Date of trip: September 19, 2015 - September 27, 2015
Ireland is a land of rolling hills, narrow roads, unpredictable weather, castles, old stone walls, ruins, cliffs, sheep, farms, peat, and pubs.
- Day 1: Overnight flight
- Day 2: Dunamase Castle, Rock of Cashel, Blarney Castle – Slept in Killarney
- Day 3: Ring of Kerry, Kerry Cliffs, Killarney National Park – Slept in Killarney
- Day 4: Dingle Peninsula, Slea Head, Cliffs of Moher, Galway – Slept in Oughterard (25 minutes from Galway)
- Day 5: Aughnanure Castle, Galway, Hill of Doon – Slept in Oughterard
- Day 6: Kylemore Abbey, Connemara National Park, Clifden, Galway – Slept in Oughterard
- Day 7: Dublin, Guinness Storehouse – Slept in Dublin
- Day 8: Jameson Distillery, J.W. Sweetman Brewery, Trinity College, Dublin – Slept in Dublin
- Day 9: Flight home
Ali was kind enough to bring Heather, Mom, and me to the airport. Ali would surely be missed on this excursion, but starting her career as a School Psychologist was understandably more important than going abroad to Ireland, so she reluctantly set us free at Terminal 1.
With fresh and unstamped passports in hand, Heather and Mom were eager to board the plane and experience the other side of the pond. The first leg of the trip required an hour-long flight to Chicago where I spent the next couple of layover hours daydreaming about Giordano’s deep dish pizza before boarding the next plane to Dublin.
On our seven-hour flight to Dublin, we were situated in the second to last row of the plane. I figured this was a good thing, as we were less likely to be trapped by the looming beverage cart when in need of the restroom. But I quickly realized that we were planted in the worst seats in the house–imagine sitting next to a port-a-potty, constantly in use for seven hours straight.
Due to the long flight and the six-hour time change, day 2 started immediately after we landed at 6am in Dublin. We picked up our bags and hopped into our rental car, a maroon sedan with the steering wheel on the right side. After taking a quick moment to focus on the left side of the road, we started our journey towards Killarney, located in the southwest corner of Ireland.
First order of business: locate caffeine. At this point, we had already been awake for eighteen hours and we still had the optimistic plan of a day-long exploration. An hour later and properly caffeinated, we arrived at our first piece of Ireland: the ruins of Dunamase Castle, originally built in the latter part of the 12th century. The weather was a perfect, rainless Ireland overcast and we had the entire ruins to ourselves.
We eagerly walked around the crumbling stone castle for about 45 minutes until hitting the road again.
Back in the car, we headed towards the Rock of Cashel, also built in the 12th century. About an hour and a half later, we turned around a sharp bend in the hill to finally see the grandeur of the castle. It was the definitive picturesque view of a castle sitting atop a hill, overlooking the rest if its city.
We continued onward to our third and one of the most well-known tourist attractions of Ireland, the Blarney Castle. The trek was another hour and a half of driving, and at this point my energy level was dangerously low. About forty five minutes into the drive, I started experiencing the infamous “head bob”–I was struggling. Meanwhile, Heather and Mom were comfortably sleeping, heads tilted back and mouths wide open. A couple head bobs later, and only twenty minutes away from the Blarney Castle, I decided pushing the limits was not worth the fight. Sleep was starting to control me. The nearest place to pull over happened to be a restaurant. I parked in the lot, overlooking a hill full of sheep, and set my alarm for twenty minutes. Luckily, I woke up with just enough energy to last through the rest of the day.
For the next twenty minutes we traveled to Blarney Castle near the city of Cork; but unfortunately, it was raining, and the skies did not look like they would clear, so I left my camera in the car. We walked past a few tour buses and continued towards the entrance, which seemed to be situated in a very purposeful spot, away from any view of the castle and surrounded by trees, enticing tourists to pay the hefty 12-euro entrance fee.
We got past the gate and walked about fifty yards before getting a glimpse of the castle through a gap in the trees. After seeing only a glimpse of the monument, I cursed the rain for preventing me from taking pictures. With the drizzling rain and dark clouds, Blarney Castle appeared mysterious to me. Unlike the two castles we had just came from, situated proudly atop bare hills, Blarney stood within a large grove of trees, hiding itself from the surrounding hills. The walls of the castle were no different from the weathered stones of the other castles, but this place felt full of something–full of history, yet freshly poignant, as if I could place myself in that time and place.
