Sometimes when you watch movies you get a glimpse of far away places. I recall watching scenes of rolling green fields, gray stone walls, lively pubs with good music and company, ancient castles, and friendly people with an accent and a welcoming smile. I had a chance to visit Ireland recently, and what I experienced was all of that…and so much more.
Our journey started in Dublin, where sociable people bustle around the gray stone streets, lined with shops and restaurants and pubs. The city sits on the River Liffey, which divides the city North from the South. The first day in town, we walked the streets to see as much of the city as we could fit into one day. We visited the Guinness Brewery, only to learn we needed to make reservations days in advance! So we changed pace and broke for lunch and a perfect draft beer at a local pub, before visiting places like Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin Castle and Trinity College.
The neighborhood of Temple Bar served for our next stroll, until we wandered into another local pub. They welcomed us in with hours of entertainment such as folk music and dancing. Once I grew weary from my long day of traveling, I enjoyed a quiet walk alone back to our hotel along the river, and never once felt unsafe as I navigated the dimly lit streets of Dublin. Everyone I encountered was welcoming and helpful.
The next day we traveled southwest toward the little town of Kilkenny. Free-roaming sheep and ponies dotted those idyllic rolling hills I’d previously only dreamed of visiting, everything already vibrant green in the early Spring. We visited The Lyrath Estate, which is a beautiful property that hosts a school of falconry on site. Here we learned a lot about the extremely intelligent species of bird, as well as how they are raised and kept. The hotel restaurant served us a delicious lunch of freshly steeped tea, homemade Irish soup, and sandwiches. The hotel manager escorted us around the property, excitedly spinning tales for us of this beautiful and historic property.
After lunch, we visited the Smithwick’s Experience in Kilkenny. The knowledgeable guide schooled us in the history of brewing, immersed us in the aromas and tastes of the draft ingredients, and the entire brewing process. Then we sampled the product! This was such a fun activity! I would definitely recommend this as a stop on any adventurous itinerary.
Later that evening I stole a few minutes to walk around the quaint town of Kilkenny alone, wandering into local shops, sampling homemade sweets, exploring the grounds of the Kilkenny castle, and capturing photos outside of a picturesque cathedral holding service on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.
Within walking distance of our hotel, we dined at Kyteler’s Inn. This hidden gem has a dark, ghostly history with a humorous twist. (No spoilers, you’ll have to find out the story for yourself!) You can enjoy both spirits and spirits (if you know what I mean) when you visit this inn. They served us Irish coffee at the end of a superb meal, and then we enjoyed live music and plenty to drink. As we walked back to our hotel, another local pub drew us in with the temptation of more incredible music and dancing! Happy people welcomed us into their rich culture at each place we visited.
The next morning we continued our adventure from Kilkenny to Killarney, but not before making a brief stop to take photos of the majestic Rock of Cashel. Located about forty-five minutes south of Kilkenny, it sits regally distant atop a hillside. The 1981 movie Excalibur was filmed there! You can visit the Rock of Cashel for 8 euros per person, but this time we just admired her from afar.
Our route carried us alongside more rolling green fields scattered with livestock, old farm houses, and a sprinkle of antiquated stone structures, some that looked like they’d been there for hundreds of years. We stopped for a quick lunch and shopping in the cute little town of Kenmare, and as I walked back from the shops to the bus, a light rain began to fall from the sky. I pulled up the hood of my jacket to keep me dry and smiled at the realization that I was walking the streets of Ireland in the rain. It still feels surreal, like something out of a fairytale.
From Kenmare we continued on toward Killarney, taking part of the Ring of Kerry Route. Beautiful landscapes of hills and valleys, sprinkled with ancient rocks and herds of sheep, passed us by. We traveled along the coast and made a stop at Lady’s View. We even witnessed a rainbow cascading down from the mountains into a valley! Call me silly, but I wonder if there was truly a pot of gold at the end of that rainbow. On our way into Killarney we stopped at the Torc Waterfall and Ross Castle, both worthy of your time.
