Sunday, 21 August 2011


We've just returned from a (mostly) wonderful week in Ireland.  I have to fly to Seattle tomorrow for a few days and then we have a holiday (3-day weekend) coming up so I thought I'd try to get a post out there.  It might be a little rough around the edges (less editing) so bear with me.

We flew from Birmingham to Shannon, Ireland which is on the western coast of the Republic of Ireland (not part of the UK, uses Euros, distances in kilometers, but they also drive on the left and use a UK plug adapter).  We drove to Killarney (3 nights), Dingle (2 nights) and Galway (3 nights) before returning home (on our 17th wedding anniversary, no less).

Note:  this was Alex's 10th country in his 9 years -- rough life.  Nicole will surpass her age in countries in October.  We hope that the kids will some day appreciate all of this (if not now).  The world is a big place and we are fortunate to experience some of it and appreciate the differences and what we have.

This was a unique trip in that it was essentially semi-rural/rural with an emphasis on scenery and culture.  It wasn't a big city trip like Paris, London or Edinburgh nor was it a National Park only trip like we've done in the US.  It's hard to compare and in the end I'm not sure how it stacks up.  Perhaps not as high as some but we are certainly glad we did it.  The Irish were great and very proud.  The famine from the 1840's still plays heavily in their makeup (the country's population hasn't recovered) and there is quite an American bond with all the emigration.  Note, I'm not aware of any Irish connection for our family.

We had a handful of car days and everyone did great.  I'd heard horror stories about the roads, but they really weren't any worse than some of the English ones (and generally less crowded).

Our favorite activity was a musical/dance performance called Trad on Prom -- fabulous talent in a smaller venue and we were only 4 rows away.  We could see the feet dancing and fingers playing.  I don't have any pictures of that so I thought I would mention it now.

Ireland is very green, primarily because it rains a lot.  We were somewhat prepared but more so for the UK rain (cloudy with off/on rain); however, on 2 days we had complete washouts -- 50F, windy and cold, horizontal rain.  Not much fun to be outside.  One or two days were mixed and the rest were spectacular (sunny, 65-70F).  The washouts were unfortunate and had we had more of those we probably would have ranked the vacation considerably lower.

Enough rambling -- I'll try to explain via photos the rest of the way.  I've cut the 300+ photos down to <140.  Hope it's not too many -- no time to parse further.  Remember to click on the photo if you want to view a bigger version with more detail.

Killarney -- Days 1 & 2

First stop (Day 0 really) -- McDonalds with a nice shot of the "girls".  First time since we've moved here, but you know, it's the perfect travel food.  We had a 2-hr drive ahead of us with nighttime approaching so it fit the bill.  The only time we eat there in the US is on the road as well.

 Irish Quarter Pounder Deluxe

Killarney Lodge, our first B&B of the trip.  Nice, large family room.  She served us tea at 10 pm when we finally showed up.

 Inside Killarney National Park on the Muckross estate

Muckross Abbey.  Kids had fun finding old/new gravestones.  Dates back to mid-1400s.

 hanging out with a dead guy

 old yew tree (there's usually one in/near the abbey)

We then walked to Muckross Farms which is staged around the 1930's (pre-electricity).  Not often you get to see a pony scratching its backside.

 wood/peat shed -- they used peat as fuel

dramatic view inside the park -- this was one of the off/on weather days (not too bad)

kids got to make butter balls (after the butter was churned) -- Alex had a knack for it

Nicole's turn

on to the barnyard -- animals are always a hit with this crowd


very cute Border Collie pups

 rounding out the farm animals . . .

there was also a small playground and this photo op
dramatic sky (and some blue!)

Muckross House (we did not go in)

Muckross Gardens

next stop was Kissane Sheep Farm (outside of the NP)--Nicole got to quickly feed a youngin.  The farm essentially isn't viable any longer with the price of wool and lamb and has opened up to tours, etc. to try to keep things going (and to keep the mountain sheep in the area).  You can also adopt a sheep if interested.

sheep shearing

Sheep herding demonstration -- also very cool, especially in the mountains.  Two dogs were used and they had been trained to use different commands (left/right for one; away/come by for the other) so that different instructions could be used.

 post herding, ready to enter pen

 a more distant shot so you can see the farmer (rancher?) and the distance covered

 one of the dogs -- the sheep did not care for them, that's for sure (wolf, wolf)

 they had some cute pups too

we made a few stops on the way back into town.  This is called Ladies View.  Queen Victoria's "Ladies" (staff?) were quite enamored when they visited here.

Family shot at Ladies View (used in header at top)

 had to

The UK has trained me well and the driving didn't bother me.  There's not much room in a lot of places.  It also helps to be lucky as I just missed this rock when parking outside Torc waterfall.

and Torc waterfall

Nicole is known for missing moose and sheep standing in her field of view, but she somehow spotted this brown mouse in the mud.

