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IRELAND - the driving is great: east to west, south to north!

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Jun 29th, 2014, 12:58 AM
  #1
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IRELAND - the driving is great: east to west, south to north!

I'm sitting in the dining room of our hotel in Northern Ireland, waiting for the family to come down and enjoying some tea. I thought it would be a good time to start my trip report.

My husband, daughter and I left the USA 10 days ago with the intention of driving a circular route around southern Ireland. Our son who goes to Boston University is spending the summer doing an internship in Dublin so the plan was to pick him up in Dublin and go to the west for the first weekend. He would go back to Dublin for the week and meet us somewhere down south for our second weekend. We planned to take him back Sunday in time for us to leave for the states on Monday. Overall, this plan worked well for all of us, although DS wasn't too interested in our second weekend plans which caused a major change for us, all for the best!

We stayed in a combination of B&Bs and hotels, a total of 6 different places and 10 nights, a first for us. We had packed well and didn't have much luggage to lug around, and stayed in two of the places for more than 1 night. We had a great time talking to the proprietors, a wonderful way to get to know about the culture and day to day living of people here. We got great information from them and really enjoyed this part of our traveling.

I have to admit I wasn't as excited to come to Ireland as I have been for other trips we've taken. I had been here before as a student and it was nice, but of course I didn't know about travel forums back them (actually there wasn't Internet then anyway ) so with a bit of planning this time, although nowhere as much as usual, I was amazingly surprised at what a wonderful trip it turned out to be!

There aren't too many people who responded to my posts before my trip - i guess many people don't read about Ireland - but I thank those who did chime in for their input. We were able to follow most of that advice...so thanks!

So there is my intro. I'll try not be too detailed!
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Jun 29th, 2014, 04:38 AM
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looking forward to how you did the trip.
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Jun 29th, 2014, 04:39 AM
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We loved our trips to Ireland and I usually comment on posts and try to help. We just returned from Europe and I guess I was in the planning for that and missed responding to your previous posts.

That said, it sounds like an interesting trip and I'll be following along with interest.
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Jun 29th, 2014, 05:17 PM
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We're going to Ireland in September. I'm looking forward to reading your trip report to get some ideas!
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Jun 29th, 2014, 06:30 PM
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So glad everything is going well. Can't wait to hear more.
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Jun 29th, 2014, 07:05 PM
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We enjoyed our trip to and through Ireland. We did have a problem when we were driving in a Gaeltacht area, though. We were totally lost, and since the sign were in Gaelic only, we couldn't find our way out.

We were saved when we spotted a truckdriver, who turned out to be Polish. We followed him as he drove like a bat out of hell, and we finally found our way.
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Jun 30th, 2014, 02:10 AM
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Peg...getting lost was one of favorite parts of our trip! We saw some beautiful countryside that way! The exception to that was our last day when we were in a time crunch. Getting lost would not have been an option, but the GPS (it was unexpectedly in our second car...more to follow on that) was a big help...otherwise, the truck driver option would have worked for us too!

Labattlovr....I hope I have some good ideas for you! We did such a huge variety that I'm sure you'll find something.

And everyone else...glad you're along for the ride!
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Jun 30th, 2014, 07:37 AM
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I'm in Zurich airport now on the way home . Started my first entry in Dublin but apparently lost the whole thing. Let's hope it works this time!

Our trip started out so easily from PA to Dublin via Newark airport. I found a park and fly lot online and we have yet to see if the car is in one piece when we return later today. (If you have been following my "fiat is a lemon" thread you'll know we want it in good shape to get our money back, which will be happening this week!) We took Air Canada and there was no problem. The funny part was when the flight attendant sweetly asked, "would you care to join us for dinner?" instead of the gruff "chicken or beef?" demand. That was nice but the food was barely edible. Didn't matter though...at least I wasn't cooking and we were on the way to Ireland!

Taking Air Canada was done to save money, of course, and to do that we went through Toronto. That is one beautiful airport! Rows and rows of tables with hundreds of iPads, all free to use. You can order food and track the status of your flight just while sitting there. It even notifies you when it's a half hour to boarding, asking you if you would like tea or coffee in the meantime.

