Serene and I were deciding between a few destinations then but quickly decided to go to Ireland when we came across air tickets to Ireland from SFO for $450, which was significantly cheaper than the other places we were considering. We dutifully went to the library to check out a few Ireland guidebooks and ended up bringing Rick Steve's guide and an obligatory Lonely Planet. We'd never used Rick Steve's guides previously and were pleased with it; in fact, we rarely referred to the Lonely Planet that we brought along. We rented a car from the Dublin airport and proceeded to drive around the country following the itinerary :
- Day 1 - Dublin Airport → Glendalough → Rock of Cashel
- Day 2 - Rock of Cashel → Cahergal, Ballycarbery → Valentia Island, Portmagee
- Day 3 - Portmagee → Skellig Michael, Ring of Kerry → Kenmare
- Day 4 - Kenmare → Killarney National Park → Muckross House → Dingle Peninsula
- Day 5 - Dingle Peninsula → Cliffs of Moher → the Burren → Kinvara
- Day 6 - Kinvara → Clonmacnoise → Bru na Boinne → Trim
- Day 7 - Trim → Dublin → Trim
The highlights of the trip were Skellig Michael, the Dingle Peninsula, Bru na Boinne, and the live Irish music at Kinvara. On hindsight, we would have skipped the Ring of Kerry drive from Portmagee to Kenmare, and instead head straight to Dingle after Skellig Michael so as to spend more time in the Dingle Peninsula (which we think is superior to the Ring of Kerry).
This trip was a change from the usual South America vacations that we'd been mostly doing in the past few years, and we had a great time and no hassle trip with our own car. We were also very fortunate to enjoy an entire week of bright blue skies and sun in Ireland, which greatly increased our fun level. Skellig Michael, in particular, was rather impressive and scenic. We also enjoyed our stays in Portmagee Heights B&B and Cois Cuain B&B in Kinvara.
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Our favourite pictures from this trip to Ireland.
Skellig Michael and County Kerry
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From the rock of Cashel, we drove to Portmagee on the Ring of Kerry drive, stopping at the ring forts Cahergal and Leacanabuaile, and also the nearby ruined castle of Ballycarbery. We crossed our fingers for good weather and reserved spots for a boat ride out to Skellig Michael the next day. The next day turned out to have perfect weather and the boat trip out to the Skelligs was uneventful.
Little Skellig and Skellig Michael are two slate and sandstone islands about 7 miles off the coast of Ireland. Skellig Michael, the larger of the two, is about 700 ft above sea level. Irish Christian monks built beehive shaped dwellings at the top of Skellig Michael from 588 AD and it was inhabited by these monks for about 500 years. Little Skellig is home to a large colony of Gannets and the boat trip circles Little Skellig before dropping passengers off at Skellig Michael for a few hours. The hike up to the dwellings, as well as the views from the summit were pretty spectacular, with the deep blue sea, the Irish coast, and Little Skellig serving as wonderful backdrops. The only glitch we encountered on Skellig Michael was that we were a few weeks too early to see Puffins on the island. We spent a few hours on Skellig Michael before the returning to the mainland, where we continued on the rest of the Ring of Kerry drive (which was not very memorable).
Rest of Ireland
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Skellig Michael was certainly the highlight of our trip, but we also enjoyed visiting the Dingle Peninsula and Bru na Boinne.
- Glendalough - founded by St. Kevin in the 6th Century, it was destroyed by the English in 1398 and abandoned in 1539. The surroundings of this set of monastic ruins are quite pretty and we walked around the area for a couple of hours.
- Rock of Cashel - the castle of the Munster kings, the oldest building (the round tower) dates from 1100 AD. We spent half a day walking around the site before heading to Portmagee.
- Torc Waterfall - A scenic waterfall in Killarney National Park.
- Dingle Peninsula - Dingle is a great little town, and the Slea Head drive is very pretty. In fact, we drove around the peninsula twice, the second time because we wanted to see the sights in better light. There are some interesting sites to visit on the drive, including the Gallarus Oratory, which is an early Christian church built between the 6th and 9th century; there is free public parking right next to the site, so you don't have to pay to go through the commercial buildings on the main road.
- Cliffs of Moher - pretty cliffs of shale and sandstone off the Irish coast. There are fences and barriers preventing visitors from standing at the edge, which the views looking down would have been quite nice.
- The Burren - "rocky place", it's a 10 square mile limestone plateau where the surface stone has partially eroded, leaving cracks where vegetation grows. It is a rather unusual sight. We also visited Poulnabrone Dolmen in the Burren, which is a portal tomb from between 4200 to 2900 BC.
- Kinvara - we stayed the night in Kinvara as a stop before driving back to the east part of Ireland. We enjoyed our stay at Cois Cuain B&B and also the live music in the nearby pub recommended by Mary, who runs Cois Cuain.
- Bru na Boinne - contains neolithic passage tombs. We only managed to visit Newgrange, which is a passage tomb built between 3300 to 3900 BC, which predates the Giza pyramids by around 500 years and Stonehenge by around 1000 years. We got to enter Newgrange and examine the spiral carvings in the center of the tomb and be impressed by the amount of work the neolithic people put into building it. Unfortunately, we did not visit Knowth, which would probably have been quite nice too.
- Trim - we stayed in Trim to avoid driving into Dublin, and it turned out to be a very pleasant experience. We walked around the green area next to Trim Castle with the Yellow Steeple around sunset, which was quite scenic. The day before flying home, we took a bus into Dublin to walk around central Dublin, as well as visit the National Museum of Archaelogy and History, before returning to Trim to visit Trim Castle.