We just spent a spectacular week in Ireland - here is a quick report before I get distracted.
We are a family of four including 17- and 12-year-old boys. We tend to stay in one place for several days rather than go from place to place, and my husband always wants to avoid cities. We try to balance scenic drives with short hikes, and the boys enjoy anything involving animals or (especially the 17-year-old) history.
I had wanted to visit the Beara peninsula for years - on our last Ireland trip (18 years ago, sadly) there was no time for it in our crazy pre-child itinerary - so we started there by renting a cottage in Castletownbere for three nights.
I promptly complicated the itinerary when I realized that I needed to be in Dublin for the first night of our trip, after we had bought tickets in and out of Shannon. But it was an easy detour for me and Thing 1, by train, while my husband and Thing 2 proceeded to our cottage. (We spent the night at Jacobs Inn Hostel in Dublin and went to Croke Park to see Springsteen. Don't judge. Or do - I don't care! It was a blast and I would do it again in a New Jersey minute. But I don't want to go back to Dublin until they have finished tearing up the streets for their light rail project, which may take another 18 years.)
The cottage was a detached, modern, but very charming, vacation home next to the owner's house, with lovely views out over the water towards Bere Island. I found it on the Imagine Ireland website. On our second day, however, because Thing 1 and I were returning to Killarney by train, we decided to drive part of the Ring of Kerry. We stopped for a long walk in Killarney National Park, which was just as lovely as I remembered. I could easily spend a few days just there. We got back to Castletownbere in time for dinner at Breen's Lobster House where the fish chowder and fish and chips were both delicious.
On Day 3 we finally explored Beara itself. We had intended to take the cable car over to Dursey Island for some more walking, but missed it by about 15 minutes (it runs until 11 and then stops until 2:30). So, instead, we went for a little hike up the hill behind the cable car terminus, which I believe is part of the Beara Way (it is signposted). From there we went to Allihies and a late lunch at the Copper Museum and Cafe. I had an open face goat cheese sandwich that had enough goat cheese for the entire family (I'm not complaining; I love goat cheese - I just think between the cheese and the ubiquitous desserts there is some kind of national conspiracy in Ireland to make tourists as fat as possible before we leave). Everyone's lunch got a thumbs up. Then we visited the Copper Mine Museum, which is really more of a exhibit - still, very interesting and informative about the rise and eventual decline of the mining industry in that little town. If we had not already done some walking we would have followed the "Copper Mine Trail," which passes by several of the old mining sites and would be a nice complement to the museum itself.
We spent the afternoon driving around Beara and taking in the breathtaking scenery, including the view going up and over Healy Pass. Dinner was back in Castletownbere at Murphy's Restaurant; we stopped ahead of time and picked up a variety of chocolates at Issie's Chocolates, just down the street, but we ended up getting dessert at Murphy's anyway, after more chowder, fresh fish, and prawns.
Day 4 was a long driving day as we moved from Castletownbere to our cottage for the remainder of the week, in Liscannor, County Clare. I was determined to drive at least part of the Dingle peninsula on the way, because I think it is one of the most beautiful spots on earth. So, after stopping at Inch Beach for some coffee and pastries, and to stick our feet in the frigid water, we ended up having lunch in Dingle at the Chowder Cafe, then driving out to Slea Head and over Conor Pass. From there we drove towards Tralee and Tarbert, then took the ferry and continued up the coast to Liscannor. Thanks to the long days, it was still completely light when we arrived.
Our second cottage was in a restored carriage house behind a larger house in Liscannor ("The Coach House," which I found through tripadvisor). It was within walking distance of the village, close to several places to eat and drink. There were views from the upstairs windows; the house itself was in a courtyard and did not have ground-level views, but it was comfortable and the owners were very gracious. I'm not sure I would want to stay in Liscannor or Lahinch during the peak summer season, but it was very pleasant and not at all crowded.
On Day 5 we took a ferry out to Inisheer/Inis Oirr and spent a lot of the day walking around the island. We had lunch at the "Castle Cafe," situated just before the ruins of O'Brien's Castle, which has the best views of the island. The chowder was a thin chowder (made with milk) but was some of the tastiest we had. We thought we had satisfied our collective sweet tooth with scones and cream, but when we had some time to kill before our ferry left, we found ourselves in the Cafe Una down by the dock...officially to get cold drinks and to get out of the overwhelming sun...but then there were more pastries, including a to-die-for chocolate "brownie" that was more like a flourless cake. We had purchased the round-trip ticket that included a pass by the Cliffs of Moher on the way back, and it was very enjoyable even if we were tired by then.
I would have preferred to rent bikes and think that might be a better way to explore the island, but Thing 1 was in an orthopedic "boot," thanks to a trampoline mishap several weeks ago, and couldn't flex enough to pedal. Next time.
For dinner we splurged on Vaughan's Anchor Inn in Liscannor and had excellent seafood. My husband had oysters and a seafood platter; I had the special, which was St. Pierre's or John Dory fish - tasty.
Day 6 took us to Ailwee Cave and the Burren Birds of Prey Center. I surprised the boys with a hawk walk, and our reservation for that was at 1:00, so we arrived at 11 in order to tour the cave and watch a bird demonstration. This was certainly a highlight of the trip. Afterwards, on the recommendation of one of the staff, we had lunch at Cassidy's in the little town of Carron. It was, like all of our meals, very good and the staff there extremely pleasant. The drive was slightly challenging. Afterwards we visited Poulnabrone Dolmen, the famous neolithic tomb. We had intended to visit the Caherconnell ring fort as well, but it closes at 4:30 and we got there just moments after it closed. I was surprised by how many attractions closed relatively early, even at this time of year. So, instead, we went back to the Cliffs of Moher and walked along the path there for a little bit, enjoying the view from the top. Dinner was at Kenny's Bar in Lahinch. I wanted to try some local beer, and I was also having a burger craving. Inexplicably (but probably because it was almost 9:00 at night and I am not as young as I used to be) I chose something more sensible and a little lighter once we were actually there, but Thing 1 had a burger and pronounced it extraordinary.
On Day 7 the boys slept in, and then we went back to Caherconnell to walk around there. On the way we had an excellent lunch in Lisdoonvarna at the Roadside Tavern. They gave a generous sample of each of their own brews (blond, red, and dark). My husband had a smoked fish platter; I had smoked meat and cheese. The Burren Smokehouse is right next door. After getting our dose of history at Caherconnell, we drove down to the Bunratty Folk Park. I am an absolute sucker for this type of museum - I visited it on my own the last time we were here, but this time all four of us went. And then, just because, we went to the Medieval Banquet.
In all that time the only rain was a spritz from a passing puffy cloud on our first day, and that hardly lasted long enough to turn on the windshield wipers. What a fabulous week. We were very lucky.
Our rental in Liscannor was under an hour from Shannon on very easy roads, so we did not worry about making our flight on the final morning. When we got through security and down to our gate, we looked out at the tarmac to see Air Force 2 pulling away. I had been diligently avoiding the news but I knew the Vice President was making a visit - maybe if I had not lingered so long in the duty free shop I could have waved to him.
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We just spent a spectacular week in Ireland - here is a quick report before I get distracted.