County Kerry and County Clare, Ireland

Muckross Abbey
On our way to Dingle, we stopped in Killarney.  Starting at the outskirts of town is the Killarney National Park which offers a number of trails of varying difficulty and lengths.  We started with a shorter trail from the Muckross Abbey which was built in the 15th century.  The wooded path was one of the most beautiful walks ever, and you could almost envision the little Irish fairies flitting around at dusk.  Our trail led to the Muckross House and Gardens completed in 1843.  For visitors not wanting to walk in the park, there are a number of horse and carriage tours available (25 euros for 30 minutes).  After a picnic lunch, we moved on to Dingle.

Inch Beach
We stopped at Inch Beach, a 3-mile long beach popular for surfing, walking, and for
heartier souls, for swimming.  Driving is allowed on the beach, but the RV in front of us got stuck when they changed their mind midway at the sandy entrance, so we settled for an overview from above.

After checking into our room in Dingle, we headed out for the drive on the Slea Head Loop.  This 26-mile trip provides gorgeous views
Along Slea Loop
of the coast and provides access to a number of ancient archeological sites.  Beehive huts thought to have originated as far back as 2000 BC are found here, along with ancient Irish Celtic Stone Settlements from the Iron Age dating from 500 BC to 500 AD.  Making the drive at the end of the day meant there were few other vehicles on the road which allowed us to stop for photos at the handful of small parking areas on the loop.

On our departure from town the next day,  heavy fog/cloud cover in the mountains helped us determine our route.  Conor Pass is considered one of the most spectacular drives anywhere, but it is also a very narrow and potentially dangerous road that at times requires cars to back up to allow for oncoming vehicles.  Since the views would probably not be seen anyway, we decided to take the other road out of town, which was less harrowing and a lovely bucolic drive.

Cliffs of Moher
We were bound for Doolin, renowned internationally for traditional Irish music.  On our way, we stopped to visit the Cliffs of Moher.  The Cliffs are the most visited natural attraction in Ireland, and our midday visit found the large parking lot full.  This spot has been a popular attraction for over 150 years.  At the center of the North Platform, O'Brien's Tower was constructed back in 1835 to provide a superior viewing point for visitors.  The entire cliff walk begins in Doolin and continues for 11 miles and is considered a "challenging and demanding" trail.  But with high gusts, we weren't tempted to wander too far from the main platforms.  Luckily, the skies were clear and the views were phenomenal.

On our arrival in Doolin, we checked into our B&B and then went out to walk around the small town, but rain and high winds restricted our exploring.  According to local sources, Doolin has more musicians per square mile than anywhere else in the world.  Live music is available nightly from March to October at the town's four pubs.  The village also hosts two Celtic music festivals a year, one in February and another in June.  The host at our B&B recommended McGann's as having the best food and music, so that is where we headed for dinner.  We were not disappointed in either regard, both were excellent.  It was a perfect ending for our trip.

Driving across Ireland back to Dublin the next day, we caught an evening flight to London's Heathrow and then the following day a flight from London's Gatwick to the U.S.  This journey has been one of our most varied and there were many incredible experiences, but it is now time to return home for awhile.  Undoubtedly, the road will be calling us again soon.
On Slea Loop
Entertainers at McGann's Pub
Muckross House
Where the Fairies play 
Muckross Lake
On Slea Loop

Celtic Stone Settlement from the Iron Age
O'Brien's Tower at the Cliffs of Mother
Along Slea Loop
At Cliffs of Moher
Cliffs of Moher 
Cliffs of Moher
Church ruins in Doolin
Overview of Doolin from the edge of town
Beehive hut said to be from 2000 BC

County Kilkenny, County Cork and County Tipperary, Ireland

Kilkenny Castle
From Hook Lighthouse, we drove northwest planning a visit to Kilkenny Castle.  The original wooden castle was started in 1195 AD, followed by the stone castle 30 years later.  Over the centuries, many additions and renovations have taken place, so the current building is composed of a variety of architectural styles.  In 1967, the castle was "sold" to the people of Kilkenny for 50 pounds.  The Office of Public Works maintains the property now and they have taken extreme care to reinstate the rooms on display (about half of the castle is open for viewing) primarily in the manner of the 19th century inhabitants.  Located along the River Nore, the castle's 3rd floor vantage point provides wonderful views of the city.  From the castle, we wandered the narrow cobblestone streets of the city which traces its beginnings back to the early Medieval period in the 6th century.   Located at the opposite end of town, St. Canice is the second largest cathedral in Ireland.  The original church was founded in the 6th century, but the current building was completed at the end of the 13th century.

