Here is a general report on my trip between June 1 and June 11. I will try to add more detailed info in the forums specific to each place I visited, and I want to write a post specifically on tips for North Americans driving in Ireland.
The three of us (my partner, myself, and my elderly father) arrived separately and met at Dublin Airport. It's very easy to meet people as there is only one exit from Irish immigration and customs with seating available at that exit. I purchased a Leap card at the Spar shop in Terminal 2 for the Dublin Bus, which turned out to be very useful because I could use it to pay fares for all of us, though we took a taxi from the airport to our lodgings since we had luggage. We arrived early on a Sunday morning and found that in Dublin hardly anything opens before 10:00 on Sunday, and many places only after 12. That afternoon was a series of errands performed in a jetlagged daze.
Days 2 and 3 were devoted to sightseeing in Dublin. Details will appear in the Dublin forum, and I will try to review each restaurant where we ate. We found it fairly easy to get around by Dublin Bus, especially thanks to the Dublin Bus app that I installed on my iPhone. In general, we enjoyed Dublin, especially the lovely Georgian sections around St. Stephens Green. Still, I think two days were plenty, and we were ready to move on after Day 3.
At the end of Day 3, I took a bus back to the airport to collect our rental car from Dooleys. I had made a reservation in advance, so I had a good confirmed price. I chose to pay the excess damage insurance fee so that I would not have the worry and the heavy security charge placed on my credit card. To me, it was worth the extra cost for the peace of mind even though we did not have any accidents or even close calls. Dooleys was very efficient, and I was very happy with my rental.
We spent Day 4 on an excursion from Dublin to sites in the Boyne Valley. We arrived at Bru na Boinne just when they opened at 9:00 on a showery day. It was not crowded, and we were able to get a tours of Knowth and Newgrange shortly after we arrived. I will have more details on this in the County Meath forum. That day, we also saw the Hill of Tara, Bective Abbey, and Trim Castle before returning to Dublin. We all loved these outdoor historic and prehistoric sites, and we found that one day was about right for this itinerary. Driving out of and back into Dublin, even at rush hour, was less stressful for me than driving along the narrow country lanes between Bru na Boinne and Tara, but I am used to Boston city traffic.
On Day 5, we drove across the country to Westport, stopping along the way at Hennigan's Heritage Centre, but only briefly because we missed the tour, then doubling back to see Carrowkeel in County Sligo. I will review each of those places separately, but I will note that while we absolutely loved Carrowkeel and its spectacular views, the track to it is very rough and steep, and probably should not be attempted without a high-clearance vehicle and/or 4-wheel drive.
On Day 6, we drove from Westport to Burrishoole Abbey and Rockfleet Castle, then took a beautiful route along Lough Feeagh up to Killala. After seeing sights around Killala and eating lunch, we continued on to Ceide Fields. Finally, we drove from there to Achill Island, including the Atlantic Drive and Keem Strand, before returning to Westport. It rained much of this day, and there was hardly any sun, but Achill was still beautiful, and we even enjoyed a walk on Keem Strand in the rain.
We started Day 7 with a drive to Cong after a leisurely morning with each person on his own. We enjoyed photographing the abbey, had lunch, then had a pretty drive through the woods to a viewpoint over Lough Corrib. From here we drove across beautiful Joyce's Country to Clifden, then along Sky Drive and the Renvyle loop to take in the spectacular views of north Connemara. Finally we drove back to Westport along breathtaking Killary Harbour and past Doo Lough. On this day, we were fortunate to have a fair amount of sunshine.
On the morning of Day 8, we took a ferry to Clare Island. We spend Days 8 and 9 on the island. I think we all loved our time on this peaceful and beautiful island, though my elderly father found the steep roads largely too difficult to walk. I will post more details on the Clare Island forum. One long day would be enough to see the sights on this island, but it was good to have more time to just relax.
On Day 10, we took a morning ferry off the island and drove back to the Dublin area by way of Clonmacnoise. All three of us loved Clonmacnoise and felt that the detour to get there was more than worthwhile. We arrived at our lodgings in Swords mid-afternoon, had a look at the castle there and paid the M50 toll in a shop there. Then we drove to Malahide and walked along the shore for a bit before having dinner. Finally, I dropped my passengers off at our lodgings, dropped off the rental car, and returned to our lodgings for the night.
A quick comment on the M50 is that finding a Payzone outlet and then waiting in line to pay was a time-consuming hassle, and the only way to pay as a tourist if you don't have a laptop. This toll is not tourist-friendly.
The next morning, we transferred to the airport and flew home.
The trip was a memorable one, and I think we all loved it. Ireland is a uniquely beautiful country, but I think we all agreed that the best part of the trip was the Irish people. Almost without exception, the people we met and dealt with were friendly, warm, and engaging. Ireland is a country that touches your heart and nourishes your soul.