Ireland 2010 Print


 We have been to Scotland and England a number of times (and there are articles on this site regarding most of those trips), and Sue went to Ireland with her parents in 1970, but I had never been to Ireland.  Given that my great grandfather on my mother's side immigrated to the U.S. from Ireland in 1852, we decided that we should go.




Art and Ellen Litman joined us, and since they have been on a few of our Scotland and England trips with us, it was natural.  We spent two weeks in Ireland, not counting our travel days going to and from, put 1230 miles on our rental car circumnavigating the country and did what we think is a pretty good job of seeing some good parts of the country.  Art did the driving and I did the navigating, with excellent help from Sue and Ellen, and overall we did quite well.

We decided to put this trip together using as much of our airline miles and hotel points as possible.  I was able to get free business class tickets on United, I used some of our Marriott points to get rooms for all of us at the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin for two nights, and I used American Express points to get rooms for all of us at the Radisson Blu in Galway for two nights.  Art used some of his Starwood points to get rooms for all of us at the Westin in Dublin at the end of the trip for three nights.  Thus, we only paid for our rooms the three nights while in Cork, one night in Donegal, and two nights in Bushmills.

As usual, I took plenty of photo gear, including my Nikon D3 with the 24-70mm and 70-200mm lenses and my tripod.  I used the tripod a fair amount and it was very helpful at the Cliffs of Moher and the Giant's Causeway.  I also took my Leica D-Lux3 (but didn't use it) and my SB900 flash (but didn't use it, either).  I used the 70-200mm at the Cliffs of Moher for some panoramas, but I took all the photos you will see in this article with the 24-70mm.

We have a Garmin Nuvi that we have used a fair amount here and I was considering buying the SD card that Garmin sells with maps and directions for the UK.  Art and Ellen have a Tom Tom that they purchased some time back for a Europe trip and since it already had the UK maps, we elected not to buy anything for the Garmin and just rely on the Tom Tom which, by the way, Art nicknamed Wanda--as in "Wonderful Wanda".  Wanda did a good job of directing us and by researching the route in the Auto Club guide to Ireland, I could give Art information on what to expect as he was driving hither and yon. 

This may sound like overkill but, consider the first words of advice from the fellow behind the counter at the downtown Dublin Hertz facility:  "Driving in Ireland is a nightmare."  This is a true statement, especially when you are in a city, because one way streets are the order of the day, there is little rhyme or reason as to how they are laid out (they were established long before the car came along and some of them appear to pre-date the wheel) and there is almost never any signage to tell you what street you're on or what street you are approaching. Wanda was invaluable, and understanding what we thought Wanda was about to tell us was a blessing.  So, take it from us--having a GPS of some kind is absolutely a requirement if you're going to drive in Ireland.

I had DK Eyewitness Travel guides for both Ireland in general and Dublin.  They're both excellent and were available at Costco and on  Art also had Rick Steves' guide to Ireland, which is also excellent in a different way.  It's difficult to choose between the two styles because they give you different kinds of information, so I suggest you buy all of them--we used the heck out of them.

The Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland had been wreaking havoc on air travel some time prior to our trip and as bad luck would have it, the cloud from its eruptions shifted over the UK the weekend before our trip, causing flight cancellations again.  As good luck would have it, the cloud shifted two days before we left and we were able to fly into London and on to Dublin without incident--from the volcano, anyway.

Going to Ireland, the non-stop to Heathrow wasn't available for award travel, so we had to change planes in Chicago.  We boarded our flight to Chicago, settled into our first class seats, and then waited an awfully long time for something to happen.  We became dimly aware that something was going on with a passenger or two, and pretty soon a couple was escorted off the plane.  The purser later told us that this couple was so obnoxious that the crew refused to fly with them on the plane.  And, this was the THIRD flight from which they had been removed that day.  Anyway, we were 20 minutes late taking off and we only had a one hour layover in Chicago, but we got there almost on time, our flight to London left from the same terminal at which we arrived, and everything worked out fine.  By the way, United's lie-flat seats in its international business class configuration are really cool.  We had a 4 ½ hour layover in Heathrow before our flight to Dublin on bmi but the bmi lounge at Heathrow is a nice place to chill for a while.  Free WiFi, plenty of liquid refreshment (of all kinds) and food, and it worked out fine.  We got to Dublin in good order, and our luggage all arrived with us, and we joined Art and Ellen at the Shelbourne shortly after cocktail hour.  We walked around the corner to Bentley's Oyster Bar in the Browne Hotel and enjoyed a very good dinner. The Shelbourne was a great hotel in a great location and spending our first two nights there was lovely. 

On our first day in Dublin, we asked the concierge for a breakfast recommendation and he suggested we walk down the street to Unicorn Café, where we could get a good cup of coffee, pastry, yogurt, fruit and so forth "without paying an arm and a leg".  Worked for us, so we had breakfast there both mornings.  The café is in the same structure with Unicorn Restaurant, and Unicorn Food Store, and the complex offers good choices for breakfast, dinner and in between.

