After learning that TheWildGeese.Irish social network and its partners, Wild West Irish Tours, WOW Air (a/k/a "Viking Air"), and Irish American News, are offering a 9 day/8 night fantastic personalized tour for two lucky people to explore the west of Ireland, I was immediately moved to submit my entry for a chance to win the coveted prize.
I have to admit that winning this trip wouldn't be my very first one to the Emerald Isle, as my husband and I visited for ten days in September 2013. It would, however, be a first opportunity for me to fulfill my promise to myself to return again and again.
It would also be the first time for my husband and me to actually see more great things in simple places in the wild west of Ireland, instead of just scratching the surface in that area like we did during our first holiday there. For many reasons, I have decided to send the following highlights of that 2013 trip to explain--although it really doesn't need explaining--why I must and will go back to Ireland again.
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PLEASE JOIN ME ON MY FIRST JOURNEY AROUND THE REPUBLIC OF IRELAND, A LAND THAT I LOVE.
It doesn't seem possible, but it has actually been almost two years since my Australian husband, Steven, and I returned to Arizona, U.S.A. from the Emerald Isle.
To say that we came back those two short or long years ago--depending on how you look at it--from a little slice of heaven would be an understatement, and it would certainly not give enough credit where more credit is due.
Ireland couldn't have been any more beautiful--you simply cannot improve on perfection!--or the people more welcoming than we had anticipated them to be before we initially embarked on our adventure.
From day one to the last one there, we were delighted to meet many Irish people who were helpful and friendly to us, who showed us that we were welcome, and who exhibited immense pride for their homeland. Needless to say, we went away from that beautiful and wondrous country with an even stronger love than we already had for the culture, the land, and all of its people. It was definitely a dream come true for both of us.
Even though our first day in Ireland was a bit baffling as we tried to get accustomed to a new land's procedures and customs, left-side-of-the-street driving, etc., after that first day things got so much better for us.
To begin with, we were very impressed with the new and modern airport in Dublin. We had to ask many questions when we got there, but we were always greeted with smiles--one of their mottos in Ireland is Miles of Smiles--as well as being the recipients of everyone's friendliness and helpfulness at that easy-to-navigate airport.
We called for a cab and a cheerful 5 Star/VIP Taxi driver, Brendan, came to take us to our hotel.
Due to our own instructional error, we ended up at the wrong hotel on that first day; however, with the help from the most wonderful taxi driver of all time, as well as the hotel desk clerk, Agnes, at the Ashling Hotel, who did everything she could to help us right our wrong, we were taken to the correct hotel with all of our luggage (and, believe me, there was a lot!) for the start of our Ireland adventure.
Since there was construction going on in the hotel's lobby, our room wasn't ready for check-in (we were actually there before allowable check-in time anyhow), so we had to wait in the lobby for close to three hours before being able to get into our room; however, we were happy to just sit back and take a breather before going up to the room.
Lugging and tugging all those suitcases with us on our trip around Ireland took a lot out of us; so, needless to say the next time we go we will take a lot less stuff (and fewer suitcases) with us. We learned that we didn't need everything we took, but since this was a learning experience we found out just what was needed and what should have been left home. A lot of our necessities were supplied by the hotel, so we can at least skip those items in our luggage the next time.
Since we had to wait so long in the lobby for the room to be ready for check-in (remember, it was our mistake!), we had exactly ten minutes to get our suitcases up into the room, splash a little water on our faces, change our clothes, and then literally run downstairs to hop on the scheduled tour bus to take us around the city on that first day. Miracle of miracles, we made it ... or it may have been the luck of the Irish that saved us that day. That's my thinking on it anyhow.
As tired as we were, although very excited to be there, we were treated to a wonderful tour of the city and then brought back to the hotel.
Once we were in our room, we got cleaned up, down to the hotel restaurant for dinner, and then back to the hotel room for some much needed sleep. Since we hadn't slept for 30 hours straight, we decided to do this instead of going out on the town that first night. We were scheduled to pick up our car at Hertz the next morning, and knew that we would be back in Dublin for the last two nights; so, we decided to be rested for our next nine days on the road around the Republic of Ireland.
