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Trip Report (Long): An Amazing Northwest Ireland Trip!

Trip Report (Long): An Amazing Northwest Ireland Trip!

Jul 18th, 2006, 09:41 AM
  #1  
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Trip Report (Long): An Amazing Northwest Ireland Trip!

I apologize - I stuck this on the general interest board rather than the Ireland board, so I am reposting.

This is also posted on the other "F" site but so many Fodorites were helpful that I also wanted to post it here.

Trip Report – Ireland – June 23rd to July 3rd, 2006

Our trip to Ireland exceeded our wildest expectations. We went to Ireland to celebrate our five-year anniversary and left feeling like honeymooners; the country is so romantic with ruined castles, picturesque looks, or quaint cottages peeking out from every turn. But, while the scenery, cities, and sites are spectacular, the real draw is the people. The Irish people always made us feel welcome even when we did stupid things like taking pictures of road signs or asking for “Smithwicks” instead of “Smith’icks.” So, would we go back? Absolutely --- we are already thinking about our next trips!!!

Overall, the goal of our trip was to travel leisurely through the country, while avoiding as many tour buses as possible. In addition, I tried to pick a variety of lodging options so that we could experience as much as possible. We are both reasonably adventurous when it comes to traveling so I felt confident in going off-the-beaten track. Our trip met all of our goals and more, and DH says that he can’t imagine a better trip (there is no better compliment than that!)

Here is the short-hand version of our trip: June 24 - Dublin

June 25 - Dublin

June 26 - County Meath (Newgrange, Trim Castle, stay at Killyon House)

June 27 - County Fermanagh (Marble Arch Caves, Florence Court, stay at Aboccuragh House)

June 28 - County Donegal (Slieve League Cliffs, stay at Nesbitt Arms Hotel)

June 29 - County Galway (Sligo, Knock, stay at Killeen House)

June 30 - County Galway (Connemara, stay at Killeen House)

July 1 - County Clare (Cliffs of Moher, Burren, stay at Cappabhaile House)

July 2 - County Clare (Bunratty, stay at Dromoland Castle)

So, here goes:

Saturday, June 24, 2006 – Dublin

After a long previous day traveling, we landed in Dublin around 8:00 a.m. and found ourselves in a rainy, cold, and mostly empty city. We took the Airlink Bus from Dublin Airport to Busaras in the City Center for 5 Euro each. The bus drive was nice and we got to see some of the outskirts of the city.

We walked for about 10 minutes from the Busaras station, dragging our suitcases behind us, across the Liffey, and after some anxiety, found O’Neills Victorian Pub and Townhouse on Pearse Street. O’Neills has received varying reviews on Tripadvisor, with some listing it as the best B&B in Dublin, and others listing the bed, location, and rooms as bad. Since it was still early, the B&B owner said our room wouldn’t be ready until 2:00 but we could leave our luggage in a small lounge area. I asked if he could provide breakfast (since it didn’t look like much was open yet), and he invited us in to breakfast and provided a full Irish breakfast, which we certainly appreciated. The breakfast was reasonable with a lot of food.

After breakfast, we headed toward the City Center and within five minutes, were at the gates of Trinity College. We walked in and decided to take the tour and see the Book of Kells. The tour plus the Book of Kells was 10 Euros (seeing the Book of Kells alone is 7 Euros). The tour was okay but I think we could have skipped the tour and just gone directly to the Book of Kells. By the time we reached the Book of Kells, it was around 11:00 a.m. and the line was very long. So, we decided not to stand in the line and to return to the Book of Kells on the following morning (which turned out to be a very wise decision).

We walked back out of Trinity College, and bought tickets to the Hop on Hop off bus for 15 Euros each. This is definitely worth the cost and we highly recommend this bus tour. We used the bus for the rest of the day on Saturday and all day Sunday. We took the bus to St. Stephen’s Green (because we didn’t realize how close it was from Trinity College) and spent some time wandering around this beautiful park. Outside the gate of St. Stephen’s Green, painters had spread their art for sale, and we loved walking down the street, with the Victorian townhouses clustered on the opposite side and artwork lining the walls near us.

We somehow found our way back to Grafton Street. By this time, the crowds were out and this street was packed with shoppers. We decided to go to Bewley’s Oriental Café for lunch. Bewley’s is excellent! Best brown bread on the entire trip --- just thinking about that moist, slightly nutty, dense bread makes my mouth water. I would love to get that recipe though I am sure they don’t give it up. The soups and salads were also excellent.

We then walked back to O’Neills (and got completely lost so it took us about 25 minutes to get back even though it is only about 5 minutes away from Grafton Street). We checked in at that point. Our room was nice and clean. The bathroom did not have a curtain and desperately needed one because it faced out on to the DART train. The room and bathroom were clean and nice with all of the basic necessities, the breakfast was good, the location was excellent (five minute walk from Grafton Street, O’Connell Street, and Temple Bar), and it is quite inexpensive by Dublin standards (125 Euro per night). However, the location is very noisy; the street noise did not bother us too much even though we were above O’Neills’ pub but the close proximity to the DART train created almost constant noise. Overall, we liked O’Neills and would stay there again but we would probably check other hotels/B&Bs in the same price range and area to see if we could find something less noisy. If you are sensitive to noise, we would not recommend O’Neills.

After taking a rejuvenating nap, we walked to Temple Bar, where we had made dinner reservations at Eden for our anniversary dinner. We got there a little early so stopped in at the Porterhouse for a drink before heading on to Eden. Porterhouse was very fun and they had a great traditional group playing music. For the first time, we felt like we were in Ireland --- sitting in a pub, listening to music, and drinking our first pint (and first Bailey’s for me) on our trip. It was nice.

We headed over to Eden. The food at Eden was good modern Irish cuisine but expensive; we had better meals on our trip for less cost so, though Eden is good, there may be other good restaurants in Dublin.

