We just returned from a first trip to Ireland. 10 days in SW and Dublin. Thanks so much for all the TA tips; they were so helpful. So here I go t offer any 'wisdom' to fellow first timers planning a getaway.
1) Yup, the Guinness tastes better in an Irish country pub...not even close to comparable of a Guinness in the States.
2) Driving: Yup, the roads are narrow, old, and befuddling. But what fun! Don't be afraid, or too afraid, of not renting a car. You see so much more than the bus tours and turning down an unplanned country road is part of the adventure. The trickiest part is not the left side of the road, but rather learning to stay close to the center with the wheel on the right. After the first day you'll get the hang of it. Just don't kill some poor chap on day one...and yes, when people on TA say buy the super CDW, listen to them! When you drive your first countrylane in Kerry with a bus headed at you and realize it's really a two lane road, you'll understand the rationale.
3) The Dingle TA controversy...someone on here says nasty things about Dingle as I recall. We thought it idyllic. Stayed at the Pax House and it was wonderful. O'Sullivan's had some of the better music of the trip, and the scenery is spectacular. Good eats about town too.
4) Loop Head/Kilkee should get more love on TA...a beautiful, uncrowded road with divine views. If you are in the area on a sunny day, defintiely take a ride down the coast.
5) Yup, Blarney Castle is overpriced, overrated, and overpopulated. An hour north in Cahir is a castle far more interesting and a fourth of the price.
6) Is all of Ireland on cholesterol medicine? Dear God, the Irish don't really eat breakfast like that every mornng do they?
7) Speaking of the Irish people, they were entirely polite, welcoming and accommodating. But they were not as cute as all the newborn lambs dotting the countryside!
8) Don't over plan. One of our fondest memories will be the side road we took through some fields on the way to Dingle to find the Minard castle. What a beautiful "find." Certainly not on any bus tour or even in many guidebooks, but an incredible location and sense of Ireland's past. Same for a diversion we took on Beara Peninsula at an old cemetary overlooking the sea. These places are some of the best memories we took away with us...
Again, thanks for all the advice the past year. For first timers, just enjoy the ride - you cannot help but enjoy the views. And the Guinness. And the Smithwicks. And the Bailey's....