Inside the castle, we followed a group of people up a spiral stone staircase. Seemingly built for a child, the steps were about half the size of my foot. The surrounding walls were too narrow for more than one person, and the stairs above my head preventing me from standing straight up in some places. About ten steps up the staircase, we hit a traffic jam and proceeded slowly up the next few levels of stairs, which took about twenty minutes. As we ascended the spiral staircase, we found ourselves at the top of the castle in the open air. The railed walkway continued around the castle’s walls, with views looking down into the courtyard four stories below. It was then that I realized the traffic jam was caused by quintessential tourists (like Heather Chapman) wanting to get a picture of themselves kissing the Blarney Stone. Legend has it if you kiss the stone you will be given the gift of great eloquence or skill of flattery.
There were two employees stationed next to the Blarney Stone, one to hold you from falling four stories to your death, and one to snap a picture of you while you kissed it. Honestly, one could have easily fallen through the hole in the ground if venturing out into the dark of night. I watched as Heather excitedly was held and supported as she leaned her head back to kiss the stone. She was given a receipt to purchase her picture in the gift shop below, though she did not. As much as I would have enjoyed gaining such magical skills from kissing a dirty old stone, I was not about to turn into a touristic puppet. (Don’t worry–Heather knew how I felt about her participation). The whole process gave the top floor of this historic castle the vibe of an amusement park. Sad.
For the last time that day, we got back into our car and headed towards our first AirBNB located in Killarney. We were all excited to rest; it was an exhausting couple days of flying, driving, and walking.
At about 6pm, we opened the door to our AirBNB, giving us a sense of relief. We had our own kitchen, living room, three bedrooms, and two bathrooms. It was perfect. We took about an hour to organize our things and laid our heads down for the next twelve hours of much needed sleep.
I love waking up from a long sleep in a foreign country, well rested, and ready to explore a piece of this new and exciting world. I am admittedly more impatient than most when it comes to traveling, as I prefer to get from point A to point B as fast as possible, so I find myself taking deep breaths and trying to control my emotions on many occasions. This morning was no different, I was eager to get out the door. However, I needed the patience to wait for Heather and Mom, so I sat at the kitchen table and enjoyed some cereal, toast, and fruit that we purchased the night before at a grocery store just down the road.
We walked out the door with the pleasant surprise of sunshine at 9:30am, ready to tackle the day-long road trip around the Ring of Kerry; a 125-mile scenic adventure around the Iveragh Peninsula in the southwest corner of Ireland. One does not need an itinerant list of places to see for this adventure. The coastlines, monuments, castles, small towns, rivers, and mountains will tell you when to stop.
We started counter-clockwise around the ring and unexpectedly stopped after we saw a few Irish men and women selling local goods out of the back of their vans on the side of the road. There was even a small black dog, sitting on top of a donkey, being held by an Irish man, who I assumed wanted some cash in exchange for a photo. Heather and mom perused the goods while I stared at the beautiful backdrop to the local merchants. Sunspots freckled the rolling hills through small pockets of clouds, as countless sheep wandered around aimlessly, some only appearing as little white specks at what seemed miles away.
A couple woolen scarf purchases later, we started back on the ring and finally saw some ocean views for the first time. It seemed like every ten minutes we wanted to stop along the side of the road, which skirted the hillside that met the ocean a hundred feet below.
We kept moving along and stopped at a small town called Cahersiveen. Mom spotted a chocolate shop from about a mile away and instinctively bought a few goodies. Chocolate seemed to be a theme of the trip, as I would constantly catch Heather or mom snacking on a bar while I was driving. We walked a couple blocks down the road and stopped at a small pub called Craineens where we enjoyed our first beer of the trip. Not quite hungry for lunch yet, we left the small town of Cahersiveen and headed towards Waterville.
Thirty minutes down the road we ended up in Waterville, a much smaller town than Cahersiveen with a population of about 500. There wasn’t too much to see in Waterville, although its “main street” was parallel to a long, sandy beach overlooking the Atlantic. A few pictures of the beach later we decided it was time for lunch. We struggled to find a decent looking restaurant, and ended up at Bay View Hotel’s restaurant. The food was below average, but it satisfied our hunger. On the way out of the restaurant I started looking at a Ring of Kerry brochure I picked up earlier, and realized that we just passed the Skellig Ring, which is a twenty mile road edging a peninsula in between Cahersiveen and Waterville.
