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Trip Report Two weeks in Ireland 2014

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Hello fellow travellers,

we just got back from our trip to Ireland and I would like to share a few "stories" about our trip to the Emerald Isle. We like the ocean, prefer the wilder side of it usually, love great scenery and mythical places and so Ireland has been one of the places on our list, that we were looking at for a while. This year, we finally went for our first trip to Ireland.

We had two weeks at our disposal and our trip would take us from Dublin, a bit into the Boyne Valley, then out west. We followed quite a bit of the newly designed Wild Atlantic Way (which combines some of the already existing drives along the coast into an overarching marketing concept). We started our Wild Atlantic Way experience at Achill Island, then went through Clifden, Galway, the Cliffs of Moher / Burren onto Dingle Peninsular, Ring of Kerry and Beara Peninsula. On our loop back to Dublin we went through Kinsale, Cashel, Cahir, Dunghary, Lismore, Kilkenny, the Wicklows and back into Dublin.

It has been a marvelous trip. We were told we were very lucky with the weather and in fact, that is almost the only expectation that this trip (fortunately) die not meet - we had very little rain.

Having said that, we had packed for basically every weather, and we also used everything, from rain jacket, to fleece shirt and T-shirts. But, it was much sunnier and much warmer than we expected (and feared). So big thank you to the weather gods.

With rented a car for the two weeks, a Qashquai. Good enough I'd say, enough room for bags and stuff, some clearance. Still not too large for some of the smaller roads - the version we had was a bit under-powered though and could have used more horsepower - not for speeding, but going up-hill I was shifting into first gear frequently. But it did the trick.

Our trip in short looked like this:
Day 1: Arrival, Car pick-up, Tour of Knowth and Newgrange, Night: Boyne Valley Country Club Hotel in Drogheda
Day 2: Monasterboyce (Round tower and High Crosses), Mellifont Abbey was unfortunately closed, Hills of Tara, short stop at Trim Castle (no parking available), Boyle Abbey, Night at the Knockranny House in Westport.
Day 3: Achill Island and Sky road in Clifden, Night: Sharamore House B&B, dinner at EJ Kings in Clifden
Day 4: Connemara NP and drive along the coast into Galway, night at the g-Hotel (truly unique design hotel) dinner at Dall's in Galway
Day 5: Cliffs of Moher (boat-trip, cliff walk, return for sunset in the evening) and drive through the Burren, Dinner: Monks, Night: Cliffs of Moher
Day 6: Spanish Point, Loop head Point , ferry across Shannon, drive out to Dingle Peninsular, night: Harbour House
Day 7: Dingle Peninsular, Dinner: Southpole Inn and Pub, Night: Balleseede Castle
Day 8: Ring of Kerry, Night: Seashore Farm B&B in Kenmare
Day 9: Beara Peninsula and Mizen Head, Night: Ardfield Farm B&B
Day 10: Charles Fort, Rock of Cashel, Cahir Castle, Ardmore, Night Newtown Farm
Day 11: Dunghary Castle, Lismore Castle Gardens, the Vee, Kilkenney, Night: Butler House in Kilkenny
Day 12: Kilkenney, Tullamore, Night: Annaharvey Farm near Tullamore
Day 13: Wicklow Mountains, Glendalough, Powerscourt Estate and Gardens, Night Radisson Blu St. Helens in Dublin
Day 14: Dublin, Night at the Radisson Blu at the Airport
Day 15: Early flight home

We had purchased the Heritage Card in Newgrange / Knowth and used it at a few of the other locations. I think it paid more than off and you could a small booklet with it. If you plan to do a couple of these (in our case e.g. Knowth & Newgrange, Boyle Abbey, Kilkenney Castle, Charles Fort, Rock of Cashel, Cahir Castle, Tara, Dunghary Castle) then it will easily be worth it.

Like I said, we were prepared for any weather and were lucky enough to not have much need for our warm gear. But still we used the jacket for Achill and the boat ride and the sweater once or twice as well. And we could have been less lucky from what I heard from some fellow travellers.

