Driving the Emerald Isle: A Week Around Ireland
I know, I know, I broke my New Year’s resolution of blogging more regularly. So in an effort to catch up, I’m starting with my last trip and working backwards. I earned my Master’s degree at the end of May and then took a two-week trip to Italy and Ireland. Neither Victor nor I had ever been to Ireland and since we only had a week we decided in our typical fashion to see as much as possible. So we rented a car and Victor drove the route below (hello, driving on the left, I was not going to even try to wrap my mind around that, so a big thanks to Victor for taking the wheel and avoiding all of the sheep). After a week in Ireland, I was completely smitten and would love to go back to see areas we didn’t have time for. I also now preach the wonders of Ireland to anyone who will listen.
We started our trip in Dublin where we were introduced to the massive Irish breakfast (photo above) and the four seasons of weather that come in one day — pack a raincoat. Dublin was fun to wander, but the whole Temple Bar area isn’t really my scene, so after a long wander and an amazing dinner at the Winding Stair, we were ready to start our drive the next morning.
As we start driving, heading for the ancient burial mounds at Bru na Boinne, we suddenly found ourselves on a tight, one-lane back country road with stone walls on either side and fast-driving Irish people trying to pass us. Victor and I both grew silent. We were in a Citron mini SUV and I started having horrible thoughts about hospitals in Ireland. Luckily, we reached the ruins without a problem, but both of our nerves were shot. I started to play with the GPS and realized that whoever had it before us had checked fastest route. I remedied that quickly by checking the “always use highways” button. Although we later found out that some highways are still narrow one ways that sheep take over at night. Victor bought me a worry stone when we arrived at Bru na Boinne. Let’s just say I polished the rock for the rest of our trip.
The burial mounds at Bru na Boinne are older than the pyramids and no one really knows the whole story behind them, but it was interesting to see, especially the old carvings:
Next we headed to Belfast. We took one of the black cab tours to hear about the conflict. It was an interesting tour and it’s hard to believe how long Northern Ireland was in unrest.
The walls separating Catholic and Protestant communities are incredibly high. It was shocking to see it in person. People paint and sign their names on the walls these days. That just rubbed me the wrong way. Our guide kept emphasizing that he believes the conflict could start again. These days he said a lot of former combatants have turned to illegal businesses, like drugs.
Belfast was interesting to see, but there’s not all that much to do. It feels somewhat depressed and it’s clear that Northern Ireland needs the financial support of the British.
From Belfast we headed to the Giant’s Causeway coastal area where I quickly realized that Victor had in fact tricked me into a Game of Throne’s set location sight-seeing vacation. The causeway is a stunning geological sight with pentagonal and hexagonal stones that were naturally formed from volcanic rock ages ago. Of course the people who lived in the area back in the day thought these rocks couldn’t have been natural so that lead to a lot of religious practices.
You can walk all over the stones and there are beautiful hiking paths all around.
We drove the Causeway Coastal trail and stopped off at many places including the Dunluce Castle:
We walked around the Downhill Demesne area and saw the beautiful Mussenden Temple which was the old, wealthy estate owner’s library(!). The grounds are beautiful and really well kept. Of course it rained a little while there and right after we walked into a forested area where there must have been wild onions growing because I had such a craving for onion rings.
The “Dark Hedges” from Game of Thrones:
On the drive down to Murlough Bay we spotted these two:
The Carrick a Rede rope bridge:
After leaving Northern Ireland, we stopped in the small sea-side town of Strandhill because we had read about seaweed baths — the only spa treatment native to Ireland. Essentially, you lie in a warm bathtub with a bunch of seaweed. The natural oils from the seaweed are very moisturizing. I’d do it again.
From Strandhill we drove to county Connemara. Our one big splurge of the trip was to spend two nights in Ballynahinch Castle in this area.
This drive was one of the most beautiful I have been on in my life. We did have to honk at some kids to get off the road:
While staying at the castle we decided to go on a fishing trip from the town of Roundstone. It was a rainy day and we were wet and I was cold. But…
…the fish were hungry! I caught my first decent sized fish.
And of course the chef at the castle then turned them into something delicious, I mean would you expect anything less of a castle?
We also pulled up lobster pods while fishing:
The castle grounds were really beautiful.
On our way to Cork, we stopped in Galway for lunch. Galway has a hip, musical vibe and I can understand why a lot of people I’ve met in the US chose to spend a semester abroad there.
Another rainbow in Cork:
Cork reminded me of smaller towns I’ve visited in France, but at the same time has an edgier urban feel as well.
About 30 minutes outside of Cork is the world-renowned Ballymaloe Cooking School. There is a restaurant at the school and we had a delicious lunch. The dessert trolley was the best part of the meal and of course I didn’t take a photo because I was too busy plotting which dessert I would have first.
From Cork, we hit up some seaside towns, including Youghal with it’s beautiful beach and lighthouse.
Everyday of this trip was fantastic. And did I mention the food? Ireland has embraced farm to table. Even the pubs we ate at were using great ingredients, and of course I could eat Irish soda bread and brown bread with butter everyday…
As far as the worrying stone, it is a new writing companion.
If you’re thinking of a trip, here’s where we slept and filled our bellies:
Hotels and Eats
Hotel: Tara Lodge
Restaurant: The Crown Bar
Giant’s Causeway – Bushmills
Hotel: Valley View Country House
Restaurants: The Tides in Portrush, The Harbor Bar (restaurant behind it) in Portrush
Seaweed baths: Voya Spa
Restaurant: Drafthouse, if you’re from New York say hi to owner Sean.
Restaurant: Ard Bia at Nimmos