After driving for miles through the beautiful Irish countryside, we were ready to stretch our legs.
The amazing landscape of Ireland beckoned us to explore it. We really wanted to go hiking in the spectacular green hills, but did not know where to go. We asked for recommendations at the Kenmare Tourist Office. One of the helpful ladies offered some suggestions for a day hike. A private reserve called Gleninchaquin Park looked promising, so we planned our next family adventure!
Since the day was already getting late, we decided to head for our next lodging to freshen up and get some dinner. We arrived at The Caha’s Bed and Breakfast Kenmare before dark and was greeted by the friendly owner. The Caha’s BnB is walking distance to downtown Kenmare, which was very convenient. After relaxing for a bit, we headed into town.
Mish really wanted to hear some good music, so we listened our way around town. Not surprisingly, we found several lively pubs with good music, enticing smells, and amiable conversation drifting out of them. We selected O’Donnabhain’s Townhouse. We made a good choice! The food, service, music, and atmosphere were all fabulous! We listened to some authentic Irish music as we ate our delicious meals and soaked in the Irishness of it all. This Irish pub life is addictive.
Well rested and fed, we headed out early the next morning for Gleninchaquin Park. Finding the park took a little effort. It is definitely off the beaten path, but well worth the trek. It is located 14 miles off the main road at the end of a very narrow and curvy gravel road. When we finally arrived, it took our breath away!
The park is at the end of a large coombe (that is Irish for shallow valley) on the northwest side of the Beara Peninsula in County Kerry. Flowing down the back wall of the coombe was a magnificent waterfall that fed a few lakes in the valley. The sides of the coombe were emerald green with rock outcroppings. Standing out against the green were the white fluffy shapes of the ubiquitous sheep grazing along the steep slopes. The whole scene was incredibly picturesque and serene.
We were greeted by a friendly docent who happened to be a member of the family who owned the park. She provided us with some background information and directions about the park. The entrance fee is 6 Euro for adults, 5 for students, and 15 for families, cash only (there is no ATM nearby). She also informed us that just yesterday, Ridley Scott helicoptered into the park with a guide to do a location check for an upcoming movie. If you do not know who Ridley Scott is, he is the science fiction guru that created such iconic films as the Alien movies, Blade Runner, and The Martian. Elijah and I are huge fans of his. We couldn’t help but speculate if he was looking to film the next installment of the Alien saga here. We are even more anxious to see the movie now. He and I were already excitedly picturing how the park would work for the film. Mish just laughed at us for being science fiction geeks.
Inspired and energized, we headed off on a trail into the park. Almost immediately we started to climb the wall of the coombe. The views were breathtaking. With each step up we were rewarded with a new and even better vista. After about two miles, we reached the top of the coombe and were awestruck with the view. Beyond the waterfall was a hidden high valley devoid of any human presence. It was otherworldly and hypnotically beautiful. I do not think I can describe the intense feeling we all had looking into it. I can see why Scott may want to film here. Elijah really wanted to explore further, but, unfortunately, time was not on our side and we were forced to break our gaze and head back down. Someday I want to come back and stay longer. Places like this are what make Ireland extremely special.
We worked up quite an appetite walking around Muckross House and Gardens, so we decided to head into Killarney for some dinner.
I happened to see a sign on the way into town advertising a Lord of the Rings themed pub. Being a huge J.R.R. Tolkien fan, I could not pass it up. I was really excited to see if it was truly an authentic Middle Earth establishment.
The Shire is a unique one of a kind pub in downtown Killarney. It definitely stands out from all of the other restaurants and bars in the city. You can’t miss its black with gold lettering front among the surrounding buildings. Excitedly, we ventured inside.
You enter the rounded front doors and are instantly transported to the Prancing Pony in Hobbiton. A sign declaring “No one allowed except on party business” hangs over the counter. Take heed and prepare for a fun time! As you walk back into the bar, you can order Bilbo’s Beer, Gandalf’s Ale, or Frodo’s Lager. If you’re hungry, and daring, you can continue back into Mordor. Yes, you can simply walk into Mordor!
Elijah and I ordered The Two Towers. These burgers lived up to their name. I could barely finish mine. 100% dragon meat (maybe). Elijah has a hobbit appetite, so quickly finished his. Mish opted for a more spicy burger and ordered The Fires of Mordor. She needed a cold cider to wash it down. I tried to not say “One ring to rule them all” when I ate each onion ring. The Tolkien puns kept coming.
The Shire was a wonderful unexpected treat. The food was good and plentiful, the staff was very friendly, and the atmosphere was over the top! We had a great time. It was ENTertaining! (ugh!)
