Ireland: Part 1
Updated: Jul 26, 2019
Note: In this 3-part series, I mention and sometimes provide links to businesses we used on our trip through Ireland, but please note that this post is not sponsored or partnered in any way. These are recommendations based on our personal experiences on our travels through this beautiful country!
In your life, what are the odds of get invited to a real live Irish wedding? I’d say they’re pretty slim. Which is why I still feel astonished and so grateful that our friends Tom and Lorraine wanted us to be there for their wedding day. Every part of our trip to Ireland (this was Kyle’s and my first time overseas together) was amazing, and so memorable.
The wedding was on June 28th, 2018, and we chose to stay for about eight days, not counting the two travel days bookending that stay. In this three-part post about our Irish vacation, I’ll split our travels up based on the chronological order that we visited them.
In Part 1, I go in depth about staying in Waterford City for the wedding and a beach day, and our stay in beautiful Killarney.
Part 2 is all about our time touring the Dingle Peninsula, the Cliffs of Moher, Galway, and finally, Dublin.
Part 3 is more of a reflection on our travels through Ireland, and it includes a few tips for reserving places to stay, a rental car, and other transportation, as well as a few miscellaneous elements that didn’t fit in Parts 1 or 2.
Travel: Nashville to County Waterford, Ireland
We chose to take a night flight from Nashville to Heathrow, and on our drive to the airport, we dropped off our cat, Bits, with an accommodating pet boarder. This process of dropping her off and leaving her behind pretty much shredded my heart, which I did not and still do not understand, because my cat is a terrorist and normally I pretend I am not even fond of her. In the morning, we hopped from Heathrow to Dublin on a much shorter flight, then snagged seats on a double-decker bus to get to the train station, where we squeezed onto a train car packed with about fifty other people, and finally, upon arriving in Waterford City, rented a cab to take us to our hotel.
This account does not relay the cramped conditions of the plane or the tediousness of going through customs repeatedly, or the uncertainty of international travel in general, nor does it go into how exhausting it was to run from one connection to the next with barely enough time to catch the next mode of transport. But believe me, all those things were present. But they’re all just unfortunate side effects of traveling, and I haven’t traveled via plane enough to get used to it quite yet.
The above account of our travels to Ireland also doesn’t recount the excitement of finally getting to travel and explore another country with your spouse, or the beauty of the bustling city of Dublin that we passed through on the upper floor of the bus, or the rolling (albeit yellowed – we visited Ireland in the middle of their summer drought in 2018) landscape as we darted through the countryside on the southbound train to Waterford.
Looking back now – I write this almost exactly one year after the wedding and our trip to Ireland – County Waterford was probably the part of Ireland we got to know the best on our vacation, since we stayed there longer than anywhere else we visited on our trip. The streets were as narrow as they say, especially when you get out into the outskirts of the city. I sat in the backseat of the cab on our drive out to Faithlegg House and saw cow fields through the trees as we passed under their canopies, flying up and down hills and taking lefts at speed. The hotel sat on an enormous golf course, and the inside impressed us with its rich, antique wallpapers and its muffled sort of quiet.
I was so impressed by the food! Our first night, Kyle and I got dinner at the hotel, which consisted of a chicken liver pate with caramelized onions and crostini as our starter, and pan-fried wild hake (a local whitefish) with mussels as the main course. We both got dessert, which included a rhubarb-lemon posset (a type of custard or panna cotta) and raspberry sorbet with candied fennel for me, and a trio of ice creams in a brandy snap basket for Kyle.
Breakfast at the hotel was a delicious affair, too. Each morning I ordered tea, and Kyle always ordered coffee. Story of our lives. On our first morning, my breakfast was toast, poached eggs, and pesto. Every breakfast we had at the hotel included a lovely tower of scones, bread, jams and honey, granola, and yogurt. And if that sounds like a lot, IT WAS. It came in addition to the breakfasts we ordered from the hotel’s morning menu. Kyle usually got the full Irish breakfast because the man can eat breakfast in a way he can't seem to care about other meals – and the full Irish breakfast usually came with sausage, eggs, toast, ham, and herb-roasted tomatoes.
While my shiniest, most vivid memories from Ireland are of the food, we had such an amazing time at the wedding that it would be a shame not to mention it, since it is the reason we went to Ireland in the first place!
