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Ireland experts - help me plan our first trip to the Emerald Isle

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Jul 22nd, 2018, 06:07 AM
  #1
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Ireland experts - help me plan our first trip to the Emerald Isle

Right up front, I'll admit we have plenty of time on this. (I do love to plan). We are just starting to plan a trip to Ireland for 2019 (Fall) or 2020 (Spring or Fall).

We have never been to Ireland but I think my husband was born to visit Ireland. What we are interested in: Cliffs of Moher, Ring of Kerry, Connemara National Park, Kenmare...to start. I feel sure he will want to play at least one round of golf. We like being outside and climbing, walking, etc...and no problem. A big part of travel for us is food & wine and he loves porters and stouts. It doesn't have to be fine dining. We love food markets and enjoy a "hole in the wall" as much as fine dining.

For those who have been, is Dublin worth a few days? We can easily fly into or out of Dublin as there are direct flights between Dublin & Atlanta. Guinness Storefront?, (I do know that the storefront isn't a functioning brewery), Dublin castle?, Temple Bar ?, Grafton Street ? --fun or no? We know it's on the other side of Ireland from what we want to focus on.

Month to plan for - we are considering April, May, September or October. He loves Fall and I realize that Ireland will not have the foilage color you might see in other parts of the world. Is Spring colorful with flowers and other blooms? It looks like Spring may have more daylight. We aren't concerned about cold/cool weather (he loves it). Am I correct that Fall tends to be more rainy than Spring?

I am very curious about is getting around. I am a bit nervous (if that's the right word) about driving on the left side of the road. To date, outside the US, we have only driven in Mexico. Neither of us drives a manual transmission vehicle.

This is a milestone strip for him and we are looking at Ashford Castle, Ballynahinch Castle and Sheen Falls Lodge for accommodations. We will probably be there for 10 days and might split the time between two hotels. Obviously, the hotels have activities that we would be interested in (hiking, falconery programs, golf, spa).

I still have research to do on what to see. I don't want to over plan our days. Part of the vacation will be to just unplug and recharge and take in the views (probably with a whiskey or wine). I'd like your input on months where we might have the best mix of weather--am I on the right track?; other attractions we did not list but are worthwhile; advice on getting around/driving and any tips about Ireland (I wish I had known .... or I wish I had not done.... should have done...). For those who have itinerary suggestions, feel free to share those but I am not expecting anyone to provide that level of detail. I have benefitted greatly on other trips from Fodorite advice and this is a part of the world that I have no experience with.

My thanks to you all, ,in advance, for your input & knowledge.
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Jul 22nd, 2018, 06:19 AM
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just a couple of quick comments right now . . . 1) a two hotel base itinerary is difficult in western Ireland. The driving is slow - like 35 mph slow. So think a more linear itinerary with 3 or 4 bases for 2 or 3 nights each. 2) the weather is totally unknowable - but 'in general', of the months you list the chances for better weather would be May and Sept. 3) with just 10 days I'd stick to the west side. If you can spring two weeks then sure, add maybe 2 or 3 days in Dublin.
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Jul 22nd, 2018, 07:57 AM
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I agree with janisj, I found the west coast much more compelling than Dublin but, it has been a few years since I was there.

We have driven in Ireland a couple of times and it is easier with standard transmission (I found it a challenge to shift with my left hand). My husband and I took turns driving and whichever one of us was not driving was responsible to remind the driver to stay left at intersections and roundabouts.

We were there in May and September
. We actually found September prettier with fuchsias still blooming as hedges along the roads and hydrangeas with blossoms the size of my head!

We did have a couple of castle stays but our experience is so old that I shouldn't comment. We enjoyed drinks at Sheen Falls Lodge. We thought the food was quite good everywhere and my husband loved the beers/ales.

Our favorite trip we flew into Shannon, drove south to Kinsale (we loved it there and thought they had the best restaurants) then west along the coast stopping in Bantry Bay, Kenmore, Killarney, Cashel in Connemara and Adair.

Have fun planning!
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Jul 22nd, 2018, 08:40 AM
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Dublin is definitely worth a few days. I know people say it's just another big city, it's not the "real Ireland," but I loved it and wish I'd spent another day there. (I had three days but it was more like 2 1/2 since I overslept the morning after I arrived.) But I'm the kind of person who loves walking around big cities.

Given your interests, it sounds like a couple days in Dublin would be ok. The places you mention aren't far from each other. I spent a really nice afternoon walking up Grafton Street to Dublin Castle, from there to the Temple Bar area for lunch and then across one of the many bridges over the River Liffey.

The Dublin Literary Pub Crawl was also a lot of fun.

I also spent a couple days in Galway, which I loved. It's a small city, around 80,000, with all the main sights accessible on foot, and a great pedestrian thoroughfare with shops, pubs and restaurants. I took a day trip to Connemara from there.

I flew into Dublin and left from Shannon but I had a direct flight from Boston. It doesn't look like there are direct flights from Shannon to Atlanta unfortunately.
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Jul 22nd, 2018, 09:02 AM
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Thank you. JanisJ, I know you are quite the expert here-appreciate the input. Judy - I know your travel style is quite similar to mine and I am sold on Kinsale (and read Dead Wake about the Lusitania a few months ago). Looks like September may be the best time for us.

