From Cliffs to Kildare: Eight Nights in Ireland
As any traveler can tell you, one week in a new country really does not reveal the sum total of a culture. I liken a short stay to an appetizer before a meal: just enough to whet your appetite, but not enough to satiate. One rule I always adhere to while traveling is this: Go with the thought that you'll never see the place again but knowing that you will eventually return. Ireland has my heart, and I will return one day.
As I mentioned in my review for the Irish B&B Experience from Great Value Vacations, travelers will get a lot of bang for their buck. I don’t want to repeat my review here, but I do want to share our itinerary, activities, and reviews of our B&Bs.
B&B Alert: Be advised that most B&Bs are located on the outskirts of major cities. I tried to find accommodations close to Galway, but the closest place that I could find was about an hour away. If you purchase this package, please know that you will need to be flexible in your itinerary as you may not be able to find a B&B within the city that you want and will need to drive a bit to reach your desired destination. It all works out for the best, though! Be flexible, be open, and be adventurous!
Day One: Departed for Dublin
Day Two: Arrived in Dublin; picked up rental car; checked in to the Fitzpatrick Castle Hotel (located outside Dublin); spent the day in Dalkey
Day Three: Spent the day in Dublin
Day Four: Drove to Ardara; checked in to Bayview Country House
Day Five: Overnight in Ardara
Day Six: Overnight in Ardara
Day Seven: Drove to Ogonnelloe; checked in to Glocca Morra B&B
Day Eight: Overnight in Ogonnelloe
Day Nine: Drove to Dublin; checked in to Riversdale B&B
Day Ten: Departed from Dublin
Arrival in Dublin is straightforward. Customs is straightforward. The airport is perfect. Even the shuttle ride to the rental car company was easy. Why can’t all airports be like this?
Where We Stayed: Our first two nights in Ireland were spent at the Fitzpatrick Castle Hotel. These accommodations were part of the package. The photos on their website are legitimate, and the property is beautiful. Our room was spacious and bigger than typical European rooms. We had tons of room to place our bags, and the beds were comfortable. If you are a budget traveler, be prepared to eat off site. While their restaurants are award winning and very well appointed, you will pay a handsome price for your food. We are not “foodies,” so we tend to opt for eateries that cater to locals. Occasionally, we may splurge, but we just could not justify eating in the Fitzpatrick’s restaurants, with the exception of our first jetlagged night where we ordered room service because we had no business driving a car. (We ordered hamburgers and fries. Not the best meal in the world, but it did its job.) Overall, the Fitzpatrick is a beautiful property, and if you are looking for luxury digs, you will most definitely enjoy staying here.
What We Did: As we were quite exhausted upon arrival, we spent our first full day exploring the area around the Fitzpatrick. Dalkey, a short fifteen to twenty minute walk from the hotel, is absolutely perfect! Known as the Capri of Ireland, Dalkey is an affluent suburb of Dublin. If you are a fan of U2, you’ll be happy to know that both Bono and The Edge live here. Apparently, many tourists make a pilgrimage to the gates of Bono’s estate, but we didn’t. I’m certain that he’d like some privacy. However, we did end up eating at Bono’s favorite pub, Finnegan’s, but that was quite by accident. Their fish ‘n chips and cottage pie are divine!
While Dalkey is not a large town, you will find the scenery to be superb. The city center is charming, and if you are a fan of flowers, then you will delight in the landscaping around town. If the weather permits, a stroll along the sea is a perfect way to beat the jetlag on your first day. Also, you may want to take advantage of the local grocery to stock up on snacks, drinks, and to pay your toll for the drive from the airport.
Special Note: Dalkey is also an excellent place to catch the train into Dublin. The station has a car park in the event that you want avoid walking back to the Fitzpatrick after a long day of exploring Dublin. Be advised that you will need to pay for parking your car. The ride from Dalkey to Dublin is approximately 30 minutes, and the scenery along the route is beautiful. We got off at the Tara Street station to begin our exploration of Dublin. (If you need a cup of coffee before you begin your exploration, try the D2 Coffee House at George's, 7 George's Quay, Dublin 2, Ireland. It’s less than a block from the Tara Station.)