Backtracking about fifteen minutes from Waterville, we found Skellig Ring road. We followed a inconspicuous sign pointing us to the “great amazing cliffs” and soon found ourselves within a ten minute walk of the Kerry Cliffs. A family who owns the land above the cliffs charged us and other visitors alike a four-euro fee to walk to the cliffside and view the ocean below. From where we parked, we walked a gravel road to the cliffside. The ten minute walk was taking too long for what I knew was going to be an incredible view. I started speed walking, and slowly began jogging until at last I reached the edge of the what seemed to be thousand foot cliff. I wasn’t expecting such a view given the rinkydink sign that had led the way to this spontaneous attraction.
To my right, the jagged rocks of the cliff dropped down to the white waves below. To my left, the hills above the cliff climbed higher and off into the distance. I stood there in awe before turning and yelling at Heather and Mom to hurry up, as they slowly approached from a distance. Impatiently, patiently waiting–another theme of the trip.
Leaving the Kerry Cliffs, we continued on the Skellig Ring up a steep, one lane road lined with barbed wire fence. To our left, the land fell to a valley of farms and pastures. To our right, a large, grassy hill separated us from the ocean view. We reached the highest point in the road where cars could pull over to let others pass. We parked and got out to view the valley. We stood there taking it in, as I turned around slowly to face the big, grassy hill behind us.
From where we had come from, I knew the ocean swayed just beyond the green. I turned back around, “Heather, do you know what I’m going to ask you right now?” Her eyes grew wide and she smiled, “Let’s go!” We took to the hill together, jumping a gate as we started our quest. Our adventurous spirits were sky high at the thought of what was to be found–until we sank, ankle deep into the soggy grass just four feet from the gate we had just jumped. Surely, we were standing over a bog, as we looked down to see our shoes submerged under muddy water. Also, do you know what sheep poop looks like? We were surrounded by sheep poop. Our spirits? Not so high–though we were not to be defeated.
With our soggy feet, we took to the hill. We walked for some time, all the while looking up to feel as though we were making no progress. The journey up the hill dragged on, and on, and on. And then the rain came. I told Heather to save herself, to turn back and get out of the rain, to which she obliged. As for me, I wanted one last go. I raced up the hill, panting and sweating at this point with my last bounds of energy. Water and mud splashed with each step, and rain started soaking through my orange “waterproof” jacket. I finally reached what I thought was the summit and looked ahead expectantly, for I was certain to see water. But the hill mocked me, as my eyes followed another soggy, poop filled, grassy hill. I turned around, looking at my muddy tracks up the hill, and back to the insurmountable hill before me. Surely Heather and mom would fear for my safety if I continued–I don’t have a track record of taking the unbeaten track or hanging off cliffs, but it depends who you ask–so I turned around and started walking as the hill laughed at me all the way down.
Back in the car, I took a few moments to catch my breath, take off my jacket and shoes, and attempt to dry them as fast as possible. We still had quite a bit of day left, and I didn’t bring a backup pair of shoes or socks; lesson learned. We kept driving along the ring, stopping at every picture worthy spot along the way. Some spots overlooked the ocean, some spots overlooked the vast rolling hills.
Staigue Fort was another impromptu stop along the way. Visually, it was nothing too special, appearing as a small round wall of stones. However, anything built around 300 AD that was meant to be a stronghold for a King is worth stopping for. After checking out the fort, I realized we were still a couple hours away from our AirBNB, and I figured we didn’t have that much daylight left. We decided to start driving back home, only stopping when necessary.
Towards the end of the Ring of Kerry, we entered Killarney National Park. The landscape around us changed from rolling hills and pastures to mountains and patches of forest. At this point, the sun had set and the rain started sprinkling down. Surrounded by trees, the roads changed dramatically in elevation and at times provided brief views of the surrounding mountains and lakes.
We stopped at the end of the park at the edge of Leane Lake to take a few pictures when it quit raining for a short period of time. Later in the night I searched Google for images of Ladies View and Killarney National Park, only to realize the incredible sights we had missed as we drove staring into the dark.
Exhausted from another full day of driving around, we stopped at a traditional Irish pub called Jarvey’s Rest, just a few minutes from home. I had the grilled pork belly, Heather had the roast chicken and baked ham, and mom had the traditional stew. Of course, each dish contained a hefty serving of mashed potatoes. It was the best meal we had on the trip up to that point.
