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Trip Report Things I Learned in 3 Weeks in southern Ireland

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WEEK 1 of 3

In planning our first trip to Ireland, we decided that 3 weeks wasn’t long enough to see everything so we drew a line from Dublin to Galway and concentrated on everything south of the line.

Day 1: We arrive in Dublin at 6AM and proceed to Europcar, where we had reserved an intermediate sized car and pick up our Skoda Yeti, a fairly roomy SUV. (see hints below for car rental in Ireland) We collect our car and proceed to drop off our luggage at the Botanic Villa B&B (€80 double/€45 single) that was conveniently located a couple of miles north of the city center. We start our Dublin tour with a walk down O’Connell Street and a stroll around Trinity College where the Book of Kells is located. There are several museums close by and we tour the National Museum and the National Gallery (both free) and then a short walk through Merrion Square takes us to the Number 29 Museum. (€6 adult/€3 senior). Number 29 is a four story Georgian home of the late 1700’s. The tour starts with a video and then a self guided tour that gives you a sense of life for an aristocratic family of that period. Note: We purchased the Ireland Heritage Pass (€25 adult/€20 senior) and also the Heritage Island Discount Pass (€6.99 for 2 persons) so throughout this report I will indicate admission prices for adults/seniors and any discounts available for using the passes.

We next take a taxi to Glasnevin cemetery (museum €4) which is just a 5 minute walk from out B&B. Glasnevin is the permanent home for many of Ireland’s most notable citizens (including Michael Collins) and it one of the most well kept and well manicured cemeteries you will find anywhere. Adjacent to the cemetery are the Botanical Gardens (free). When planning our trip, we opted to skip the Guinness tour and added the Botanical Gardens instead and were so glad that we did. The gardens are massive and beautiful. The various greenhouses are all open and there is a replica Viking House that is quite interesting. If we had more time, we would have returned there another day for an extended visit. Definitely a highlight of our Dublin visit. After a short walk back to our B&B we ended our day at the Brian Boru pub which is a block from our B&B. The size of this place is deceiving as it probably seats well over a hundred with a large patio out back. They advertise homemade breads & desserts and everything we ordered was delicious. The seafood chowder was especially good.

Day 2: We head first thing to the Kilmainham Goal (€7.00/€5.00 free with IHC pass) and arrived 10 minutes before the opening time of 9:30. At 9:30 someone came out and posted a notice that tours will begin today at 10:15. By the time we purchase our tickets, the line for tickets is out the door, around the courtyard, and down the street. The tour guide was excellent. You get a really good history lesson and a better understanding of the individuals involved in the rebellions, especially those executed at the Goal. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to arrive early. An employee told me that frequently the timed tickets are sold out by noon, so even if you arrive by noon your timed ticket may be for 5pm. You cannot book in advance. Our B&B hostess said so many of her guests are disappointed to miss the Goal tour because they don’t heed her warnings to go there early.

Dublin Castle (€8.50/€6.50 free with IHC pass) is next on our list and we arrive a little before the opening time of noon on a Sunday. The ballroom is beautiful and is still used for state occasions. On exiting, we notice that the queue for tickets is now quite long so expect a wait if you are not there at opening.

Our next stop is Christ Church Cathedral (€6.00/€4.50) and Dublina (€7.50) which is next door. A combination ticket for both is €11.00. If you do both, start with Dublina as there is a one way skywalk from the exit of Dublina that puts you right at the entrance of Christ Church and will save you a five minute walk. Dublina allows the visitor to go back to Viking times in Dublin and is especially suited for younger visitors. Christ Church Cathedral is beautiful and is a “don’t miss” in Dublin. St. Patrick’s Cathedral (€6.00) is our next stop. It’s another “do not miss” in Dublin. I was somewhat surprised to learn that both cathedrals are Anglican and not Catholic. A short walk takes us to the Chester Beatty Library (free) which has a fascinating collection of old manuscripts including some of the oldest known copies of bible pages from the 2nd century.

We’re about museumed out for the day and spend the rest of our time strolling about the city center. There are a lot of “pedestrian only” areas that allow easy walking including two pedestrian bridges over the River Liffey. We head back to our B&B and decide to eat at the Brian Boru again as we liked it so much the previous evening. Well, this time the place was packed as Ireland was in a world cup rugby match on TV. The only table left was in a corner with limited view of the TV. Another customer graciously and patiently explained some of the fundamentals of rugby so that we weren’t completely lost and we helped cheer Ireland on to victory.

Day 3: We head south from Dublin towards our next B&B near Kilrane with stops along the way. Our first stop is Enniscorthy where we tour St. Aidans Cathedral (free), Enniscorthy Castle (€4.00/€3.00), and lastly the National 1798 Rebellion Centre (€7.00/€4.00) (Combo €10.00/€6.00). When visiting the castle, ask about access to the roof where you will have a spectacular view of the area. A short drive later we are in Wexford which has a beautiful waterfront. We do a quick tour of the twin churches (Assumption & Immaculate Conception) and continue on our way to Johnstown Castle Gardens and Agriculture Museum (€8.00/€6.00). The castle is not open for visitors but the museum and gardens are well worth the stop here. I wish we had allocated more time as we arrived 90 minutes before closing and had to hurriedly see it all.