The following morning we headed southwest toward Kinsale, but we stopped along the way to visit
Rock of Castle
the town of Cashel and the renowned Rock of Cashel.  We could see the well-known landmark from quite a distance on our approach.  This site first gained its importance as a fortress in the 5th century AD.  Sometime between 1230 and 1270 a cathedral was added, and through the centuries other additions were completed.  Free guided tours are included with the entry fee, and our guide was informative and entertaining.  The mural in Cormac's Chapel is a rarity since most paintings in Irish medieval churches have not survived and this mural certainly reflects its age.  After the tour, we walked around town and found two other buildings of historical significance.  Hore Abbey, built in 1270, was located next to the Rock.  The other structure was located in town.  St. Dominic's Friary was originally built in 1243 and then rebuilt in 1480 after it was destroyed in a fire.

Kinsale Harbor
Next, we drove to Kinsale considered the "Gourmet Capital of Ireland."  The town celebrates with an annual Gourmet Festival in October.  With many top-notch restaurants in town it wasn't difficult to find a great lunch spot, and decided on The Blue Haven following a recommendation from a local.  It  was so good that we returned for dinner since they also offered traditional music in the evening.  The seaside town is also know for two forts.  James' Fort located on the peninsula across from the town harbor was completed in 1607.  The star-shaped Charles Fort completed in 1682 is located at the waters edge on the other side of the harbor.  Both forts are open for viewing by the public.

Departing the following morning, we were headed to Dingle along the dramatic western coast of Ireland.
Formal dining room in the Castle
View of gardens from Kilkenny Castle
At Rock of Cashel  
View of Kilkenny from the Castle

Looking back at Kilkenny Castle from town
View down to Hore Abbey from the cemetary at Rock of Cashel
St. Dominics Friary - 1480
Mural in Cormacs Chapel
Hore Abbey - 1270 
Streets of Cashel
Charles Fort
St. Canice Cathedral

County Wexford, Ireland

Johnstown Castle
Departing Dublin, we headed two hours south of the city to Wexford.  The problem with Ireland is that there is so much to see it is difficult to narrow down the choices.  There are literally hundreds of castles in the countryside and guarding the rocky coast.  Abbeys, monasteries and archeological sites are too numerous to count.  Many of the properties are in ruins, but a large number of them have been renovated and provide an interesting peek back in time.  And then there are the places that we wanted to visit simply because they are gorgeous, like the southwest coast.

With a visit to the Wexford Tourist Office, we departed with numerous pamphlets, so we could plot the remainder of our Irish visit.  Our rough itinerary is typically determined prior to leaving home, but with Ireland we had an arrival and departure date and a hotel in Dublin. The pamphlets led us to our first stop.  Located on the outskirts of Wexford, we visited the Johnstown Castle Gardens and Irish Agricultural Museum, on the same grounds.  The castle is not open for viewing at this time but is surrounded by beautifully maintained gardens.  The Museum covers all aspects of rural life in Ireland but also has an extensive and sad commentary on the Irish potato famine.  We were surprised to learn that oat and barley crops continued to be produced throughout the famine years, but these 'cash crops', which came from fields held by large landowners, were exported even as people starved.  No well-organized social welfare systems existed.  Official attempts to provide relief were short lived and inadequate.  Private charities and religious groups (especially the Quakers) provided food and money, but were unable to meet the tremendous needs.

