Killarney (Ross) Castle

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Unfortunately, Sean and I had a very small window of time in Killarney. In fact, we only had a few morning hours to explore before we needed to get a move on to Cork for the afternoon. 

We decided to explore the Killarney Castle, which was just a few kilometers away from our hotel. We walked there that morning and managed to escape the rain again (see looming dark ominous clouds) 

Killarney Castle was built in the 15th century and actually had inhabitants until 1850! Doesn’t this look like it should be the setting for Hamlet or Dracula or something?

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We really wished there had been more time to do some kayaking!  (That would have been me stuck in the bushes down there!)

 

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Instead, we just walked around the grounds. Here I am sitting politely in front of the castle.

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Here I am getting crazy standing on the wall. A little behind the scenes info: Sean was worried I was going to fall over the side. ( I’m not that uncoordinated, am I?) In any case, there was some major anxiety behind the camera happening about now.

IMG_2318Then it was my turn to take some photographs.

Sean in front of a tiny door (who can get through there except maybe a hobbit?) and in front of a massive beautiful door.

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And here’s Sean casually sitting on a tree branch across the way. 

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Isn’t this a dreamy setting? 

Across from the castle, we stopped over at the old stone boathouse because I was attracted to the red doors. In fact, when we got back home to the States, I promptly painted our front door this exact gorgeous red.

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Ring of Kerry, Ireland

IMG_2276 The Ring of Kerry is a scenic drive along the south-western coast in Ireland. The 179 km loop takes you on a journey featuring ocean vistas, wildflowers, grazing sheep, rocky cliffs, seashores, and tiny  towns. It was amazing how much the terrain changed over just a few kilometers.

Thank goodness for our GPS. We ended up on some really tiny roads that led us all over the place. One path led us up a person’s driveway to some very excited but then disappointed dogs who found out we weren’t their owners. Let’s just say Sean had to back up and away slowly from that situation. IMG_2226 This is Sean looking towards the decaying Ballinskellig Abbey. There are so many interesting places and lookouts to stop along the way, but when we read that there is an old castle and abbey right on the beach, we headed that way.

We walked across the rocks and sand to get to the old abbey and then it was our personal jungle gym for a while before other visitors showed up. I love the moody sky above us as we explored the area. IMG_2281 IMG_2243 IMG_2265 IMG_2256 IMG_2249 IMG_4869IMG_2280 Having gotten our workout for the day from all the climbing and posing, we got back in the car and kept driving. But we did stop at a few other beautiful spots for some photos. IMG_2287 This view comes from inside the Killarney National Park. I wish we had more time to explore there, but sadly we didn’t. IMG_2302 About 2 hours later, we ended up back in Killarney, where we were to spend the night. We overnighted in the center of town at the Ross Hotel. The coolest thing about our room was that we had this old church graveyard right outside our window. IMG_4880 That evening we strolled through the streets of downtown Killarney and bought a few souvenirs (Irish soap, chocolate, and wool scarfs, of course!)

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For dinner, we had a delicious meal at Bricin, a cozy place right above a gift shop. They were offering a two-course meal special, so we happily ordered that. We started with pea soup, Irish brown bread, and fried camembert cheese with currants. IMG_0727_2 In case you were wondering, the batter on the cheese resembled that of fried fish. I will be trying to recreate this dish at home. For our mains, we ordered the traditional Irish boxty with lamb stew (a pancake-like thing) and thai chicken curry. IMG_4888 IMG_0731

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This meal was really tasty and I highly recommend Bricin if you find yourself in Killarney looking for a nice meal. The shop below it has some nice things to buy too!


Cliffs of Moher

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The weather held out for us on the day we visited the Cliffs of Moher. We kept thinking the sky would open up and downpour, but we were lucky.

This is one gorgeous spot that attracts over a million visitors a year.

Unfortunately, it also attracts people ready to end it all… for this reason, there are many signs encouraging people to call a help hotline and we spotted special “prayer” room.

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I love how the clouds got so gray and ominous overhead. It gave this place so much atmosphere and for some reason, I kept thinking of the awesome song “Big Country” from the band, Big Country.

Cue that song up right now in your mind, or better yet, just listen to it here. 


Dromoland Castle

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Dromoland Castle is a beautiful estate and one of the most famous castles in Ireland. The site itself dates back all the way to 1000 AD, but the buildings you see in the picture originated in the 1700s.

The helicopter mysteriously left and returned while we were there, but we never caught a glimpse of the passenger…

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This falcon was wearing a diamond! (No, I’m just kidding)

The interior is a maze of winding long hallways that twist and turn. There were so many private nooks and crannies to explore.

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We rented bikes one overcast day and rode around the estate and almost got caught in a heavy downpour. It was so fun riding through the estate paths and finding small private gardens including a rose garden behind a wall, a lily pond, and small lake with swans.

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Sean’s Bar and Other Historical Places

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From Dublin, we rented a car and headed to Athlone, birthplace of Sean’s Bar, which is Ireland’s oldest drinking establishment.

Sean was so excited to take a photo in front of Sean’s Bar.

There’s more to tell you about Sean’s Bar, including how Boy George once owned it in 1987.

But first, let me tell you about our stop on the way at Newgrange, site of a Stone Age Passage Tomb nearly 5,000 years old.

