In April of 2016, we departed for Dublin, Ireland. The plan was to jaunt around the country, or as much of it as we could, in a car in a two-week period. And… go!
Dear London-Heathrow Airport security staff…. You are horribly inefficient, and wasted an hour of my “morning.” You suck. However, you may have redeemed yourself when the bartender at the airport bar oh-so-nicely fed me booze and food pre-Ireland flight.
A short flight later, we landed safely in Ireland. I learned a valuable lesson from Europe 2015: Whatever possession-transport device is utilized, it should be lightweight and functional. My luminous, orange backpack/duffel/roller bag in one unquestionably fit that bill. Thank you Eagle Creek.
I studied up on rental cars in Ireland before going. A few things I learned about renting a vehicle in Ireland… it can be quite the tricky little endeavor. Quite unlike what one might be used to in the States. Those renting vehicles are required to secure collision damage insurance. In order to renounce such protection, one must obtain a CDW, or a Collision Damage Waiver. Good luck getting that little waiver, unless you have Amex, or another credit card that will provide you with insurance in Ireland, since your normal car insurance does not. Buying your CDW costs a bit, increasing the cost of renting from the typical mileage charges in the States. Otherwise, you are not covered should you accidentally wreck on Ireland’s tiny roads. Enter… SuperCDW!!! Toss the word super in front of anything, and it seems like an absolutely essential and amazing idea, like Superman or Super Soaker or Super Mario Bros. Clearly, I have to have it, but alas, I performed more research. SuperCDW is also super expensive. Shit.
Many websites advocate making the several hundred dollar investment into SuperCDW. You know, just in case. Just in case you accidentally slam into another car, or a rock wall, or even a sheep (all potential problems faced by Ireland’s drivers, I assure you). I’m more of a risk taker, and opted to avoid the extra cost. If something happens, future me can handle it! Obviously.
Ignoring the repeated urging of the rental agency lady to take the larger vehicle (research for the win again!), I opted for the itty bitty Mini Cooper. Everything I read, advised renters to take the smallest vehicle possible, so… the smallest car you and your traveling companions, and luggage, can fit comfortably in. This is due to the narrow roads snaking through Ireland that I would surely be navigating.
The agency chick assigned a white Mini. That little bugger was brand new, only a scuff on the side view mirror. Regardless, that damned Mini was checked over and over and over again, taking photos of any damage. Gotta be careful with this thing. What’s the first thing my travel associate does? Takes out a curb. Thankfully, no visible damage!
With this vehicular device for the Ireland adventure… It sure didn’t take long to experience pushing the pedal to the floor. Celebrating lead foots everywhere! Anyway, while navigating the winding roads, there were rolling hills, sheep, and some very beautiful scenery to take in. However, my auditory senses were left unfulfilled. Thus, perusing the radio. Fun things heard on the radio in Ireland…. “Prostitution is not technically illegal, but pimping and brothels are.” Or the many advertisements for headstones on ClareFM… “Supplying quality headstones for over 100 years.” Oh Ireland….
First stop… Dublin. What to say about Dublin… glad the rental car wasn’t procured until AFTER Dublin. Opposite side of the car and road, mixed with the craziness that encompasses Dublin’s roads, would have ended badly. We met up with a friend from the last Europe trip… Amanda! Beers and food in a crowded pub near our hotel. Amanda and boyfriend, attempted to introduce us to the ways of ordering in pubs there, but I still don’t think we got the hang of it even by the end of the two weeks.
While in Dublin, one cannot visit without going here… GUINNESS BREWERY! I’ve now had a Guinness from Guinness in Ireland. And shared a taste with Arthur Guinness. Plus, I named my pup after the beer. She needs to know where she comes from.
We made a pit stop in Glenalough on the way west. Glendalough features a 6th century Monastic settlement in the Glenalough glacier valley. The old ruins meander through trees and over rolling hills, including ancient headstones (some unreadable) and what was left of a church. Next on the agenda was a frigid 1.6 km walk to the Upper Lake. Wish I had expected cold temps/sleet on this trip! This was the beginning of a nasty contagion that took over my sinuses for 3-4 days. After departing Glendalough Mountains, we headed for a small town and an even tinier B&B on the way to Cork. It was a cute little place, the owners made some delicious food, but the heat was basically non-existent. The little parasite making its way through my sinuses was able to grab a fantastic hold on me. Fever ensued.
Sickness unable to hold me down, we headed for Cork. Sweet Jesus driving in Cork was insane. Still shocked I didn’t take off a mirror, or two. Several activities were planned for this city, but many did not come to fruition. We visited the Cork City Gaol (prison), which opened in 1824, closed in 1923. The once occupied site was overcrowded and unhygienic, but was a magnificent castle-like building with great architecture. Sickness and heavy rain kept us from partaking in a couple of other activities. Dear Co. Cork, Ireland weather- Please learn to cooperate. Your 40 degree temps, rain, and 36 mph winds have caused our night kayaking trip to see bioluminescent plankton to get cancelled, as the guide referred to going out on the water tonight as “SUICIDAL.” Can’t you concede, please? Thanks, Rubes. Alas, we were left with eating and drinking in the hotel bar… entertaining ourselves with people-watching and selfie-taking.
Our departure from Cork yielded some great weather, and therefore, a trip to Blarney Castle and Gardens – a castle that is fun sized, like me! One treks through the strange and maze-like castle to reach the top where you cannot leave without kissing the Blarney Stone, where one can obtain the “gift of gab.” And what other castle has a MURDER HOLE?! The grounds surrounding the castle are gorgeous as well. You have the Wishing Steps… If you walk up them and back down with your eyes closed, your wish will come true within the year. We shall see……..