My heart just fills up when I think of our time in Waterford for Tom and Lorraine's wedding. We absolutely love both of them, and their family, even though we only got to meet them for a brief period of time. The couple were married in a little Catholic church made of grey stones and stained glass, just up the hill from Faithlegg Hotel. We sat on wooden pews and used our programs as fans to try and combat the heat. The reception was held on the back lawn of Faithlegg House, with a white tent for mingling and ordering drinks from a beverage truck. People stood in their finery on the lawn, drinks in hand, to chat and watch the bridal party take photos before the reception. We even got to participate in a few of the photos!
Though photos were taken outside during the cocktail hour (well, cocktail “hours”, since we spent a good two or three hours outside before dinner), the reception itself was held inside the hotel, in a beautiful light-filled hall with super high, almost greenhouse-like domed ceilings, and windows all around. The band set up in the center of the hall after dinner, and they cleared the center of the room for dancing, which went on well into the night – the bride told me she didn’t go to sleep until 6am!
But that all happened after the beautiful three-course dinner, where we were served a starter chicken salad with Romesco sauce and sliced almonds on mixed greens and frisée, followed by a roast of beef and root vegetables, followed by a dessert trio: a meringue puff, a chocolate shell with whipped cream, and ice cream in a waffle cup, all drizzled with raspberry sauce. This wasn’t even including the wedding cake! That went around as Second Dessert once the bride and groom had cut it. (You better believe I was on board for Second Dessert.)
The day after the wedding was a bit of a free day, which Kyle and I used to explore Waterford before we planned to move on across the country. We ate breakfast at the hotel, a dish called Eggs Olivia, which was Faithlegg House’s spin on Eggs Benedict, but instead of an English muffin with ham, a poached egg, and hollandaise, it was toasted Waterford blaa bread, smoked salmon, a poached egg, and hollandaise. Blaa bread is one of those things that you can only get in County Waterford; it’s like Parmigiano Reggiano in Italy or Champagne from France, where it’s only considered to be That Name if it comes from a particular region or regions of the country.
We drove our rental car down to Tramore beach, which is a crescent-shaped beach along the southern coast of Waterford City. This beach is so much bigger than it looks upon first glance! It was my very first time to an actual real life ocean, so I was surprised not only by the sometimes-fishy smell, but also by the vastness of the beach at low-tide, which is when we visited, though we didn’t plan that, as it never crossed our minds to plan to go at low-tide versus high-tide. It blew me away that the water would cover the very ground that we were walking on, possibly all the way up to the rocks, yards and yards behind us. We would’ve probably stayed longer, had we thought to bring our swimsuits to the beach; Kyle would have liked to swim, since the weather was perfect for it, but we didn’t get the chance this time. Instead, there was a small fair and a strip of shops across the street from the beach, and we stopped into one of them for BLTs and malt vinegar chips, which were delicious. I never thought I might like malt vinegar chips, but I did, and I was bummed that I couldn’t find them in any of the gas stations or shops we stopped in during all the rest of our travels through Ireland. I’m sure they’re there and I was just missing them.
That evening, we were invited to a post-wedding party with many of the guests from the wedding the night before. It was at a place called Jack Meade’s, which professes to be the oldest pub in Ireland. It had a biergarten feel to it, which was so friendly and welcoming. There was a buffet set up for those in the post-wedding celebration, so we didn’t have to go through the process of ordering individually, and dessert was available at a little ice cream booth at the far end of the restaurant, so we ordered ice cream. The soft serve ice cream in Ireland comes with a little chocolate bar in it which they call a flake – this possibly refers to the name of the chocolate bar brand or maybe that’s just what they call the bit of chocolate, I never found out. And it was a bar, after all, so we did get something to drink – a G&T with elderflower tonic for me, and a delicious Swedish cider for Kyle. (We still haven’t been able to find this cider anywhere else! Oh well, guess we’ll have to go back to Ireland if we want it again.)
Cross-Country Travel: County Waterford to County Kerry
On our final day at Faithlegg House, we ate another beautiful breakfast (full Irish that morning – I figured I had to try it at some point!) and got in the car to start the first leg of our journey across the country to County Kerry, where we would stay in Killarney for a couple nights.
On our way there, we were invited to spend a bit more time with the wedding party, so we drove about an hour from Waterford City to Dungarvan, where the bride’s family is from. Dungarvan is a small port town with its own historic fort, and plenty of the quintessential brightly-painted front doors. We met up with the groom’s family for a bit of a chat and then decided to head off toward Killarney – but we did stop for fish and chips at a seaside pub with outdoor seating.
