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England and Ireland - 3.5 weeks without a rental car

England and Ireland - 3.5 weeks without a rental car

Oct 8th, 2019, 09:13 PM
  #1  
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England and Ireland - 3.5 weeks without a rental car

Here's the first installment of my trip report. I don't want to bore folks with too much detail, but I am happy to answer any questions you might have regarding events, accommodations, transportation or dining.

We usually fly “open jaws,” flying into our first stop and out of our final stop to come home, rather than round trip. The advantage is that you don’t have the expense or trouble of doubling back to your original port of entry. We did things a bit differently this time around starting with our choice of airline. I was having a difficult time finding deals for our travel dates and happened upon Westjet, Canada’s second largest carrier. They were promoting their new 787 business service from Calgary to London and Dublin and offering attractive one-way fares. We ended up flying out of San Francisco to London via Calgary and returning from Dublin to San Francisco for much less than any of the US carriers were charging.

We have been to London before, so we didn’t have the pressure of doing the “must see” museums and such in our five days there. I purchased Oyster Cards when we arrived for use on public transit and topped them up with 35 GBP each, knowing that any unused amount would be refunded when we left London. Public transit in both the UK and Ireland worked very well for us. It would be so nice to have that caliber of service in the US. The Underground, rail, and bus services were frequent, clean, safe and on time. It was nice not having to fuss with rental cars and to be able to have a pint or two without worry.

South Kensington was our neighborhood of choice this time. Staying at the Pelham Hotel made for easy walking to a variety of restaurants and the South Kensington tube station was literally across the street. We booked tickets in advance for tours of the Buckingham Palace State Rooms and the Queen’s Garden, the Churchill War Rooms and Westminster Abbey (Verger Tour). I wanted to surprise Meredith with a visit to Highclere Castle, filming location for Downton Abbey, but regular, summer tours ended just prior to our arrival. However, a week before our departure, I discovered there was a 1920s Costume and Cocktails Party at Highclere planned for the Saturday we would be in London. Tickets were still available, so our packing lists were quickly amended. The day was a bit breezy, but the party was great fun with custom cocktails, an orchestra playing tunes from the 1920s, Morris Dancers, vintage cars and tours of the castle.


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Oct 8th, 2019, 11:40 PM
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on for the ride
bilboburgler is offline  
Oct 9th, 2019, 12:43 AM
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Oh love the picture!! so lucky you were able to go there on a 1920s Costume and Cocktails Party. Wow, how did it feel to be there? still on my bucket list of places to go.
JessicaBr is offline  
Oct 9th, 2019, 02:08 AM
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i love it when those sorts of events crop up on holiday - what a lovely surprise!

Really interested to see how you managed without a car, and read in the rest of your TR.

bring it on.
annhig is offline  
Oct 9th, 2019, 03:58 AM
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What a great picture. That had to have been fun going for a cocktail party. Yay to public transportation. Don't we wish we had it, they just add more lanes to the interstate and I-4 here.
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Oct 9th, 2019, 07:09 AM
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Yes, we had a wonderful time at Highclere Castle and it wasn't that hard to get there. We took the Tube to Paddington Station, the train to Newbury and a taxi to Highclere. The train and taxi reservations were made in advance and on the way out we made arrangements with the driver to pick us up for the return trip. Lady Carnarvon is quite the organizer and a genuinely lovely person. Her efforts are paying off with the upkeep and restoration of the Castle and grounds. According to Lord Carnarvon, it takes between 1 and 1.5 million GBP per year to maintain and repair everything.
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Oct 9th, 2019, 07:54 AM
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Originally, we planned to hop from London to Dublin on British Airways. A few days before we left, BA abruptly cancelled our flight because their pilots were planning a strike. It looked like there might also be a labor action at Heathrow. I scrambled to make alternate arrangements and we ended up on Ryanair out of Gatwick. I have a new appreciation for the plight of canned sardines.

The Airlink (route 757) bus worked well getting us from Dublin Airport to St. Stephen’s Green, a couple of blocks from Buswell’s Hotel. Dublin is a great city for walking and we did plenty of that in the three days there. Highlights included pedestrian-only Grafton St., St. Stephen’s Green, the Guinness Storehouse, St. Patrick’s Catherdral, Christ Church Cathedral, and a walk along the Liffey and through Temple Bar, with pub breaks along the way. We discovered that the best way to find a pub was to look down the street. If you see a building with copious baskets of flowers hanging off the front, 9 times out of 10, it's a pub. Favorite places to eat were Bewley’s on Grafton St. for breakfast, The Winding Stair for lunch, and The Bank on College Green for dinner.


