TABLE OF CONTENTS
he morning of May 4th, 2018 I woke up early. This is weird because I never wake up early, especially not earlier than Ash. It was 5:00am and I went into the kitchen to begin making coffee. I was nervous and excited. Ash and I were planning on leaving for Ireland mid-day, and I was planning to propose that morning... naturally 5:30am seemed like the perfect time to do it.
I prepared the coffee, and prepared the set up. I had been working on a large scrapbook the last few months that I would use to ask Ash to marry me. I laid the book carefully on the couch. and asked them to come into the living room. They got out of bed and walked in not expecting a thing- (Ha! Yeah right.)- and plopped down next to me on the couch. Carefully opening the scrapbook, Ash went through every page until they hit the last one; a small pocket with the words, "Will you marry me?" was placed in the middle of the page, and contained the engagement rings we had designed together. We cried, we hugged, we got engaged. It was the perfect way to start off our holiday to Ireland together.
I had been to Ireland three times prior to this trip. The first time with my grandma, the second with my sister and mom, and the third time solo. I love Ireland. It is the country that I feel most drawn to- probably the reason I keep going back. Every time I step foot on this island I feel something magical and I am at peace. It is hard to explain, but what I can say is that Ireland is everything you dream it to be. I was so excited to have Ash experience this special place with me, and no better way to do it than as a newly engaged couple.
We had the morning all planned: we would pack our last minute things, get a ride to one of the local breweries that sits near the Minneapolis light rail, eat a delicious lunch, take the train to the airport, grab a couple of drinks, and fly across the ocean to our destination. The perfect plan that went horribly wrong at step number five... after spending a good amount of money at the airport bar, we learned that our flight out was cancelled and we would not be leaving until the next day. We sadly made our way back home for the night, disappointed, but kept telling ourselves that no matter where we were, our engagement was still something to be celebrated.
The next day we made our way to the airport, skipping the lunch and airport bar, and headed to our gate. We saw similar faces trying to make up their flights as well, and to everyone's satisfaction, we made it onto the flight and headed to our destinations.
After a quick layover in Toronto, Canada, and an overnight flight, we arrived in Dublin on May 6th. Originally our plan was to spend a night in Dublin and then rent a car the next day, but due to the delay in our schedule we had to cancel our first AirBnb and pick up our rental as soon as we landed. The pick-up went smoothly, and as we did almost a year prior in England, I hopped into the driver's seat with Ash in the passenger's seat, and we took off for the Wicklow Mountains.
I had never been to Ireland in the month of May before. My first two trips were in March, and my third in October (which I highly recommend), so I did not expect the weather to be as hot as it was... though I don't believe anyone in Ireland expected the weather to be as hot as it was. The heat wave was definitely out of the ordinary, but we found that people were taking advantage of it. Everyone and their mother was outside soaking in the sun. Our first stop was the Glendalough monastery, a peaceful spot in the middle of the Wicklow Mountains. Usually quiet and serene, the monastery contains ancient graves, churches, and towers and has a picturesque backdrop filled with green-covered mountains. The weather made this particular experience different though, and Ash and I had to constantly maneuver our way through groups of people to get from one area of the monastic site to another. We made the best of it, walking among the old ruins and taking in the beauty around us. We then took a path leading us from the monastery to the Upper Lake, and spent some time wading in the water and staring off into the valley. After taking in the scenery for some time, we headed back towards our parked car and prepared for our drive to Cork, (Click #1 on the interactive map to read more about Glendalough [photo provided by d-maps.com]).
In just under three hours we made it to our little AirBnb in Cork's city center. Our host was very sweet and oriented us with the Apartment we would be staying in. We went out for a bite to eat at a small little pub down the road, and then headed to the corner store to pick up a few groceries for breakfast before we called it a night and went to bed.
The following morning we made our way to Blarney Castle and Gardens to kiss the Blarney Stone so we would be graced with the gift of gab. The drive from Cork is only 15 minutes, so we were some of the first tourists to be visiting the castle grounds that morning. The weather was very different from the previous day- cool and cozy- perfect for a morning trip to Blarney. With coffees in hand, Ash and I bought our tickets and stepped through the gates to the gardens.
Our first stop was to kiss the stone at the top of Blarney Castle. Literally hanging over the edge backwards Ash and I both smooched the rock, trying not to think about the billions of other people who had put their mouths on it prior to us. We scaled back down to the main entry of the castle, and spent some time walking the castle grounds, weaving in and out of the multiple gardens, before heading over to Muskerry Arms Pub and Restaurant for lunch. I have been to the town of Blarney three out of my four vacations to Ireland, and I have always eaten lunch at this pub. Its dark wood interior, dimly lit space, and friendly servers make the experience very enjoyable. I highly recommend it to anyone visiting. Ash and I ate our food, drank our beer, and walked over to the woolen mills to shop. And shop we did. You can spend hours in this store, so make sure you give yourself plenty of time to walk around it. You will be amazed at how many different things can be made from wool.