After another hour of driving, we paused in Cobh, another port town and the last place the Titanic stopped before sailing into the Atlantic. It was early afternoon, beautifully warm and sunny with a blue sky and calm seas. We sampled some of the ice cream on a sidewalk by the bay, hiked the impossibly steep streets, and perused St. Colman’s cathedral (which was undergoing some renovations) before hopping back in the car and continuing on the last two-hour leg of our journey to Killarney.
The views started to change about half an hour from our B&B. The landscape went from mostly coastal flatlands and forested highways to soaring rounded mountains, popping up almost out of nowhere. The radio fuzzed in and out as we wound through the mountains to our B&B, Robeen House, in the heart of Killarney.
What a great experience Robeen House was for us. I’m sorry to say I didn’t get the owners’ names, but they were so friendly. When we were checking in and explaining our travel plans to the woman helping us, she suggested the best routes. We had been wavering between touring the Dingle Peninsula or the entire Ring of Kerry, and she helped us settle on the Dingle Peninsula since we had limited time to spend in the area and Dingle went along more closely with the route we planned to take to Galway. If you want a quiet, cozy place to be your hub while you’re touring the Ring of Kerry and Killarney, I very much recommend Robeen House. (They don't have a website, but you can check out photos and make reservations here.)
Since our B&B was only about ten minutes from the main downtown area of Killarney, we walked to a pub for dinner (I believe this one was called Caragh Restaurant & Bar; I’m kicking myself now for not noting the names of the places we went!), and for ONCE I finally took a photo of both our dinner choices! We got a scrumptious appetizer of fried brie with a cranberry sauce on a light salad of greens. Let me take a moment to explain that this is what an appetizer should be: a small enough plate that it simply whets your appetite, and doesn’t stuff you up before you’ve even gotten to the entrée. Not to mention the fact that this was one of the tastiest and most memorable things I ate while in Ireland, and it wasn’t even like, traditional Irish food? But we did get traditional Irish food for our entrées: Kyle tried the lamb shank, and I the beef stew. So tender and delicious. After dinner we checked out the woolen market across the street before heading home for the night.
Day 2 in Killarney was entirely dedicated to the Killarney National Park. Robeen House did a lovely full Irish breakfast (with blood sausages too!) for us before we took off for the Park, where we started the chilly, overcast day touring Ross Castle. This was the only real Irish castle we toured on our trip, and it was well worth it to learn about the area’s history!
We spent almost the entire rest of the day at Muckross House, Muckross Abbey, and Torc Waterfall. (Killarney National Park is totally FREE to enter and explore! The only things you have to pay for are the guided tours, should you choose to do one.) The gardens around Muckross House are amazing, full of interesting nooks and crannies to explore, and though it had been a bit chilly in the morning, the weather brightened and warmed up quite a bit as the day went on. The tour of the manor house was another history lesson, as was the visit to Muckross Abbey, though there was no official guided tour of it. The abbey was one of my favorite places to explore. We had to walk for twenty minutes or so from Muckross House to get there, along a partially wooded path. It was another long hike from Muckross House in the opposite direction to Torc Waterfall, and to be completely honest, though it’s always nice to see a waterfall, this one was a lot of expended energy for not a lot of return on our investment. Plus it was absolutely crowded with tourists and visitors so we didn’t even bother taking photos. I’m sure it would’ve been much pleasanter early in the morning with a coffee in hand.
Speaking of food, we had lunch at the Muckross gardens café, but it was so exorbitantly overpriced that I can’t in good conscious recommend going that route. If we’d had time, I think we would have gone back into Killarney to get lunch and then come back to continue exploring. At the time we were so hungry that going to the café seemed the easiest and most sensible route.
For dinner that night I think we got pizza at (possibly) The Laurels Pub – again, I can’t remember the exact place we went. I must have been REALLY hungry, because I had so wanted to get photos of everything we tried over in Ireland, even if it was just plain old pub food, but I don't have any photos of dinner that night!
I’ll wrap up Part 1 here, since this is already WAAAY longer than I expected! I have so many great memories of our travels through Ireland, though; it seems like it would be a shame to leave out any of the good parts!
What are some of your favorite travel adventures? Have you ever been anywhere I mentioned in this post? I’d love to hear about your travels in the comments below! And if you’d like to hear more about our trip through Ireland, check out this post for Part 2, and this one for Part 3!