Ireland Trip Report April 2013
My wife and I just returned from a 20 day trip through Dublin, Cork, Killarney, Limerick and Galway. Along the way, we made day trips to Kinsale, Bunratty, and Cashel. We used all public bus transportation either by Bus Eireann or City Link. Our interests were mostly Ancestry, Nature, History, Art and Traditions.
We began in Dublin where we spent three full days. In one of those, we had a wonderful day tour to the Wicklow Mountains and Glendalough Lakes (Wild Wicklow Tours). In general, Dublin was not a city we enjoyed very much, the place is crowded, very busy and with just a few sites of interest, but it was a good introduction to the country, the food and the Irish people. One memorable experience in Dublin was a dinner/show (Irish House Party) with excellent food and delightful music and dances.
From Dublin we traveled by bus (Bus Eireann) to Cork. There we enjoyed our visits to the English Market and St. Finn Barre’s Cathedral. This cathedral was so much in our interest that we visited it twice. Kindly, the ticket officer, allowed us to use the same ticket in two days. From Cork we had very nice day trips (by bus) to Cashel and Kinsale. Our visit to the Rock of Cashel lasted more than half a day and we enjoyed it very much, the site is full of history, the guided visit was excellent and we had ample time to take our pictures. As expected, Kinsale turned out to be a charming place, we took a walking tour of the town (by Dermott Ryan) and we learned a lot about the history and life of this place. Also, we had an excellent meal at the deservedly famous Fishy Fishy Restaurant.
From Cork we traveled to Killarney, a comfortable 90 min bus ride away. While there, we enjoyed day tours to the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula. It was here and while at Cork that we learned how variable Irish weather can be. During the Dingle Peninsula tour bad weather kept us all wet, but we managed to enjoy it anyway and take lots of good pictures. In contrast, our walking tour of the Killarney National Park was in a gloriously beautiful day. The beauty of the mountains and lakes, particularly those around the Muckross house and Ross castle are just beyond words.
Our desire was to visit a Castle during our trip, and that we did at Bunratty. For this, we traveled from Killarney to Limerick and then we took a local city bus to Bunratty, just 20 mins away from Downtown Limerick. This castle and its surrounding farm village is very interesting, but it takes a good 4 hours to thoroughly enjoy it. This was one of the high lights of our trip.
Our last stop in Ireland before returning home, was Galway, where we spent five nights enjoying the city and surrounding sites, which we visited on day tours. The beauty and splendor of the Cliffs of Moher are just fantastic, it did help that the weather was very good, all sunny and bright on the day of our visit. A comment we heard along this visit, was that the day before, strong winds and lashing rain prevented visitors from getting too close to the edge of the cliffs. Equally enjoyable was the tour to the Connemara Park, and the Kylemore Abbey.
Our visit to the Aran Islands was also blessed by good weather, but it was obviously a different kind of tour. Less well organized, ran by very friendly people, but not to the level of professional behavior of other tour companies. It was also clear that Inish More is a place of limited infrastructure with few places to eat and incredibly narrow roads. However, the visit to the ancient fortress of Dunn Angeus is something we will remember the rest of our lives. By, the way, it should be mentioned somewhere that some minimum level of fitness is required to climb to that place.
We returned from Galway to Dublin on a comfortable express bus ride (City Link), one of very express services available. Our return from Dublin Airport was certainly different. The fact that we cleared customs and immigration requirements at the airport made things easier arriving in the US.
In the final part of this report I can offer the following tips, but I will be glad to entertain any specific queries regarding Cities, Sites, Hotels, Restaurants etc.
Plan well ahead of time if you like to travel independently. But do not be surprised if the information you collect along your planing is not complete or correct by the time you arrive in Ireland.
Do not be surprise if the Tourist Information Offices are not that helpful. In many instances, when we walked in, the people there did not help much or gave us wrong information. Two notable exceptions were the Galway and Killarney offices.
We found that in general taxi services were very good and relatively inexpensive. The drivers were always friendly and honest.
Do some research on the “Tourist Traps” and decide if you still would like to visit them. In our case we avoided the Guiness brewery in Dublin, and the Winery in Bunratty.
The cost of food in Ireland is in line with costs in other European cities. But irish food is somewhat limited in variety, after two or three weeks you may want to get something different.
In most cases the breakfast buffets will include the “Full Irish Breakfast”. It is good, but once again, not something recommended for everyday. In most cases there will be other common items, but not much fresh fruit. In some hotels we found a continental breakfast buffet readily available, and the option of ordering some “hot breakfast” as well, prepared at the moment you order.
If you are going to travel by bus, try to learn how to use the automated ticket-vending machines at the bus stations. In many cases we were not able to buy tickets in advance and sometimes when we wanted to travel early in the morning the ticket counters were not open. These open at 9am, and the machines even though they work at all times, they do not take 50 euros bills, or do not always sell tickets for travel other that on the same day.
If you need to connect your computer or other devices, make sure you bring the required electrical adapter. The outlets in Ireland are the UK type and hotels do not always have some that you can borrow. In all the six hotels we stayed, only one offered American type or European Continent style outlets.
ATM machines are everywhere in Ireland, but we had the problem that at least two banks, Ulster and AIB, did not accept the 4 digit pin for our card, even though they were affiliated to the correct networks. We did not have any problems with the ATMs of the Bank of Ireland.
One of the Irish food ingredients is Pork Belly. I tried twice, and I can tell you that unless you are a lot into pork of pork fat, perhaps you should avoid it. But, in many places you can find pork chops.
Before getting to Ireland we learned about the Jaunty Cart rides, something characterized as an expensive tourist trap. They are not cheap certainly, and you will find them only in some places such as Killarney and the Aran islands. On this I can say that even though we were not planing to do it, we took a ride and it turned out to be a memorable experience. The driver was willing to negotiate the price (very unusual in Europe) and all along the way told us all kinds of stories. We enjoyed the experience so much we gave him a few extra euros.
If you travel to the US from Dublin, allow at least two hours time to go through the whole process. In our case, it took us 90 min from the moment we stepped in the airport, to negotiate all the inspections (two of them), and immigration and custom procedures. By the way, do your duty free shopping before going through immigration, beyond that there are no more shops and just a few simple eating and drinking places.
Everybody makes a lot of noise about Guinness beer, it is good and special no doubt about it. But it would be good if you also try Harp, Kilkenny and Angel Brew among others. On this I can also say that one of my disappointments was that no place I ordered Guinness knew how to form a Shamrock foam on top of the glass.