As it turned out, it's a good thing that we opted to do that. If anyone knows anything about some of Ireland's roads, you know that they can be very narrow with not too many places to pull off, as well as more than a few very fast drivers who love to ride your car's bumper just like in Phoenix; however, Arizona drivers do it on much wider roads and slowpokes, like me, have more places to pull off. Please note that when I did pull off, those faster drivers seemed quite happy as they waved at me going by; or, I think it was a "friendly" wave anyhow! It's also very important to be as alert as possible, especially if you are getting accustomed to driving a standard shift vehicle on the opposite side of the road.
We didn't have to wake ourselves up the next morning (our second day), since the hotel's fire alarm went off at 4:45 a.m. Apparently, there had been a problem with the hotel's boiler/water heater and the alarm system detected smoke and went off to warn the guests. Guess what, no hot water that morning. That's okay, though, as we live in the Arizona desert and we're tired of hot water all the time anyhow. At least we got an early start to the day and enjoyed our wonderful full--and I do mean full--Irish breakfast buffet waiting for us downstairs in the hotel's restaurant.
Then it was off to Hertz for the rental car and our adventure around the country. Of course, we had to haul our way-too-many suitcases everywhere we went and we were glad that we had opted for a mid-size vehicle to carry all of that luggage; that is, until we actually got on some of those skinny Irish roadways. Please note that the next time we go, we'll rent the absolutely smallest car possible to carry us and our pared-down belongings on those very narrow roads; or, better yet, take a Wild West Irish Tour and be driven around in a mini-bus by an Irishman who knows the roads and where to pull off, if necessary!
Our first destination was to be Kilkenny, but we made a few stops along the way. One of the stops during that segment of our journey was a town called Ennisberry, which was absolutely beautiful. Then our next stop was at a place called Powerscourt, where a rich Irish family had lived for generations. It is now a tourist stop, but a nice one to see. It had the most beautiful grounds imaginable and was very picturesque. We then took some detours off the highway and drove on some even narrower roads out in the countryside, passing through a beautiful little and quaint town called Inistioge.
As we headed toward Kilkenny, we saw many beautiful sights/sites along the way, a beautiful land, gorgeous homes, and met many friendly people in the shops, etc. during our frequent stops.
We arrived in Kilkenny, County Kerry, found our hotel without too much trouble, parked in a very small parking garage with our mid-size vehicle (we'll definitely have a smaller vehicle next time), freshened up in our hotel room, and then went off to explore the town.
Kilkenny is a wonderful little town with many Irish pubs and restaurants; however, that first night we opted to eat at an Italian restaurant, La Trattoria, and were very happy and satisfied that we did. The food was absolutely delicious and the setting very romantic. Apparently, this restaurant had just opened up that day after being closed for the owner's holiday away, and we were so lucky that it was open and we were there to enjoy it.
The weather up to that point was great, very cool/bordering on warm, which was a good change from all the heat we had experienced during the summertime in Arizona. We had great sleeping and driving weather and no rain up to this point.
The next morning we were ready to hit the road again (very cautiously, I might add), but were once again treated to a full Irish breakfast buffet. Those Irish certainly do know how to put out a breakfast buffet. Needless to say, it took a lot more squeezing into our car seats that morning to start day three of our adventure, but we were definitely food satisfied. I honestly don't know how they do it, but most of the Irish people we observed were physically fit. With food buffets like that, I'm sure they only feed it to the tourists, with all of the Irish people themselves eating very sparingly; however, I might add that they do a lot of walking, bicycling and running around the towns and cities, keeping their weight in check.
So, it was now on to the town of Blarney (yes, there is a town called by that name), to Blarney Castle and then, ultimately, up the tower to kiss the Blarney Stone. It was a little confusing for us to find the Blarney Castle that morning (once again, our error), but eventually we did it with the help from two older Irish gents standing along the roadside (who asked us if we preferred to go right or to go left to find the castle ... funny guys!), and then we parked and walked up to the castle itself. It was a very nice old castle and surrounding grounds, by the way. After peering up the castle's very narrow staircase (kind of narrow like the roads over there), I wasn't going to chance it and opted instead to stay down on the ground. Please be advised that once you start up that narrow and winding staircase, there's no going back down (too many people behind you) until you kiss the Blarney Stone and then take another staircase down to the lowest level. Please also note that my husband--being a person game for almost anything--walked up, laid on his back out of the tower window and kissed that rock, and we have pictures to prove it. Since you are supposed to be given the gift of gab after kissing that stone, he came down talking nonstop; so, we know that it worked in his case. He doesn't need any help, though, as he is not exactly shy to begin with. I'm fortunate to have some Irish heritage--my husband doesn't, poor guy--so I think that I was forgiven for not kissing the Blarney Stone. Lucky, lucky Irish-American me.
