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Trip Report Ireland Trip & Video Report | 10 day Circle Tour

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YOU HAVE BEEN FOREWARNED! This is a lengthy post as I just can’t stop talking about our trip. If you are more of a visual person, you can view our video and check back here for specific details, if you like. You can view the video here:

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    I have a confession to make. Ireland was not at the top of my list for places to go. However, my hubby is of Irish descent and I knew that it was important to him. And now I am SO glad that we went. I want to tell everyone that they should make it there next destination! I gleaned so much knowledge from fellow TA’s prior to our trip that I believe it truly allowed to us to jump right in. Wanting to see as much of the country as possible and with a limited time frame, we circled the island in a clockwise fashion, staying one night at each location (with the exception of Belfast and Dublin, where we stayed two nights).

    We normally travel pretty light, but on this trip we packed quite a bit of camera gear and the accompanying paraphernalia, which required an extra backpack and carry-on.

    LOGISTICS & TECHNOLOGY: We flew from LAX to Shannon. Our car rental was through AVIS and we ended up renting a mid-size (again, that camera gear!) with manual transmission. Since we would have our luggage with us the majority of the time, we wanted to ensure that it was stowed safely from view.

    About a week prior to our trip, I ordered the Ireland sim card for our Garmin GPS to bring along. While it did a pretty good job, some of the more obscure points of interest were better found with Google Maps on our phone. For that we purchased a sim card from a 3 store in Ennis for $20 and used it on my hubby’s unlocked phone. We had considered purchasing a WiFi hotspot which would have required the hotspot itself (±$60) plus the sim card but in the end we just used his phone as a portable hotspot when necessary (which wasn’t often). I found myself becoming progressively less “connected.”

    DAY 1 (9/12) – We arrived in Shannon at 7:30 a.m., got cash and our rental and were facing our first roundabout by 8:15 a.m. We headed to Ennis to find the 3 store I mentioned earlier and were disheartened to find that the store there didn’t open until “half nine.” What? Is that 8:30 a.m. or 9:30 a.m.? From there we headed to the Cliffs of Moher, in spite of the rain. I wish I could say I enjoyed the scenic countryside, but having just traveled for 20 hours with minimal sleep, I was white-knuckled as I watched miles and miles of hedges and rock walls zip by thisclosetomybody. Hubby was a champ and adapted fairly quickly, although there were a few occasions we had to be careful which entrance or exit to use for parking lots!

    The Cliffs were spectacular and there were still a ton of tourists despite the weather. Of course, we arrived around 11:00 a.m., prime time for tour buses. We toured the Visitors’ Experience Center and O’Brien’s Tower (although we didn’t pay the add’l fee to climb to the top).

    From there we had planned to stop in Galway before heading to Ashford Castle, where we were staying the first night. Due to the inclement weather and jet lag starting to set in, we ended up skipping Galway. The drive up to the castle was stunning and the sun had started to peek through the clouds. We checked in and immediately rented some bikes for a quick trip to Cong Abbey. We explored the abbey but had to return the bikes by 5 p.m., so we headed back to explore the castle grounds. Situated on Lough Corrib, Ashford Castle has an amazing vantage point and the views are incredible in every direction. There are formal gardens and miles of trails to explore. I only wish we had more time. That evening we dined in the George V Dining Room at the hotel. Excellent food and service. Finally – too tired to do much else, we retired for the night in a bed fit for a king!

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    DAY 2 (9/13) – The following morning, after breakfast, we did the Hawk Walk which is offered through the hotel. Highly recommend this experience. I learned so much about the Harris Hawks and applaud their efforts at education and conservation for these beautiful creatures.

    Upon checking out, we headed to Sligo. We stopped at a cemetery and former abbey that we saw along the way. Sligo is a vibrant town situated along the Garavogue River and is so picturesque! We ate at the My Story café on Grattan Street before doing some exploring. We stopped by Ballymote Castle, which was closed when we arrived, but we still managed to get some photos. After a few wrong turns, we arrived at our destination for the night, Temple House. Several of our accommodations during our stay were part of the Hidden Ireland network, which is collection of Irish Country Houses. Temple House, which is owned by Roderick and Helena Perceval, is set on over 1,000 acres and features the ruins of a Templar Knights castle. It was like stepping back in time; the home is filled with family heirlooms and the views are amazing. After being shown to our room by Roderick, we set off to explore the grounds with the family’s Labrador. There are some 1600+ sheep on the property, and boating and fishing are available. Dinners are taken communally with other guests (we were one of three couples) and should be reserved in advance. We enjoyed after-dinner drinks and conversation with the other guests before turning in.

