My brother is currently in Ireland and posting photos. It made me think back on my trip to Ireland in 2019, just pre-pandemic. Ireland is a beautiful country full of friendly people and enchanting castles. Here is a re-cap of my trip.
Dublin – highlights:
Tour of the Castle
National Art Gallery
National Archeological Museum – very cool
Trinity College – must see
Chester Beatty Library
There is plenty to see in Dublin, several churches, and parks, and some shopping. Pubs and tourist attractions. Guinness does a tour. We did a lot of walking around town. We found a great Italian pizza place and a nice pub, and other good restaurants in our neighborhood. Our hotel was very centrally located.
I think most first time travelers to Ireland take the southern route through Waterford, Cork, Killarney, Limerick. There is a lot to see in Ireland and I picked a northern route because there were certain things I wanted to see. I saw everything I set out to see. Next time, I would like to go to Northern Ireland, to Londonderry. But this is what we saw on this trip.
We picked up our car at the airport in order to avoid Dublin traffic. We were heading north to County Monaghan. Our first stop was Brú na Bóinne. This is a Neolithic period World Heritage Site comprised of Knowth, New Grange, and Dowth. We spent three hours touring Knowth and New Grange.
The Knowth site has one large mound and 18 smaller ones. We were shown a film of the interior and were able to look down the passageway but could not enter it. However we could climb on top of it and see a spectacular view of the surrounding farmlands.
Highlight of the trip: New Grange consisted of one large main mound. Everybody who visited had to join a tour with a guide. At New Grange we were led into the mound for a demonstration of how the Winter Solstice lights up the cave-like structure. I’m sure the real thing is much more impressive but it was very cool. I am not a fan of small tight spaces and almost didn’t go in but luckily we weren’t in there very long so I didn’t have time to panic.
Both places were built 5,000 years ago, before the Pyramids of Egypt or Stonehenge in England. It is an incredible display of engineering, not to mention beautiful and kind of eerie.
Our next destination was Ballybay. This was the place my family listed as their home when they boarded the ship for America back in the early 1800’s. Since I had spoken with a genealogist in Dublin, I knew they had probably not come from the town itself but the general area, I was really more interested in the countryside. The area was lovely with farms and rolling hills. We drove through the middle to town, took a couple of pictures and kept going north.
We spent the night in Monaghan which is almost to the border with Northern Ireland. We were there in October and I was a bit surprised to see our hotel all decked out with Halloween decorations.
Monaghan – Westenra Arms Hotel
The Diamond, Monaghan Town, Monaghan, Ireland.
Phone: 047 74400
There was a small interesting museum in Monaghan and an impressive church.
Monaghan County Museum, 1-2 Hill Street, Monaghan, Ireland – 11 am to 5 pm
After spending the night in Monaghan, we headed west. The road took us into Northern Ireland several times along the way. We could tell because the road signs looked different, otherwise there was no indication.
Monaghan to Westport (3 hrs)
We stopped at Turlough – Castlebar on our way.
National Museum of Country Life – 10 am to 5 pm
Traditional Folklife collections
Across the street from the museum was the Turlough Round Tower from the 9th century – one of the most complete and best-preserved round towers in Ireland. Round towers were built as places of refuge for the occupants of important Churches or Abbeys against the Vikings. It was one of my favorite things.
Westport – We stayed the night at the Westport Coast Hotel right on waterfront.
Next morning we headed out – Westport to Clifden – 1.5 hours
Our first stop was Kylemore Abby. Originally built by a wealthy doctor from London for his wife, this has been home to the Benedictine nuns for 100 years.
The nuns ran a girl’s boarding school out of the Abbey from 1923 to 2010. They currently offer Residential and Day Retreats. The grounds included a Gothic Chapel and Victorian Gardens. The whole setting was very impressive.
Our next stop was just to the southwest of the Abbey at Connemara National Park. Much of the park was part of the Kylemore Abbey estate up until 1980 when it opened to the public. It was a mountainous area with almost 5,000 acres of land. On the way up one of the paths we saw some of the Connemara ponies. It was a good area for hiking.
