In September, my very first friend in life and I traveled to Ireland. The experience was nothing short of incredible. Going back through these photos I realized that this trip seems like a lifetime ago and I desperately want to go back. Funny how time works; it has hardly been two months since this trip but it literally seems like an eternity ago. If I could hop on a plane tomorrow for Ireland, I wouldn’t even hesitate. The motherland, she’s good. Real good.
We packed a lot into ten days, and I have nothing but fond memories, truly. We had a pretty good game-plan figured out before leaving; accommodations booked, a rental car, and two day-trip bus tours scheduled. We were ready.
Day 1: Dublin Hop-on Hop-off Bus Tour
We took a red-eye from Toronto to Dublin. We arrived in Dublin at 9:00am local time and even though neither of us had slept a wink on the flight (if you value personal body space and leg room, than I don’t recommend Air Canada Rouge) we were ready for a day of exploring Dublin city! We decided to use the Dublin Hop-on Hop-off bus tour to get us around that day. We made a few stops; Trinity College, Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, and The Guinness Storehouse. Trinity College houses the Book of Kells; a latin copy of the four gospels, written over 1000 years ago and decorated so beautifully. As you might guess, we weren’t allowed to take photos, but it was really something to see.
Day 2: Paddywagon Tour to Giant’s Causeway
We woke up before the crack of dawn and met up with our bus tour. We were off to Northern Ireland to see Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge and Giant’s Causeway. This was one of my very favourite days. The views were incredible, and exactly what I had pictured when I thought of Ireland. Our first stop: Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge which is 100ft above sea-level and offers incredible views of the coast, including some Scottish islands off in the distance.
Then we were on our way to Giant’s Causeway, with a quick stop at Dunluce Castle (any Game of Thrones fans?). Giant’s Causeway was spectacular, as I had expected. It was very very windy, and there were tourists by the busloads, but we had a great time walking around and taking in the sights.
Before heading back to Dublin, we made a quick stop in Belfast. The great thing about the bus tour is that the driver is a wealth of knowledge and ours gave us a small history lesson which was fascinating. Below is a photo of Belfast City Hall with a lovely monument to Queen Victoria front and centre.
Day 3: Kilkenny Castle, Rock of Cashel, Hore Abbey
We were leaving Dublin and heading to Cork for the next two nights. On our drive to Cork we stopped to see the Kilkenny Castle. This was quite something as my ancestors on my father’s side of the family came from Kilkenny. It was a quaint little town; very picturesque.
Rock of Cashel is without a doubt my favourite castle/ruin that we visited. It sits high up on an outcrop of limestone in County Tipperary and it has an immense presence. We did a guided tour of Rock of Cashel and I am so thankful for that. The round tower (where the Archbishop’s residence was) dates back to the 12th century and there is a very large 13th century cathedral and a private 15th century chapel which was for the Archbishop on site. It was spectacular. There is also a cemetery with beautiful headstones and old celtic crosses.
Just down the hill from Rock of Cashel is Hore Abbey. We walked through a field with cows grazing about to check out the ruins. It was later in the day, we were the only ones there, and there seemed to be a lot of crows at Hore Abbey. There was the slightest bit of eeriness there (at least for me), but it was really neat to be the only two people walking through the abbey ruins.
Day 4: Blarney Castle and Kinsale Town
Alright so nobody told me that the Blarney Stone was at the TOP of the Blarney Castle. I honestly thought the stone was on the ground (I don’t know where I got that idea from). Anyways, in my blissful ignorance we bought tickets for the Blarney Stone and started our way up through the castle. This was the most touristy place that we visited in Ireland, and we were literally shoulder-to-shoulder the entire way up to the top. It was unnerving to say the least; especially the teeny tiny ancient spiral staircase that seemed to never end. My fear of heights/claustrophobia nearly got the better of me but we made it out on to the roof without incident. The experience of leaning over the roof of this ancient castle, hanging upside down and kissing the Blarney Stone should have been more terrifying, but it honestly happened so fast that I didn’t have time to be scared. And now, I supposedly have the gift of eloquence. Just like that it was over, and so began our trek back down another winding spiral staircase.
This next photo is from the very top of the Blarney Castle. We were still in line to kiss the Blarney Stone and I didn’t have the nerve to look to my right (over the edge of the roof) so I kept looking left, at this bell, to stay calm.
We made a quick stop at the Cork City Gaol for a self guided tour.
Then we were off to Kinsale Town for some wandering around. We hadn’t even heard of Kinsale until our Airbnb hosts recommended it to us. I’m so glad we went. The weather was incredible, the town is so picturesque and there were tons of cute mom and pop shops for window shopping.
Day 5: Ring of Kerry Tour and Drive to Dingle
We did a bus tour of the Ring of Kerry. We made all sorts of stops throughout the day at lookout points and attractions. One of our favourites was a stop at a shepherd’s home. He gave us a demonstration of his two border collies and it was incredible. He trained the dogs himself, and he used a whistle to give them commands. The dogs were brilliant and it was amazing to see how eager they were to work. It was also nice to spend the day being driven around.
