do list. I have relatives form both sides of my Dad's family from there. I love Colcanon and that sounds delish. I am bookmarking this. Did you drive right on by Belfast?

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    I admit this was an unusual itinerary going to all 4 sides of Ireland in 10 days - we didn't have time to stop in Belfast, just drove right on through - but despite all the driving, I would definitely do it again. No regrets! We saw all our top places and many places which were recommended to us, and it was wonderful. Sometimes you just have to do it!

    On the other hand, Ireland was so beautiful, we still have areas we didn't get to so who knows, maybe (hopefully) another trip someday.

    I have one more full day to write about - we had to get back to Dublin - and even though nothing had initially been planned except for driving, it turned into a great day as well. Never a dull moment!

    Today I help my second son (the one getting married next month) move into his new home and soon DS1 gets back from his honeymoon, but hopefully I'll be able to carve out the time to finish my report in between the constant activity. I'll need another vacation soon!

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    Hi Kwren, Still reading! Great trip report - it's getting me very excited about my trip in Sept.
    A couple questions - Did you get a phone while you were there? It seems like you didn't. I'm just wondering if I should get one. It would nice to be unplugged for a while! My DH would love that! Also, did you have a GPS?
    You put great details into your TR - it's what we are looking to read! Thanks!

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    Thanks for the encouragement Labattlovr! What are your plans so far? Which area(s) are you going to? I got a lot of ideas from other TR's so I hope that reading my report was a help to you.

    We didn't have a phone, and the couple of times we really needed one because of our car dying, a hotel and the reception desk at one of the attractions were only too happy to let us use theirs. If you are going to Skellig Michael, you should make a reservation in advance and then you would need to call the boat to confirm the day before, but I personally wouldn't get a phone just for that. We liked being unplugged too (although we did only stay in places with WiFi just in case).

    Our son also had a phone since he's in Dublin for 2 months, but we didn't use it while he was with us other than for him to touch base to meet his mentor (didn't mention that yet).

    We also didn't accept the GPS when we rented our car and didn't miss it while there for the first week. When our car was exchanged, they had a working GPS in it - probably so the guy driving the new one to us could easily find the National Stud. We were happy to have it, but didn't really depend on it since the rental company gave us an excellent map, we had some guide books with maps of specific areas and the road signs were really good. A slight exception to this was our last day looking for one Game of Thrones site. We had directions from the Internet which got us there, but it was nice to see that we were going the right way. So for us, it wasn't necessary and we didn't miss it.

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    Hi Kwren - we are flying in and out of Shannon and are pretty much sticking to the southwest area. First 2 nights in Doolin, 1 night in Kilkee then maybe the Killimer Ferry to Talbert? Portmagee for 2 nights (I don't know if I can do Skellig Michael - I hike a lot but the description of the stairs that you gave kind of scared me! Next 2 nights in Bantry then off to Dingle (Dingle Tradfest)for 2 nights. Kinsale is next for one night and then I have 2 open nights and I think we're going to drive up to Connemara for 2 nights. Last night in Ennis. I have a list of places to go to from each place and your TR report is helping to give me more ideas!

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    OUR OWN 'GAME OF THRONES' TOUR

    Our last full day in Ireland - how to make the most of it? The original plan was to leave in the morning and drive to Dublin for some touring there. That was not meant to be.

    DS loves 'Game of Thrones' and when he realized that much of it was filmed in this region, he asked if we could see some of the sites. I don't watch but nevertheless...perfect! I gave DS the task of researching it himself. That would assure that he saw what interested him and most and it gave me a well-deserved break from planning! With a few conditions, I waited to see what he would come up with.

    Here was his itinerary for the morning:
    Ballintoy Harbor
    Dark Hedges
    Cushendun Caves

    After our last full Irish breakfast of the trip *sniff* we were off.

    Since we were staying in Ballintoy, it was a 1 minute drive to turn to the harbor. We had passed the sign quite a few times over the last 2 days, but with our schedule, it hadn't even occurred to us to take that tiny road. What a mistake that would have been! We passed the stark white Church of Ireland Church that we had been seeing over and over from wherever we were in that area, and zig-zagged down the narrow road into a charming and cozy tiny harbor of colorful fishing boats, off-coast rock formations, huge rock faces, a beach, caves, a man-made jetty and great views of the cliffs we had just come down. So peaceful and hardly anyone there. I will tell you that you don't have to be a fan of the 'Game of Thrones' to fall in love with this secluded little gem, although there was a big sign with GoT info by the water for those who are interested. I could have stayed there all day, and the boys loved climbing on the rocks. Don't miss it if you are in the area and love natural sites!

