Ireland 2015: Day 15 – Dublin to Boston

Ireland 2015 1833
Dublin Airport

2,317 kilometers (1,439 miles) driven, 1,849 pictures taken, 15 days of traveling, and 1 happy-to-be-home traveler.

Today was the real “going home” day.  I tried valiantly to give up my seat again this morning, but they told me I couldn’t because I had already done it once.  So I resigned myself to getting on the plane and coming home.  The feeling of wanting to be home wasn’t as strong today, and I found myself missing Ireland before I even left.  I can guarantee that I will be back.

I can’t say there was any one part of Ireland I loved more than any other part.  The woman sitting next to me on the plane asked what it was about Ireland that makes me want to go back, and it’s not something that can be put into words.  I told her it was more of a feeling than something specific.  The people, the culture, the landscapes, all of that, but also it’s a sense of place in being there.  I’m not planning my return trip quite yet, but I know it will happen.

Ireland 2015 972
Beara Peninsula

Throughout my trip, I had a keen sense of all of the things that were different from home.  Not necessarily bad, just different.  Driving on the left is a big one.  Having done it a few times now, it’s not a big deal, just different.  A lot of other more subtle things stand out as well, such as calling the restrooms the “toilets”, eating black pudding for breakfast (no, I didn’t try it!), and having signage in Irish and English.  Obviously we do things differently in the U.S. too, and I felt like I was more conscious of these differences on my return home this time.

It would be difficult to name all of my favorites from this trip, but here are some of them:

Best breakfast: Dingle Skellig Hotel

Best casual meal: Ham and Cheese Toastie at the Brehon Bar in Killarney

Best dinner: Trattoria Magnetti in Galway

Best dessert: Strawberry Pavlova at Fishy Fishy Cafe in Kinsale

Best scone: Ballinalacken Castle Hotel

Best soft serve ice cream: Muckross House in Killarney

Best hard serve ice cream: Kenmare Ice Cream

Best day: Day 6: Kinsale to Killarney

Best attraction(s): Kilmainham Gaol and Glendalough

Best music: Kyteler’s Inn (Kilkenny) and Kitty O Se’s (Kinsale)

Best castle: Ballinalacken Castle

Best hotel: Pembroke Hotel in Kilkenny

“Your feet will take you where your heart is.” ~Irish Proverb


Ireland 2015: Day 14 – Galway to Dublin

The “going home day”.  I’ll admit I’ve been thinking about home for several days now, wanting to be in familiar surroundings, but at the same time not wanting vacation to end.  I woke up this morning to sun in Ireland, and felt a little sad to be leaving.  It’s hard to believe I’ve been here for two weeks.  Things I did on my first couple of days feel like a distant memory already.  But I’m also very ready to be home.  I repacked my suitcase last night, which was no small feat.  Zipping it closed this morning was a small miracle!

Athenry Abbey
Athenry Abbey

I knew I had an extra hour or so built into my drive, so I made the detour off the motorway to Athenry.  If you’re familiar with the song, “The Fields of Athenry“, it was one of the things that drew me to the town.  My first stop was at the Athenry Castle.  It has been restored much more than many others I had visited, and it only took a few minutes to see the whole thing.  I indulged the nice woman at the desk by watching the 20 minute video, much of which was actually photos of other castles.  I walked around the town for a few minutes (including through one of the original medieval arches) and then got back on the motorway to Dublin Airport.  I have to say, after two weeks of driving in Ireland, I’ve gotten pretty used to it.

When I checked in for my flight, I asked if there were any seats available closer to the front.  Row 41 doesn’t sound very appealing!  She said the flight was actually oversold.  That’s all it took for my ears to perk up… I love playing the travel game!  “Any chance you’ll be looking for volunteers to give up their seats?” I asked.  She quickly made a phone call, I was directed to another desk to leave my suitcase, and then I was given a voucher for a snack and a request to return 1.5 hours later to see if they needed me.  €600, a free night in a hotel (with my luggage!), and a voucher for dinner was all it took to convince me to fly tomorrow morning instead!  I was in luck and was soon on my way to the Carlton hotel.  A quick minute to freshen up, and I hopped on a bus into the city!

Oliver St. John Gogarty, Temple Bar
Oliver St. John Gogarty, Temple Bar

Not being a lover of cities, I was primarily interested in a drink and some music.  I headed straight to Temple Bar and Oliver St. John Gogartys Pub.  Yes, it is touristy, but the music was awesome and the people were a lively bunch.  Two older gentlemen we’re playing a mix of Irish and contemporary “sing along” songs and the crowd was into it.  (Think “Brown-eyed Girl” type songs.)  Coincidentally, they also played “The Fields of Athenry” while I was there!

