Monday, February 16, 2009

Looking for Leprechauns!

This past weekend we continued our travels full speed ahead with a trip to the Western part of Ireland. We found another rock-bottom deal on Ryan Air to Shannon, Ireland - so how could we pass it up? A perfect Valentine's celebration for our family. We stayed at the Adare Country House in Adare County. The bed and breakfast was lovely in every way. The couple who owned the place could not have been more accommodating - the 70 euros a night even covered a hot breakfast cooked to order. We felt lucky to have found the place and the low season again helped us out. But the good news was it was even warmer in Ireland than in Belgium - a balmy 9 degrees Celsius! And not too much rain.
We didn't realize that in Ireland (like England) they drive on the left hand side of the street! Even the rental car had the steering wheel on the opposite side. Made the adventure that much more exotic. The entire trip we kept reciting "stay to the left, stay to the left" and poor Kirk had to put up with me cringing around every curve since the perspective was so different being a passenger on the left side.

There was so much to see and do in Ireland. We quickly found ourselves wishing for more time there. We drove A LOT over the weekend! So much to see, but nothing very close to each other. But luckily the journey connecting the destinations was green, lush and exactly as you would picture Ireland.

First up we went to kiss the famous Blarney Stone. I had no idea what was involved in this traditional ritual. Supposedly when you kiss the stone you are given the gift of eloquence. You would think you just walk up and kiss a boulder, right? Oh no, we climbed a tiny, winding staircase to the top of Blarney Castle and then had to lie down backwards while someone held my legs and lean under this ledge to kiss the Blarney Stone. Can you see the fear in my face?!? Kirk on the other hand went second and thought it was funny. Such is the case when you have a long torso!!! It was scarier but also a lot more fun than I thought it would be.

Next we drove to the town of Kenmare, where we had a cozy Valentine's lunch at a cute cafe called "Jam" on the main street. It was delicious and the perfect thing before embarking on the drive around the Ring of Kerry. Kirk also picked up some famous Irish "soda bread" at Jam for us to snack on. It is the heaviest, heartiest bread I ever had. Connor and Kirk enjoyed it but I was full. I got an Irish CD for 5 euros for us to be truly authentic during our scenic drive. We quickly got sick of the CD because we probably listened to it for over 10 hours of driving during the weekend!
We drove around the Ring of Kerry, a scenic drive on one of the westernmost peninsulas. Unsure of what we would find given all the warnings about the tour bus snarls on the ring, we were pleasantly surprised not to encounter one single bus (another gift of low season travel). The views were breathtaking and we "baa-d" and "moo-d" and "neigh-d" at the friendly animals who came right up to our car window. You can imagine what a treat this was for our animal-obsessed toddler! We also hopped out to frolic on the beach at Carroll's Cove. It was good to see Connor run all over and get sandy after so much time in the car. I think she would have run directly into the ocean's waves if we had let her!
To top off the day we went to Killarny to see the Muckross House - a Victorian mansion and took in a spectacular sunset on our drive back to Adare. We had our Valentine's dinner at an Irish pub with a crackling fire and Kirk finally got some Guinness beer, an Irish specialty. It was classic Ireland because when we went in there were Irish men watching a rugby game with immense focus and intensity. I am sure they all cringed when Connor ran all over the pub pointing to the Valentine's balloons decorating the place. But there were again no high chairs, so such is life! Not exactly a lingering, romantic dinner but it was perfect to celebrate our romantic life together - the 3 of us in Ireland!

On Sunday we drove through the old castles turned luxury hotels of Adare Manor and Dromoland Castle. Both were spectacular and we had fun just seeing them and pretending we were staying there - without the fancy pricetag!
Then it was on to the Cliffs of Mohr near the town of Doolin. The Cliffs were green and stunning. I was grateful for a clear day with great visibility! Supposedly they used to let tourists go right out to the edge of the cliffs but after a few fatal falls with windy conditions they pushed back the barriers. Yikes! We stayed far back!

The last stop on our Irish adventure was a drive through County Clare and a landscape called "the Burren." Our guidebook called it "a windswept limestone wasteland" but we found it fascinating and about as opposite of how you picture Ireland as you can get. There were ancient stone walls everywhere and limestone plateau as far as the eye could see.
My only suggestion/edit to our itinerary is I was sorry not to be able to explore the Dingle Peninsula. We just ran out of time, but with another day we could have done it. Supposedly it is a highlight. Just a tip!

We loved Ireland. Didn't see many fellow redheads; I think most of them must hang out near Dublin. But when you are traveling around towns called Limerick and Cork and looking out for leprechauns, how could it be anything but fun?!?! Happy Valentine's Day!


Dallas said...

Great tips. We head there next week. We've got the cliffs of Moher and the Burren on our list. We weren't sure about Dingle but everyone seems to give it rave reviews. We might just need to add it in.

I love the look on your face for the rock photo - that's priceless. :)

Jen said...

Reid, what an awesome trip! My family spent 3 weeks there in 2000 visiting relatives - back when you could actually lie down and peer over the cliffs. Terrifying! We stayed at Drumoland Castle, which was one of my favorite places ever. Hope you can make it to Dublin eventually!