WEEK 1 of 3
In planning our first trip to Ireland, we decided that 3 weeks wasn’t long enough to see everything so we drew a line from Dublin to Galway and concentrated on everything south of the line.
Day 1: We arrive in Dublin at 6AM and proceed to Europcar, where we had reserved an intermediate sized car and pick up our Skoda Yeti, a fairly roomy SUV. (see hints below for car rental in Ireland) We collect our car and proceed to drop off our luggage at the Botanic Villa B&B (€80 double/€45 single) that was conveniently located a couple of miles north of the city center. We start our Dublin tour with a walk down O’Connell Street and a stroll around Trinity College where the Book of Kells is located. There are several museums close by and we tour the National Museum and the National Gallery (both free) and then a short walk through Merrion Square takes us to the Number 29 Museum. (€6 adult/€3 senior). Number 29 is a four story Georgian home of the late 1700’s. The tour starts with a video and then a self guided tour that gives you a sense of life for an aristocratic family of that period. Note: We purchased the Ireland Heritage Pass (€25 adult/€20 senior) and also the Heritage Island Discount Pass (€6.99 for 2 persons) so throughout this report I will indicate admission prices for adults/seniors and any discounts available for using the passes.
We next take a taxi to Glasnevin cemetery (museum €4) which is just a 5 minute walk from out B&B. Glasnevin is the permanent home for many of Ireland’s most notable citizens (including Michael Collins) and it one of the most well kept and well manicured cemeteries you will find anywhere. Adjacent to the cemetery are the Botanical Gardens (free). When planning our trip, we opted to skip the Guinness tour and added the Botanical Gardens instead and were so glad that we did. The gardens are massive and beautiful. The various greenhouses are all open and there is a replica Viking House that is quite interesting. If we had more time, we would have returned there another day for an extended visit. Definitely a highlight of our Dublin visit. After a short walk back to our B&B we ended our day at the Brian Boru pub which is a block from our B&B. The size of this place is deceiving as it probably seats well over a hundred with a large patio out back. They advertise homemade breads & desserts and everything we ordered was delicious. The seafood chowder was especially good.
Day 2: We head first thing to the Kilmainham Goal (€7.00/€5.00 free with IHC pass) and arrived 10 minutes before the opening time of 9:30. At 9:30 someone came out and posted a notice that tours will begin today at 10:15. By the time we purchase our tickets, the line for tickets is out the door, around the courtyard, and down the street. The tour guide was excellent. You get a really good history lesson and a better understanding of the individuals involved in the rebellions, especially those executed at the Goal. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to arrive early. An employee told me that frequently the timed tickets are sold out by noon, so even if you arrive by noon your timed ticket may be for 5pm. You cannot book in advance. Our B&B hostess said so many of her guests are disappointed to miss the Goal tour because they don’t heed her warnings to go there early.
Dublin Castle (€8.50/€6.50 free with IHC pass) is next on our list and we arrive a little before the opening time of noon on a Sunday. The ballroom is beautiful and is still used for state occasions. On exiting, we notice that the queue for tickets is now quite long so expect a wait if you are not there at opening.
Our next stop is Christ Church Cathedral (€6.00/€4.50) and Dublina (€7.50) which is next door. A combination ticket for both is €11.00. If you do both, start with Dublina as there is a one way skywalk from the exit of Dublina that puts you right at the entrance of Christ Church and will save you a five minute walk. Dublina allows the visitor to go back to Viking times in Dublin and is especially suited for younger visitors. Christ Church Cathedral is beautiful and is a “don’t miss” in Dublin. St. Patrick’s Cathedral (€6.00) is our next stop. It’s another “do not miss” in Dublin. I was somewhat surprised to learn that both cathedrals are Anglican and not Catholic. A short walk takes us to the Chester Beatty Library (free) which has a fascinating collection of old manuscripts including some of the oldest known copies of bible pages from the 2nd century.
We’re about museumed out for the day and spend the rest of our time strolling about the city center. There are a lot of “pedestrian only” areas that allow easy walking including two pedestrian bridges over the River Liffey. We head back to our B&B and decide to eat at the Brian Boru again as we liked it so much the previous evening. Well, this time the place was packed as Ireland was in a world cup rugby match on TV. The only table left was in a corner with limited view of the TV. Another customer graciously and patiently explained some of the fundamentals of rugby so that we weren’t completely lost and we helped cheer Ireland on to victory.