We are spending the next two nights at O’Leary’s Farm B&B (€70 double/€40) single and it’s one of those places where I wish I had booked a week rather than just two nights. It’s a working sheep farm near Rosslare Harbour and is literally right on the ocean. Our room overlooked the sheep in the foreground with the sea and lighthouse in the distance. Some of the best pictures of our entire trip were taken here. There is a path down to the beach that is lined with blackberries which were fully ripe. The full Irish breakfast was great but the omelet made with Wexford cheddar was even better. The hostess, Philomena O’Leary, is very welcoming and social and made us feel right at home. There is a beautiful sunroom for guests that faces the sea where our group gathered and relaxed.

Day 4: We awake to a beautiful sunrise over the sea and after breakfast, head to New Ross. Our first stop is the Dunbrody Famine Ship (€8.50/€7.00 20% Discount Card). There is a museum with displays and video presentations followed by a guided tour of the ship with period actors telling their stories of the crossing. A block down the street is the Ros Tapestry (€6.00/€5.00 20% Discount Card). The tapestries are a massive 20 year undertaking by the locals to depict the Anglo-Norman arrival in the area and the establishment of the town. The last two of the sixteen 4x6 foot panels are still being stitched by the locals. After an audio tour of the completed panels, we were escorted upstairs where half a dozen ladies were working on the last two panels. My wife mentioned tracing her ancestry to the area and one of the ladies invited her and my sister to make a few stitches in the tapestry. I think this was the highlight of the trip for them.

Five miles south of New Ross is the Kennedy Homestead (€7.50/€6.50 10% Discount Card) which has lots of interesting trivia about the Kennedy family. A couple of miles further is the Kennedy Park and Arboretum (€4.00/€3.00 free with Heritage Pass). Miles & miles of walking trails for those so inclined.

We now head south to Tintern Abbey (€3.00/€2.00 free with Heritage Pass) for a short visit. It’s then on to the Hook Lighthouse (€6.00/€5.00) which is the oldest working lighthouse in the world. Tours are given every half hour and the climb is fairly easy. If you have beautiful weather as we did, the view is spectacular. Afterwards, we head back to Kilrane for dinner at the Kilrane Inn where we had eaten the night before. The seafood is outstanding here; lightly breaded fish and the prawns (shrimp) in a butter sauce were our favorites.

Day 5: After watching another beautiful sunrise at the sheep farm we head to Waterford for the day. Waterford Crystal (€13.00/€11.00 2 for 1 with Discount Pass) is our first stop and we decided to pass on Cinderella’s Coach (€40,000) and get something a little smaller that will fit in our luggage. Across the street are the Bishop’s Palace (€7.00/€6.00) and the Medieval Museum (€7.00/€6.00 or Combo ticket for both €10.00/€9.00). At the end of the block is Reginald Tower (€4.00/€3.00 free with Heritage Pass). The guide in the Medieval Museum was especially entertaining. Christ Church Cathedral (free) is next to the Medieval Museum. The nice thing about Waterford is that everything we wanted to see was clustered together across from Waterford Crystal with just a minute’s walk between each attraction.

We leave Waterford and head about 20 miles north to Thomastown where we tour Jerpoint Abbey (€4.00/€3.00 free with Heritage Pass). We then make an unscheduled stop along the way at Jerpoint Glass, a glass blowing facility that allowed us to view the craftsmen up close on the factory floor. We arrive at our next home for two nights at the Glenraha Farm B&B in Mullinavat (€70 double/€40 single). After checking in, the hostess tells us about a nearby little known attraction, the Kilmogue Portal Tomb that is more than 4000 years old. It’s just a short drive so we visit the site and then proceed to the Rising Sun Restaurant in Mullinavat for dinner. While waiting to be seated, a couple comes in behind us and we strike up a conversation and find that they are from our same town in the US. Not only that, but we are all staying at the same B&B. What are the chances? The Glenraha B&B is a working dairy farm and we had a delightful two day stay in this spacious B&B.

Day 6: After a full Irish breakfast, we head 11 miles north to Killkenny where we will spend the day. We start with a stroll about the downtown area and then head to the castle. There is a market selling all sorts of stuff as you approach the castle and we purchase jams and chocolates to eat later. Killkenny Castle (€7.00/€5.00 free with Heritage Pass) is well worth a visit. Directly across the street from the castle is the National Craft Gallery (free) where we purchase some pottery and silver. The silversmith is quite a talkative fellow and who has been at his craft for over 50 years. If you have the time, stop in and chat a while with him.

A short walk brings us to the Smithwick Experience (€12.00/€9.50 10% Discount Pass) where our tour guide explains not only the history and process for making Smithwicks, but explains the difference between Smithwicks and Guiness. After a complimentary pint, we cross the street to the Rothe House & Gardens (€5.50/€4.50). Built at the end of the 16th century, Rothe House contains several thousand artifacts collected over the years by the local archaeological society. A short walk later we find the Black Abbey (free) that has some of the most beautiful stained glass I’ve seen since Sainte Chapelle in Paris. Across the main street from the Black Abbey is St. Canicises Cathedral (€6.00/€5.50) a 13th century structure where you are provided a numbered guide sheet to help find all the highlights. Just five miles north of Killkenny is the Dunmore Cave (€4.00/€3.00 free with Heritage Pass) which is not for anyone that cannot navigate the 700 stair steps that take you down and around. Our guide was an older gentleman that played in the cave as a teenager and could he ever tell some tales. Unlike most other caves, Dunmore has been in use for over a thousand of years as archaeologists have found evidence of locals and Vikings having been there. Plan on spending at least an hour and that includes a short video at the beginning. We head back to Glenraha Farm with a stop somewhere along the way for dinner at a pub that none of our group remembers the name of.