As we walked out of Temple Bar, we realized that it probably was not our speed on a Saturday night (as we walked out, we saw about 5 groups of women for hen parties). We walked back to O’Neills Pub, which was beautiful. The inside is done in wood with a gorgeous Victorian décor and old drinking paraphernalia displayed throughout. We had a quick drink and, after our long day, headed to bed.

Sunday, June 25, 2006 – Dublin

We awoke to a gorgeous day --- beautiful blue and sunny with huge puffy white clouds. Breakfast at O’Neills was again traditional Irish breakfast, but it seemed like the hash browns, sausage and bacon weren’t of the highest quality (according to DH, since I don’t eat meat). We walked out the door at 9:25 and were at the Book of Kells by 9:30. According to the tour guide, once the pass is purchased, it is valid forever. 9:30 is the best time to see the Book of Kells because the tours don’t start until 10:00. There was no line to wait in and we spent over 20 minutes gazing at the detailed artistry on vellum, with no one pushing us or trying to fight to see the book. The Book of Kells doesn’t sound fantastic --- as my husband told me, we’re paying 7 Euros to go look at a book? --- but this is more than a book. It is a work of art done in the most painstaking fashion and each letter and picture is beautiful to behold. Then we walked upstairs to the Grand Lobby of Trinity College Library. Wow. I love libraries --- they are so full of wonder and ancient wisdom --- and this library is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen, with hundreds of wooden bookcases lining the walls and ancient texts upon them.

We then hopped on the Hop On Hop Off Bus and stopped at Christ Church Cathedral. But, because it was 11:00 on Sunday, the Cathedral was closed for viewing because services were being held. The outside, though, is beautiful and when we come back to Dublin, we will definitely plan to go there. We then walked down to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which also was closed for services but has a beautiful exterior.

We then hopped back on the bus to the Guinness Storehouse. While expensive (13 Euro I believe with a 10% off coupon we got with our Hop on Hop off bus pass), the tour is actually surprisingly well done. We have been to the Coke Museum in Atlanta and to other brewery tours and this is definitely the best tour of its kind that we have been on. The Gravity Bar was packed with people by the time we got up there and so we didn’t stay too long; but the view was lovely and we could see all the way to the ocean on one end and to the mountains on the other side.

We then hopped back on the bus to Kilmainhaim Gaol. There are two different Hop on Hop off bus tours in the city and we took the 15 Euro one instead of the 14 Euro tour done by Dublin Buses. We felt like we saw a lot more of our Red/Yellow buses than the Dublin Bus so we were happy with our choice. And our drop off at Kilmainhaim Gaol was probably the best part of taking the Red/Yellow bus. We took the Red Bus, which dropped us off in front of the Museum of Modern Art. Then, we walked through the Museum of Modern Art to get to Kilmainhaim Gaol. This is a beautiful walk, across a tree lined path with centuries-old cemeteries dotting the sides. If it is a pretty day, we highly recommend taking this solemn yet pretty walk to end up at Kilmainhaim Gaol.

Kilmainhaim Gaol was our first Heritage stop, so we bought our Heritage Cards here. This is, honestly, the best deal you can find in Ireland because, for the most part, Ireland is a very expensive country. The Heritage Card was 21 Euros per person and we ended up going to a number of sites (described further in the rest of the report) that we wouldn’t have visited just because we had our Card. Kilmainhaim Gaol was wonderful and a great way to learn more about the history of Ireland. It left me feeling sad but proud of the achievements made by a few people that led this country to become a free and independent nation.

After that, our plan was to go to the Jameson Distillery and stop at a pub on the way to eat. We took the bus to the Jameson stop and ate at the Brazen Head, the oldest pub in Ireland. They were having their Sunday traditional music session, which was excellent and being piped through the speakers. The food was only mediocre but the atmosphere was great.

We decided that since it was already 5:00 and the Hop on Hop off bus stopped running at 6:00 on Sundays, we would go to O’Connell Street. We walked around O’Connell Street for about half an hour. This is a great area and seemed to be less visited by tourists. Shops line the sides and in the middle, were huge sculptures and statutes. We went back to O’Neills over the Ha’Penney Bridge (only 5 minute walk) and rested for an hour.

We decided to try the Grafton Street area for dinner instead of Temple Bar and wound up at this excellent Indian restaurant, Molodoti (I think), off of Grafton Street. We are pretty good judges of Indian restaurants, and this place is excellent; the food is delicately spiced with unusual entrees and both of us loved our food. However, the restaurant has no air conditioning (a common trend in Ireland) or any way of opening their windows (not as common), and it was terribly hot in there. So, I think this may be a better spot for a cooler day.

After dinner, we walked over to O’Neill’s Pub on Suffolk Street (not the O’Neill’s we were staying at); coming from Grafton Street, we made a left at Molly Malone’s statue and it is on the right. Of all the pubs we went to in Ireland this was our favorite. They had a great traditional music session that night AND they were also playing the World Cup on mute on multiple plasma screen TVs throughout the pub. We were about three steps from the bartender, the entire bar was done in wood and stained glass, and we had the absolute best time that night listening to excellent music, watching the World Cup, and relaxing.