Day 3: We head south from Dublin towards our next B&B near Kilrane with stops along the way. Our first stop is Enniscorthy where we tour St. Aidans Cathedral (free), Enniscorthy Castle (€4.00/€3.00), and lastly the National 1798 Rebellion Centre (€7.00/€4.00) (Combo €10.00/€6.00). When visiting the castle, ask about access to the roof where you will have a spectacular view of the area. A short drive later we are in Wexford which has a beautiful waterfront. We do a quick tour of the twin churches (Assumption & Immaculate Conception) and continue on our way to Johnstown Castle Gardens and Agriculture Museum (€8.00/€6.00). The castle is not open for visitors but the museum and gardens are well worth the stop here. I wish we had allocated more time as we arrived 90 minutes before closing and had to hurriedly see it all.
We are spending the next two nights at O’Leary’s Farm B&B (€70 double/€40) single and it’s one of those places where I wish I had booked a week rather than just two nights. It’s a working sheep farm near Rosslare Harbour and is literally right on the ocean. Our room overlooked the sheep in the foreground with the sea and lighthouse in the distance. Some of the best pictures of our entire trip were taken here. There is a path down to the beach that is lined with blackberries which were fully ripe. The full Irish breakfast was great but the omelet made with Wexford cheddar was even better. The hostess, Philomena O’Leary, is very welcoming and social and made us feel right at home. There is a beautiful sunroom for guests that faces the sea where our group gathered and relaxed.
Day 4: We awake to a beautiful sunrise over the sea and after breakfast, head to New Ross. Our first stop is the Dunbrody Famine Ship (€8.50/€7.00 20% Discount Card). There is a museum with displays and video presentations followed by a guided tour of the ship with period actors telling their stories of the crossing. A block down the street is the Ros Tapestry (€6.00/€5.00 20% Discount Card). The tapestries are a massive 20 year undertaking by the locals to depict the Anglo-Norman arrival in the area and the establishment of the town. The last two of the sixteen 4x6 foot panels are still being stitched by the locals. After an audio tour of the completed panels, we were escorted upstairs where half a dozen ladies were working on the last two panels. My wife mentioned tracing her ancestry to the area and one of the ladies invited her and my sister to make a few stitches in the tapestry. I think this was the highlight of the trip for them.
Five miles south of New Ross is the Kennedy Homestead (€7.50/€6.50 10% Discount Card) which has lots of interesting trivia about the Kennedy family. A couple of miles further is the Kennedy Park and Arboretum (€4.00/€3.00 free with Heritage Pass). Miles & miles of walking trails for those so inclined.
We now head south to Tintern Abbey (€3.00/€2.00 free with Heritage Pass) for a short visit. It’s then on to the Hook Lighthouse (€6.00/€5.00) which is the oldest working lighthouse in the world. Tours are given every half hour and the climb is fairly easy. If you have beautiful weather as we did, the view is spectacular. Afterwards, we head back to Kilrane for dinner at the Kilrane Inn where we had eaten the night before. The seafood is outstanding here; lightly breaded fish and the prawns (shrimp) in a butter sauce were our favorites.
Day 5: After watching another beautiful sunrise at the sheep farm we head to Waterford for the day. Waterford Crystal (€13.00/€11.00 2 for 1 with Discount Pass) is our first stop and we decided to pass on Cinderella’s Coach (€40,000) and get something a little smaller that will fit in our luggage. Across the street are the Bishop’s Palace (€7.00/€6.00) and the Medieval Museum (€7.00/€6.00 or Combo ticket for both €10.00/€9.00). At the end of the block is Reginald Tower (€4.00/€3.00 free with Heritage Pass). The guide in the Medieval Museum was especially entertaining. Christ Church Cathedral (free) is next to the Medieval Museum. The nice thing about Waterford is that everything we wanted to see was clustered together across from Waterford Crystal with just a minute’s walk between each attraction.
We leave Waterford and head about 20 miles north to Thomastown where we tour Jerpoint Abbey (€4.00/€3.00 free with Heritage Pass). We then make an unscheduled stop along the way at Jerpoint Glass, a glass blowing facility that allowed us to view the craftsmen up close on the factory floor. We arrive at our next home for two nights at the Glenraha Farm B&B in Mullinavat (€70 double/€40 single). After checking in, the hostess tells us about a nearby little known attraction, the Kilmogue Portal Tomb that is more than 4000 years old. It’s just a short drive so we visit the site and then proceed to the Rising Sun Restaurant in Mullinavat for dinner. While waiting to be seated, a couple comes in behind us and we strike up a conversation and find that they are from our same town in the US. Not only that, but we are all staying at the same B&B. What are the chances? The Glenraha B&B is a working dairy farm and we had a delightful two day stay in this spacious B&B.