We arrived in Dublin on time and picked up our car from Dan Dooley, as recommended on Fodors. Also recommended was a automatic car, which we decided to do. Costly yes, but with driving on the opposite side, narrow twisty roads, mountain driving, and especially the amount of driving we knew we would be doing (LOTS!), we thought it would be worth it. Good decision although I have to say the driving took no time to master. One practice trip around the parking lot and we were good to go.

By the way, I paid in advance for two drivers and they tried to charge me again so just always double check all charges no matter who you rent through! They also put an extra charge of 110 euros on the credit card, to be reimbursed if you bring the car back full.

We drove to DCU, Dublin University University, luckily not far from the airport, killed some time by taking a 1/2 hour nap in a parking lot and met our son at the appointed time. DS is in Dublin for a summer internship and we planned our trip over two weekends so he could travel with us between working.

Getting away from Dublin took some time due to construction but soon we were on our way through beautiful green fields, stone walls, castles, churches, sheep and cows...and narrower and narrower roads. Going west...destination Doolin, south of Galway.
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Jun 30th, 2014, 07:53 AM
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DOOLIN

Doolin is a tiny Irish town on the coast. What struck me is the small proportion of buildings to land. Sweeping open landscape as far as we could see out to the water.

We arrived out to our B&B, the Roadford House, without directions, but it was not hard to find. It was about a 5 minute drive to the main strip of shops out by the harbor, but only a short walk to two of the 3 well known pubs. We loved the set up of our rooms. We had a separate entrance to our family room...two separate rooms and a large bathroom upstairs with a half bath on the main floor. Very nice for four people. We had to get used to the lock...had to lift up on the door handle to turn the key. The rooms were very pretty and everything was spotlessly clean. The proprietor was warm and helpful and we would stay there again. Even better was that this B&B had a restaurant. We decided to eat there with the 24 euro 2 course special (had to arrive before 6:45) and it was delicious. I started with a Thai fish chowder and it was out of this world! Completely full of fish but with a non-spicy light coconut curry soup base. I'm salivating just thinking of it. I followed that with a steak and that was perfect as well. It was good to have a wonderful meal after all the driving.

Wanting to conquer our jet lag, we asked for suggestions of what to do and were directed to the Cliffs of Moher drive at the top of the cliffs. Marian suggested this as the visitor center was closed and we could avoid the crowds (and parking fee). It was about a 15 minute drive and a beautiful evening and we enjoyed the walk along the trails, looking over the cliffs and at the castle perched at the top. Definitely a nice introduction to the cliffs.
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Jun 30th, 2014, 10:53 AM
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Ireland is our our bucket list, so I'm along for the ride and enjoying it! Looking forward to more!
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Jun 30th, 2014, 12:01 PM
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Planning a self-drive trip in October. Looking forward to your TR!!
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Jun 30th, 2014, 09:00 PM
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Back in the US on my way home. Feeling a bit punchy since my body keeps telling me it's almost 5 am. Sleep would be so nice now.

Thanks to anyone who has commented. It's sure a lot easier to write a TR when I know people are reading and/or appreciating it. More tomorrow!
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Jul 1st, 2014, 05:16 AM
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Only way to see the cliffs, after the tour buses have gone. That must have been a nice after dinner walk. I am reading!
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Jul 1st, 2014, 06:36 AM
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flpab - not the only way, as you will read soon, but a beautiful way! We so prefer to see places without the crowds and there must have been only half a dozen other people there with us. As a matter of fact, looking at my pictures of that evening, there are no other people in them and I didn't try to do that except for a couple of shots by the castle. The days are so long in Ireland. Even after dinner, it's still light out until 10:30. When I woke up early, even at 4:30 am, it was starting to get light. Must be some short dreary winter days on the flip side though.

We were told by a local person that the land and cliffs were donated back to Ireland from its landowner with the proviso that no buildings be constructed on the land. To get around that, the visitors center and some shops were built into the hillside. Our favorite shop name: 'The Gifts of Moher'! Of course, by going in the evening, the center and shops were not open.

Here are some helpful sites for information:

http://www.cliffsofmoher.ie

http://www.thebestinheritage.com/pre...rience,46.html

I wouldn't miss seeing the cliffs from above if I was going to be in the area.
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Jul 1st, 2014, 07:08 AM
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A few things I missed:

On the way to Doolin, we stopped at Kilfenora, "city of the seven crosses", to see the High Crosses, possibly used as status symbols for a monastery or carved to tell Bible stories since many could not read. A couple were located in the small cathedral under a glass roof and one other was in an unprotected area of a field behind the church. Amazing to see these enormous crosses.