I woke up at about 7am and had one of my typical breakfasts when traveling abroad: toast and jam. It was the first morning whose weather met its stereotypes, cloudy and rainy. I wasn’t too discouraged by the rain. After the first few days, I knew the forecast could change very quickly. From above our heads, the sky would change from dark blankets of clouds to sunshine, and back again.
We were disappointed that our views of Killarney National Park and Ladies View were blocked by clouds, rain, and darkness the night prior. These missed sights were undoubtedly comparative to the awesome views of the earlier day trips. Thus, we decided to backtrack and make the thirty-minute drive to try and catch what we had missed. At this point, we were betting against the rain. We thought it might clear up by the time we got there–but it didn’t. In fact, it was pouring. We turned the car around without getting out and headed onwards. If there was one thing I regret from this trip, it was not being able to explore Killarney National Park and see Ladies View.
On our way out of Killarney, we stopped at The Chateau cafe for some coffee and scones to go (or as they call it, “for take away”). Just as I took my first sip of coffee, the skies cleared and the rain stopped. Although sad to leave Killarney, we were excited get to Galway and have some more time to relax.
Our first destination of the day was the town of Dingle, not surprisingly located in the Dingle Peninsula of southwest Ireland.
Fishing is Dingle’s primary industry as it’s located right on the Atlantic coast, clearly marked by dozens of colorful boats floating in the nearby harbor. Due to the beauty of the surrounding peninsula, however, the town also welcomes many tourists. We only spent an hour in the town, walking from shop to shop, as Heather and mom tried to find a piece of Ireland that they could fit in their luggage. While I’m not a fan of trinkets, I only planned on packing away my experience, stories, and pictures–and maybe some whiskey, yes, some whiskey.
We left Dingle for Slea Head, a promontory on the very southwest tip of Dingle Peninsula. This forty minute drive was one of the most scenic of the trip, as most of the roadway was protected by short stone walls overlooking the Atlantic.
Arriving at the tip of Slea Head, we stopped at an outlook that provided perfect views of the Blasket Islands. Meanwhile, there was a man sitting on a nearby stone wall playing traditional Irish music with his flute.
Throughout the trip, Heather was determined to find traditional Irish music to bring back home, so it was the perfect time to buy one of his CDs. We took in the views and then made the quick drive to Dunquin, a small village that offers a different view of the Blasket Islands, just as impressive as that of Slea Head.
At this point, it was late in the morning, and we still had a long road trip ahead of us towards Galway, so we drove back to Dingle for a quick lunch, and then headed off to the most anticipated destination of the trip, The Cliffs of Moher.
The drive to the Cliffs of Moher from Dingle is a long one, about four hours, but luckily I met a guy at the Dublin airport who told me that taking the Shannon Ferry across the bay would save me about an hour.
The drive to the Shannon Ferry, located in the town of Tarbert, was very uneventful, as none of the views compared to what we’ve seen up to this point. We drove our car onto the ferry for a very reasonable eighteen euro fee. It was the first time Heather had been on a ferry, so she was pretty pumped. We walked up to the top level of the ferry and enjoyed the quick twenty minute ride across the bay. There were even a few dolphins following us along the way!
Note to future Ireland travelers: when estimating the time it takes to get from point A to point B in a car, know that most of the time, you will be driving on small double or single lane roads that likely snake through the country, only allowing you to travel at around 30mph on average.
We departed the ferry in a town called Killimer, about an hour and a half drive from The Cliffs of Moher. Again, a pretty uneventful drive, but when we got there the weather was perfect; partly cloudy and temperatures in the fifties (F). We were all eager to get from the parking lot to the actual cliffs. Per usual, I started speed walking and ended up seeing the cliffs about five minutes before Heather and Mom. It’s hard to explain The Cliffs of Moher without understating it, but I suppose words like unbelievable, spectacular, or surreal could sum it up.
Not only are the cliffs hundreds of feet above the Atlantic, but you could literally hike for fifteen miles along these cliffs. We only walked about a half mile or so, but it was enough to realize how impressive these cliffs really are.
As the sun was starting to set, we went to check out the gift shop for a few minutes, and then got back in the car to start our last leg of the day.
In my mind, we were a bit behind schedule at this point. I wanted to make sure there was at least some daylight when arriving at our AirBNB in Oughterard, a very small town about twenty minutes away from the big city of Galway. I knew our AirBNB was located in the middle of nowhere, and I wasn’t even given an address for the place, just GPS coordinates.