I walked around the city for a little while before coming back to the hotel.  Imagine my surprise when I asked what my dinner voucher entitled me to in the hotel restaurant and was told I would be enjoying a 3-course meal.  An enjoyable second last night in Ireland!

Ireland 2015: Day 13 – Connemara

Well, the weather miraculously cleared up for one last day in Ireland. My plan today was to visit Connemara, an area west of Galway known for it’s more rugged beauty. Connemara is also one of the areas of Ireland which retains the Irish language; all road signs are in Irish only. I set off relatively early from Galway along the coastal route and stopped first at the Spiddal Craft Village. The village is several individual vendors set up in little shops around a small common area. I didn’t end up buying anything, but it was fun to browse the jewelry, artwork, and other local handcrafts.


Continuing from Spiddal, my route followed closely along the water as the scenery turned to more rugged rocky outcroppings dotting the coastline. Small cottages and homes are perched on the rocks, some beautifully situated right near the water’s edge. It reminded me a bit of the southern coast of Nova Scotia. I stopped in Roundstone, with its quaint harbor sheltering a few boats and the mountains of the Twelve Bens providing a perfect backdrop. I had what will likely be my last scone in Ireland at a small cafe along the main road here.


My route continued along the coast to the Sky Drive, which begins in Clifden. The road travels high above the cliffs and overlooks Clifden Bay. It wasn’t nearly as harrowing as some of the other routes I traveled last week, but it was every bit as beautiful. My last stop in Connemara was at Kylemore Abbey, just outside of Letterfrack. I had seen pictures of the castle before I left home, and knew it was a “must see” on my trip. It definitely delivered. The castle, gardens, and chapel themselves (which are open for touring) pale in comparison to the photogenic castle nestled in the hills of western Ireland. Mitchell Henry, a wealthy doctor from London, built the castle in 1871. He and his wife lived there for only 4 years before she died during a trip to Egypt. They are both interred in a small mausoleum on the grounds. A group of Benedictine nuns from Belgium eventually purchased the castle in 1920 and turned it into an abbey.

After leaving Kylemore, I made my way back to Galway for dinner and a show – “Trad on the Prom” – at my hotel. The music and dancing was a great way to spend my last night in Ireland!

Ireland 2015: Day 12 – Doolin to Galway

Here are the things I miss about home today: sleeping in my own bed, knowing where everything is when I need it, buying, cooking, and eating my own food, and driving my own car on the right-hand side of the road.  And here are the things I love about Ireland: the people, the history, the incredibly picturesque landscapes, and the music.  I’m heading home in two days, and part of me wants to leave now and part of me wants to stay here (or at least take Ireland home with me!).  There are some vacations where I want to soak everything in because I don’t know that I’ll ever be back (the Cotswolds is a recent example of that).  There are other places I’ve traveled to where I absolutely know I will be back (I had that feeling on my first visit to Turks and Caicos and returned a year later).  Ireland definitely falls into the latter category: I will definitely be back.

New Quay, County Clare
New Quay, County Clare

Today I made the drive from Doolin to Galway.  I spent some time working on my TripAdvisor reviews this morning and poking around the shops in Doolin before I got on the road.  It was foggy and drizzly (again), so I didn’t stop much.  I wanted to see Poulnabrone dolmen in the Burren and enjoy the coastal route.  The Poulnabrone dolmen dates to the Neolithic period and more than 20 adults and children have been determined to be buried there.  After that I stayed on the main road until a roadsign Lillanlla’s homemade ice cream shop attracted my attention.  It was noontime and what’s better for lunch than ice cream?  I followed the narrow road 5 km and enjoyed yet another creamy and delicious Irish ice cream cone.

Once I made it to Galway, it was obvious I wasn’t in the countryside anymore.  Galway is the fourth largest city in Ireland.  After checking into my hotel (thankfully on the outskirts of town), I took the local bus into the city center.  Have I mentioned I hate cities?  I wandered around the jam-packed pedestrian area, past leprechaun -filled souvenir shops for about an hour.  Then I sought out Taaffes Bar, where I knew they had early trad music sessions.  I enjoyed a half pint of Bulmer’s while listening to a group of musicians playing fiddles, accordions, guitars, and more.  By then I was ready for dinner but I was surrounded by touristy-looking pubs.  I wandered for a while before I stumbled upon Trattoria Magnetti.  I’m glad I did!  I had a delicious beef and pork ravioli with a marsala and mascarpone sauce.  Yum!  I made it back to my hotel in time to “watch the sun go down by Galway Bay”.