They are expanding too! We will have to go back to see the new addition. One more reason to re-visit Ireland!
Twice now we have passed up a chance to see Blarney Castle with its famous stone.
According to Rick Steves and others, Blarney Castle is really more of a tourist trap than historic site, so once again we are going to pass it by. If anyone has been there, please let us know what you thought.
Instead of kissing an old stone, we headed for Muckross House in Kilarney to see some traditional Irish farms. Muckross House was the first national park in Ireland. The house was built in 1843 on 11,000 acres. The last owners donated the entire estate to the people of Ireland in 1932. Eventually, it would become the center of Kilarney National Park.
On the grounds the Irish park service built a rec-creation of a traditional rural townland. You can visit complete working farms of different classes from early 20th century Ireland with docents in period dress to explain and answer questions. It was very informative and fun! Elijah really enjoyed meeting the farm animals, especially the farm dogs. He now wants an Irish Wolfhound. Great, he’s already expensive enough to feed! The Border Collies wouldn’t let him go!
Mish found a friend too.
I liked seeing how old Irish schools taught. Well behaved students paying attention in class to the teacher. Ah, the good old days!
Muckross is a wonderful place to stroll through beautiful gardens, tour a 65 room elegant mansion, learn some history, pet different animals, picnic on a lake, shop for unique crafts, and have some tea and treats. So, there something for everyone in the family. We highly recommend it if you’re in the Kilarney area.
Kinsale in County Cork is about as quaint picturesque Ireland as you can get.
We visited this small seaport town ten years ago and fell in love with its colorful buildings, great food, beautiful harbor, and quaint shops. It is a great place to go for a relaxing vacation by the sea. Many Irish and European visitors flock to it every summer too, so mind the crowds during the peak season. One of the reasons we planned our Irish road trip in June was to beat the onslaught of tourists. Our strategy seems to be working, as we have encountered very light crowds wherever we have gone so far.
I don’t want to appear hypocritical. I know that I’m a tourist too. Its just that too many of us in one spot usually ruins the experience. Ireland is a very popular destination. We really wanted a relaxing tour of the island without the hassle of fighting others for the same thing. If you are like us and want Ireland as much to yourselves as possible, then do not go in July or August. The seemingly endless parade of tour buses deliver throngs of vacationers from all over the globe. Small towns like Kinsale quickly become overrun. The magic of Ireland can get lost in the crowds.
June weather is not as ideal, but we have been having amazing luck so far. Warm, sunny days followed by cool nights has been the norm. We capitalized on our good fortune and took along walk out to Charles Fort. The walk to the fort is approximately three miles, but is easy and very scenic. It is a newer fort built in the star formation. There is not much to see inside to be honest. Since we saw it on our last visit, we were not disappointed that it was closed when we arrived.
Kinsale does not have much in the way of ancient Irish ruins or landmarks. What it lacks in antiquity, however, it makes up for in quaintness. It is a great place to just relax and take in the sea air and eat some great pub food. Amazingly, outside of one pub I saw a brass plaque honoring a fallen United States Navy SEAL. Who knew?
We stayed in the middle of Kinsale at a nice bed and breakfast called The Seagull Guest House. It is owned by Mary O’Neil, who travel writer Rick Steves calls the unofficial “Godmother of Kinsale.” She is a very nice elderly lady who took good care of us.
On the recommendation from a local, we went to Kitty O Se’s for dinner and live music. It was amazing! Great pub food, good Irish music, and a warm welcome, it does not get more Irish than this!
On the end of the Hook Peninsula in County Wexford sits a desolate old mansion that locals say is haunted by the Devil.
Loftus Hall, formerly Redmond Hall, has a long and turbulent past. We had not even heard of it, so were not planning on visiting. Elijah, however, learned of it from researching haunted sites in Ireland. The Hall has been the subject of several paranormal documentaries, books, and horror movies. So, naturally, he really wanted to go and see for himself. Since it was near the Hook Lighthouse, Ireland’s oldest functioning lighthouse and second oldest in the world, we decided to stop by. We never know where our family adventures will take us!
Loftus Hall wasn’t open until later, so we went to the Hook Lighthouse first. The lighthouse is impressive, it was much bigger than we expected. The current structure has stood for 846 years. We had a casual little second breakfast at the cafe overlooking scenic Wexford Harbor and then walked around the grounds.
Elijah, however, was impatient to get to the main attraction. He had read some intriguing stories about Loftus Hall and was ready to experience it himself.