An hour away from Galway, the sun was completely set and I gave up on trying to rush to our AirBNB. Instead, we took our time, arrived in Galway, and stopped at Foley’s Hophouse for dinner, specializing in wood fire pizza. It was a no brainer. It had the vibe of a sports bar, so we watched some rugby, split a couple pizzas, and drank a beer.
Back in the car, at about 9pm, I very carefully typed in the GPS coordinates of our AirBNB into the Garmin and pressed “GO”. All was going well as we arrived in the small town of Oughterard until our Garmin told us to take a right onto a narrow gravel road completely surrounded by trees and other vegetation. When I say narrow, I’m talking about a road that is only wide enough to fit one, small car. If you see a car coming towards you, you need to slam on the brakes, and decide on who is going to reverse it back to the nearest driveway offering enough room for the other to pass. There were no streetlights on this narrow, gravel road. No light pollution. Nothing. It was dark. The only source of light came from my aged and dim, rental car headlights, seemingly only projecting twenty feet of light.
About fifteen minutes down this narrow and winding road, the creepy factor started to skyrocket. We were deep in the middle of nowhere. I completely lost my sense of direction, and to make matters worse, we could hear flowing water right next to our car, but had no idea where exactly it was coming from–not to mention how treacherous this pool of water might be. For all we knew, we could’ve been on the edge of a cliff.
At this point, I was still trusting our GPS to navigate us to the safe house, but I was fully preparing myself to protect my family from a guy holding a chainsaw in the middle of the road. Yes, I was a bit scared. Although I didn’t tell Heather or mom this, I thought it possible that our GPS would lose connection because we were so far into nowhere, and would just have to sleep in the car until morning. Luckily, this wasn’t the case. Our GPS brought us to the coordinates I had been given. But this made things even worse. Although we were in the “correct location”, the only thing we could see was an old rusted and closed gate surrounded by a barbed wire fence. I turned the car around so I could shine my headlights on the gate, hoping to see our house behind it. Nope. The only thing to be seen was another gravel road heading straight up into a mountain and a pair of reflective eyeballs staring right at us. Luckily, we realized the eyeballs were attached to a donkey, and not a guy holding a chainsaw.
Heather was convinced that all we had to do was get out of the car, open the creepy old gate, and start driving up the hill to find our safe house. I was not convinced that this was the correct location, and there were no volunteers to get out of the car at this point. So, I made the decision to point our GPS back to Oughterard.
Fear was mixed with impatience and we made the 30 minute trip back through the creepy roads to the town. The next plan was to start over, but instead of using the GPS coordinates, we used the directions given to us by the AirBNB host. These directions included things like, “take a left at the red barn”, “go 1.5 km to the next driveway”, etc. To make sure we started on the right foot, we asked a shop owner who was closing her doors where “Glann Road” was, the starting point of our directions. She pointed us in the right direction, but also seemed confused and scared for us that we were a bit lost and going down that road.
We slowly and carefully followed every detail of the directions. Everything seemed to look familiar, and thirty minutes later, we ended up in the same exact spot, right outside of this old and rusted gate. We laughed for a couple seconds and Heather yelled, “I told you so!”. I got out of the car, opened the gate, and drove about two hundred yards up the hill to find our AirBNB. Our creepy night was over. We made it.
Our thoughts of a scary house in the middle of nowhere vanished the moment we woke up. The house was extremely modern, designed by the owners who are architects from Galway, but have been living in England for the past fourteen years. The interior consisted of large white walls and glass windows of non-standard shapes and sizes, IKEA furniture everywhere–even a ping pong table. One whole corner of the house was made up of huge floor to ceiling glass windows that provided views of the mountains above and Lough Corrib below.
We didn’t rush into anything that morning. I woke up at about 8am, turned on some music, made some tea, and started a fire in the wood burning fireplace. There was even a basket full of peat to give the fire some extra fuel and aroma. We sat around for a couple hours and then left for Greenway Cafe in Oughterard. The cafe had great breakfast and coffee. I had a standard egg, bacon, and toast breakfast, while Heather had the traditional Irish breakfast. She ate most everything, but politely passed on the black pudding.
Our plan for the day was to relax and explore Galway. We left Oughterard and stopped at Aughnanure Castle just down the road, on the way to Galway. This small castle was built in the 16th century, quaintly tucked in the middle of a grove of trees, a wide stream, and some farmland. It wasn’t nearly as impressive as the Blarney Castle, but it still gave me another perspective on the rich history of Ireland and it’s dramatic castles.