This was one of my favorite displays at Guinness. Gentlemen should note the phrase at lower right.



The interior of The Bank on College Green, restaurant and bar. Formerly the Bank of England, you can see the vaults in the basement if you visit the WC.

We only used taxis a couple of times in Dublin: to get to the Guinness Storehouse and back, and later to get to Heuston Station for our train to Kilkenny. The fares were very reasonable and the drivers would tell us about the sights along the way.

From Dublin we made a clockwise circle through the Republic of Ireland, stopping in Kilkenny, Killarney, Dingle and Galway. Kilkenny is a lovely little town and about an hour and twenty minutes away by train. Its restored castle on the River Nore was built in 1195 by William the Marshall, a true and loyal knight to Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II, about whom my wife and I used to teach. A short stroll around Kilkenny will take you from the castle on one end of town past Rothe House and the Smithwick’s Brewery to St. Canice’s Catherdral on the opposite end. In the evening you have several pubs featuring traditional Irish and contemporary music from which to choose. Our favorite restaurant was Butcher and favorite pub was Kyteler's Inn, both on St. Kieran's St..


Kilkenny Castle. It only has three walls because Cromwell's army knocked down the fourth when they invaded.


The Raglan Rogues playing trad at Kyteler's Inn.
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Oct 10th, 2019, 09:23 AM
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Our next stop was Killarney, a town known as a Mecca for tourists, but one which offers several options away from the madding crowds if you know where to look. We chose to get to Killarney using Irish Rail. In order to go west, we first needed to go east. Rather than being a continuous network as in most countries, almost all of Ireland’s rail lines fan out from Dublin. Therefore, we had to train east from Kilkenny to Kildare to catch the westbound train to Portlaoise, where we switched to another train at Mallow, which would take us to Killarney. All the trains were on time and we accomplished the trip in about 5.5 hours. It was so much more relaxing to look out the window and take in the scenery than to drive and miss the beautiful countryside.

It was a short walk from the rail station in Killarney to Killarney Lodge on Countess Rd., at the edge of the city center. Killarney Lodge was hands down the best B&B we have ever stayed in. The full Irish breakfast was an excellent way to start each day. The owner, Catherine Treacy, was informative, friendly and helpful. After dropping our bags in our room, we made the 4 to 5 minute walk into town and oriented ourselves, picking Murphy’s Pub for a late afternoon bite. The tour buses packed with folks headed to the Ring of Kerry or Dingle Peninsula can be a nuisance, but they can also be avoided. For instance, most of the tours leave Killarney around 9:00 or 10:00 am. Knowing that, we headed down our street to Killarney House and Garden (part of Killarney National Park) after breakfast. It was quite serene, with a few locals, no tourists besides ourselves, kids running after the birds or scurrying around the lovely flower beds. Another day we decided to hike the Gap of Dunloe. The scenery was breathtaking (as was the uphill part of the hike). After making our way into the Black Valley we enjoyed a 90 minute ride in a small boat across three lakes to Ross Castle.



Killarney

Hiking the Gap of Dunloe

You can drive the Gap of Dunloe, take or horse and trap, or hike it as we did.

Ross Castle

One of several bridges crossing the lakes in Killarney National Park

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Oct 10th, 2019, 12:11 PM
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Sounds like your trip benefitted from some excellent planning, down to working out when the majority of tourists would be doing other things and finding the "best" B&B. Congrats.

And lovely photos too.
annhig is offline  
Oct 10th, 2019, 02:23 PM
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I love your pictures. I need to revisit that area.
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Oct 10th, 2019, 08:13 PM
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Thank you. I find the planning to be half the fun when we decide where we are going. I pretty much do all the research using a guide book or two, the Fodor's forum, flyertalk.com and sloweurope.com. Once I sift through the information and narrow down some options based on the experiences of other travelers, my wife and I sit down and decide what's important to us. That's when I start looking to see what reservations I need to make and what things we can do on the fly. I used to plan out every detail, but I've discovered it's better (and more relaxing) to leave a whole bunch of extra time for serendipity.
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Oct 11th, 2019, 07:22 AM
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We had a driver pick us up at the B&B for our transfer to Dingle, where we had an apartment for a week. The drive along the coast took us through the mountains and past Inch Beach. It made a great introduction to the ruggedly gorgeous terrain of the Dingle Peninsula and the Wild Atlantic Way.