Killarney was used as our basecamp for the next three days, since it is decently close to many of the sights on the west coast. 7th century Aghadoe Church ruins in Killarney… Founded by St. Finian the Leper.
Dingle was a quaint town, the peninsula is a must do, the food was deliciously fresh, and where else can you see a donkey and a tracker along the same main drag in “downtown”? The drive along the southern coast of the peninsula was breathtaking, though the roads could get treacherous since they were ridiculously narrow. I wish we had had more time to drive the entire peninsula, however, we had to get back to Killarney and prepare for the long drive back to Cork to go night kayaking!
Night Kayaking with Atlantic Sea Kayaking on Lough Hyne near Skibbereen. This salt water lough is Ireland’s first Marine Nature Conservation Preserve, home to species of fish and plants found nowhere else in Ireland. Ruined churches lie on the hills surrounding the lough, including a conservatory used to study the inhabitants under the surface. While paddling the kayak, the ore would make contact with the water, glide through it, turning the calm dark waters into a swirl of twinkling lights that resembled fairy dust in the water. That was the bioluminescent plankton lighting up. We did not come at the best time to see the plankton, but it was still a sight worth seeing.
The next day we began the trek around the peninsula known as the Ring of Kerry. Well known for the terrific views. Pit stops at Muckross Abbey (15th century abbey/friary in Killarney National Park), Torc Waterfall (also in the National Park… not the smartest hike to do while sick and in the rain/cold, but a beautiful view from the top), a random castle on side of road (decrepit, abandoned castle along the side of the road that I swear I didn’t have to trespass to get to), and numerous other pull-offs to snap photos. And… Rainbow in Ireland…. Couldn’t find the pot of gold, unfortunately. The portion of the ring that went through the National Park was beautiful, but I am still partial to Dingle Peninsula’s views.
On the way north towards Galway, a stop at the famed Cliffs of Moher was made – the most breathtaking views of the entire trip. The cliffs are over 700 feet above the water at their highest point, and the pathway is tremendously close to the edge. That pathway made for a great 9.6 km hike. Thank god I’m not afraid of heights…I wandered out as far as I possibly could to the precipice. Don’t forget the handstand that was nerve-racking as hell. My travel companion was not so daring, staying back from the edge with camera in hand.
Upon leaving the Cliffs, we stayed at a golf and leisure hotel in Lahinch – a 10 minute drive from the cliffs. The restaurant attached to the hotel, the Aberdeen Bar, was barren, but the friendly waiter provided us with some of the best chicken curry I have ever tasted. Plus, he tolerated our nonsensical banter through the meal/drinks.
Onward to Galway! Galway Cathedral sits sandwiched between a canal and a river, and once was the site of the city’s prison. This cathedral was less impressive than those in Dublin, offering Renaissance/Christian styled architecture and design, as opposed to the gothic cathedrals in Dublin. We hid in a restaurant in the shopping district to eat – thankfully, they did not have the same serving practices as Dublin – we would have been lost.
Connemara was the farthest north we traveled. The Sharamore House B&B was a quaint B&B that we spent two nights in while exploring the northwest portion of Ireland. This B&B had spacious rooms, ensuites and HEAT. We enjoyed two spectacular breakfasts there. The owners advised we should take a drive around Sky Road at some point during our stay. The next morning we first headed for Connemara National Park, where we hiked UP and OVER the mountain before descending down the other side. The hike was only about 7 km, but was mostly uphill, against the strong winds, over rocks and up to the peak. Sky Road was another worthwhile jaunt out to the western tip of the peninsula. We even saw a donkey rolling around like a dog on the ground.
The trek up……
WE MADE IT!!!!!! Walking on a mountain top……
Due to the ridiculous regulations imposed by customs, I was advised I would not be allowed to abduct a baby sheep to take back to the States with me (even though the little fuckers are in abundance over there). Therefore, I had to settle for my new friend, Scheep, who will obviously make appearances in photos the remainder of the trip.
Virginia Inn = Worst.Hotel.Ever. Websites can be extremely deceiving… It looked decent in the photos and was situated on a lake, but upon arrival it looked like something out of a horror movie. While they had attempted to remodel the bathroom, they must have forgotten to clean it afterwards. I’m not a huge fan of yellow stains on my sink. The sole restaurant was awful on all accounts… food/staff/service. Fail, Hotels.com.
Trim Castle and the Hill of Tara were next on our agenda, and enroute back towards the east coast of the country.
I decided we had to go out on a high note for our final night in Ireland. We stayed in a castle. That’s right, a castle. And not the weird addition part of the castle, but the old stone portion overlooking a courtyard with a prowling (I use that word loosely since the dog was as ancient as the castle and moved at a slow pace) Irish Wolfhound. He was friendly though, and obviously enjoyed attention! Anyway, back to the castle… Cabra Castle. Through its many owners, the castle seemed to maintain its splendor, sitting on acres of rolling hills, to include a golf course. The restaurant we dined in served delicious food and kept our drink glasses properly filled. The room itself was huge, bathroom as well, with a huge shower and large soaking tub.
THE GROUNDS & THE IRISH WOLFHOUND
THE DINNER & THE ENTERTAINMENT
We awoke early in the morning on our final day, ate yet another large Irish breakfast before departing the castle, bound for the airport in Dublin. The little Mini made it through our two-week adventure damage free! Though we may have added 2050 km to its body in that time. Take that SuperCDW! I knew I didn’t need you. I can find plenty of other more entertaining and enjoyable ways to waste that money. Toodles, Ireland! It’s been grand!