After the Ring of Kerry tour we were on the road again and off to Dingle. We were so excited to get to Dingle – we had only heard amazing things about the town. We had a cute Airbnb cottage booked in Dingle for two nights. Our host gave us coordinates (as opposed to a physical street address) so we plugged those into the GPS and away we went. The drive to Dingle around sunset was stunning; we pulled over so I could take the photo below on our drive.
Not long after that photo was taken, I missed a turn at a weird fork in the road/traffic circle. We hesitated for a moment wondering if I should turn around, but the GPS re-routed so I assumed we were okay (we later found out that the GPS was set to ‘no u-turns’). Anyways, since the GPS re-routed we carried on…. only to end up on a non-road. Next thing we know the GPS says “continue off-road” and literally showed us driving through nothing but greenery. I’m fairly certain we were driving through a farmer’s field, seriously. We couldn’t see anything because there was shrubbery on both sides of us, it was dark out by this point, and there was absolutely no sign of civilization. There was nowhere else for us to go except forward, so we carried on. It was like a scene out of a horror movie… I jokingly said “this is it, this is how we die” to try to lighten the mood but I’d be lying if I said we weren’t a little nervous. I had visions of us sleeping in the car on a mountainside that night! Anyways, long story short we eventually came to an actual road, and drove along until we came across a farm with some lights on. We got out and asked for directions. All we knew was our that host’s first name was Patricia and the GPS coordinates of her home. Well wouldn’t you know one of the men on the farm goes “Patricia? Patricia! That’s my neighbour!” It was so cute … the man didn’t even live on the farm we had stopped at – he was just visiting that evening. But that’s how adorable and small Dingle is. The two men gave us some more directions, wished us luck, and we were off again. Those who know me, know that we obviously made a couple of more wrong turns, but at least we knew we were heading in the right direction. We eventually made it to the home, and looking back we are so happy that we got lost that night; it’s a great memory and the two kind farmers who gave us directions set the tone for our stay in Dingle. Nothing but hospitality and friendliness in this beautiful countryside.
Day 7: Drive to Galway and the Cliffs of Moher
This was the rainiest day we had on our trip. Rain, mist and fog all darn day. It made for a long day as we were driving from Dingle to Galway, with a stop at the Cliffs of Moher. It was a little disappointing that we didn’t get to see the Cliffs of Moher in all their glory, but we were prepared for rainy days and made the most of it anyway!
Day 8: Aran Islands
This was such a great day! We took a ferry ride (not so fun) to the Aran Island Inis Mor, rented bicycles, and spent the day wandering and exploring the island. Before we left for the trip, someone told me that you can get all seasons of weather in one day on the Aran Islands and they weren’t kidding. When the ferry docked it was a little overcast out but it was pleasant. By the time we rented our bikes (no more than 10 minutes later) there was a sideways rain, no joke. Here we were with our hoods stretched over our helmets, biking in a blinding rain, against the wind! It was hilarious, we were busting a gut laughing at how ridiculous it was. We stopped at a shop and within 15 minutes it was nothing but blue skies. And lucky for us, that was the worst of it. Biking around the island was incredible, there are so many historical monuments across the island, and the views are just breathtaking. We saw two dogs roaming around when we initially got off the ferry and those two little cuties found us as we were biking and they ran alongside us for over an hour. It was hilarious, we couldn’t get rid of them!
Day 9: Tullamore and back to Dublin
Our last full day in Ireland, we left Galway and were heading back to Dublin. We had planned to make a quick stop in Tullamore on the way so we could stop by the Tullamore Distillery (Tullamore is a famous irish whiskey and just happens to be my brothers’ favourite)! We didn’t do a tour of the distillery but from what we saw it was beautiful. I obviously couldn’t leave empty handed, so we did some quick shopping and were back on the road again.
Once we were back in Dublin, we did a tour of Kilmainahm Gaol. Not only was the building itself fascinating, but the history in that place is unbelievable. During the famine years, some people would land themselves in jail on purpose because they knew they were guaranteed a meal. The jail also housed many political prisoners after the 1916 uprising. The last two images were taken out in the courtyard of the jail. The black crosses are where 14 men were executed by firing squad for their role in the Easter Rising. Pretty wild stuff.
Phew! That was our last stop before spending the evening in Dublin and heading to the airport first thing the next morning. We returned our rental car without any problems, high five. In all honesty, the driving in Ireland was great, asides from our incident in the farmers’ fields of Dingle we didn’t have any trouble navigating our way around the country, or through the multi-lane traffic circles. The driving is so civilized in Ireland; everyone is so courteous and patient, it was lovely. We were sad to leave Ireland. Often times by the end of a vacation you are ready to go home, but I honestly didn’t have that feeling. Ireland is just so darn friendly you feel right at home. From start to finish, the trip was truly incredible.
I know that I will be back to Ireland again, without a doubt. I’ll be back.