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3 continents, 8 countries and counting!

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Categories: Before the Adventure | 1 Comment

The Cliffs of Moher

We missed the Cliffs of Moher on our last visit to Ireland, but this time we made it a must see destination.

The Cliffs of Moher are not the tallest sea cliffs in the world, but they are some of the most dramatic. They are sheer vertical walls of rock that rise over 390 feet from the ocean. They are located in County Clare at Hags Head near the small coastal resort town of Doolin. The area is well known for its famous golf courses, which we passed up. I still have yet to play a single round of golf and plan on keeping it that way. The cliff had much more fascination for me.

Be aware, between the golfers, bicyclists, and cliff watchers the roads get pretty crowded. You will need to go slow and constantly be on the look out. Once we reached the cliffs, I was amazed at how many tourists were there. The cliffs are one of Ireland’s most visited attractions, so be prepared for crowds. There is also a 10 Euro parking fee. Despite these, the cliffs are well worth a look.

I do not like heights. The cliffs are dizzily high. I was amazed and alarmed that there is not a railing to prevent foolish tourists from going on an unexpected one-way trip. To add to my shock, we learned that 26 people have fallen from the precipice in the last 20 years. There is even a special rescue team trained just for the cliffs. They have yet to do an actual rescue because they have all been body recoveries. As long as you stay on the well marked path, you will be fine. Please do not try to get that amazing dare-devil selfie.

I braved the heights and was rewarded with a breathtaking view. We could see all the way to the Aran Islands near Galway, which is our next stop. On top of the cliffs is O’Brien’s Tower. Cornelius O’Brien built the tower in 1835 as an observation platform for Victorian era tourists. Climbing to the top parapet gives you an even better view! It is an additional 3 Euro per person, however (cash only).

Built into the hillside behind the cliffs like a giant hobbit hole is the visitor center and cafe. We had a wonderful tea while we looked out over the ocean. The coffee and cake helped me regain my nerves. I’m very glad that we didn’t pass up the cliffs a second time.

 

 

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The Most Dangerous Road in Ireland

We left the Dingle Peninsula for the small city of Ennis, but decided to take a short cut over Conor Pass.

By now we have been in Ireland for over a week and about half way through our family adventure. I’ll admit, I am getting a little tired of driving. So, I decided to take a short cut over Conor Pass to liven things up. It is the highest public road in Ireland and largely regarded as one of the most dangerous roads in Europe.

The road cuts across the Brandon Mountains linking Dingle on the south side of the peninsula with Kilcummin on the north side. The Brandon Mountains contain Ireland’s second highest peak, Brandon Mountain, at 3127 ft. Compared to the Cascades back home in western Washington they are mere hills, but are still dramatic and beautiful in their own right.

The pass is very winding and narrow, but does have sum pull-outs where you can stop and let other vehicles sneak by, which was luck for us because we needed them. My short cut to liven the drive up definitely got my heart racing at times. Luckily, most Irish drivers are very polite, which cannot be said of all Europeans.

The Brandon Mountains are steep and jagged due to the relentless work of glaciers during the last ice age. They have left their indelible mark on the pass. We noticed the characteristic cirque land features, which the Irish call corries. These steep amphitheater shaped valleys are dead giveaways that glaciers carved the area.

Thankfully, we successfully traversed the Conor Pass and head along the north shore of the Dingle Peninsula. Our next obstacle was the Shannon Estuary. To cross this, we needed a boat. Luckily, the Shannon Ferry makes crossings twice an hour. Otherwise, we would have had to drive over two hours around the estuary. Being from the Seattle area, we are well accustomed to ferries so felt right at home.

Once safely on the other side of the estuary, we made for our next bed and breakfast outside of Ennis. Ennis turned out to be an unexpected gem of a small city. I’ll get to that next time!

 

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As Far West as You Can Go in Ireland

On the tip of the Dingle Peninsula is Dunmore Head, the most westerly point in Ireland.

We drove out to the small town of Dunquin to visit the Great Blasket Centre and Island. I had no idea what to expect, I had never heard of Blaskets. The Blasket Islands, in case you also didn’t know, are a group of small islands off the coast of the Dingle Peninsula. The largest of the six primary islands is Great Blasket. It was continually inhabited until November 17, 1953, when the government evacuated the last 22 residents because of the harsh and primitive living conditions. You can take a daily ferry to see the remains of the small community, but you need to transfer to an inflatable boat once the ferry reaches the island because there is no safe landing site. We skipped it.

