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Monday, October 16, 2017

Passport Questions

This month I'm posting on several ways to prepare for our upcoming trip to Ireland, starting with having a valid passport.  Please take a look at the information below to ensure your passport is up to date enough for traveling with us in May.

Is you passport valid until at least November 30, 2018?

Most tour companies follow the cautious rule of requiring that participant passports are valid for 6 months after the tour end date.  This is because some countries require that your passport be valid for 3 to 6 months after your travel to ensure you don't overstay your passport's validity.  So if your passport expires in 2018, it's best to get it renewed before our May tour.

Do you meet all of the criteria for renewing your passport by mail?

Many people with US passports can simply renew through the mail, but there are several conditions for this (and you have to meet them all).
  1. Your current or expired passport book must be undamaged.
  2. Your current or expired passport has to have been issued within the last 15 years.
  3. You have to have been 16 or older when you got your current or expired passport.
  4. The current or expired passport must be in your current legal name or you must have appropriate documentation for any name change (such as a marriage certificate or court order).
 If you meet all of these criteria, you can use this site to obtain the form to renew your passport.  You will still need to send in a color passport photo (click here for passport photo regulations).  Some businesses, like Walgreen's, offer passport photo services, but you can also go to your local post office to obtain a passport photo and application.

Is this your first time getting a US passport (or are you ineligible to simply renew by mail)?

To apply for a first or new US passport, you will need to do so in person at a passport acceptance facility (most commonly at a post office). 

You will need to complete Form DS-11 and bring the following:
  1. Evidence of citizenship (This can be a US passport even if it is expired, US birth certificate or other certificate of naturalization or citizenship.) - You will need to also have a photocopy to submit.
  2. Identification (This could be a US passport even if expired, US drivers license, government ID, or US military ID.  You can find the full list of acceptable ID online.) - You will need to also have a photocopy of both the front and back of your ID to submit.
  3. A photo that meets the passport photo requirements.

For detailed information on what to bring or other frequently asked questions, click here.

How soon do you need to apply?

Obtaining a passport can take as long as 8 weeks from when you first apply (though standard time is 4 to 6 weeks).  So don't wait until the last minute.  I've deliberately chosen this month to post about obtaining and renewing passports because if you apply now you can leave yourself plenty of time to take care of any issues that may come up.

Make sure your passport matches your information with our tour company!

Please note that your name on your passport must match your name on your ticket, so it must match the name our tour company has for you.  Be sure to check that the information you gave when signing up matches your passport, and contact the tour company immediately to correct it if it doesn't. 

Even if you're taking advantage of the "land only" tour and planning to book your own airfare, please ensure your information with the tour company is accurate.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Irish Genealogy

Ireland counties map from
Because one of the main reasons people take an interest in traveling to Ireland is having an ancestral connection to the Emerald Isle, I thought I’d spend September sharing some links for researching your Irish genealogy.  Fully researching your Irish family tree would be a trip in itself, but even with our limited free-time on tour you can still take some time to connect with your ancestors if so inclined.

The biggest key is to do the bulk of your research before you leave for Ireland.  Having a firm foundation is essential to knowing what records and information you’ll be looking for while in Ireland.  Especially with limited time for genealogical research, knowing exactly what you want to find will make the search far less frustrating.  Plus knowing where your family came from ahead of time can make your travels in Ireland all the more meaningful; this tour will take our group to stops in 7 Irish counties, including County Tipperary, where some of my husband’s ancestors were born.  Knowing this makes our time at the Rock of Cashel and just driving through that county all the more exciting.

There are numerous online resources for tracing your Irish roots.  Many have membership fees but also a great deal of resources and records to offer. is a common choice for amateur genealogists regardless of where your family lines trace back to. includes vast resources and a large community to discuss leads with.  The downside is, of course, the cost.  While you can build your tree and see some records on for free, a U.S. only membership is just under $20 a month (or less if you can do an annual payment), and an international membership (which would be essential for researching your ancestors in Ireland) has a monthly fee of just under $35.

image of family tree on
Once you have some basic genealogy information, you may need a more focused site to find additional documents specific to your Irish relatives.  Among the most popular paid membership sites for Irish genealogy is  Similar to, offers a wide variety of records and some additional resources.  Being able to narrow your search by county is also a big plus on this site.  You can also check out for membership in the Irish Genealogical Research Society.