Day 7: We bid Glenraha Farm adieu and head across country (38 miles that took 1 ½ hours) on secondary roads to Cashel to see the rock which is more than just a rock. The Rock of Cashel (€7.00/€5.00 free with Heritage Pass) is actually a fortress overlooking the town. The fortress predates the Normans and it was given to the church in 1100. Unfortunately it was a bit foggy during our visit so we’ll have to return another day to fully appreciate the view. There are guided tours but we abandoned ours about half way through for the sake of time and explored on our own. I was able to wrap my arms around St. Patrick’s Cross and have my fingers touch so legend has it that I will forever be toothache free.

Ten miles south of Cashel is the town of Cahir which the locals pronounce “Kir”. Located in the middle of town, Cahir Castle (€4.00/€3.00 free with Heritage Pass) is one of the largest castles in Ireland. It dates from the 13th century and has been remodeled/renovated several times since. A very short drive out of town takes us to the Swiss Cottage (€4.00/€3.00 free with Heritage Pass) where our guide explains the how ornamental cottages were used 200 years ago by the rich. Because of the overhang of the thatched roof, it is deceivingly smaller than its appearance. Note: the parking lot is located quite a distance from the stairs to the entrance, but you can drive up to the stairway to unload passengers.

Following our tour of Swiss Cottage, we head west to Killarney which is about a two hour ride. We have booked a condo for a week in Killarney and the condo is quite a gem. Blarney House in Killarney Holiday Village (€555 for 7 days) is a three bedroom, 2 and ½ bath, 1100 square foot, modern condo that provided everything our group needed. Located just 1 mile south of Killarney, we are greeted on arrival with a welcome basket that included everything from milk, juice, and champagne to scones and apple pie. It has all modern amenities including satellite TV, washer & dryer, and Wi-Fi. There is a great pub/restaurant next door and our hostess (Valerie) has detailed instructions for operating everything we may have questions about. I wish all vacation rentals were like Blarney House.

After getting oriented to the condo, we eat at The Oaks next door and then head into Killarney to get oriented and stock up on groceries. This is definitely a tourist town and is teeming with shops, pubs, restaurants, and traffic. It has the most lodging options I’ve seen in a town this size.

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    WEEK 2 of 3

    Day 8: It’s been a week without a drop of rain and we’re beginning to wonder if we’ll ever see rain. We start the day with a tour of Muckross House & Gardens (€9.00/€7.50 free with Heritage Pass) which is just a few miles from the condo. Our tour guide was quite enthusiastic and gave a lot of information in the one hour tour. Our plan is to do the Ring of Kerry another day but the weather is so clear we just couldn’t resist heading south and pausing at a few places where you can pull over to take in the beauty of the lakes and surrounds. We meander down the Ring for an hour of so returning to Ross Castle (€4.00/€3.00 free with Heritage Pass). We are disappointed to learn that they are short staffed at Ross and although we are the only ones at reception, we’ll have to wait an hour for a tour. We decide to come back another day and drive back into Killarney and wander the streets for a couple of hours purchasing some woolens and souvenirs. The price of woolens hasn’t varied much every place we’ve shopped thus far, from Dublin to Killarney. For dinner, we try without success to make reservations at several recommended restaurants and find that Saturdays in Killarney are filled with folks getting married. Even pubs are crowded with celebrating wedding parties. We eventually find a table at Jarveys Rest which is a good choice.

    Day 9: Three more join our group today and the six of us start our day with a retry of Ross Castle (€4.00/€3.00 free with Heritage Pass). Today the wait is less than a half hour and the 40 minute guided tour takes us through the castle’s only door on a somewhat claustrophobic climb to all levels. Afterwards we head back to Muckross House where we take a Jaunting Car ride to Torc Waterfall. The Jaunting Car drivers are located at various points around Killarney and can be a bit pushy trying to solicit business. We negotiate with a young driver named Darren (and Tommy, an Irish Cobb that does most of the work) and three of our group take a 45 minute roundtrip ride to the waterfall for €35. Daren is a chatty young fellow that gives a good commentary and points out interesting stuff along the way. He waits at the waterfall while we walk the last 200 yards and then returns us to Muckross House. Adjacent to Muckross House is Muckross Traditional Farms (€9.00/€7.50). The farms offer a chance to see what Ireland was like in the 1930s and 1940s on three different size farms. There are period dressed staff that explain life on the farms during that era. The farms have a very authentic feel as they are completely furnished and include gardens and animals.