Instead of the boat ride, we opted for a long walk along the Siuloid na Cille. The 5 km walk was beautiful. The views of the Blaskets and surrounding ocean were amazing. After the walk, we had afternoon tea in the visitor center. I actually had coffee, but close enough.

I really wanted to find the famous Sheep Highway. I’m not sure if it is actually famous, but I have seen pictures of it many times. We finally found it after some asking and searching. It is an old stone roadway that goes steeply up from a stone pier to the cliff top. It was used when islanders brought their sheep to the mainland for market. I wouldn’t go out of your way to find it, but we were in the area anyway.

Elijah was looking for a nice leather wallet, so we headed inland and looked for Holden Leather. Holden is the epitome of fine Irish leather work. Their leather goods are of exceptional quality and craftsmanship. We visited their shop and factory outside Dingle. The owner was very friendly and helpful. He explained the care he takes in designing and making his unique leather products. I really want one of his messenger bags now! Unfortunately, the wallets were out of Elijah’s price range. He could buy one or have money to put in a wallet, but not both.

Last stop on our trip around the Dingle Peninsula was the Gallarus Oratory. The small stone structure dates from the 12th century. What impressed me was that this tiny church has stood for almost a millennia untouched by time. It will probably be just like this a millennia from now.

Our day trip around the Dingle Peninsula was very eventful. We are equally impressed with both peninsulas. It is hard to say which one is prettier. You will have to travel both to judge for yourself. Let us know!

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From One Ring to Another

We left Portmagee and continued our way around The Ring of Kerry.

There is so much to see along The Ring of Kerry that you end up stopping every few miles, which can make the trip a great family adventure, but a little tedious too. We, however, decided to just drive and enjoy the magnificent scenery as it went by and pass up some usual tourist stops. Ahead of us was another famous peninsula to explore. Mind the sheep crossing though!

The Dingle Peninsula is the next peninsula north of The Ring of Kerry. To get to it, we went through Moll’s Gap, which was the last place in Ireland to get electricity. Believe it or not, they didn’t get it until 1972! After the gap we traveled through Killarney National Park with Lough Leane and Muckross Lake, it is truly a national treasure. This was actually our second time through this area because we traveled the ring counter-clockwise. Seeing it again made it no less wonderful.

We headed for the small town of Dingle, where our next bed and breakfast awaited us. Devane’s BnB was wonderful! It is located on the main street right in the middle of Dingle. Our hosts were terrific. They made us feel at home right away. The room were neat and tidy and the home cooked breakfast was delicious. Bed and Breakfasts are the only way to truly experience Ireland!

Elijah and Mish went out to explore the town while I caught up on some much needed rest. All of the driving was getting me tired, so I decided to take a nap. After a while, Elijah and Mish came back from their reconnaissance of the area to report they had found a cool pub for dinner. I woke up hungry, so off we went!

The main reason for selecting The Dingle Pub wasn’t its name. It was for David Geaney. David is the five time world and current Irish dancing champion. He regularly performs in his family’s pub. Amazingly, he was quietly waiting and busing tables as we anxiously awaited for “the dancer” to come out. No one knew that the humble young waiter was THE dancer! You’re never too famous to work in your father’s place. I guess that is pay back for the years of dance lessons.

When he took the floor everyone stopped to watch in awe. His feet flew so fast you couldn’t even see them! He danced to live music and thunderous applause. It was quite the dinner show. After he did a set, he simply went back to waiting tables. Amazing!

 

 

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The Famous Ring of Kerry at Last

Probably the most well-known and traveled road in Ireland is The Ring of Kerry.

This was our second time on it and we were just as excited as the first time. The first time we ventured around the ring we did the whole thing in one day, which was way too quickly. This time, we are taking three days. (FYI, drive the ring counter-clockwise to avoid getting stuck behind the tour buses, they have to drive it clock-wise.)