All in all, Dublin is a city that seemed comfortable in its past but is clearly embracing its future: cobblestone streets run up to Internet cafes, old Victorian pubs sit next door to foreign restaurants, and the new James Joyce bridge, gleaming in chrome and white, seems to fit just as well as the neighboring old stone bridges. In the U.S., we often feel that the old is shoddy in comparison with the new, or the new is unimportant in comparison to the old. In Dublin, it was reassuring and beautiful that old and new could meld with ease. Things to see on the next trip in Dublin: Christ Church Cathedral, National Gallery, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Jameson Distillery, and probably lots of other things!
akila is offline  
Jul 18th, 2006, 09:42 AM
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Monday, June 26, 2006 – County Meath

Today was rainy and cold; the coldest day on our trip. Today was the one day where we had a schedule because we were going to Newgrange and everyone advised us to get there early. We woke up at 6:30 a.m., packed and walked to Busaras, where we took the Airlink Bus to the Airport (5 Euros). There was one person ahead of us in line at the Dan Dooley stand and it took us about 20 minutes to fill out all the paperwork. Several months ago, we got a Capital One Platinum Mastercard for the express purpose of using it on this trip. We used it to waive CDW insurance and also used it throughout our trip because they only have a 1% fee instead of 3% like most other credit card companies. In total, our Dooley rental was about 330 Euros for an automatic Ford Fiesta for 7 days with two people driving. We were very happy that we paid the extra money to have both of us drive so one person wasn’t stuck behind the wheel for the entire trip. We walked out and the shuttle arrived and we went and picked up our car. In total, it took us from 7:15 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. from our B&B to driving out of Dan Dooley with our car.

The drive from Dublin to Bru na Boinne was very easy and a great way to start learning how to drive on the left. It was only a 45 minute drive on a major highway. When we reached Bru na Boinne, it was around 10:15, there were NO tour buses and only a few cars parked. We used our Heritage Card to get into both Newgrange and Knowth.

We were on the 10:30 tour bus to Knowth and only eight other people were on the tour. That was a great tour --- very interesting, beautiful ancient monuments, with carvings all over the stones. Then we were on the 11:45 tour to Newgrange with about 40 people on the tour. Even though we thought the tomb was amazing, it was difficult to see well inside the passage area and we felt that the tour guide wasn’t as knowledgeable. Between the two, we both enjoyed Knowth more because it has so many beautiful carvings and the tour guide gave us great insight into how the megalithic people lived. The Newgrange tour was repetitive but not as informative as the Knowth tour but the Newgrange passage tomb was very interesting. So, I think we would do both again but warn people that the two tours are often duplicative.

We drove up to Navan next, which is about 30 minutes from Bru na Boinne and had lunch at Holly’s Kitchen, a small café. The food was okay. We really liked Navan; it was a cute small town but well designed and with a variety of shops and restaurants. We then stopped at Killyon House, our B&B, but it wasn’t open yet (at 2:00).

So, we continued on to Trim to see Trim Castle. We again used our Heritage Card (it had now paid for itself). We really liked our tour of Trim Castle; although it is in ruins, it was a huge castle with lots to see and the guide did a great job explaining the key aspects of the site. And, contrary to our guidebooks which said that tours are often booked up, there were only 10 or so people on our tour around Trim Castle. When we came back to the U.S., we watched Braveheart and we were so excited to see the scene where Trim Castle is used!

We debated driving to the Hill of Tara but it was still very gloomy and rainy, and we both were tired by this point, so we headed back to Killyon House in Navan. We checked into Killyon House and met Sheila, who was very nice (80 Euros/night). Even though it was a beautiful house, we thought the bed was extremely uncomfortable (springs were broken) and the light in my lamp didn’t work. The drive from Killyon to Navan was very short (about 2 minutes).

We had dinner at the Loft Restaurant that night. The appetizer (fried Brie) was awesome and the dessert (Banoffi Pie) was the best dessert we had in Ireland. The entrees were good, too. We walked around a little bit but after our busy day, we decided to go back to the B&B.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006 – County Fermanagh

Today was sun and clouds with some threatening of storms that never actually broke out. Breakfast at Killyon was very good with a great assortment of fruit, cereals, and main dishes, and we sat in the sunroom overlooking the River Boyne. Overall, I don’t know if we would stay at Killyon again --- while the house and the breakfast were great and Sheila was very sweet, the bed was uncomfortable.

We headed up toward County Fermanagh with me driving for the first time! It wasn’t that bad driving on the left. It took about an hour to get used to it and then I had to figure out roundabouts but both DH and I felt that it isn’t nearly as difficult as we thought it would be (although stay tuned for our Donegal driving experience). Even though we drove for about two hours from Navan to Enniskillen, there weren’t any sites to see on the way up, except to stop on the side of the road and take some pictures of scenery. We arrived in Enniskillen around 1:00 and had lunch at the Crowe’s Nest, a pub in town. Lunch was okay.

We walked around the town and then went to Enniskillen Castle. We would NOT recommend the Castle unless you are interested in military history because it is mostly a military history museum. We walked over to the Butter Market, which is a converted area for artists to work in and sell their products but didn’t buy anything. There wasn’t much to see in the town and it was extremely busy with cars packed against each other on the main road, so we headed out into the countryside.

We drove to Florence Court, hoping to see the House and Gardens, but the House is closed for viewings on Tuesdays except in July and August. The grounds though were beautiful, with a gorgeous walled garden, and since we had some sun, it was a really nice leisurely walk. Since the House was closed, we were one of the very few people in the Gardens and it felt like we had the whole place to ourselves.

At this point, it was only 3:30, so we decided to drive over to Marble Arch Caves (about 3 km from Florence Court). We were the only two people on the 4:00 tour so we got great personalized attention from our tour guide, who was really wonderful (I can’t remember her name). In both of the guidebooks I took (the DK Eyewitness Travels and Frommer’s), the guidebooks said that calling for reservations is necessary at Marble Arch Caves so we were extremely surprised that there were so few tourists there. The caves are beautiful and I think this would be a great stop for kids.

We then headed to our Bed and Breakfast --- Abbocurragh House, located outside Enniskillen (50 Pounds Sterling/night). Wow. It is set amidst the mountains, looking out onto green pastures, with sheep grazing in the front yard. Our room faced a lovely garden with the high mountains in the background. The room was beautiful and well kept. And Bernie is so sweet; she was so interested to hear that DH’s ancestors lived in County Fermanagh. We highly recommend this B&B and would definitely go back to it again.

Then we headed back to Enniskillen and had dinner at Café Merlot at Blakes on the Hollow (recommended by Sullivan). We had the Pre-Theatre menu, a deal at 12.50 pounds for 2 courses and the food was excellent.

