Thursday, March 27, 2014

West Coast of Ireland, March 2014

Tuesday March 18th, 2014 four of us landed in Shannon, Ireland. We were a happily married couple of 25 years, in our early 50's and our two college aged children. It was our first visit to Ireland. Visiting Ireland in mid March is a bit tricky. As with weather in New England, U.S.A. the weather was a mixed bag, but it was definitely warmer, and there was no snow on the ground. After having flown all night, and still needing to wait for the final member of our journey to meet us, we were exhausted and not up to driving on the "left side" in our current condition. Luckily we discovered a hotel, an easy walk away, that gave us a room for the day, allowing us to get some much needed sleep before we embarked on our Ireland adventure. The rates were reduced to accommodate a short stay, and although nothing fancy it was one of the best decision we made on the trip.

The rental car pickup went smoothly. They offered us an upgrade. We hemmed and hawed, and after a few minutes they cut the cost of upgrade in half. Good thing too, as we would have never fit in the original choice. Consider number of people and bags, and comfort when choosing a car. Automatic is a must, and keep in mind type of fuel. Diesel worked out much better for us.

So we were off to Galway. Galway is a lively place, full of restaurants, pubs, and is major transportation hub. We stayed at the Four Seasons B&B hosted by Eddie and Helen, who run a very friendly, clean, and COZY place, with the most amazing breakfasts. The B&B is couple of blocks, from bus station and the start of restaurant and pub areas. We walked clear across town  to Monroe's were we had an excellent light dinner, Guinness, and ciders. There was live music and locals dancing. It was great evening. The night was beautfiul, as we strolled back to the B&B.

Wednesday, after a fantastic breakfast, kids jumped a bus to Dublin for the day. We went on our one and only tour. It was 40+ people, and it gave us a break from driving. We saw The Burren, and the Cliffs of Moher. Having caught an early tour, the group was mature and well behaved. I will caution when the bus driver says to be back at the bus at a certain time, do it. Folks were left behind, and without their belongings which were still on the bus. Another tour we ran into was full of college kids that had not the slightest interest in the tour, talking loudly, horsing around, and making it difficult for anyone to hear the guide. After that we did the self guided tours for the rest of the trip and had a much better time of it. We ended the night at Sonny's for drinks and a late supper. Sonny's is closer to the B&B, with good atmosphere, food, and prices. The weather was cold, very windy, overcast, with occasional rain and even hail.

Terrain on The Burren is not all rock.

Approaching the Burren

Thursday, we checked out of the Four Seasons B&B, with full bellies. Leave the keys! We forgot and had to post them.  All together again, we retraced the tour from the day before.We stopped at the Aillwee Cave, as it was pouring raining. The tour buses had not arrived, due to our early start. We had a very nice, practically private tour of the cave. When we emerged the sun was out so we did the walking tour on the Aillwee Cave property. The Cave tour costs, but the property walk is free. Restrooms are inside visitor center. The walking path allows you to hike up into the Burren. It is a bit of rock scramble, but the veiws were amazing, and we had the whole area to ourselves.

Aillwee Cave Visitor Center from the Walking Trail

View from Walking Trail at Aillwee Cave

I want to stop and talk about timing. We considered carefully the timing of our trip and each day's plans. Not fond of crowds, we risked in-climate weather, but often we had these amazing locations to ourselves. Some tours and attractions had not opened for the season. But this left the roads, walkways, hotels, and restaurants as well as our photos with little or no other tourists in them. Often the rates are cheaper too! A trade off we happily made.

After The Burren, we made our way to The Cliffs of Moher. The sun was in and out. It was still very windy, and cold. After spending an hour walking the cliffs, and taking way too many photos, the rain chased us off. Both directions are worth the walk, but if you only can do one, I recommend the right. No picture can capture this place. As you approach there is vast open green land broken only by stone walls and sheep, and then you reach the cliffs with the wild wind, the towering rocks, the crashing surf, salt water sprays, and the enormity of it swallows you up.

After taking refuge in our rental car, we started the long journey to Dingle. Dingle was one of our favorites of the trip. We did not arrive in Dingle until 6:30, which is late check-in for most B&B's. The Bambury Guesthouse was where we stayed for several nights. The bedrooms and en-suite bathrooms were huge and modern. The premise was spotlessly clean, Bernie was friendly and helpful, and we were quickly settled. Only a very short walk into Dingle and we dined at Ashe's restaurant, which I highly recommend. We splurged and had one of the best meals of our trip.

