Although our trip to Ireland was only four days as part of a travel agent familiarization trip, we were still able to see and learn a lot about the country in a very short time. In our past trips to Europe, we have spent many hours of research ourselves beforehand planning our itinerary, but this time we went on a guided tour with Celtic Tour Company and although we have enjoyed our trips we’ve planned for ourselves, the guided tour is definitely a less stressful way to travel in Europe. Our guides, Martin Hogan and Jim Burke, both natives of Ireland made you feel welcome from the moment they greeted you at the airport. Throughout the trip, they provided interesting stories and historical insights about the various areas of the country, but most of all, they both had a quick wit the Irish are known for and exchanged friendly banter with each other as well as people on the tour providing laughter and a good time throughout the trip. On our first day, we arrived in Dublin and headed south to Kilkenny for a short lunch and a walk through the medieval city. It was a good location to take a break and stroll around for an hour or two before heading to our destination for the night, the crystal city of Waterford. While the tours have certain stops planned, they also provide time to explore on your own and discover places like a little chocolate café we found next to the House of Waterford Showrooms.
On our second day, we headed for the historical port city of Cobh, which has a fantastic interactive heritage museum that documents the interesting stories of its past, including 2.5 million people that emigrated from its port, many trying to escape the Great Potato Famine, only to starve on the “coffin ships” which had gruesome conditions and took around 47 days to reach America. Other displays chronicles the Titanic as Cobh was the last port of call for the ill-fated largest cruise liner of its day and another super liner passenger ship a few years later, the Lusitania which was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat in 1915 killing 1,195 of the 1,959 on board, including 123 Americans. Although we would have liked to have spent another ½ – 1 hour in the museum, we were off to Blarney, a little village where we toured the Blarney castle and had the chance to kiss the Blarney Stone said to bestow the gift of eloquence to those who kiss it. The top of the castle provided a nice view of the area and the surrounding grounds were beautiful to walk through. The Blarney Woollen Mills offered a nice place to shop and relax on one of their outdoor patios before heading out to Killarney.
It was here in Killarney that we got to experience some traditional Irish pubs (Courtney’s and Killarney Grand/Sheehan’s were a couple of our favorites). Sheehan’s had live traditional Irish music earlier in the evening before switching to a great Irish Celtic rock band later in the evening. The friendliness of the Irish is encountered frequently, but most notably in the local pubs. The pubs offer the opportunity to see an important part of the culture and you’ll find yourself quickly drawn into a friendly conversation with a local and before you know it, you’ve made a new friend. We stayed at the Killarney Towers Hotel, a (4) star hotel conveniently located in the middle of the city surrounded by a number of interesting shops and pubs. It was also located only two (2) blocks from the Killarney National Park offering walking trails leading back to beautiful views of mountains, streams and lakes. We also enjoyed a horse drawn carriage ride (referred to as jaunting car ride) through the park to see the Ross Castle.
The next day we headed for a day tour of the Ring of Kerry offering spectacular views of wind-swept cliffs, still lakes, and rocking mountains. There were many small villages that we would have liked to spend more time in, but that is one of the restrictions we found with a guided tour. While the tour gave us an introduction to different areas, the best of both worlds may be a combination of a 5 day guided tour and then explore on our own for a few days.
Our last night was in Dublin, but we only got a few hours to see the city as we were leaving early the next morning. We got a chance to tour the Trinity College and the Long Room Library, but did not have enough time to tour the Guinness Storehouse. There are a lot of interesting pubs in Dublin, but we only had time to sample a couple, the Porterhouse and The Palace, and enjoyed both. We hope to return to Dublin someday to explore more of the city as it has a lot to offer and is one of the top Ten European Cities to visit. Although we didn’t have nearly as much time as we would have liked for our first trip to Ireland, we were glad we got the chance to experience the country that abounds with natural beauty and friendly people and can now appreciate why it is such a popular European destination.