This is one of the stories surrounding The Hall:
“It is for many years said to have been visited by the Devil, so many people from the surrounding area are nervous to enter the place after dark. Legend has it that during a storm at sea, a dark stranger approached the Hall on horseback after his ship was driven into nearby Slade Harbor with rough seas. He was invited in to seek shelter and spent some days with the Tottenham Family who were living at the Hall at the time. The young Lady Anne Tottenham was especially taken with this dark stranger and fell head over heels for him. One night during a card game, she dropped a card and upon bending down to retrieve it, she noticed that this dark stranger had cloven hoofs instead of feet. As soon as he realized what she had seen, he shot through the roof in a ball of flames.Anne never recovered, she went into a state of shock and madness and her family locked her in the tapestry room for fear that anyone would see her.She died a couple of years later, still quite young, but her death was no release as servants and family members reported seeing her wandering through the house at night. The family had the local catholic priest Fr. Broaders exorcise the Hall but he could not exorcise the tapestry room.”
We took the plunge and went on a tour. The guide was very good, good at keeping us scared. I’ll admit, I don’t believe in ghosts, but the place is more than a little creepy. You are not allowed to take pictures inside, so you’ll need to go see for yourself. You can also watch The Lodgers on Netflix to see the hall (Disclaimer, the story is not real, just the setting.).
We left Loftus Hall and headed for Kinsale in County Cork. Kinsale will be the first place we re-visit in Ireland. We were there 10 years ago and are anxious to see it again.
If you say you’re going to The Rock in California, everyone would assume you’re going to Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay, but in Ireland its the Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary.
Also known as Cashel of the Kings and St. Patrick’s Rock, this hilltop ruin is immersed in legend and history. Irish myths tell that the hill was formed when the Devil took a bite out of a mountain 20 miles north and spit it out on the plain as he was fleeing from St. Patrick. The Devil’s Bite, as the mountain is called, does look like a huge bite was taken out of it.
It is also reputed to be the site where St. Patrick converted the last pagan King of Munster to Christianity in the 5th century. For many centuries afterwards, it was the seat of the Kings of Munster. In the 12th century, it was donated to the church, who built a cathedral on the hill.
You can clearly see The Rock from any direction as you approach. It is a magnificent example of Celtic stone work and architecture. We highly recommend taking the open tour, about 45 minutes, to learn about the site. Since it is a very popular tourist spot, you’ll want to get there early before the loads of tour buses arrive.
The round tower reminded Elijah of every Disney fairy tale princess tower in movies. He was bummed that he couldn’t scale it. You aren’t even allowed inside for safety reasons.
Across from The Rock of Cashel is a less visited ruin of an old abbey. We packed a picnic lunch and headed over to see it. You have to be careful to dodge the minefield of cow patties on the way. The ruins themselves were impressive, but they also offered an amazing look back on The Rock.
Elijah’s favorite activity was exploring old ruins.
Next up, Elijah made us detour to the most haunted house in Ireland!
Long before it was known for crystal, Waterford was an important port city in south east Ireland.
To be honest, we really had no interest in going to the famous Waterford Crystal factory. Even though it is internationally renowned we decided to pass it up. Maybe other family travelers can comment about it. An important distinction we learned is that the crystal is named after the city, not the other way around.
The most interesting thing for us was Reginald’s Tower. This 54 foot tall stone tower was built on the site of a wooden viking fortress and has been used as a fort, prison, home, storehouse, and mint. Most notably, it was the site where the legendary Strongbow (mentioned in my last post) married Irish princess Aoife.
It was only a couple of Euro to visit, so we went up. Inside is a small museum with displays, artifacts, a short movie, and good views of the city. Best of all is a cannon ball embedded high in the outer wall, a left over from a failed siege long ago.
The rest of Waterford to be honest is pretty lackluster. In fairness, it is a working class city with people doing jobs and not catering to throngs of tourists. It did make, however, a good base of operations to explore southeast Ireland.
We stayed at a wonderful Air BnB owned by Pat and his wife, Maureen. They recommended we try Brooklyn Restaurant in nearby Tramore for dinner. It was a very popular place with locals, so you know it has to be good. Luckily, Pat made reservations for us. The food was delicious! Since it was on the beach, we had great views too.
After a good nights sleep, we headed north for a day trip to the Rock of Cashel.
Up next, The Rock!
Parts of the Irish countryside look like they’re illustrations for Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.
Places like Kells Priory are as quintessential Ireland as you can get. Amazingly, many of these Irish ruins and historical points are free and, better yet, off the beaten path. Pack a picnic lunch and enjoy an inexpensive family adventure. We enjoyed just walking the two mile priory trail around the ruins, along the river, and through the village. You never know what you will find.