Friday, we spent the day driving the Slea Head Drive. Again, the weather started dreary but it soon bloomed into a warm sunny day. Not a tour bus in sight. Most spots we were the only folks around. In addition to miles of spectacular coastlines and endless rolling green hills, the beehives, famine housing, and church ruins were the highlights of the day. The roads are very narrow, and again we were grateful to have few encounters with other tourists. The weather kept us from driving Conors Pass, as you can see there was snow in the higher elevations. That night, we went to John Benny Moriarty's Pub for dinner, drinks, and music. The performance was fantastic. The atmosphere was so relaxed. We wished we had spent more time in Dingle.

Gallarus Oratory

Coast on Slea Head Drive, Dingle Peninsula

Coast on Slea Head Drive, Dingle Peninsula

Rolling Hills of Dingle Peninsula

Roadside View along Slea Head Drive

Snow in Higher Elevations, Dingle Peninsula
Saturday, we headed south to Killarney National Forest. We stayed in the upscale Friars Glen, which is a beautiful B&B inside the Killarney National Park, but just 5 km to Killarney, which is a very bustling town, jammed packed with pubs, restaurants, hotels, and shoppes. We drove through the park, to Kenmare, a charming little village, with its own offerings of restaurants, pubs, and shopping. Late afternoon, we strolled to the Muckross Abbey, and spent some solitary time in this spiritual place. The rain chased us back to our car, and we headed to the big city. Saturday night in Killarney for dinner and drinks, proved to be on the more wild side. The pubs were jammed with folks. Music blared from every establishment. It was here I heard "Galway Girl" performed live, as it was in the movie, P.S. I Love You. Super Fun!
Killarney National Park

Killarney National Park

Killarney National Park

Muckross Abbey

Sunday, was the best weather yet. We drove the Ring of Kerry. Frankly, after the Dingle Peninsula, I was wondering if more pretty coastal driving was necessary. The correct answer is YES! Ancient ring forts are worth the side trips, although I was incredulous at how hard to find theses sites are. This was maybe the one time when more tourists would have been helpful. Go to Valentia Island. The buses are not allowed on island roads. Take the time to visit the Skellig Experience. Drive to the lookouts, Fogher Cliffs and Geokaun Mountain. We had an excellent lunch in Portmagee. Skellig Chocolate was closed on Sundays much to our chagrin. At the top, we paid the 4.5 Euros to park on private property, and take a short walk to the best view of Ring of Kerry. We begrudging admit it was worth it. Staigue Fort was our final stop for the day. We ended up in Kenmare for dinner, and had really good ribs at the Horseshoe.  As we drove along the miles of tight twisting roads, I could only imagine what it is like in season, with all the cars and tour buses carrying the vast number of tourists. We had the place pretty much to ourselves.

Top of the Cahergall Stone Fort

Ring of Kerry

Ring of Kerry, Valentia Island

Ring of Kerry

Ring of Kerry

Outside of Staigue Ring Fort

Monday, we toured the Muckross House in Killarney National Park. We strolled to see Torc Waterfalls, also in Killarney National Park.With all the recent rain, the waterfall was really flowing.

Muckross House

Grounds surrounding Muckross House

Woods on the way to Torc Falls, Killarney National Park

Torc Falls, Killarney National Park

We then drove towards Bunratty. It was an exceptional day for rainbows. We honestly lost count. I failed to capture a single decent photo of one, but they were larger and more brillant than I had ever seen in the US. We dined at the medieval banquet held at Bunratty Castle on our last evening in Ireland. It was a bit kitch, and very pricey, but fun enough to distract us from our approaching parting and the long journey ahead.  We stayed in a simple B&B within 10 km of Shannon airport, which allowed us to leisurely make our way to return the rental car and catch our flights the following morning.

All pictures included in this post were taken by me. Just a small sample of the over 500+ pictures I snapped over the week. Not being a photographer myself, I am convinced that Ireland cannot take a bad picture.The highways are easily navigated with a decent map. We brought our GPS, and with the map we were fine. Beware, the GPS did not work at all on the smaller back roads. The back roads are NARROW. We traveled counter-clockwise when doing the Ring of Kerry.

Regrets are few on this trip, but there are several. We had hoped for a boat tour out of Galway to the Aran Islands, but the cold rain, and fierce winds, caused the ocean to be so rough, it made many passengers miserably ill. Distance and time caused us to skip the Connemarra National Park, which laid a bit too far to the north. We missed Skellig Michael  which was not open for season. It takes careful planning, even in season to make those arrangements. Also, Conors Pass on the Dingle Peninsula is said to be spectacular, but with wind, rain, hail, and snow occurring occasionally throughout the day, we opted out. Weather and time permitting, I could have spent a week just hiking in Killarney National Park.

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