The first leg was the longest. We made for Portmagee on the very tip of the Iveragh Peninsula. This small town is about as west as you can go in Ireland. It sits way out into the North Atlantic Ocean on the rocky coast. We felt almost vulnerable being exposed on the treeless point. Luckily we found a wonderful bed and breakfast, Skellig View, within walking distance to the edge of the land.

The land ends dramatically in enormous cliffs that plummet over 200 feet to the crashing waves below. It looks like a gigantic sword sliced the peninsula off at its tip. Standing on the top of them was both exhilarating and terrifying. We felt very tiny and insignificant in comparison to the landscape.

We ventured around the area by car and found some cool sites and another chocolate factory! By now we have seen several stone forts, but they are still cool. Even though I have been to many chocolatier’s too, why miss one? So, off we went to see forts and chocolate. The forts were enormous Stone Age structures that have withstood time and the elements. Skelligs Chocolate Factory was much newer, but still amazing. They have free samples! I bought their Irish Whiskey Creme Truffles. Wow! They are amazing!

That afternoon, a violent storm raged in from the ocean. We hunkered down in our little cottage as the wind howled outside and the rain beat down on the roof. Despite being trapped inside, we were quite cozy and relaxed. We spent the night relaxing and reading. It was actually a very nice change of pace from all of the driving and walking. It felt very authentic Irish.

The next morning dawned windy, but clear. Off the coast we could clearly see the original Jedi Temple. Ok, it is not really, but it is the site in the Star Wars movies where Luke Skywalker goes to do Jedi stuff. The island is actually called Skellig Michael. It is one of only three World Heritage Sites in Ireland. It has been a revered holy place long before the Jedi. It is the home of the most western Christian Monastery in Europe. The monastery consists of several ancient stone beehive huts that are only accessible by boat and then climbing a long steep flight of uneven stone stairs to their high perch. The hour long crossing is rough, even in relatively calm weather, so we opted not to go. Besides, I’m a Trekkie anyway. Even from the mainland, however, the island is impressive. May the force be with you!

 

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The Sheen Valley and Bonane

After an amazing hike in Gleninchaquin Park, we went for a scenic drive to rest our legs while still exploring Ireland on our family adventure!

Just across the Kenmare suspension bridge is the Sheen Valley. The heart of the valley is a small town called Bonane. We decided to make for it and see what was there. The drive, of course, was magnificent!

Along the way to Bonane we happened to stumble on a chocolate factory and shop! Benoit Lorge is an award winning chocolatier from Lorraine France who traveled the world making delicious treats before settling in Ireland. His shop is Lorge Chocolatier Handmade Chocolates on the Glengarriff Road. We had to stop in to sample his creations (I never turn down good chocolate.). We were not disappointed. His chocolates were exceptional! If you are in the area, stop by his place for sure.

Now that we were rewarded for our hike, we continued up the Sheen Valley. The next unexpected stop was the Bonane Heritage Park. This award winning park is an archeological treasure chest that was discovered only ten years ago. It showcases real archeological sites from the Stone, Bronze, and Iron Ages. It provides an incredible window into Ireland’s ancient past. As you stroll along the Druid Walk, you will see stone forts, astronomical sites, a famine house, and stone circles, all of which you can actually touch and learn about. We had a nice picnic lunch amid the ruins overlooking the valley.

We left the park and kept driving deeper into the valley. The road starts to climb steeply, but the views get better and better. Almost at the top, where the road passes over the Caha Mountains, is another surprise worth stopping for, Molly Gallivans. The legendary Molly apparently was, among other things, a bootlegger. She made illegal whiskey which she sold to locals and passerby’s to supplement her income. Today, her cottage and farm is open to tour so you can see what life was like in rural Ireland 200 years ago.

As usual, Elijah made friends with all of the farm animals. The enormous pig especially latched onto him (probably because he had carrots and bread). Even Mish found a friend. Once she fed him carrots he followed her around like a puppy, until he could not go anymore and brayed loudly in protest.

We went up and over the Caha Mountains and leisurely made our way back to Kenmare. The Sheen Valley is an amazing place to explore! There is a something for everyone. Mish got stone circles, Elijah got animals, and I got chocolate!

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Possibly the best hike in Ireland

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.

 

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Where’s Bilbo Baggins?

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!

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Off to Kilarney!

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.

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Back to Kinsale

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!

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