Most people go on vacation to relax. I go on vacation to explore. And with only five days in Ireland– a country that I’ve wanted to visit for years– I decided to go all-out. The result was a full loop of Ireland covering almost 900 miles and hitting a dozen landmarks… yes, all in a mere five days.
You say crazy, I say awesome!
Part Two, covering Days Three and Four:
On the evening of Day Two, we drove from the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland to the town of Donegal in County Donegal, on the northwest coast of the Republic of Ireland.
Day Three dawned with pouring rain and a lot of cursing at the sky. We had big plans for Day Three, all of which were outdoor, and the weather forecast all down the west coast was nothing but rain, fog, and more rain. Well, there was nothing to it but pulling on raincoats and making sure that towels and spare dry socks were handy in the back seat of the car.
And off we went!
We had two sites to see today: the Cliffs of Moher, and the stunning landscape of The Burren. On our way from Donegal to Moher, we’d also pass through some beautiful countryside and break for food and petrol in the town of Galway.
But before we get that far, I’ll just end the suspense right here and now: we did not get to see the Cliffs of Moher. Because of a steep elevation increase, the top of the Cliffs sat dead center in the middle of a rain cloud, effectively cutting off any stunning views– or, well, views of any kind that weren’t white and wet.
Still, we saw some beautiful sites while driving and skirted the northern edge of The Burren before parking the car at the southern entrance and going for a short hike (rain be damned!).
On our drive to the Cliffs, though, we also found a couple of cool places to stop. Dunguaire Castle, just outside of the small town of Kinvarra, was a site we literally stumbled upon. We were driving down a small, two-lane road (ie, most of the roads in Ireland), and despairing about the rain, when we turned a corner and saw this cool castle in front of us! We both said, “Hey, look, a castle! Let’s stop!” and quickly parked the car.
Kinvarra was also a cute little place. We grabbed some food and walked through the quaint, colorful main street in the drizzle.
(And then it was on to the Cliffs, which was just depressing, so let’s fast-forward to the Burren!)
The Burren is a marvelous landscape, unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It’s almost other-worldly, with giant slabs of rock forming eerie vistas as far as the eye can see. There are a several tombs and dolmens in the park, although we didn’t get near these (it’s a huge park!). We did see a super cool wall, though!
The rain was picking up, so we wrapped up our hike and hit the road. Our destination this night was a hostel in the town of Limerick. We passed another castle on our way to Limerick, and couldn’t help ourselves… we had to check it out quickly. This was O’dea Castle, built in 1480:
(A note about the hostel in Limerick, because it was actually very enjoyable: Courtbrack Accommodation, which is actually college dorms that have been converted into hostels for the summer months. The gentleman who ran the hostel was incredible, and it was a comfortable and convenient play to rest our heads!)
Day 4 was most definitely my favorite in Ireland overall. We woke up to cloudy skies, but they cleared quickly into a gorgeous, sunny day that was just perfectly warm! And our destinations today were pretty darned cool: the Blarney Stone at Blarney Castle (just outside of Cork), and the Drombeg standing stones!
So off we went.
Limerick to Cork was an easy drive, and we listened to the terrible Irish radio and passed some very cool scenery. On our way, we passed the Buttevant Friary, which was built between 1251 and 1279 AD for the Franciscans. It was an interesting place to explore– although a bit creepy as it is now a graveyard.
The sun pushed through the clouds as we neared Blarney Castle (home to the infamous Stone). Blarney Castle dates to the mid-15th century, and is in surprisingly good shape, considering how many tourists trample through it each day.
It’s a winding climb to the top, through several ruined rooms of the castle, and up some narrow curving stairs. We followed the crowd and joined a line to kiss the Stone of Eloquence, which legend holds to be the ancient Lia Fáil, where kings were once crowned.
And yes, I kissed the Stone. There was no way that I was coming all the way to Ireland, and not kissing the Blarney Stone!
Of course, the weather started to deteriorate right as we drove away from Blarney. Go figure! Our next stop was one that few tourists seem to know about: the Drombeg Stone Circle, at the very southern edge of Ireland. Dated to c. 1100-800 BC, they’re completely in the middle of nowhere, but they were absolutely worth the drive. (Note for anyone who may visit these: do your research! The drive is a bit tricky, and your GPS may not be very helpful. There is a sign for the turn-off, though!)
There are seventeen stones total, and unlike at Stonehenge, you can walk right up to these! I believe that human remains were found buried beneath the circle, although I’m not sure of the details.
Right next to the circle are the remains of two stone huts, and also a cooking pit. Dated to the same time as the circle, it’s amazing how much detail has survived. They would heat stones in the fire pit that you can see, and then roll them into water to bring the water to a boil.
Then it was back on the road, and heading north. We made a pitstop in Cashel for two things: to take a quick look at the Rock of Cashel, and to pick up a block of the famous Cashel Blue cheese!
We also saw a couple of cool ruins, and a beautiful painted church in town.
Back on the road, our final destination for Day 4 was a hostel in Kilkenny.
This was a pretty common site… a lovely old ruin just sitting in the middle of a random field on the side of the road. We literally couldn’t go anywhere without seeing a thousand-year-old ruin or castle just perched in a farmer’s field!
We pulled into Kilkenny, got settled in, and went to find some dinner at a local Irish pub. It happened to be a night of music and story-telling, so I had an Irish stew and enjoyed an authentic Irish dinner experience!
And then I went to sleep, dreaming of an amazing day and ready for Day 5 (our last day in Ireland).