02-27-2014 11:54 AM
First a comment about driving. If you go to a standard American parking lot and look at 2 parking places, the width of the parking space for those 2 parked cars approximates the width of the main highways in Ireland. Many are much more narrow - hardly the width of even 1 parking space, but most of the good ones are the width of 2. Add to that, the rain allows things to grow, making tall green sides to the road that winds around constantly and you have many blind turns where the fear of an instant head-on collision is ever present. And, add to that, the rental car is cheap if you get a stick shift - of course you are driving on the left side of the road shifting gears with the left hand, but the price is right. As advised, we paid for 'full' coverage. Ireland has a separate price for CDW that is substantial and then leaves you with a 1600 Euro exposure. "Full" coverage is double the fee for CDW. I think I paid close to 10 times the car rental for fees and coverage. Still pretty cheap. We drove 2082 kilometers in 7 days.The great advice we got was where/how to spend the 9 days, given that Dublin and Shannon were the start and end points. We did 2 nights in Dublin, 1 Kilkenny (on the way to County Cork), Kinsale 2 nights (Cork), Killarney 2 nights (Kerry) and Lahinch (Clare) 2 nights (aka Lehinch).Roads in Ireland are designated M (Motorway like our interstates), N - less, R - much less and L - much much much less. Few L roads can handle 2 cars side by side. Someone needs to back up or find a driveway to pull out. There are truly very few places that are not a driveway where you can pull out - all roads are lined with stone walls!!!Take umbrellas. It will rain. But, all things considered, I think we did pretty well weather wise. We had a few days with no rain and no days with rain all day all the time. Now, on to the trip.Arrive Dublin from London/JFK.We arrived in the airport and Nancy found a bus into town while I was getting Euros. It went almost exactly to our hotel (makes many stops in Dublin) and left in about 2 minutes. It cost 8 Euros and was a great low cost way into town.We walked HUGE amounts in Dublin and never took a bus or taxi or car rental while in town. It worked great. We stayed at the Conrad Hilton, near St. Stephan's square. We went through St.Stephans many times, probably more than 10, because we liked it and it was on our way to/from places we visited. What we saw:Merrion SquareLace windows - pretty doorways that are all around the housing between St. Stephans and Merrion SquareSt Stephans Square - famine memorialGrafton Street - shops, but we didn't shop, but lots of street performers and good gelatoMolly Malone statue at the foot of GraftonTrinity College - Book of Kells (ancient circa 800 AD book of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, highly decorated with colorful drawings). Their method of display was an excellent exhibit.Christ Church CathedralSt. Patricks Cathedral (went to Evensong service Sunday afternoon)Temple Bar areaDublin Castle was closed, Phoenix Park was too far away - but hop on, hop off bus could get you there. Also did not make it to Jameson Distillery or Guinness Storehouse.Ha'Penny bridge over the Liffey River and walked along side the river and to O'Connell street with statue of O'Connell (one of the founding fathers), post office, very tall obeliskDinner at Blackboard Bistro - very goodFish and Chips at Brazen Head Pub - oldest in Dublin, HORRIBLE food. But, nice atmosphereShanahan's - US presidents have eaten here, but it was a very pricey steakhouse and between Mortons, Ruths Chris, Flemings, Del Frisco we have plenty of expensive steakhouses to enjoy back home so we just visitedMonday morning we picked up our car at Hertz (in town) - 9 Euro taxi ride over from the Conrad Hilton. The taxi driver learned we were renting a stick shift and said "you must be mad"Without GPS...We found our way out of the cityDrove to Enniskerry, Powerscourt Estate, Ritz Carlton where the concierge helped me with a driving planDrove west through the Wicklow Mountains, then south past a lake owned by Guinness where Guinness built a beach on a lake (Lough Bay Lower) with quite black water - attempting to make the lake look like a pint of Guinness.Continued through Wicklow Mountains National Park to Laragh, Glendalough, Hollywood and eventually arriving at Kilkenny without using the Motorway (this would have made Tom Kjesbo proud - he never wants to be on the interstate).KilkennyStayed at a nice B&B (but hard to find) - Rosquil HouseDinner at Rinuccini - Italian, quite good. Walked around town a lot - free parking after 6:00Kilkenny Castle (closed, but can visit outside)St. Mary's CathedralBlack AbbeyCourthouseTown HallRothe HouseHole in the Wall TavernTalbot's Tower - most of what remains of the old city wallsSt. Canice's Cathedral & Round Tower - went back in the morning to climb the tower, but the tower was closed and we moved onOn the way to Kinsale, we made stopsCistercian Jerpoint AbbeyGairdin An Ghorta Knocktopher - commemorative garden for victims of the potato famine 1845-1850Rock of CashelBlarney CastleBlarney