After the Blarney Woolen mill, we headed out of the town and drove to Cobh, a city 30 minutes southeast of Cork's city center. Cobh is right on the Cork Harbour which leads out to the Irish Sea (Atlantic Ocean). The streets are filled with shops, pubs, local musicians, and palm trees (due to the temperate climate). Ash and I found a candy shop and plopped down to snack on some sugar and listen to live music. The weather continued to get chillier, so after some time taking in our surroundings outside, we decided to make our way indoors. We found ourselves within an intimate pub that could barely hold 20 people. A band was setting up on a tiny stage, and we were lucky enough to grab two spots at the end of a booth. We ordered a few Guinness, and spent time listening to the musicians play while occasionally chatting it up with the locals. We stayed for a couple of beers and then left to grab dinner before heading back to Cork's city center for the night (Click #2 on the interactive map to hear more of what Cork, Blarney, and Cobh have to offer).
On May 8th Ash and I left Cork early in the morning. Our plan was to get to Doolin in time to check into our B&B, but we had all day and we were ready to explore. We had a visit to King John's Castle on our schedule, but decided to take an impromptu drive around the Dingle Peninsula first. Take a second to imagine a picturesque port village complete with a harbor and quaint little fish-and-chip shops down a busy main street. This was Dingle. On my solo trip to Ireland, I had stayed in this town with a wonderful couple that owned a B&B just off the main stretch. It was one of my favorite stays, and so I was extremely happy that I could share this area with Ash. Dingle is well known for Slea Head, its driving route around the peninsula, which connects to the larger Wild Atlantic way route that travels up and down the west coast of Ireland. On a narrow road smashed between cliff walls and the Atlantic Ocean, the Slea Head route offered us some of the most scenic views during our entire vacation (Click #4 on the interactive map to learn more about Dingle and the Slea Head drive). As we drove along, pulling over every so often as a car came toward us on the skinny road, the route started to swing back inland. Sun-kissed valleys lay on either side of our car with small town pubs and artist studios occasionally popping up. We finished the Slea Head lap, and continued our journey north east (To hear more about what we saw on our Slea Head drive, click #3 on the interactive map).
King John's Castle brought us to Limerick. I had never been to this part of Ireland before, and was surprised to find ourselves in a big city with a well-intact castle. We parked our car and made our way through a wonderful exhibit covering a detailed history. Like many Irish castles, we were able to roam the grounds while simultaneously trying to imagine what it was like living in a fortress during its peak years. We climbed a stair case leading us to the top of the castle wall where we spent time taking in miles and miles of land encompassing the River Shannon and city center Limerick. After touring as much as we could of King John's Castle, we walked across the street to a tiny little pub for dinner (Want to know a bit more about our trip to Limerick? Click #4 on the interactive map).
Ash and I covered 236 miles of road before ended our day's journey in Doolin. Doolin has one main road that leads you to a strip of five-or-so brightly colored buildings, so you can't really get lost once there. Our B&B was tucked behind the main strip, so we had easy access to the shops, pubs, and ocean port. The village is known for its traditional Irish music, so one of the first things our B&B host talked to us about were the pubs with the best line ups for the night. We ended up taking her number one recommendation, and walked a half mile up the road to a packed bar of excited patrons. The well known 'Blackie' O'Connell was playing that night, and he did not disappoint. Ash and I were lucky enough to grab two seats at a table, and after a handful of songs we walked away with two CD's and bellies full of beer.
The next morning was rainy, but we were determined to visit Caherconnell Stone Fort. The fort not only serves as a stop for tourists to visit a historical site, but it is also known for its sheepdog demonstrations. Being the moms of two border collies and a cattle dog, Ash and I had been talking about this for months. We were so excited to see how the dogs worked, and to hear the calls and commands from the owner. The pouring rain wouldn't let up, but the pups didn't care, and we spent a half an hour watching them corral the sheep from one area of land to another. It was incredible.
Caherconnell is located in the Burren, a national park near Doolin, so after the demonstration Ash and I spent some time driving the winding roads through the bedrock of limestone and green moss. The landscape is eerily beautiful, and the dark clouds covering the sky played to a feeling of excitement and wonder that Ash and I both had. We drove for a while before heading back towards Doolin. Our next stop was to walk the cliffs of Moher, and by the time we made it there the sun began to peak out from behind the clouds.
It doesn't matter how much the sun shines, or how warm the weather is, the wind on top of the cliffs stops for nothing. Gusts would nearly knock us off of our feet as we walked the top of the precipice, but this did not make the experience any less enjoyable. The views were breathtaking. We took the dirt trail that followed the edge of the cliff and watched the sun set over the Atlantic Ocean. If you ever visit the cliffs, please plan your trip in the evening, you will not regret it (Doolin and the surrounding area have so much to offer- click #5 on the interactive map).
