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

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

Old Jul 1st, 2014, 08:14 AM
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kwren:

I am reading and love your attention to lots of detail.

Carry on please.

Sandy
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Old Jul 1st, 2014, 09:38 AM
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Please do continue to include all of to details. those are what make the report come alive!
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Old Jul 1st, 2014, 10:14 AM
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Kwren:

Great trip report!

Who did you rent your car from?

How was the rental experience?
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Old Jul 1st, 2014, 10:51 AM
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Thanks for the support of my TR and all my details! I'll keep them coming!

We rented from Dan Dooley. We opted to go with all the insurance to turn the 1200€ deductible into a 100€ deductible in case of damage. I think they called that the excess waiver.

I paid up front for an extra driver but when we picked up the car, they didn't notice and tried to charge me again. I think it was accidental and could happen with anyone so just double check all charges no matter who you rent from.

We also had a problem with the car and their customer support was excellent.

Here's what happened. Our car worked great but after about 5 days, the motor started revving at the top of the scale even at low speeds and we couldn't get it to stop. There was a very strong burning smell when we got out - could smell it throughout the parking lot - and the dash read 'check auto gearbox'. We called the company and they asked me to call back the next morning after letting the car sit overnight. We checked it the next day and there was no revving and the dash notification was off. However, we didn't feel comfortable driving the car back to Dublin for an hour to exchange it so they sent out a new car for us, no questions asked. They had used 1/8 tank of gas to get it to us, but told us we could return the car at the end anywhere above the half mark to make up for it. They really stood behind their name and we appreciated their service.
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Old Jul 1st, 2014, 01:49 PM
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THE BURREN

I had seen pictures of the limestone covering this area and that's what I was out to find!

Here's what we wanted to do: Go to Corofin to pick up the free Burren bus to go through the park to hike one or two of the trails from Mullaghmore: the Orange route (1.3 km, 30 minutes/moderate) and/or the Green Route Nature Trail (1.5 km, 40 minutes/ moderate). We couldn't find the bus, and some people we asked didn't know about it, so we hoped to find Mullaghmore by driving around. It wasn't listed on the map we were using, but how hard could it be??? Turns out it was to the east of the main Burren area and we had inadvertently passed it by. By the time we figured that out, it was too late to try to get there. There are also longer and harder hiking routes, but they were too long for us.

Here's what we did instead, and it was just as good:
1. Burren Perfumery - out past the town of Carran - nice video about the flowers in the area, beautiful photography. The perfume making areas were not operational that day but we tested perfumes and walked through the gardens. Probably not worth a special trip, but it was still interesting.
2. Caherconnell ring fort - north of Lemanagh Castle on Route R480 - excellent movie giving an overview of the area of the Burren and the history of the ring fort. We walked around the grounds and explored the interior of the fort.
3. Poulnabrone Portal Tomb, just north of the ring fort on R480 - this is one of the famous pictures of the Burren with the huge stones holding up a flat rock overhead. Don't miss this stop. It's free. Best of all, this is where we first encountered the limestone outcroppings with the various wildflowers growing in the crevices. It was great just walking over the rock formations. This stop was exactly what we pictured when we thought of the Burren.
4. drove through the exposed limestone landscape and mountains from Poulnabrune up to Ballyvaughan - just stay on 480 and go north. When two 20 year old guys can't stop taking pictures, you know you've gone the right way!

DUNGUAIRE CASTLE AND GALWAY

From Ballyvaughan, we took the coast road towards Galway because DS had to catch a bus back to Dublin and felt like he'd be missing something if he didn't at least see that city. On the way, we passed Dunguaire Castle. I had read comments that the entry fee wasn't worth it, but it was pictured on one of the book covers we had borrowed from the library so it deserved a short visit since we were in the vicinity. We explored the parts we could see, and checked out the inevitable shop inside, but our favorite part was walking the tiny dirt trail that circles the entire castle. If you are driving by, it is worth a stop. This castle is also the site of a medieval banquet if you are in the area in the evening. I checked out a video about it and it looked pretty good, although supposedly the guests are crowded around the tables. Again, if you are into that sort of thing.