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    DAY 3 (9/14) – Off to County Monaghan! But first we wanted to check out Clough Oughter Castle, a ruined castle on a man-made island in Lough Oughter in County Cavan. Hubby wasn’t up for a 2-3 hour canoe ride in the drizzle, so we located the closest land point from which we could view it and sent up the drone to take some video. The surrounding area here was lush and beautiful, with many lakes and rivers. We stopped in The Round Tower Bar in Clones for a light lunch (this was the second time I saw Chicken Curry on the menu) before heading to Hilton Park, our second Hidden Ireland accommodation. Joanna and Freddy Madden were an absolute delight and through a fortuitous glitch in the booking system, we had the entire estate to ourselves! And what a place to explore… Lucy Madden, Fred’s mother, mentioned that when her husband was growing up on the property, they had eight full-time gardeners! Now she oversees the gardening herself. She has written a cookbook entitled, The Potato Year: 300 Classic Recipes and has passed her love of cooking on to her son. There are barns and gardeners’ cottages, a bell tower, a walled garden – the list goes on and on. The grounds of this this estate were my favorite of the entire trip. Hubby took a quick dip in the private lake and took tons of photos of the property. We were joined the entire time by Malachi and Frankie, the family’s two terriers. That evening, we enjoyed a private dinner prepared by none other than Freddy himself!

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    DAY 4 (9/15) – Breakfast was served the in the morning room and was an embarrassment of riches. There was yogurt, fresh fruit, eggs and bacon. I fell in love with the poached fruit, fresh cream and Elderflower liqueur. Everything was so fresh and much of it was grown on the estate. We headed to Northern Ireland with our first stop in Derry. Our goal was to see the murals and many of the iconic images that are an integral part of the town’s history. From Derry we headed along the coast to Dunluce Castle, had THE BEST pistachio cake at the Wee Café next to the castle, then on Giant’s Causeway (so many people) and Carrick-a-Rede Bridge. The view from Carrick Island was amazing and worth the short hike.

    As we headed down to Belfast, we stopped by the famed Dark Hedges, along Bregagh Road. It has become more popular in recent years as it has been featured as the King’s Road on HBO’s Game of Thrones. We didn’t see the legendary Grey Lady, a specter purported to glide through the trees, but we did encounter many others eager for a photo op. We ended up in Belfast around 6:30 p.m., checked in to the Fitzwilliam Belfast and headed out to explore. We popped in to the crowded Crown Bar, Belfast’s most famous pub, before deciding to eat at Robinson’s next door for a little more low-key dinner.

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    DAY 5 (9/16) – We grabbed some coffee and muffins before heading out for our tour with Paddy Campbell’s Belfast Famous Black Cab Tours. These 90 minute tours offer an overview of the political conflicts that have divided the area and it was fascinating. Our driver, Sean McLaughlin, also took us to Milltown Cemetery, The Rock Bar and dropped us off at the Titanic Museum. Having recently been to a Titanic experience in the U.S., we opted not to go inside but toured the exterior building and the harbor surrounding it. We walked back to the city center and stopped in Victoria Square and took photos of City Hall. THE BEST PIZZA I have ever had was at Little Wing Pizza on Ann Street – their Piccante pizza was perfect for spicy lovers! I absolutely loved this city way more than I expected. To be honest, I didn’t really have any expectations, but enjoyed it immensely. For dinner that evening, I Yelped restaurants near us and came up with the James Street Bar & Grill. Intimate and packed, we couldn’t get a reservation until 9:00 p.m. We used that time to walk around and discovered that it was Culture Night in Belfast! Live music and performance art everywhere with something new on every street; it was an intoxicating mix of frivolity. The time flew by and we headed back to James Street where dinner did not disappoint and was definitely worth the wait.

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    DAY 6 (9/17) – Left Belfast and headed south to Trim Castle, filming location for the movie Braveheart. Met Peter, a lifelong resident of Trim, who was fascinated by our drone, as well as a father and daughter who helped us feed donkeys! We then moved on to Howth, a charming seaside town just outside of Dublin. We walked along the pier and dined at Deep for lunch. Then it was off to Dublin and we checked in to the Brooks Hotel.

    DAY 7 (9/18) – Started the morning early and headed off to Trinity College to view The Book of Kells and visit the Long Library. I had purchased tickets in advance but the non-advance line was not long. However, we had reserved a tour of Kilmainham Gaol at 11:30 so I was glad that we were able to get right in. The gaol tour was impressive and the guides do a great job of bringing the history alive. Afterwards, we stopped in for quick bite at the Patriot’s Inn across the street where I had my first Guinness Pie and hubby had his 10th (or so) Guinness. Properly primed for more Guinness, we walked to the Guinness Storehouse and took the tour. While a bit pricey, a pint of Guinness IS included in your admission! The view from the Gravity Bar is phenomenal and there are inscriptions on the windows to tell you what you’re viewing. From there, we headed to Teelings Distillery but decided to forgo the tour and opted for a bite to eat in their café instead. There was an antiques market next door that we enjoyed perusing. We made a quick stop Darky Kelly’s where they were playing traditional Irish music before we headed back to the hotel. For dinner we dined at The Bank on College Green in the upper level. Absolutely gorgeous place with live piano music and excellent food! The interior was once a former bank and the intricate plasterwork and chandeliers are stunning.

