Fáilte means welcome and in Ireland they truly mean it. Over the course of 7 days on the Emerald Isle, the warm and welcoming Irish we met along the way was just the start of our incredible adventure around the southern part of the island. It’s hard to explain but I was utterly put in a spell with my imagination run wild through the lyrical energy, ancient rocks, the baaahh of sheep, the raging Atlantic, and the tiniest of towns set in the wide expanse of undulating hills of Ireland.
It’s a cultural, historical, spiritual, and visual flooding of the senses that is truly a dream to drive through. Everywhere we stopped along our road trip was a postcard moment – some planned and plenty of surprises along the way too. 7 days surely wasn’t enough but it made such a lasting impression that it ensures it won’t be my last.
GETTING TO IRELAND
Getting to Ireland is easier than ever with Dublin the major international airport on the island. Air Transat is my carrier of choice to get from Toronto to Dublin. In a short span of 6 hours and 40 minutes, the direct flight to Dublin was as smooth as can be. A big part of that was because we booked with the Option Plus upgrade, which gave us a nice comfort bundle on the flight, plenty of snacks to never get hungry, and the short-cut line to checking in. I’ll also never look at in-flight meals either as we had the opportunity to purchase meals created by culinary legend Chef Daniel Vézina where duck confit lasagne and braised leg of lamb were on the menu. Oh and even in economy, we had so much legroom for a 5’11” guy like myself!
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Here’s a little taste of our full week adventure. More details to come in an upcoming detailed itinerary!
I knew we didn’t have enough time to do the full eastern route into Ireland’s Ancient East to do it justice but to get a taste of it, upon landing in Dublin, we hit the road right away and made our way to the Monastic City of Glendalough. It’s here that you truly get an idea of the Christian movement that swept through Ireland with the remains of buildings like the church and the giant Round Tower that stands 30m high set with the backdrop of the beautiful Upper Lake.
Kilkenny was known to me before for their Irish cream ale but what I didn’t know was the castle, that makes up the heart of the city, is the perfect place to have a picnic or throw a frisbee on its sprawling green lawn.
A bonus discovery here was Smithwick’s Red Ale which I have to say, while not a craft beer, was one of our favourite beers in Ireland for its sweet malt and smoky tones.
ROCK OF CASHEL
Everyone know’s St. Patrick’s Day but where does this famous saint come from and what did he do? You get to learn a part of this story through impressive historic sites like Rock of Cashel which is an ancient fortification set up on limestone rock straight out of Game of Thrones (think Casterly Rock). This is where the King of Munster was converted by St. Patrick in the 5th century, and hence why it’s also called St. Patrick’s Rock.Ireland is insanely gorgeous - I wish I could go right now.Click To Tweet
Have you ever kissed a famous stone? It sounds a little preposterous and in some ways it was as we had to queue for an hour to get to the top but who can argue the levelling up of eloquence. Hopefully you’ll agree with me in my persuasive writing skills of why you should be coming to Ireland after reading through this whole article 😉
Even if you don’t kiss the Blarney Stone, the view of the castle and its surrounding massive garden is completely worth it and somewhere you can easily spend a full day in.
Oh and I also learned a new phrase here which is in the city’s namesake. The key is to not confuse the word blarney with baloney. This is best explained by a former Roman Catholic bishop, “Baloney is praise so thick it cannot be true. And blarney is praise so thin we like it.”
Luke Skywalker was nowhere to be found until Rey travelled to a mysterious planet only to find him on an island which can only be assumed to be the first Jedi Temple. That’s how Star Wars lore tells us but in reality, this is the island of Skellig Michael and the ruins of a Christian monastery.
I have to say that out of everywhere we went in Ireland, this was the most impressive and not just because I’m a big Star Wars nerd. Beyond whirling my mini lightsaber around to train to become a great Jedi, following over 600 steps up to the isolated monastery to find the beehive shaped huts and also being surrounded by 10,000 puffins was truly what made the larger of the two Skellig islands a special place.
RINGS OF KERRY AND SKELLIG
In order to catch that boat out to Skellig Michael, you have to enter the Ring of Kerry and from there you’re transported into another world of drop-dead gorgeous scenery. One of the many fingers that stretch into the Atlantic, this magical kingdom of Kerry and its circuit open to spectacular mountains, cliffs, beaches, quaint towns, narrow roads, views of great valleys, and medieval ruins.
The Ring of Kerry is well travelled with tour busses that loop counter-clockwise daily but the trick is to detour into the Skellig Ring where busses can’t go and is off the beaten path. Both of these rings belong to what’s known as Wild Atlantic Way.
Canadians will know Killarney as provincial park in northern Ontario but its origins come from a well-known city that is situated right at the start (or end of it depending on which way you go) of the Ring of Kerry and opens into a large national park that presents a greener, lusher, woodland, and also more estately look to Ireland. Highlights here include Muckross House, the Abbey, Ross Castle, and Torc Waterfall.
Another highlight of the Wild Atlantic Way is the peninsula of Dingle. The drive here is arguably even better (and sometimes a little scarier) than the Ring of Kerry because the road hugs along the coast and gives way to craggy wave-pounded rocks, sandy coves, huge surf, and the Blasket Islands in the distance. When you go inland, you follow the ancient landscape into the peaks and valleys of the landscape where you pass by ring forts and beehive huts from a time long forgotten.
The weaving of these country roads also lead into the charming town of Dingle which is known for its seafood, artists, craftspeople, and musicians. Oh and don’t forget the famous dolphin Fungie!
CLIFFS OF MOHER
Where the smell of sea salt, gawking of birds, crashing of waves, and the stoic wall of rock meets the Atlantic ocean is the famous Cliffs of Moher. The 180 degree views are awe-inspiring as you get a chance to walk at the edge of the world. Just be careful of the crowds and the heights when you’re out here. Dramatic and grand is an understatement.
Where alien-landscape meets Ireland is in the Burren National Park which feature glacial-era limestone that peak up to the surface and crack in peculiar long channels. The landscape is a stark contrast to the surrounding county of Clare but makes for a perfect spot for hiking and discovering tiny pockets of oasis amongst sharp rock.
While towns weren’t the focus of our road trip, everyone we talked to mentioned that Galway was somewhere not to be missed. I’m so glad we stopped by here. During our short time here we experienced an abundance of energy, musical harmonies, cute boutique shops, and lots of food options.
It is the kind of city that doesn’t feel overwhelming and feels authentically Irish.
Last but not least of course is the city where it all began. Where Dublin shines is in its dark past with a tour through the Kilmainham Gaol prison, the most famous medieval manuscript in the Book of Kells, retail therapy, and the many many pubs.
The best way to end any trip to Ireland is with a pint of Guinness in one hand while dancing to Irish music with a crowd of new friends into the wee hours of the morning.
Throughout it all, what warmed my heart the most was just how incredible the locals are. Whether staying at B&Bs such as Newlands Lodge, An Portán, Slieve Elva, and Galway Glamping or hotels like The Lake Hotel or The Croke Park Hotel, we were always greeted with friendly hosts and end to end smiles.
As a traveller, you definitely notice the difference when passionate accommodations put the effort to make you feel at home and are willing to lend a helping hand, or provide local advice on say what to see and where to eat.