We arrived in Galway and walked around content and aimless. At one of the first shops we stopped at, mom started chatting with an Irish lady whose son lived in Portland, Oregon. She told us about how much she loved the United States, but how much she hated Donald Trump and guns. It was a pretty entertaining conversation. It took her a while to wind down, but once she did, she directed us to a great lunch spot called Martines on Quay Street.
We walked around Galway for another couple hours until deciding to regroup and head back to our AirBNB, knowing that we would come back to Galway and experience of bit of it’s nightlife a little later. Right before arriving at our AirBNB, we decided to keep driving to try and find the Hill of Doon that we had been told to see. We drove just nine miles along the edge of Lough Corrib to find the Hill of Doon. There weren’t any signs, but we assumed we were at the right spot as the views opened up to a very lush island in the middle of the Lough. I figured this was as good of time as any to setup the tripod and take a family picture. The drizzling rain interrupted my process of setting up the camera, but after about ten minutes and twenty shots later, we were satisfied.
Back in our AirBNB, we took some time to relax and “get ready” for the night. Getting ready for me consisted of putting my shoes back on, but Heather and mom needed some extra time to pick out the right outfit? I don’t know. After researching what bar would fit the vibe we were going for, we landed on Au Pucan located on Forster Street in the middle of Galway. Au Pucan is a bar within a bar within a bar. Or so it seemed. As we got deeper into the bar, the look and feel changed, from traditional Irish pub, to seated diner, to an outdoor space, to a casual dark nook, and so on. We ordered the standard drinks of choice in Ireland, Jameson and Guinness. After about an hour at the bar, we moved areas and found a musician sitting on a stool, holding his guitar and mic, playing American cover songs. Fueled by the drunk tourists in his audience, he played songs from Greenday, Bruce Springsteen, and Tom Petty.
The dialogue between the drunk tourists and musician became slightly more entertaining than the songs themselves. However, the conversation between each song became longer and longer until the musician grew tired of their harking and cut them off of their requesting privileges.
Fully entertained and still a bit exhausted from the previous few days, we headed back home two hours before closing time. Although still creepy, the drive from Oughterard to our AirBNB went smoothly, without fear or disorient. We even waved goodnight to the donkey that creeped us out the night before.
A few times before and even during the trip, I cautioned Heather and Mom about American hair dryers being too powerful for European converters and outlets, often causing the power to trip. They took me less seriously than I had hoped. As I walked past the room where Heather was getting ready, I heard a loud “snap”. I looked to my left and saw Heather staring at me, dumbfounded, with black ash coated on one of her hands. After a few seconds of staring at each other, I just walked away saying “I told ya so!”. Not only did the power in her room trip, but everything in the house did as well, no lights or power anywhere. I found the circuit breaker but it was a little too European for my understanding. I didn’t want to press any buttons that I shouldn’t, so I messaged our AirBNB host and awaited her response.
The power hiccup didn’t encumber us too much, as minutes later we found ourselves ready to hit the road. We headed west towards Kylemore Abbey, Connemara National Park, and Clifden. Our drive through Connemara National Park to Kylemore Abbey was beautiful. Similar to the evasive Killarney National Park, we drove through the extremely topographical mountains, passing streams and herds of sheep along the way, except this time in the daylight.
As we arrived at Kylemore Abbey, it reminded me of a scene from a Disney movie. The castle sat nestled at the bottom of a wooded mountain on the edge of a small lake.
It’s construction, a product of a love story. Mitchell Henry, a doctor, politician, and pioneer, visited the Connemara area with his wife, Margaret Vaughan, on their honeymoon in 1850. Margaret fell in love with the area, so Mitchell purchased the 15,000 acre estate for her as a gift, and soon after built the Abbey. Sadly, years later, their family traveled to Egypt on a vacation, and Margaret fell ill with dysentery and died sixteen days later in 1874. A few years later, Mitchell built a Neo-Gothic church just a short walk east of the castle as a memorial chapel to his wife.
To the west of the castle, we visited the six acre, Victorian walled garden. The garden was built at the same time as the castle, between 1867 and 1871. We spent a good hour walking around the six acres of plants and flowers until heading back to Connemara National Park.