What We Did: Now, here is where I am going to make some travelers mad. We opted to only spend one day in Dublin because we wanted to spend the bulk of our time exploring other parts of Ireland. This is a personal choice, of course. If you want to spend more time in Dublin, you will need to book a B&B since the Great Value Vacations package only includes two nights at the Fitzpatrick.
There is absolutely no way that I can cover all of the things to do in Dublin, so I will list our activities for the day. Please note that we are the type of tourists who like to wander around, and sometimes we avoid the big tourist attractions like the Guinness factory. This is a quirk of ours, I suppose. However, we did opt to view the Book of Kells at Trinity College. If you decide to see this, be prepared to wait in line. I can’t say that my fourteen year old daughter enjoyed this site, so if you are traveling with teenagers, be forewarned that you may hear some groaning.
However, despite the boredom at the Book of Kells, my teenager enjoyed wandering around the O’Connell Street area as well as the streets surrounding Trinity College and Merrion Square. There are plenty of shops, people watching, and eateries available. Merrion Square is a lovely green space/park, and you can see the famous doors of Dublin on your way there.
The Temple Bar area was, by far, our favorite part of Dublin. If you are looking for a pub or for an opportunity to people watch, then this is your area. Also, there are fantastic shops for the funky members of your traveling party. We loved Fresh for its vintage clothing offerings. (I think that I found some items that I wore in the ‘80s.) The energy of Temple Bar is contagious and jovial, and I will most definitely spend more time here in the future.
What You Need to Know: Most tourists, like us, walk to O’Connell Street. You absolutely need to guard your belongings. I have traveled throughout Europe extensively and have only had an attempted pickpocket/mugging twice since 1988. This was one of those times. Luckily, the perpetrators didn’t get anything. Men, if you carry a wallet, at the minimum, place it in your front pocket. Ladies, if you carry a purse, pack it so that your wallet and phone are not easily reached. This is what I always do, and it paid off this time.
Pack an umbrella and an all-weather jacket and wear shoes that can handle wet conditions and uneven pavement. Ireland is known for its rain, so be prepared!
Days Four through Six
Here’s where our adventure began! We checked out of the Fitzpatrick and hit the M50 out of Dublin headed toward Ardara, County Donegal, in northwest Ireland. We chose to take the route that took us through Northern Ireland, because, you know, it was a chance to see a another country.
The drive is approximately four hours between Dublin and Ardara if you don’t stop. However, you can’t have a proper road trip without making stops along the way. One of our stops included lunch in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, at Snakz Tea & Coffee Rooms located at 2 The Diamond in the heart of the shopping district. Be mindful that Snakz does not accept credit cards. Remember: Northern Ireland uses pounds instead of euros, so you may need to exchange money or make a withdrawal from an ATM.
The drive through Northern Ireland and into County Donegal was supremely beautiful. It is mostly rural and agricultural, and the terrain could not be more beautiful. In case you are wondering, yes, you will see an abundance of sheep.
As we arrived in Ardara, we soon discovered that our home for the next three nights was a quaint town of approximately 700 people. While not large, Ardara is world famous for its tweed, and you can find just about any color combination and weave imaginable. You will find a reasonable amount of cafes and restaurants in town but make sure to check closing times! We almost had to eat at the gas station our first night! Our favorite restaurant hands-down was Charlie’s West End Café. You gotta try their fish ‘n chips! Seriously, you’ll regret it if you don’t try them.
Where We Stayed: Our home for the next three nights in Ardara was Bayview Country House. Owned by Mrs. Marian Bennett, this B&B is impeccably clean, and Marian’s award winning breakfast is divine! She offers four main breakfast courses and an assortment of juices, coffees, and teas. The amount of food served will keep you well fueled for most of the day. Our room was a family ensuite with one twin bed and one double bed, and the room had a spectacular view of the bay. Our room had a fantastic shower and a hair dryer was also included. But, by far the most wonderful trait of Bayview Country House was Mrs. Marian Bennett. She is warm and treats you as family and will tell you all the best sights to see in and around Ardara. I highly recommend this property.
