Having only one week in Ireland, it was difficult to decide what of the many, many things to see and experience. We decided to do a southern loop route, including seeing some of the places our ancestors originated from, as well as experiencing true rural Celtic Ireland and also a bustling city. Our route would include Kilkenny, Cahir, Killarney, Dingle, Adare and Dublin. We opted to stay in B&Bs, both for economics and also to meet the locals. When we travel, we pack a lot in, so hang on as you join us in reliving our adventure.
We had a few flight complications so sadly missed the first part of day 1 in Ireland (Powerscourt, Dun Laoghaire and Glendalough had to be missed) so headed from Dublin Airport straight to the medieval town of Kilkenny in time for supper. We quickly checked into our B&B and walked into the quaint little town. Ideal town, as everything is within walking distance. We decided to head to Kyteler’s Inn (one of the oldest inns in Ireland dating to 1324) for some traditional Irish stew. While there we were entertained and then learned how to play the Bodhran (Irish drum). And local musicians sang and played while we tasted our first Smithwick’s and Guiness! Content, we headed back to the B&B for a good night’s rest and along the way saw St. Canice’s church beautifully lit at night.
The next morning we awakened to sunshine and headed to St. Canice’s cathedral. The church has been preserved in it’s original form and the early morning light shone beautifully through its stained glass windows. We climbed the several flights of stairs up the 9th century round tower, which became narrower and narrower as we reached the top. We had a great 360 degree view of the town.
From there we walked to Kilkenny castle (build in the 1190’s) and toured both the structure and the several acres of grounds, as well as the old stables, which now house Kilkenny Design centre, featuring the work of many local artisans. After lunching at the Design centre, we headed to Smithwick’s brewery, Ireland’s oldest operational brewery. The ruins of the original Franciscan Abbey, where famous Smithwick’s first came to be, is in the heart of the brewery. We learned how they meticulously craft their famous beer, saw the tasting room and ended at one of the original cellars where we sampled the tasty treat. We sadly learned that that Smithwick’s had been purchased by Diageo. Diageo has decided to move the brewing of Smithwick’s out of Kilkenny but fortunately, the site will be preserved as a heritage centre. The evening once again ended with us listening, clapping and singing to talented local musicians.
We headed out to the local grocery store, packed up some fresh goods and off and away we went passing Rock of Cashel (under restoration) and continuing on to Cahir where we toured the ancient defensive castle, built on a rocky island. This was a real treat as there were very few visitors when we went and we had free roam of the whole castle, making it one of our favourites! It even has an operating portcullis (a heavy spiked sliding gateway used to block entrance to the castle). The castle changed hands several times but remained intact. You can, however, see some remnants of battle evidenced by the cannon balls embedded into the limestone walls. From there we hit the road and arrived in Killarney and off we ventured to beautiful Killarney National Park. We took a jaunting cart ride through the park, taking in the beautiful greenery and views of the lakes and hiking a short distance to Torc Waterfall. We then toured the grounds of Muckross house and it was time to head back into town to sample some local pub fare while listening to Irish music.
We were up very early and after another delicious full Irish breakfast (including some delectable scones!), we continued our journey toward the Dingle Peninsula, where some of Ireland’s most beautiful scenery exists. We stopped in at Inch Beach, a vast expanse of sand with lovely views. It was, however, quite chilly so dipping toes in the water was out of the question. Onward we went to the fishing village of Dingle where we checked in to our daughter’s favourite B&B. This B&B had sheep, goats, chickens, cats and dogs. The highlight was being able to bottle feed one of the baby lambs! It was interesting to see their trusty dog, a border collie, keep the animals all in line.
Off we went to enjoy Slea Head Drive. This was iconic Ireland with green rolling hills, cliffs overlooking the ocean, sheep all throughout the fields and many ancient artifacts. The weather was threatening rain and rain it did (but it is Ireland and very green, so one must expect that). We pulled over to picnic in the car and take in the seaside views, including the Blasket Islands and flocks of sheep grazing. Soon the rain passed and we continued along the coast, stopping at Dun Beag Fort, a defensive structure built right on the sea cliffs. Some radio carbon dating suggests activity here around 580 BC! We also went to Kilmalkadar church (partial ruins), an early Christian site, dating back to the 12th century. Also on this site you will find an Ogham stone, said to predate the church by around 900 years! (Ogham is an alphabet of an early Celtic language, used approx. 4th-7th centuries AD. Irish folklore says that the stone was to ‘seal a deal’ or if two lovers touch their ring fingers through the hole in the stone they were joined for eternity. So to fall in step with Irish folklore, we figured it would be fitting to do this for our 25th anniversary, which we were celebrating! Back to the B&B we went to enjoy the animals, dine and get a good rest for the next day’s adventures.
Dingle has a famous resident residing in the harbor – Fungi the dolphin. The dolphin is wild and has never been fed by humans but has been sighted in the harbour for 30 years, making it a fairly elderly dolphin. We decided to head out on a boat to see if we might get a glimpse of Fungi, as well as enjoy the views of Dingle from the harbor looking back onto the shore. Initially, Fungi only made a couple of distant crests out of the water and was busy feeding. We figured that was it, but then Fungi appeared right along side the boat and swam in formation dancing in the water beside us! Quite the treat to see wildlife that close! Back on shore, we hopped into our car and ventured toward the renowned Connor’s Pass (highest mountain pass in Ireland), an extremely narrow (and I mean narrow!!!) section of road heading out of Dingle in a northeasterly direction towards Castlegregory. Good thing we had a small car as we were inches away from the rock face on one side and the retaining rock wall on the cliff side. With a few minutes of held breath and passengers with eyes closed, we emerged the other side. On we drove to the tiny town of Adare. A picturesque village, home to some beautiful thatched roofed houses and the wonderful estate of Adare Manor, which is now a castle hotel. We did a quick tour of the grounds but would love to return again. The only difficult thing that evening was finding a place to eat in the many pubs. Little did we know, there was an important regional rugby match on so the places were packed with fans dining while taking in the game. They sure do enjoy their rugby as well as the Irish game of hurling.
This morning brought some heavy rains but that was ok as we were making our way back to Dublin so the timing of the rain was just fine. We got the rental vehicle returned as we opted for public transit while in the city. After checking into the B&B we hopped on a hop-on-hop-off bus (which was included in our Dublin Transit Freedom Pass). We got an overview of sights and our first stop was the Guinness Storehouse to wet the whistle with Dublin’s famous dark beer. While there, we learned the technique of pouring the perfect pint. From there we just walked and walked taking in the beautiful architecture and atmosphere. We then went to see the famous cobblestone streets of Temple Bar area.
Up bright and early as not wanting to miss a thing, we headed straight for Trinity College, receiving a tour and learning about this ancient learning institution and ending the tour by viewing the Book of Kells and the Old Library! Breathtaking!!! Due to a function with Heads of State, we could not see the interior but toured the exterior and grounds of Dublin Castle, as well as St. Patrick’s and Christ Church Cathedral. Sadly, we could not see the National Museum and it’s many artifacts, including several gold pieces, as it was closed when we were there – hopefully next time we make it back! We saw Molly Malloy in bronze and walked the bustling O’Connell Street. We then took a stroll through St. Stephen’s Green where our daughter lingered taking in the beautiful sights, while we scurried over to Merrion Square to take some photos of the brightly painted entrance doors to homes.
After many memories and photos we had to bid farewell to the beautiful isle and warm people of Ireland. We just scraped the surface and look forward to exploring more some day.
Lisa & Brock Crawford