This is what the kids will think of me from this trip.  I essentially had two pints a night (every night save one).  Hmmm, good.  Guinness does taste better in Ireland.  President Obama and even the Queen sampled the famous brew on their recent trips.  How could I resist?

Day 2 in Killarney featured a guided walk through the National Park with a born/raised local.  The starting point was outside St. Mary's Cathedral.

 our guide, Richard, and his dog, Rao -- Nicole was all smiles

amazing weather and views

the kids again with Rao

the hike took us off the grid and we walked through the marsh to the edge of the lake

a buck towards the end of the hike

great dog -- really added to the experience.  We miss having one but know we can't at this stage, but it sure is nice to love on the ones we do meet.

Ross Castle, also in Killarney NP.  Late 15th century (nice guided tour inside as well).

Before going inside we took a quick, outboard motorboat trip to Inisfallen Island

 view back at Ross Castle

Monastic ruins on Innisfallen.  Monks tend to like being alone and out of the way.  The Abbey dates back to 640 though this part is likely after that.

 climbing the ruins

deer on the island (hmm -- I wonder how they got there, it's not very big)

 inside the church next to the abbey

 another yew tree near the abbey

coming back to the castle

 kids, including ours in the middle, climbing outside Ross Castle

We learned that this was the garderobe (i.e. medieval toilet) exit.  Interesting note that clothes were hung near the, um, collection point as the ammonia generated would protect clothes from fleas, etc. 

Dingle -- Days 3 & 4
This was our 1st washout day.  On our way from Killarney to Dingle, we first stopped at Inch Beach.  Not exactly glamous in the rain.  At least the wind wasn't blowing (yet).

more Inch -- you can see it has potential with nice views, etc.

Next stop was Minard Castle (ruins).  Castle to come, but here's a shot up this beach in the opposite direction.

Minard Castle

jellyfish on the beach (in the rain)

 another view back from the castle

We had hoped to do some outdoor exploring in Dingle but the wind had picked up and the rain didn't let up, so we punted and went to the aquarium.  It was small, a little pricey, but the kids (and us) really enjoyed it.

Large sea turtle in this tank (sharks and manta also, but those photos didn't turn out)

sting ray tank

spider crab "petting" -- this guy must have been a poor fighter since he's lost most of his legs

had a hard time getting Alex away from the ray tank -- he loved petting them

after chilling at the B&B, we walked to dinner and then to a music performance.  Saw this on the way.  I love this phrase which is used here in the UK.

intimate concert at St. James church -- local musicians doing their thing.  This is also done in the pubs but that gets started a little late for us.

Dingle harbor

Coastline Guesthouse -- our home in Dingle.  Wonderful stay.

Day 4 (2nd in Dingle) and the weather was fantastic.  We did the Slea Head drive around the Dingle Peninsula.  This is Ventry Bay.  The Ring of Kerry mountains are faintly off in the distance on the left.

Stone House near Dunbeg Fort on SH drive.  It's a newer building built in the style of the "beehive" huts in the area.

 resident dog at Dunbeg Fort museum

 entrance to Dunbeg Fort

view up the coast from Dunbeg Fort

 my goof ball

on mound at fort

 at beehive hut farther along Slea Head drive

 Kuk taking in the scene at the beehive hut

old time Irish subdivisions (rock walls)

amazing view near Slea Head.  Blasket Islands to the left.  Folks were actually down in the water on the beach (we passed).

Blasket Islands

 one of my favorite views of the trip -- we had a nice rest/snack here

Dingle Berries?  sorry -- I've been waiting to use that (poor) joke for weeks.  These are actually fuchsia plants and were common along the SH route.

We stopped at Louis Mulcahy pottery and purchased a souvenier.  The kids also got to have a go on the pottery wheel and enjoyed it.  Of course, we bought theirs too.

Nicole's turn

next stop along the drive was the Gallarus Oratory (church from 700's)

amazing craftsmanship

another old church (Kilmalkedar), 12th century -- many of the ruins have missing roofs as I imagine that they were either made of straw or were used for something else.  There was also a roof tax so some were deliberately removed (though I don't think this applies to churches).

Dingle's famous resident dolphin, Fungie.  We didn't see him in the bay -- the bronze replica had to suffice.