Enniskillen is a great town, and with all the traffic gone, we were able to see how beautiful it was. We checked out a couple of pubs but quickly remembered that Northern Ireland doesn’t have the smoking ban yet (according to the bartender at Charlie’s, the ban will begin in April). We ended up in Charlie’s Pub & Off-License which had three plasma screens and hardly anyone in there (so no smoking). We spent over half an hour talking to one of the nicest bartenders about politics, beer, sites, and football while watching the World Cup. It was interesting, and very different, to get a Northern Irish viewpoint about all of these things.

In Enniskillen, we felt like we were the only tourists in the country --- we did not see another tourist the entire time we were there other than in our B&B. We would highly recommend going there in the end of June because it was so nice to have the sites, restaurants, and pubs to ourselves and the Irish who live there. The first two weeks in July are marching weeks and the bartender at Charlie’s did not recommend traveling to N.I. during that time and, after that, he said that the town is packed with tourists.

akila is offline  
Jul 19th, 2006, 11:13 AM
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Nice report akila. I walked into the Marble Arch Caves later in the day with 11 people once and we got the next tour. I certainly wasn't crowded then either. I thought it was a wonderful site.

Bill
wojazz3 is offline  
Jul 19th, 2006, 03:56 PM
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Akila, I like your name. Is it gaelic?

Thanks for posting this nice, long report. It makes me want to go to Ireland and dig up my ancestors, not literally of course.
moolyn is offline  
Jul 20th, 2006, 06:52 AM
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Really enjoying the detail in your report, especially the Dublin portion. Looking forward to the rest of it!

I was thinking about doing the hop on/hop off thing the day we arrive, but thought we might be too worn out and jetlagged. I know you were only in Dublin for one day, so you had to do it then or never, but did you find it okay, or were you starting to drag a bit later in the day?
sweetbippity is offline  
Jul 20th, 2006, 06:57 AM
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Actually, the hop on hop off would be a good idea on the 1st day. Just be sure you do enough hopping on and off. The prevailing wisdom (it was even reported as such on CNN) is to do everything possible to stay awake on the 1st day. Driving is bad for that, walking is good.

Bill
wojazz3 is offline  
Jul 20th, 2006, 08:21 AM
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akila:

I'm really enjoying your trip report so far. I loved your observation about the old and new melding together in Dublin - so true!

Eagerly awaiting more, especially since I was in Ireland at the same time you were, doing the southern route

http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...enDragon&fid=2
GreenDragon is offline  
Jul 20th, 2006, 08:21 AM
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akila:

I'm really enjoying your trip report so far. I loved your observation about the old and new melding together in Dublin - so true!

Eagerly awaiting more, especially since I was in Ireland at the same time you were, doing the southern route

http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...2&tid=34838226
GreenDragon is offline  
Jul 20th, 2006, 09:13 AM
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Thank you all for the kind comments! We really had the most wonderful time! moolyn - My name is actually Indian but, interestingly, Akila is also an African and Jewish name, too.

sweetbippity - Since we spent two days in Dublin (including the day we landed), we bought the pass on the first day and it lasted for 24 hours, so we used it for all of the second day. We actually didn't use it much at all on the first day because we mostly walked around, but it was great to use on the second day. I think you could buy it in the afternoon on your first day and then, depending on what you feel like, plan to use it that day or the following day. Since the first day we were in Dublin was very rainy, we saw a lot of people just taking the bus throughout the city so they could get a feel for it without getting off.

GreenDragon - I loved your report! I read it the other day and was glad to see how much fun you had on the other end of Ireland! It seemed like both of us had the same impression of O'Neill's in Dublin - good location, clean, but too noisy!

Wednesday, June 28, 2006 – County Donegal

Today was a cloudy day with sprinkles, throughout. We woke up to a sensational breakfast --- probably the best traditional Irish breakfast we had on the trip --- and ate in the breakfast room looking out onto sheep grazing with the mountains high behind them. We were sad to leave Aboccuragh --- the house was so comfortable and beautiful, set among the green mountains. We, of course, stopped on the way out and took a picture of the sheep!

We drove about 30 minutes to the Belleek factory. This was surprisingly a really great tour where they took us into the factory to watch the craftspeople work and we were able to talk to them while they worked. We were amazed by how much of the process of making this china is by hand. Every miniscule flower is shaped by a worker with nothing more than clay and a small flat tool, like the blade of a flat-head screwdriver. We bought a bunch of things in the Belleek shop; but, taking into account the conversion rate, the prices at the Belleek shop were better than most gift shops we found in the Republic of Ireland.

We then headed up north into County Donegal. We stopped at Donegal Town and dropped our laundry off in MasterCleaners in the main square. This made our traveling so easy because we only had two carry-on suitcases for our entire trip and MasterCleaners only charged us 17 Euros to get all our clothes washed (probably two loads) --- a very good deal. We walked around Donegal Town for a short while and stopped in at Donegal Castle (a Heritage Card site). The castle was nice but small and we went through it pretty quickly. We had lunch at a Carvery in a local hotel – can’t remember the name --- which was okay.

Then, we headed up on the Atlantic Highlands drive, driving toward Slieve League Cliffs. This was just a sensational drive on windy small roads, with mountains surrounding us, valleys below us, small cottages burning peat, sheep everywhere, and the ocean looming at every turn. We are both convinced that all the calendar pictures we see of Ireland are taken in County Donegal because it is so picturesque.

The signage to get to Slieve League Cliffs is very poor, and halfway through the signs converted to Gaelic only, and we were constantly afraid we missed the turn, not to mention that we were driving on one-lane roads throughout. But we wound up at this gate with nothing on it but a small cardboard sign which said “Please close the gate behind you.” We drove up the most treacherous road we have ever been on, with sheer cliffs dropping into the ocean on the left, and high cliff walls on the right, with barely enough room for our tiny Ford Fiesta to drive on, and cars coming at us that were trying to leave the cliffs on this same one-lane road. As one of the regulars at Nancy’s put it, it is a “bloody ‘airy drive.” The ride was exhausting but worth it.