What We Did: County Donegal is vast. From beaches on the Wild Atlantic Way to the some of the highest cliffs in Europe, County Donegal is sure to satiate your need to become one with nature.
On our first day in Ardara, we explored the beaches on the Santa Ana Drive, a few kilometers down the R241 from our B&B. The sign for the road is easy to miss, and it is one lane. Be a careful and considerate driver when encountering oncoming cars. We drove down Santa Ana Drive to Rossbeg and Portnoo, tiny seaside towns filled with hills and stone and an expansive view of the Atlantic Ocean. The beaches are beautiful and picturesque, but this southern girl could not dip her toe in the freezing water! You will find many rocks to climb and opportunities to take tons of photos. As we arrived in Ardara around 2:00, we found that a few hours spent in Rossbeg, Portnoo, and dinner in town made for a long, but satisfying, day.
The second day in this area found us exploring Donegal Town, a thirty to forty minute drive from Ardara. With a population just under 3,000, Donegal is much larger than Ardara and offers an array of souvenir shops and restaurants located in The Diamond, the large town square that is mostly pedestrian. Tourist attractions such as Donegal Castle and the Abbey of the Four Masters are sure to appeal to travelers interested in Irish history and religious history.
The best part of our day, though, consisted of riding around County Donegal without any particular destination. As we fancy ourselves wanderers, we found that aimless driving around offered the best views of Ireland. In just a few hours, we managed to drive through Glengesh Pass on the R230 and its pastoral landscapes and winding turns and on to the largest fishing port in Ireland, Killybegs. If you are looking for photo ops, you’ll find that County Donegal offers the perfect setting.
The last day in County Donegal, however, was my favorite of all the time we spent in County Donegal. On this day, we hiked up Slieve League, some of the highest cliffs in all of Europe. While the Cliffs of Moher are the most famous cliffs in Ireland, you will find that Slieve League is equally, if not more, beautiful. There are far fewer humans dotting the landscape making it a more peaceful setting. Rising 1,972 feet in elevation, the cliffs offer breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean. There are two trails that lead to the top of the cliffs. We took the Pilgrim’s Path, which took approximately forty-five minutes to one hour to reach the top. The trail is considered easy to moderate depending on your fitness level and hiking abilities. Frankly, if you hate hiking on easily marked trails, you may not enjoy this trek as you will be walking uphill in boggy conditions. However, I hope you’ll try it.
To access Slieve League from Ardara, take R230 to Teelin Road (approximately forty-five minutes). From there you will see signs pointing to Slieve League. You will reach a gate which you must open and close so that the sheep will not get out. There are two car parks. We parked at the second lot by a small waterfall. The trail is graded for about half a mile, and then the fun begins! As the area is covered in peat, you will find the terrain boggy, muddy, and downright wet in many places. Also, if you don’t mind dodging a bit of sheep poop, then you’ll be just fine. Once the graded trail ends, you will find yellow markings that let you know that you are on the trail. I want to give you some excellent advice: Stop hiking and turn around to look at the valley and bay below you. These are some of the most inspiring views you’ll ever see. Continue your hike, catch your breath, drink some water, and know that the reward at the top will be worth every step of the way. I won’t lie—this hike was a life changing moment for me. That’s not hyperbolic. It changed my life.
What You Need to Know: If you plan to hike the Pilgrim’s Path at Slieve League, you absolutely need hiking shoes/boots. I saw a few hikers who wore tennis shoes, and their shoes were sopping wet and muddy by the end. Also, the top of Slieve League is windy and chilly, so wear a jacket, preferably an all-weather one.
Also, be prepared to stop for sheep. It’s a sheep’s world, and we’re just living in it. We found that young sheep love to dart out into the road, so keep a careful eye out for them!
Days Seven through Eight
For the next leg of our trip, we headed south to County Clare. Home to The Burren, the Cliffs of Moher, and the scenic coastal drive on the R477 and R479, County Clare is sure to provide the quintessential Irish experience.
