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Several questions from a first timer - please help!

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I have been browsing this forum for probably two years. I've always known I wanted to travel to Ireland and over the last two years the itch to go has gotten stronger (and the likelihood that I can make it happen has gotten stronger, too).

I have spent hours on this forum and know many of you are extremely knowledgeable and helpful. I hope you'll be able to offer some more helpful advice to another first timer.

I am looking at finally planning a July 2014 trip to Ireland. From reading this forum for so long, I know anything under a week probably isn't long enough, so I'm considering an 8 or 9 night stay in the Republic of Ireland. I would be traveling with my husband, we are 26 and 27 years old. Photographers. A bit reserved. On somewhat of a budget. Considering flying from RDU to SNN and then SNN to RDU.

I've never traveled to Europe and my husband has only "traveled" outside of the United States with the Marine Corps. He has spent some time in the Shannon airport coming home from Iraq, but that's about it. :)

Some things I'm just not sure of - accommodations. I have looked at self catering rentals and hotels. What are the best (most reliable) websites for finding self catering rentals, hotels, and B&B's? My idea is to stay in the southwest for half of our trip and then the southeast (Limerick, perhaps) for the other half, making day trips out.

Itinerary - while I would love to see the coast at least for one day trip, we have both lived near the beach for our entire lives. I would personally love to see Irish forests, thatched cottages, quaint villages/towns, etc. With that in mind, what day trips do you recommend? We will definitely be heading to Shrule in Co Mayo at some point as it is where my ancestors hail from and I have to visit and take photos for my mom, who has done extensive genealogical research. We'll also be going to Dublin (probably a day trip from our southeast base).

Car rental - if there is a wonderful website somewhere with great, straightforward explanation as to how to deal with Irish car rental, please let me know. This is the one area that scares me the most. I just don't want it to turn into a headache and surely don't want to get ripped off.

Thank you in advance. And thank you for reading!

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