It dawned on me that I took this fabulous trip last year and I never recapped. So! Here we go!
We went in March-April, leaving the last day in March and arriving in Ireland April 1. We left April 10. The weather was perfect (for us)-- 50's the whole time, only a little rain, very low tourist season.
We flew from Indianapolis to Philadelphia, and then to Dublin. The flight was super easy and not long at all. The Philly-Dublin leg was overnight, so Vor slept and basically had a "full night" of sleep. I was too amped up and really into a book I was reading. My bad.
Once at Dublin, we hopped on a bus that, although it was just the public transportation bus, basically gave us a tour of the highlights of Dublin on our way to the train station. We got to the train station, got our ticket, and indulged in a leisurely cup of tea and a scone before hoping on the train. We took the train from the east coast (Dublin) to the west coast (Galway). It was only a three hour train ride, and we napped, took pictures out the window, and relaxed. Vor took multiple pictures of the train and the train stations we stopped in, and we loved watching the glorious countryside go by.
Our hotel (amazing hotel, Forster Court Hotel, if you go to Galway, go there) was right by the train station, so it was an easy walk with our stuff. We checked in, showered, and wandered out. We basically picked the first pub that looked old and like a dive, and headed in. It was the King's Head Pub, and it was actually beautiful inside, and it has a ton of history. Vor got his Guinness and fish and chips; I got my wine, Guinness onion soup and brown bread. We were basically zombies from lack of sleep and jet lag at this point, so we just wandered up and down the streets, enjoying the view of the bay and the river, me pointing out things that the guidebooks recommended. It was glorious walking along the river at night.
We decided to go to the Aran Islands and bike around. There are three--I've been the smallest, which was cool. We decided to go the largest, Inis Mor (Inishmore). We took the bus to the ferry, an hour and half bus ride through gorgeous, rough Irish country. Many pictures were taken. We took the ferry to the islands, which was awesome, and rented two bikes as soon as we were off the boat. We biked all around the island, up and down the hills, into the heart of the island, and out on the coast. It was glorious. We would stop where we wanted and take pictures, climb over walls, hike up onto rocks and the tallest hills, etc.
Easily the best part of this was the several hours we spent wandering around Dun Aonghasa (Dun Aengus) and the related cliffs. It's nothing like anything you could ever see in the States; in Ireland, they figure if you're stupid enough to jump off the cliffs, they're not going to try to stop you with barriers and fences (that and the totally different tort & liability laws, which of course we had a discussion about with our feet dangling off the edge of the cliffs). Also on this island is the real legit spot to get Aran sweaters, hats, scarves, etc. I have an Aran scarf that smells like the island. It's a rush when I put it on. We actually just got some cheese and meat, and sat on a stone fence and ate. That night, back in Galway, we ate at McDonagh's, which would be the best fish and chips and mussels and smoked salmon and everything else I've ever eaten.
The next day was Sunday, and it was Mother's Day in Ireland. We went to church and then went for a very long walk out of Galway and into the nearby resort town of Salthill. Going there, we walked along the bay; coming back, we walked through towns themselves. We had coffee, and ate Italian food, where the local crazy resident named Nora wandered up to us (we were eating outside) and tried to take our food. Our waitress chased her off, and gave us the history of Nora. Local color, you know.
Funnily, at church, there were little kids handing out flowers to the mothers. One handed me a flower, and Vor and I joked that the kid must have known something we didn't. Ahem. Why, hello, Lis. So that's how you get pregnant, folks--it's not the stork, and it's not sex. Don't let little kids give you a flower in church on Mother's day, or you'll end up pregnant.
Monday, we wandered around the shop streets, in and out of all the stores. We bought a gorgeous print map of old Galway, and a necklace for Mama Vor. We ate dinner at our hotel, and had wine and Guinness and rum and coke and watched the world go by from our window perch. By the way, the breakfast at our hotel was out of this world. So was dinner.