Because, at the end, we wound up at the cliffs, staring at a mass of rock, higher than imagination, gray, orange, and red, with green grass climbing over it, crashing into the ocean below. Slieve League Cliffs looks like a postcard because it seems so impossible. We spent a long time wandering around and climbing up the trail to get better views. If we could do it all over again, we would plan to spend a whole day here, walking the trails and seeing the cliffs.

Then we drove through to Ardara, stopping at Glengesh Pass, which is another phenomenally beautiful place. The scenery in Donegal is stunning but in a wild and unkempt way --- heartbreakingly beautiful but lonely. When we drove through Donegal, we often felt like we were the only living people in the world because rarely would we come across another car, and we could see for miles and miles with few houses dotting the landscape.

We ended up in Ardara, a very small town, with few shops and pubs. We stayed in Nesbitt Arms Hotel (70 Euros), a hotel with about 60 rooms, and the only hotel in the town. There were many elderly people staying in the hotel but we don’t think they left the hotel because we did not see them ever walking around town. The hotel was like a typical 3-star hotel in the U.S. --- comparable to a low-grade Holiday Inn. We would not recommend Nesbitt Arms because the breakfast was not good and the shower did not give any hot water.

We walked over to Nancy’s Pub but they did not have any vegetarian options for me so we decided to go to Woodhill House and Restaurant for dinner. The food was good but a little expensive, but it was overall a nice dinner and we enjoyed it. They had good vegetarian options there. Afterwards, we went back to Nancy’s Pub and had a lot of fun talking with the local Irish people (and two other tourists from Australia) about Donegal and other things. Again, we were one of the very few tourists in the town and it was nice to hear the opinions of the local people. It was a fun night, but after we got cornered by a very intoxicated woman, we decided to head out.

akila is offline  
Jul 20th, 2006, 09:16 AM
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Thursday, June 29, 2006 – County Donegal to Galway

Today was mostly rainy and chilly until the evening in Galway, which was gloriously sunny and warm. After eating the mediocre breakfast at Nesbitt Arms, we walked through the wool/tweed shops in Ardara. We went to Bonner & Sons and one other place two doors down from Bonner and got great deals on woolen goods. The quality seemed to be very good and the tags showed that the products were actually made in Ardara, which we liked.

We headed back to Donegal Town using the direct route (1/2 hour drive) and picked up our laundry, and drove toward Sligo. I cannot emphasize enough the beauty and loneliness of the scenery in Donegal; driving through the county is almost mystical.

After about an hour from Donegal Town, we wound up in Drumcliffe, where we stopped to see Yeats’ grave. We really liked seeing the church where his grandfather had been deacon and his grave. We went into the tea shop because I wanted to buy a collection of Yeats’ poetry but decided to stop and eat lunch there because the food looked so good. And it was --- we both had a pumpkin soup and the sandwiches were very hearty and they had several good vegetarian selections.

We didn’t stop in Sligo Town but kept driving through and after another hour, we stopped at Knock in County Mayo. We didn’t know what to expect since neither of us is very religious but Knock amazed both of us and is a very worthwhile stop. The shrine is beautiful and the grounds are nice, but the reason to go there is to experience a feeling of religion that is so strong, it is tangible.

After another hour or less, we ended up in Galway. This was our longest day of driving as it took us about 3 to 4 hours total driving time from Ardara to Galway. It worked out well, though, because it rained almost the entire day which made it good for driving since we weren’t seeing as many sites. If we had an additional day, we probably would have stopped in Sligo or in County Mayo to break up the drive a little.

Since it was still raining when we arrived in Galway, we decided to directly head for our B&B and come back into the city afterward. We decided to splurge in Galway and picked the Killeen House (160 Euros/night) based on the excellent Tripadvisor reviews. Killeen House was worth every cent. The house is a huge beautiful building and our room was stunning. We had the Garden Suite, the only room on the ground floor, with our own beautiful blue and gold sitting room, a huge bedroom beyond with an exceedingly comfortable king sized bed, a plasma screen TV, and, best of all, a bay window facing out onto the immaculate garden. The bathroom was immense with a very nice tub, and we had a large hall area in between to keep our luggage. Killeen House was stunning and we were very happy to stay there for two nights.

As soon as we got settled in, the sun came out of the clouds and we wandered around the garden for a short while. We then drove back into Galway around 5:30. This was a mistake, because all of the commuters were driving out of the city and it took us over 30 minutes to try and find parking. Once we found street parking, we got lost trying to get into the city and were pointed in the right direction by a very nice student. We finally found ourselves in Eyre Square, which was beautiful, and walked through into Shop Street. This is a really neat area, with cobblestone streets, and we enjoyed walking through. We were starving by this time and were still turned around, so we stopped at Kirby’s for dinner off of Shop Street. The food was not good and I would not recommend it.

After dinner, we walked around and saw the Spanish Arch, the gothic church (can’t remember the name), and the quay area. In our guidebooks, they listed six things to see in Galway, and we saw five of those places in our walk after dinner. We walked back into Shop Street and stopped at Sheridan’s Cheesemongers for wine and some cheese, because we had about an hour before the 9:30 music session started at Tig Cioli. Sheridan’s was really good and we enjoyed eating there. The music session at Tig Cioli was excellent but it was PACKED with people, and after an hour or so, I started to feel ill from my dinner at Kirby’s and we headed back to the B&B.


Friday, June 30, 2006 – County Galway - Connemara

Today was the perfect day to see the Connemara – beautiful and blue, sunny and warm. Of all the days on the trip, today was my favorite day. We woke up and had a very good breakfast at Killeen House (though it was very formal, we used silver and Wedgewood China to eat!) Both of us had omelettes.