    Day 10: We start early today as we have an hour and a half ride to Blarney Castle (€13.00/€11.00 2 for 1 with Discount Pass) and we want to arrive at the opening at 9am. Although we all have the discount passes, we are informed that we must also have the booklet that came with the pass in order to get the 2 for 1 offer. Nowhere in the booklet or on the pass does it say that the booklet must accompany the pass. Of course we don’t have our booklets so we have to pay full price. We used the pass at many other places in Ireland and none required that we have the booklet so if you’re using the pass, make sure you take the booklet along at Blarney Castle. There is a 127 step climb to the top of the castle where the stone is located. Two staff members are located at the stone to help you get positioned correctly for the kiss. We are the only visitors at the stone so there is no rush as we kiss the rock and obtain the “gift of gab”. If you didn’t get a good shot with your camera, two photos are taken by the staff and can be purchased at the gift shop as you leave for €10 each.

    Just south of Blarney is the city of Cork where our first stop is St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral (€5.00/€4.00) where we had the only mishap of our trip. My sister in law was lighting a candle when she inadvertently caught her coat sleeve on fire. In seconds it was ablaze and my brother immediately beat the fire out with his hand resulting in some 2nd degree burns. Of course our next stop was a pharmacy where he obtained the necessary topical to treat his burns. Note that parking is scarce around the cathedral, but there are about 6 spaces (free) on the cathedral ground for visitors.

    We next explore downtown Cork which is a very vibrant city where we enjoy street performers including a quartet performing Irish music. We visit the English Market (free) where you can find everything from fresh produce and meats to chocolates and cheeses. Our next stop was supposed to be the Collins Barrracks Museum but it closes at 1pm and we’re running late after the fire mishap so we’ll have to do it on our next trip.

    Fifteen miles south of Cork is the coastal town of Kinsale, a picturesque harbor town with a convenient car park in the middle of town adjacent to the tourist office. On the outskirts is Charles Fort (€4.00/€3.00 free with Heritage Pass) which is a star shaped fort that offers spectacular views of the area. Following a tour of the fort, our plan was to take a walking tour of Kinsale but we are disappointed to learn that the walking tours are only offered in the mornings during October. On a recommendation, we get a table at Jim Edwards Restaurant which has an extensive seafood menu and we are all pleased with our choices. After a stroll about town and some souvenir shopping we take the 1½ hour drive back to Killarney and call it a day.

    Day 11: Dingle is our destination today. Our first stop is Inch Beach, a beautiful expansive beach on the southern coast of the peninsula. We have the beach to ourselves as there is not another soul in sight. Just down the road is the picturesque town of Dingle. We stop primarily to visit the Dingle Crystal store, but end up browsing in many of the small shops around the easily walkable town. While in Dingle, a misty rain starts. We’ve been in Ireland for 11 days and we finally see our first drop of rain. We leave Dingle and head west for some of the most breathtaking scenery of our trip. We stop along the way for pictures of prehistoric structures on our way to the Blasket Center at the tip of the peninsula. The Blasket Center (€4.00/€3.00 free with Heritage pass) is a large museum that chronicles the history of the people of the remote Blasket Islands until their evacuation in 1953.

    We continue our trek around the peninsula following the coast on one of the most harrowing roads we’ve encountered in Ireland. Fortunately, we didn’t meet anyone on the narrow one lane sections high above the cliffs. We continue our drive back to Dingle and then north through the Conner Pass on our way to the Blennerville Windmill (€5.00/€4.00). Admission includes more than just a climb up the windmill. There is a museum and video presentation that explains the role of windmills a century earlier. Also included is a model train museum. A short drive from the windmill is Tralee where we visit the Kerry County Museum (€5.00). The lower floor medieval exhibit is closed in preparation for a Halloween spook house, so admission is reduced to €4.00. We drive back to Killarney and choose the Jarveys Rest again for dinner as they are having live music tonight. The musicians are entertaining and also 2 young ladies who perform traditional Irish dances.

    Day 12: We chose the Ring of Kerry today as there is a less than 6% chance of rain. We head out at 8am (clockwise) stopping at lots of pullovers for pictures. Our first major stop is Derrynane House (€3.00/€2.00 free with Heritage Pass) and again we have an attraction to ourselves as we are the only visitors there. There is a 20 minute video that is very informative and especially helpful in understanding the Barracks Museum that we will visit later today. Next are a couple of craft shops in Waterville where we meet the first of just three busses. For some reason I expected to see more than 3 busses today on the ROK. I think we must have missed them when we were on the Skellig Ring. On leaving Waterville, we turn off the ROK and head west towards Portmagee at the end of the peninsula. If you’re going to do the ROK, you really need to get off here and take this 30 minute extension (called the Skellig Ring) that takes you past some of the most beautiful scenery of the entire peninsula. The road gets a little dicey in places as it narrows to one lane, but it is well worth the white knuckle drive. We stop at Skelligs Chocolate and sample nearly everything they make. After purchasing one of everything, we continue on our trek and join the ROK again and stop next in Cahersiveen. We tour the Barracks Heritage Center (€4.00/€2.00) where we are again the only visitors. The fellow at reception provides a great history of the Barracks and ties together several places we have already visited such as Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin and Derrynane House. Just a few blocks away is the Daniel O’Connell Memorial Church (free) that has an interesting history and is well worth a visit. We continue on our way, stopping for photos along the way arriving back in Killarney nearly 8 hours after we began.

