It seems like my husband Barry and I went around the world twice trying to get to and from Ireland this trip. Going: Atlanta to Chicago to London Heathrow to Shannon. I’m getting too old to do this in one go. We overnighted in Chicago and crashed in Bunratty on arrival into the most comfy beds in the west at Bunratty Lodge. Coming home: Shannon to Newark to Chicago to Atlanta. We overnighted again in Chicago. Finally made it back after 24 days in Ireland. We left Ireland a few days earlier than expected because another Iceland volcano erupted and we didn’t want to get stuck. Fortunately, the volcano has quieted down again. Slumber in peace Grímsvötn.
Car Rental: I pre-booked with Dan Dooley again. They are the only no-nonsense car rental company in Ireland. I looked at their website for weeks and the price was hovering around $600. Suddenly for just a couple of days the price was almost half. I jumped on the bargain and booked. I called their office in NJ directly and Noreen made the reservation for me. Since I was a repeat customer she waived the fee for declining CDW and upgraded the car class free. I also got 10% off using a discount code.
In Shannon Angela at the rental desk remembered us from last time and upgraded us to a diesel that got great petrol mileage. For declining CDW a “hold” of $2,000 was put on our credit card but not an actual charge. We paid extra for a full tank of petrol. A van whisked us to the depot (although you could walk if you wanted). The car was a sporty red Megane. All scratches were quickly mapped on the pink sheet and we were off. Dropping off the car at the end of the trip was quick and easy, with no damage and a petrol tank empty save for fumes. Since we left a few days early Angela refunded the unused days with no questions asked.
Weather: Everywhere we went everyone we spoke with talked about the fantastic weather they had in April. Sunny and warm with no rain. Well this was May and nature conspired to make it one of the rainiest windiest Mays in memory. Gale force winds of 120 kph threatened to blow us over and blow the car off the roads. Trees, branches and flowers were gone with the wind. Power lines and electricity were down in some areas. The Antrim coast was raining seawater, making the car a sticky mess. Fortunately the hail and thunderstorms washed it clean. The sun came out on occasion to taunt us. Met Éireann summed it up, “windiest May for at least a quarter of a century”. Umbrellas were useless and hats went flying like kites if you didn’t hold onto them. Generally, the weather was atrocious.
Itinerary: My itinerary makes no sense to people who are visiting Ireland because I’m working. For instance on one day I drove from Glendalough to Enniskerry. Generally you can do that in 30 minutes. It took me all day because I meandered throughout Co. Wicklow, stopping off at various places to check on many different things. Rather than listing my itinerary, I will instead mention memorable overnight stays and some of the new places that I liked. I stayed at some charming, down to earth genuine places and some that were pretentious. I checked up on places reviewed in my book Ireland Dream Trip and stayed at others that are new to my book and will be included in next year’s edition.
Dingle: Tower View is run by Mary Griffin and is set on the edge of a farm, yet within walking distance of town and with views of Dingle Harbor. I had visited several years ago and it is listed in my book as a “Quick Pick”. Did it live up to my original inspection? Yes, and more so. This is a delightful B&B close to Dingle town. It will be reviewed in the 2012 edition of my book.
Blarney: Ashlee Lodge is about a mile from Blarney village and a wonderful guesthouse to plant yourself in for a few days to see County Cork. Rooms are elegant, breakfast a delight and John and Anne O’Leary are fine Irish hosts. Plus the hot tub and sauna are the perfect de-stressors after a long day of touring.
Carlingford: Beaufort House overlooks Carlingford Lough and the Mountains of Mourne. Located on the Cooley Peninsula in Co. Louth it is a quiet, comfortable guesthouse with a lovely breakfast. It is within walking distance of picture-perfect Carlingford village.
Greyabbey: Ballynester House on the Ards Peninsula in Co. Down is a simple, charming B&B that has just been completely renovated. I visited it several years ago when it was under different ownership. It had potential then but the overbearing owner scared me away. After all, the B&B experience should be pleasant and hosts can make or break a place. I was happy to discover that the new owners Rob and Rosie Davison make Ballynester special along with serene, comfortable rooms (that Barry called “surgically clean”) and an excellent breakfast.
Bushmills: My favorite place to stay in Co. Antrim closed several years ago. I’m happy to announce that I have just found my new favorite Causeway Lodge. This B&B is a showplace with huge beautifully decorated rooms, excellent breakfast and all the amenities you could desire.
Haunted Castle: I stopped by Ballygally Castle Hotel for lunch and a look around. The housekeeper showed me the various types of rooms including one that is not for rent. It was at the top of the castle and up lots of tiny spiral stone steps. Lady Isabella Shaw supposedly haunts the cell-like “Ghost Room”. She died falling from the tower window under suspicious circumstances. It is claimed that a couple of other spirits haunt the hotel and that sometimes a supernatural green mist hovers over it. I didn’t see any ghosts so cannot vouch for the authenticity of the claims.
My Favorite Dinner: The Old Smokehouse in Dingle.
Barry’s Favorite Dinner: Loch Lein Country House Hotel in Killarney.
My Favorite Lunch: Killarney Royal Hotel in Killarney.
Barry’s Favorite Lunch: Killarney Royal Hotel in Killarney.
My Favorite Soup: Wildfowler Inn in Greyabbey. The pea and spinach soup was a beautiful creamy green color and the delicious flavors tasted like springtime in Ireland.
Barry’s Favorite Soup: Seafood Chowder The Lake Hotel Killarney.