We got onto the N59 which was the road the Killeen House is on and headed toward the Connemara. We stopped and saw so much throughout this day but it is difficult to explain because most of the time, we just stopped on the side of the road and looked at scenery. Our first main stop was at the Achnanore Castle, a ruined castle, and we used our Heritage Card to get in. This was a smaller castle and is a breeding ground for bats, which are protected by the government, so that was interesting. We then stopped at the Quiet Man bridge and took a picture of this beautiful stone bridge with the mountains in the background.

When we got to Clifden, we decided to do the Sky Drive first since we weren’t hungry yet. This is an amazing drive --- absolutely must see --- at the top, we were standing on a mountain, with pastures and sheep below us, looking at the blue ocean below dotted with green islands.

We stopped in Clifden for lunch and wandered through this cute town. We ate at the Two Dog Café which was excellent. We shared a sweet and chunky tomato basil soup and both had great sandwiches. We decided to get some desserts to go so that we could stop in Connemara National Park and have a little picnic. We also stopped at an Off-License and got some little bottles of wine.

We then drove to Connemara National Park (using our Heritage Card – I felt like we were stealing by this point, getting into all of these places). What a beautiful place. We saw two Connemara ponies (an adult and a baby) grazing and then walked up the 1 km trail. We found a secluded spot in the grass, could hear a small creek rushing by us, and had a view of the mountains before us crashing into the turquoise blue ocean below and the green islands in the distance. We snacked on our excellent pastries from Two Dog Café, drank our wine, and relaxed in the sun.

We then headed out of Connemara National Park and stopped at Kylemore Abbey. By this point, it was already 5:00 so they had stopped the tours of the gardens but we were able to walk around the abbey for 7 Euros. We were a little concerned that this would be a rip off but it was well worth the price. The view of the abbey across the lake is extremely picturesque (which is why that view graces the covers of so many calendars) and the interior of the house is beautiful with expensive old world furnishings. We walked to the small chapel and then headed back to our car around 6:00.

We took the regional road back to Galway, driving near the ocean on the way back, but due to the large number of houses near Galway, we didn’t get too much of a view, so I think driving the N59 is equivalently good. We did stop at the Rossaveel Beach on the way back to bring some sand back to the U.S. and feel the frigid water on our toes.

Our advice, if you enjoy natural beauty, is to leave a whole day to see the Connemara --- we spent nine hours, from the time we left our B&B in the morning to the time we returned and only drove about 120 km, and we could have spent much more time in the park itself. In a way, the Connemara was like the Atlantic Highlands drive in County Donegal --- it was not heavily traveled (the only tour buses we saw were at Kylemore Abbey), breathtakingly beautiful, and best enjoyed by driving slowly, stopping on the side of the road, and breathing in the air.

Parking in Galway is horrible at night and both nights in Galway, we spent about 30 minutes searching for a parking spot. We were picky about our food location tonight because we wanted to watch the World Cup while eating ---- this was not easy to find at all because most of the areas showing the World Cup did not have seating for food. In the end, we wound up at Busker Browne’s, which we later learned had the same food served at Kirby’s which we had not liked the night before. Busker Browne’s had a good screen with the World Cup but the food was again not good and, I felt ill again after eating dinner. We walked around Galway after the game and watched the fisherman fishing for salmon near Salmon Weir Bridge and then headed back to Killeen House.
akila is offline  
Jul 21st, 2006, 05:03 AM
  #11  
 
Join Date: Mar 2006
Posts: 84
Thanks for the info on the hop on/hop off Bill and Akila - by the time we get to the city centre from the airport, check in and all that, it'll be afternoon, so we could always finish up the next day, like you said.

And I'll be sure to avoid Kirbys!
sweetbippity is offline  
Jul 22nd, 2006, 10:49 AM
  #12  
 
Join Date: May 2003
Posts: 192
Loved your report. I was interested in staying at O'Neills because of the location. AT this time we have Jury's on Parnell Street booked but I think it might be a little further than we want to be. If anyone is familiar with Jurys on Parnell please let me know. For the 19E more the convenience of O'Neills (despite the noise - I travel with a white noise machine, lol) might be worth it since breakfast is included. What is the diffence with the Dublin Pass (which I have already purchased), and the Heritage? do we need both since we will be doing the Newgrange trip prior to going into Dublin. Thanks again for all the info.
kadurk49 is offline  
Jul 24th, 2006, 01:58 AM
  #13  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 3,172
Hi Akila,

You came at a nice week to Dublin. The artists are on St Stephens green for only 1 week of the year at the end of june and its nice to wander looking at the paintings. Merrion Sq has artists most weekends year round. I have eaten at Eden a few years back but never impressed. Some people love it while others think its ok. I prefer other restaurants in that price range. MAybe as a veggie as well I do not fined the menu interesting.

The Indian Restaurant you ate in was called Maloti and its my favourite. the food is great and the service fantastic. They will adapt any dish and just have a nice selection inclusing some Kashmir dishes. I think the price is good as well with wine. We go so often they actuially know us now!

O'Neills (Suffolk Street) is good for watching sports on TV we went here for a few world cup games as they had the most TV's!

Sounds like a lovely trip.
SiobhanP is offline  
Jul 24th, 2006, 09:11 AM
  #14  
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Join Date: Jun 2006
Posts: 211
kadurk49 - The Dublin Pass gets visitors into a number of the most popular Dublin attractions for a set price and also includes a free bus ride from the airport to Busaras. We decided against the Dublin Pass since we were only in Dublin for two days and were only planning on doing a few of the attractions that it included (Guinness Storehouse and Kilmainhaim Gaol). If you are planning on staying longer in Dublin or doing more of the Dublin attractions it includes, I think it would be worth the cost.

