• Kara Cushway

Ireland: Part 2

Updated: Jul 28, 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 June of 2018, Kyle and I were invited to attend a friend’s wedding in Ireland (!!) and we had a blast! If you missed Part 1 about our trip, where I expounded on the first half of the journey, check it out here.


In Part 2, I’ll go into the next half of our trip, which included a drive around the Dingle peninsula, sightseeing at the Cliffs of Moher, and our stays in both Galway and Dublin.


And if you want to check out Part 3, with specific details about the hotels we stayed at, our rental car, and general costs, click here.


Dingle Peninsula

As I mentioned in Part 1, we stayed at Robeen House during our stay in Killarney, where we checked out the beautiful sights around Killarney National Park and ate some great food. We could've easily stayed much longer in Killarney. I would’ve loved to have had a leisurely visit to this part of the country, exploring the area and doing some less touristy things, like hiking in the Kerry mountains and around the nearby lakes, maybe visiting local grocery stores (weird, but actually quite fun and telling of the local culture!).


But on our sixth day in Ireland, we packed our bags back into the little rental car and headed north and west to the Dingle Peninsula.



What a cool experience! I mean, did we fear for our car’s safety and for our own lives? Sure. But what’s the point of international travel if not to scare yourself once in a while? The road we took around the peninsula was narrow, with barely room for one car to squeeze through; there were steeply sloping mountains on the right and a sheer drop to the ocean on the left with only a thigh-high stone wall to prevent us from careening to our deaths. Speaking of death, Kyle killed it on the driving portion of our trip through Ireland. I’m forever grateful I didn’t have to be the one driving on cliffs and opposite sides of the road.



We stopped numerous times along the tiny path around the peninsula. Once was to gaze upon a few beehive huts from afar (there was a shady sort of setup where you could pay to go into them but we decided we wanted to continue exploring the peninsula), another was to scramble down a path of steps, if you could call them that, down a sheer cliff of scree, to the beach, and we stopped again so we could hike up one of the jutting peaks that looked like the Skellig Isles but were, in fact, not. Just as an aside, that hike was a long one. We underestimated how far it was because, though the peak looked large, it had seemed closer than it turned out to be. It was also so windy we could barely hear each other speak, but the sun was shining and the view at the top was amazing.



The Dingle peninsula, like Killarney, would’ve been such a fun place to spend more time, and I hope we get a chance to go back. When we passed through the town of Dingle, we stopped in their local SuperValu grocery store (listen, don’t ask. I like going into grocery stores.) and I got a beautiful photo of the pies for sale before we stopped in a little diner across the street to get kebabs for lunch.



Cliffs of Moher

The next leg of our journey was to travel north to the Shannon Estuary, where we hopped a ride on the Tarbert car ferry to take us across the channel to County Clare, where we planned to visit the Cliffs of Moher. We hadn’t purchased our tickets for the ferry ahead of time because we wanted some flexibility for travel arrangements, but we made it just in time for the one-o’clock-ish ferry across the inlet. We drove our rental car right onto the boat, parked, and went to the upper walkway to take in the view while we crossed the water. Then it was a little more driving until the cliffs.


I’ll be honest, we drove right past the main hub for where to park and get tickets for the Cliffs of Moher, and had to turn around on a quiet country road down the hill. I don’t know what we were expecting – maybe a sign? Either way, we made it back up the hill and parked, bought our tickets for the cliffs, and hiked up the paths to check out the view.


One of the things that absolutely blew me away – other than the view of the cliffs themselves – was the thought that so many people had been to these cliffs before me; movie scenes had been shot at these cliffs, people had farmed the top of them long before it became a national landmark and park. Maybe people had even looked off these cliffs and wondered if there was anything else across the water to the west. It was an impressive experience.


Luckily, we had a clear, sunny day to see the cliffs, and we spent about two hours there before driving up to Galway for the night.



Galway

I had only planned for us to be in Galway for one day, and I’m actually really glad about that. Though it’s a lovely town, Kyle and I were getting a little burnt out from all the traveling (we’re homebodies, and we like to have a main hub to go back to when we travel), which may have influenced our overall impressions of the city. But unfortunately, our first experience there was also of a sub-par B&B, which, again, may have contributed to the less-than-glittering impression we got right off the bat.


Now, I don’t recommend this particular experience to those traveling to Ireland, or anywhere, but I’m certain you can’t avoid a few bad B&B or hostel experiences as a traveler; that would be asking a bit too much of the world at large. But this particular B&B was on the dirtier side of things. It looked like our bedding hadn’t been aired (or cleaned?) before we arrived, and the electric tea kettle had a ton of scummy scale buildup inside. Since we had plugged straight on from the Cliffs to Galway, we were exhausted, and weren’t about to go out in search of food, but I had been looking forward to a hot cup of tea. Needless to say, that didn’t happen. We did get to shower, but the stall was tiny (not a huge problem by itself; we’d dealt with small shower stalls before) and the drain was so clogged that the water overflowed onto the floor of the bathroom. We were not impressed.



But it was only for one night, so we slept and packed our bags as early as we could in the morning before hitting the road again. (We skipped breakfast at the B&B – they charged extra for breakfast, which was actually kind of unusual, compared to our experiences up to that point. Again. Not impressed.) We drove into the city and stopped at a restaurant above a lovely little grocery store called McCambridge’s, where I ordered avocado brioche toast with coffee-cured bacon. I loved walking around the store on the main level and looking at the different foods and wines and chocolates they had on display. (Remember? I like grocery stores; I can’t help it.)