Where We Stayed: So, I’m not going to lie. Our bed and breakfast was my favorite part of County Clare. Sure, I enjoyed wandering around some of the most beautiful parts of Ireland, but the Glocca Morra Bed and Breakfast set the tone for this leg of our trip. Owned by John A. O’Shea and Michael Webb, this property embodies everything that I love about Ireland. The property is located in the Ogonnelloe/Killaloe/Scariff part of County Clare and is an ideal location to set up a base camp to explore. The grounds are impeccably landscaped with colorful flowers and lush fauna, and it sits across the R463 from Lough Derg, the second-biggest lake in Ireland. Our room was large enough to accommodate three people with a twin bed and a double bed. In addition, the rooms come with an ensuite bathroom. The breakfast menu offered the traditional Irish breakfast, an egg breakfast, and a pancake option. (I opted for the pancake breakfast both mornings because, my-oh-my, it was delicious!) However, the best part of the Glocca Morra was owner Michael Webb. (We didn’t get to meet John as he was out of town.) Michael is an expatriate American who made us feel like part of his family. I can’t begin to express how much my entire family adored him, and if I could visit Ireland more often, I would make a special trip to Glocca Morra. Michael embodied the kindness, generosity, and warmth that I came to love about Ireland and its citizens. If you don’t take any other recommendations from me, I hope that you will heed my advice to stay at the Glocca Morra. It’s truly a gem!
What We Did: If I could go back and redesign my itinerary, I would have planned to spend the bulk of our trip in County Clare. There is so much to see and do in this part of Ireland. Our B&B was located one to two hours away from major sites and cities like the Cliffs of Moher and Galway.
On the day of arrival to Ogonnelloe, we ventured to Killaloe and drove around Lough Derg. Lush flora and fauna provide the backdrop of this area, and travelers are sure to find many photographic opportunities. Killaloe sits on Lough Derg and is a twin city to Ballina. Both cities sit on the lake and are connected by Killaloe Bridge. You will find that the area is pedestrian and family friendly. There are many pubs from which to choose, and we ate lunch at Goosers Bar and Restaurant in Ballina which was about a ten minute walk from the car park in Killaloe. The food at Goosers is traditional Irish fare, and we all thoroughly enjoyed our meals. The service was outstanding, and the interior is cozy. We were also mesmerized by the thatched roof! (You don’t find many thatched roofs in Texas!) After filling our bellies, we enjoyed a stroll by the water and ate ice cream at Scoops Ice Cream Parlour.
Our second day in County Clare was by far the most adventurous. Michael, our host, gave us a printed itinerary and directions to The Burren and a coastal drive. If you are traveling with children, they are sure to love this day trip. The Burren is unlike any other terrain in Ireland. The best description that I can offer is that it looks like the surface of the moon. While unique vegetation grows here, most of this area consists of exposed limestone. We visited the Poulnabrone Dolmen, a Neolithic burial site. Walking around this part of The Burren was truly surreal, and I don’t know that I have an adequate vocabulary to describe it. If you decide to include this in your itinerary, pay close and careful attention to the flora and fauna as you are not likely to see it any other place.
After touring the Poulnabrone Dolmen, we headed north toward Ballyvaughan and then west toward the coast down the R477. The R477 is a southbound road that hugs the coast of Ireland, and you will not be disappointed by the views. This area is a popular beach destination, so you will find many accommodations, restaurants, and activities. The road can be winding at times, but that just adds to the charm. You may want to seriously consider staying overnight along this route.
R477 eventually meets R479 toward Doolin. If you are headed toward the Cliffs of Moher, you’ll want to take this direction. We stopped for lunch at McDermott’s Pub in Doolin. My-oh-my, their Guinness stew is divine! You will not be sorry that you stopped in for a bite to eat!