Our next destination was to the town of Killarney in County Tipperary. On the way to that lovely town, we drove on R24 (rural--very rural--route 24) through some gorgeous countryside with rolling hills and beautiful homesteads, once again experiencing cool weather, white puffy clouds in the sky, no rain and even skinnier roads.
The homes in Ireland are a mix of very old and very modern and have some of the most wonderful architecture. We were very impressed with the cleanliness of the highways and countryside in general, and noticed that there wasn't a rundown shack anywhere to be seen. It was truly amazing.
There were homesteads, of course, with many cows and sheep in their pastures and the most wonderful very old laid-by-hand stone walls still standing on their properties, as well as all over the countryside. Apparently, there is a law in Ireland prohibiting these stone walls from being knocked down; so, they will [and should] be there forever. It's apparent to my husband and me that the Irish believe in preserving their history, and that is another thing that we noticed about the Irish people. They have such immense pride in their country and the personal struggles that ultimately helped them to achieve independence from England; which sense of pride is not unlike ours in America during and after our own Revolutionary War.
On the way to Killarney, we drove into the town of Cork in County Cork. Since it is a Celtic Sea inlet community with canals running through the city, and where we were unfamiliar driving, we were both lucky to make it out alive and in one piece. I think the next time we go, though, we will feel much more comfortable navigating through the town.
Once in Killarney and settled into our hotel room, we ventured out into the pretty little town to see what was there. We opted that night to eat at an Irish pub (Kit Flaherty's Pub) and had a very delicious meal. It was great to be in a regular Irish pub without tourists (well, maybe there were a few in there) and watched a World Cup soccer match being played on the single television there (not like in our bars where there are 10 televisions going all at once) and to mingle with the local people.
Speaking of sporting events, we were advised by many of the Irish people we met to watch the hurling game scheduled for the following Sunday. This game is very popular in Ireland and everyone seemed to be very excited about it. This sport, I believe, is yet to hit the good ole U.S.A.; however, I think that it will come stateside in the future. There was a lot of Irish passion exhibited for this sport, just like we exhibit in the U.S. for our gridiron football.
During our entire time in Ireland, we were impressed with the meals that were put in front of us. No throw-the-food-on-the-plate kind of places, everything was presented in such an attractive and professional way, and we always went away from those restaurants completely satisfied, delighted and stuffed!
Since we were slated to stay in Killarney for two nights, we opted to take the tour bus with other tourists around the Ring of Kerry. Our first stop on the Ring of Kerry was a town called Killorglin, which was another pretty and nice little town, and then on to Rossbergin that had some beautiful homes with very colorful/colourful front doors. As a matter of fact, many of Ireland's homes have these brilliantly colored/coloured doors--lots of reds, yellows, blues and, of course, greens--which is a nice change from the usual black, white and/or neutral-colored doors we seem to have here in America and, in particular, in Arizona.
We rode the bus on the highway along the Dingle Peninsula, and I saw my first rainbow--actually it was a double rainbow--over the water there. I wanted to see a rainbow while I was in Ireland, but seeing this one over the Dingle Peninsula couldn't have come at a better time or in a better place. We did take a couple of pictures, but the rainbow came out rather faintly in those snapshots; however, the memory will always be brightly etched in my mind. We learned a lot from the tour bus driver and his sidekick along the way that day, but one of the many things that stuck in our minds was the story about dingle berries. The Irish call sheep droppings by this name (get it, Dingle Peninsula, dingle berries?)! Of course, there is so much more to this beautiful place, but we found this anecdote rather amusing. Oh, yes, the Irish people certainly do have a wonderful sense of humor/humour, too.
During that particular trip around the Ring of Kerry, we saw some of the most beautiful views--landscape, flora and fauna--in Ireland and a must see for any of you visiting the country in the future. If I could, I'd go back again and again; or, better yet, even live there for the rest of my days.
We drove through so many cute little towns on the Ring of Kerry, with one of those towns being Caverisheen, which is the home to a famous Irish politician named Daniel O'Connell. The roads were so narrow there that we saw vehicles being driven on the sidewalks just so the oncoming buses, cars and small vans would be able to pass each other through the town. We then stopped in Portmayer for lunch and had some delicious shepherd's pie. There were many more wonderful towns along the Ring of Kerry, and we even saw a statue of Charlie Chaplin in the town square in Waterville (apparently, Charlie had been a regular visitor of the town), rode through the Skellig Bay area and on to Kells, where we witnessed the most amazing sheepherder and his border collies, along with Irish and Shetland sheep, in a demonstration called the "Sheepdog Trials."