Galway Bay
Galway Bay

Ireland 2015: Day 11 – Dingle to Doolin

Today I visited my ancestral hometown of Cahersherkin in County Clare, near Ennistymon.  I wish I could say I met some long-lost distant cousins, but that didn’t happen.  I did visit two cemeteries where Shannons and Finucanes are buried (both family names).  In fact, Cahersherkin is more like an area, not an actual town.

The crossroads in Cahersherkin, County Clare
The crossroads in Cahersherkin, County Clare

I asked a gentleman walking on the road if I was going in the right direction and he pointed down the street and told me it was at the crossroads.  The crossroads were two single lane roads through the local farmland.  I didn’t feel any strong pull telling me that this was home, but it was very neat to see.  I kept thinking that my ancestors could have helped to build the stone walls and buildings I was driving by.

My day didn’t start in Ennistymon though.  It started with some broken clouds in Dingle as I took the Conor Pass over the mountains to the north side of the peninsula.  I was able to squeeze in a visit to Fermoyle Beach before the showers set in.  I drove north for a while until I stopped in Ballylongford to visit the ruins of Carrigafoyle Castle and Lislaughtin Abbey.  It continues to amaze me that these structures are still standing and that you can just walk in and wander around.  The castle has 5 stories and you can climb the spiral stairs almost to the top.  When I was there, I had the place completely to myself.

Carrigafoyle Castle - Ballylongford
Carrigafoyle Castle – Ballylongford

I then took the ferry across the Shannon River from Tarbert to Kilrush and continued my journey to Ennistymon.  After that stop, I visited what is probably the number one tourist attraction in Ireland: the Cliffs of Moher.  The cliffs soar almost 400 feet above the crashing Atlantic waves.  They are beautiful, but I was not alone at all for that visit!

I continued on to Doolin and my hotel for the night, the Ballinalacken Castle Country House.  If that doesn’t sound like me, you’re right.  I’m not really a “stay in a guest house next to a castle” type of person.  (You might remember from my England trip that I’m also not a “stay in an old manor house” type of person.)  The room is lovely, but not my style at all!  I knew from my research that there was a silver lining to staying here though… a tour of the castle before dinner!  We climbed up the hill to the castle, and there was a beautiful white horse just laying in front of the castle.  Picture perfect!  We proceeded to climb all the way up to the tippity top of the castle.  When I say tippity top, I literally mean balanced on a small ledge with a short wall to hold onto for stability.  You can see the Cliffs of Moher off in the distance.  It was incredible!  My day ended with a delicious dinner in the hotel restaurant.

Ireland 2015 1531
Ballinalacken Country House Hotel

Ireland 2015: Day 10 – The Dingle Peninsula

“When life gives you lemons….”  Once again, I woke up to cloudy skies and the threat of rain.  I determined to make the best of what is becoming a common theme the last few days.  I set off from Killarney after breakfast heading toward the Dingle Peninsula.  Known as another lesser-visited area, the Dingle Peninsula is the northernmost of the southwest peninsulas heading up the west coast of Ireland.  It wasn’t long before I hit Inch Beach.  I was determined to put my feet in this side of the Atlantic Ocean, and this seemed like as good a place as any to do it.  You might expect the Irish waters to be cold, but compared to Massachusetts, it wasn’t shocking.  I met a gentleman walking his dog on the beach and he said this weather is not what summer in Ireland is typically like.

Dingle Peninsula
Dingle Peninsula

After Inch Beach, my next stop was the seaside town of Dingle.  I am staying in Dingle tonight, and my first thought was to pass through and explore later.  But I decided I was ready for a snack and sought out a scone and hot chocolate at a little cafe named Pie.  Afterwards, I walked around the town and bought a few gifts and souvenirs in the local shops.  I’m not typically a souvenir type of person; rather I like to find something unique that will remind me of my vacation.  This time, I found a piece of driftwood inscribed with a quote at a small sea glass shop and a “Dingle Rain” scented candle.  I’ve also been on the lookout for a small oval metal plaque common in Ireland which says “céad míle fáilte” on it.  It means “a hundred thousand welcomes” and it’s a feeling I’ve had everywhere I’ve gone in Ireland.