Like any big city, parking was not fun, so we tried to see what we could where we were. One thing I would’ve loved to have done, and will do if I ever get to that part of Ireland again, is take a ferry out to the Aran Islands in Galway Bay. I think both of us would’ve enjoyed the quiet and history of the islands over the bustle of the city. But we made do, and looking back, we learned a lesson. (Check out Part 3 for lessons learned, what we’d do differently, and more specifics about our trip to Ireland.)


We explored where we were, though, walking through the cobbled streets and even going into one of Galway’s shopping malls to see if Irish shopping malls were any different than American shopping malls. (They’re not. But this reminds me of the time my family went to Canada to pick up my sister after she’d been living in Scotland for a semester, and my littlest brother Dane wanted to go into a “Canadian Wal-Mart” to see if it was different than American Wal-Marts. Again, it wasn’t.)


"Goujon" is apparently a fancy word for "strip" or "stick". Behold these glorified fish sticks.

Our final stop in Galway was for lunch at Ard Bia at Nimmo’s, one of Galway’s more historic restaurants. I got some fish goujons (a fancy word for, well, sticks, so fish sticks) on a green salad with potatoes, and Kyle got something with beets in it, if I remember correctly. Beets aren’t his favorite flavor, let’s put it that way. So, overall, Galway turned out not to be our favorite part of our trip to Ireland, but we did some stuff! And we have the memories! And it definitely doesn’t negate all the other amazing experiences we had while we were in Ireland.


San Lorenzo's in Dublin, where we sampled some Italian antipasti.

Dublin

Our trusty rental car got us all the way back across Ireland through the center of the country, with only one stop for gas. (It’s only about 3 hours total to go from Galway to Dublin – how crazy is that?? And here we are in the U.S. driving 8+ hours to see our families.) We parked our car in a garage where it stayed, most thankfully, for the entirety of our two days in Dublin, and we dragged our suitcase through town to get to our hotel, which was, also thankfully, very comfortable and clean.



Antipasti at San Lorenzo's in Dublin.

Dinner that night was at an Italian place called San Lorenzo's, down the road from our hotel, where we ordered a big platter of antipasti and a sort of spin on cioppino called mussels alla tarantina. We both got drinks and desserts, too, and it was so nice to just relax in the window seat of the restaurant and eat a square meal after what felt like a million years of traveling. (Let me reassure you that, despite the desperate "AT LAST" feeling we experienced when sitting down, we had been well-fed that day. See brioche toast with avocado and bacon, or fish goujons, above. Travel just depletes feelings of fullness quicker than everyday life.)


The next day, we had a simple breakfast at the hotel’s restaurant, and headed off to explore the city’s sights. We saw Trinity College and the Book of Kells, and took one of the double-decker bus tours around the city. More on that in a moment.


The beauty of thousands of shelves of books was only slightly dampened by the mobs.

My mom had recommended that we tour the Museum of Natural History & Archaeology, aka the National Museum of Ireland, where they had real bog people, which was the greatest exhibit ever and totally disturbing at the same time. The exhibit consisted of a few preserved human bodies that had been unearthed from bogs around the country. Since bogs are so intensely acidic, the bodies had been preserved in the same way that pickles are preserved when bottled in a vinegary pickling solution. Yum. But also fascinating. And since I love food, I was most morbidly curious about the food that had been found in the bog peoples’ stomachs – usually plain gruel or grains – when they’d been excavated. Does this all sound a bit… scandalous? Even if it doesn’t sound that way, it feels that way, which is why I have no photos of the bodies to show you; it just felt wrong to be snapping pictures. (*whispers to self* "Photos of the bodies...?") Let’s move on.


(But if you're curious, check out some of the research photos on the National Museum of Ireland's website.)



We grabbed lunch at J.T. Pim’s, a fabulously-decorated restaurant featuring moody velvets and exposed bricks and chandeliers. We ordered sandwiches, so nothing super awe-inspiring, but I really enjoyed my spicy ginger beer in a crystal goblet that was totally OTT. After snagging top-level seats on a (hot) double-decker bus for a tour of the city, we got one last taste of Murphy’s ice cream (gin, fennel, and chocolate for me, and raspberry sorbet for Kyle) and headed back to the hotel.


Heading Home: Dublin to Nashville

Our last meal in Dublin was fish and chips from a tiny chain restaurant; after touring the city all day, mostly on our feet, we were beat. And in the morning, our car was still where we left it in the garage, so we drove it out of the quiet pre-morning-rush city, to the Enterprise where we were to return it, and they shuttled us back to the Dublin airport, where we’d arrived a week before. It felt like such a long time that we’d been in Ireland, but also not nearly long enough. I remember feeling relieved to have the trip over, so I wouldn’t have to do any more planning and on-the-ground decision-making, but also sad that we were leaving behind a place we’d barely begun to scratch the surface of.



After a stop at JFK in New York, we arrived home in Tennessee, which was blissfully lush and green after what felt like the dry yellows of Ireland. Here’s a picture of poor Bits, who obviously didn’t do very well at her pet boarding place. Note: “Did Not Eat. Vomited Hairball. Will Bite.” Not to mention she looks feral in this photo. Those eyes. *shudder*


Check out the next segment in this little series about our trip to Ireland. In Part 3, I’ll go over what we learned on our first overseas vacation, what was worth the money and what we wish we’d done while we were there, as well as practical things like how to obtain a rental car and tips on planning your own trip to Ireland. Read it here.


How did you like reading a detailed account of our trip? Would you have liked even more details? Or do you think it should’ve been condensed into one post? I would so appreciate you helping me improve The Literary Spoon by leaving kind, constructive criticisms in the comments below. Thank you so much!


Have you been to any of the places I mentioned in this post? What’s your favorite Murphy’s ice cream flavor? When is the best time to visit the Cliffs of Moher or the Dingle Peninsula, in your opinion? What are some other great places to visit there that I didn’t mention? Let’s talk about Ireland in the comments!

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