There are two ways to get to the Aran Islands. You can take a small hopper jet from the Connemara Airport, or you can take a ferry from Doolin or Galway. I have done both, but recommend the ferry because you get to see each of the three Islands that make up the Aran Island chain (if your final stop is Inis Mor). Inis Oirr is the smallest, Inis Meain the middle, and the largest of the three is Inis Mor. All three islands provide accommodation, but I have only ever been to Inis Mor.
To travel around the island, you need to ride a bike. To ride a bike around the island, you need to be in the best shape of your life. Now to be fair, the bikes for rent on Inis Mor aren't the most high-quality pieces of machinery you have ever seen. I am sure if you brought your own bike you may have a slightly different experience, yet with or without a quality ride you will still encounter incredibly steep hills. There are a plethora of things to do and see on the island, and even with three days and two nights stay, Ash and I could not fit it all in. What we were able to experience though, were both man-made and natural sites that pulled us into a different state of mind. Sites that left us in awe and wonderment. Sites where we craved more time for exploration (Click #6 on the interactive map to read about all the sites we explored on Inis Mor).
As we ferried back to the main land on May 12th, we starting planning out the driving route to our next stop, Donegal. We got back to our car and quickly drove to a small gas station for snacks and a bathroom break. To our advantage, the station had a large wall map of Ireland. We must have looked confused as we stood and studied it because one of the station staff members approached us asking if we needed advice. We told him that we were looking for a place to have lunch before ending our drive in Donegal, and he did not hesitate when recommending Westport.
The drive to Westport would take us through the Connemara Mountains. For quite a while we could see them in the distance, but almost out of nowhere we found ourselves smack in the middle of the mountain range. We carefully drove the winding roads, avoiding cyclists and random baby sheep that liked to sneak away from their mothers to lay on the warm tar. The views were incredible, and we would stop every-so-often to snap a photo in hopes of capturing the excitement we felt.
In a little over an hour-and-a-half from the beginning of our drive, we pulled into the busy town of Westport. The streets and sidewalks were full of people, and the hustle and bustle of the town was very different from what we had experienced the last few days. Live music carried over the heads of pedestrians as we walked in and out of the shops. We grabbed lunch at a small cafe, and a couple of beers from the pub next door, and took some time to relax and listen to the band play. When the food and beers had vanished, Ash and I headed towards the car to make the final leg of our day's journey to Donegal (Click on #7 of the interactive map to learn more about Westport).
I have seen incredible photographs of Donegal's national parks that would entice any traveler to visit, but since we only planned to be in this county for the night, we did not stay near any nature or wild life. Instead, Instead, we found ourselves in Ballybofey, a medium-sized industrial city built on the River Finn. We found that there wasn't much to do in this area beside grab a bite to eat at one of the local restaurants, so we ended our night at our Air Bnb watching the famous Eurovision Song Contest we had heard about on all the local radio stations (Click #8 on the interactive map to hear more about Ballybofey).
We woke up early on May 13th, ate a quick breakfast, packed the car, and headed out. We would be leaving the Republic of Ireland and staying in Northern Ireland for the next few nights. Ash and I arrived in Portrush in just under two hours, stopping only for a short time in Londonderry to snap a few photos. Portrush is one of the most Northern points of the Irish island, and if it is a nice day you can see Scotland across the sea. We stayed at a lovely Air Bnb I had stayed at two years prior. The house had a stairway off the back that went straight to the beach, and most nights you would find Ash wrapped up in a blanket walking up and down the white sand.
As with almost every town we stopped in, there were so many things to do in this area. We spent our first whole day exploring Dunluce Castle and the Giant's Causeway. Though mostly ruins, Dunluce is beautiful and a must-see if you are in the area. The castle sits on the cliff's edge overlooking the ocean. The vegetation in the area is colorful and vibrant, and the small caverns throughout the cliff-face inspire imaginative stories of ancient ships navigating the rocky waters. Giant's Causeway is no more than five miles northeast of the castle. A quick trip brought us to the entrance of the causeway, and after paying for a ticket, we made our way down to the basalt columns that protruded from the sea. Though the volcanic hexagonal columns are what most people think about when they hear "Giant's Causeway," this feature is not the only thing that will attract you to this site. Trails bore through rocky, red cliff face taking you up and around the area and offering views of the basalt columns from high above. If you visit the causeway, take time for a hike to get the full affect of the area. With two adventures completed on our first full day in Portrush, we decided to call it a night by saving our remaining adventures for the following morning.