    Our group is split 50/50 regarding Dingle versus ROK if you had to choose one or the other. We opt for dinner tonight at the Petrus Restaurant at the Killarney Plaza Hotel. Our condo owner says it’s her favorite in Killarney and they do not disappoint. Prices are very reasonable. Two starters, two rib eyes, one dessert and a bottle of wine was €84.

    Day 13: Our last day in Killarney is our “relax and catch up” day. We take the short drive to Torc Waterfall as some in our group missed it earlier in the week. It is a glorious sunny day so we drive a little further south on the ROC stopping for pictures at various spots along the lakes. We return to Killarney and tour the Franciscan Friary (free) which has a very impressive altar and mosaic tiled walls. After some shopping in Killarney, we do a late lunch at Sceal Eile on High Street. The food was good and those in our group that ordered the seafood chowder agree that it is the best we’ve had thus far in Ireland. We drop one of the golfers in our group off at the course over by Ross Castle and the rest of us return to the condo to see if we can fit all we’ve purchased into our luggage for the trip north in the morning.

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    WEEK 3 of 3

    Day 14: We say goodbye to Blarney House & Killarney and head north towards Limerick where we will spend the next week at East Clare Golf Village about 20 miles north of Limerick. The Foynes Flying Boat Museum (€11.00/€9.00 25% Discount Pass) is just a short drive off our route so we make the slight detour and are glad we did. The museum is more than just a one airplane display and it takes us nearly two hours to explore the history of aviation across the Atlantic. The most surprising display was one of Confederate American soldiers as apparently uniforms of the confederacy were make locally during the American Civil War. Several in our group have an Irish Coffee in the museum café as Irish Coffee reportedly began here in Foynes. We continue northward and stop in Adare, where we tour the heritage center which houses a small museum, various souvenir and craft stores, and a cafeteria. After a short walk around the downtown area we visit the 13th century Trinitarian Abbey (free), have lunch at the Aunty Lena Pub and then continue on our way. Our GPS takes us through the middle of Limerick which is horribly congested at 3pm on a Friday. Maybe with the bank holiday coming up, folks have taken off early for a long weekend. We arrive at East Clare Golf Village where we have two 2 bedroom villas reserved for the coming week. Although the location is rather remote, the golfer in our group is ecstatic. The villas are nicely furnished and are spacious. Wi-Fi is abysmal, but otherwise it is a great place to stay.

    Day 15: We start the day at Bunratty Castle & Folk Park (€15.00/€9.45 10% Discount Pass) where a guide takes us on a half hour tour of the castle. There are lots of stairs but the view from the top is worth the climbing. The folk park is a complete village of 30 buildings that are completely furnished and includes homes, shops, and other businesses as they were in the 19th century. It’s similar to Williamsburg, Virginia, in the US and includes staff in period dress. The potter is a chatty fellow that we engage for nearly a half hour as he has no other customers and he offers a great historical perspective of the area. He recommends that we have lunch at the Fig Restaurant at Dromoland Castle a few miles away so that is our next stop. The gardens adjacent to the restaurant are well worth the stop.

    Following lunch we take a short ride to Ennis in hopes of touring the Clare County Museum only to find the museum closed because of the holiday. Today is Saturday and the bank holiday isn’t until Monday, but apparently the Saturday before the Monday holiday counts as a holiday here. We ask at the tourist information desk for directions to the Ennis Friary and take the five minute walk only to be disappointed that the Friary isn’t what we expected. It’s much newer than the 13th century building we anticipated but the signage said it was indeed a Friary. Only after asking several very helpful locals did we discover that the 13th century Friary is actually referred to as the Old Abbey and is a couple of blocks away from the church. Ennis Friary AKA the Abbey (€4.00/€3.00 free with Heritage Pass) does look its age of 800 years as it is partially in ruins. We weren’t expecting a guided tour but gladly accepted the offer and were taken on a very detailed tour of the structure.

    Day 16: The weather prediction for today is partly sunny with minimal chance of rain so we head for the Cliffs of Moher (€6.00/€4.00 10% Discount Pass). As we arrive at the Cliffs, the sun comes from behind the clouds which allow us a beautiful view as we walk along the perimeter. O’Brien’s Tower is closed so we’ll use that as a reason to return another day. We leave the Cliffs and head 10 miles east to Kilfenora to the Burren Centre (€6.00/€5.00 20% Discount Pass) where we start our tour with a video that explains very clearly what the Burren is. We tour the museum and grab a bit to eat at Vaughan’s Pub before heading 7 miles north to Caherconnell Stone Fort (€7.00/€6.00 10% Discount Pass). We watch the video and tour the fort but don’t stick around for the Sheepdog demonstration as there is a 40 minute wait. Just a few miles down the road is the Aillwee Cave and Birds of Prey Centre (€18.00 2 for 1 Discount Pass). Unlike other caves, there are no steep steps so navigating the cave is relatively easy. Afterwards, we visit the birds and then watch the flying demonstrations. The visit here takes around two hours so afterwards we head home to East Clare. For dinner tonight we head to Peppers Pub in Feakle that is close by, but definitely off the beaten path. They have live music tonight that begins at 9:00 and when we arrive at 7:30, the place is packed. We get the last table in the place and are treated to good food and good traditional Irish music and dance.

