Ireland: Around the Emerald Isle in 7 Days
Our Ireland expedition would begin and end in Dublin, which is only a short one-hour flight from Leeds. We arrived in the morning, got to our hotel, which was about a mile south of the famous Temple Bar area along the River Liffey, and within walking distance of nearly all of Dublin’s main attractions.
We started off by strolling through St. Steven’s Green, likely the lovliest parks in Dublin, with calm ponds, closely groomed lawns, fountains, trees, and birds.
We worked our way north from there, until we came to Merrion Square, which is home to the Oscar Wilde memorial statue. Oscar Wilde’s Dublin home is located just across the street from the statue itself.
Coming back west, we strolled through Dublin’s prestigious Trinity College, which boasted a lovely campus.
Continuing west, we got our first glimpse of Temple bar, with it’s festive atmosphere already bustling with preparation for the night of partying that was to come.
The big stop for the day was still quite a distance a way, and we were so excited we couldn’t get there fast enough. Winding to and fro away from Temple bar through residential streets, we finally arrived at the Guinness Storehouse, where we had already booked a tour. What an awesome place.
During our stay we saw Arthur Guinness’s signature on the deed to the storehouse property (good for 9000 years!), learned about the main ingredients that go into every batch of the famous brew, how the Guinness family has and continues to shape Dublin society, and even took a group pouring class where we learned how to appropriately serve up the perfect glass of “the black stuff” (we have the certificates to prove it!), and enjoyed our very own pints up in the Gravity Lounge, the huge glass-walled bar at the summit of the building, offering awesome 360-degree views of the entire city.
The Guiness Storehouse is a must-see, even if you’re not that into Guinness to begin with. Interesting fact: All Guiness in the world was, until just recently, produced in Dublin exclusively and exported to the rest of the world. That was until Guinness just opened another storehouse in the U.S., after our visit to their longstanding Dublin location.
We ended our day with dinner in the Temple Bar area. Although very touristy, Temple Bar is a fun place to visit, eat, listen to music, and laugh at the marauding hen and stag parties. Temple Bar also boasts close proximity to the river, which is enjoyable to walk along, day or night.
Dublin 2 and out into the country
The next day, we were set to pick up our rental car near the Dublin airport at 2:00pm, which gave us plenty of time to indulge in one more important stop: St. Patrick’s Cathedral. While not as huge or grandiose as some European cathedrals, this cosy cathedral is magnificent still in it’s less polished, aged-stone interior, and unique sanctuary, replete with medieval feel. The floor has a pretty great design too! We enjoyed making a few lead and paper rubbings for some fun souvenirs.
After taking the bus back to the airport, a shuttle to the rental agency, and spending at least 30 minutes taking pre-trip photos of our borrowed chariot to make sure we didn’t get stuck with any unfair charges in the end, and then another 10-15 minutes figuring out how to start the vehicle (you have to have your foot on the brake, haha), we were on our way out into the Irish countryside!
Going clockwise around the island, we headed south first, and then started west, where we came to our first stop: Glendalough lake, an absolutely stunning and serene setting where we struck up a conversation with a funny, aged, retired physicist named Tom, who was from southern England, had came over to Ireland by boat through a storm, and delighted in playing fetch with his little blond doggy named Sam, who was only too happy to chase sticks into the calm waters and bring them back.
From Glendalough we drove through the quiet mountains to Kilkenny, where we spent the evening exploring this little town’s active nightlife, admiring the glow of it’s riverside castle before returning to our BnB for the night.
The next morning, on our way out of town, we stopped at Kilkenny Castle to enjoy the castle grounds themselves, and get a good look at this imposing edifice, which holds a real presence on the banks of the river. Prime real estate (in case you’re interested). After a short visit, we hopped in the car and made our way to the main event for the day, Blarney Castle.
On our way to Blarney Castle, we made sure to drive by the Rock of Cashel, another great fortification, perched high on a hill and overlooking a vast plain. Needless to say, the drive through Ireland lived up to it’s reputation, and we spent much of our travel time throughout the week zooming down narrow country roads, surrounded by thick forests and green countryside on either side.
We arrived at Blarney Castle in the early afternoon, and it delivered on every level. Set on large grounds, with a babbling brook and plenty of areas to explore, Blarney Castle is of course home to the Blarney Stone, and we had a fantastic time marveling at the castle from the outside, exploring the different chambers as we winded up the long spiral staircase on the inside, and then, as an unforgettable climax, hanging upside down through a hole in the castle ramparts to kiss the legendary Blarney stone, as hundreds of thousands have done before.
