Ireland Vacation 2003

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Today reminds me of the brilliant vacation Jim and I spent touring around Ireland in 2003. We still talk about it as one of our “best vacations ever”. Even the Guinness tastes better in Ireland. Sláinte!

Guinness Toast in Ireland

Guinness toast in Ireland

It was the first big trip we planned together (other than our honeymoon to St. Thomas). It was my 1st trip out of the US, and Jim’s first trip beyond North America. I did a lot of research online, booked our flight and rental car, purchased bed & breakfast vouchers that we would book and redeem as we traveled, mapped out a general route, and made  this old-school webpage of places and things we planned to see. (Some links are broken… not surprising since they’re almost 10 years old.) We were ready for a great adventure, and we felt very welcomed by the Irish Céad míle fáilte!

Celtic cross

Celtic cross at the Rock of Cashel, County Tipperary

We flew to Dublin and spent a few days touring the city. Highlights include: the Burlington dinner cabaret of Irish music and dancing, the Guinness tour, St. Stephens Green park, Trinity College and the Book of Kells, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin Writers Museum, and pubs around Temple Bar on the River Liffey.

Dublin collage

After Dublin we rented a car, fell in love with our tiny, egg-shaped Renault Scénic (which is partly why we bought a VW Golf a few years later), and headed out of town for our clock-wise tour of the Irish countryside. Driving in Ireland was a whole new experience: driving on the opposite side of the road, on the opposite side of the car, without much signage, on winding, single-lane roads meant for two-way traffic, made narrow by stone walls and no shoulder. It was not uncommon for the road to be blocked by sheep, cows, or oncoming traffic. Luckily there was not a lot of traffic, and we were wise to pay for renters insurance. We felt pretty adventurous.

Driving Ireland collage

Our first countryside adventures brought us to County Wicklow for Powerscourt estate and gardens, Ireland’s largest waterfall, and the monastic ruins at Glendalough.

Powerscourt collage

Waterfall collage

Glendalough collage

Our next county was Waterford where we marveled at the craftsmanship of Waterford Crystal artists and enjoyed a great night of pub songs led by Richie Roberts at T & H Doolan’s.

Waterford collage

Ruins at the Rock of Cashel and a guided tour of Cahir Castle made for a packed day in County Tipperary.

Cashel collage

Cahir collage

We didn’t kiss the Blarney Stone (although I pretended to) on our tour of Blarney Castle and didn’t yet find the wool blanket we wanted at the Blarney Wollen Mills souvenir mall in County Cork.

Blarney collage

With a home base of Killarney in County Kerry we enjoyed touring the grounds of Muckross House, a guided tour of Ross Castle, and an evening of great live music at Danny Mann Pub. We also survived a challenging drive up to Ladies’ View. The drive paid off with incredible scenic views and a small gift shop with the exact wool blanket we wanted.

Muckross collage

Ladies View collage

Next we drove the Ring of Dingle, which was less crowded but equally as beautiful as the popular Ring of Kerry. This peninsular drive on the west coast offered scenic treats like beehive stone huts, ocean beaches and cliffs, and a distant peek of Ireland’s west-coast islands.

beach collage

Ring of Dingle collage

Dingle collage 2

We loved listening to great Irish musicians including Eoin Duignan playing uilleann pipes at The Small Bridge. On on our way out of Dingle, we fit in a tour of Kerry County Museum and the Rose Gardens of Tralee .

Kerry collage

Next came our adventures at Bunratty in County Clare. We had just enough time for a quick tour of the Bunratty castle and folk park.

Bunratty collage

Then we stepped back in time for the Medieval Banquet at Bunratty Castle. The evening includes a mead reception in the great hall, a four course “period-appropriate” feast, and theater entertainment accompanied by the Ladies of the Castle singers, violin, and harp music. Part of the charm of the banquet is that one couple is chosen to take part in the show as the Lady and Earl of Thomond. GUESS which lucky couple was chosen from the crowd… Introducing the Balhoff Earl and Lady of Thomond! Nice crowns, don’t you think?!

Bunratty banquet collage

We enjoyed meeting other young couples from Ireland at the banquet and continued partying at Durty Nelly’s… packed with Craic!

The next day we found a great music shop in Ennis, bought Solas and Lúnasa albums, and headed back to the west coast to see the Cliffs of Moher in County Liscannor.

Moher collage

We spent a night in the city of Galway, where we had our least Irish experience of going to the movies. At least it was a great date-night Irish movie, Goldfish Memory.

Finally we stepped way back in time to visit the 5000-year-old Passage Tomb at Newgrange in County Meath. On the tour we walked down an angled tunnel to the main tomb, the same path that is perfectly aligned to illuminate the tomb only on Winter Solstice. The tour includes a re-enactment of how the tombs looks on Winter Solstice. You have to win a special lottery to visit the site on that day to see the real action.

Newgrange collage

Newgrange is not too far from Dublin, which completed our driving loop of the south of Ireland. As I said before, driving was an adventure. We considered it an advantage to have complete flexibility about where to go next, how long to stay, and to stop at any time to take in the panoramic views.

scenery collage

Town collage

We also enjoyed staying in local Bed & Breakfast houses, of which Ireland has a great network. The hosts were generous in their hospitality, helpful with information about local attractions, and offered the traditional Irish breakfast and (my first experience of) French press coffee.

Bed breakfast collage

Another aspect of Ireland that we enjoyed was the town pubs. We were never very far from a pub and great enjoyment of the social atmosphere and nightly live music.

Pubs collage

We loved Ireland. Jim has Irish heritage, and the Irish people seem to welcome (and even cater to) Americans with Irish heritage. In addition to meeting the people, we enjoyed the music, the historic sites, evidence of Gaelic and Celtic culture, beautiful green landscapes, delicious fish & chips (which Jim had every day although the picture below is potato leek soup), and Irish dancing. I’d go back for another vacation in a heartbeat. Erin go Bragh!

Ireland collage

* My goal was to post this on St. Patrick’s Day, but it took me longer to dig through my archives, create photo collages, and bring it all together. Clicking on any collage will take you to the photo site with additional photos.*

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