Ireland was one of the places I was most looking forward to on this trip. It’s the only country I hadn’t been to on our itinerary, and everyone who has been to Ireland has raved about it.
I wasn’t disappointed.
We arrived at Dublin airport, picked up our car, and headed out to find the hostel we were staying at next to Newgrange, an Irish passage tomb dating back to 3200 BC. Our plan was to visit Newgrange the next morning, so we picked a place to stay as close as possible.
On the way to Newgrange, we got completely lost. This should have been our first clue as to what it is like trying to find places in Ireland. The GPS took us all over the place…except to the hostel. We finally saw signs to the Newgrange site which of course did not correspond to the GPS but ultimately got us where we needed to be.
The hostel was great — it appears to have recently changed over so it is not officially listed as a hostel from what we could tell, but the spaces definitely scream hostel. The room was fine, and it was nice to have large lounges to work in later in the evening.
Also, one of the things we had been warned about was to get to the Newgrange site early because you can only visit the sites (Knowth and Newgrange) by tour, and they fill up for the day. So seeing a sign at the hostel/hotel desk saying to come by in the morning to tell them what time you would like a tour was a HUGE bonus! We immediately headed out to dinner and for Hubs to get his first pint in Guinness country.
The next morning, on the way to breakfast, I stopped by the desk, and they called over to Newgrange and booked us a 10:30 am tour. We packed our bags into the car and then walked literally 4 minutes to the site — best lodging location ever!
We got on the shuttle busses to explore Knowth with a wonderful guide who was passionate about the history of these ancient mounds. We all enjoyed listening to her stories, and the kids even enjoyed a brief underground excursion.
From Knowth, we went back to the visitor’s center to catch the next shuttle to Newgrange which was outstanding. The site is known for how light enters through an opening or “roof box” on the winter solstice. You can actually enter a lottery to come on the winter solstice and the few days around it — only 50 people total are selected! The guide simulates the winter solstice, which is good for us since we won’t be back here then, even if we did win the lottery, and it is pretty spectacular.
After a surprisingly good lunch at the site’s cafeteria, we started off on our supposedly 2 hour, 45 minute drive to Limerick. I won’t go into details of our attempts to locate the home we were staying at as that will show up in a special blog post in about a week, but let it suffice to say it was an adventure. I was later told that directions in Ireland go something like this:
“Go straight past Tom’s house…he doesn’t live there anymore; he died last year you know…and then turn right after the 3rd tree. Not the one that was hit by lightning a few years back, but the one next to it. Then go past the pub and the green house — that’s where Ruth lives, although her daughter doesn’t live there anymore because she just got married — nice man, that Ross — and you’ll see our house just after the blue one with the brand new gate. The old owners didn’t care about the gate, so we’re really glad the new ones do!”
Notice the lack of street names and/or numbers? Yep, that’s about it. Makes a GPS really helpful.
We did eventually make it to Declan and Sarah’s house. They are wonderful friends of my in-laws who offered to house us for the weekend. And what a weekend it was! They have a home full of kids — 6 of their own (although 2 were away in the States) and then a few others added in along the way. At one point, we had 4 different nationalities enjoying dinner.
One day during the weekend, we went out touring the area. We started with Craggaunowen, a park where you can explore the traditions and dwellings of the Crannog people who lived over 1000 years ago. It was a pretty quick visit, but we learned quite a bit, and the site itself had a nice walking path that we all enjoyed.
Afterwards, we visited Bunratty Castle and Folk Park — the castle itself was built in the 1400’s, and the folk park recreates 19th century Ireland. The castle closes before the rest of the park, so you have to be sure to get there on time…which we did. However, it turns out that an air show on Friday gave free passes to Bunratty all weekend, so the place was packed.
As we walked up to the castle, we couldn’t find the entrance. We walked around the side and saw a few people going up some stairs into a small door. I realized this was the back entrance and made the family head back the other direction. There we found a door that opened into a courtyard. We opened it, only to have an employee on the other side tell us that the castle was closed.
“But it doesn’t close for an hour!” I protested.
“Yes, but that line will take at least an hour,” she told me as she slammed the door shut. So much for the friendliness of the Irish.
As the kids realized what had happened, their faces dropped. So, I promptly led the family back to the back entrance where we climbed some wooden steps with about 4 other people. This led us into a narrow hallway and then to a small, spiral staircase. So, we started climbing. Only problem was that this was actually the exit, so there were a lot of people coming down, and it was definitely not a staircase made for 2-way traffic. A few times Hubs asked if we should turn back, but I wasn’t going to let the kids miss the castle, so we persevered. Finally, after climbing multiple flights and smashing ourselves against walls to allow the law-abiding tourists pass, we entered into a large hall. I have to say it felt extremely freeing. We had made it!
We tried to look nonchalant as if we had entered the room the correct way. Suddenly, I saw the woman who had slammed the door on me running toward the back way we had entered. I grabbed Hubs and the kids so she wouldn’t see us. She ran past us on a mission to close down the secret entrance. So, we continued on our way. We ended up only missing one small section as there was no way to get there from where we entered, but other than that, we got to see Bunratty Castle!
After our wonderful weekend in Limerick and the surrounding areas, we headed out to drive the Ring of Kerry. We had decided to spend the night in Kenmare so we could get an early start driving the Ring of Kerry the following morning. I mean, if Rick Steves says that’s the way to avoid the crowds, you do it, right?
So we drove from Limerick to Kenmare, going through Killarney National Park. We made a stop at Muckross House for lunch, a wander through the gardens, and a tour through the house itself. JJ asked a lot of questions of the volunteers in each room, and one was so pleased with his curiosity that she even brought him over to show him the secret portable loo! Nothing thrills a 7-year-old boy more than toilet talk.
Another quick stop at Torc Waterfall before continuing on to our B&B on the water in Kenmare. We settled into the B&B, went into town for dinner, and then came back to get a good night’s sleep before our long drive the next day.
Since Ireland was so full of fun, it’s worth a few posts. More coming soon!