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    DAY 8 (9/19) – From Dublin we headed south towards Kilkenny. Jerpoint Abbey was our next destination and we had it almost exclusively to ourselves. We then ventured on to the Rock of Cashel which was one of the highlights of our trip. I highly recommend visiting Hore Abbey across the road as well. While there, we met a local who was training his dogs, Shaggy and Scooby, and enjoyed a nice chat. Then, on to the last of our Hidden Ireland accommodations – Ballyvolane House. What a gem! Similar to the other homes, but they also offered “glamping” on the premises. We opted for a traditional room, but in the summer months the tents would be fun. Dinner that night was delicious and afterwards we headed to a local pub based on the house manager, Euan’s, advice. Got lost for a bit (it’s just you and the stars on those tiny roads) but eventually found The Big Tree in Aghern. Realized that we were running low on funds (there aren’t ATMs on every corner) but managed to scrape together a few Euros for a pint! Had lovely conversation with the locals and thoroughly enjoyed our time there. When we mentioned our next destination was Killarney, the barmaid told us we should definitely go over the mountains from Kenmare to Killarney to take in the scenery as we were not doing the Ring of Kerry drive.

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    DAY 9 (9/20) – Breakfast the next morning was a lavish affair in the dining room of Ballyvolane (more poached fruit for me!) and afterwards two local musicians stopped by in preparation for a group that was touring the property. We had a nice time talking to them and learning more about their instruments before heading off to Cobh.

    Cobh, as everyone said without exception, was lovely. St. Colman’s Cathedral was the center point while the shops and houses provided bursts of color down to the water. There was another Titanic exhibit (Cobh was the last port it visited before heading off on its fateful voyage), and we did a little shopping before venturing on towards Kenmare. In Kenmare we had a light lunch at The Atlantic and checked out Shelbourne Street before setting out for Killarney. We took the mountain pass and checked out Moll’s Gap and Lady’s View. Had the weather been better, we would have stopped at Torc Waterfall, but we decided to press on to our next stop, The Europe Hotel. What a treasure! A blend of rustic and modern, this was an impressive place. Our view overlooked Lough Leane and I could have spent hours just watching the water. Had drinks in the Brasserie Bar before ordering pizza from Four Star Pizza in Killarney and eating in our room.

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    DAY 10 (9/21) – Breakfast in the Panorama Restaurant which had, you guessed it, a panoramic view of Lough Leane. Hard to eat when you’re surrounded by such beauty. We had planned to go horseback riding, but it was raining hard so it was with regret that we decided to leave The Europe and make our way to Limerick, our last stop on our itinerary. Along the way, we checked out Newcastle West. I saw a sign that said “Desmond Castle – this way” and after a couple of U-turns, we finally found it. Closed. However, directly across the way was Ela Maria, a luxury women’s boutique which had some amazing selections.

    We finally arrived in Limerick, checked in to the Absolute Hotel and did a short tour of the city. Because it was after 5:00, we missed out on the Hunt Museum and King John’s Castle, but we did tour the cemetery at St. Mary’s Cathedral and walk along the Shannon. We dined at The Lock on George’s Quay and hubby said it was the best chicken wings he’d had! Best part of the evening was the music & dancing ~ it was the perfect way to end our trip.

    Some things we learned along the way:

    - Look Left

    - You don’t need an umbrella. Most places have one on hand. You do need a rain coat or slicker.

    - Soft drinks come in smaller sizes – a good or bad thing depending on your POV

    - Sometimes the “exits” in the roundabouts are actually entrances to a parking lot.

    - Drive slower so that if you see something that catches your interest, you can find a place to pull over. It is EXTREMELY difficult to attempt a u-turn on some of these roads!

    - It seemed that everyone seemed to drive extraordinarily fast (50 mph) on the small roads and extraordinarily slow (50 mph) on the freeways.

    - Tolls are generally €1.90 so good to always have €2 on hand in your car.

    - You pump before you pay.

    - There were no available outlets for hair dryers in the bathrooms. They all said, “Shavers Only” for some mysterious reason.

    - The Irish people are, without fail, some of the friendliest people we have ever met. My hubby had expressed an interest in a jacket and when we realized that the store would not re-open before our departure the following day, the owner of the store came and picked him up!

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    Amazing video! Loved the dancing. Did you bring the drone? Is photography/video your line of work? Wow. Now I'll read about it. I also liked your list - sleep, eat/drink, do etc. Really enjoyed this report.

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    Nubbyrose & Treesa - thank you! Photography is our hobby/semi-professional vocation (besides traveling!) I'm glad to see someone reads the "crib notes" - ha ha!

    If we had 4 more days? Oh gah! I loved Hilton Park (where hubby went swimming) and wished we were there one more night to explore more. Same with Killarney. Would have loved to seen Torc Waterfall but the weather wasn't cooperating. And The Europe is a stunner. They offered complimentary horseback riding, which we didn't take advantage of. I guess if we had the extra time, we would visit Donegal and the northeastern region of Ireland, seen Strandhill and Benbulbin...

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    We are at the Dublin airport waiting to board our plane to Vancouver having spent 13 days in Ireland. We loved every minute and even managed to have no rain during our stay. Gorgeous scenery, food and the friendliest people anywhere! I highly recommend it for anyone brave enough to drive here.

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    Five stars, that was awesome video. I ended up watching some of your others.
    I just went up those steps in Howth. I loved the places you stayed. Only in my dreams but very nice. You did well seeing so much in ten days.

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