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(Long) Trip Report: Outstanding Second Trip to Ireland

(Long) Trip Report: Outstanding Second Trip to Ireland

Old Aug 25th, 2005, 12:46 PM
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(Long) Trip Report: Outstanding Second Trip to Ireland

I could go on and on, but I'll try to be brief enough to actually provide some helpful information. We first visited Ireland in October 2004, staying in County Kerry mostly (Kenmare & Dingle Town). This time we made our way through the West and Northwest, August 11 through August 17.

Flew into Shannon and got on the road about 11:00 a.m. (second time with Autoeurope/Murraycar--no complaints or problems). Drove to Donegal Town, pretty much straight through, but with a great stop at Drumcliffe to view Yeats's grave and lunch at a surprisingly decent roadside restaurant (I want to say it was The Yeats Restaurant and Bar) less than a mile north of Yeats's grave. This was a solid 5 hour drive (Shannon to Donegal Town), but the only real pain was the CRAWL through Sligo.

Stayed at Ard na Breatha (pronounced as I found out, Ard na braya) B&B about 1.5 miles from the town center. Great place! Nice room, very nice breakfasts, great hosts, and one of the best dinner experiences we had the whole time.

Donegal Town--it really grew on us. Very walkable, a few neat shops, and the pubs were pretty good (the most fun was the Reveler, the Castle Bar was really cool inside, but deserted the 2 times we visited).

Stayed in Donegal Town 3 nights, with day trips to Killibegs (really cool fishing port), nearby Fintra Beach (beautiful crescent), Ardara (just okay, really; I was expecting a little more for some reason), Burtonport, a tiny little port city where we had great chowder & mussels at The Lobster Pot; then on to Glenveigh National Park. The scenery from Burtonport to Glenveigh was awesome, but by the time we got to Glenveigh we were too worn out to really do much hiking or anything, so we pressed on home, via Letterkenny. Two points to make here. I tried to pack in too much driving (to Ardara, Burtonport, Glenviegh, & back to Donegal Town). Second, Letterkenny is really cool; pretty large, very hilly, and it had an excitement to it. I would consider that as a base to explore County Donegal.

We then headed south to explore Connemara, based in Clifden. The drive was, as my better half told me, about an hour too long. That is, it probably took about 3.5 hours, via Westport. Again, though, other than the Sligo crawl, it was an easy drive (and between Westport and Clifden, a very scenic drive).

Westport was really cool, lovely little town, but we hit it midday so I didn't get to sample the pubs there. Just south of Westport we ate lunch at The Tavern restaurant, at the foot of Croagh Patrick--outstanding food, best oysters we've ever had (it was very busy, but the wait staff did their best to keep up, and generally did well at it).

We got to Clifden and found our B&B, the wonderful SeaMist House (formerly Seaview). It dates to around the time the town was founded, about 1825, and it was very charming. High ceilings, lots of great paintings, a nice sitting room that always had a peat fire going. The host, Sheila, was very friendly, as were all of her staff. The breakfasts here were outstanding.

As an aside, I have to share this. Another American couple sat near us at breakfast--it was the first morning at the B&B for both of us. The lady was, I gather, trying to ensure that her poached egg would be properly cooked, so she said to the server (a really, really witty guy): "I'm not sure about the poached eggs; it's very difficult to cook them so that they are not too hard in the middle." He said, "really? I mean are you making a statement about poached eggs or asking if our cook can properly prepare them?" She ended up ordering them, and saying that they were perfect. The kicker is, with a different server the next morning (but presumably the same cook), she asked the same question about the poached eggs. I have to admit, both my wife & I rolled our eyes, hoping our hosts didn't generalize about all Americans from this.

Okay, back to brevity (sorry). Clifden was great, even better than Donegal town, a little bigger, more shops, better pubs. The only thing marring the view was the construction crane that towered over the city. We especially enjoyed:

Trad music (early for a change, "half seven" as they say) at Mannion's

Sipping (okay, gulping) pints at the tables on the square outside E.J. King's.

The wonderful food (lunch) at Mitchell's--far & away the finest restaurant we ate at, without being stuffy.

We really liked several pubs in Clifden: Mannion's, E.J. Kings, Guy's Bar, and The Central Bar.