If you are driving to the west coast, do try to stop. In Kilfenora, there is the Burren Centre Kilfenora in the center of the village. (It was closed when we arrived.) Park there and walk to the church down the lane to the right. Enter the graveyard. If the door to the church is locked, you can walk through the cemetery to the back of the church, go around to the right and walk back up to the front on that side. The roofed area is free and apparently open to enter anytime. After that visit, return to the back of the church and go across the back field (you have to climb through a narrow opening in a short stone wall, but there were some steps to help) and there's another. Worth the short walk.

http://www.megalithicireland.com/Hig...0Kilfenora.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_cross

Back to our B&B in Doolin - The Roadford House - we paid 140€ for 4 of us in the 'suite', including a wonderful breakfast of our first traditional Irish breakfast of fried egg, sausage, bacon (more like ham), potatoes, grilled tomato and black and white puddings. There was also a buffet of yogurts, cereals, stewed rhubarb with ginger and juices. For people who didn't want the traditional breakfast, there was a menu of other gourmet-sounding options. Trust me when I say that we did not leave hungry!

http://www.roadfordrestaurant.com

And lastly, I messed up the name of DCU where my son is staying - it's actually Dublin City University.
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Jul 1st, 2014, 07:31 AM
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Did you manage to keep all your hubcaps? We lost three of ours while driving on those narrow roads. I assume the roadside shrubs claimed them.
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Jul 1st, 2014, 08:24 AM
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DOOLIN PUBS

We were told that there were 3 pubs to visit for traditional Irish music in Doolin. After the cliffs, we took the car back to the B&B and took the 3 minute walk to McGanns's, the one I had heard the most about. We got there at 9:00 and the place was packed. We were lucky to find a table, but it was way in the back and just under a TV which was loudly broadcasting the World Cup...and it was very hot. We realized that no one would dare turn off that TV when the music started and that we would never hear it, so we decided to try our luck across the street at McDermott's.

We were not disappointed! The Irish music was in full swing and again, the place was packed! We stood for a while listening to the violin, guitar and small accordion players and loved it. Some people left so we took their places at a table with a couple from, of all places, Philadelphia. We ordered our drinks, whiskey and ginger ale for me, Guinness for DS, and stayed until the jet lag caught up with my daughter. A very fun evening, but I do recommend getting to the pubs early for a seat. Get something to eat in the meantime - the food in McGanns's looked amazing!

ARAN ISLAND AND CLIFFS OF MOHER CRUISE

When booking our B&B, we mentioned that we wanted to take a combination cruise to the Aran Islands and Cliffs of Moher. Marian said via email to not book in advance (which I had almost done), that there would be no problem booking once we were there. (I don't know if this is good advice in the high season of July and August, but we went with her advice and had no problem.) She called to book this cruise for us and got us a discount, from 25€ down to 20€ per person through O'Brien Cruises. There were other cruise lines down at the dock, but I don't know if they did the combi cruise which was recommended to us.

www.obrienline.com

This cruise went to the smallest Aran Island, Inisheer, population around 300, and past the cliffs and lasted about 5 hours. I had actually wanted to visit the largest island, Inishmore, because there was more to see but I was told to allow an entire day for that and that there was plenty on Inisheer. In fact, people usually go to Inishmore from Galway (can be a rough crossing I'm told though from there) and they usually go to Inisheer from Doolin. In fact, Inisheer had plenty to see in the 3 1/2 hours we were there.

Once on the island, there are plenty of jaunting carts, horse-drawn buggies, waiting for hire to take you on a tour of the island. They run 10€ a person. Our driver said that our older kids could go for free, but we paid him half-price for each since he gave a great tour. There was also a place to rent bikes - be prepared for hills and narrow roads with the jaunting carts squeezing by, and an enclosed van, but most people seemed to take the carts or walk. We passed the first larger wagon which holds a larger number and met a guy who had a tiny cart so it was just us on our tour.

The island was amazing! Go if you can! It's only two miles across and is fairly barren and the striking thing is the miles and miles of stone walls everywhere you look. There were many rocks on the island so the way to get rid of them from the land was to pile them up in stone walls.

