I lived in England for 35 years so I have no excuse for never visiting the Republic of Ireland, a small picturesque country famous for leprechauns, its dramatic west coast and Guinness, amongst other things. Andrea and I decided to visit with my dad for a long weekend, spending our limited time between Galway, Limerick, Dungarvan and Dublin. Ryanair operates return flights from East Midlands to Dublin for under $50 making this long weekend a no-brainer.
Within little more than an hour after departure we had already collected our rental car and were stuck in Dublin’s morning rush hour traffic. Thankfully our first destination, Galway, wasn’t too far away with only two hundred kilometers to drive straight across the island on the west coast. After leaving the city we encountered an almost empty motorway and miles of amazing landscape.
Andrea and I normally have our first night accommodation booked in advance but with the abundance of guesthouses throughout Galway we decided to book on arrival. Staying with locals and dining on traditional Irish breakfasts was going to be the way to go! It wasn’t long before we found a road that was walking distance to the center of town with at least half a dozen guesthouses. The Swallow B&B promised us the best breakfast in Ireland!
The historical section of town, centering around Quay Street, was also the busy area, full of bars with outside patios, restaurants, and colorfully renovated buildings.We weren’t yet ready to sample the Guinness but were all more than happy to try out other beers and the local food. Fortunately Andrea was able to join us whilst still working as we had been able to buy a Meteor SIM for 10 Euros including unlimited data usage, a bargain!!
Even though this was a quiet time of year the streets were still alive with artists and entertainers trying to carve out a living, most playing a musical instrument, some etching Irish phrases into locally sought slate, and others dressed up as leprechauns. Ireland was living up to our expectations with friendly people and natural beauty.
Our second day took us along the scenic Wild Atlantic Way en route to Doolin and the Cliffs of Moher – alongside Dublin, this scenic area is what most people know Ireland for, with spectacular cliffs, hiking trails, and the Aran Islands. Early morning weather was pretty typical, with cold and very little visibility, something we hoped would change for the better as we approached the cliffs.
Up until we reached the coastal village of Doolin, known for its traditional Irish music and the gateway to the rugged Aran Islands, tourists had been a rarity – things were about to change. With its abundance of guesthouses, mostly showing no vacancies signage, we quickly passed through the center and on to the ocean walkway. The gods must have been looking down on us as the Aran Islands were in full view, with the sea whipping up against the picturesque rocky shoreline.
Back in the car for a short drive, we finally found where all the tourists were hiding. The Cliffs of Moher parking lot was overflowing with tour groups and buses. The weather was horrible when we arrived so we hit the gift shop and coffee bar hoping for a clearing in the sky. Like magic, the clouds dissipated and the sun was showing it’s shining face! We made a mad dash for the top of the cliffs to get the best views of the coastline. The cliff top trail must attract more than hikers, highlighted by the below sign perfectly placed prior to gaining access to the grassy overlooks. For the non-British readers, the Samaritans are for the suicidal!
We could only imagine how beautiful this area of Ireland would be on a clear day, with Andrea and I both excited to return and hike at least some of the 123km Burren Way, going from Lahinch, through Doolin and Ballyvaughan, before winding its way inland. The half-day visit unfortunately only presented us with a brief introduction of this amazing area.
Our second night was spent in Limerick at the Avondoyle Country Home B&B, complete with an owner who refused to stop talking, but who served up the most amazing Irish breakfast. Limerick was also the location of our first Irish Guinness, probably the third I’d ever drank – we wanted our taste buds to be prepared for our upcoming visit to Dublin’s Guinness brewery!
From the coast we headed inland, passing through Tipperary, a town whose name was used in the popular World War I British soldier song, and on to Cashel, famous for its castle perched on the Rock of Cashel. I guess renovation work is always necessary on structures dating back to circa 1100, but we would have much preferred to see this historic building without all the ugly scaffolding.
Today was also Premiership football day, with my dad’s football team, West Ham United, playing live on television so we were running out of time to get from Cashel to Waterford to find a bar for the late afternoon match. One driving option passed through the scenic Knockmealdown mountains where the roads were extremely narrow, sometimes just wide enough for a single vehicle, but provided an adventurous buzz to the journey. We just needed to avoid the sheep wandering along the winding road!
Dungarvan was a very cute, unexpected surprise! We had an appetizing lunch and found a bar with the football games! Luckily for us, they were playing the football even though Ireland was playing in a major rugby match. Not only did we get to watch the West Ham match but also my home team, Leicester City, was playing. What more could we ask for? This meant the next four hours cooped up in an Irish drinking establishment with no place to stay for the evening! Luckily for us the number one place on Tripadvisor accepted our reduced rate offer and we secured a night in relative luxury at the Tannery Townhouses. The day didn’t end on a high note with Leicester losing 4-3 to Tottenham!
Dublin was our final stop and we had a full day to roam around Ireland’s capital. Our favorite value for money tour was definitely the three hours spent inside the huge Guinness brewery, something every tourist seems to have on their Irish bucket list. The highlight was getting to learn how to pour our own perfect pint of the black stuff, and even better to drink it on the viewing floor overlooking the city.
The rest of the city center, around the Trinity College area, was a mass of tourists fumbling their way through endless tacky gift shops and Irish bars. The only thing my dad and I wanted to find was a bar offering a Sunday carvery lunch; a fixed price meal of carved meat, vegetables, potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, and stuffing, all topped with gravy and various sauces – a true delicacy! I don’t think we felt the need to spend anymore than a half day exploring the city, although I’m sure many would totally disagree. We preferred Howth, a small outer suburb of Dublin located on Howth Head peninsula, definitely a location we should have visited earlier in the day.
Our departure from Dublin’s International airport early the following morning went without a hitch, even allowing us plenty of time to purchase some last minute Guinness gifts, items that seemed to be available everywhere we turned our heads.
Ireland was the perfect destination to visit when based in England, whether it be for a long weekend or a month – although the island is small it packs a big sightseeing packed punch. We will be back, even if only to hike the rugged Burren Way on the west coast…
March 19th – March 23rd 2015