Slea Head Drive
Slea Head Drive

I set out for the Slea Head Drive after my stop. Slea Head is another iconic driving route around the tip of the Dingle Peninsula.  Sadly, the weather was deteriorating.  Instead of beautiful cloud-dappled skies, I ended up with moody, mist-laden mountain tops and foggy coastline pictures.  It was every bit as wild and scenic as Ireland can be.  The wind was literally so strong in places that I had to brace myself to stand against it.  My hood proved useless, and I gave up on trying to keep my camera lens dry.  I stopped to visit the Dunbeg Fort and the Gallarus Oratory along the way.  The fort sits high on a promontory jutting out into the sea, but the winds were howling and I didn’t stay long.  The oratory was built around the 7th or 8th century as an early Christian church.  You can also visit Gallarus Castle right down the path, but the castle is closed to the public.

Gallarus Oratory
Gallarus Oratory

By that time, I was tired and drenched from being out in the rain all day. I checked into my hotel and spent some time relaxing and editing pictures before going out for pizza.  Once again, the cheese on the pizza was incredible!  I was hoping to find some music tonight, but most sessions don’t start until 9:30 or 10:00.  Instead, I walked along the waterfront by the harbor and then called it a night.

Ireland 2015: Day 9 – Killarney

Can we just talk about Irish dairy for a minute?  Every single dairy product I’ve had on this trip has been so creamy and fresh!  The cream, the butter, the ice cream… so good!  On my mental shopping list for the day I get home, I’ve already added Irish butter and cheese.  I’m probably thinking about dairy tonight because (a) I’m hungry and (b) I had the world’s best soft serve ice cream cone this afternoon.

Gap of Dunloe
Gap of Dunloe

Okay, back to my day.  I spent the day visiting the sights in Killarney.  I started at the Gap of Dunloe, just outside the town, primarily because there were some breaks of sun in the clouds.  You can walk through the gap to Lord Brandon’s Cottage and then take a boat trip through the lakes to Ross Castle.  Or you can hire a “jarvey” (driver) to take you through the gap in a horse and trap.  Or you can do what I did, which is to walk for a while and then turn around and walk back.  The gap is beautiful, but it was socked in with clouds and very windy.  I walked about 45 minutes into the gap and then headed back to the car.  There are sheep just wandering openly along the narrow road.  On my way back, I passed several horse and traps heading up.

Ross Castle
Ross Castle

My next stop was Ross Castle, built in the 1400s by the O’Donoghue family.  The only way in is by guided tour, but I learned a lot and used my Heritage Card for free admission.  Ross Castle is a tower house, and is 4 stories tall.  The ground floor was used for weapons storage and has very narrow windows for shooting arrows.  Above that is the main family room.  On the third floor is the bedroom (the entire family shared one room – adults in the bed and kids on the wooden floor), and the top floor was the banqueting room.  The servant quarters were in one small room with one small window that housed about 25 servants at a time.  I was particularly fascinated by the “murder hole”, a small hole above the main entrance through which objects could be dropped to murder unwanted intruders, and the bathroom, which consisted of one long bench with an open grate through which waste fell into a chute outside.  It was one servant’s job to monitor the waste.  The staircase in the castle was counterclockwise with uneven steps for two reasons.  First, most soldiers were right handed, so coming down the stairs, they had the advantage over intruders coming up.  Second, the uneven steps were called “tripping steps” to again throw off would-be intruders who would trip up the uneven steps.

My last big stop for the day was at Muckross House, scene of the aforementioned ice cream cone.   I had about 30 minutes to kill before my tour began, so I enjoyed my ice cream in the surrounding gardens.  In contrast to Ross Castle, Muckross House is a Tudor style home, fully furnished and decorated.  It was built in 1843 for the Herbert family.  Later William Bowers Bourn, a wealthy Californian, purchased it for their daughter Maud as a wedding gift.  Pretty nice wedding gift!  It was used largely as a hunting lodge, and has many animal heads and carcasses on prominent display.  I liked it, but I’m discovering I have more of a love for abbeys, castles, and the like.

After all that, I was tired, and I felt a nap coming on.  I went back to the hotel and after an hour-long nap, I got my second wind.  It was off to Kate Kearney’s Cottage for dinner, music, and Irish dancing!  The music was somewhat lively, but the atmosphere felt a little touristy, and the dancing didn’t last long.  Since the sun was peeking through the clouds again, I seized the opportunity to drive up to Aghadoe, where one can find the remains of Aghadoe Cathedral, as well as a small round tower.  So there I was at 9:00 at night, wandering around monastic ruins in Ireland.  Fortunately, the sun doesn’t go down until almost 10PM, so there was still plenty of light.  Aghadoe is situated high on a hill overlooking Killarney town and the lakes of Killarney.  Simply put, it was a beautiful night and a beautiful view.  The weather is calling for more wet weather tomorrow; I’m hoping it doesn’t dampen (pun intended!) my drive around the Dingle Peninsula…