    Day 17: The weather prediction for today is rain so we take the 30 minute ride into Limerick where our planned activities are all indoors. We arrive at King John’s Castle (€7.00/€5.25 reduced due to ongoing renovations) at the 9:30 opening and begin our tour through a very informative museum complete with audio visual characters that explain life in the castle. We then roam the ramparts of this 13th century structure and take some great photos from the top of the towers as the rain has yet to materialize. With today being a bank holiday, we thought there would be more folks visiting attractions, but not so, as we are the only visitors at the castle.

    A short walk from the castle is Saint Mary’s Cathedral (€4.00) a 12th century church that can be toured with a provided written guide. Don’t miss the misericord (mercy seats) that are the only complete set left in Ireland. On leaving the church we find that the Limerick Museum next door, as well as some other attractions on our list, is closed today because of the bank holiday. We decide to check in with the tourist information office to confirm which attractions are closed only to find that the office has relocated to a spot ¼ mile down the street. The TIO is open but isn’t sure about openings of all the museums but the staff kindly make calls to the attractions on our list and most are closed. (Art Museum, McCort Museum, Military Exhibition) One exception is the Hunt museum which will open at 2pm. We eat lunch at a restaurant on Thomas Street and head back to the Hunt Museum (€5.00/€3.50). The Hunt Museum is a private collection of over 2000 objects from Neolithic times till the present. Our guide takes us on a very informative one hour tour. We head back to East Clare and then choose McNamera’s Restaurant in nearby Scarriff for dinner.

    Day 18: Galway is our destination today and we start with a tour of the Galway City Museum (free) and adjacent Spanish Arch. We stroll about the downtown and make a short visit to the Collegiate Church of St. Nicholas (free) that was built in 1320. We leave Galway and take a scenic drive west along the bay to the Spiddal Craft Center, a collection of about a dozen craft shops. On our return along the bay, we stop at Padraicins Seafood Restaurant and have some of the best seafood of the trip. If you go to Padraicins, ask for a table overlooking the bay.

    On our return trip to East Clare, we decide to stop at the Burren Perfumery since it’s not too far off our route. We plug the location in our GPS and head in that direction without confirming our route on our trusty map. Big mistake! The GPS leads us down some of the most desolate roads yet including one seven mile stretch that was one lane with a patch of grass growing in the middle of the road. Fortunately, we met no one as we plodded along at 10 mph and we arrive at the perfumery shortly before closing. We eventually make our way back to East Clare, confirming our route with the folks at the perfumery before we exit their car park.

    Day 19: We head east today with our first stop at St. Anne’s, Sean Ross Abbey in Roscrea where we find the grave of Michael Hess, the son of Philomena Lee. If you haven’t seen the movie “Philomena”, it will be difficult to understand the appeal. There are three cemeteries (Sisters, Abbey, & Children) and Michael’s grave is just inside the gate of the Abbey Cemetery. It is easily found once inside as it is decorated with lots of items that visitors have left. We leave Roscrea and head north to Birr Castle Gardens (€9.00/€7.50 10% Discount Pass). Visitors enter a science center first that features the history of the Leviathan telescope that was built in 1845. The 123 acre gardens are well worth a visit so take the time to follow the one hour path rather than the 30 minute path.

    After Birr, we head further north to Athlone to tour Athlone Castle (€8.00/€6.00 25% Discount Pass). Just behind the castle we make a quick stop at Sean’s Bar, the oldest pub in Ireland (900 AD) and quite possibly the oldest pub in the world. Next door we have lunch at My Melody Restaurant where our group determines a new champ for best seafood chowder in Ireland. Our last stop today is Portumna where we tour the Irish Workhouse Centre (€6.00/€4.00) which is the only workhouse in Ireland with all buildings still standing. Our guide takes us through the facilities and tells a depressing story of how entire families entered the workhouses only to be separated by sex and age, with no further contact once inside. As depressing as the workhouse is, it is a “must see” place to visit in Ireland to fully appreciate that part of Irish history.

    Day 20: Our next to last day in Ireland is a catch up day as our group of eight goes three separate ways pursuing individual interests. Some tour the Tullamore D.E.W. Visitor Center (€9.00/€6.50 2 for 1 Discount Pass), one plays a final round of golf, and I go with a group to Nenagh to visit the sights there. Nenagh Castle (free) is a tower that is a relatively easy climb to the 5th level where you get a really good view of the area. Next to the castle is St. Mary of the Rosary Church were we make a short visit. Across the street is the Nenagh Heritage Centre which has a small museum that is mostly a collection of items from the last century. On return to East Clare, we stop for lunch at Flanagan’s on the Lake in Ballina which has the best lamb of our trip.

    The eight of us reassemble at 4pm for a trip back to Bunratty Castle for the medieval dinner (€53.50) at 5:30. We were expecting something a little hokier, but the ten performers are excellent singers and the food is very good. It is a fitting way to end our last night in Ireland.