Connemara National Park covers over 7,000 acres, filled with scenic mountains, bogs, heaths, grasslands, and woodlands. The visitor center sits right in the middle of the park, with free admission and parking. It has a couple exhibitions on the inside, along with a cafe. On the outside, there is a playground, a picnic area, and four nature trails sorted by length. The shortest trail is only .5 km, while the longest trail covers 3.7 km and brings you all the way to the top of Diamond Hill. We chose the second longest trail, at only 1.5 km. Next time, I would love to hike to the top of Diamond Hill, which overlooks the entire park.
We left Connemara for Clifden, a small town just twenty minutes away. Before heading into the town, we took Sky Road to check out some nice views of the ocean. This road was similar to Skellig Ring, the scenic road that we took on day three when we were in Killarney. Traveling counterclockwise on Sky Road, we ended up in Clifden about twenty minutes later.
While we were visiting, Clifden was having its 38th annual arts festival which typically lasts ten days in late September. I was imagining a bunch of vendors sitting outside under tents, selling their local goods and art, but that wasn’t the case. Most of the activities were happening within the local shops and buildings. Unfortunately, we missed the times when the local artists and poets were performing.
The town of Clifden is very small, and after walking around most of it’s streets in under an hour, we stopped at Lowry’s Bar for a late lunch before heading back to our AirBNB in Oughterard. On our way back, it was decided that instead of driving back to Galway for the nightlife, we would just stop at the local convenient store to pick up a few beers to enjoy at home.
Luckily, once back at our AirBNB, I received a message from the owner, explaining how to fix the power. I pressed a few buttons, and it was fixed. We started charging everything we could in preparation for the next day. In the meantime, I started another fire, turned on some Irish music, opened a beer, and started a game of Scrabble with Mom and Heather. A few prodigious words later, I was victorious. Heather of course blamed me for cheating, and called me “dumb” multiple times.
We spent our last night in Oughterard sitting next to the fireplace before getting everything packed and ready to go for our trip to Dublin in the morning.
We said goodbye to our modern home in the mountains at 9:30am before starting our three hour trek to Dublin. About halfway there, we exited to gas up. As we were turning into the gas station, we noticed a couple standing on the side of the road with a cardboard sign that read “Dublin”. They looked like a couple in their mid-twenties, with the ambition to jaunt across a foreign country but the modesty to hitch a ride with strangers. I semi-joked with Heather and Mom that I was going to pick them up as we passed them by. But in honesty, I meant it. I told myself that if they were still there on the way out of the gas station, I would pick them up–because why not? They looked harmless.
And as fate would have it, there they remained. I got out of the car and started talking to them, but quickly realized they didn’t speak English very well, if at all. I signaled to them that I was willing to drive them to Dublin so they started walking towards our car. Unfortunately, our small rental car was filled with all of our bags. They had to squeeze into the back seat with Heather and their fully packed hiking bags on their lap. After a quick but confusing discussion, we realized that they were visiting from France, so we practically sat in silence for almost two hours until we dropped them off near the city center.
After dropping off the hitchhikers, we found our AirBNB, regrouped, and parked our car in a lot for the next couple days, as we figured it would be easier to either walk or cab everywhere.
We ate lunch at 147 Deli near Mountjoy Square, and then walked to Temple Bar, one of the most famous bars in Dublin. This particular street, also named Temple Bar, is littered with bars, restaurants, and street performers. It quickly became clear to be the place tourists go to hang out. Instead of staying, we decided we would come back later, and left for the Jameson Distillery.
We naively walked into Jameson thinking we could just hop right on a tour. But as it turned out, tours were sold out for the rest of the day. The ticket lady kindly recommended to us that we book tickets in advance online, as there are only a small amount of spots open per tour. We were a little upset, but we had a backup plan to tour the Guinness Storehouse.
We walked across the river to the Guinness Storehouse and bought tickets for the tour, which we quickly realized was self guided.
The Storehouse is absolutely massive, comprised of eight levels, each giving you a different perspective of the Guinness story and beer itself. We ended the tour with a free pint at the Gravity Bar on the top floor, lined with glass walls overlooking all of Dublin.
A bit tired from the eight story Guinness tour, we decided to take a cab back to Temple Bar for dinner, which would have been about a twenty minute walk. You would think that a bar offering over a hundred sandwiches options would lack quality, but that wasn’t the case. The food was very good, and each plate even came with a couple bite sized pieces of cake, the proper way to finish a good meal.