On the way to Clifden, right on the coast in County Gallway, we opted for a small detour along the Sky Road Loop, a very narrow strip of road that follows the winding coast. The views were spectacular.
We stayed at the Ardagh Hotel that promised to provide us with a top rated seafood dinner. It did not disappoint with oysters and lobster. I opted for the lamb which was also very good.
Clifden – Ardagh Hotel & Restaurant
Ardagh, R341 Ballyconneely Road, Ardagh, Clifden, Connemara, Co. Galway, H71 X590
+353 95 21384
After spending the night in Clifden, we stopped to buy a couple of sweaters and headed for Ballyvaughan. On the way we took a very narrow, small dead-end road along Lough Corrib. We parked at the end of the road and had a picnic. Sheep were grazing below us, it was drizzling, and the lake was beautiful and eerie.
Clifden to Ballyvaughan – 2 hours
Ballyvaughan – Hazelwood Lodge
+353 (0)65 707 7092
Bed and Breakfast
We stayed at Hazelwood Lodge in Ballyvaughan, a comfortable bed and breakfast with a lovely couple who ran it. They were happy to share lots of information about the area. Ballyvaughan itself was not much but it was located in easy driving distance to many things. We planned to stay for four days and take trips from there. Our first outing was to the Cliffs of Mohr (obviously a must-see).
We were lucky it was a beautiful sunny day and not too crowded. From there we drove to Kilfenora to see the Burren Center. We learned about the geology of the limestone covered area, the fossils of sea creatures to be found, and the wild flowers that grow in abundance. At the Burren Center they show a film and there is a small exhibit. Next to the center was the Kilfenora Cathedral dating back to 1200 AD. It is known for its ornate and interesting crosses. Another thing we learned about Kilfenora was the television show Father Ted was filmed there in the 1990’s.
Out in the Burren National Park we took in the desolate landscape with tufts of green pushing through the cracks in the rocks. We stopped at Poulnabrone portal tomb that dates back to neolithic times, between 4200 BC and 2900 BC. It sits in the middle of a large field of rock.
The following day we continued our day trips from Ballyvaughan and headed down a small narrow dead end road onto private property in search of Gleninagh Castle. It was one of the best preserved tower castles we saw. The tower was built in the late 1500’s by the O’Loughlin family and they lived there off and on until about 1840. Next to the tower is a small well which provided them with fresh water. We saw many of these towers up and down the coast, some of them just rubble.
We headed south down the coast road to Loop Head Lighthouse right at the tip of Loop Head peninsula. The first lighthouse on this spot was built in 1640 and there has been one there ever since. In 1971 it went electric and became automated in 1991. Now the house acts as an Inn where people can stay in holiday apartments. The view from up top is spectacular.
On another day we took a boat from Doolin to Inisheer Island, the closest of the three Aran Islands. It was a pretty smooth ride and took about forty minutes. On the island we wandered around the ruins, the farmland, the town, the coast. It was beautiful in a kind of eerie way. I saw more farm animals than people. The islands were known for the Aran Sweater which is usually off-white in color with a cable design and pure wool. We decided the sheep must live on the other side of the island because we didn’t see any.
The boat ride back was another story. It was a rough ride and many were sick or at least looked green. The waves came up well above the windows and we would go up in the air and slam down hard onto the water. I was even a bit uncomfortable and I have never been seasick.
The boat took a different route back because we were to see the Cliffs of Mohr from the sea as well as the cave where Harry Potter was filmed looking for horcruxes. It was definitely impressive but difficult to really enjoy in the moment.
Before we left the west coast we stopped at Corcomroe Abbey built originally in 1182. Monks kept it up until the mid 1500’s when the English Reformation came about and closed Catholic monasteries. It was a beautiful place.
Ballyvaughan to Dublin – 2.5 hours
Dublin – Drury Court Hotel
Address: Drury Court Hotel, 28-30 Stephen Street Lower, Dublin 2
Phone: +353 (1) 475-1988
Our last stops in Dublin included Christ Church Cathedral (Dublin’s oldest building), and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Of course we spent some time walking through the Temple Bar area, and we ended our visit at the Hairy Lemon pub eating the most delicious bread pudding I have ever had.
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