It really is possible to see all the best parts of this country in just one week without feeling frantic. We meticulously planned this itinerary and it served us so well! Let's jump in!
We very nearly lost our first flight because we (read: Ben & Dad) just HAD to get drinks at the Penn Brewery in the airport. We made the attendant radio down and beg on our behalf. The pilot had mercy and let us on the plane, but they had to put the ramp back down for us. After a short flight to D.C. we caught a six-hour flight to Dublin where we were served snacks, dinner, and a small breakfast that was just as Irish as it could be with all the brown bread and beef stew and strong coffee. The flight had free movies and games and was actually super comfy.
Day 1: Dublin
We landed in Dublin at 5am, figured out our rental car and then committed to staying awake no matter what to reregulate our body clocks. Dad had a minor freak-out about driving on left side of the road in downtown Dublin, but Ben was a great navigator and it all worked out fine. There was only one short excursion going the wrong way down a one-way street. So, we had brunch at Kalph Café who claimed the world’s finest baked potato. We had full Irish breakfast, with blood sausage and the whole bit, and pots and pots of tea. Then we walked all over town taking in the sites, from Trinity College to the Temple Bar area.
Next, we walked to the Guinness Storehouse and had a comprehensive tour of their facility. We received official training in how to pour the perfect pint of Guinness and watched Irish river dancers in the bar. We grabbed a quick lunch of roasted pepper soup and Croque Mousier sandwiches at the Guinness restaurant and headed to Brazenhead, an adorable bar that weirdly mirrored our Brazenhead in Columbus. Dad talked to a local about a brand of whiskey he wanted to try and offered the man a drink. “No, thanks” he said, “I’m an alcoholic.” “But this is your third Guinness since I came in here,” my dad said. “Well, Guinness is OK," was his reply.
We finished the night with shopping and pub hopping in the Temple Bar area and finally settling in to watch the world cup over dinner at Gogarty’s Pub.
Day 2: Kilkenny, Rock of Cashel, and Dingle
The next morning we headed out early for Kilkenny. I had heard amazing things, but this precious little town far exceeded our expectations. This town just looked like a postcard everywhere you turned. We pulled in around 10am and were desperate for a good breakfast and cup of coffee so after asking a few locals for recommendations, we landed at Marble City Café. We had the loveliest breakfast of porridge with cream and berry coulis, bacon and egg croissant, crepe style pancakes with maple cinnamon syrup, apple tart with cream and lingonberry, and cups and cups of strong black tea and coffee swirled with cream. We couldn’t help but linger over our delicious breakfast located in a narrow stone alley called a slip that used to be home to a medieval outdoor market.
We peeked into several buildings who's history amazed us. There was a pub that had been the home of a woman convicted of witchcraft who escaped in the night, sprawling Kilkenny Castle grounds, and rows of colorful shops known as the medieval market. Before leaving town, we had a pint in the old Smithwick’s brewery and popped over to St. Canice's Cathedral to see a 12-century old and still standing round look-out tower. We tried our first of many samples of Dingle Ice Cream in Kilkenny.
After another hour of countryside driving, we arrived at Rock of Cashel, home to some of the very most important buildings in Ireland. We passed stalls with Belgium chocolates, sheep milk lattes, and piles of wool sweaters on our way to the Rock and hustled to join the tour. The tour guide reminded Dad of his dad with his long stories and engaging personality. He told us a darling story his Nan told him of how a large dip got into a distant mountain. He told us the devil took a bite out of the mountain and went after his enemy in Cashel. He spit the hunk of mountain out and the Rock of Cashel was formed. After poking around the castle grounds, a little longer we went back down the hill to buy a few woolen cardigans and get back on the road to Dingle.
My dad has dreamed of coming to Dingle for years and years, so we couldn’t get there fast enough. Dingle is a smallish pier town that has boomed over the years as its perfect traditional Irish charm has been discovered. There are rows and rows of pubs, each with live music. We checked into our B&B, The Last Cottage, and then headed to Murphy’s Pub for dinner, drinks, and live music. Dingle Distillery produces gin, vodka, and whiskey and the Dingle gin and tonic I had that first night was certainly the best I’ve ever tasted. We listened to traditional Irish music and sipped on Irish coffees and neat whiskeys, but the food wasn’t incredible. We finally got to bed late that night before a long day in Dingle kicking off the next mooring.