When I say "amazing," it is only for a lack of a better word to use for this man and his flock. Seeing this man using voice and whistle commands to get his border collies to obey while herding the sheep up and down the very long and steep hill was one of the highlights of our visit to Ireland. I honestly can say that I have never seen anything as amazing (here I go again with this word) as what we witnessed with this very natural and instinct-driven master-dog-and-sheep feat. I still have chills thinking about it! You can check out these sheepdog trials online, although it certainly doesn't really show the extent of this master's and his animals' natural talents and intelligence. Make the time ... you won't be sorry and you will be amazed like my husband and me. Type into Yahoo: sheepdog trials Kells Ireland.
We then drove through Killarney National Park, a most beautiful place on earth. Actually, this park was way too beautiful for words!
We went back to the hotel in Killarney for our second night. The next morning, we headed out in our mid-size car on some more very narrow roads down the coast highway and on to the Cliffs of Moher. These cliffs were beautiful, and a great site/sight to see.
It was then on to Westport for our next two-day stop on our adventure. I loved Westport. It was an easily traveled little town near the coast, with many lovely and affordable shops, restaurants, pubs, and--do I need to mention?--very friendly and helpful people. It was there that I purchased my Irish Claddagh ring, which symbolizes love, loyalty and friendship. This ring will always remind me of my time in Ireland, as if I will need any reminders at all. I don't think I come across as loving the country too much, now do I?
While in Westport, like in other parts of Ireland, I talked to some very friendly Irish people about my Irish heritage. The Irish people were always willing to engage me in conversation about my ancestors, and I truly loved that; after all, we are only there once or twice in our lifetimes--more if we are lucky--so, to have some of my questions answered at that time and from them was very much appreciated. I learned some interesting points about people who may be related to me. I also learned about the areas they came from (Counties Longford and Roscommon) and even learned about a famous prime minister who was instrumental in helping to bring peace between Northern Ireland and England, who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and who may or may not be related to me and my mother's side of the family.
It rained most of the time on day two in Westport, but we were okay with that. We had umbrellas and enjoyed it for a change (we don't get very much rain in Arizona and we need it!). Besides, this was the only day up to this point that we had experienced grey skies or heavier rain, although we did get some occasional grey clouds, colder temperatures and a sprinkling of rain while riding around the Ring of Kerry.
We treated ourselves to the most delicious fish and chips meal for me and lamb for Steven that evening in a local pub. To say that the fish was fresh is an understatement. Since we can't get fresh fish like that in Arizona (no ocean, so everything is frozen and trucked in), I truly appreciated this wonderful meal. Being so close to the ocean, Westport probably has some of the freshest fish in Ireland. Once again, the meals were very professionally presented. The Irish take such pride in everything they do, including the meals they prepare for their patrons.
Day seven took us from Westport (I truly hated to leave this place!) back toward Dublin across the Republic of Ireland and through some more gorgeous countryside. We drove through County Longford (where my relatives may hail from), through County Roscommon and other counties along the way. All of it was picturesque and wonderful (of course it was!), including a cute little town off the M50 (a major highway, but unlike our major highways in Arizona) called Mullyfarnham. We liked this little town very much, as well as Moynalty in County Mead, which hamlet was named Ireland's Tidiest Town 2013.
Instead of taking a bus tour with a lot of other tourists, my husband and I wanted to do our own thing and get off the beaten path; so, as luck would have it, on our way back to Dublin in our rental car we actually rode by a restaurant out in the middle of nowhere called, The Beaten Path Restaurant! The restaurant was closed, so we can only guess it didn't get the patronage it needed to continue as it was indeed off the beaten path. We took a picture of the sign and had to laugh as we rode by, not for the restaurant's closing but for its name.