The Cliffs of Moher are approximately fifteen minutes from Doolin. Take the R479 southwest and take a right onto the R478. You can’t miss the signs leading you to the cliffs. There will be a gargantuan car park for the Cliffs of Moher. Follow the hordes of tourists to the entrance. There are two paths that you can take, one to the right and one to the left. We took the left hand path. Let me be clear about a few things regarding this site. First, it’s crowded. I can’t say for sure, but I’d bet money that this is in the top three tourist attractions in Ireland. Be prepared to be squished along the path. Second, if you decide to forego the official path and walk on the side closest to the edge of the cliffs, be forewarned that there is NO RAILING. None. We saw tons of people literally sitting on the edge of the cliffs. That is, they were sitting on the dirt edge. This is extremely dangerous, and there is no way that I would do this. Unfortunately, the marker that commemorates those who have died at the Cliffs of Moher did little to deter these visitors. It’s just not a good idea. Third, the path is deceptively lengthy. It’s not impossible, but if members of your party tire easily or have a difficult time traversing uneven terrain, they may decide not to walk the entire path. With all these things in mind, you will be blown away by these famous cliffs. It’s easy to understand why tourists flock here. It’s mind-blowingly beautiful, so make sure your camera is charged!
What You Need to Know: Two days are absolutely not enough to enjoy this part of Ireland. Hindsight tells me that three days at the minimum should be planned. After the Cliffs of Moher, we drove to Galway and ate dinner. My only regret on this trip is that we didn’t spend an entire day in Galway because the energy there is beyond exciting, but I’ll make it back there one day!
After checking out of Glocca Mora, it was time to head back to Dublin to catch the next day’s flight. There was one last place that I requested we visit…
What We Did: My only firm request for this entire trip was to visit Kildare, home to the Cathedral Church of St. Brigid. For many years I have been fascinated with the saint whose name I carry, so when the opportunity arose, I knew that we had to visit her church.
Kildare is approximately an hour and a half from Ogonnelloe, the location of our last bed and breakfast. It is also outside Dublin, so it was a perfect place to stop for lunch on our last day. The city is small with a population of approximately 8,400. The main city square has a very friendly TI (Tourist Information) office with staff on hand to answer questions. There is a short film about the history of the city and St. Brigid and worth the twenty minutes or so to watch. From the TI, the cathedral can be reached by a five minute walk.
St. Brigid’s Cathedral is not large, but it is deep in history. According to religious history, St. Brigid founded a nunnery here, and this location is a very important part of the religious history of Ireland. A volunteer was on-hand to give us information about the church. In addition to the cathedral, the second tallest tower in Ireland is on site. If the history of religion is up your alley, I highly recommend a stop here!
From Kildare, we traveled to Swords, the location of our final bed and breakfast.
Where We Stayed: The Riversdale B&B is conveniently located about fifteen minutes from the Dublin airport in the suburb of Swords. The property is very clean, and our room held both a twin bed and a double bed. In addition, we had an ensuite bathroom. The owners are quite knowledgeable about the area and offered several recommendations for restaurants. Unfortunately, I cannot report about the breakfast menu as we had to leave before breakfast hours. The owners, however, offered to leave cereal, milk, juice, and muffins for us. At the time of our trip, there were warnings to close all doors and windows as a neighborhood cat likes to make his way into the house! We met him and can report that he was quite friendly!
What You Need to Know: If you have an early morning flight out of Dublin and have a rental car, you’ll absolutely want to stay as close as possible to the airport. Swords is an ideal city for early morning flights!
Ireland is absolutely one of the most beautiful countries in the world. From the sweeping views of cliffs on the Wild Atlantic Way to inland lakes and verdant expanses, Ireland offers visitors a feast for their eyes. Indeed, its geography and terrain are picturesque, but its citizens are the most wonderful part of this country. I don’t think you’ll ever find more kindhearted, warm, and generous people. From the extreme northwestern part to the largest city, each and every person we met welcomed us and made us feel at home. It’s easy to understand why travelers have been captivated by Ireland and its history, and you are sure to fall in love with each and every aspect of the Emerald Isle.
For questions regarding our itinerary, please leave a comment or email me at: Bridget.Barnes@dustysoles.com