Top of the mornin’ to ya! Sorry – I just couldn’t resist! I adore an Irish brogue but if you listened to this native New Yorker try one out on my Travel Tuesday video chat with a representative from Ireland – you know that this is one accent I definitely need to work on!
Anywho – for this chat I welcomed my eyes and ears on the ground – straight from Ireland – Cairin O’Connor from Ireland Less Traveled and a National Tour Guide as well! Cairin grew up in Dublin and studied at 400-year-old Trinity College Dublin. She then travelled the country extensively for 15 years marketing those yummy Irish cheeses before eventually setting up her business – Ireland Less Traveled. After organizing tours for a number of years, two years ago she trained to become a licensed tour guide and also studied genealogy. And all of this makes Cairin a wonderful partner to help me curate your Ireland adventure.
Now, let’s take a peek at what that adventure could include, shall we?
Background and History: Cead Mile Failte means A Hundred Thousand Welcomes and Cairin promised you would be assured of that when you visit this friendly country! Ireland is actually an island off the Atlantic Ocean and a small one at that. It is not much more than 30 miles long, about 200 miles wide and that makes it 36,000 square miles – which for perspective is similar in size to the state of Indiana. Their population is 6.5 million people and 1.5 million of those reside in the northern part of the island. There are a total of 32 counties throughout Ireland with six of them also situated in the northern part of the island.
Cairin cautioned that many people think you can see Ireland in four or five days but since a lot of the great scenery and the “must see” places to visit are along the west coast this is not very likely. Why? Traveling the coast is primarily on one to two lane roads and highways so for that reason you will need more time than most think.
Ireland’s history dates back 10,000 years with Waterford claiming the title of its oldest city. It was founded in 910 AD when Vikings invaded and is home to that famous Waterford crystal we all bring out for special occasions.
One interesting fact that Cairin pointed out was that the population in Ireland was eight million at one time. But during the famine over one million residents left and went to seek work in the United States (and Canada). The result? There are now over 40 million Irish Americans and many who come back to see where their relatives came from. It is a great place to visit if you are into genealogy – and if you let Cairin and I know exactly where they came from in Ireland, we can get you there and it’s guaranteed you’ll feel a connection with the area. Thanks to the fact it’s a small country we can certainly fit this into any itinerary. She did note that the records aren’t that great before 1850 but still there is enough there and you’d be surprised how much you can find out!
As for some cities you may be familiar with – there’s Dublin – which is the capital of Ireland, Belfast – which is the second largest city in the country, Cork, Galway and Limerick. And Cairin was also sure to note that their Gaelic language – which is their own Irish language that everyone is taught in school – has shaped who they are including their history, culture, writers, music, food and drink. All of that – combined with being an island nation – makes them very proud of Ireland and its uniqueness.
Getting Around: Driving the world’s longest defined coastal touring route – the 1600-mile Wild Atlantic Way is the best way to see and visit some of Ireland’s most dramatic sites – from wild beaches and jagged cliffs to lively cities and colorful towns. The route traces Ireland’s rugged West Coast from Cork in the south to Donegal in the north. Along the way you will find there are numerous beautiful pitstops to make.
Start your adventure in the south and cross the foot bridge at Mizen Head in County Cork for views of Fastnet Rock and its spectacular lighthouse – which was the last site of Ireland for emigrants sailing to America.
Moving up the coast – Star Wars fans may recognize Skellig Michael which recently appeared as Luke Skywalker‘s hideaway. It’s also home to a unique colony of puffins!
You’ll then head to the Dingle Peninsula for traditional Irish music and “the craic” – otherwise known as good old-fashioned Irish fun! Loop Head is a perfect spot to get out for a stroll with a great hiking trail between its tip and the village of Kilkee. Continuing on you’ll come across the dramatic Cliffs of Moher rising 214 meters from the sea and take in this incredible view.
Next – for the feeling of being at the edge of the world and the traditional way of life catch a ferry or fly to the isolated Aran Islands.
Once back on the mainland make a stop in lively Galway for sea-fresh oysters and a warm Irish welcome! Make sure to stop in the pretty town of Westport in County Mayo on your way to the peak of Benbulben – which was immortalized in the poetry of W.B Yeats.
You will ultimately reach your journeys end at Malin Head – famous for its history and folklore. It is the country’s northern most point and one of the final landmarks on the Wild Atlantic Way.
As you can see – Ireland’s coastline is packed with breathtaking landscapes, cultural hotspots and of course classic Irish charm so it’s always worth taking the scenic route!
Destinations aka Counties: Ok now that we laid out some of the highlights to check out – lets take a look at the counties individually!
- County Cork: Cork is Ireland’s largest county and shares its name with one of its cities that lies within the county.