Dingle Bay

Dingle Harbor

another bay shot-- note the palm trees (in Ireland where 70F is hot)

Day 5 -- Drivin, drivin, drivin (eventually to Galway)

 pretty view on way from Dingle to Tralee

We took a major detour (purposefully) to get to Loop Head at the southern tip of County Clare (and after a ferry ride across the Shannon River).  This was near the Bridges of Ross -- had to wait for the farmer to move his cows along (they were herding by bicycle!).

near Bridges of Ross


 that's Kuk getting a better look with the binoc's

 Bridges of Ross (actually there's only 1)

Nicole on top of the world

different vantage point -- also notice the large, hairy seaweed (the water deadheaded back here)

[small] family shot

view looking back from Bridges

the official road less traveled (single track) from Bridges to Loop Head

Loop Head Lighthouse

coastline view from Lighthouse

end of Loop Head

 looking back towards lighthouse (though out of sight)

looking down at the churning ocean at Loop Head

 amazing coastline (still near Loop Head)

jumping on the spongy bog

more Loop Head


back in the car (for awhile) and then to The Burren and the Caherconnel stone fort in particular

Poulabrone Dolmen (remains of 25 or so bodies found here when excavated)

 kids walking the Burren landscape

Day 6 -- Galway base -- visit to Aran Islands (Inishmore)

Inishmore was a 45 minute ferry ride from Rossaveal (a 45 minute drive from our B&B).  The island has 800 inhabitants who now survive primarily on tourism and fishing.  Here's a view back to the mainland -- there's also a seal in the water on the left.

One needs some form of transport to get to the other side of the island.  Alex wanted a horse and buggy option and it was such a nice day I agreed.  Unfortunately, Nicole's allergies kicked in and she was somewhat miserable (though we fortunately had Benedryl).  Alex also realized that sitting behind the horse wasn't the best spot (double digit gas expulsions -- Beef-a-roni?).

 another beautiful view from Inishmore back to the "mainland"

The prize on the opposite end of the island is the very impressive Dun Aenghus fort.

fort from inside the outer walls

 and down the sheer cliff (no worry of an attack from this side)

family shot

down the coast from the fort

local basket maker on island (Alex always likes these sort of things)

 view of fort from a vantage point that we didnt' have

stone walls and distant lands

better view of our mode of transportation -- our guide was born/raised on the island and is raising his family there as well

Day 7 -- Connemara (from Galway base)

Unfortunately, our last day was a wash out.  It had a lot of potential but was fairly miserable with the cold, windy rain.  We had set out to do the Connemara Loop.  First stop was at the Connemara National Park with a nice visitors' center.  We tried to hike in our rain gear but it simply was not enjoyable so we bailed.  Nice rainy view of a mountain peak at least.

The rest of the day was filled with soggy drive by's and grumpy parents.  Here is Kylemore Abbey.

 a famine memorial near Doo Lough Valley

National Famine Memorial (Bronze Coffin Shiip) -- many who stayed died and many who tried to leave for a better place died as well.

an eery up close shot

 Ashford Castle

We stopped in Galway for dinner.  The lone street performer and his didgeridoo entertained us.

We wish the trip could have ended on a better note (i.e. with better weather).  The Connemara area had a lot of potential.  Oh well, I think we fared pretty well and still had a good time all around.


  1. Hey! That's the same guy who took us around Innishmore!!! :D Really, not kidding!

    Sorry that you had so much rain, but at least you got to experience the real Ireland ... I guess. I'm intrigued by all the stuff that you get to see when you have older kids; we didn't see much of the same things at all!

    Hope you have a good trip back to the States. And don't forget to drive on the right hand side of the road; I still find myself the double-checking, especially when turning. *sigh*

  2. That's too funny. The charm of the horse & buggy wore off fairly quickly but it did give us a nice view of the island. In hind sight, we might have preferred the mini-bus option.

    The kids are at a great age for this. Sure, they can bicker and a week in the same room/car for all of us is about enough but they did well.

    Fortunately, no driving this time! I'm sure I'll be a mess when I do though.

    Thanks for reading.

  3. hi, we are looking to do Ireland this summer and your post is exhaustive and very informative. Just a couple of things that I would bother you with are, could you please tell me the driving distance (in km / miles / time - whatever possible)from
    Dublin - Killerney
    Killerney - Dingle
    Dingle - Galway
    Galway - Connemara
    Also is Giants causeway way off?

    Thanks a bunch for sharing your experience

  4. Hi Kamala

    I hope you meant exhaustive in a good way . . .

    In general, I'd suggest using to estimate the times. You might want to add about 25%-50% to the result though as travel will be slower than you think.

    From memory, Killarney to Dingle was about 2 hours. We took all day to get from Dingle to Galway because we went to Loop Head and the Burren on the way. Galway to Connemara is about 75 minutes, but again we made a day out of the entire loop.

    Giant's Causway is on the opposite side of Ireland -- probably a different trip.

  5. Hey, this is Dejais from Fodor's. I just finished your trip report. Thanks so much for sharing and for all of your suggestions on the Fodor board. I loved your photos and information posted here.

  6. We're going to Ireland in July 2013 and are planning to hit a lot of the areas you covered, so this has been very informative (and fun to read!).

  7. Your blog was nicely put together and very informative. Thanks for sharing your pictures and experiences.

    I am taking my mom (62) and my son (14) at the end of June 2013. You went to quite a few of the spots I had planned to visit. Glad to see that you all enjoyed them!


  8. I just read this post (thanks for the link), and you're right, we did a lot of the same stuff! The Galway area looks amazing, so I wish we had time to do that as well!