After dinner, we walked to the Auld Dubliner, which instantly became our favorite bar. It had everything Heather, Mom and I needed. For both Mom and Heather, it was a lively atmosphere equipped with a small dance floor right in front of live music, allowing them to dance the night away. Heather also loved the abundance of tourists. I’m certain she came to me multiple times exclaiming, “I just want to know where everybody is from!” Note: besides these perks, Heather found face painting. I’ll get to that story a bit later.
For me, Auld Dubliner had the perfect patio situated near the front of the bar. I sat under a couple propane heaters and watched all of the drunk tourists stumbling past on the Temple Bar strip. All the while, I enjoyed my Jameson on the rocks–my first, and second, then third, fourth and well, let’s just say I made real good friends with my bartender.
It was also the perfect place to meet people. There’s something to be said about experiencing a foreign place with other foreigners, where everyone is drunkenly happy to be on vacation. It makes for energetic conversations and drinks all around.
As I was on the third Jameson, a guy and a girl took a seat near me under the propane heaters, seemingly taking a break from dancing. The guy’s eyes were half closed, his head bobbed from shoulder to shoulder, and he tried but failed conversing with the girl and I. He continually pointed at the girl and said to me, “Isn’t she beautiful?” After a bit of awkward back and forth, I concluded they were not together but instead he was creepily hitting on her. As he continued to talk, she stared at me with eyes wide open as if to say, “please help”. I was about to tell the guy off when he jutted forward and puked on her knee. He was politely escorted out of the bar and I watched him stagger slowly down the street.
She quickly dismissed herself to clean off the puke and came back with a friend. We then started a more normal, “sober’er” conversation. Her name was Corinna and her friend’s name was Flo. Originally from Germany, they were studying abroad in Dublin for the next few months. Flo was a talker. He loved that I was American, and he talked nonstop about American politics. He weirdly seemed to know everything there was to know about every American presidential candidate. He definitely schooled me on what I needed to know to make an educated vote.
After a bit, Flo and Corinna left and I crossed paths with four older gentleman from Finland who talked to me about the Minnesota Wild. At the time, Heather and mom bounced from the dancefloor to my table checking in with me and cooling down from dancing. I reminded them a few times to save at least fifteen euros for the taxi back home. Enter scene–Heather coming back to my table, eyes wide and mouth agape, with a huge, green, sparkly clover on her cheek. “Are you serious?” “Chris, it was only three euro!” “Geezum Crow, how much money do you have left?”
We stayed until bar close, around 2am. Somehow, Heather wasn’t done. She went to another bar asking, “Are you still open?” I told her to take off her dancing shoes, for it was time to go home. Once back at the AirBnB, I heard Heather drunkenly Skyping Bailey. From the other room I could hear, “Heather, what’s on your face?” “Umm a CLOVER?!”
Exhausted from the night before, we ended up sleeping until 10am. Our guided Jameson tour was set to start at noon, so we took a cab from our AirBNB at about 11:30.
The Jameson tour took about thirty minutes. The tour guide led us from room to room, each representing a different aspect of the whiskey creation or the history of Jameson. The tour was satisfying, but I enjoyed the Guinness tour more because I was free to take the tour at my own pace. After drinking a Jameson and ginger ale on the house, we walked through the streets of Dublin back to our AirBNB to regroup.
We left for the night at about 4pm, and since we didn’t see much of Dublin the day before, we decided to explore. Walking through the heart of Dublin and across the Liffey River (the river that divides Dublin to the North and South) we ended up at Trinity College. We walked east through Parliament Square and ended up at College Park, all of which is within its campus. The park is home to the Dublin University Cricket Club so it is very flat and well groomed, perfect for students and tourists alike to relax or even take a nap. We sat (and laid) in the park for a while and enjoyed the 55-degree cloudless weather. It was the perfect place to relax after walking through the busy streets of Dublin.
A few blocks away, we ended up at the J.W. Sweetman Brewery. It felt like we were intruding, as a couple dozen of what looked to be locals were staring at the Rugby match on the televisions intently, so we grabbed a few beers and found a seat outside on the patio. The Pale Ale was delicious–definitely my favorite beer of the trip.
We walked west a few blocks to the Temple Bar area and decided we would again spend the night at the Auld Dubliner. It was the same scene as the night before. Live music, face painting, drunken tourists, etc. I tried to soak it all in, knowing that it was our last night in Dublin. We said goodbye to the Dublin nightlife at about midnight and took a cab back to our AirBNB where we would enjoy our last sleep before heading back to Minnesota.
Click here to see how I (seriously) paid $90 on my roundtrip flight from Minneapolis to Ireland!
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