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The outside of the tomb is guarded by this carved rock, and the interior of the tomb contains a long narrow passage. The amazing thing is that each year around the Winter Solstice (between Dec 19-Dec 23), light penetrates the opening and illuminates the inside for about 17 minutes only.

This is apparently such a beautiful experience that each year thousands of people participate in a lottery to determine who will be able to watch this event.

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From Newgrange, we drove to the Hill of Tara, where 142 historic Royal Kings were crowned. It started raining a bit hard so we didn’t get many good pictures of the mounds.

In fact, we had to take refuge in our car and eat lunch including these new favorite cheese puffs we discovered…

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Because it was so wet and muddy, we hung out at the Hill of Tara at the churchyard and admired the graves dating back to 1822.

Here’s what it should’ve looked like though, if it hadn’t been raining and if we were in a plane.

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From there, we headed to Athlone.

Getting to our hotel was a bit of an adventure. When we arrived in Athlone that afternoon, there was a Triathalon going on, which blocked access to the street where our hotel was. It seemed strange to us that a Triathalon was happening in late afternoon, but who are we to question?

In any case, Sean drove around trying to find different side streets to our hotel and was about to give up when I decided to ask the local traffic motorcycle cop for help.

“I tell ya what I’m gonna do…” he said (Imagine strong Irish accent)

“Tell your man to follow me down the road. I’m gonna put the siren on and you just follow me.”

So he removed the barrier, let the siren howl, and we drove down the road with our police escort. All the bystanders were wondering who we were.

When we arrived at our hotel, he kneeled next to our car and had a long conversation with us. Those Irish traffic cops are so friendly.

He thought it was hilarious that we were named Mary and Sean. In fact, he said he knew 7 couples named Mary and Sean.

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So, Athlone’s claim to fame is Sean’s Bar, the oldest drinking establishment in all of Ireland.

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Sean’s Bar is believed to have hosted drinkers on the very spot since the 9th century. I can’t even wrap my head around that.

And Boy George! Okay granted, 1987 is a few years after Culture Club’s heigh days, but still.

Sean’s Bar had so much atmosphere and was so rowdy. The inside room was packed with drinkers and there was an open patio with live music in the back. If you’re in this area, I highly recommend checking out Sean’s Bar.

We hung out here for an hour or so, then went back to our hotel to get ready for our fabulous dinner I already told you about at Thyme.

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Thyme in Athlone

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The absolute best meal we ate in Ireland (and maybe one of my favorites ever) was in a cozy restaurant called Thyme in the small town of Athlone.

We found this restaurant through Frommer’s and I’ll just let the pictures do the talking.

We ordered the value meal at 23 Euro each and got all this delicious food.

I remarked to our waitress at the end of the meal that I couldn’t believe the price was so low for this exceptional quality, and she told me that the chef is so obsessed with delivering the best quality food that sometimes he eats the cost on his end.

Even if this restaurant is a bit out of your way, I highly recommend eating here.

8Goat cheese and Beet Tart

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The best course of the night (in my opinion) – Ham Hocks in Pureed Celeriac

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Curried Lamb

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Steak with Peppercorn Sauce

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Garlic Potatoes

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Strawberry Mascarone Mousse

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Passionfruit Semifreddo with Lime Ice Cream


Northern Ireland

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A rare photo together at the Giant’s Causeway

Our second day in Ireland, we took a day tour from Dublin to Northern Ireland. We booked the trip through Paddy Wagon Tours, and our tour guide was really funny, explaining Irish customs, history, the Irish obsession with the weather, and his experiences crossing the border into Northern Ireland in his youth (big guns and security check points in the old days).

Northern Ireland is incredibly scenic, and one of my favorite spots was the Dark Hedges, a spooky line of trees planted in the 18 century.

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You might also recognize this narrow road of trees as the King’s Road on Game of Thrones.

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From there, we headed on to the Causeway Coast, where we could see views of Scotland (13 miles away) and a small island called Rathlin. We also walked across the famous Carrick-A-rede Rope Bridge, which is just a little bit scary on a windy day.

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Just don’t look down

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Sean, contemplating the ocean…

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Our next stop was the Giant’s Causeway, a natural phenomenon of 40,000 interlocking perfectly shaped hexagonal stone pillars, formed by earthquake and lava flows about 50 million years ago.

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We took about a hundred photos here, but you know what? All the pictures pretty much feature the same hexagonal pillars.

There is also museum on the spot with some interesting information, but the real star of course is the site. If you go here, make sure you wear comfortable and sturdy shoes with non-slip soles as those stones get pretty slick!

Overall, this was a fantastic tour. It was affordable and interesting, and at the end of the day, it conveniently leaves you back in the center of Dublin, right across from a fun cozy old pub called O-Neill’s Bar.

We decided to eat dinner here and chose from a buffet line of traditional Irish food. Sean had the lamb stew with mashed potatoes and I got the roast chicken. The best thing about this pub is that some of the tables have personal beer dispensers at the table!

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If you find yourself strapped for time in Ireland, please make space in your schedule to visit Northern Ireland. There are several tour companies that will drive you to all the best spots. I usually don’t like organized tours, but was worth it. It was beautiful and I’m really glad we did it.

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