The Irish language is still taught in the schools, but it seems to be dying out according to our driver. Seaweed is gathered for gardens and potato fields and must be dried, a process which takes 36 hours. Sand is brought in too. Our driver's accent was pretty thick, so I might have gotten some of this wrong. If anyone can correct me, please feel free!

We passed a shipwreck, the Plassey. I asked how an enormous rusting freighter ended up on the land and was told there was a huge storm in 1960 which washed it up, luckily killing no one. You can walk to it and look inside. Our driver said it wasn't worth walking out, but we did, as did people from all the other carts. We wondered if he was trying to get back quickly to get another group. Do take the short walk out to it. (It's rocky - wear good walking shoes.)

We continued on and were finally let our by the path up to O'Brien's Castle on the island's highest point and inside a prehistoric ring fort. (He would have taken us back to the docks if we preferred). It was a nice hike of a 100 meter climb and gave dramatic views of the hills with their walls, the beach and harbor. DS climbed a bit on the castle walls. There was an 18th century signal tower nearby, but it was closed off.

Next we walked to the cemetery up on a bluff with the sunken Saint Caomhan's church (10th century Temple Kevin) in the center. Since it is lower than the cemetery, sand can fill it in and must be removed every so often. There were many beautiful Celtic crosses and wonderful views. Overall, we had beautiful weather in Ireland, but it rained throughout our time in the cemetery, fitting weather for the visit I'd say, but sort of mystical at the same time because it stopped as soon as we left. The only rain of the day!

We walked along the beach to the docks and enjoyed watching a playful dolphin following and circling a large rubber boat. There is a famous dolphin, Fungie, who follows a tour boat in Dingle. Maybe this was his lesser-known cousin...newly named Mushroom by yours truly.

If you take the combo cruise, be aware that at least two boats leave Inisheer at the same time, only one for the cliffs. One couple was seen running from one to the other when they noticed family members on the correct one.

Then the half hour trip to the Cliffs. This is the other way to visit them and not to be missed! There was an extremely tall rock island which the boat circled for quite a while because it is inhabited by 10's of thousands of pairs of nesting birds, the largest colony on the mainland (but dwarfed by Little Skellig Island which I'll talk about later) What a racket...and what a mess 30,000 birds can make! The ones that look like penguins are the guillemots or maybe Razorbills and they nest on the rocks down low. Kittiwakes (like sea gulls) build actual nests in the crevices up along the sides to the top. Enough of the bird lesson!

We got back, wandered through the shops of Doolin on the way back from the docks, and left for our next stop, an hour away.
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Jul 1st, 2014, 08:26 AM
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Hi Peg - yup - all hubcaps accounted for! My husband did hit a stone bridge with the mirror though! It folded in on its own so was no worse for the wear and tear. lol
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Jul 1st, 2014, 08:28 AM
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I just realized that I said I'd hold back on the details! I guess that's hard for me, but I'll try not to be so wordy!
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Jul 1st, 2014, 09:02 AM
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BUNRATTY CASTLE TRADITIONAL IRISH NIGHT

Definitely a touristy thing to do, if you like that sort of thing. I had wanted to do this our first night since we would be driving by, but it was full so I booked it for our second night, not having planned Doolin yet. We did not do all this in the correct order, I admit. The evening included meade or Irish Cream upon arrival, Irish breads, a decent dinner of lamb stew and potatoes, unlimited red and white wine and dessert. The entertainment was fun with various forms of traditional Irish dancing and music and our kids really enjoyed it. At one point, they pulled two young guys from the audience up on stage to participate in a traditional Irish dance, and you guessed it, DS was one of them. The guys stumbled through the dance much to the amusement of the crowd. The video may be useful in the future, you never know!

We had booked a B&B family room for that night nearby in Newmarket-on-Fergus at Cahergal B&B. It was in a beautiful setting down a long driveway edged by split rail fences. The website shows a beautiful triple room with a large bay window. That room looked just like the picture online. Since there were 4 of us, however, we were in the Ivy Suite. It was a whole different feel with very plain furnishings and unmatched bedspreads. We entered a room with 2 twin beds, passed through to a room with a double bed and continued on to a spotless good-sized bathroom. This doesn't sound like a good description, but everything was perfectly clean, the beds were extremely comfortable, and they offered a very good breakfast (although the bacon was a tough as leather). It was a bit farther out than anticipated and once we found a better route to get there, that improved. There was nothing really wrong with it, but I'd probably try another if we were there again.
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