Turns out DS wanted to go to Galway partly to shop at Dillons 'Original' Claddagh Ring shop on Quay St to buy a Claddagh ring for his girlfriend, something all the American guys in the group were doing for their girlfriends left back home. Dillons website says it is the oldest jeweler in Ireland, established in 1750. DS really knows how to select a good store! I didn't know what he was really up to since he hadn't mentioned this reason to go to Galway so we didn't rush to get there early. We arrived 15 minutes before closing so didn't have time to visit the tiny ring museum inside - we were too busy looking at the jewelry! Well, I benefitted too as my husband saw me admiring the rings and bought me a gold one as an upcoming 30th anniversary present! I haven't taken it off since!

After that we walked to Eyre Square, the central park of Galway. We relaxed and decided to go into a pub for dinner. The Skeff was on Eyre Square and seemed like a good choice. I had my first Bulmers there - a hard apple cider and very good.

After dinner, we walked around until it was time for DS to catch his bus. You know you are in Ireland when the musicians on the street are a harpist accompanied by an accordion!

We dropped him at the station at 6:30 and then it was time for the next leg of our trip...and more driving! We were off for Killarney, a 3 hour drive, via...

ADARE

I have always wanted to see a thatched roof cottage! When I heard that Adare had a row of them, I knew that we would have to stop, and wouldn't you know, it just happened to be on the way to Killarney! What I didn't realize was that there was an entire row of beautifully maintained TRC's just as you enter Adare on the main road. I learned that Adare is a 'Tidy Town' and was also called the "wedding capital of Ireland", at least on one website. That reminded me of my two sons' upcoming weddings - one in July and one in August!!! No wonder I fled the country!

We stopped for half an hour to walk and admire the cottages, and I walked back to the bridge we had crossed over the River Maigue. I had seen some people taking pictures of a castle from that bridge and I need to stretch my legs so back I went. What I hadn't realized was that there was no sidewalk, so after some moments of indecision, I snuck along the walls by the side of the road until I reached the perfect picture taking spot. I don't really recommend doing this - there was a lot of traffic, but in the end I got some good shots. On the way back I passed the St. Nicolas Church with its Augustinian Friary. Parts were open, like the little cloister, so I just entered and enjoyed the silence.

Lastly, SH and I walked around the Adare Town Park and took in the Washing Pool where the towns' ladies used to do their washing, the flowers and a thatch roof gazebo. Very pretty and relaxing.

But Killarney and the Southwest of Ireland were waiting and we had a reservation at another B&B so off we went again to finish the day's driving.
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Old Jul 1st, 2014, 04:47 PM
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Loved the ferry view of the cliffs, we saw puffins everywhere on the day we did it. Both Islands are wonderful in their own ways. I love Doolin and all three pubs. I can taste the seafood chowder.

I have never been to Adare. I somehow always go a different way but still on my list. Sounds like a great photo op.
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Old Jul 1st, 2014, 05:18 PM
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Kwren, really enjoying your report. Don't skimp on the details!

You mentioned the long daylight hours this time of year and wondered about the flip side. I lived in Ireland in for a couple of years early on after college, so I can tell you from experience, that winters are tough! It was dark in the morning till 9ish, worse on overcast days, and the sun was low in the sky when we finished at 4. I found it dreary, though on a sparkling sunny day it could be great. In spite of the darkness, the weather seemed mild in winter compared to New England. I usually just wore an Irish knit when going out for a walk. In winter it was often as cold inside the house as outdoors. We had peat fires in the rooms but they didn't throw a lot of heat in the room and the hallways were very cold.

Anyway, thanks for sharing your report.
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Old Jul 1st, 2014, 06:19 PM
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We were so lucky with the weather irishface. It was chilly enough for jeans and a sweater most days, so I can imagine that the winters must be cold and damp inside and out. Many of our rooms had little radiators in them. Made us realize how we take central heating for granted.

We were also lucky with the lack of rain. Everywhere we went the locals marveled at that on our behalf. They were actually starting to hope for rain and we could see the effects of it with the low water lines in many rivers and lakes.