When we travel, we try to alternate between big cities and small towns. We also like to rent apartments since they offer spaciousness, flexibility for meals, and usually the opportunity to do laundry in the evenings. From what I’ve read, most folks spend a day or at most a couple of nights in Dingle. We opted to spend a week. Dingle is a relatively small town of some 2,000 permanent residents. However, that population is easily doubled by tourists during the summer as buses disgorge their passengers near the harbor for souvenir shopping and tour boat rides in Dingle Bay to see its most famous resident, Fungie the Dolphin.


Dingle's Main St., looking toward John St. where our apartment was located.

Main St. Dingle, home to many of the pubs

The town has three main streets that rise up the hill from the harbor and host a variety of pubs and shops. Dingle is also part of the Gaeltacht, a special area devoted to the preservation of Irish language and culture. At night, traditional Irish music spills out into the streets from many of its 45 pubs and bars. Being there in mid-September, the onslaught of tourists was ebbing. Still, it seemed like a town with a split personality: busy with tourists near the harbor by day, while quiet in the upper part of town, and the reverse at night.

Our apartment was on the edge of the upper part of town, down the street from several pubs and restaurants visited by locals and offering traditional food and music. There were also a couple of flashy, bright green, shamrock encrusted establishments that obviously catered primarily to tourists. Those we avoided, a decision confirmed by the locals who befriended us during our stay.

Our first task upon arrival was to take inventory of the apartment and go grocery shopping. The largest of three markets is in the lower part of town, so walking there gave us the chance to window shop and get oriented. We had three events planned for the week: a guided tour of Slea Head and Connor Pass, a tour of Dingle Distillery and dinner reservations at Out of the Blue, a well-regarded, seafood-only restaurant.




The first couple of days were spent locating the “best” cheese shop, bakery, butcher, and green grocer. We also needed to find “our place,” the spot that would give us the best chance to relax, talk with townspeople, and get in touch with the local culture. In our case that was Foxy John’s, a hardware store and bar a couple of blocks from our apartment. On entering, there’s a counter to the right with an eclectic mix of tools, hardware, and housewares hanging above and jammed into shelves and cubby holes behind. To the left, is a fully stocked bar with stools, several taps, and even a snug at one end. True to the name, you’ll likely find one of two Johns behind the bar. The elder John is the nephew of the original owner. His son is the affable “young” John who tended most of the time we were there and became our primary guide to the town. Dingle denizens, many of whom are active or retired fishermen, tend to hang out at the far end of the bar. If you want a laugh or to hear tales, strike up a conversation with one of them and soon others will join in. We found that throughout Ireland, it held true that if you want to be left alone, sit at a table. If you want conversation, sit at the bar. Unless we were eating, we always sat at the bar.



Foxy John's became "our place"

Foxy John's Hardware counter. Despite its appearance the elder John knew exactly where everything was.

Foxy John's Bar, maybe 10 feet from the hardware counter.

Three of the local boys.

Our guide to all things Dingle, young John.

Young John's perfect pint.
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Oct 11th, 2019, 09:14 AM
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I applaud your tactic of finding a place to call your own and then going there regularly. It's something I always try to do when I'm staying somewhere for more than a couple of days. With few exceptions, it's stood me in good stead, especially when traveling alone, when it's nice to be greeted by a familiar face, even if they are only pretending to know you!

This place looks like a keeper.
annhig is offline  
Oct 11th, 2019, 04:14 PM
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Did you use airbnb or VRBO? I love staying in one place like that. It has been nearly 20 years since I have been to Dingle. I love Dingle Gin. I finally got some in Albany a couple of weeks ago after landing there. NY and Mass seem the only place it is imported. Waiting to read about the tour.
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Oct 12th, 2019, 07:38 AM
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We have not used airbnb, but have used VRBO a couple of times in the past. I prefer to rent from an agency that has an office in or near the town where we stay. That way we have a local contact should something be amiss. There have been some posts on this board about fraudulent rentals through VRBO. I would hate to show up in a town and find my rental for the week didn't exist and then have to deal with an online-only broker.

When I find a likely rental I will use Google street view to look through the neighborhood. I also search airbnb, TripAdvisor, and VRBO looking for reviews. However, the reviews I trust the most are those from bona fide, longtime contributors to sites such as Fodors and sloweurope.com.
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Oct 12th, 2019, 08:11 AM
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Three complaints you read most often from folks who rent cars in Ireland are 1) it’s hard to adjust to driving on the left 2) many of the roads, especially in the west, are really narrow 3) the driver has to be so aware of the first two that they never get to relax or enjoy the scenery, and the scenery, especially along the Wild Atlantic Way, is fantastic. That’s why you’ve seen so much of it in movies from Ryan’s Daughter to Star Wars: The Last Jedi. So even if we had rented a car, I would still have hired a guide to take us around the Slea Head Drive and up to Connor Pass.

