Written by Joy Thrun.
After selling trips to Ireland for over 30 years, whether it was a self drive B&B package, an escorted tour, a golf vacation, or a private driver staying at castles and manor homes, everyone has always raved about their trip.
Now that I have traveled throughout Ireland I believe the perfect trip has much to do with traveler’s personal tastes and preferences.
With my years of experience of selling this destination, accumulating feedback and experiencing the country firsthand I can help you decide on the perfect trip for you.
Our trip was escorted; there were 37 of us traveling together for a Michigan Dental Association Continuing Education meeting. Many of the Doctors took traveling companions and family members along. Our group ranged in ages from 16 years to well into 70s.
The trip was 7 days and we did all the “don’t miss” features of the country that could be done in 7 days. This is the biggest advantage of an escorted tour, especially when you are in the hands of an experienced guide. Our guide, Michael Redmond, had 30 years of experience and provided a balance of history, culture, ledged, politics, and humor to our trip.
It is difficult or impossible to pack this much into a self drive 7 day trip and learn so much. Our tour started with 3 nights in Dublin. On arrival day, we had a panoramic tour of Dublin, visited the number one tourist attraction in Ireland, Guinness Storehouse, the birthplace of the famous pint which includes a free sample. I have never been a beer drinker but our guide warned us that not accepting and finishing a Guinness is a sin… I became hopelessly hooked on Guinness. We also had a group dinner that evening. I doubt if you were traveling independently, you would get that much in on arrival day!
Day two, after our meetings, we had a private tour of Dublin Castle and the State Apartments. The history dates back to the 930s. But the most significant to the Irish is The Easter Rebellion of 1916 which marked the beginning of the end of British rule. On December 6, 1921, the Anglo Irish Treaty was signed by which 26 of 32 counties of Ireland became the Irish Free State – so ending seven and a half centuries of English colonial rule. The document is housed in the Castle. That evening we enjoyed a scenic drive along the coast to the famous Abbey Tavern for a great meal. We also got to enjoy Irish dancing and experienced typical Irish folk music.
Day three, after our meetings we had a free afternoon. Tom and I first went to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells. Thanks to our guide, we knew where to head for the best takeaway fish and chips in Dublin. We also knew to order our chips (French fries) with vinegar not ketchup, had we ordered them with ketchup our guide assured us that people would think we were insane. Our guide had also told us that The Brazen Head pub was the oldest in Ireland, we had to go. So we had a Guinness or two at this pub that dated back to 1198 while listening to Johnny Cash. Ya gotta love Dublin!
We then headed to Grafton Street, the fashionable shopping street. Hoards of people, street entertainers and great shops. We then freshened up and headed to Temple Bar which is an area of streets on the city centre’s south side, between the River Liffey and Dame Street. Initially planned as Dublin’s cultural quarter in the eighties, it is today awash with restaurants and pubs. This is like Bourbon Street in New Orleans. 50% of Ireland’s population is under 25, so this is a lively area for socializing. Tom and I chose The Temple Bar for Guinness and oysters (yes, Temple Bar is an area and Temple Bar is one of the most famous pubs in the area). Great music and atmosphere even if we were two of the oldest people in the place!
The next day after breakfast it was tires to the pavement at 8:30AM for our drive to Killarney. The countryside was lovely including a stop at Cashel Castle for photos. We arrived at the Killarney Plaza hotel in the early afternoon. I highly recommend the hotel for its location and amenities. Dinner at the hotel was a treat, I am still dreaming of the dessert buffet. Because we were within walking distance to several great pubs, we hung out in one listening to traditional Irish music until midnight, then enjoyed a rock Irish band until the wee hours. Is this how U2 got their start?
The next day, which was my birthday, we drove the Ring of Kerry. This most spectacular scenery in Ireland, what a glorious memory. Dinner was on our own so Tom took me to Gaby’s, one of Ireland’s best seafood restaurants for my birthday dinner. Hard to be depressed on your birthday when you have such a world class day.
The next morning we were off to Kiss the Blarney Stone. The castle was stunning as was the scenery surrounding it. Kissing the stone is a bit more laborious than I expected. Even though I am a self professed germaphobe, according to legend, kissing the stone endows the kisser with eloquence, the gift to gab and the skill of flattery so I decided it was worth the risk. We also visited Cobh which was the last stop of the ill-fated Titanic but more importantly where hundreds of thousand Irish departed to immigrate to the US and Australia. It was very emotional and historically fascinating.
Our last day in Ireland was another action packed day. We headed out early and ferried across the Shannon River Estuary, bus and all, to view the mighty cliffs of Mohr. The cliffs are a 700 foot drop at the highest point and range for 5 miles above the Atlantic, simply awesome. We checked into the Radisson Hotel to be close to the Shannon airport for our departure, had a Guinness, changed our clothes and departed to Bunratty Castle for a farewell Medieval Banquet. The mead, wine, food, and music were the perfect end to our Ireland experience.
So for a first trip and only having a week to travel, an escorted tour was perfect. But if you are a more independent traveler a fly-drive trip can be a great option. Keep in mind they drive on the opposite side of the road and because of the Puka, an evil spirit who could only pursue you on a straight line, many of the roads are very winding, not to mention the Ring of Kerry drive with its narrow roads and high cliffs. I would still recommend organized tours for the major sites and drives so you can enjoy the views and glean all the history and important information.
Personally, I’m not a Bed and Breakfast type traveler (too much sharing), plus, not all the B&B’s are cute and quaint. But many travelers like the experience of meeting the locals and the good value. I would recommend a combination of small hotels, manor homes and castle stays. I think Dromoland Castle, within ½ hour of the Shannon airport, is a great way to start or end a trip to Ireland and Adaedre Manor House is another noteworthy stay.
When I go back to Ireland, it will be to golf! The courses are spectacular and less expensive and formal than Scotland.
So for the perfect trip to Ireland, call me and we can work together to design the perfect trip for you.