There are also a few free sites to take advantage of for genealogy research.  Though administered by the Mormon Church,, is actually a very broad and useful site to find genealogy records and connections through other’s family trees.  Like, this site allows you to create your family tree and connect the records it houses to members of your tree.  Another great free source of information that offers international records is  

The Irish government also offers several free genealogical sites, including  For some free Ireland specific sites, try The National Archives of Ireland, which includes free searches for census records.  Church records can also provide treasure-trove of information.  Many Catholic Parish Registers are available  While some of these records can be searched for a very specific date, be prepared to scroll through many, often difficult to read records for a given year.  The interactive map at the bottom of the page will help you determine the parish(es) you are looking for if you know the county, or better still the town or approximate location in the county, your ancestors came from.
image of record found at

And if you’re looking for tips from others doing Irish genealogy research, Facebook is host to many groups and communities.  Members can often give tips on where to look for information and occasionally will even provide information they have access to on common relatives.  Most communities on Facebook are quite welcoming and eager to help, but you will need some basic information (names, dates of birth and/or death, county or names of connected relatives) on those ancestors you are researching to begin with.  Try the following groups for a start:

For more suggestions on Irish genealogy online resources, check out these links:

So if you’d like to track down your Irish ancestors as part of our upcoming tour, now is the time to start researching!  I’ll be posting later in the month about genealogical services and archives in Ireland that you may be able to fit into your free time on our tour.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Galway Area Castles

For those staying in Galway on Day 8, a visit to a nearby castle would be a great way to spend your day.  Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way has numerous castles and castle ruins to explore amid the breathtaking scenery of the countryside.  County Galway alone has more than its fair share of castles, and you’ll find still more in the neighboring counties of Clare, Mayo and Roscommon.

County Galway Castles:

1.  Less than an hour from Galway by bus, Dunguaire Castle is a 16th century tower house on the shores of Galway Bay.  If you reserve ahead, you can even attend a banquet at the castle.

2.  Clifden Castle is a castle ruin near the seaside town of Clifden (about a 40 minute, 3 km walk from town if you enjoy walking & hiking).  While in Clifden, be sure to enjoy some traditional Irish music and wonderful Irish food.  You can visit Clifden’s two churches, St Joseph’s Catholic Church and Christ Church of Ireland, whose spires rise up from the town.  The Connemara Heritage and History Centre is also only a few minutes away by car or taxi.  This beautiful coastal town is about an hour and a half from Galway by bus.

3.  Aughnanure Castle is a well preserved tower fortress.  The castle’s highlights include a watchtower visitors can climb.

4.  Claregalway Castle, about twenty minutes from Galway by bus, a restored Anglo-Norman tower dating from the 15th century.  Steeped in local history, the castle was the site of a medieval battle.

5.  Also very near Galway, Menlo Castle can be reached in half an hour by bus or in about 40 minutes walking.  This castle ruin is a bit over 3 km from Galway with a nice walk through Corrib Village.  While taking this route will not get you to the castle itself, it does give you a good view of it from across the river, and the vantage point is near the National University of Ireland, Galway.  A Corrib River cruise will also take you past the castle.

6.  Only a half hour from Galway by bus, Athenry Castle is a tower house on the banks of the River Clarin.  Athenry is among the surviving medieval walled towns in Ireland, and the castle dates from the 13th century with additions in the 15th century.

7. Kylemore Abbey is a Benedictine monatery founded in 1920, but the castle was originally an impressive 19th century estate.  The grounds include a lovely lake, Victorian walled gardens and a neo-Gothic church.  Tours and day trips to Kylemore Abbey and the beautiful Connemara region are plentiful from Galway and well worth it.

8.  Lough Cutra Castle was built in the 19th century as a manor house featuring a series of towers.  The castle is an hour and a half to the south of Galway by bus.

County Clare Castles (to the south):

1.  A bit of a longer bus ride away (a little over two hours) is Doonagore Castle near Doolin.  The castle is a round tower house with a walled enclosure.  Doolin itself is a favorite village along the Wild Atlantic Way.  Known for its traditional Irish music and dramatic landscape, this small town is a wonderful day trip spot.  If you like to hike and plan to make a day of hiking and castle exploring, Ballinalacken Castle is a castle ruin 6.5 km from Doonagore Castle.

2.  Leamaneh Castle can be reached by bus going from Galway to Ennis and then to the Castle, or from Galway to Doolin and then to the castle.  The castle ruins were once a stronghold for the O’Brien family.