The night was spent in Rosslare Harbor, a ferry town, and home of "The Last Pub in Ireland."  Traditional Irish music at the pub was scheduled to start at 11 PM, but we wanted to get an early start the next day, so passed on that.  After a hearty breakfast, we headed to Hook Lighthouse.  This is the oldest operating lighthouse in the world, and has been guiding ships for almost 800 years.  Monks at a nearby monastery maintained the light until 1671, when the first lighthouse keeper was brought to the site.  During our visit, gusts of 40+ mph and chilly temperatures made walking around the grounds difficult.  It was easy to reflect on how difficult it would have been for the light keepers of the past to deal with this challenging environment.
Slade Castle (late 15th century) near Hook Lighthouse

On the drive to Hook Lighthouse
Dunbrody Abbey in Wexford County built in 13th century 

Dublin, Ireland. (County Dublin)

Jeanie Johnston Tall Ship replica
Arriving in Dublin, we had a few hours to explore before a dinner show with folklore and music at the Brazen Head.  This spot is the oldest pub in Dublin, established in 1198.  Most of the sights to be visited in the city are within a fairly small radius, so it is easy to sightsee without using a vehicle or public transportation.  With one week on our schedule for Ireland, we had set aside just one full day for Dublin.  Our first evening, we walked along the River Liffey located in front of our hotel. The nearby Famine Memorial commorates the million plus Irish who died as a result of the potato famine (1845-1852) but it is also a memorial to the million or so who emigrated because of the famine.  It is built on the departure site of one of the first famine ships to leave the area in 1846 and depicts the emaciated human figures as if walking toward the emigration ships.  Also located along the Custom House Quay is the Jeanie Johnston Tall Ship, this is a replica of a ship used to transport emigrants to America from 1847 to 1855.

The Custom House, originally completed in 1791 was responsible for the collection of custom duties.
Ha'penny Bridge
It was severely damaged by fire in 1921 during the Irish War of Independence.  The renovated building now houses government offices but no longer functions as the "custom house" even though it retains that name.  Further along our walk, we found the cast iron pedestrian bridge, Ha'penny built in 1816.  It was originally a toll bridge with turnstiles which required a one pence payment to cross.  The toll continued (with slight increases) until 1919 when the toll was dropped.

Making our way to the Brazen Head, Alan enjoyed a Guinness in the convivial downstairs patio area as we waited for our dinner/show time.  (Unfortunately, no gluten free options for me.)  Ascending the narrow stairway to our dining room, we shared a table with 8 other tourists, and quickly became friends with our table mates.  The program started with Irish history being woven with folklore and was interrupted periodically by the service of our three-course dinner.  Alan opted
At the Brazen Head Pub
for the Beef and Guinness Stew while I enjoyed a Traditional Irish Stew with lamb.  The program was completed with a selection of Irish tunes, so a fun evening.

The following morning, we made our way to St. Patrick's Cathedral.  This Anglican Church (previously Catholic) was founded in 1191 and is the national cathedral for Ireland.  A lovely park adjoins the church.  A few blocks away, we found the Anglican Christ Church Cathedral (previously Catholic) which was established around 1028.  You can experience a drone visit of the cathedral here.

Trinity College, founded in 1592, has a beautiful campus and is home to the largest library in the country with 6.2 million volumes.  The library houses the Book of Kells, created in 800 AD by Celtic monks.  The illustrated text depicts the 4 gospels of the New Testament written in Latin.  The book, which is considered to be one of the oldest in the world, can be seen with a tour of the library for 10 euros, but we decided to forego that opportunity, even though the book is considered a national treasure.

Oscar Wilde at the entrance to Merrion Square
Merrion Square Park laid out in 1762, became a public park in the 1960's.  Previously, the Square had been the home to politicians, lawyers, judges and a handful of successful writers, most notably Oscar Wilde, whose statue greets visitors at the entrance.  Next, we wandered over to St. Stephens Green Park, the largest park in Dublin.  With numerous statues, waterways and well-maintained gardens this park is an oasis in the middle of the large city.

The Guinness Storehouse and Jamison Irish Whiskey distillery tours are popular tourist attractions, but we by-passed on those stops.  Since Alan prefers wine and I prefer bourbon (and can't drink Guinness) and neither of us cares for whiskey, it would have been a wasted trip for us.  But, we were lulled into a pub in the Temple Bar area by the music filtering out the doors and the raucous crowd inside.  With 740 pubs licensed in Dublin, we haven't been able to figure out where we were, but suffice it to say that the Guinness was flowing, the musicians talented and the tourists (including us!) were all having a grand time.

The following morning we hired a taxi to travel to the other side of the city for our rental vehicle.  Now on to the countryside.
St. Stephens Park
At Trinity College campus
The Famine Memorial
At St. Stephen Park 
St. Patrick's Cathedral 
Christ Church Cathedral
The Custom House
In the Temple Bar area