    Next we followed some convoluted directions from Google to the middle of nowhere (Stranocum was the town - now that I look it up, wouldn't that have been much easier to Google?! Oh well, this was much more adventurous for us!) and the Dark Hedges. We didn't really need the GPS as the directions turned out to be very good, but it did serve to give us confidence that we hadn't gone astray. WOW!!! What greeted us after that last turn was amazing! A long row of twisting, gnarled trees with branches that wound amongst the others to form a canopy all the way down the gently undulating road. The perfect setting for a medieval film, but again, you certainly don't need to be a GoT fan to enjoy this. I never saw anything like it. There were a few other cars there, but I could imagine if you were there alone, that you would have some spectacular pictures. (Mine were pretty good anyway, but I sure wished those other people hadn't been walking down the road!) Maybe alone at dusk, the words mystical or eerie might come to mind. Go there - you will thank me!

    Now I can help you find this:
    from an Internet site, try: at the end of Bregagh Road nearest to Gracehill Golf Club [GPS Coordinates: N 55.134488 W: 6.3808250] (not my coordinates, but maybe worth a try)
    OR
    Google the Hedges Hotel and use their map:

    http://thehedgeshotel.com/contact-us/

    This is a new hotel with a wonderful stone wall and wrought iron gates fronting the road. Coat of arms on the gates and walls, huge golden eagles on the columns. Pretty amazing to come across this after seeing these trees. Contrast the old and new. Culture shock! They are taking full advantage of this random site in the countryside. Anyway, standing on the road facing these gates, the trees would be to your left, down the road a bit and turning off to the left.

    Trivia - I read that these were 250 - 300 year old Beechwood trees, for what it's worth.

    From the Dark Hedges, we went north to Ballycastle and followed the coastal route east to Cushundun. We had nothing specific here other than there was a beach caves used in the GoT filming. We passed a beach as we entered the town, but it was very flat and not conducive to caving. Cushendun has a row of 4-story white and yellow townhouse-like buildings jutting out towards the ocean. There was a small mountain out behind them so we decided to explore out there next. We turned left just past the bridge after the little harbor, drove as far as we could, parked and bingo...a tiny beach with a large cave at the end - success! As usual, it was the rock formations, tiny hill and waves that caught my eye, but DS went right for the cave. I went in and...it was a series of caves. The main one was short with a barred opening at the far end, but what I like was the view from the end of a mossy fern-edged path up the hill. Green, soft, beautiful.

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    CUSHENDUN GOAT

    Going down to the caves and near the harbor, we noticed a white goat sleeping by the edge of the road. Not exactly what we expected to see. Coming back, we saw a statue of a goat. Here is what I read on the Internet:

    "Another famous character of Cushendun is Johann the goat, a sculpture by the artist Deborah Brown is to his memory. He was a feature in the harbour area, grazing the river bank and welcoming visitors, especially those with edible items such as apples or carrots. Unfortunately during the Foot & Mouth outbreak of 2001, he had to be put down and was one of the last animals to die during the cull. Today, another goat carries on his legacy in the shadow of his sculpture."

    It seems to be a bit of a controversy with the locals to have a statue of a goat in Cushendun, although go figure that it doesn't seem to bother people that an actual goat hangs out there. I thought the statue was quite charming.

    http://www.thefreelibrary.com/GOAT+OF+THE+GLENS+GETSGRUFF+RECEPTION.-a090391946

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    The newlyweds got home last night and are still sleeping so I thought I'd see what I can get done here.

    We left Northern Ireland via the highway through Belfast, following signs for "The South'. Funny how there was less traffic this way than avoiding Belfast on the way up. The only thing I can comment on was a huge unispere-like structure sitting by a bridge over the highway, like a huge hollow ball made out of Tinker Toys. It could have been over 100 feet tall. Anyone know what it is?

    As quickly as we were in Belfast, we were out again in the beautiful patchwork quilted rolling hills of the north. Then it wasn't long until we were back in Ireland, with our pockets still full of now-useless pounds (until the next trip that is! ;) )

    We decided to stop at one more site on the way to Dublin, one which DH had wanted to see since the trip planning began and the one we didn't think we could fit in.

    BRU NA BOINNE VISITORS CENTER and NEWGRANGE

    Another stop which, according to what I had read, gets very crowded and a long wait could be expected. Once again, we were lucky as we were the last to join the next tour 25 minutes from our arrival. You start at the visitors center and take a shuttle to a guided tour of the passage tombs. There is no direct public access and only a certain number of visitors are allowed each day.

    In the meantime, there was an informative short video about the passage tombs and their significance, the most amazing aspect being how the sunlight enters a small opening above the entrance and lights up the inner chamber exactly at the winter solstice.

