Hey All! Wanted to report back what we learned on our trip to help others in their plans. Everyone was so helpful here, your advice allowed us to have a more fantastic time, and is greatly appreciated.
We arrived in Killarney on a Tuesday at around 7:30 pm. Dusk was ending just as we got to town, and it was dark when we got to the Riverside Hotel. We were originally supposed to land in Cork at 3:00 but were delayed two hours on our flight from Paris on Aer Lingus because, so they said, of weather in Amsterdam, of all places. I greatly dislike this airline now. Pitiful that they charge for soft drinks - 2 euro! Just the principle of it. Especially with the delay, which prevented us from trying to go Blarney.
So Driving in Ireland...we got in our rental and I set myself to drive on the other side. I made sure I never said the "wrong" side to anyone - but was surprised several Irish folk asked me how I was handling driving on the "wrong" side! I never thought to ask - but was afraid the pedals and turn signals, etc, would be opposite as well. I was relieved they were not. Although using the rear view mirror and gear shift (even automatic) was very awkward. Otherwise I found driving rather easy. I only tried to drive on the right twice - both times on empty, unmarked driveways. In fact it got so ingrained by the time I left that driving on the right at home felt odd for a day. The roads ARE super narrow (especially the ROK, whose posted speed limits are not only ridiculous and dangerous, are actually physically impossible in some areas), but driving in Kerry mid-week in March there was very little traffic. When large trucks or coaches come at you it can be scary - and being on the other side of the car makes it tough to gauge where the left side ends - but totally doable. I rarely got passed in a way it made me afraid. A couple times I saw someone behind me that wanted to go faster, so I just pulled out the next chance I could, but this was infrequent. I passed more cars than passed me. Driving at night was really fine, and driving though mid size cities (at least Kilkenny. Cashel & Killarney, all of which we had to go right through the centre at some point - was no harder than in a similar city in the US. The little towns were actually harder, since the buildings seem to be like walls for the road. Overall - I do consider myself an excellent driver - but I thought it was completely comfortable and I am extremely happy we rented a car. Even the M50 in Dublin was no big deal. 120 km/h on the highway - nice!
On Wednesday we drove the ROK. It really is a two day affair, and I am sorry we didn't have the extra day. Muckross House was pretty, but the tour was really here nor there for the precious hour of your one day ROK tour (by the way, from what I hear of the tours themselves, on coaches, they sound absolutely horrible, cramped on a bus with no power to stop as you please and rushing through sites). The Torc waterfall was beautiful, we caught it during a 10 minute hail storm which was actually really nice to see. Ladies View is a nice 10 minute stop. We just sat and looked. Kenmare is a jewel. Had great fish and chips with mushy peas - yum! The Staigue Fort is pretty cool, interesting road gets you up there, one of the scariest we found. I did often wonder why the roads were as they were - sometimes it seemed like they were curvy and narrow for no reason. We did not have time for the Skellig Ring (or Michael, sadly). And we did not make it for the Bog Museum, which I thought sounded great. White Strand beach was a total disappointment, but the nearby castle (Ballycarbery) was really cool - even though I don't think you're technically supposed to a few families were already wandering around, so we went up to it and had the most fun exploring it up and close like we could at no others. Sum is the ROK was awesome, best day of our trip (even weather from noon on was good and clear). I wish we had 2 days. And then one more for Dingle. But oh well.
Thursday we walked the Gap of Dunloe. We paid for one of the tours, which took us by coach to Kate’s cottage, which seemed lovely. The tour also included the boat ride back from the end of the trail. It was very expensive for the boat ride and coach, but there’s no other way to do it I can think of (park on one end and walk back and forth, which would be a lot, or take a cab, I guess). The walk was moderate, a good hike on a paved trail. About 7 miles total, took us about 2 hours with stops. Would have been nicer to have more time, but we only had 15 minutes to spare for the boat when we got to Lord Brandon’s, which was a total dump, worst meal we had in Europe (even the late night McDonalds in Dublin included). Great hike – highly recommend it. And if you’re at all fit, skip the crazy prices for the horse carriages.
Thursday, after the hike, we drove to Cashel, which took under two hours. It was an easy drive. We stopped at Caher to at least see the castle and really wished we had time to see the inside – it looked magnificent, nicest castle we saw, at least from the outside. In fact, I think I would have chosen to see it over the Rock of Cashel, which we saw on Friday.
Thursday night we stayed at Joy’s Rockside Inn – highly recommend it. Right next to entrance of the Rock, and the keepers were lovely people. We ate at Chez Hans that night – best meal we had in Europe. Wow was it good. Can’t recommend enough.
The Rock of Cashel itself was nice, but not as nice as I expect for some reason. Maybe because there was a 30 mph wind that morning and gloomy skies and showers. Anyway, we stayed for about an hour. We went to Hore Abbey, which was again really cool since it was empty and we could wander around on our own. The view of the Rock is great from here, too. Next we took a scenic route to Kilkenny that was recommended by Rem, one of the innkeepers at Joy’s. We got to Kilkenny and parked right near the Castle. We spent about 5 hours walking around Kilkenny, seeing the cathedrals (St Mary’s was amazing), the Rothe House (mediocre self guided tour) and Kilkenny Castle (reminded me a lot of Muckross, not a traditional castle at all, more like an 18th century mansion). The Design Center across from the Castle was a highlight, great store, crafts and restaurant. We stayed at Rosquil House, one of the nicest B&B’s we’ve ever been to (although that’s only about 12). The walk to town was a bit far – about 10 minutes. At night we went to many pubs, Kytelers and Matt the Miller being the most fun. We loved Kilkenny – great attitude, lovely city. Highly recommend.
We finished up our trip with three days in the Dublin area, first driving from Kilkenny to Knowth and Newgrange (about 2.5 hours). Those sites are must sees for history buffs. Just so neat the way you go into Newgrange for the “solstice” presentation.
I’m not going to add a lot of the Dublin trip details on here, since that’s now way out of Kerry. Needless to say it was a great way to finish the trip. But I wanted to thank everyone on these forums (I chose Kerry to post this report since we were there the longest) and report back on our trip. Again, really appreciate everyone’s assistance on making a wonderful trip to Ireland!