- Cork is known as the Gourmet Capital of the Island for a number of reasons. There is an abundance of good land in Cork and thus there are a lot of farms producing good food. Then you have the seas with the numerous fishing ports providing fresh catch daily. Between the two of them you get plenty of farm to table and sea to table options. And for my vegans, vegetarians and gluten free peeps – they have you covered too!
Aside from the plentiful food options Cork is also home to the two hundred plus year old Jameson Distillery which is located in the eastern part of the town and an extremely popular place to visit. Gee – I wonder why?
- The town of Kinsale – also located in the county is not only a historic port and fishing town – but it too is a gourmet town like Cork. It features plenty of restaurants of all types- including a Michelin-starred one – and galleries along its windy cobble stone streets. Kinsale is also home to the Gourmet Food Festival every October. Count me in!
- County Kerry Three Peninsulas: County Kerry is probably the best-known county for tourism, and it is a quite suitable destination for families. They offer up a variety of different types of accommodations – from 5-star properties – to glamping – to bed and breakfasts.
- The Beara Peninsula borders with Cork and is absolutely the road less travelled! It contains beautiful scenery but it’s not a very popular area with the tourists – which in this day and age is welcome!
- The Ring of Kerry is another one of the peninsulas. Visitors like to say they that they “completed the Ring of Kerry” as it is a full day, eight-hour trip that includes stopping at some of its many attractions. Cairin shared with us one of her favorites – the sheep dog demonstration. She described it as a quite simple activity but when you see a farmer and his sheep dog working with the sheep it’s a very special experience. And of course, it is quite educational for children and teens – making it a great living classroom experience.
- The Lakes of Killarney are a very famous scenic attraction located in Killarney National Park that offer a great place to kayak and fish.
- Skellig Michael is a towering sea craig featuring little huts which date back to the 8th and 9th century. They were once homes to monks who lived there until they were plundered. However, Skellig Michael saw its popularity soar in the past ten years – once two of the Star Wars movies were filmed there! Needless to say, South Kerry area has become a pilgrimage for Star Wars fans all over the globe.
- County Clare and County Limerick
- County Clare is home to Shannon which is home to the Shannon Airport. This airport is a great alternative option to fly into instead of Dublin for my clients coming from the east coast – specifically New York and Boston. Flying into Shannon means you land right in the tourist area, so you don’t have to travel down to it – which saves about half a day of travel. Bonus – it’s a small airport – so no big crowds!
- Shannon is very close to the city of Limerick – which lies in County Limerick – and in Limerick you will find the Cliffs of Moher which are pretty much on everyone’s list to see! What makes them so unique is that these cliffs stretch for they eight miles long – unlike all of Ireland’s other cliffs. This is a great opportunity for Cairin and I to hook you up with a private guide to help you navigate the cliffs – especially if the weather isn’t cooperating.
- The Burren – a glacier karst region – is an incredibly unique area as there is nowhere else like it in rest of the country. Here we have more travel as a living classroom material – what a great geography lesson! And –The Burren Yoga Retreat is a great wellness opportunity close to Cliffs of Moher that looks out over Atlantic Ocean.
- Adare is home to Adare Manor – a dream come true for all my Gastronome’s out there! Featuring 104 rooms and 50 – yes 50 chefs – and bonus – one of their restaurants got a Michelin star! The Adare Manor is owned by philanthropist J.P. McManus and is an exquisite place to stay. Among its amenities are – well the food of course! – a lovely spa for that wellness aspect and a golf course where the Rider Cup will be held in 2025.
- County Galway and County Mayo
- Galway is a very lively city most probably due to the fact that it is a university town full of young people. It is also home to a Latin Quarter featuring fabulous music and small local restaurants.
- The 5-star luxury Ashford Castle – located in Cong – is one of the most sought-after properties to stay in. It was built in the 11th century in the style of a French chateau and has 80 rooms. There are plenty of activities right on the estate to partake in – including falconry, horseback riding and sailing. Cairin gushed that it really is a wonderful treat to stay there and there is also a lot to do locally as well – one of her favorites being an Oyster Farm on the ocean where you can meet the maker!
- County Sligo and County Donegal: Cairin noted that there would be less people visiting these two counties than one would find in Kerry and Clare but they are no less beautiful – they just happed to be “on the road less traveled.”
- In Donegal you will find the stunning Lough Eske Castle Wellness Retreat. From here you can visit the beautiful scenery of Donegal – which is at the end of the Wild Atlantic Way and at the top of Ireland. Here you will also find sandy beaches and golf courses.
- Belfast and Northern Ireland: So, a little history for you – the English ruled Ireland for 400 years and when there were troubles, they retreated and Ireland was left with six counties and the English retained Northern Ireland. The end. It is important to note though – that as far as tourism is concerned – they are all one. That and there has been no trouble there for over twenty years. Fun Fact: Northern Ireland uses the British pound, but the rest of Ireland uses the Euro – although Northern Ireland will accept the Euro too.
