In a recent post, I shared that instead of showering our kids with holiday gifts, the past few years we have been investing in travel and enjoying the dividends in the form of lasting memories. Read more about this family philosophy here if you missed the Traveling for Memories post as it will give you some background on why we do this and how we go about selecting a location.
Over the kid’s fall break (which is earlier than most places since we start school the first week of August) we went to Ireland. We purchased the 6 night package last winter from Travel Zoo. The package included round trip flights from Atlanta to Dublin, one night in a hotel, 5 nights of bed & breakfast vouchers, car rental, and a mobile Wi-Fi device (this little buddy is a MUST have on your trip as it works in cars, pubs, B&B, etc.!). My 15 year old daughter, Natalie, planned the general route we took and listed out the towns and attractions she thought looked interesting. In her style, the itinerary was an over achievement but we knew that going into the trip. We just liked having the list of options at our fingertips. I used a web tool called Trello that also has an app and organized a list for each day with a card on the list for the details about each option, who recommended it, and any special notes. I included a few tips that I got from Instagram and Pinterest searches, as well. Once we knew the general route, I selected the bed & breakfasts based on TripAdvisor reviews about a month beforehand.
I know for certain my husband and I are better drivers after this trip. Truly it would be tough to experience all of the flavors of Ireland’s landscape without having a car. The train system didn’t appear to be as sophisticated as mainland Europe and it would be hard to see the great coastal peninsula views without driving to them. Driving on the right is challenging. We decided getting extra car insurance was a good decision considering we didn’t sleep great on the flight, arrived around 6:30 am, and were expected to drive on the right in Ireland’s biggest city, Dublin. It was a family group effort at first and I quickly just set the expectation with Jason that backseat driving was permitted on this entire trip for valid safety reasons.
We spent several hours in Dublin, primarily visiting the Dublin castle and the Guinness Storehouse. My 13 year old son, Jacob, will quickly point out to you that the Dublin castle is not a ‘real’ castle. It’s really a big old mansion and frankly we have seen some really cool stuff in our travels so felt that this castle fell short of our expectations. We saw some of the other key historical sites in Dublin such as St. Patrick’s cathedral, the Ha’penny bridge, and the General Post Office (this building is the symbol of Irish nationalism). The Guinness Storehouse was our favorite site in Dublin as our self-guided tour took us to the top of the tallest pint glass for a great view of Dublin. We shared Guinness with friendly random tourists and received great travel tips from these beer lovers. After a few Dublin sites and reviewing the other city options we had listed (and realizing our first night hotel was not really in Dublin proper but an hour outside the city center), we decided to bust out of the city and head to our first night stay over in Kilkenny.
The remainder of the trip we explored the Irish countryside and smaller towns. We stayed at a mix of bed & breakfasts in town and on farms (tip for travelers without children: if you want to do some pub crawling makes sure your B&B is in walking distance…driving in Ireland, particularly at night is rough!). Some B&Bs felt like you were staying at your great grandma’s house. Definitely clean, but obviously well-loved. One of our hostesses had been running their business for 40 years! Each hostess was hospitable sharing tips on where to eat dinner and what sites to hit in our next day’s travels. The Irish homeowners were also kind to give us pronunciation tips – while both countries do speak English, the pronunciation butchering we did of places like Youghal, Cobh, and Howth was a bit embarrassing.
Irish breakfast was at your service at your time of choosing. For those not familiar with an Irish breakfast it consists of eggs, bacon or sausage, toast, a slightly grilled tomato half and blood puddings. At first, breakfast was exciting but the last few days the full spread lost its charm and we were requesting just continental breakfast. The food in Ireland overall wasn’t particularly memorable (we were spoiled after eating so well in Italy the year before). The normal cuisines we tended to choose were fish and chips, seafood chowders, and mussels. For the most part, the food that tasted the best was the food that is not on my regular diet plan at home – lots of carbs and lots of starch.
I think we can safely say we captured all of our memories digitally. Everywhere you turned was a beautiful landscape view you wanted to preserve. I had anticipated Ireland to be a one size fits all in the way of landscapes but each county had its own distinct character. We took tons of photos with our smartphones so we could keep our friends and family informed on social media and also took tons of higher quality pictures on our SLR camera. Plus, Natalie had her Go Pro so we were able to get lots of family group shots.
On our last supper in Ireland, at a quaint fishing village outside Dublin called Howth, we reminisced about the highlights of the trip. Here’s our list of ‘The Best things in Southern Ireland’:
Favorite town(s) – Kilkenny and Dingle
Best Castle – Blarney
Best County – Kerry
Best entrée – Doolin’s McGann’s pub Guinness stew
Best restaurant – The Oar House in Howth
Favorite phrase – ‘He’s a bit of a scamp.’ One of our pub friends said that Jacob reminded him of his son who was…a bit of a scamp.
Favorite indoor attraction – Guinness Storehouse in Dublin
Favorite outdoor attraction – Cliffs of Moher / Dunmore Caves
Favorite animal – SHEEP! Although seals at Garnish Island were definitely a close second.
Best shopping – Galway Quay Street (this category was tough – don’t go to Ireland for shopping!)
Nicest B&B – Lough Rask in Ballyvaughn
Most beautiful drive(s) – Ring of Dingle Peninsula and drive up to Mahon Falls
Best Pub – 44 in Swords outside of Dublin / Dingle Pub (we left our signed dollar hanging behind the bar)
Favorite drink – a pint of Guinness
Before and after a trip to a new place, I like to immerse myself in movies and books based on the area we are visiting. Two of my favorite movies are filmed in Ireland, Circle of Friends and Braveheart. I also watched a great movie called Once about struggling musicians and a 1971 Academy Award winning movie called Ryan’s Daughter – this one was recommended by our Dingle peninsula B&B owner but I have to say it was a bit odd. The flight home allowed much time for movies – four in fact!
Seeing the ruins of Jerpoint abbey in Kilkenny county was one of those driving nearby decisions that was worth the stop.
Returning home from any vacation is tough. I find returning home from an international vacation such as this one extra tough. Upon returning, I felt a little anxious and depressed about returning to the hectic American pace and the race to be more, have more, and experience more. Why do we have to go on an international trip to truly be able to unplug for a while? I found myself contemplating what matters most to me and questioned if our priorities are in check. In some ways I was angry. Who decided what a standard American corporate vacation policy would be, that our children’s team sports could take over our entire weekends including Sundays, holidays, and scheduled school breaks and why do we have so many traffic lights instead of roundabouts?! I felt envious that from what I could see the Irish folks are content and happy with their lives and feel they are enough, have enough, and overall enjoy family above all else. I’m certain I have just a touch of ‘the grass is always greener’ virus. I did miss many things about home while I was away especially my dog, my soft linens, and our wider roads.
In summary, Ireland didn’t disappoint and blessed us abundantly with time together experiencing a new place and lasting memories and stories to share. If you are a family that appreciates natural God made beauty and man made beer at a plethora of pubs (there are more pubs than shops in most towns!), then Ireland is a vacation destination to put on your list. It’s peaceful and magnificent and the non-commercialization is refreshing. Slainte!
May God give you…
For every storm, a rainbow,
For every tear, a smile,
For every care, a promise,
And a blessing in each trial.
For every problem life sends,
A faithful friend to share,
For every sigh, a sweet song,
And an answer for each prayer.