Tuesday was when the real adventure began. We took a cab to the extremely minuscule Galway airport, where we rented a car. A car with the steering wheel on the wrong side of the car. It was also manual. And we were going to be driving on the wrong side of the road. I don't drive stick. Yay! (Moral of the story: even if you book an automatic car in Ireland, you're not going to get it) So, we took a few loops around the airport to get used to the roads, etc., and off we went, with me steadily saying on the left, on the left, on the left. We stayed on the left for the most part. We didn't cause any accidents, at least.
We drove to Limerick to see my family. On the way, we stopped at Newmarket-on-Fergus for coffee and scones. We got lost in Limerick, ate lunch, visited my old haunts from when I was a student at Limerick University, drove aimlessly around the same two miles trying to find my family's house, until we succeeded. We had dinner with them, looked at family photos, and talked. Then, we got on the road to Cashel.
We got to Cashel Tuesday night, wandered around the village, found a random B&B (Ard Ri House, it was very nice) (after Forster Court, we didn't have anything booked, we just decided to wander), and walked up to the Rock of Cashel. We had dinner at Kearney's Castle Hotel and it was freaking awesome. We ate at the bar, and the bartender just kept recommending random things off the menu, so we said, "great, serve it up." And they did, and we ate it. He kept giving us Guinness, and the more we drank, the dirtier his jokes got. It was a blast. We stumbled back to Ard Ri, and into bed. We woke up to cows mooing.
On Wednesday, we went to the Rock of Cashel. It was pretty and impressive, but honestly, I wouldn't bother. I would do what we did next instead, which was go to Blarney.
Blarney is a town, not just a castle, and it is a cute town that we decided we would have liked to spend more time in. We had tea, and got some lunch. We went to Blarney Castle, and Vor kissed the stone. I'd already done that. We crawled all over the castle, and walked the grounds. There is so much more than the castle, which is huge itself and in great shape--you could spend the whole day there. We loved, and we would go back in a heartbeat. We would definitely bring kids there. (I have many, many pictures of Blarney, but Vor is in most of them. So, no more pictures for you)
We drove to Kenmare, arriving in Kenmare Wednesday evening. Kenmare is a short distance from Kilarney, and less touristy. It's on the end of the Ring of Kerry, and is also on the less known but just as pretty Beara Peninsula. We stayed at Abbey Court, and it was awesome. The owner was amazing, the views were beautiful, it was easy walking into town, on the bay, and generally glorious. We ate at a pub, and suddenly, there were musicians playing music! Out of nowhere! Love.
Thursday, we drove (slowly, carefully, with a few frightening encounters with tour buses) into Kilarney, walked around the town, into Kilarney National Park, over to Ross Castle, and around the grounds at Muckross House. I think we would like to spend more time there as well, and we could have spent a day at each of these things. We bought a few final gifts there, which was easy, as it was very touristy (but since we were in low tourist season, it didn't feel like it). We went back to Kenmare, had tea overlooking the bay, found food at a local place called Jam, and fell asleep.
Friday, we drove back to Kilarney and returned the car, and got on the train. It was an old, super cool outdoor train station. We were approached by the local alcoholic, and the ticket person shooed him off, and explained that he was trying to bum a ride form us into Dublin, because no bars in Kilarney or the nearby towns would sell him any alcohol.
After a delightful train ride in first class (worth the upgrade), we got to Dublin, stowed our luggage in a locker, and wandered around. We didn't go in anywhere, except to get lunch, but walked past the government centers, the Guinness Factory, along the river, etc. I don't have too much to say about Dublin, since we deliberately spent very little time there. We stayed at the hotel at the airport, which was brilliant, because, hello, airport shuttle (no idea who the people in the picture are).
Saturday, we flew out, and came home.
Things I would do differently: I would not bother with Cashel. I would spend more time in Blarney and spend the night; spend more time on the Aran Islands; spend more time in Kilarney; go to east coast of Ireland; maybe go up into the northern counties; definitely go into the Dingle Peninsula; do the Ring of Kerry or the Beara Peninsula over the course of a few days.
Advice: Don't be afraid of the car thing. It's okay. Just get as much insurance as possible. Don't bother booking train tickets until you get there; its cheaper that way. Take the train, it's fun.
Watch out for souvenirs you might bring home!