    Day 21: Although our flight at Shannon isn’t till 11:40, we head out at 8:00am as we aren’t sure how long it will take at the tax refund desks. Security is a breeze and we are the only ones at the tax refund desks. At the Fexco desk, we swipe the necessary cards at the kiosk and enter the appropriate info. At the other refund desk, we present our completed tax refund receipts from the participating merchants that don’t accept the Horizon card and we are done in just a couple of minutes.

    We clear US Customs and Immigration at Shannon so when we arrive in the US, we just walk off the plane and are on our way. No waiting in long lines on arrival in the US. I really like this setup and hope it gets expanded elsewhere. We have a connection in Boston and although we have a 1 & ½ hour layover, it takes nearly that long to deplane and get to our next gate in another terminal as the plane is already loaded when we arrive. An uneventful flight to Raleigh and we’re home.


    Aer Lingus Upgrade: This was our first experience flying with Aer Lingus. We booked our flights months in advance and got economy seats for $724 (roundtrip from Raleigh/Durham) which we thought was a pretty good deal. Aer Lingus kept sending us emails about bidding for an upgrade to Business Class and so I bid $10 more than their minimum bid of $350 and to my surprise, got upgraded on the outbound leg to business class. Definitely worth the extra $360 for a seat that reclines flat, especially for someone 6’5”. First time ever I’ve been well rested after a transatlantic flight.

    Car rental: We rented with Europcar. In order to decline CDW, you must follow the rental company’s requirements exactly. For Europcar, you must use a World Mastercard. Additionally, you must have a letter from your CC company that is dated within 21 days and it must specifically mention that Ireland is covered, and must include your name and CC number. When reserving a car in Ireland, read all terms carefully. Some companies don’t include liability insurance in their quotes and there are mandatory extras such as airport fees, one way drop off fees, and declining CDW administrative fees that are added at the counter by some companies.

    Euros vs Dollars: When asked if you want your credit card transactions in Euros or Dollars, you should insist on Euros. Everybody wants to make your credit card transactions in dollars, even museums, churches, and coffee shops. When I inquired what the charge would be in dollars, it would always be about 3.5% more than the equivalent in Euros. In most places, the CC machine defaults to dollars (or your home currency) and you have to decline the transaction in dollars in order to get it in Euros. So save yourself about 3.5% on every purchase by insisting that the transaction be made in Euros.

    Cellphone: I obtained an Irish Tesco sim card for my phone and topped it up with €10 for phone calls and €10 for 5 Gigs of data. Both were way more than I needed for 3 weeks of travel as I used only 1/3 Gig of Data. Phone calls to the US were only 2 cents per minute and local calls in Ireland were 30 cents per minute. You would think it would be the other way around.

    Navigation: Although Ireland just recently introduced postal codes, don’t expect to be able to punch them into your GPS anytime soon. Before leaving home, I found every attraction we wanted to visit on Google maps. With my pointer on the desired location, I right clicked and then clicked “What’s Here” which displayed the decimal coordinates. I then clicked on the decimal coordinates which then displays the coordinates in degrees, minutes, and seconds which is what most GPS systems will accept.

    Discount Passes: The Irish Heritage Card (€25.00 Adult/€20.00 Senior) offers free admission to hundreds of sites across Ireland and you can obtain the pass at any of the sites that accept it. We obtained ours at the Kilmainham Goal and although we had carefully completed the application downloaded from their web site, the clerk hardly glanced at it before handing the applications back to us so maybe you don’t need to fill out an application. The pass is good for one year.

    The Heritage Island Discount Pass is another pass that is available for mostly privately run attractions. The discounts range from 10% up to 2 for 1 offers at Blarney Castle and Waterford Crystal. You have to order the pass in advance of your visit and the cost is €6.99 shipped anywhere in the world. You actually get a book listing all the attractions where the pass is accepted with information on each attraction. The pass is on the back cover and one pass can be used for two persons.

    Tax Free Shopping: The Horizon tax card is a free credit card size card that you present at any participating merchant to record your purchases. When leaving the country at the airport, simply enter your flight number at the Fexco kiosk and swipe your Horizon card and a credit card and that’s all there is to it. The free Horizon card can be ordered online before you travel or obtained at merchants that honor the card. Please note that some merchants, such as Waterford Crystal, subtract the tax in advance. If you fail to swipe the card at the airport, your credit card will be charged the tax in 60 days. Unlike some other countries, there are no minimum purchase requirements. Some merchants that don’t participate in the Horizon card will provide a tax receipt that can be presented at the Tax Free Worldwide desk at the airport. Just make sure you have completed the tax receipts with your personal info on each receipt before you approach the desk.

    When to go: We arrived October 10th and other than Dublin, found no crowds anywhere. At a lot of the smaller museums and sites, we had the places to ourselves. This was especially nice at attractions that offer guided tours as we often had our own private guide and it was much easier to engage the guide and ask questions. Even at places that didn’t have tour guides, the reception clerks were quite chatty, offering additional information as there was no others visitors in the place. The temperature most days was in the upper 50’s. We didn’t see a drop of rain for the first 10 days. So for us, October was ideal.

    Getting directions: If you are walking and need help with directions, just take out a map and look puzzled and some local with offer to help. We ran into numerous folks trying to help us, even when we didn’t need help. We found some of the friendliest and most helpful folks ever in Ireland.