And you're welcome!

flpab - try to get to Adare if you can. Those roofs are amazing. I wonder how often they have to redo the thatch. They all looked brand new and in perfect condition. I can't imagine the work involved in the upkeep.
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Old Jul 2nd, 2014, 02:37 AM
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One of my Irish friends remarked recently, "Sixty years ago, if you had a thatch roof, you were poor. If you have a thatch roof today, you are rich." I think she mentioned the sum equivalent to thirty thousand dollars to put one on the new houses.
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Old Jul 2nd, 2014, 03:58 AM
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We went to Kilmore Quay our first visit many years ago and most everyone had thatched roofs, not so much anymore. I love them. Glad you had such perfect weather.
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Old Jul 2nd, 2014, 04:09 AM
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Do thatch roofs require any sort of regular maintenance? Most of the ones we saw were thick and luxurious, absolutely pristine., with every stalk perfectly cut. Are they treated with anything?
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Old Jul 2nd, 2014, 03:00 PM
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OUR KILLARNEY B&B

We got to our B&B at 10 pm: Ross Castle Lodge. We were so surprised when the hospitality started immediately - we were offered tea and scones even though it was late! We sat in the living room after taking our luggage up and this snack just hit the spot. The owner spent some time talking to us and it was very relaxing.

We had booked another family room - 2 bedrooms with double beds and a bathroom met off the little entry hall. We had a round window over our bed and it looked out onto a beautiful garden - very colorful. The rooms were very pretty, the beds were comfortable and breakfast was included for 32€ per person. Each night we could consult the breakfast menu and wrote our order on the sheet in the main entry and it was ready at the time we chose. Very organized. We usually chose the traditional Irish breakfast, but there were other options too, fresh fruit, yogurts, cereal, etc.

http://www.rosscastlebnb.com

This turned out to be another favorite B&B of the trip. We were so happy to be staying there for 3 nights. It was a very short walk to Ross Castle and we could also walk into Killarney from there. It was a pleasure to wake up to the clip-clop of horse drawn carriages each morning and to return the end of each day.
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Old Jul 2nd, 2014, 05:57 PM
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What an interesting trip report! Thank you.

The long day light is wonderful....unless you are trying to sleep.

Silly question...Did the light keep you awake and affect your rest--either at night/morning?
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Old Jul 3rd, 2014, 07:28 AM
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GAP OF DUNLOE

Yea! No driving today! But a lot of riding.

During breakfast, we arranged for a Gap of Dunloe trip for today. The nice thing about staying here is that we were told that we would have a guaranteed place in case there were too many people waiting. I suppose because the trip started from the Ross Castle Lodge, they were somehow connected.

We could have walked, but instead we were picked up by the "vintage bus", a trolley. The ride took about a minute, we paid the driver 30€ cash per person (mainly for the boat ride), and walked to a dock at the first of the Killarney lakes. We boarded a long motor boat with talkative skipper Tom, who also drove the bus, and had an informative 14 mile ride through the 3 lakes in the area. This part took about 1 1/2 hours. We learned about the history of Ross Castle, passed through the "Meeting of the Waters" where supposedly the 3 lakes meet, and just enjoyed the beautiful scenery between 2 mountain ranges, the Mac Gillycuddy Reeks and the Purple Mountains. We also passed under The Old Weir Bridge, where you "shoot the rapids, water levels permitting". Well, water levels did not permit since it there had not been the usual rain in the previous weeks (good for us!), but we had a much more interesting experience. Everyone except for the captain and two "volunteers" got out and walked a short path from one side of the bridge to the other, while the 2 remaining guys grabbed ropes and pulled the boat through the shallows under the bridge. It was slow going but the boat would have never made it fully loaded. We boarded again from the jetty on the other side and continued the journey. We ended near Lord Brandon's Cottage which used to be a hunting lodge but is now an open air restaurant and had a snack. Our boat driver in the meantime said he would go back to the starting point, pick up the bus and meet us at the end of the next leg.