    While we waited for the shuttle, we were very interested in a poster listing all the World Heritage sites. I've been to a decent number of them, but so many more to go! Interestingly, we could check off the only two in Ireland after this trip - Skellig Michael and we were about to see Newgrange - and the only one in Northern Ireland - Giant's Causeway. And we didn't even plan this!

    http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/

    https://www.irelands-blue-book.ie/itinerary-detail.html/unesco-world-heritage-sites-ireland-html

    Once at Newgrange, we were given a quick run-down of its history and were split into two groups. Ours had time to wander around the hill and see the neolithic art carvings on the 97 large rocks lined up all the way around the base. It is not actually known exactly what the tomb looked like originally. When it was excavated, many of the rocks of the walls had fallen so archeologists tried to piece them back together to reconstruct the site. The guide said they may have had the design of the rocks wrong, but the overall tomb was correct.

    While walking around the tomb, I was shocked to see a boy about 10 years old walking on top of the large rocks circling the tomb. I looked around for his parents just as he plucked a rock out of the wall! OMG! I couldn't help it - I took on the parental role and told that boy to put that rock back, get down and never touch anything there again! Wow - I didn't know I had that in me, but I couldn't help remembering the tour guide telling us how everything was monitored and guided now because of vandalism in the past. Vandal in the making!

    Newgrange is over 5000 years old (more than 1000 years older than Stonehenge) and was built by a farming community. It was important in astrological, spiritual and religious ways. Entering, you go through a very narrow passageway into the inner chamber. The rocks were not held together with mortar, only piled perfectly to form the vault. There were some tiny areas off the sides where some religious ceremonies might have taken place. There were different symbols visible in some of the chamber walls or ceilings, the most famous being the triple spiral. Unfortunately, no pictures allowed in there. :(

    Once deep in the tomb, the lights were turned out and the illumination of the chamber was reenacted. The actual event on the winter solstice lasts 17 minutes. It was very quick for us. There is a lottery to select a few people who may enter the chamber at the winter solstice. You can sign up for your chance at the visitors center. Of course, you could go all that way in December to find that it's overcast and the chamber doesn't light up. I guess that's the risk you take, but wouldn't it be cool to be there in the darkness waiting for the longest night of the year to end! (We didn't put our names in the lottery.)

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    Almost done...whew!

    After Newgrange, we went to Howth, a small town on the outskirts of Dublin, to meet the doctor our son is doing his internship with. We found him and he took us to an outside pub he called the Doghouse (although I didn't see a sign and don't know if that's really the name - maybe he was just in it at home!). His wife and 3 friends were there too so it was a really fun evening of eating and drinking. After that, we went back to the area near the airport and checked into our last B&B, the Almanii. Very tight parking out front, but it was a residential area so we were happy to have a spot. Pretty triple room, spotless bathroom. We were offered tea and shown the breakfast room and told to help ourselves to anything there.

    Since our son was still with us, we took a driving tour through Dublin and stopped for more food. Dublin was fairly calm with no traffic problems so we enjoyed the drive. Next trip we'll spend more time there.

    Nothing much else to say except a comment about the B&B. Our last morning, they offered us a hot breakfast even though it was before the regular breakfast hours and we appreciated it. I went to get a piece of fresh fruit. I opened the clear plastic fruit box and a swarm of fruit flies flew out :o No wonder - a tangerine was half rotted and covered with white mold. Skipped that. I ate the breakfast - egg, sausage and delicious brown bread. After eating that, I took an end slice of brown bread and discovered the back was covered with blue mold. Ugh! Already ate one slice. So, the place is beautiful but beware the food! Makes you wonder how they care for the entire place, although I couldn't find anything else wrong.

    So we returned the car and few home no problems.
    What a spectacular trip, certainly not what what I had expected. Just wonderful!

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    Hi KWREN

    No, you are not too "wordy." Love, the details, especially about INISHERE and what you folks did/saw there. Although I have been to Ireland several times, never made it to the Aran Isles and would love to do so. Nice description of the Cliffs too.

    Saving the rest of your great report for when I have leisure. Thanks so much...

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    Lovely report, kwren! It's been a while since I've signed on here, and what a delightful thing to return to. You visited many of my favorite spots (I found the Cushendun caves last trip, too, and for the same reason!) :D

    I do envy you your day on Skellig Michael. Three times I've tried to make that journey, and each time the weather was too poor for the boats to go out to them. Some day!

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    theaterlover - so glad this was a help. I like writing trip reports and they make a good journal for me, but it's even better when they help other people. Have a great trip!

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