Other highlights from the visit included the expansive gardens, as well as the legendary cave underneath that you can still explore. Now, time will only tell if we’ve surely been blessed with the Gift of Gab!!
From Blarney we headed south through Cork, and stopped for dinner and some seaside exploring in the peaceful port town of Kinsale. From there, we continued west to Bantry, where we rested for the night in preparation for our day-long adventure around the Ring of Kerry.
Dingle via the Ring of Kerry
When not flying through the country, we were driving slowly through fantastic mountains and on the cliff-sides of valley and coastal roads. From Bantry, we drove north until we entered the peninsular roadway known as the Ring of Kerry, which boasts some of the best scenery in all of Ireland, and is one of the country’s prime travel destinations.
We drove the entire peninsula, catching views of the Skellig Islands off in the distance, something Katie had said she really wanted to see. The Skelligs were the filming location for Luke Skywalker’s retreat in Star Wars The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. We caught our best view of the islands from the south side of Valentia Island, on the high shore just opposite Portmagee on the bay (Skelligs on right side of photo below).
From there we drove to Killarney, pretty much just to say that we went there. We drove into Killarney National Park briefly, and stopped just long enough to admire the exteriors of Muckross House in it’s tranquil surroundings on Lough Leane.
From Killarney, we backtracked toward our final destination for the day: the charming shoreside town of Dingle, where we checked into our quiet room on the third floor of an unassuming BnB overlooking the boats in Dingle Bay. We spent the night exploring the town, and stopped into a pub just before closing to hear a bit of Irish music played on violin, guitar, and unusual uilleann (Gaelic for “elbow”) pipes.
Galway via the Cliffs of Moher
The day following our landing in Dingle, we set out north up the coast, passing through Tralee, then Limerick, until we pulled into our parking spot at the amazing Cliffs of Moher.
The cliffs are thrilling to walk along, and Jeff was dead set on walking the entire length of them all the way down to the tiny tower on the last bit. Katie agreed, and we set out, walking for a full thirty minutes, dipping up and down with the terrain, and venturing within inches of an unsurvivable fall to the slow-crashing waves below.
Unfortunately, we did not have enough time to make it to the tiny building out on the end of the path, as we still had a long way to drive to get to our hotel in Galway by check-in time, but we took the last few minutes to sit in silence, on a spot now far away from the other visitors, on the edge of a continent, looking out at the endless North Atlantic, trying to wrap our heads around how amazing it was that we were there. We carved our initials inside a heart on one of the wooden fence posts along our path, so that we could remember how far we made it the for next time we would visit. So if you’re ever at the Cliffs of Moher, and you try to make the trek out to that small building in the distance, be sure to check the fence posts just as the final stretch of path comes into view. That’s the post to beat.
Galway, Londonderry, and the Giant’s Causeway
We came into Galway long after dark, and so our brief tour of the town came the next morning, and then we headed north for several hours, eventually meeting the coast again near Sligo and Donegal, as we neared Northern Ireland, before finally crossing over into Londonderry, which was one of the most turbulent cities during The Troubles.
Then we were finally on Ireland’s (technically Northern Ireland’s) north coast, and we popped through the sleepy seaside town of Portrush, and then continued along the shore until we spotted the dramatic ruins of Dunlace Castle, now largely crumbled into the sea.
A short distance further west, we parked at Giant’s Causeway, where we would spend the next several hours marveling at the innumberable hexagon-shaped columns, risking our lives (or at least our bones) climbing along the legendary, slippery phenomena wet with rain and sea spray.
Departing Giant’s Causeway, we continued west along the coast through Ballintoy and Ballycastle, before heading south to Crumlin, next to Lough Neagh, just outside Belfast.
Belfast and back to Dublin
We rose early the following day. and headed straight into Belfast for a self-guided whirlwind car tour, stopping at the Peace Wall, now covered in graffiti, and just a block away from another long wall of murals, urging the British to get out of Northern Ireland in fantastic colors, and rallying unity and support for other independence movements around the world as well.
Not a drop of graffiti on the latter.
We also drove along Belfast Harbour, and the old Harland and Wolff shipyard, where the Titanic was built and set into the water. Afterward, we hit a few other quick sites, and then jumped back on the highway and rocketed back out into the countryside.
Within just 2 hours we were back in Dublin, dropping the car off, and catching our flight back to Leeds, now much better acquainted with the Emerald Isle, and so many of its one-of-a-kind sites.
Photo Credit: Katie Miller