The next part of the tour involved going through the gap of Dunloe. There were two options: walk the 7 miles or take a jaunting cart, a horse-drawn buggy for an additional 20€ each. We chose to ride and it was a good thing. Beautiful scenery comes with a price...mountainous terrain! Each minute was more spectacular than the last! Those horses really work hard but at least the driver asked a few people to walk the steepest section to help them out. I was happy to oblige, even though the driver tried to keep me in the cart, but walk I did! The roads we followed were very narrow and it was very difficult when people drove cars through. There weren't many, but whenever we met one, there was some negotiating to do. We met an RV once while we were descending the mountainside and as they waited and waited, it seemed they thought that a horse could just back a cart up the hill to make way for them. The RV finally backed up give us room.

If you hadn't noticed, this trip was amazing and I wholeheartedly recommend it!

We got through the Black Valley and gap between the mountains, crossing tiny stone bridges and passing more lakes and boulders and ended at Kate Kearney's Cottage, really another place for snacks, ice cream and souvenirs, were picked up by our trolley and smiling Tom and were dropped back at the B&B. Plan on a whole day for this trip and relax!
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Old Jul 3rd, 2014, 07:30 AM
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polly - no, the light didn't affect me at all, but then again I sleep through anything. It was just weird to wake up at 4:30 and see the sunrise!

And thanks for your comment. I'm glad you're enjoying my report.
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Old Jul 3rd, 2014, 07:38 AM
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KILLARNEY FISH AND CHIPS

We walked to Killarney after a nap and found a restaurant recommended for its fish and chips by a couple of people: Quinlan's Seafood Bar. It was a tiny place with a bright blue shopfront on the main drag with the kitchen in the end of the room. They had about 6 fishes listed as fish and chips options....whiting, plaice, cod, haddock, and a couple of others. DD was going to order whiting, but the waitress mentioned that that was the one most likely to have bones so she switched to plaice, which was very mild with a soft flesh. I think cod is the usual fish for fish and chips, but I ordered the haddock and OMG! How delicious!!! It came with either a huge pile of chips (French fries) or half fries and half salad. DH ordered pan fried salmon and that was delicious too, but if you are in Killarney and want fish and chips do not miss this place!

Afterwards, we stopped in a pub for some live Irish music, had a couple of drinks and walked back to the B&B. A great day!
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Old Jul 4th, 2014, 11:18 AM
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Although I had many highlights this trip, and more to come, this was THE highlight of Ireland for me! I will never forget this day!

SKELLIG MICHAEL - WORLD HERITAGE SITE

A rock island 8 miles off the coast of SW Ireland, 714 feet high with a monastery founded by St. Fionan in the 6th Century near the top, built out of the stone by monks who wanted to live in total isolation. The monastery is comprised of beehive huts, retaining walls, a church, a cemetery, terraces, all reached by a long gradual path then an arduous climb of 600 uneven rock steps with basically no railings or supports the entire way.


Today we left early (the B&B was nice enough to put out cereals, fruit, breads and fixins for tea since it was before serving time) and took the northern road along the Ring of Kerry - it was pretty but nothing to write home about - with the specific destination of Portmagee at the very end. Portmagee is a place where the boats leave for the Skellig islands. (I read of a boat company which also left from Ballinskelligs, but the review was so TERRIBLE with accounts of the boat swamping and no way to call for help that I wanted to avoid the entire town to be sure I didn't end up on that one.)

Despite being stuck behind a slow truck much of the way, the trip from Killarney took under an hour and a half. Once we arrived, we stayed on the Portmagee side - don't cross the bridge to the visitors center - and found a small crowd waiting by the gate to a dock of boats. Most had reservations, but a few didn't, like DH and me. (DD had decided to stay back at the hotel for the day) We nervously watched as more and more groups arrived with reservations and the 13 boats were filling up fast. Why didn't I make a reservation what could easily be canceled without paying??!! Anyway, now and then I asked a few of the waiting captains if they would have room for me and the answer was always the same - we are full and you have to wait until last minute to see if there are no-shows. The was no organization for the many others who arrived after us and some people got on before we did. In the end, they had one spot (!) which DH, since he had injured his leg anyway and couldn't climb to the top of the island, insisted I take...so I did.