    Driving in Ireland: It’s more than just learning to drive on the left. Review the rules before you go at Lots of the signage is different than in the US in that symbols are used instead of words. Also note that it is unlawful to have a mobile phone (cell phone) in your hand while driving. You could face a €1000 fine if caught texting while driving. When planning a route, you might want to avoid, if possible, local roads that begin with the letter “L” as they are often unmarked and somewhat narrower than the regional, national, and motorway roads.

    Thanks to Tony2phones, Padraig, and all the rest of you that provide such valuable information that I used in planning this trip. We had such a great trip and I can’t wait to start planning for the northern half of Ireland.

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    I am still trying to wrap my brain around how much ground you covered your first day in Ireland. You really crammed a lot in.
    There were eight of you so did you rent a couple of cars?
    Glad you went to Glasnevin Cemetery, so many people never go there. Did you find the Gravedigger's pub?

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    Thanks for the report, and thanks for the thanks although I don't remember answering anything other than tax points, sorry "post codes"..

    Tell someone you drove a green lane bordered by high hedges on the Burren and they might give you a daft look, but I have a fair idea of the bohreen you took and which turns you missed. The perfumery could do with a few more signs.

    Dynamic Currency Conversion is a pain, its not that the retailer gets the extra, that goes to the finance bods but it means an extra couple of days before the cash arrives in the retailers bank (and it can be a couple of weeks if there's a problem).

    If you head to Bodyke again give me a shout.

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    TONY2PHONES: Being retired, I had the time to read through nearly every post regarding Ireland in the past 6 month so I didn’t really have many unanswered questions as you had already answered them all.

    When I was presented with a CC receipt in dollars (which I politely declined) I was surprised to see itemized on the receipt “Exchange Rate Mark-Up 3.50%.” At least some of the merchants are up front with how much more you are paying by allowing the conversion to dollars.

    FLPAB: Cramming a lot in has earned me the nickname “Trip Nazi” from my traveling companions but we do see a lot in the limited time we have. Our group grew from 3 to 8 over the course of three weeks, so yes, we had rented three cars when the group grew to eight. We walked by Gravediggers Pub on our way from Glasnevin back to our B&B but didn’t stop in. We’ll have to do that on our next trip.

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    Thanks for a wonderful report! I have been to Ireland often and have visited most of the places you went so your report gave me a good trip down memory lane. Hope you get back to visit north of your Dublin/Galway line. There is so much to see there as well.


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    Ireland is one of the places that I would like to go but keep putting off. Your report is a real incentive to get myself in motion.

    Perhaps next year you could do more northerly areas for us :-) at the same level of detail. I want to do Dumfries and Galloway in Scotland, then the ferry from Stranraer, and it would be a lot easier in Ireland if you went before!

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    Thanks for the detail included in your great report. Sounds like you had a wonderful time.

    In planning our trip to Ireland several years ago, we, too, decided to concentrate on the southern part. Although we visited some of the same places, as well as others which you did not, we picked up info about other areas which we did not have time to visit. Next trip, we'll focus more on Northern Ireland.

    Your section on "Hints" will, no doubt, be of help to many.

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    Great write-thanks.
    we're thinking of going to Ireland in September for 2 weeks, probably to the southern portion too. We really like to see the scenery and the older places. Are there any of the locals or places you visited that you think we could bypass as we do our planning, or are there any that are "must sees & dos"?
    Thank you.

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    Listing the “must dos” is a difficult task as we found something special in nearly every place we visited. If I had to reduce my trip from three week to two, I would choose the following as “must sees”.
    1. Dublin: to include Glasnevin Cemetery, Kilmainham Goal, Christ Church Cathedral
    2. O’Leary’s Farm B&B: our favorite place we stayed with its spectacular views
    3. New Ross: Dunbrody Famine Ship and Ros Tapestry. Hook lighthouse just south of New Ross
    4. Waterford: skip the Crystal tour but do tour Bishop’s Palace, Medieval Museum, and Reginald Tower
    5. Killkenny: Killkenny Castle, Black Abbey, and St. Canicises Cathedral
    6. Cashel: Rock of Cashel and Cahir Castle just 10 miles south
    7. Killarney: Muckross House & Gardens, Ross Castle, Ring of Kerry (including Skellig Ring), Torc Waterfall
    8. Cork: Blarney Castle (just north of Cork), St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral, English Market, Charles Fort (15 miles south in Kinsale)
    9. Dingle: the peninsula tour, Inch Beach, Blasket Center, Dingle shops,
    10. Foynes: Flying Boat Museum
    11. Limrick: Bunratty Castle & Folk Park, King John’s Castle, St. Mary’s Cathedral, Bunratty Medieval dinner
    12. Cliffs of Moher: Cliffs, Burren Center (10 miles east of cliffs)
    13. Birr: Birr Castle Gardens, Athlone Castle (north of Birr), Portumna Workhouse (west of Birr)
    Hope this helps.

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    One note: we just returned from 2 weeks in Ireland (and frankly I'm breathless just thinking about the pace you must have kept to cover as much ground as you did in 3 weeks...) and one can (& should) now indeed book tickets for the Kilmanhaim Gaol in advance; we did so the day before we went & got in without difficulty in early June. Groups are limited to 35 and are admitted every 15 minutes.

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