By the way, those of you recommending O'Grady's in Clifden? It closed several months ago and reopened somewhere near Galway City.

Day trips from Clifden were the best. First was a trip via the "bog road" to Roundstone. Roundstone was a very cool little port town; we really liked it. My wife bought a vintage dress there that was made in the 60s by the company (Tanner Mills) where her grandmother had been a seamstress. Some little bit of magic always seems to find us in Ireland. Then we visited the most outstanding beach we've seen yet in Ireland, just west of Roundstone is Dog's Bay--you have to see it (the sand is as white, if not quite as fine, as in the panhandle of Florida).

Next day trip, our last, was probably the best. We explored Sky Road leading out of Clifden, and then headed north to Claddaghduff and then Cleggan. Cleggan was a neat little village--we didn't take the ferry to Innishbofin. Opting instead to linger for lunch with the locals at Olivers. We ordered a "starter" portion of mussels and were amazed when the waitress brought us a huge bowl with at least 2 dozen mussels. Heaven. Then back through Clifden and on to Ballyconneely and Bunowen. Bunowen (there may have been another name for the two little villages on this point) was awesome: start with the ruins of a castle, a smokehouse where we bought lots of salmon to take home, and the most incredible little crescent, white sand, turqoise water beach you could imagine. Oh, and the Atlantic Ocean as blue as I've ever seen it (it matched Maui).

Okay, almost done. Drove from Clifden to Bunratty to spend our last night before flying back from Shannon. On a recommendation from our young dinner server back in Donegal at Ard na Breatha, we stopped in Galway City and walked around a bit. Very, very crowded; with the most jostling tourists (locals too?) you could imagine. Maybe we would have enjoyed it a bit more at a different time. We stopped for lunch at a really great little place in Gort (right on the main roadway), The Blackthorn--excellent chowder and warm goat cheese salad.

Last night in Bunratty, very nice. Stayed at Bunratty Country Woods B&B (a little closer to the pubs than the wonderful Bunratty Lodge). Very pleasant; not the SeaMist, but it's not trying to be. Had great food (a crab tart and grilled shrimp) at Kathleen's Pub and great mussels (in a garlic cream sauce) at Durty Nelly's.

Final observations:

We never minded the rain at all--and it rarely failed to clear up for at least part of the day. But, when you get one of those full-sun, blue sky days, I say there is no better place than Ireland in the world. Oh yeah, temparatures? Outstanding (days 68-72, nights low 50s).

Summer crowds? Not in the little towns we stayed at in County Donegal and Connemara. I was pleasantly surprised by the relative lack of traffic on the roads.

Correction for next visit: still too much driving (shannon to donegal to connemara to shannon) for a 7 day visit. I would opt for staying in one place for a week, say Clifden, or Westport, or Letterkenny perhaps, or Enniskillen (my wild card, as I am disappointed not have seen more of the north). In all honesty, I think Donegal Town would have gotten a little old as a week long base--3 days, though, perfect.

Hope this helps future travelers, and I'll be glad to provide more details if anyone wants.
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Old Aug 25th, 2005, 02:50 PM
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Thanks so much for an informative trip report! It brought back memories of our Oct.'04 trip, and we too were in County Donegal and Donegal Town part of the journey -- wonderful area indeed.
Yes, Ireland is magical.....
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Old Aug 25th, 2005, 02:59 PM
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Wow, Beachdweller - what a wonderful report, and very helpful to me. I'm going to Ireland in October and will only have one full day in the Connemara area......sigh. It can't be helped, though, if I want to do Mizen head. Actually, I may have more than the full day, because I'll be staying at Ballynahinch for 2 nights. If I get there early enough on arrival day, I'll surely have time to check out Clifden -I can hopefully squeeze in some more sightseeing before heading down to Dingle (via overnight in Doolin).

Anyhow, sorry to ramble on - I really wish I could have more time in the Connemara area. It sounds absolutely wonderful. The Clifden pub/restaurant tips are especially helpful; I'll put Mitchell's on my list. Is it a casual kind of place?

I have to roll my eyes at American tourists like what you described; I try my hardest when I go overseas to fit in (that is, I try to speak the native language as much as possible - that's not going to happen with Gaelic, though, I'm afraid!), remembering I'm a guest in another country.