The Heritage Card includes all of the sites managed by the tourist board in Ireland and includes a large number of sites throughout Ireland, including Newgrange. This link lists all of the sites that the Heritage Card includes: http://www.heritageireland.ie/en/HistoricSites/

Siobhan - I am so glad that we got to see the art then! We thought it was something that was done every week and we loved walking past it. Maloti was so good --- in the U.S. it is often very difficult to get good Indian food (as it is made in India), because Indian restaurants tend to overspice and oversalt their food here, for some unknown reason.

Okay, so here is the rest of the report:

Saturday, July 1, 2006 – County Clare – Burren/Cliffs of Moher

We woke up to another good breakfast at the Killeen House and decided to spend the morning shopping in Galway for souvenirs and presents to bring back home. We first drove over to the Galway Crystal Factory, because the Belleek Tour gave us a free coupon for the Galway Crystal tour. This was a big disappointment because the tour only explains the history of Galway and does not show any crystal, so we decided not to do it. We walked through the Galway Crystal store but then decided to head to Shop Street. This was a great location to buy our souvenirs. Dublin had more variety but, if we had bought souvenirs there, we would have had to lug them all through Ireland. We also really liked the convenience of Galway; the city is very compact and cute and it was easy to shop in just one street. We ate at the Galway Bread Company for lunch, which had a typical carvery lunch.

We then headed toward Ballyvaughan, which was only an 1 ½ hour drive from Galway. We checked into Cappabhaile House at Ballyvaughan. This B&B was almost more like a small hotel because there were so many rooms there. The room we stayed in was nice and clean but unnecessarily large --- we had three beds to choose from for just two people! Cappabhaile has nice views of the Burren. Conor, the owner of Cappabhaile, gave us some great tips on seeing the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher and we headed off.

We spent three or four hours wandering through the Burren. We stopped at the main Dolmen but there were two tour buses there so we didn’t stay long. We also stopped at a large ring fort which is on a family farm (can’t remember the name) shortly after the Dolmen --- this wasn’t that impressive and could be skipped. The Burren is beautifully unusual --- the mountains are covered with purple-gray stones, and growing in between the stones are flowers and plants. It was sunny and cloudy as we drove through the Burren and, for some reason (maybe because it was late in the afternoon), we rarely met another car. As we reached higher into the mountains to go to the Cliffs of Moher, it became cloudy (yuck). Because it was after 6:00 when we reached the Cliffs, all of the tour buses were gone and there were not too many tourists (though much more than at Slieve League). We walked to the Cliffs (through the construction for their new visitors center), climbed over the stone fence, crawled on our bellies to the edge and got great views even with all the clouds! By the time we walked back, though, it was so foggy that we could not even see the nearest cliff. We were planning on taking the coast road back to Ballyvaughan but because it was so cloudy we decided to just take the faster road. When we go back to Ireland next time, if it is sunny, we will definitely need to go back!

Ballyvaughan is a very cute small town --- the smallest town we stayed in, with just four pubs, a Spar, and a few other small shops. We ate at Monk’s Pub which was very good --- DH said his seafood chowder was excellent and my tomato soup was also very good. Monk’s didn’t have a music session planned that night so we walked by the water back up to the town. We stopped at a pub that had a huge screen for the World Cup game. Since no music session was planned that night, we headed back to Cappabhaile after the game. For some reason, Ballyvaughan seemed to have very few tourists (which we liked), though we saw tons of B&Bs in the town.

Sunday, July 2, 2006 – County Clare – Bunratty/Dromoland

When we woke up in the morning, we looked out the window and into the faces of cows grazing and a beautiful sunny day. Breakfast at Cappabhaile was good, but by this point, we were getting tired of rich breakfasts every morning so I was happy to get porridge. We checked out and then headed toward Bunratty Castle and Folk Park.

It took about an hour to reach Bunratty, passing Ennis on the way (want to go there for the next trip), and, almost as soon as we reached there, we knew that we were not going to enjoy this. For the first time on our trip, we were trapped behind tour buses and there were people everywhere. During the weekend we were there, Bunratty was holding a “Medieval Fair” with staged battles, tents with individuals doing medieval activities, etc. The village and the castle are really done well and have been renovated beautifully, as was the Medieval Fair, and I think that for people more patient than us or for families with kids, Bunratty would be a great stop. For us, it was a nightmare; we somehow got stuck behind a tour bus of Portuguese teenagers who kept on yelling through the castle and another tour bus of elderly German tourists who kept on shushing the Portuguese teenagers. Even though the castle is really neat, it was so crowded that we didn’t enjoy it. Bottom line, we were glad that we did it once since it is such a huge tourist attraction but wouldn’t do it again. To avoid the crowds, it may be better go late in the day or early in the morning. We did, however, buy a small bottle of Bunratty mead which we brought back home and it was delicious. So, we might go back to Bunratty someday to see the Bunratty winery.

We then headed to Dromoland (15 minute drive from Bunratty). If you stay at Dromoland, follow the directions they give you on their brochure rather than the directions on AA Routefinder. Dromoland is beautiful and we were very excited to be staying there. It is extremely expensive (405 Euros for a Classic Room). Our room was nice, but for the price, we expected better. We were starving so went to the bar and ordered food off the Galley Menu. The food was very good but pricey (12 Euros for a sandwich). The afternoon tea also looked very nice, but we didn’t try it. We spent the next several hours wandering the grounds and gardens, which were filled with blooming roses, and then walked through the castle. It was very nice and relaxing and a complete contrast to our harried morning at Bunratty. Around 7:00, we went back to our rooms and changed for dinner at the Earl of Thomond Restaurant. We both love gourmet cuisine and were hoping that this would be really good. The food was very good but we have been to better 5 star restaurants in the U.S. for around the same price. They had lots of vegetarian selections (on a separate vegetarian menu – just ask for it) which made me happy. They overcharged us on our meal and then also overcharged us the following morning when we checked out, so check bills at Dromoland carefully and talk to the staff if you think the bill is wrong.

After dinner, we walked through the gardens in the moonlight and wished Ireland farewell. We were so sad to leave and did not want to come home (except that we were missing our puppies) because Ireland had started to feel like home to us.