Day 6: After a full Irish breakfast, we head 11 miles north to Killkenny where we will spend the day. We start with a stroll about the downtown area and then head to the castle. There is a market selling all sorts of stuff as you approach the castle and we purchase jams and chocolates to eat later. Killkenny Castle (€7.00/€5.00 free with Heritage Pass) is well worth a visit. Directly across the street from the castle is the National Craft Gallery (free) where we purchase some pottery and silver. The silversmith is quite a talkative fellow and who has been at his craft for over 50 years. If you have the time, stop in and chat a while with him.
A short walk brings us to the Smithwick Experience (€12.00/€9.50 10% Discount Pass) where our tour guide explains not only the history and process for making Smithwicks, but explains the difference between Smithwicks and Guiness. After a complimentary pint, we cross the street to the Rothe House & Gardens (€5.50/€4.50). Built at the end of the 16th century, Rothe House contains several thousand artifacts collected over the years by the local archaeological society. A short walk later we find the Black Abbey (free) that has some of the most beautiful stained glass I’ve seen since Sainte Chapelle in Paris. Across the main street from the Black Abbey is St. Canicises Cathedral (€6.00/€5.50) a 13th century structure where you are provided a numbered guide sheet to help find all the highlights. Just five miles north of Killkenny is the Dunmore Cave (€4.00/€3.00 free with Heritage Pass) which is not for anyone that cannot navigate the 700 stair steps that take you down and around. Our guide was an older gentleman that played in the cave as a teenager and could he ever tell some tales. Unlike most other caves, Dunmore has been in use for over a thousand of years as archaeologists have found evidence of locals and Vikings having been there. Plan on spending at least an hour and that includes a short video at the beginning. We head back to Glenraha Farm with a stop somewhere along the way for dinner at a pub that none of our group remembers the name of.
Day 7: We bid Glenraha Farm adieu and head across country (38 miles that took 1 ½ hours) on secondary roads to Cashel to see the rock which is more than just a rock. The Rock of Cashel (€7.00/€5.00 free with Heritage Pass) is actually a fortress overlooking the town. The fortress predates the Normans and it was given to the church in 1100. Unfortunately it was a bit foggy during our visit so we’ll have to return another day to fully appreciate the view. There are guided tours but we abandoned ours about half way through for the sake of time and explored on our own. I was able to wrap my arms around St. Patrick’s Cross and have my fingers touch so legend has it that I will forever be toothache free.
Ten miles south of Cashel is the town of Cahir which the locals pronounce “Kir”. Located in the middle of town, Cahir Castle (€4.00/€3.00 free with Heritage Pass) is one of the largest castles in Ireland. It dates from the 13th century and has been remodeled/renovated several times since. A very short drive out of town takes us to the Swiss Cottage (€4.00/€3.00 free with Heritage Pass) where our guide explains the how ornamental cottages were used 200 years ago by the rich. Because of the overhang of the thatched roof, it is deceivingly smaller than its appearance. Note: the parking lot is located quite a distance from the stairs to the entrance, but you can drive up to the stairway to unload passengers.
Following our tour of Swiss Cottage, we head west to Killarney which is about a two hour ride. We have booked a condo for a week in Killarney and the condo is quite a gem. Blarney House in Killarney Holiday Village (€555 for 7 days) is a three bedroom, 2 and ½ bath, 1100 square foot, modern condo that provided everything our group needed. Located just 1 mile south of Killarney, we are greeted on arrival with a welcome basket that included everything from milk, juice, and champagne to scones and apple pie. It has all modern amenities including satellite TV, washer & dryer, and Wi-Fi. There is a great pub/restaurant next door and our hostess (Valerie) has detailed instructions for operating everything we may have questions about. I wish all vacation rentals were like Blarney House.
After getting oriented to the condo, we eat at The Oaks next door and then head into Killarney to get oriented and stock up on groceries. This is definitely a tourist town and is teeming with shops, pubs, restaurants, and traffic. It has the most lodging options I’ve seen in a town this size.
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Things I Learned in 3 Weeks in southern Ireland
WEEK 1 of 3