Unforgettable Ireland : Overview

I thought I had learned something from my husband’s big Irish family, grandparents from his dad are 2nd generation American Irish and they have nine children. And I thought I was well prepared for Ireland since I had planned every part of the trip myself, read about Ireland and viewed many photos of Ireland. But once arrived in Ireland on the 14th of this June, I realized that nothing could have prepared me enough for the real Ireland.

Ireland, a place like no others, blew my mind. Grandness of Cliff of Moher filled me with awe, magnificent mountains and waters of Kerry delighted me, enduring Irish history intrigued me and uncunning Irish friendliness and hospitality inspired me. But above all, the pastoral scenery and serenity throughout Ireland, touching a nostalgic sentiment, captivated me the most.

Ladies View

Ladies View



I returned home with unforgettable tableaux of Ireland etched on my mind. Like that storybook brick house with thatched roof, situated in heart of Black Valley of Kerry, surrounded by tranquil and green mountains and cradled by a river close by. Or the fields of pastures, separated by low stone walls or hedges or wire fences, and the herds of animals calmly grazing. Or Seashore Farm house, with picturesque view over Kenmare bay to the rolling mountains of Beara Peninsula. Or the Old Weird Bridge, where water of the Killarney lakes meets. Or the mighty Rock of Cashel, built on the most amazing rock outcropping…

Ireland that I see is a land where nature and people shape and complete each other. It is where the old and the new live harmoniously with each other. I hope in my heart that nothing will spoil its idyllic and genuine ambience.

Our trip was filled with photogenic moments and I’ve set a new record, 1,310 photos plus hours of video footage in 8 days. They brought the trip vividly back when I watched them on a 50 inch TV. I’ll post a selected set in subsequent posts to illustrate the gist of this memorable experience.

Itinerary

With only 8 days in Ireland, I had to leave other interesting spots out of my itinerary and stick to the south of Ireland. It was still a rush. As busy as we were, we had to give up some of the sites that were included in the itinerary, such as King John’s Castle, Dingle Peninsula, Cobh, Waterford and Guinness store warehouse in Dublin.

Flying over Shannon, Clare

Flying over Shannon, Clare

We flew into Shannon International Airport and returned to US out of Dublin International Airport. In between we drove through the southern half of Ireland counter-clockwise. On the first day, we had barely enough time for Cliff of Moher and the Burren (Clare County). On 2nd day, we spent longer than expected at Bunratty Castle and Folk Park (Clare County) and could only made a brief stop at Adare (Limerick County) on the way down to Kenmare (Kerry County). Between Killarney and Kenmare we discovered Ladies View. On 3rd day, our self driving tour on Ring of Kerry was a full day expedition. On the 4th day, our excursion to the Killarney area kept us on the go. Day 5th, we visited Blarney Castle and kissed Blarney Stone in County Cork. It was close but we also made it to Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary an hour before it was closed (Rock of Cashel stays open longer than other places at that time of the year till 7:30PM). On day 6th, we spent the morning in Kilkenny. We had a blast visiting and lunching with great Aunt Betty in Athy, Kildare. We then rushed off and visited Glendalough of Wicklow before entering Ireland’s great capital, Dublin. Day 7th, we traveled backward in the morning to visit Powerscourt south of Dublin and returned in the afternoon to Dublin for the rest of the day. Last day in Ireland, we mustered all energy we had left for a full day of sightseeing in Dublin and ended our trip with Dinner and Show of exuberant Irish music and dance.

Weather Condition

While in Ireland, we were lucky to have unusually nice weather, i.e. atypical sunnier and drier days. It was clouded about 1/3 of the time and it poured heavily the entire first night in Kerry but the rest of the time, it only sprinkled here and there briefly; no show stoppers. Another plus was that it doesn’t get dark till really late. Imagine it is just dim but not yet dark at 10PM. As a result, we had hours to walk around towns and trek outdoor trails after 5 or 6pm when most of the places (churches, museums, shops, etc.) close and before 9pm when we needed to hit the restaurants which usually stop severing dinner at 9pm. BTW, after 9pm bars, bar portions of the restaurants continue on with music but they serve no food or only “bar food” (light meal/snack such as soup, salad, sandwiches, etc.).

Atop Staigue Fort Ring

Atop Staigue Fort Ring

The days swayed between mid 50°F and mid 60°F. Except the occasional chilly drafts, my husband was comfortable topping jeans with a lightweight jacket over a short sleeve shirt and I a lightweight jacket over a mid-weight long sleeve shirt and jeans. The thick leather Jackets we took with us stayed in our rooms or our suitcases. It was not cold enough for them and it wouldn’t have been good to get rain on them either. Instead, the lightweight rain jackets we saw on lots of the tourists are better options.

Accommodation

Irish B&Bs have earned good reputations and are highly recommended by many. After checking out the different options, I chose to stay in B&Bs for our entire trip.

Kenmare

Kenmare

While each has its own characteristics, all four places we stayed were great. Lake Side Country House in Ennis sits on the edge of a lake and we enjoyed a refreshing view over the lake to a large house and an Abbey ruin from 13th century on the green hillside. Seashore Farm Guest House in Kenmare has large rooms with ample furnishing and boasts an open, ravishing view of Kenmare Bay, lush mountains and green fields. Rosquil House in Kilkenny offers trendy, convenient rooms and quiet location. Butler’s Townhouse in Dublin has cute Georgian rooms and more options for breakfast.

The internet is just fantastic for travel planning and booking. For car and flights I used orbitz.com. Once the itinerary was set and I decided on what towns to stay, I used recommendations from websites like tripadvisor.com, ricksteves.com and frommers.com for picking out a place to stay.