We decided to go to the tourist information center and buy the OPW Heritage cards, which covered our admission to numerous points of interest at a significant discount.  That day we also bought tour bus tickets that allowed us to get on and off whenever we wished.  My photography friend Mike Gianelli had recommended we go to Kilmainham Gaol (that's pronounced jail) and since it's way out on the outskirts of Dublin, we did so, using the bus.

Mike was right--Kilmainham is really cool.  Having been to Alcatraz a few months earlier, I was looking forward to another prison/jail photo experience, and because this one is much, much older than Alcatraz, it was even creepier and more depressing than Alcatraz.  It was also photographically fabulous but really dark (and dank) inside so having the D3's 6400 ISO setting was indispensable.  Click the thumbnail below for photos of Kilmainham and Dublin during our brief stay there. 

 Kilmainham was one of many sites we visited where admission was covered by our OPW Heritage card.  We enjoyed the tour and took the bus back into city center for lunch.  That night, we had dinner at Il Segreto, next door to Unicorn and owned by the same people, and enjoyed a fabulous dinner.  Good enough, in fact, that we went there again when we returned to Dublin two weeks later.

Art had downloaded the iPhone app for Georgina Campbell's Ireland Guide (I did too, shortly thereafter) and it was very helpful in determining where we should eat dinner (and lunch) on frequent occasion.   The iPhone app has great search capability and uses the GPS in the iPhone to determine where you are at the moment and bring up a list of establishments that are close by.  I recommend it highly.

Speaking of the iPhone, I read Dewitt Jones' article about iPhone apps in the June 2010 edition of Outdoor Photographer shortly after we arrived in Ireland and download a number of them.  The iPhone camera, while nothing to write home about, can produce some nice images when used properly and in conjunction with some of these apps.  I didn't take my laptop on this trip but posted photos almost daily on my Facebook page from my iPhone and they were well received.

Anyway, the next day we checked out of the Shelbourne and took a cab to the downtown Dublin Hertz facility to pick up our car.  Art had reserved a Ford Galaxy van for us that was perfect for the trip--plenty of room in the back seat for Sue and Ellen, and plenty of room behind them for all of our luggage.  Our departure was hampered at first by my leaving our travel wallet--with our passports--in our room safe, so we had to drive back to the Shelbourne to pick it up before we could be on our way.  Without going into a lot of detail, the Hertz fellow's statement "Driving in Ireland is a nightmare" was rather conservative.

That episode behind us, we drove to Powerscourt, a beautiful Palladian mansion on the outskirts of Dublin, to see the grounds and have lunch.  The Terrace Café serves an excellent cafeteria-style lunch, with much better than average food, and we ate outdoors on the terrace overlooking the gardens and fountain below. 

 From there we drove local roads along the coast, stopping at an interesting little church in Courtown.  We arrived in Cork around 8:00 that evening and after some hysterical driving around Cork with Wanda, Sue, Ellen and me giving Art conflicting directions, we located the Imperial Hotel, unloaded the luggage, and got directions to the car park, after which we checked in and ate dinner in the hotel.  Our package here included dinner one night and breakfast every day and it was a great deal.

I should add (so I will)  that the buffet style breakfasts in Ireland hotels are an excellent way to go.  There is always a fresh fruit bowl, scones, toast, croissants, smoked salmon, capers, cream cheese, eggs, sausage, Irish bacon, black pudding (don't ask), grilled tomatoes, mushrooms, etc., etc.  You can have as much or as little as you want of everything.

The next day, again based on Mike Gianelli's recommendation, we drove up to the Dingle Peninsula.  This area is so beautiful and filled with history that we all agreed we should have spent three days there.  (The photo at the beginning of this article was taken on the Dingle Peninsula.)  We had lunch in the town of Dingle, where Mike said the restaurant Out Of The Blue is excellent.  It's highly rated in the Ireland Guide also, but unfortunately isn't open for lunch, so we ate next door at the Marina Inn, where my fish and chips was excellent.  We drove around to the tip of the peninsula, the westernmost point in Ireland, and then made our way back to Cork.  The road in the far reaches of Dingle is tiny and makes for exciting driving. 

 Following another nice breakfast at the hotel, we drove into Kinsale on the coast to spend the day.  Kinsale is a pretty little coastal town, also worth more than one day. We visited Desmond Castle using our OPW Heritage cards, walked the town some more, and stopped at Sundays for some ice cream.  Clare Atkinson owns the shop and she and her daughter were very kind to us crazy Americans, suggesting that we have dinner at Man Friday, which we did and which we enjoyed. 

 The next morning we checked out of the Imperial Hotel and left for Galway.  On the way, we stopped at Cahir Castle and then at the Rock of Cashel, eating lunch at Granny's Kitchen in Cashel.  Cahir Castle was really nice, being in very good shape (it was inhabited until 1960) and we visited the Swiss Cottage that had been built by the Butler family on castle property.  The Rock of Cashel is the high point around the area and contains substantial ruins of a huge cathedral and residential castle that was sacked by Cromwellian troops in 1647, during which process 3,000 citizens and clergy were burned to death--deliberately--by Cromwell's leader, Lord Inchiquin.  Cromwell's activities in Ireland were genocidal and it's no wonder he is so roundly and uniformly despised there. 