Driving: Less nervwrecking than I thought. Driving left was not much of a problem. Some of the roads are really really narrow though. usage of the small areas to let cars pass is essential. But even with that it is sometimes very exciting, especially if two tourists meet. IT worked out in our case, but like I said, it does get quite tight in some places, especially in those areas that are not as touristic as e.g. the ring of Kerry. Generally it was more of a challenge in parts of the west than in the east.

Which leads nicely into another thought. At one of the heritage sites we were talking to one of the "rangers" and got to chat about the Wild Atlantic Way and we both agreed that it probably will be a successful marketing campaign that brings more tourists. I commented that some of the roads were probably not really built for much more traffic and he agreed and commented: "and you have to ask yourself when does it stop being the WILD Atlantic way. I think a good point. But, at the moment parts are still really quiet and wild, so beautiful and very worth the trip and mastering the roads (part of the fun).

We had chosen not to add any more Northern destinations (including e.g. Sligo and the Giants Causeway) leaving that to a northerly loop potentially starting from Belfast.

An attempt to put together our top 10 spots (in no particular order).
- Newgrange (and Knowth if you have time)
- Achill Island
- Coastal drives around Clifden (compared to our route, I would add another day here, if you can afford the time)
- Cliffs of Moher (yes it is very touristy. if you can stay in the area and come back for the sunset. you will have the cliffs almost for yourself - when we were there it was less than 20 people)
- Dingle Peninsula (if you have time tour the destillery)
- Valencia Island as a more relaxed part of the Ring of Kerry (I would add one more day here, if you have it and add a trip to Skellig Michael, which we did not have the time for)
- Rock of Cashel (join a tour, you learn a lot more about the place)
- Glendalough
- Powerscourt Gardens and Estate
- Kilkenney (especially the castle and the cathedral - but also the town itself)

Generally speaking we liked it at all of the locations. Some were really memorable and we would always go back, others were still nice but I think it would be easy to find similar or maybe even a bit better places.
We pre-booked everything but in most areas it would probably not have been an issue to look for places as we go, which would give you more flexibility. But tourism is picking up it seems and especially at peak times and around some of the popular spots it might fill up.
Still a few highlights.
In terms of B&Bs Ardfield Farm near Cork was our favourite. Very friendly owner, great atmosphere, nice rooms, great breakfast. I am not saying it is the best in Ireland but it was a highlight of our trip.
In Kilkenney we enjoyed our stay at the Butler House. Great location right behind the castle and parking on-site. Very nice breakfast, nice atmosphere. If you can, stay in a gardenview room.
In Galway I would highly recommend the g-Hotel. Great desing hotel and the staff was exceptionally helpful. But even just for the design, the hotel would be worth the stay.
I wanted to stay at a castle and via some travel reports we chose Ballyseede Castle near Tralee. It is a tru castle and beautifully decorated. So great atmosphere. But they do quite a number of weddings and events and we were lucky enough to have two events there during our stay. Let's say it was a bit busy there. Still nice, but I did not have much sleep that night. If you are interested about any of the other places feel free to ask.

What would I change? Repeating myself, we were very lucky with the weather, so I did not have to resort to too many plan Bs. My recommendation would be: try having one though. Also, if you have nice weather and you can visit something that it still nearby, consider doing it instead of thinking you could do it tomorrow. Reserve the lazy evenings for the rainy days.
With Loop Head Point, Dingle Peninsula, Ring of Kerry and Beara Peninsula / Mizen Head we had a lot of South West coastline Everything is nice but if you need a day somehwere else you could carv out a day here.
Tullamore (and Tullamore Dew) were nice, but not really a must-visit. If you have seen a destillery, rather treat yourself for a whiskey in a bar or pub and spend the time somewhere else.
If you want to go to the Guiness Warehouse in Dublin (I don't really like Guiness) pre-book your tickets.
If you don't like Guiness, we found Cider a nice alternative.
Allow time to stop at things you find along the road or just follow roadsigns sometimes.
One of our tour-books wrote: be prepared that many farmers will charge you for crossing their land to see a castle or stone circle. We have encountered that once or twice, but honestly what's a euro or two and in both cases it was truly nice spots (and because it seems to discourage people) we had it for ourselves at a stone circle overlooking a peaceful lake :) Just let youself drift sometimes.

I am sure I forgot things that I wanted to mention but I'll close this post for now and maybe follow up on individual items depending on interest.

Safe travels everyone

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