In Killarney we strolled the streets in the rain, where little shops and cafes beckoned us in. One charming sweater shop, Aran Sweater Market, even offered to ship our souvenirs back home for us! And would you believe that my beautiful knitted Irish blanket was waiting on my doorstep when I made it back home? More mysterious alleyways and towering cathedrals rested among the stone streets, making this a memorable stop on our journey.
Following a welcoming reception at our hotel, we made our way to Harrows for dinner. Hearty choices like lamb chops and beef ribs filled our bellies while we enjoyed great company, with plenty of ale and wine to go around. We spent the evening reminiscing about all we had seen the last few days. I was quickly becoming great friends with all of my travel mates.
In the morning we ate a filling Irish breakfast of eggs, beans, and mushrooms, then set out for our next destination. We stopped at the lovely Great Southern Killarney Hotel. This historically rich hotel was built in 1854 as part of the city’s preparation for the Queen’s visit. The charming structure rests on six acres of beautiful gardens.
Next we visited the Aghadoe Valley, where the panoramic view of hills, valleys, lakes, and streams is breathtaking. It reminded me of an idyllic scene from a puzzle you would spend weeks assembling. The snow capped mountains in the distance were just a picturesque addition.
Then we moved on to the Killarney Brewing and Distilling Company. This brand new building is home to one of the most modern breweries in the country. They toured us through the warehouse, explaining the entire brewing and bottling process. The rooftop views boast an incredible panoramic view of the valley we had just visited earlier that morning. Once again, we were treated to a beer tasting. I even discovered a brew I enjoyed! What an enlightening experience!
From there we continued to the small town of Adare, where we visited the Woodlands property. Owned by several generations of the Fitzgerald family, I quickly felt like I belonged in such a majestic place! They served us a tasting platter, which was a robust sampling of the wonderful dishes served in their dining room. On the property is Mary’s Organic Garden, where they grow vegetables for their own hotel kitchen. Mary is the matriarch of the Fitzgerald family, as well as the interior decorator for all the rooms. A quaint area called the Treehouse harbored little huts where you can spend an afternoon immersed in lively music and dining at fancy food trucks. The whole family is integrated into the operations of this homestead, and I could feel that they put their heart and soul into everything they do.
From Adare, we rode over to Limerick, where we were treated to a guided tour of King John’s Castle. Situated on the River Shannon, this castle dates back to the year 1200, and is one of the best preserved castles in Europe today. Our tour guide was so pleasant and animated, I wanted to put him in my suitcase!
After checking into The Strand, which also sits on the River Shannon, we asked some locals where we should eat and were kindly pointed down the road to some local restaurants and pubs. Amazing food and friendly service seems to be the norm in Ireland, since I didn’t have a meal I didn’t love or service I wouldn’t brag about.
Making our way back toward Dublin, we stopped in Birr. We visited Birr Castle, another property with beautiful gardens, a science center and the home of The Great Telescope which was built in the 1840s. This beautifully preserved property is so rich with history, it makes you feel small in comparison.
Just up the road from there is Kelly’s, a bustling pub serving delicious food and surprise serenades from local Irishmen. The owner and his son treated us to sandwiches and drinks, and then we were treated to Irish folklore songs that made us smile from ear to ear. What an amazing treat!
On our final night in Dublin, we spent our evening at The Merry Ploughboy. The Irish Dancers, a mesmerizingly talented four part band, entertained us for hours with traditional Irish tunes, humor and stories. The food and stout were plentiful and the atmosphere was so entertaining! We rounded out our fun back in the Temple Bar area, where we listened to more Irish music and danced until they kicked us out!
What a wonderful week we had in Ireland. From the landscape, to the castles, to the people, Ireland is so rich in culture and history.
I truly believe that traveling to far away lands enriches your life. Getting to see and experience what the rest of the world has to offer makes you appreciate what you have that much more. Don’t live your life just seeing these places in movies, get out there and visit them in person! You won’t be sorry you did!