Dublin to Kilkenny
After spending a few days in Dublin we are excited to get on the road and see more of Ireland.
We wake to a rainy morning, take a cab from our Dublin hotel to the airport where we pick up our rental car. From there it’s an easy hour-long trip on the M9 highway to our first stop: Kilkenny.
Kilkenny is medieval town known as much for its cultural, craft and entertainment scene as its history. Most of its sights are within a short walking distance of downtown, along a route called the Medieval Mile. (In fact, there is so much to see here I will soon do a Three-day Getaway to Kilkenny post. Watch for it.)
Upon arrival we drop our bags and the car at The Pembroke Hotel to explore the city on foot. With our hearty breakfasts wearing off, lunch is the first order of business. We duck out of the rain into the Kyteler Inn and settle in for some Irish stew. It feels as if you are stepping back in time here. And what a history! The Inn was named after innkeeper Alice Kyteler. Back in 1324 she was accused of poisoning and sorcery after her four wealthy husbands each died under mysterious circumstances. She was set to appear at what would become Ireland’s only Witch Trial but instead fled to England, leaving her maid to take her place on the burning stake.
The rain lets up so we continue on down the Medieval Mile past Smithwick’s brewery, which traces its roots back to the 1700s when the monks of St. Francis’ Abbey figured out how to turn unpotable water into drinkable brew.
At the end of the Mile is St. Canice’s Cathedral. It began as a monastic settlement in the 6th century. The cathedral itself was built between 1202 and 1285 and is now the second largest one in Ireland.
Leaving the Cathedral and walking back towards town we pass the Black Abbey, built in 1225 for the Dominican Friars, and the Rothe House Museum and Gardens. Our final stop is at Kilkenny Castle. Built in the 1210s, it was bought by the Butler family in 1391 and passed down through the generations until 1967 when the family gifted the Castle to the people of Kilkenny. We take the tour through the restored interiors and watch some “hurlers” (hurling is an ancient Irish sport, still played fervently today) practice in the sprawling gardens.
Dinner at Anocht, a fantastic restaurant at the Kilkenny Design Centre, located in the castle’s former stables, caps off the day. Great ambiance — white-washed stone walls, oak ceiling beams, and views of the castle – combined with a creative menu featuring local food artisans ensure a stellar dining experience.
Kilkenny to Kinsale
Today we set our sights on Kinsale, with a detour to visit the Rock of Cashel. The ruined site was originally home to the Kings of Munster in the 9th and 10th centuries but developed into a major Christian centre in the 12th century. Inside the chapel are the oldest and most important Romanesque frescoes in Ireland. The rain gives the site, with its ancient ruins and lonely cemetery on the hill, a mystical feel. But it also makes for a short tour – the place has no roof.
Now on to Kinsale, a harbour town on the southern coast. It has been a thriving port, town and garrison for centuries. Another claim to fame is the fact that the RMS Lusitania was torpedoed off the Old Head of Kinsale by a German U-boat in 1915. That act of terror killed 1,195 passengers and brought the United States into WWI. The inquest into the sinking was held in Kinsale’s Courthouse.
We arrive early afternoon and check into Acton’s Hotel which overlooks the yacht-filled harbour. Like Kilkenny, Kinsale is another great town for strolling. We walk along the water and into the downtown, visiting St. Multose’s Church (1190) where several of the Lusitania victims are buried, and the Courthouse which is also home to the Regional Museum. With all the gloom the past few days I am happy to see some of Kinsale’s more colourful buildings and patches of hydrangeas in full bloom. I take many pictures.
After dinner downtown, the rain starts up again so we head back to the hotel where a wedding is in full swing. I’m impressed by the on point fashion displayed by the fine ladies of Kinsale.
Kinsale to Killarney
Kinsale also marks the start of the Wild Atlantic Way (WAW), a road which hugs the Irish coastline for 2,600 km ending in the north on the Inishowen Peninsula. Wild is an appropriate name: high winds, rough seas and all extremes of weather have pounded the island for millennia, carving out a raw and rugged shoreline.
We follow the WAW from Kinsale to Clonakilty and Skibbereen and then veer off towards Kenmare through the evocatively named town of Balleylickey. The countryside is lush and unspoiled, especially through Killarney National Park, but the relentless rain and wind and low-lying cloud make it difficult to see and take pictures.
After a full day trapped in the car, driving through heavy rain, I’m starting to get punchy. Gilles makes a raunchy joke about gangbanging leprechauns and I can not breathe from laughter. The following sign brings on more hysteria. I may actually pee my pants.
We finally get to Killarney but traffic through the city is crazy. Our hotel is on the other side town so we must follow the dozens of tour buses through the tiny streets.
But all the stresses of the day fall away when we reach Aghadoe Heights Hotel and Spa. The view from our room is mesmerizing and the wine list excellent. Later we have a delicious meal at The Lake Room, Aghadoe Heights’ fine dining restaurant.
Killarney to Adare
Today we venture out on the Ring of Kerry, or as my friend, Elaine, calls it the Ring of Scary. Known as one of the most scenic drives in Ireland, the “Ring” follows the coast of County Kerry’s Iveragh Peninsula. It can be extremely crowded with cars and tour buses and some sections are impossibly narrow – just two tight lanes and a wall of greenery where the shoulder should be. This does make for some white-knuckled moments and conversations that go like this:
“What the heck is that sound?”