Woollen MillDid not make it toDungarvan – King John’s Castle, Cobh – last port of Titanic, Waterford Crystal FactoryKinsaleAnother nice B&B - Cloisters. Small bedroom with very small bathroom, but there were many choices on the breakfast menu besides the standard 'full Irish Breakfast'. She had great French Toast plus oatmeal (porridge), pancakes, pretty much anything you could want.Had a great dinner at Crackpots and a decent dinner at The White HouseThe weather after our first night was SO spectacular that we felt we couldn't waste it. We drove a distance to the ring of Beara (based on breakfast advice from others staying at our B&B) - great coastal drive in Western Cork.Next day we drove to the Kinsale Old Head golf course - spectacular and worth the drive. Just tell the gate attendant that you want to visit the pro shop. 200 Euros (2013) for a round of golf. Only 300 Euros if you want to play 36 holes all in one day. In that wind and rain, how anyone could play 36 holes of golf on purpose is beyond me. After that, we proceeded toKillarneyAnother nice B&B - huge room at Killarney Lodge. Good location, easy to find, easy walk to town for dinner.One night we ate at Bricin (outstanding, VERY high marks) and the other night Lord Kenmare's - very disappointing after Bricin.We went to the Killarney National Park, Ross Castle, Muckross House (tour) and walk to Torc Waterfall (pretty, and nice way to spend the time waiting for the tour).Next day we did the Ring of Kerry - got a very early start (finished breakfast by 8:15) and had very little issues with traffic. We got advice to visit the towns at the end of the peninsula and that was VERY good advice. By far the prettiest part of the drive was visiting Portmagee and doing the Skellig Ring. Also, we paid $4 Euro each to view cliffs (short walk) just outside of Portmagee. They were nice. As we finished the ring and coming back into town, we stopped again at the Muckross house to walk around and view the various gardens there. Very nice (when we were there the day before, it was raining and not good garden viewing weather), even though we walked to the waterfall in the rain!Next day with a long drive, we added to it by doing the Ring of Dingle. Again, very nice shoreline and, like the rest of Ireland, pretty green fields, hills, stone walls, sheep. Then, on to Limerick, Shannon (should have scouted out the location of petrol refill while passing through), Ennis, Ennistimon and Lehinch. We skipped the Bunratty castle because it started pouring rain right when we were driving by. But we saw it from the Motorway!LahinchA very interesting (and low cost - 70 Euros) B&B - The Siding. We liked it a lot. We arrived in good weather and unloaded our bags and headed immediately to the Cliffs of Moher. They were spectacular! Must see. They were 10-15 minutes from the B&B. But, if you plan a different itinerary and are just stopping by to see the Cliffs of Moher on your way to somewhere else, you run the risk of a very small window of time when you will be in the vicinity and when the weather/visibility at the Cliffs may not be suitable. This happened to Cahills. By staying nearby, you can watch the weather and make your trip when you know it will be good. We were probably there almost an hour. The last 10 minutes we were in clouds and driving rain. The whole time we were there, the winds were probably 50+ miles per hour, but I never heard an official reading. We felt we were going to be blown over. It was very hard to walk. But, very pretty.That night we ate at Vaughan Lodge - yet another highly recommended restaurant. 92 Euros including tip. But a very good meal. We had many enjoyable if not even world class meals in Ireland whenever we were in a 'restaurant' but pubs, taverns, bars, seemed to have food that was of a much lower quality, for lunch or for dinner.The next day we planned to go for a hike in The Burren. It was SO cold and SO windy that we did a trial run at the nearby golf course - one of the most famous in Ireland (but, not nearly as spectacular as Kinsale Old Head). We lasted about 30 seconds and changed our plans for our (last) day. We went for yet another country and coastal drive. We went through The Burren to Ballyvaghan, Galway and out to Connemara National Park. We stopped at Aughnanure Castle on the way.Our last night we ate at The Old Bakehouse in Miltown Malbay - a town nearby. It came highly recommended, but was a bit disappointing.We had a very early departure the last day, but our host got up with us and provided juice and (excellent) muffins, fruit, coffee, tea. She offered to make eggs, even full Irish breakfast, but we declined. We got up at 5:20, left at 6:00, got to Shannon by 6:35 but spent 16 minutes finding/filling up with gas. Still it is a very small airport and easy to turn in a car and walk to the terminal. After we were through security (no passport checks for flights to London), we had about 1.5 hours until our 8:45 flight.So, we had a great trip. Many good meals. Lots of castles. But, mainly, for us, Ireland was pretty driving. Pretty country side, hills, pastures, sheep, coastline, and lots of green.