We found an old mill that reminded Elijah and I of The Old Mill in Hobbiton of the Shire. For those of you not familiar with Tolkien’s Middle Earth, I highly recommend reading the books or watching the movies before you go to Ireland. We had fun pretending we were actually there. I can check that childhood fantasy off my list now.
Elijah climbed up on an ancient wall to pose for a picture.
Mish found a more modern iconic artifact to pose with. Thanks to cell phones these old phone booths are now just decorations, but they do add to the ambiance.
From Kells Priory, we meandered our way to Waterford, which is world famous for its crystal.
Kilkenny Castle is the ancestral home of Richard de Clare, aka Strongbow.
You can’t visit Ireland without learning a little Irish history. Today, we learnt about Strongbow, not the cider but the man.
The legendary Strongbow is a controversial figure in Irish history. To some he is a mighty hero and to others he is the villain who first brought English rule to Ireland. He was an Anglo-Norman lord who was a little down on his luck and only partially in favor with his king, Henry II. As fate would have it, his fortunes changed when the ousted King of Leinster, Dermot MacMurrough, came from Ireland to England seeking aid to regain his throne from Rory O’Connor, the High King of Ireland in 1166 AD.
Strongbow needed some quick money and agreed to help MacMurrough. So, with a 100 loyal knights and 1,000 soldiers, he set-off to Ireland. He succeeded in ousting O’Connor, but also established himself as the dominant figure in Ireland, which did not make King Henry II very happy.
Strongbow established his seat of power at Kilkenny on the River Nore in 1173 AD. There he built his castle in 1213 AD and set himself up as an Irish lord. He even married the daughter of MacMurrough, Eva, thus solidifying his line of ascension to the throne of Ireland.
His castle has been handed down over the centuries and extensively modified and updated by new owners. Today, it is more of an estate than fortress. The wealthy Butler family purchased it in 1391 AD, who owned it until 1967 AD when they turned it over to the City of Kilkenny as an historic site.
It is a pretty over-the-top residence. Obviously, the previous owners had enormous wealth and power. Elijah was amused at the narcissistic way that they hung their portraits all over the castle and even had sculptures of themselves placed around. If you got it, flaunt it, I guess was their thinking.
We had a very nice afternoon tea in the castle cafe, which formerly was the butler’s pantry. I felt a little snubbed that us commoners could only eat in the servant’s area. Oh well, the chairs were more comfortable anyway.
The city of Kilkenny is lively with lots of unique shops and good pubs. We strolled around for a while and then headed to an old abbey and more history outside of town.
Our next stop was one of my most favorite so far on this trip!
Our family travels brought us to Trim, Ireland.
Now that we were rested and fed, we were eager to explore Ireland. We were sad to leave Crannmor Country Guest House, but excited to explore Ireland. We said goodby to Marc and Ann and all of the farm animals and headed out on country roads for adventure!
Probably the biggest excitement was re-learning to drive on the left side of the road. Plus, Ireland has some very narrow and winding roads flanked by thick vegetation, so driving was sort of like a bizarre amusement park ride. Rounding blind turns and coming head to head with a huge farm tractor got our hearts racing. Dodging the occasional stray sheep was a thrill too. I was really amazed that Mish and Elijah’s stomachs could handle my driving. After a while, it became normal, quick brake for a sheep crossing, sudden left turn for a tractor, accelerate around a horse and cart, hug the side for a huge truck, breath, loop a round about, and straight on. Easy!
Luckily, with Mish navigating and me focused on driving, we made it to Trim Castle. Trim Castle is the largest Norman castle in Ireland, completed in 1224 AD. The once mighty keep was built on the south side of the Boyne River on a small hill overlooking a ford in the river. It was a very strategic point and, therefore, an important stronghold. Today, all that remains of the impressive fortress is the outer wall and shell of the inner keep.
We toured the grounds and keep in awe of its sheer presence over the small town of Trim. You can, with a guide, enter the keep and climb all the way to the upper ramparts four stories above the grounds. Hugh de Lacy built the castle to clearly solidify Norman dominance in Ireland. Looking out across the landscape from the top of the keep, I could see how it probably intimidated everyone for miles around.
Below, the Boyne River lazily flowed around the walls as it has done for over eight centuries, oblivious to the battles and changing rulers of the land. The Normans eventually were expelled from Ireland and the castle was left to the elements and time. The history that took place here awed us.
We climbed back down the keep and walked across a bridge over the river to another ruin. The remains of an old stone church that stood across from the castle added to the beauty of the scene. You may recognize the area from the movie Braveheart, which was filmed there because the weather in Scotland was too poor.
We walked around the cute town and simply enjoyed the magnificent feeling of being in Ireland with all of its history.
Next up, Kilkenny!