Thanks for a wonderful report; the longer, the better, in my opinion!
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Old Aug 25th, 2005, 03:05 PM
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Beachdweller, I meant to ask - given my limited time in Connemara, what do you suggest I concentrate on? I know I want to explore some of the park, and definitely Clifden. Where is the Sky Road? Would I be able to do that on my way to Doolin?

Any help you could give me would be appreciated.

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Old Aug 25th, 2005, 03:19 PM
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Thanks for the great trip report Beachdweller! We hit Donegal on our first Ireland trip 3 years ago and truly loved it. We actually stayed in Ardara--it grew on us. Did you make it to Slieve League or Silver Strand?

We spent a little time in Connemara last trip and will spend more on our 2nd trip next May. Such a beautiful area. Roundstone was my favorite village last trip, and I think we'll stay there again next time around.

Will add your Bunratty BandB to our list of possibilities.
Thanks for taking the time to post!
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Old Aug 25th, 2005, 05:01 PM
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Beach Dweller, your post reminded me that my heart is with Connemara. I took out the day I would have spent at Mizen Pen. so that I could have an extra day in Connemara. While I am in the area, I just have to do it - one day is not enough.
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Old Aug 25th, 2005, 07:34 PM
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Very nice trip report. You're right -- Letterkenny is a happening town. It makes a good base for Co. Donegal. I ate at a couple of really good restaurants last time I stayed there.

As for Enniskillen...GO! It is a beautiful town, very scenic with friendly natives. Lots to do in the area.

Maybe the Sligo by-pass will become a reality. They really need it.

I must agree with you that Mitchell's Restaurant in Clifden is excellent. Did you know his brother owns a very nice guest house in Kinsale?

Which place that you stayed was your very favorite & why?

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Old Aug 27th, 2005, 07:36 AM
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We didn't feel like hiking, so we didn't do Connemara National Park. I think the highlights for us that might work for your limited time frame, are visting Roundstone (as oopsy suggests) and then taking the bog road to Clifden, and then drive Sky Road in Clifden (it's only about 5 or 6 miles long), then head north on the coastal route through Claddaghduff and Cleggan, get back on the N5 and pick up the lovely Killary & Kylemore Abby area, then back (roughly) south via the Imagh valley (which we didn't get to see enough of).

And Mitchell's in Clifden was casual, but nice. I felt very comfortable at lunch in khakis and a polo shirt.


I remember your replies & help on earlier threads--thanks again! We didn't make it as far west as Slieve League and the Silver Strand (near Glencolumbkille, sp?). That was a mistake--would have rather done that than Glenveigh in hindsight.

Irish Eyes,

don't make me pick one! But I think it was a concensus for my better half and I that our favorite B&B, slightly, was SeaMist House in Clifden; great location in town, older house with history, and breakfasts there were just a little more creative it seemed. But Ard na Breatha was in a lovely country setting, and the dinner there was outstanding. Really, we had two winners; both outstanding, reasonably priced places (about 40-60 Euro per person per night IIRC).
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Old Oct 31st, 2005, 01:37 PM
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beach dweller, I was scrolling through your trip report, looking for info on lodgings in Bunratty area, when I saw the discussion about the American ordering poached eggs.

I had to laugh at myself! Whenever I order eggs, I am always having similar discussions with the wait-person. (My daughters roll their eyes.) It is a good-natured discussion. Poached eggs ARE hard to get right, actually. At home sometimes I overcook the first one, give it to hubby, and then get the second one just right! (Hubby's not picky.)

Here's my opinion. It's better to question the wait-person, in a good-natured way, in the hopes that you will be ordering something that you will end up pleased with. This is better than the alternative...to order things without asking questions, and then to complain and complain when things didn't turn out like you imagined and assumed they would. I have seen people complaining to each other (loudly) about their food so that everyone around them can hear.

I don't do that. I ask a lotta questions, but I try to be nice about it, and when my food comes, I enjoy it. If it's still not the way I like it, I order something different the next time I come.

If I ask a lotta questions, and the wait-person is patient and tries to be helpful, I figure I owe them a big tip!

Anyway it's funny to be reading someone's trip report and find yourself in it, and have a good laugh at yourself.
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