Day 3: Dingle and Dingle Peninsula
On the morning of Day three Ben and I started the day with a walk down the pier to The Strand Café for a fresh scone with raspberry jam and butter and “takeaway” coffees. We jumped in the car to drive the Dingle Peninsula and Conner’s Pass, an approximately 40 km scenic drive around the coast. Our first stop was at the beach, where I put my toes in on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean for the first time and watched a brave swimmer take on the 40-degree water. A few miles later we walked up the hillside to see “beehive cottages” constructed in 2,000 B.C. The door to the bathroom read, “Dear Customer, please close the door, as my sheep will eat the toilet paper.”
All along the drive, we would pull off to step outside and snap a few pictures of the spectacular view, but we stopped again for good at the Teac Couminole Café overlooking the bay for some dried fruit scones, freshly squeezed orange juice, and a pot of tea. We had a long chat with a sweet couple from England while overlooking the bay. This was Dad's favorite coffee shop of the trip. After a few more miles we stopped at the filming sight of The Last Jedi and climbed a hill for some of the most stunning views of our lives. We loved the view so much that we knew we had to take the treacherous drive up Connor’s Pass for one more mountainside hike that took our breath away.
It was our goal to be in the Dingle Pubs all night long, so we started our night at 4pm in Jack Benny’s Pub where I had an elderflower cocktail and we all split a steaming bowl of Guinness and red wine braised beef stew topped with garlic bread and mashed parsnips. Next, we stopped in Foxy John’s, Dad’s favorite, which was a bar by night and a hardware store by day. Dad immediately struck up conversation with John and Erica, the bar tenders, and a local man who maybe had the strongest Irish burr I’ve ever heard. We settled into the company and stayed a long time, listening to the uilleann pipes playing at the back of the bar.
Soon we were hungry enough to need dinner. We headed off to The Marina for potato leek soup, fried haddock and chips, and pints of Guinness. After dinner we swung by the Reel Chip Shop for a bag full of more fried haddock and salt and vinegar fries that we wolfed down at a picnic table outside the grocery. We ended the night in O’Flaherty’s Bar, where the owner, Fergus Ó Flaithbheartaigh, also led a band playing traditional Irish music. He played guitar, tin whistle, and accordion while he sang Irish ballads and played lively jigs. Fergus can play 17 different instruments. We were captivated and stayed almost the rest of the night, drinking and singing along. We met some new friends from Boston who introduced us to the “baby Guinness” shot. We closed the town down at An Droichead Beag (The Small Bridge) before we headed back to our B&B around 2:00 AM.
Day 4: Limerick, Cliffs of Moher, and Galway
In the morning we reluctantly left Dingle to travel up to Limerick. We had breakfast at Café Rose, and had huge omelets, raspberry crumble, eggs benedict, and rich hot chocolate. After breakfast we walked over to King John’s castle where we toured the grounds of the castle whose history dates back to Robin Hood himself.
After a long drive north we arrived at the Cliffs of Moher. They were every bit as stunning as we had hoped they would be. We had heard there were puffins who lived on the cliff face so when we met a couple from New York with binoculars we immediately became friends and got to see thousands of puffins lining the rock crevices.
We ended the day in Galway. We stayed in a lovely Airbnb hosted by Aileen who gave us dinner recommendations and sent us on our way into the city center. Galway was the first Irish town that felt so strikingly European. Located along a canal, people lounged by the water with cans of wine and baguettes, surrounded by flowers and flowing water. We walked up to Quay’s Street and listened to live bands playing in the street before heading to Seven for bangers and mash and the official BEST fish and chips we had in Ireland. After dinner we were back at the pubs for the night, hopping from one to the next before we finally had to head to bed.
Day 5: Galway and Northern Ireland
On the morning of day five we woke up in Ireland and shopped around the bustling city center. Ben and I stopped into the Boulangerie for a slice of lemon drizzle cake and americanos before we all met up at the canal bridge where a troop of young kiddos were starting kayaking camp. At the bridge, their leaders plopped them into the canal from the bridge, completely submerging them in the water and just delighting them all. We walked to the bakery up the street for flatbread margarita pizzas and raisin rock rolls for our nearly six-hour drive to Northern Ireland.