I'll mention here that there is a shorter boat tour which does not stop at the island for people who don't feel that they can navigate the steps. DH took this tour and they circled both islands without stopping. He enjoyed that tour as well and it was considerably cheaper, I think 30€

The boat ride took about a 45 minutes and the sea was like a mirror. No seasickness for anyone today! First we circled Little Skellig, the neighboring island which was actually bigger than Skellig Michael, to see the 30,000 pairs of nesting birds. This was like the rock at the Cliffs of Moher, but hundreds of time larger, and completely covered with nests and sitting Gannetts, with hundreds more circling the island and screaming. What a sight! Mostly the gulls flying and sitting on the straw nests, but also the Guillemots and Razorbills which were at the lower levels and looked like penguins. I won't soon forget the odor on the downwind side of that island!

Next, we continued on to the main island and were let off at the pier, and as the boat pulled away, we started the long hike up the gradual incline of the "road" to the beginning of the steps where a guide was waiting to give safety instructions. Since there were for the most part no handholds or railings, and since most often there was not even any ground along at least one side of the rock slab steps, we were told that if we became unexpectedly afraid, to let another climber know, who would in turn notify either the top or bottom guide and they would then come to help. They said at least one person a day ended up sitting on the steps and going down rear first. They mentioned a couple of fatalities in 2009 (yikes!) and then we were ready to go.

I took my time going up for two reasons...the obvious one that I could never climb 600 uneven steps quickly, but the more important was that this island was covered in hundreds (thousands?) of puffins! OMG how adorable. I hadn't realized that they fly - if you could call it that with their chubby bodies dangling below their little furiously beating wings. Puffin nesting season lasts here until mid-July and they don't have traditional nests. Instead they dig holes, and there were holes everywhere. Sometimes dirt was flung out into the air as if a dog was inside furiously digging for a bone. The puffins would come out of the holes to sun or take to flight, dive-bombing from the island straight down and then would come back up looking like giant bugs with their bodies one way, wings outwards and bright orange webbed feel sticking out for an ungraceful landing. I could barely tear myself away from taking dozens of pictures the entire way up.

The trail passed a cove at one point where the Gannetts were nesting in the crevices in the walls and again, what noise! Hundreds were swooping around the entire area and some sounded like they were in a fight for their lives.

The steps, which would be treacherous when wet, were actually slabs of rock, not nicely carved stairs, that as the guide warned us, stuck out waiting to catch the toes of anyone not paying attention. At times they were open to the air on both sides, other times bordered by rock on one side. Once going down, they came to a complete stop at a sharp turn with nothing but a tiny yellow sign with a arrow directing you to turn right. If you didn't, pure nothingness would await. It was very interesting meeting other people going the opposite direction. Who would pass on the outside? Conquering these steps felt like such a victory!

The monastery was built and occupied 1400 years ago. The monks left the island in the thirteenth century and it became a place of pilgrimage. By the time I arrived, there were quite a few people wandering around, but since I had taken an hour to get there, most of them left shortly. I loved the feeling of being up there almost alone, although there was another guide present to answer questions. I learned that it was estimated that about 15 monks had lived here, that they were very self-sufficient catching fish and birds to eat and growing veggies in a garden plot behind a wall protecting them from the wind. There were 6 dry-construction corbeled beehive huts, completely waterproof, the largest probably used for cooking and eating. The large cross was possibly to indicate the burial of the founder or used to show status. How could this amazing site be built 600 feet above sea level on a steep rock island? Just amazing.

The way down was trickier for me. The lighting caused the steps to blend into one another and I could not help looking down past the steps...down! I didn't suffer from any of this, but when I reached that little yellow sign, I had a bit of trouble continuing. What if I couldn't stop as I approached it? I got around that corner OK and just took my time getting down. There were a few stopping points along the way where people were picnicking on the rocks, but they had brought their food with them. Don't expect any shops, bathrooms or souvenir stands here. The only thing that looked out of place was the helicopter landing pad near the water which I glimpsed from a few different vantage points. I didn't really want to think about what that would be used for.

My timing was perfect. I approached the dock after my allotted 2 1/2 hours on the island and got on our boat which had just arrived. My backpack had a little "souvenir" from a bird or two if you get my drift, as did my T-shirt. Not bad considering the thousands of birds flying overhead. Before returning to Portmagee, the captain waited for his 50€ fee and posed for a picture. The pictures I took are my most treasured ones of the vacation! I get scared just looking at some of them as I realize just what I accomplished that day.