Our guide, Paudy, picked us up at the apartment at 9:30 am. Starting at 9:30 am meant we would not have to contend with the buses of tourists that come from outlying towns to visit this beautiful and historic area along the Atlantic coastline. My vocabulary is woefully inadequate to communicate the beauty of this part of Ireland. I wish I could properly describe the sight and sound of ocean crashing against cliffs or the surf rolling onto vacant beaches, or the majesty of the now-uninhabited, emerald green Blasket Islands rising silently from the sea. Or the feeling of walking on paths and standing in structures built and lived in by farmers and exiled monks between the 3rd and 7th century.


A reconstructed bee hive hut from the 18th century. There were much older remnants of huts on a nearby farm

One of the farm's current residents

The Blasket Islands. The last inhabitants were moved off the islands in the 1950s

Coumeenoole Beach, used extensively in the film Ryan's Daughter

Having grown up on the peninsula, Paudy spoke only Irish until he entered high school. (I thought the language was Gaelic, but according to locals, Gaelic is the language of Scotland). Paudy was intimately familiar with the area and happy to show us his home. He took us down unmarked lanes and across fields we would not have found on our own. He apologized at one point when relating the history of a ruined church, saying he had no written evidence of those who built it, only the oral tradition handed down within his family from one generation to the next. To us it was no less valid than any written account and coming from him, certainly more valuable.



The farms meet the sea. It was originally too rocky here for farming, but over centuries, farmers brought sand and seaweed from the beaches to create arable soil.

Fuschias along the back way to the Gallarus Oratory

Thanks to Paudy's timing and a little luck, we had the Gallarus Oratory all to ourselves.

The view from the top of Connor Pass
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Oct 12th, 2019, 12:40 PM
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Good food and drink are kind of a big deal for us. Ireland in general, and Dingle in particular, have plenty of both. Renting an apartment let us choose whether to take advantage of the local butcher and fish monger or go out to a restaurant. One afternoon, we went to Kennedy’s (the best butcher in town) and found fresh, boneless, trimmed lamb for six euro a pound. With produce from the green grocer next door, Meredith made melt-in-your-mouth lamb curry that night. Our daily diet included some sort of fresh fish for lunch or dinner. It might be crab, lobster, hake, oysters, cockles or mussels or all of the above in a seafood chowder. The restaurants we went to took pride in serving the freshest ingredients, simply prepared. The Out of the Blue seafood restaurant only sets their menu when the boats come in. If weather prevents fishermen from going out, the restaurant will be closed that night.

Our favorite restaurants in Dingle were Ashe’s Pub for lunch and Land to Sea for dinner. We were having mussels in cream sauce at Ashe’s one afternoon when a fisherman walked by our table on the way to the kitchen with maybe twenty-five or thirty pounds of fresh mussels and a large sack of oysters. We toasted to him on his way out. Land to Sea serves fresh seafood and lamb with an eye to artful presentation.



The fresh seafood appetizer at Land to Sea

Roast rump of lamb in its own reduction with mint gel and carrot puree

A short walk from Dingle gets you to Milltown where an old sawmill has been given new life. It is the home of the Dingle Distillery, makers of award winning gin, vodka and most recently released, whiskey. The small-group tour included a walk through of the distillery, instruction on the processes used, and tastings of each of their wonderful products. We got to climb up on the catwalk to see the mash fermenting and get a close look at the three, handmade copper stills.


It was a warm day, so our guide started the tour with a short history and our first tasting outside the distillery

They opted for old school wooden mash tuns

Their twin copper stills

The mash fermenting

Though they can be made from grain or potatoes, there is little variation in the taste of vodkas. Gins, on the other hand, have a wide variety of flavors depending on the botanicals used during the distilling process. By law, 50% of the botanicals in gin must be juniper berries. It’s the other 50% that gives each gin its unique character. Dingle Gin has a very floral character owing to their use of locally harvested botanicals not available elsewhere. Our guide was really jazzed because they just received the 2019 World’s Best Gin Award in a competition between 400 gins from 20 different countries. It was easy to see why when we had our tasting.