EstherIris - thanks for your words on Dublin...I think I will leave that decision to my husband- it's his big birthday trip so it will come down to his preference. I appreciate your impressions. Like anything, there is never enough time or money to do it all.
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Jul 22nd, 2018, 12:49 PM
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Sample Lunch Menu | Ballymaloe House We are planning our 8th trip next May. I want to stay in Ballycotton but my husband wants to stay in Cobh. We are going to Jameson for the day and Ballymaloe has been on my list forever. I found an apartment in Cobh, easy to get there by train and bus is great for getting to Kinsale for a day trip. We can take the train from Cobh to Midleton and will get to Ballymaloe this trip if I have to take a taxi. Should be easy actually. Farm to table is so huge in Ireland and we have never had a bad meal in years. Our first trip was hit or miss but the food is excellent there. You will love all the cheeses and can buy at Ballymaloe. I need to read Dead Wake. I really like Cobh and had a few relatives leave from that port. I went 20 years ago but am sure it has changed.

YES to Dublin. We are planning four nights at the end of our trip only because the apartment we want is only available for four nights. Fallon and Byrne have a good food hall. We are trying to decide on a third location right now. My husband wants Connemara because I talked about my last trip there so much and he hasn't been. It is beautiful. Happy planning.

Lahinch would be great golfing for your husband and Lahinch town is not bad for walking around. Nice beach. The Old head Golf links course in Kinsale.
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Jul 22nd, 2018, 03:34 PM
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Dublin or not is more a matter of time rather than 'worth it'.

If you do end up with only 10 days (which would be 7.5 days free 'on the ground' ) you would barely have enough time for the few places you mention on the west side of the country. Even with 10 full days (a 12 day trip in total) that would be enough for the west coast . . . but not if you want to stay more that 2 nights anywhere.

So . . . absolutely include Dublin . . . IF you can take a longer trip - say 14 days . . . OR cut some things on the west coast. It isn't that Dublin is better or worse than other places (and we all have our own subjective opinions) but that you need time to criss cross the whole country.
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Jul 22nd, 2018, 04:01 PM
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Denise:

I think Judy means a car with automatic transmission, not standard.

Take a look at Adare Manor. My sister and brother in law maintain it is one of their all time favorites places. They are going back with 2 other couples in September to play golf:

https://www.adaremanor.com
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Jul 22nd, 2018, 04:07 PM
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Thanks, Weekender! Remembering the trauma of shifting the standard transmission vehicle made me use the term incorrectly! Then I misspelled Adare.
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Jul 23rd, 2018, 05:35 AM
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We land early in Dublin and take a train or the go bus to our first destination many times. Hotels aren't ready so it eliminates that problem. We don't drive anymore in Ireland. We drink with lunch and won't drive... I have never had a problem seeing anything. We used a cab company for a tour in Connemara. Galway tour company is also good for a day trip. I do find you see more if not driving and the trains are fast and frequent. The cliffs at Inishmore are my favourite. Just beautiful. Easy trip from Rossaveal ferry port.
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Jul 23rd, 2018, 07:38 AM
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1) I was very nervous about my husband driving on the left, even looking onto tours as alternatives (it was a shorter trip than yours), but it was fine--go for it!
We did not drive upon landing (never recommended) but had a few days in Dublin first (I enjoyed it, but decide based on your ultimate itinerary). We took a cab to Dublin airport and picked up the car there. After a little practice on the ring roads around the airport, it was second nature. Other than some rock walls along narrow roads south of Galway to the cliffs, I can't remember noticing any other difficulties.
2) We visited in October and it rained pretty much every day, but it was never all day. I could not live there--I hate being wet!--but excellent waterproof shoes made all the difference in the world. If you do not have top-shelf rain gear, now is the time to get it--especially since you plan on outdoor activities.

I was pleasantly surprised by the food in Ireland (as a vegetarian/pescatarian, I was not optimistic)--much more farm fresh and varied than I was expecting, in pubs as well!
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Jul 23rd, 2018, 10:01 AM
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We are in Ireland now, and I was very nervous about driving (DH does the actual driving - we had a rather hairy experience in Scotland with standard shift), but we took the train from Dublin (after 2 nights there) to Cork, rented an automatic and drove from there, and I am no longer traumatized. The roads are sometimes very narrow, but there just really isn't that much traffic. We drove to the Ring of Beara, then Ring of Kerry, then the Dingle Peninsula and are now in Killarney. We don't golf, but there are a lot of golf clubs here, I think, so might be worth looking into. Killarney National Park is beautiful.

I'm already planning our next trip - we love it here!
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Jul 23rd, 2018, 01:58 PM
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As always, you all give wonderful information. I think we can drive (with an automatic) and with the passenger staying checked in and alert. The narrow roads are what we have heard about the most---how strict or forgiving are the rental companies about paint damage etc....some of the agencies here in the US are ridiculous about looking for "damage" upon return. Or are most cars picked up with scrapes, etc...anyway and it's not something that the rental agencies are looking for on return of the car.