I booked the first 3 B&Bs by emailing and calling them directly and Butler’s Townhouse via bookassist.com which charged a minimal fee around $3.50. Then a week before leaving for Ireland I called to confirm all these reservations.

Food

First to mention in this category has got to be the traditional Irish breakfast including sausage, bacon, eggs (fried or poached or scrambled) and a fried tomato. I found out at the first breakfast that it was a generously portioned hearty meal. I finished the first one but for the rest I either had my husband help out or asked for a smaller portion. Breakfast was included in all the places we stayed and besides the hot breakfast, all offer as well a buffet of fruits, cereal, nuts, juice, milk and yogurt. Butler’s Town house offers in addition cheeses and smoked salmons on its buffet. The first thing offered when one is in the breakfast room is always a choice of hot tea or coffee, then order for hot breakfast is taken. At Butler’s Town House, mushrooms are added to the traditional Irish breakfast, which made it better for me.

Traditional Irish Breakfast

Traditional Irish Breakfast

A hearty hot breakfast is great to start the day. It got us through the day really well. We never needed big lunch; usually we would just pair a light sandwich with something sweet, deserts/pastries/fruits.

Marrying into my husband’s food, and especially sweets, loving family, I’ve picked up a sweet tooth myself but I’ve kept it to occasions, parties, holidays or vacations. I find myself however make no effort to resist sweets/deserts when traveling in Europe. Delicate and rich but not overly sweetened, I have not had any sweets I didn’t like when in Europe. Still, sweets for breakfast and lunch AND then desert at dinner time, I think I overdid it on this trip.

We had late dinner every single day; usually sat down just before 9pm, when most of restaurants stop serving dinner. We tried restaurants recommended by our hosts/hostesses at the B&Bs, who always willingly offer information and recommendations, or just walked into places we came across. It seemed quite easy to have a satisfying meal everywhere we went. Most restaurants serve traditional Irish dishes such as Lamb/Beef Stew but also options for eclectic cuisine. I had fresh seafood for most of my dinners and they were all good.

There are Chinese restaurants literally every part of the world and I usually try one on every trip. No exception in Ireland. We tried Emerald Gardens in kilkenny and it turned out great. There is something magical about the comfort of rice.

Driving on the wrong side

Opposite to what we are used to in the states, you drive on the left side in Ireland and the driver seat is set on the right of the car. Having never driven on the left, we reserved, with Europcar via orbitz.com, an automatic to ease the challenge. Importance of having an automatic car was heightened by warnings and advises of others including my mother in-law who had personal experiences driving in Ireland therefore I played safe by calling Europcar at Shannon International Airport few days before we left to confirm they indeed had my reservation for an automatic car.

An Ennis road: narrow with thick, dense hedges on both sides

An Ennis road: narrow with thick, dense hedges on both sides

So after going through easily the custom and picking up our bags, assuredly we approached Europcar’s counter at Shannon International Airport and handed the male staff behind the counter our reservation. We however were told that there was no automatic available and no idea how long one would become available. I pressed that we reserved for an automatic and stated that I called few days ago and was promised an automatic car, but to no avail. The guy was not even sympathetic or apologetic and would only answer there was none available. Not willing to waste any time at all, we unhappily accepted a manual and headed out to wait for the shuttle bus that would take us to Europcar’s lot.

That, however, was not the end of the story. The quirk of fate turned things right after all. Having impatiently waited for 20 minutes or so, the “white shuttle bus”, a big white van, finally showed up and an Asian looking young man came out calling for customers for Europcar. While swiftly loading our luggage into the back of the van, he started talking on his cell phone at the same time.

“Was he speaking Chinese?” He got my attention. He spoke with a heavy accent and I did not understand much of his conversation but just enough to know he was speaking Chinese.

A family of 6 quickly occupied most of the seats and left none other than the two in the front for us to place ourselves. Sitting next to the driver seat, I said “你好!” (Hello in Chinese) to the driver when he came back to his seat and we started talking in Chinese. I could tell by the smile on my husband’s face that he was quite amused by the happenstance even though not understanding the conversation.

Speaking in standard Mandarin, our driver told me his name is Kevin. He moved from Shandong province of China. Kevin told me that he likes Ireland and that Ireland is smaller and much easier to get around. And, pointing to the crisp, blue sky, he said that we were lucky to have nice, non typical Irish weather, i.e., more sunny and less rainy weather. Once arrived at the car park, Kevin found out about our situation with the car. He told us to wait a bit. Ten minutes later, Kevin pulled up in a 2009 mid-size Nissan, and YES, an automatic.

Thanks to Kevin. Having an automatic car made it a great deal easier for my husband, who did all the driving and did it wonderfully, except that one time he drove on the wrong side, the right, luckily it was on a not very busy street and the car heading towards us stopped in time.

Driving on the left is a challenge and imagines tiny little paths on top of that… We drove through roads and defiles so narrow that we had to stop and squeeze to the edge whenever there were cars from the opposite direction, many times brushing the car against the hedges neatly flanking the roadsides.

Some road signs are thoughtful, like those reminding cars to drive on the left and pedestrians to look to the left or both sides when crossing streets. Others are incredible. We would see signs warning about “Dangerous bend road ahead” to be immediately followed by speed limit signs of 100km/per hour.

Many roads including narrow ones have speed limit set at 100km/per hour and local people drive fast but they are also mindful and quick to stop or yield for traffic from opposite direction whenever necessary.
Even though there were only two of us, we had a midsize car, instead of compact or economy size, because we needed one with big enough trunk so we could keep our bags in the trunk and out of sight while out and about sightseeing between hotels.

Now, all loaded in our rented automatic car and in excellent mood, we thanked Kevin one last time and bid him good bye. With Garman’s help, which my husband preloaded with European map purchased just for the trip, we left Shannon International Airport and started our journey in Ireland.

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