In case you missed it, Part 1:
On the way to Westport, we drove through Sligo and stopped at the Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery. This was a must-do on my list. It is a series of tombs, stone circles, dolmens, etc from about 3500 BC predating the Egyptian pyramids by about 1000 or so years. Just still blows my mind. We did a self-guided tour that cost E3 while the kids waited in the car. My husband was a good sport and walked the entire thing with me while I was nerding out on every tomb. This was the first day we didn’t have sunny skies but I didn’t mind the light rain and we had been so lucky on weather so far. But true to the Irish weather patterns, it was sunny again by the time we finished the tour.
Once we arrived in Westport, we made our way to the B&B, The Killary House. This was our most disappointing B&B of the trip. Our room was in a separate building from the other rooms so maybe that was the difference for us as I see mostly positive reviews online. Anyway, the room itself was nice as it was an attic room with a large walk in closet and large bathroom. Apparently on the floors below us were apartments where people live who smoke. We kept our room door shut and our actual room did not smell of smoke but the hallways smelled of smoke and cooking smells. The breakfasts tasted fine but a number of the dishes were not very clean. Proprietor was friendly enough. Location was pretty good and was right around the corner from the bike shop we were using to ride the Greenway trail.
Westport itself was nice enough but pretty touristy and much more crowded. We could walk to the city center from our B&B which was nice. Westport was my least favorite stop on our trip but I think my opinion could be mostly because of the B&B and the fact that my daughter still wasn’t feeling that great. The highlight was cycling the Great Western Greenway. We rented bikes from Clew Bay Bike Rentals. The guys in the bike shop were super helpful in getting it all set up. I wished I had booked ahead of time so we could have gotten a spot on the shuttle first thing in the morning but I wanted to stay flexible for the weather. It all worked out by switching around our starting and pick up points and besides my original plan would have been way too long. We drove to Newport where we picked up our bikes and rode to Achill. It was a gorgeous, gorgeous ride! There was one turn that we missed and found ourselves on a busy road with dump trucks passing us. Bad news, especially with the kids. I used our cell phone and called the guys at the shop and they steered us back onto the trail. So, if you ride the trail and find yourself in dangerous traffic, go back!! The trail is very well maintained and safely out of traffic. I highly recommend the ride although the two legs we rode ended up being 31km/20miles which may have been a bit much. We all finished it okay but we were pretty pooped by the end. If you are looking to just ride the most scenic portion, try the Mulranny to Achill leg which is beautiful and much shorter. We loved the beautiful views of the country side and Clew Bay. There were sheep and cows on the trail at times that added to the fun. The shuttle picked us up in Achill and took us back to our car. As always in Ireland, bring your rain coats! It switched from rainy to sunny, to rainy to sunny again during our ride.
The shuttle driver recommended The Helm in Westport for dinner. It was a nice place where we enjoyed some good pub grub and seafood. After dinner we drove around town and decided to check out Croagh Patrick. We were way too tired from the bike ride to do much hiking but we walked part way up the trail to a statue of St. Patrick for more amazing views of the bay. There is a visitor’s center at the base of the mountain but it was closed for the evening. Across the street is the National Famine Monument which is worth a look as well as the Murrisk Abbey ruins. I always love a stop at some ruins! My husband was always asking me what the difference is between ruins and some old, broken down, junky building. And to make the kids happy we went to a nearby beach where they could play and pick up shells. Several locals were there walking their dogs on the beach which we enjoyed as we were missing our dog, Louie. We sure were tired that night!
The next morning I had planned a surprise for my husband. I told him we were meeting a tour guide in Clifden, our next destination. We were actually meeting Dara Molloy, a Celtic Priest, to renew our vows. Once my husband realized what was going on (at first he thought I said we were having our vows removed instead of renewed ;-) ) he was 100% on board. Dara took us to a nearby gorgeous beach (in Derrygimla, Ballyconneely) where we had our ceremony. It was absolutely amazing and the sunny day was a bonus! Dara is wonderful guy and I highly recommend using him if you are thinking of doing something similar while in the west of Ireland. He helped me customize our ceremony ahead of time to include a handfasting and was all just perfect for us. Our older daughter read a bible passage and the younger one read an Irish blessing. It meant so much more this time than the first time we said our vows 15 years ago. I guess this time we really knew what we were committing to! This experience was the best thing we did on the entire trip. So thank you again to this forum where I first read about Dara!!!
After that we did some shopping in Clifden. The main road in Clifden has a number of nice shops and was much less crowded then Westport. We bought new wedding bands in a shop called O’Dalaigh Jewelers. We actually bought a number of things in there. It is a nice, family owned place with reasonable prices and they make 70-80% of their pieces in-house. I think they have another location at the Cliffs of Moher. I liked being able to chat with the man who made our bands himself and he told us his father started the business in 1978 or 79, I can’t remember exactly.
