We LOVED Ireland. Ireland is beautiful, but the people are truly the gem of Ireland. I don't know if there is a friendlier bunch of people than the Irish.
We arrived in Dublin on 11/21 via AerLingus. This was a smooth, yet miserable flight, led by lead flight attendant, Aiden O'Sullivan, who every single time the seat belt sign would come on would interrupt sleep, movies, you name it to remind us: "Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, the captain has turned on the fastened seat belt sign, please return to your seat and buckle your safety belts." Every. Single. Time. Aiden O'Sullivan, if you ever read this-shut it on an overnight flight.
Immediately did the touristy thing and headed to the Guinness Storehouse. With the ticket price, you get a pint, either at the famous Gravity Bar offering 360 degree views of Dublin or at the Pour Experience. Tip: Get your Guinness at the Pour Experience, learn how to serve one the true Irish way and take it with you up to the Gravity Bar.
Our first stop out of Dublin was to a city called Kinsale, whose sister city is Newport, RI. Along the drive, on the "wrong" side of the road, we stopped at the Rock of Cashel. Not a rock-definitely an old monastery from the 12th Century with very interesting history.
Kinsale is a quaint and beautiful town, full of great restaurants and pubs. We had an amazing meal at the highly recommended Fishy Fishy-red seafood chowder, broiled brill and monkfish- followed by pub-hopping around town- starting at The White House, a fabulous bartender introduced me to the best cider in Ireland-Stonewell Cider, a local craft cider called Finnbarra outside of Ireland http://finnbarra.com. If you have been to Ireland, Bulmer's in the only cider available in most pubs-served on ice. We moved on to The Greyhound and finally Oscar Madison's where we danced all night to trad music and enjoyed the "craic" with the locals-enjoyable conversation, gossip, etc.
We had originally thought to stay in Cobh, pronounced Cove, where the Titanic made its last stop before heading to America. I'm so glad we didn't. This place was an unattractive seaport. The main attraction-the dock where people boarded the Titantic-is barely standing. The only charming thing about the town was its massive gothic-styled cathedral in the middle of town.
Happy to get back to Kinsale, we stopped in again at the White House and Brian learned about Red Breast Whisky. We learned a lot from the bartender at the White House!
Not far down the road is one of the ring forts, after climbing this, we tried to figure out how to get to the smaller, sister fort. This fort was again, on someone's land, so we asked permission to go in and after a stern warning of "don't look at the rams," we got to experience climbing this fort as well.
11/26-In the morning, we stopped at the Muckross House in Killarney National Park. It was quite impressive and the home is 70% restored to its original state, including furnishings. Beautiful. Drove through the National Park for stunning views, including Ladies View, on our way to Kenmare and then on to Tralee. I was most excited about Tralee because we were staying in a restored castle called Ballyseede Castle. It was very cozy and they have a sweet dog named Einstein who hangs out in the bar or on the stairs to be near the guests.
The castle is 5 minutes or so from town and Brian had heard about great trad music at Sean Ogs that started at 9:30. We got a seat at the bar just as the band was setting up. The Irish have it right! A little nook carved out for bands in every bar, the band drinks as long as they play and if you're inside when the bar closes-you can stay until they kick you out. Our bartender was a kind man named Nile and before we headed out, he gave us a recommendation for a pub in Galway.
The Cliffs of Moher are everything you think they will be, but it is much more touristy than I expected. Standing precariously on the unsafe side of the walking path, it truly takes your breath away. It is freezing and windy and loud and the view from every point is incredible.
We stopped in Doolin on the way from the Cliffs and then against our better judgment, followed the GPS directions. This is where the true test of traveling and marriage happens. Night is falling, we are running low on gas and we are now in the middle of nowhere as the GPS keeps adding time on to our trip. Panic starts to set in the darker it gets and when we realize we aren't seeing any cars headed our way. Brian is really starting to get stressed out and I'm trying not to say anything to stress him out even more. Suddenly, we realized we were in the Burren. I will say, finally seeing a main road, another car and a gas station was a HUGE relief! In fact, making it to Galway was so relieving. We both needed a mental break from the stressful driving day.
Galway was by FAR our favorite place in Ireland. Everyone in Ireland is an extrovert, but the people of Galway are especially endearing. While at The Dew Drop, an Irish couple asked to join us. Conor had just finished his Masters and he and Brigid were out celebrating. They offered to take us out on the town with them, starting at the Front Door, a multi-level bar. We ended up closing down the place with them at 3 am. They are such a delightful, friendly and lovely couple. We have kept in touch via Facebook and they are now engaged. I can only hope that Brian and I are just as welcoming to people visiting us in our hometown. It was the perfect night with Brigid and Conor.
We had a lovely Thanksgiving meal overlooking the high street at The Artisan, great pate & duck. Finished our final night in Galway at Tig Coili for some trad music.
We left Trinity College to head to St. Stephen's Green but the gates had just been locked for the night so we headed to Temple Bar. Per expectation, it was packed with locals and tourists alike. Pub-hopped to O'Sullivans then to Grafton Street to see the beautiful Christmas decorations-chandeliers lining the streets. Brian had been hoping to find a place called Neary's and at that moment, I looked down a side street and there it was! What a cozy little throwback to the 1920s. We wrapped up our night with dinner at Farm, which was delicious-the risotto gratin was outstanding.
11/30-Woke up to head to St. Stephen's Green early before our flight. After a quick walk through the park, we headed to Dublin Airport. The best, and most confusing, thing about Dublin's airport is that you go through US customs at the Dublin Airport. So in following signs for security, we walked right up to a US customs agent and a lobby decorated with American flags. It was so interesting. The trip ended on an even higher note when we got upgraded to business class for the flight home. (My international travel is now ruined thanks to this experience and I will lament every long flight we take on our RTW trip next year. Ha!)
Ireland is truly a stunningly beautiful country and its people are a true gem. We look forward to heading back and spending time there in the future-seeing Van Morrison live in Belfast is on our bucket list!