Train system in Ireland? Good?

Point well taken about the rain gear and waterproof shoes! We still have a lot of research to do and I appreciate your input so much. What else am I missing?
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Jul 23rd, 2018, 02:10 PM
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To be truly worry-free, get the maximum insurance so you don't have a large deductible. My husband selected a small SUV--I was skeptical, but he is the driver, and it was totally fine. Traffic is so light, it is really amazingly easy.
of course a little Irish luck helps too!
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Jul 23rd, 2018, 04:15 PM
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>>how strict or forgiving are the rental companies about paint damage etc....<<

VERY strict -- which is what 'top cover' i.e. full coverage insurance is for.

>>Train system in Ireland? Good? <<

Not that great. You can travel between the main cities, but not to the rural/scenic bits where most people want to visit.

(FWIIW . . . I actually prefer to drive a stick rather than an automatic. It may seem counter intuitive . . . shifting with the left hand and all. I am basically useless with my left hand -- not at all ambidextrous. And yet I have no problem shifting left handed. I also find having to shift is just another mental cue to keep me on the correct side of the road. Plus the huge savings is good too. But that only applies if one is already completely comfortable driving a stick)
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Jul 23rd, 2018, 04:54 PM
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Can you all wait to have drinks till after you check in for the night? We love to visit distilleries, breweries and drink the beer with lunch. My husband was so happy to check our rental in when we arrived in Paris last trip. He sat and watched me drinking Delirium with lunch with a sad look. I would like to know where there is no traffic in Ireland? We have been stuck in major traffic on trips and we think the trains are grand. Each his own. You could do a little of both but don't attempt Dublin with a car. Watch a few youtube videos. Some of them are hilarious. The last car we rented in Ireland actually had one mirror hanging and a few scratches. We cut a tire on the Conor pass avoiding an oncoming truck. We replaced it in Dingle ourselves. Give me the autobahn any day. You could take the go bus to Galway and then rent a car the next day. You should spend the night there at least. Very fun city and great seafood. If you take the train you take the 747 bus to Heuston station from the airport. Denise, Irish butter is almost as good as French butter.
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Jul 23rd, 2018, 05:20 PM
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I guess I am one of the few to prefer lots of traffic in Ireland. Heavy traffic means there is someone in front to take the bullet for us so to speak, and someone slowing everyone up coming at us (though that might cause someone to pass). I am not a fan of empty narrow roads where the lorries can get up a head of steam coming right at us.
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Jul 25th, 2018, 04:52 AM
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xcountry, we had a driver, 30 an hour which was very reasonable for five of us take us to Killary to see the fjord and other places we had picked. We had a truck come at us in the opposite direction that took the side mirror. Our driver had a few words to speak. I swear there were two inches between us. At least on the M7, you are safer. They do drive like a bunch of eejits. My friend who lives in Cornwall calls the tourist descending on them now emmets. They clog up their roads and drive horrible. Same here, you must brace yourself at Orlando airport if getting on I-4. All those g&ts on the plane and then getting in a car and driving to Disney. I am thankful I head east on the beachline and not Disney when flying home. I at least have four lanes going in the same direction. They are introducing more traffic circles here in Fl and you would not believe the confusion they bring for drivers. I can only imagine them driving in Ireland.
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Jul 25th, 2018, 02:42 PM
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I am looking forward to Irish butter but any good butter makes me happy (and I think you know that if you have ever read one of my trip reports).

I guess I did not mention it but amazingly neither of us drive a stick shift - so manual transmission is a deal breaker (I have driven one maybe 3-4 times and not that well).

I think we both like to drink on vacation at lunch but we can survive a meal without drinking if driving on the opposite side of the road in a foreign country where they are strict on rental car damage and DUI! It will probably be easier for me to skip a drink as I am a wine/Champagne lover and beer/Ale, etc...

Great point not to drive in Dublin and we will never drive in any major city in Europe--no need to and who could afford the parking. This is only driving so we can see stuff outside Dublin (if we spend time there at all). But I can drive in Orlando (although it's one of my least favorite places to go because of all the Disney/Universal stuff- you can tell we have no kids). I only go to Orlando on business

Top cover---thank you janisj...this is the info you get from people who know (otherwise I would not what that is but sounds like we will need it).
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Jul 26th, 2018, 06:00 AM
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You will be fine. I would drive if I had no choice but have found ways around it. So many small tours are available now but you are wanting to stay in places that you will need a car. I gave up Ballycotton for Cobh this next trip for easier public transportation. We like city locations for evening dining and music normally but Ballycotton looked so beautiful. We didn't even ask and had an automatic in France in Feb. I think it is becoming more common. Just watch out for the big trucks and buses. They don't give up much space for oncoming traffic. I think the motorways are great driving. I was looking last night for the ferry times to Inismor and there is even a shuttle bus to take you but with a car you can leave out of Rossaveal easy for a day trip. There is the best cafe which has won awards there before you climb to see the cliffs and fort. Teach Nan Phaidi. Eat lunch there.
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