After a very long car trip, we wound up in Northern Ireland, technically a part of the UK. We didn’t have a place booked to stay here so we crashed in Finn McCool’s hostel. We had a four-bunk dorm to ourselves and were starving at nearly nine o’clock, so we tried our luck at finding an open pub before turning in for the night. We ended up at the Bushmill Inn and Restaurant where, in my opinion, we had the best dinner so far in Ireland. We split the Innkeeper's grilled mackerel Caesar salad, parmesan truffle fries, potatoes dauphinoise, and panko crusted shallot long stemmed broccoli. The inn was dark but dreamy with its cozy living rooms and snugs scattered all about the lower level of the inn. Fires were smoldering in the hearths and the seating was plushy red velvet and sturdy dark wood. The real star of the evening though, was the Heverlee glass.
Apparently, in Ireland, they use glasses with small etchings cut in the bottom so when you pour in a pint of beer, the carbonation can never quite settle, and the beer never loses its head. The Heverlee beer tasted great and the glass had twin keys etched in the bottom. Ben and Dad were amazed and soon struck up conversation with Peter, the restaurant manager, and two bar tenders. The conversation moved well into the night, covering whiskey tasting, soccer, international education, and Peter’s son Henry’s recent battle with leukemia. These connections, with people all over the world, were some of the most meaningful moments of our trip. We exchanged information with Peter and made him an offer to stay with us if he ever found himself in Ohio. He gave us one of the famous Heverlee glasses for good measure. They were all nice enough to stay well past closing. Everything we tried was excellent - the Tennent, Roundhouse, and Heverlee beers, the Red Bush whiskey, and the famous Bushmill's Hot Toddy. If you go, ask for Peter and tell him we said hi and be sure to tell Greg at the bar you are a Manchester United fan (he might give you a deal on a drink).
Day 6: Giant's Causeway, Rope Bridge, and Ashbourne
On our last full day in Ireland we woke up in our hostel and had a quick breakfast in the shared kitchen before walking up the road to Giant’s Causeway. Here we hiked up the hill and over the ravine through the misty rain to see the amazing hexagonal formations formed on the coast by a long-ago volcano. We were floored by the absolute beauty and hiked up to the top of the volcano to stand on the cliffs edge in the sheep pastures to look out over the cerulean bay and blackened coastline.
Next, we hurried down the road to the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. Game of Thrones was filmed in part in this fisherman’s hideaway. The rope bridge connects an island to the mainland with gulls swooping and nesting between and coves and seas that could have been straight from Peter Pan down below. If you are there and wonder what the white stuff is all over the island rocks . . . It's bird crap. We hiked around the gorgeous North Irish countryside all morning and stopped in the tiny tea shop close to the bridge for Victoria sponge, caramel shortbread squares, and peppermint tea.
To close our trip, we drove to the countryside north of Dublin to stay in a lovely B&B that was just as “English gardens cottage” as it could get. We had dinner at the Snailbox, where hundreds of mainly American baseball hats decorate the ceiling. If you go, take a cool hat you do not mind giving away and it can be added to the collection, and Phillip will give you a Snailbox hat. Send him a picture of you in your new hat when you get home. Then we swung by the grocery for Irish tea and treats to bring home, and had our last drink at the Fox Inn and pub just a short walk from our B&B. Ben and Dad had more than one. After a long soak in the clawfoot tub and repacking to prepare for heading home, we drifted off to sleep on our last night in Ireland. The Stradane House was perfect for our last night. The house was fantastic and the location was perfect - short walk to a great pub and an easy drive to the Dublin airport in the morning.
Wrap-Up and Final Thoughts
As we reflect on our trip we have narrowed down our top-ten favorite experiences and three things we probably would skip next time. This trip was an absolute joy and gift. We will always treasure the time we had with one another and with the gorgeous green country of Ireland.
TOP TEN (in no particular order):
THREE THINGS TO SKIP:
TIPS FOR THE NEXT TRIP:
NEW THINGS TO TRY:
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