“Um, I think the shrubs are scraping the paint off my door.”
The views are indeed spectacular but I can’t help what wonder they would look like without a layer of mist. I try to capture the beauty but raindrops splatter my lens and almost every picture is blurred as I struggle to hold the camera still against the gales.
Instead of doing the entire Ring loop back through Kenmare and Killarney, which we did yesterday, we decide to take a “short-cut” across the peninsula from Sneem to Kilorgan through the Ballaghbeana Gap. It’s a one-lane road where grazing sheep make up all the oncoming traffic. The hilly terrain is scattered with green mosses, rocks and waterfalls. It’s like we are in a Lucky Charms commercial (they ARE magically delicious, you know). I half expect one of those horny leprechauns Gilles warned me about to jump out at us.
The short-cut of course takes much longer than the regular route but we eventually arrive in the village of Adare late in the afternoon and check into the Dunraven Arms. We head across the road to The Blue Door restaurant located in a thatched cottage built in the 1820s. We enjoy another romantic, tasty dinner in Ireland at this tiny bistro.
Adare to Galway
“Sweet baby Jesus! What is that?” I ask my beloved, pointing out the window.
“That, my dear love, is called sunshine!”
Hot damn! We pack as fast as we can and head down to breakfast so as not to miss a second of this weather miracle. In my haste to feel the sun once again, I inadvertently leave my raincoat on the back of my chair. This will come back to haunt me later. But for now, basking in the sun’s shiny glow, rain is the last thing on my mind.
We cruise the town with a newfound love for Ireland: it’s so beautiful, so colourful, so happy! We pass by the Holy Trinity Church are tempted to enter the Heritage Centre, known for its interactive historical displays of Adare and a variety of gift shops. But no! Not today! It’s only outdoor fun for us.
Drunk on daylight, we spend some time in the village’s lovely park and check out the thatched cottages. Then we stroll over to the Augustinian Priory, one of Ireland’s best examples of a medieval church. It’s still used today for worship by a parish of the protestant Church of Ireland.
I swear we only went inside of a few minutes but when we emerge the sun is gone. Clouds are back with rain threatening once more. Time to move along.
Back on the road I take a moment to congratulate my husband on his fine driving skills. I’ve only had to shout, “Wrong lane!” a couple of times so far.
Now on to the majestic Cliffs of Moher, one of Ireland’s most popular tourist destinations. Over 1.4 million people visited the site in 2016 alone. Immortalized as the Cliffs of Insanity in The Princess Bride and the backdrop for the Horcrux hunt in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the Cliffs cover 8 km along the County Clare coastline, soaring 214 m at their highest point.
It is at the parking lot, as I dig through the trunk desperately searching for my only protection against the intermittent drizzle, that I realize my raincoat is missing. I think it tired of the rain and chose to live out its remaining days in the sunny part of Ireland. Can’t blame it for that. So I bundle up as best I can and we cross the road to the Cliffs.
The place is swarmed with tourists; this is August, high season, after all. First we stop at the Visitor Centre which is built into the hill. It features displays explaining the local geology and environment. Then its off to the Cliffs. Quick word of advice: if you wear a hairpiece, don’t the day you visit the Cliffs. The wind is crazy. But the views from every angle are worth the visit. We spend an hour wandering the pathways, taking selfies, and admiring the natural beauty around us. This is one tourist spot that you don’t want to miss.
We make it back to the car just as the the rain returns. By the time we reach Galway late in the day it is teeming. But on the upside our hotel is amazing. Designed by famous milliner (translation: hat-maker to the British stars) Philip Treacy, the g Hotel & Spa is a luxurious 5-star retreat. From its first-rate service and comfort to its chic design, the g is stunning. Their restaurant, gigi’s, is incredible as well. We have one of the best meals of our trip here.
Galway to Dublin
Today is our last full day in Ireland. Our plan is to tour the City of Galway then hit the motorway for the 2.5 hour drive back to Dublin. But we give up Ireland, you won. You and your foul weather have broken us. We can not do one more tour in the rain. We are done. I hear Galway is a beautiful town with much to see. Sadly, we will experience no more than can be viewed through our rain-soaked windshield.
It’s too early to leave for Dublin so we drive through Galway and keep going along Lough Corrib up to Oughterard. We know we will have to turn around at some point – Dublin is in the opposite direction and we have a flight to catch tomorrow. As we come to end of our road trip, the clouds break and for a few minutes at least, we stop and enjoy the beauty of the ever-changing Irish landscape.
Things to note:
- As in the UK, the Irish drive on the left side. This is confusing enough so do yourself a favour and rent an automatic transmission car and a GPS. Trust me, it will make your driving experience much more enjoyable.
- I don’t know if I mentioned this, but it rains ALOT in Ireland. It can also be chilly in the summer, especially along the windy coast. Pack accordingly.
- Distances on the map may appear close but with small, winding roads; questionable weather; herding sheep; and reams of tour buses, it often takes much longer than you think to get anywhere. Factor in extra time for travel.
- Plan your itinerary in advance. There is something to see in every corner of Ireland. Unless you have several weeks to explore, you need to decide what to focus on in the days you have available. Make a list of what you want to see but don’t be upset if you miss a few items. The best part of road tripping is when things don’t go exactly to plan.