Miscellaneous Thoughts to be posted . . .
akila is offline  
Jul 24th, 2006, 11:32 AM
  #15  
 
Join Date: Apr 2003
Posts: 293
Great report on Ireland. My wife and I with 2 of our children (21 and 22 years old) were there in January of 2004. Everytime I read other reports it reminds me why we planned our trip in the off!! season. We probably had less rain and more sun than many of the May and June trips, off season discounts and no crowds. We spent most of our trip in the southwest, more tourists there in season. We were the only people on the tomb tour at Newgrange, had the Book of Kells to ourselves, and a window table at the Guiness Gravity Bar.

Just a couple of suggestion that worked for us.

Stayed at the Shaw Court Apartments in Dublin, very clean and quiet. Today prices are still only 150 to 190 euros for 1 or 2 bedrooms sleep 4-6. Full kitchen and washer dryer, great value. Operated by the Harcourt Hotel and 10 minute walk to hotel and 10 more to Grafton. Buses to downtown 5 minutes.
For 10 euros bought 3 morning breakfasts for 4 persons. Eggs, bacon toast, the best butter in the world, jam and fruit.

In Galway we had a amazing meal at Kirwin Lane Restaurant, around the corner from the Spanish Arch Hotel.

I agree with Akila about the Heritage Card being a great value.

I disagree about Ireland having to be expensive, at least compared to Europe in general.
StephenG is offline  
Jul 25th, 2006, 03:50 AM
  #16  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 3,172
Akila I think Indian food in Ireland and the UK (Probably better in UK) is quite good compared to the U.S. I only ate in 1-2 restau5rants in American with Indian Cuisine as my friends were Gujarati and I hade home made food from her mum. I loved her cooking.

I think we are not so great on the Thai and Chinese side in the every day take away places but there are excellent more expoensive places that do real chinese and thai. I stopped eating chinese take away here years ago as it just was crummy.

Dromoload sounds lovely but I do think they charge a lot for what is on offer. Its common through a lot of these places In Ireland.
SiobhanP is offline  
Jul 28th, 2006, 07:10 AM
  #17  
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Join Date: Jun 2006
Posts: 211
Miscellaneous Thoughts

A lot of people on the boards suggest not doing one-night stays to have a more relaxing trip. We had no problem with all of our one-night stays for two reasons: (i) we only had two carry-on bags (and toward the end of the trip, a small duffel bag for souvenirs) and (ii) we usually only drove 2 hours between destinations. Our typical routine was a 9:00 or 9:30 breakfast, pack and leave the B&B by 10:30 (packing usually only took 10 minutes), drive and see sites until 6:00 or 7:00 (but total time we were sitting in the car was usually max four hours), then hang out in the city/town of the B&B. This allowed us to have a really leisurely trip so, even though we were always moving from place to place, we never felt hurried.

I was very worried about eating in Ireland since I am ovo-lacto vegetarian. I had no problems at all. There were very few restaurants/pubs that had no vegetarian options, and every town had at least one restaurant/pub with vegetarian options, and the vegetarian food was very good. In many places, I felt like I had more options in Ireland than in the U.S. (especially in the delis and cafes).

Special gear we were happy to have:
• water-proof jackets with hoods are a necessity;
• good shoes with good support --- I brought hiking boots but DH wore sneakers;
• a good tour book (see below);
• a good map of Ireland;
• layers of clothing (I wore jeans everyday and brought long-sleeve, ¾ length, and short sleeve shirts, and a fleece). Even in the nicest restaurants like Eden, most people wore jeans with a nice top. The only place we didn’t wear jeans was in Dromoland.

We brought three books with us from the U.S. for traveling --- the DK Eyewitness Guide, the Frommers Guidebook, and a Michelin Atlas of England/Ireland. I planned the trip so that we had routes taking us from city to city, but I didn’t plan stops in between --- so we relied on the guidebooks and road signs to let us know of good attractions on the way. We loved the DK Guide --- it is more expensive than some of the other guidebooks but it provides maps of each area with pictures of the sites, and has detailed explanations of some major sites. It was also small enough to fit in my purse so when we walked around cities like Dublin and Galway, we used it exclusively as our map. The Michelin Atlas is a great atlas and extremely useful. The Frommer Guidebook was not that useful in Ireland; it was very useful for planning the trip, but when we got to Ireland, it was too bulky to carry around and was not organized simply enough to allow us to find attractions quickly when we were driving.

Perhaps because I planned it that way, or maybe because we just got lucky, or maybe a combination of the two, we often felt like we were the only tourists in the country---which we loved---so it is definitely possible to avoid the masses even in high season in the end of June.
akila is offline  
Jul 28th, 2006, 07:38 AM
  #18  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 170
Hi akila..I do agree with you regarding doing "one night stands". We have been to Ireland six times and have done many a trip this way. So many things to see, we were never in our car for a long period of time. Had one bag to carry into BandB at night, no hassle to repack in am.
By the way, a very interesting trip report!...Helen
Laoghaire is offline  
Jul 28th, 2006, 07:51 AM
  #19  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 3,172
Akila,

I find it easier to be veggie here than in the U.S. I don'y eat fish it makes me gag and all the options seem to be seafood. I am going to eat a lot of Pizza when I go home for a visit! Also yes the dress cose here for most places are Jeans and a nicer top in the evening. I am going out after work and I have jeans, Sandals and a nice top with a fitted jacket. Keep the ballgowns at home everyone!
SiobhanP is offline  
Jul 30th, 2006, 12:07 PM
  #20  
 
Join Date: Aug 2004
Posts: 1,137
Akila,
Thanks for the detailed trip report - I so enjoyed reading it!

We bought our family heritage card and I too started feeling like a thief - such a great deal!

I've wanted to go to Enniskillen and see the nearby sights so it is good to hear what you found to be interesting.
rosetravels is offline  

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