May 14th brought us glorious overcast weather, perfect for sight-seeing. We drove a half an hour east to Carrick-a-Rede bridge, a fun stop where you can walk over the ocean waters to a small, small, small island inhabited by seagulls lush flora. It is a great place to sit and relax, which we did for a while before making our way back across the rope bridge. We drove from Carrick-a-Rede to a place any Lord of the Rings fan would recognize: the Dark Hedges. Normally we would have parked the car and walked under the arched tree branches to fully immerse ourselves within the hedges, but on this very day the field lining the side of the road was being fertilized. Needless to say there was manure covering the streets, so Ash and I opted to stay in the car and drive through the trees instead. After coining the term "dookie hedges," we drove to Bushmills to visit the whiskey distillery.
If you are wondering whether or not you should take the Bushmills distillery tour, keep in mind that I have done it twice, and I am not a big whiskey drinker (although I have started preferring it since my first trip here!). The tour is great and gives you a very detailed overview of the whiskey distilling process. Plus it is one of the oldest distilleries in Northern Ireland AND you get a free drink at the end of the tour, so that's cool. We left the distillery with two new whiskey glasses and headed back to our Air Bnb for one more night by the beach (Read more about our adventures in detail by clicking #9 on the interactive map).
The next morning we said goodbye to Portrush, but before leaving Northern Ireland altogether, we decided to stop in Belfast. I had been here before to tour the political murals of Northern Ireland and the Republic. The Belfast I had seen displayed the trauma of Ireland's troubles, a very different scene from what Ash and I experienced on May 15th. We parked our car near Queens University and found ourselves in the middle of a quaint college town. Boutique shops and hip restaurants lined the streets. We picked a breakfast joint and ordered our fancy coffees and appetizing meals. After eating we walked over to the botanical gardens where I almost lost my mind when realizing that the very spot we stood was where scenes from The Fall were taped (if you have not watched this psychological thriller... please do). We took our time, and a load of pictures, before heading back to our car for our drive towards the Republic (See what else Belfast has to offer by clicking #10 on the interactive map).
If you read about our trip to England, than you are probably aware of the awesome experience we had at Stonehenge. Seeing ancient, spiritual structures was right up our alley of interesting things to experience. So it is no surprise that Ash and I made one more stop at Newgrange before dropping our car off. You start start your experience at the Brú na Bóinne visitor center where you have the option to see three historic sites: Newgrange, Knowth, and Dowth. Ash and I chose to see the megalithic structures of Newgrange and Knowth. As we road on the visitor center's bus through small village neighborhoods and farm land, the tops of the old tombs began to appear in the distance. Newgrange gave us the opportunity to walk in and experience the tomb (both in light and total darkness), while Knowth did not allow us in the tomb but instead presented us with stone after stone of ancient carvings. It is incredible to think that these large structures were built by humans in the Neolithic era; a time when heavy machinery didn't exist to move giant stones perfectly into place (Learn more about Brú na Bóinne's ancient sites by clicking #11 on the interactive map).
We arrived back in Dublin early on the evening of May 15th. Our road trip around the island of Ireland had been wonderful, but we were ready to drop the car off and spend our last day-and-a-half roaming Dublin by foot. Our Air Bnb was located right off the St. Stephen's Green city park, so once we dropped our bags, we went out to grab dinner and walk around. Being that it was Tuesday and we were in Europe, most shops closed down early, so our walk didn't last long (but long enough to get ice cream before heading back home).
The next day we really got to roam the city. We hit all the major tourist spots: Guinness, Jameson, Brazen Head, The Temple Bar, Trinity College, but we were also able to sneak into a few unknown places for a beer, or an 80€ shot of whiskey (a longer story that you can read about in our blog by clicking #12 on the interactive map). Dublin is a fun city with lots of things to do and see. Whether you want the tourist experience, or you want to delve more into life in this city, you can find you perfect experience here.
There are a few take-aways from this trip that may be useful for anyone planning to visit Ireland. As we mentioned in the summary of our England vacation, rent a car. I have traveled around Ireland four times, twice with a car and twice without. The experience you get driving yourself is completely different, so please do it- I promise it is not as scary on the other side of the road as it sounds. Second, don't spend all your time in the big cities. The smaller villages of west Ireland are incredible, and you will find that Irish is the main language spoken there- although everyone speaks English as well. Listening to Irish radio is extremely comforting to me, and the language is beautiful even though I can't understand a thing. Third, listen to live music; you will find it everywhere. Not only is it a blast to hear, but you end up making a lot of friends in the pubs! Lastly, try to spend more than one night in every place you stay. Immersing yourself, even if only for one full day, is much better than swinging through the town. You may visit less places, but the experience will be much better... plus you can always come back to Ireland for more!
I hope you have enjoyed experiencing our Irish trip with us- please check out our other adventures and continue to check in as we add more each year!