On the way back, we spotted a whale and a bit later a large pos of dolphins. Each time the captain changed course to circle around, giving us excellent views.

Once on land, I stopped at the pub across the street from the docks and had a steaming bowl of creamy fish chowder. Delicious if you want a quick snack chock full of huge pieces of fish.
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Old Jul 4th, 2014, 11:38 AM
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From Portmagee, we decided to take a detour through the Dingle Peninsula. The views here were more beautiful than the northern side of the Ring of Kerry in our opinion. The patchwork fields on the rolling hills and mountains were spectacular. The best (scariest?) was that the way we went took us over Connor Pass. Twisting turning narrow roads were at their scariest when a big bus would appear out of nowhere from behind a blind curve and need to squeeze past. There were a variety of pull off points which we definitely used. We passed lakes and sheep on the way back down and entered Dingle, a cute town of colorful buildings. We walked around a bit, visiting the statue of Fergie the dolphin who meets a tour boat every day, before continuing back.

One of our Ireland books said to avoid the southernmost road of the Dingle Peninsula between Anascul and Castlemain if you were afraid of tricky driving, but we decided that it would save us a lot of time to go that way since this was turning into a long day. I don't know what all the fuss was about. It was no problem driving at all. There was a cool beach at Inch along that road, the sand bar sticking way out into the water.

We got back to Killarney fairly quickly (compared to other driving trips that is) even though this time we were stuck behind a big tractor for a while. We wanted to get dinner there and circled around for a bit looking for parking. Somehow we ended up in the narrowest lane between cars and a wall and could only proceed by folding in the mirrors and attracting some locals who had a laugh watching us navigate through that narrow space. We made it, found parking and proceeded to the Killarney Grand (also called Sheehan's Hotel) where Irish music was starting within an hour. We had decided to get there early, get a table, have dinner and be ready for drinks and music at the appointed time. Unfortunately, they didn't serve food. What to do? We didn't want to lose our table so I asked if I could bring in food, to which they said no problem. I went back to Quinlans from the previous night and got us fish and chips "take-away". It felt strange to go back to the same place - aren't we supposed to keep on trying new places?, until I noticed some people who had been sitting next to us the previous night. They waved at me so I went over to say hi after ordering and it turns out that this was their THIRD time eating there. Even more fun was they didn't speak English so I got to practice my French! I invited them to join us at the pub for the music after they finished eating and left food in hand. They showed up, we all drank together and listened to some wonderful music. Nice end to the day.
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Old Jul 4th, 2014, 03:57 PM
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I love the idea of zillions of Puffins and Gannetts!

I have mixed feelings about Skellig Michael since I have a "heights" thing. I remind myself there are others who have gone before who may not be as agile as I am.
For example, the monks who occupied the island....


Can you advise? For example, what would you guesstimate was the oldest person on the day you hiked the Skellig Michael?

Thank you again--I love your trip report!
PD
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Old Jul 5th, 2014, 05:50 AM
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Hi polly - thanks for chiming in and I'm so glad you are reading along.

I don't know how old you are, but from pictures online I saw that all ages from kids on up go on this trip and I do recall seeing a couple of guys in their 60's the day I was there, but I'd say it's more about ability, and honestly, fear, rather than years. For me it was not a matter of the height, but more being out on the open steps with no railings, although there was a chain rail in two of the most treacherous places. I did quite well with it though, I'm proud to say. I'm not the most fit person and I just took my time. Anyone with a balance problem should not do this in my opinion. We met a couple on our Gap of Dunloe trip. The wife said she hung on her husband's arm on the way up. Would you have anyone to travel with?

I went with Patrick Murphy and his boat the Shelluna, but there were others online that I could have used:

http://www.esatclear.ie/~skelligsrock/

No matter which company you use, if you make a reservation (which I recommend) and are told to call the day before to confirm, please do so. One guy waiting had reserved but hadn't called and his spot had been given away because they didn't think he was coming. In the end, he did get on another boat, but that would be an upsetting experience.
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