After the ceremony we checked into our B&B, All the Twos, for two nights which was another great B&B. It was sort of a cross between a small hotel and a B&B. It is run by an English woman and has a different feel from the other Irish B&Bs we stayed in. I really enjoyed it but my husband thought it was a bit stuffy feeling. There was a nice sitting room where we played charades in the evening. My younger daughter kept wanting to play charades which I sort of rolled my eyes at but we ended up having lots of laughs in that sitting room. From there we went back into town and caught an early trad music session at Vaughn’s Pub. This kind of thing was the benefit of a tourist town like Clifden as we weren’t able to be out for late night music sessions with the kiddos anywhere else. We much preferred Clifden to Westport. They are both tourist towns but Clifden was much less crowded and had a small town charm. If I had it to do over again I would have skipped Westport and spent those two extra nights in Donegal. Anyway, back to Clifden… we enjoyed the Sky Road and its amazing ocean views. I had read a lot about the scary Sky Road but after driving around back roads in Donegal it seemed like a piece of cake. We also walked down to Clifden Castle (just park near the archway leading that way). We were going to have a picnic there but the farmers were working on the grounds so we just looked around a bit and walked back to the car to get out of their way.
The next day we went to Kylemore Abbey. I was glad we went early because as we were leaving the tour busses were rolling in and it got crowded. It was a beautiful place but I am not sure it was worth the E35 we paid to get in. The tour of the house only included a few rooms on the first floor, and although interesting, it left me wanting more. Probably would skip it if I had to do over again.
That led us to Connemara National Park where we hiked the Diamond Hill Loop. We went all the way to the top and I am so glad we did as this was my kids’ favorite thing we did on the whole trip. It was a more difficult hike than I expected near the top but the views were truly unbelievable in all directions and 100% worth it. It took just a little over two hours to complete the hike. It was kind of cool to look down on Kylemore Abbey and its walled gardens after we had just toured them. There was also a tea room at the bottom where we enjoyed a light lunch.
After Clifden, we had nothing planned for our last day in Ireland as we were flying out of Shannon the next day. We kicked around stopping at Cliffs of Moher but my husband found the cliff walk in Kilkee in our guide book which said it was a much less visited version of the Cliffs of Moher. It turned out to be a great choice. On the way to Kilkee we stopped at Aughnanure Castle which I loved! It was a bit of a drive to Kilkee which was fine as it was a rainy afternoon but cleared up when we got to the cliff walk. We found gorgeous views of the ocean cliffs and crashing waves and it was an enjoyable walk. Well, my family enjoyed it but I was a nervous wreck because I felt like my kids were going to plunge into the ocean to their deaths at any time. The walk goes very close to the edge of the cliff so don’t go with small kids!! We were able to find a geocache on the trail as well. We are big geocachers at home and wanted to find at least one in Ireland before heading home. It isn’t as easy to find them without my iphone app! After enjoying the cliffs we drove to Bunratty where we were staying before flying out the next morning. It was a nice drive to our B&B and made me add to our next Ireland trip more time exploring the interior of the country.
We stayed at the Bunratty Castle Mews B&B which we enjoyed. We had dinner down the road at Durty Nelly’s that had good food and was packed to the gills with mostly American tourists. The next morning it was a short drive to the Shannon Airport where we turned in our rental car with no problems. The airport was very easy to negotiate, turn in our VAT card, go through customs, etc. The VAT refund was processed about ten days after our trip and was credited to our checking account.
Overall, we had an amazing trip filled with wonderful family memories. We found the people to be friendly but much like they are at home. This makes sense I guess as when our family from the coasts visits us in the Midwest of the US they are often struck by how friendly people are here. For me, the trip highlights were all of Donegal, the vow renewal on the beach and the Diamond Loop in Connemara. I forgot to mention our favorite travel guidebook which was the Eyewitness Travel: Back Roads Ireland. amazon.com/Roads-Ireland-EYEWITNESS-TRAVEL-R… We used it a lot and highly recommend it. On occasion we referred to the Lonely Planet Ireland book. It was okay. I actually used the maps in the Back Roads book as much as the road atlas I had brought along. We used both the GPS and paper maps probably relying on them both equally.
I was glad we spent two nights in all of our locations and felt like for us it was the right balance between road trip and in-depth visit. We only had 10 days for our trip and I didn’t want to spread ourselves too thin but still be able to see as much as possible. It is very hard to know what that balance will be until you actually have your boots on the ground. While planning the trip I kept wanting to make it longer but my husband just saw dollar signs with every day added. I don’t think he was really all that interested in the trip to begin with but went along for me because travel is one of my passions and we both want our kids to have a variety of experiences to broaden their horizons. He said this trip wildly exceeded his expectations and he is 100% on board for the next adventure I dream up.
Thank you Trip Advisor destination experts and forum posters!! I couldn’t have done it without you!!