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Trip Report Our Four-Week Trip to the Island of Ireland

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My wife and I have just returned from a delightful four-week return trip to Ireland and wanted to share our itinerary and some basic comments on it.

On our first visit to Ireland in May of 1996 it was not practical for us to go to Northern Ireland because of the seemingly-never-ending conflict there at that time. We had to settle for a ten-day addition to our trip to Great Britain that year and content ourselves with what we understood to be the must-sees and must-dos in the Republic of Ireland. This was a bit frustrating to me as I had always understood my forebears to have come from the Protestant community in Ulster but I have no links to that area whatever. Seems my ancestors left Ireland in the early 1800s long before good records were kept.

That first trip had us taking the car ferry from Pembroke in South Wales to Rosslare in County Wexford. We drove directly to Longueville House in Mallow, County Cork, where we were to spend four nights. During that time we were able to “do” the Ring of Kerry, visit Cobh, and tour the Waterford Crystal facility. We moved on to County Clare for two nights where we did Bunratty Castle, the Blarney Stone, and the Cliffs of Moher. Then, it was up to Cashel in County Galway where my wife pronounced, upon her first sighting of wild fuschia lining the single-track roads, that we would return to Galway someday. Finally, we did three nights in Dublin to allow us a visit to Guinness, the Irish National Stud, and Powerscourt Gardens before getting on the ferry in Dun Laoghaire for our return to Wales, this time to Holyhead in North Wales.

Typically we seldom revisit places we’ve been because there are so many sights we haven’t seen. Yet, some of the above places beckoned us back. We knew that Galway needed to see more of us and that Powerscourt Gardens could only get better with time. And, this time we felt it would be quite safe for us to go into Northern Ireland (and, of course, it was).

After consulting multiple sources (including, but not limited to, Fodor’s Ireland 2012, the Michelin Green Book, Rick Steves’ Ireland 2012, and this wonderful bulletin board), we decided on the following plan and executed it flawlessly:

* Fly into Dublin and drive immediately to Belfast to spend four nights

Using Belfast as a base, we were able to do a five-hour tailored “Black Taxi” tour of that city which gave us an excellent look at life there and provided an introductory first-hand look at the conflicts which have dominated that area. We elected to not spend any time visiting the Titanic Museum as we had watched several excellent documentaries at home in April at the time of the 100th anniversary of the sinking. We were also able to visit Mount Stewart House and the excellent Ulster Folk and Transport Museum among other attractions in the area.

* Drive to Portrush for one night, then drive through Derry en route to Donegal for three nights

We chose to drive the phenomenally beautiful Glens of Antrim en route to The Giant’s Causeway which we were able to take in on a very rainy day punctuated by disorderly crowds busily shoving each other rudely in order to board the shuttle buses whilst getting wet as little as possible.

Our drive into Derry was just to give us a sense of the place and we contented ourselves with a visit to the Tourist Information office and a short tour of the major shopping center there. Neither stop was compelling or interesting.

For lodging in County Donegal we chose a bungalow a few miles outside of Donegal Town and enjoyed it thoroughly. This base gave us an excellent hub from which to visit the Belleek Pottery factory and Florence Court in County Fermanagh in Ulster. On our second full day in Donegal we explored places like Ardara and the Glencolmcille Folk Village and took in tons of gorgeous landscape.

* Drive to Cashel in County Galway for three nights

Our base in Cashel was perfect for two days tootling around Counties Galway and Mayo to Clifden, Kylemore Abbey, and Westport among others plus the delightful southern Donegal coast. Again, the landscape was stunning.

* Drive to Ennis in County Clare for a night visiting The Burren and the Cliffs of Moher en route

The highlight of this day was a stop at the Caher Bridge Garden in Fanore about which I’ll be posting separately. Our return to the Cliffs of Moher was accompanied by some driving rain which made for a less than positive visit.

* Drive to Dingle via Tralee and Connor Pass for two nights to allow exploring that peninsula

We hit Connor Pass (the spelling varies depending on the source, map, and road signs) on a mostly sunny day and reaped huge rewards from our decision to traverse it. The drive around the Dingle Loop was drop-dead gorgeous.

* Drive to Kenmare for three nights to explore the Ring of Kerry, Beara, and the Gap of Dunloe

The short drive from Dingle to Kinsale allowed us to visit the Muckross Traditional Farm (we had visited Muckross House on our previous trip). The farm was rather ho-hum, especially when compared with the Ulster Folk Museum. We were fortunate enough to do the Ring of Kerry, the Skellig Ring, and the Valentia Ring all on the same day which started out grey and became sunny quickly. We topped off that day with a breathtaking drive through the Gap of Dunloe. The following day we did the Ring of Beara which was not noteworthy and suffered by stark comparison with our killer day on the Kerry Peninsula.

* Drive to Kinsale for two nights stopping in Bantry and Clonakilty en route

Bantry House was very interesting, Clonakilty not so much. Kinsale was a relaxing day with no driving outside of town except to the car park at Charles Fort in the rain.

* Drive to Kilkenny for two nights via the Rock of Cashel and visiting Waterford and New Ross

Ruins are not our forte and we contented ourselves with a drive into Cashel for lunch and moved on. The best part of our day trip to Waterford (we’d done the crystal factory tour on our prior visit as noted above) and New Ross was the tour of the famine ship, the Dunbrody.

* Drive to Bray for two nights visiting Avoca, Russborough House, and Powerscourt

This leg of the trip gave us an opportunity to visit some gardens (about which I’ll post separately) as well as Avoca, the Powerscourt Waterfall, and Russborough House. Plus we got a first-hand look at the very rocky beach at Bray.

* Drive to Dublin, return the car, and spend four nights before flying home from there

We used the hop-on, hop-off bus in Dublin for two days to explore parts of the city we’d not visited before. And, we took a short and interesting train trip out to Howth and back.

With a little arithmetic you can see had 27 full sightseeing days and two full (very full) travel days. We knew we would have some extra time a few places and welcomed that when it turned out to be the case that weather or fatigue would have us lingering a bit. In the event, we deviated from the schedule only on the last night when we decided to spend it at the Dublin Airport in order to reduce the hassle on our departure day.

In summary, the trip was, as with all of our trips together, outstanding. I’d be happy to entertain any questions about what we did and where we went.

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