 The Radisson Blu in Galway is located very close by old Galway City and turned out to be a terrific place to stay.  Our package included breakfast and we ate dinner there when we arrived.  The next day we walked Galway City (all of old Galway City is now pedestrian) and after visiting Sheridans Cheesemongers, arranged for lunch in the wine bar there.  We were the only ones there for lunch and enjoyed a splendid plate of cheeses, olives, bread and wine.  The slide show behind the thumbnail below will show you what I mean about walking Galway and having lunch at Sheridans.

 After lunch we drove to the Cliffs of Moher, which are spectacular, and had dinner on the way back at Moran's Oyster Cottage on the Weir, which was recommended by Sarah in Sheridans and also by the Ireland Guide. 

 The next day we checked out and started our drive to Donegal Town, stopping along the way at Clifden in the Connemara and having lunch at Mitchell's (another excellent find in the Ireland Guide) and then Kylemore Abbey, a gorgeous old mansion that is now an abbey for Benedictine nuns.

 We spent the night in Donegal at the Mill Park Hotel, having dinner there.  After another package breakfast, we left for Bushmills and the Bushmills Inn, both of which were high points of the trip.

This meant, by the way, going from one country to another, since we were now leaving southern Ireland, an independent country that is part of the European Community and uses the euro as its currency, for Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom and which uses the pound sterling as its currency.

We were attracted to the area because of the Giant's Causeway, a World Heritage Site of over 30,000 hexagonal basalt columns similar in formation to the Devil's Postpile in Mammoth Lakes but right on the coast of Northern Ireland.  The Bushmills Inn is not far from the Bushmills Distillery, home of Old Bushmills, Bushmills, Black Bush and so forth, and the oldest distillery in the world, having been chartered in 1608.  Art searched out the Bushmills Inn and arranged for our rooms there and it was a terrific find.  A beautiful place, the rooms were lovely, the service impeccable, and the food and service in the restaurant among the best we had anywhere.  We recommend it highly.

We had planned to visit a laundromat to do laundry but learned in Donegal and Bushmills that there isn't any such thing in Ireland.  So, we drove into Portrush, a few miles from Bushmills, and left our laundry to pick up the next day, after which Art and I scouted the visitor center at the Giant's Causeway.  It was raining at the time but it was very helpful to see it a day ahead of time, because we learned from a very helpful guide that the bus runs from the visitor center to the causeway and that one can hike the upper trail for spectacular overview of the causeway below, then walk down the steep Shepherd's Steps to the coast and take the bus back up.

So, the next day we enjoyed another lovely package breakfast, which was better than most in that the warm foods were made to order instead of being kept in steam table trays.  We took the Bushmills Distillery tour first, since it was raining, and enjoyed that despite the fact that photography was not permitted inside.  We went back into Portrush to have lunch and collect our laundry, and drove back along the Causeway Coast and Dunluce Castle on the way to the Giant's Causeway. 

 At the Giant's Causeway visitor center,  I mounted my camera on my tripod and set out to take the upper cliff path so I could take a photograph looking down on the Causeway from up above.  The guide had warned me to be careful because, as he put it, there is no protection whatsoever from the edge--no curb, no guardrail, no nothing--and it's a long way down.  Like, a little over 400' down, the equivalent of standing on the edge of a 40 story building with no railing.  Given my fear of heights I'm still amazed that I got close enough to the edge to take the photo I wanted.  On the way there, I saw some of the most beautiful Irish farmland scenery imaginable. 

 Sue and Ellen took the bus down to the coast and I thought that Art was also, but it turns out he took the same route I did.  We spent quite a while on the Causeway, being fascinated by it all, and then came back to the Bushmills Inn to rest before having dinner at Tartine at the Distillers Arms.  This was good, but not as good as the restaurant at the Bushmills Inn.

The next day we checked out and began our drive back to Dublin.  We stopped in Armagh for lunch, primarily because my great grandfather had emigrated from Armagh and I wanted to at least take a few steps there.  It was raining there so we didn't see much of it, but I can honestly say that I was there. 

 We drove on to Dublin, returning the car to Hertz at Dublin airport and then taking a cab to the Westin in Dublin.  The Westin was another great place to stay, close by the upscale Temple Bar area (which really hops at night).

The next day we walked through Temple Bar and through St. Patrick's Cathedral, and had lunch at the Brazen Head, the oldest pub in Ireland.  From there we visited Dublin Castle and enjoyed another terrific dinner at Il Segreto.  On our last day, we toured Trinity College and the Guinness facility, which was cool.  Two interesting facts about Guinness:  Arthur Guinness, in 1749, was given a lease on the original St. James Gate brewery for £45 per year--for nine thousand years.  Wonder what that lease would be worth today...  Also, the Dublin facility makes 3 million pints of Guinness per day.  That's a lot of Guinness. 

 Sue and I left the following day for Heathrow, since bmi had cancelled the morning flight we were going to take a day later.  We spent the night at a Heathrow Marriott facility just a few miles from Heathrow and then took United's non-stop back home the next morning.  Ireland is great--we recommend it and would go back again.