3.  O’Dea Castle and Archaeology Centre is not easily accessible by bus from Galway, but can reached by taking a bus from Galway to Ennis and then a taxi or other hired transport the 14 minutes (11.6 km) from Ennis to the castle.  Nearby church ruins and the beautiful countryside add to the appeal of this site.

4.  Also accessible from Ennis is Craggaunowen.  This medieval castle and open-air museum offer visitors a chance to step back in time with their Living Past Experience.

County Mayo Castles (to the north):

1.  The most famous of County Mayo castles, and one of the most famous Irish castles, is Ashford Castle.  Just a little over an hour from Galway by bus, you can enjoy the magnificent grounds, Ireland’s School of Falconry, Ashford Equestrian Centre, a tea shop & bakery, and a thatched cottage cafe.  Although now used as a luxury hotel, the castle and its grounds are still open to the public.  Then take some time to tour the village of Cong, with attractions including the Quiet Man Museum and abbey ruins.

2.  If you’re up for a long day and a scenic bus ride traveling through County Galway and County Mayo, Belleek Castle offers history buffs a unique find as its Armada Bar was built with wood from the wreck of a Spanish Armada ship.  Taking the bus from Galway to Belleek Castle is a four hour trek through some of Ireland’s most picturesque country side.  You can expect your journey to take you past 2 lakes, Lough Corrib and Lough Mask, and through countless quaint towns, including Westport and Castlebar.  Hiring a local guide may be a better option for seeing Belleek Castle and other sites in County Mayo, as the castle is less than two hours from Galway by car.

County Roscommon Castles (to the east):

1.  Many of the castles in County Roscommon would be too far from Galway for a day trip, but Roscommon Castle is about two hours from Galway by bus.  The Norman castle was built in the 13th century and is a short walk (about 15 minutes) from the town of Roscommon. 

2.  Moyvannan Castle, about two to two and a half hours from Galway by bus, takes you on another jaunt into the interior of Ireland through Athlone and near Lough Ree.  Built as a manor house in the 19th century, the castle is near the town of Athlone in County Westmeath, which has its own medieval castle.  Athlone Castle was built in the 12th century and is now a popular tourist site.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Dublin Area Castles

We’ll see Dublin Castle on Day 2 of our tour, but if you’re looking for some other local castles to visit during free time on Day 2 and Day 3, the Dublin area has many to choose from.  With two free afternoons in Dublin, a half-day trip to a nearby castle is quite possible.

To the North:

1.  Less than an hour from the city center by bus, Malahide Castle boasts an impressive art collection.  The gardens are also quite impressive on the 260 acre estate and parkland.

2.  The fishing village of Howth boasts two lighthouses and also a castle.  Howth Castle is only open for guided tours in the summer and is still used as a private residence.  While the interior of the castle is only accessible by guided tour, you can still enjoy much of the grounds and a nice view of the castle if you happen to be visiting Howth.

3.  Slane Castle on the banks of the River Boyne is less than an hour by car from Dublin (though longer by bus) and has guided tours of both the castle and of their distillery. 

4.  If you’re willing to try to venture a bit further from town one afternoon, Trim Castle is less than an hour and a half northwest of Dublin by bus.  This 12th century castle is the largest Anglo-Norman castle in Ireland and was used during the filming of the movie Braveheart.

5.  About a half hour north by car (though longer by bus), Ardgillan Castle has gardens and sea views plus period antiques to enjoy during guided tours.

6.  There is frequent bus service from Dublin to Swords Castle, which was originally built as the residence of the first Anglo-Norman Archbishop of Dublin.  The castle dates from the beginning of the 13th century and is open to visitors.

Other nearby castles and castle ruins include Dunsoghly Castle and Dunmoe Castle near Navan.

To the South:

1.  If you’re headed to the village of Dalkey for an afternoon, the main tourist attraction in town is Dalkey Castle and Heritage Center, which offers tours and theater performances.  Originally called Goat Castle, Dalkey Castle was recently restored.

2.  Drimnagh Castle is the only remaining castle in Ireland surrounded by a flooded moat.  The castle is open to tours during the week.

3.  Rathfarnham Castle is an Elizabethan fortified house with 4 flanker towers.  Along with a collection of portraits, the castle also has a collection of 18th and 19th century costumes and toys. 

4.  Not technically a castle but a manor house, Powerscourt Estate has beautiful gardens, an impressive fountain and even a waterfall on its grounds.  In fact, Powerscourt Waterfall is Ireland’s highest waterfall.