We arrived back in Dublin, and after getting lost a couple of times in city traffic, we finally managed to find our way to the Hertz rental car office to drop off our vehicle. Whew! I made it, and I was only honked at once the entire time I drove around the country on those very narrow roads. In a later phone conversation, I mentioned this fact to my favorite/favourite Irish taxi driver, Brendan, and he said that he gets honked at every day; so, I guess I can take even more pride in myself for a job well done with regard to my driving abilities. After all, as mentioned above, some of the drivers seemed very happy as they waved when they passed me by! The Irish drivers are so-o-o friendly, aren't they? I am also very grateful that, after surviving those narrow roadways, we were still alive and made it back to Dublin in one piece after such a harrowing, but interesting, fun and wonderful journey. Please note that I had to break my promise of not stopping into a McDonald's restaurant in Dublin. If not for necessity of using the little girls' room and to get directions, I would not have; however, those McDonald's restaurants can sometimes be in the right place at the right time, can't they?
As for driving on the opposite side of the road, I would recommend to anyone visiting Ireland for the first time that they leave the driving to a bus, mini-bus (Wild West Irish Tours), train or taxi driver. As for the bus drivers over there driving those very narrow roads, I can honestly say that they are absolute super powers. How they can manage to drive those vans and huge buses on those very skinny roads and not hit anything is truly unbelievable and, yes, amazing. I suppose, though, that when the oncoming vehicles see a van or a huge bus driving toward them on a skinny road through a town, they stay as far away from them as possible and simply let the van or bus pass! I had to cover my eyes more than a couple of times when our bus maneuvered through the towns.
We were now back in Dublin and our last two days in Ireland. Once at the hotel, we took the hop-on, hop-off bus around the city. This bus trip allowed you to hop on and hop off (hence, the reason for the name) at several interesting and touristy spots in the city. We opted to see St. Patrick's Cathedral, Temple Bar district, the Jameson Distillery (where my husband was appointed as an expert taste tester, and later received his award for same), and then on to our last stop at the Kilmainham Gaol (jail).
It was at this gaol/jail that we received the most interesting commentary about the history of Ireland and the struggles for independence by its people. The Irish are a determined lot, as well as an extremely proud people, and learning about what they all actually went through over the years gave my husband and me an even deeper appreciation for this wonderful country. The young man, Dermot, who provided the gaol/jail guest attendees with this extraordinary commentary also gave my husband and me much to think about. It was obvious to us that this young man was one of the proudest Irishmen we had ever met. Dermot's presentation was so good, so awe inspiring, so educational, so insightful, and so truly appreciated by my husband and me that it was definitely another highlight of our trip.
On Thursday morning, the 12th of September, we had to say our farewells to Ireland ... at least for now. As we flew away on the big bird and looked back at the beautiful lush green countryside, it evoked memories of our short ten days there. It was a very nostalgic time for me, as it was a culmination of a lifelong dream; however, I went away knowing that every single moment of every single day (including the first challenging one!) was very special to me and to my husband.
I know that we will continue to rave about our time on the Emerald Isle for a very long time to come; as a matter of fact, I will probably rave about Ireland for as long as I live.
So, to very briefly reiterate what we found in Ireland--and there is so much more than I have written above or about to say here--my husband and I were totally impressed with the landscape, the flora and fauna, the weather (it was great and cool ... and coming from Arizona, cool is a very good thing!), the friendliness and hospitality of everyone we met, the food and its presentation, the skinny roads that were a true test of my driving abilities, and all of our many and varied experiences during this absolutely wonderful holiday.
If anyone reading this "blog" ever has the chance--and I hope for your sake that you do--please give Ireland your attention and your visit(s). I can assure you that you will not be disappointed. As a matter of fact, I believe that you will go away from the Emerald Isle very appreciative of this wonderful land and, of course, its very gracious and warm people. Like I did, I can guarantee that you will vow to return.
I also believe--now more than ever--that there is absolutely no place on earth more inviting and welcoming than Ireland, and that there are no people on earth who have more pride for their homelands than the Irish have for theirs. It is truly a country worth visiting time and time again.
Since I have experienced Ireland, I know that I am a winner already; however, I would really like to win this contest and bring my husband with me to see more of the great things in simple places with Michael and Trish of Wild West Irish Tours as our guides in the spectacular wild west region of the Emerald Isle.
My husband and I would gladly fly from Phoenix, Arizona's Sky Harbor Airport to Logan Airport in Boston, and be prepared to board the next flight to Dublin. Just say when, and we'll be packed and ready to go.
Thank you for your consideration of my contest entry.
Ms. Doni Logan
Sun City West, Arizona
Erin go bragh!
Tell us why YOU want to experience the ‘Wild West’ of Ireland, and you might win a free 9-day trip there, courtesy of Wild West Irish Tours and WOW Air. Get the details!