The unique botanicals in Dingle Gin

The distilling process

With only sixteen employees, this is definitely “the little distillery that could.” They have been producing whiskey since they opened in 2012, but didn’t bring it to market until 2016 because it has to be barrel aged for a minimum of three years. They have been experimenting with aging in a variety of different barrels such as those previously used for bourbon, port and sherry. When ready, they blend the contents of the barrels to taste. We had glasses of this year’s Batch 4. I don’t usually drink whiskey, but with a splash of ginger ale, I can understand why it sells for $80 a fifth.



Whiskey from Batch 2 still aging
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Oct 12th, 2019, 02:55 PM
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I love that Gin, Jameson has the close second with Method and Madness and then Gunpowder Gin from Ireland is very citrusy and good. I have two trips planned but need to go back to Kerry. The seafood looks amazing. So far, knock on wood we have done well renting. Did you agency hook you up with the driver or did you find him on your own?
Macross is offline  
Oct 13th, 2019, 07:46 AM
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We found the drivers on our own using comments here and in one of the travel books. Paudy, our driver for the Slea Head tour, works for Rory Brosnan. Rory's prices were in line with what others quoted and he was quick to answer any emails.
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Oct 13th, 2019, 08:22 AM
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This is the final entry of my trip report.

Not having a car posed the biggest challenge during the next leg of our trip, getting from Dingle to Galway. We could have taken a series of buses or a bus and a train. However, both would have been routed inland and we wanted to see the Cliffs of Moher. The answer was to hire a driver for the day. Driving up the Dingle Peninsula, we took a car ferry across the River Shannon, made our way to Spanish Point and along the coast to the Cliffs of Moher. They are indeed dramatic, dropping in some places 700 ft. to the sea. The wind was blowing a gale when we were there, so please forgive the bad hair. From there we went through several small towns including Lisdoonvarna, known as the matchmaking capital of Ireland. The Irish have gone here for years to find a mate and apparently many still prefer it to eharmony.com.


Crossing the River Shannon by ferry

The Cliffs of Moher

When the wind blows this hard, you don't want to stand to close to the edge. Notice the absence of guardrails.

Dunguaire Castle

We also toured Dunguaire Castle, constructed in 1520 on the shores of Galway Bay. It was built to protect locals from Spanish invaders. They host medieval feasts there during the summer. From the castle, we wove our way into Galway to the Hotel Meyrick on Eyre Square (also known as John F. Kennedy Park). Galway is the fourth largest city in Ireland and offers a great night life, especially in its pedestrian-only streets between our hotel and the River Corrib. We had a fine time there shopping, visiting churches, and hanging out at Tig Coili, a pub that offered traditional Irish music all day (no canned music and no tv). We had wonderful conversations with the great grandson of the original owner and also a retired fisherman, Domenic, who had lived in Galway his entire life.



Eyre Square from our room at the Hotel Meyrick

Tig Coili pub in the pedestrian-only area

Crossing the Corrib to Galway Catherdral. It was a rainy couple of days but not really cold.

The knave of the cathedral built between 1958 and 1965.

After three days in Galway, it was time to head back to Dublin for our flight home. We like to spend our last night near our departure airport to avoid travel day hassles, but know that doesn’t mean our final day has to be spent cloistered in an airport hotel. We used GoBus to take us cross country from Galway to the Dublin Airport, arriving about 3:30 in the afternoon. Dublin airport is quite some distance from Dublin proper, but only 15 minutes by cab from the seaside town of Malahide. We left our bags at our airport hotel and made the quick trip to Malahide Castle and Gardens. On the way, we asked our driver for pub recommendations. His advice was, “Duffy’s for food, Gibney’s for drinks.” We followed that advice and it made for a great last night in Ireland. We had a good meal, our final pints of fresh, properly poured Guinness, and Jameson and ginger. We taxied back to the hotel a little later than planned but happy.


Malahide Castle

They have a butterfly house in Malahide Gardens

The Victorian Greenhouse at Malahide Castle and Gardens. It was one of many of the greenhouses sheltering exotic plants.

On the sidewalk in Malahide. We were in awe of the flowers we saw throughout Ireland in September.

In the past, our European travels have mainly taken us to its art and culinary centers in France and Italy. We had heard about the scenic beauty of Ireland, but weren’t sure what else it offered. Three weeks showed us that history, and more importantly the friendliness of its people are huge assets that don’t get the acknowledgement they deserve. With only a couple of exceptions, the Irish people we met were open, warm, fiercely independent, and proud of their heritage. Our visit was, as they seem to say everywhere in Ireland, “perfect.”
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