Favorite Drive: Bunny Lane. But I will never be able to find it again. Wait…I have three landmarks that may help: a castle, a bridge and a lonesome roadside country pub.
As my friend Bit might say we were “fairy-led” on this day, which is not a bad thing. The drive was from Kenmare to Blarney. We took the N71 to Glengarriff and then an unconventional route cross-country on secondary and unmarked roads, ending up on the N22 approaching Cork City. As I often say Cork is a black hole with a strong gravitational force that will capture and drag in any unsuspecting tourist. Once in the city center with its one-way streets and nowhere to turn around it is difficult to escape or navigate. I didn’t want to end up in the city center this time.
Blarney is on the north side of the River Lee and we were on the south side. All signs were dragging us inevitably toward Cork. I could fee the gravity increasing and see familiar landmarks that warned we would soon be in the city. As chief navigator I made a snap decision to turn left at the next road. It was tiny and unmarked. Small potholes began appearing. Soon there was grass in the middle of a one-track road and the potholes expanded to sizes that could swallow a small car. Were we alarmed that we had to slow from 100 kph to 20? No, we were enchanted.
The sun came out backlighting the tunnel of spring trees. Small farms lined the road and the hedgerows were heavy with white blossoms of blackthorn and wild garlic. The only sound was a light breeze and singing birds. The air smelled as sweet and green as an Irish spring. From the verges of the road brown rabbits peeked out at our car as we dodged the potholes. Unfortunately they were too shy and quick for a photo. There were so many of them I decided this must be Bunny Lane.
After driving for quite some time we wondered if we would ever end up anywhere or perhaps be doomed to drive the fairy road forever. There were no other cars on the road that was deserted except for the bunnies. Finally we saw an old woman walking her dog. We stopped and asked if we were on the way to Blarney. She seemed bemused that there was actually a car on the road and to find two Yanks asking for directions. The road we were on would get us there with a few arcane directions from the farmer’s wife. When we finally reached the R618 I was very disappointed to leave Bunny Lane behind.
You can find you own Bunny Lane. Put away the map; turn off the GPS; take a leap of faith and wander down an Irish country boreen.
You meet interesting people at Blarney too. When I offered to take a photo of a group of women who were posing in front of the castle we struck up a conversation. I asked why they were holding up tubes of lip-gloss in the photos. Turns out a friend of theirs makes Blarney Lip Balm. They never made it up to kiss the stone because claustrophobia took over and they abandoned the effort. But at least their friend has a new ad.
I have to admit that the gardens and parklands at Blarney Castle were gorgeous. The bluebells, woods, river and flowers made hiking the various pathways around the estate a treat. For the first time in 38 years Blarney House was actually open when I was there. It is a fascinating Scottish-baronial style mansion full of memorabilia, interesting architecture, antiques, artwork and portraits. It is very much a lived-in family home that is comfortable and historic with hidden modern amenities.
Favorite Undiscovered Attraction: Castlecomer Discovery Park. Although the weather was too bad to visit the lake and woodland walks I enjoyed the Footprints in Coal Experience. Who would think that the history of coal and mining would be interesting? The park also has a restaurant and craft shops in the courtyard. Barry enjoyed playing ball with the resident dog when the rain let up.
Favorite Scary Road: Barley Lake near Glengarriff. The drive is signposted off the main Kenmare to Glengarriff Road. It starts out gently through woods and along a river with small cascades and waterfalls. As it winds up the mountain the one-track switchback road is totally surrounded by an impressive amphitheater of mountains. It dead-ends at the top where hiking trails diverge in different directions. It was rainy, windy and misty at the top so I couldn’t see the view as I wanted to. It would be spectacular in better weather.
It’s Free: Yes, there are still some things you can do in Ireland for free. Park at Glendalough in Co. Wicklow near the visitor center for free. If you park near the lake you will pay €4 per car. Tours of Glendalough are €3. Do it yourself for free.
Gallarus Oratory on the Dingle Peninsula is free. Although an enterprising landowner has set up a visitor center with a film, café and pathway to the oratory (for a fee) you can drive past the visitor center for free access.
What Bugged Me on This Trip:
Crooked and/or ill-fitting toilet seats. Call me fussy, but I don’t like sitting down on the porcelain portion of the toilet. I have never stayed at so many places with toilet seats too short, skewed to the side or wiggly. Maybe the economy has taken a toll on the purchase of decent fitting toilet seats? But it didn’t save them any money since I lined the porcelain with layers of toilet paper. Note to Irish B&B owners: buy decent toilet seats that fit. It will save you money in the long run – and make guests happy!
Dodging the Queen and Obama. There are several places that I would have visited that were either closed or restricted because of tight security for the visit of Queen Elizabeth II for four days and President Obama for a day just afterwards.
Conclusion: A lot of restaurants and some accommodations have closed. In many places there were For Sale signs on every other house. Irish B&Bs have been especially hard hit by the recession. Bookings are slow and spotty. For instance a B&B that you formerly had to book months in advance now might have two rooms occupied one night, then none for the next week. They might be full then for another night or two with nothing booked after that for a couple of weeks.
Is it safe to “wing it” without making accommodation reservations this year? It depends. Will a festival or event be taking place in the town you want to stay? Are you staying in a popular place like Dublin, Dingle, Galway or Kenmare? Are you particular about your accommodations or will any place to lay your head do? I personally would book ahead for July and August, events, weekends in popular places and Bank Holidays.
© 2011 Michele Erdvig
“Ireland Travel Expert”
Book: Ireland Dream Trip
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