- Belfast City is very do-able from Dublin as it is only two hours via train so you can make a day trip out of it. There is plenty to do and see in there. For instance, you will find Giants Causeway – a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site – along the coast here as well as Carrick-a-Rede Bridge – which is a rope bridge and is not far from Giant’s Causeway. And we cannot forget that this area is also home to the beech trees that were used as a filming location on Game of Thrones. The Titanic Museum is located in Belfast City and is considered a world leading tourist attraction and a “must see.” And we haven’t forgotten our foodies – Belfast is good for you too! They have a fabulous market there and lots of Michelin-starred restaurants as well as other amazing places to indulge.
- Irelands Ancient East: This is what the counties close to Dublin and south of Dublin are referred to as.
- County Wicklow is known as The Garden of Ireland. Here there resides a magnificent estate – well-known for its beautiful gardens itself. It is the Powerscourt Estate which is owned by the Slazenger family who are known for manufacturing tennis rackets and golf clubs. They still manage the estate, and in addition to the gardens there is also a whiskey distillery on property that you can visit.
- Glendalough is monastic city dating back to 80 and 90 BC – oh the history lesson there! Fun Fact: Michelle Obama and her daughters visited there during their years in the White House.
- Dublin is a walking city and Cairin would be happy to do a two- or three-hour walking tour of it for you. The city is a Viking city, but they are proud of their Georgian Squares! There are five Georgian Squares still in existence that are very well preserved all with brightly colored doors that even the ones left in England do not have. In the 18th century the squares were homes for professional people. They would have their consulting rooms (if they were say a doctor or lawyer) on the main level of the house and then lived on the 2nd or 3rd floor. Oh and of course they had a home in the country too!
- Another popular tourist spot – Guinness Storehouse where Guinness is brewed. Back in the day Guinness employed 10,000 people in Dublin. Not only that but they were what you and I would consider marvelous employers as they also provided housing for their employees! Still in operation today – they now employee approximately 1500 people and no – they do not provide housing.
- Dubliners are immensely proud of author and Dublin-born James Joyce who wrote Ulysses – which relays the story of a single day in the life of Leopold Bloom – that being June 16th, 1904. That day is now called Bloom’s Day and people dress up in the costumes from that era and visit the sites around town in honor of it. There is also a new museum of literature in Dublin with a large portion of it being dedicated to James Joyce and his books
- Ha’penny Bridge is a bridge in Dublin over River Liffey which divides the city in half. The name came from the fact that at one time the fee to cross the bridge to get from the northside to the southside was a half penny.
- And finally, Dublin is also home to a 200-year-old library at Trinity College where the Book of Kells is housed.
Cairin’s Favorite Places: Cairin didn’t want to leave our chat until she let us in on some of her favorite places to see and we are so incredibly grateful to her for doing so!
- Ross Castle is a castle located on the Lakes of Killarney. It has been restored to its former glory and you can join a tour there where you can learn a lot about the castle and its history. It’s a very authentic experience.
- So apparently 5000 years ago they valued the dead more than the living based on the grand structure that is the Newgrange Burial Chamber. This huge burial chamber – which holds twenty people – umm bodies – tells another story too. There are images of it during its excavation with 97 big stones all around it. This shows us they were archaeologists and scientists and engineers back then as they somehow managed to bring all those materials up the coast to build this magnificent structure. Another cool thing they figured out how to do? There is a light box over the entrance and on the longest and the shortest day of year the sun shines right back into the rear of the tomb. Yup – they figured out all of that 5000 years ago – talk about being ahead of your time!
Accommodations: Ireland is home to a lot of boutique hotels which are owned by local hosts who are willing to be your guide and tell you their secrets. And they are genuinely interested in meeting and talking to you too.
Miscellaneous: So Cairin was also kind enough to give us some time frames to keep your travel to Ireland in perspective. If you want to see both the North and the South regions of Ireland as well as the entire Wild Atlantic Way and Dublin – you need at least ten days. If you are ok with only seeing some of the Wild Atlantic Way and want to see Dublin too – you can do that in about seven or eight days. Side Note: If you want to leave Dublin entirely out, you can substitute something else in its place – perhaps a boat trip to Skellig Michael or the Aaron Islands.
Updated COVID-19 Information: As of this writing travel the CDC recommends travelers avoid all nonessential international travel to Ireland.
And that me lasses and lassies completes our tour of Ireland. And remember – with Cairin as my contact together we can curate an itinerary based on what YOU want to see and make it an amazing trip that you will never forget. And Cairin reminded us that they have a fabulous tourism board in Ireland that is gearing up for 2021 travel so contact me to get your itinerary started today!
For more details on things to see and do in Ireland, where to stay, it’s price points and more – contact your Travel Guru! Oh, and if you need a payment plan to fund your travel adventure – we got those too!