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Wednesday, June 06, 2018

The Emerald Isle 2018 Tour

a breezy day at Dún Aonghasa fort on Inishmore, photograph by Joshua Kramer
Our recent trip to Ireland was truly blessed, with beautiful weather, fun companions and some of the most breathtaking and inspiring sites the island has to offer.  It was a wonderful return trip for those of us who've been before and had already fallen in love with the Emerald Isle, and a perfect introduction for those traveling there for the first time.  If you love stunning pictures of some of the most striking scenery in the world, then this post is for you! 

We had great service on our Aer Lingus flights May 2, and arrived in Ireland on May 3 to a light rain that gradually lifted.  It was a nice day to spend easing into the time difference and seeing a bit of Dublin (especially for those who hadn’t been there before).  
view of O'Connell Bridge in St Stephen's Green, photograph by Joshua Kramer
Sightseeing in Dublin included a stop at the lovely St. Stephen’s Green, where everything was in bloom (a beautiful contrast to our part of the world where spring was still just beginning to emerge as we left).  We were clad in our ponchos in case the rain picked up, but it never came to more than a sprinkling all day.

Further exploration of Dublin led us along Grafton Street and on to Trinity College, with a visit (of course) to the Book of Kells exhibit and The Long Room – which is a must for any library lovers!  Some of us continued on for a walk to the northside, along O’Connell Street and beyond before returning to our perfectly situated lodging for the night, Buswells Hotel.  (We also enjoyed a bit of shopping along the way!)  Others in our group went to see a play that evening at the Gaiety Theater, Sean O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars.  

We enjoyed a drink at the hotel bar before heading out again along Grafton Street and beyond in search of live music.  The sun was just setting and it was almost 9 PM, so we’d had a long day already but were still enthralled by bustling Dublin enough to go in search of the craic our first night in Ireland.  O’Sullivan’s, on Westmoreland Street, became our ultimate destination for an enjoyable evening of live music.  Others in our group ventured out to several pubs in Dublin, including Arthur’s Pub and Bruxelles.
Dublin pubs, photographs by our tour director,
Frances Draxl
 On our second day in Ireland, part of the group enjoyed more sites around Dublin including the Guinness Storehouse and Temple Bar area via the hop-on-hop-off bus.  They savored afternoon tea and scones by Dublin Castle, and later enjoyed a night of traditional Irish music and dancing at the Arlington Hotel with the Celtic Nights show.  
having a pint at the Guinness Storehouse, photograph by Marlene Lang
at Dublin Castle, photograph by Marlene Lang
The rest of our group went on a private tour with our amazing guide for the day, Malachy Quinn of My Irish Cousin ( Malachy gave us a wonderfully informative driving tour of Dublin before taking us south through the neighboring towns of Dun Laoghaire and Dalkey.  We enjoyed beautiful weather to enhance the stunning coastal views and continued through County Wicklow to Powerscourt Estate. 
Powerscourt Estate and waterfall, photographs by Joshua Kramer
With a brief stop at the estate, we enjoyed the impressive fountain and walked around the pond it’s centered in before continuing on to Powerscourt Waterfall. On my last trip to Ireland I’d enjoyed touring the beautiful gardens at Powerscourt but had been on too tight of a schedule (along with the weather not fully cooperating) to venture out to the waterfall, so this was a huge treat for me to finally make it to the towering falls.  The Powerscourt Waterfall is the highest in Ireland, cascading down nearly 400 feet.  And we enjoyed some of the trees in the area too, especially a monkey puzzle tree (a favorite for one of our group members). 
We had lunch at a truly amazing restaurant, The Wicklow Heather (  The weather was so lovely that we ate outside, enjoying delicious meals and taking some time to visit the Irish Writers Room.  Authors represented in their extensive collection of first edition and signed books include Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, Bram Stoker, W.B. Yeats and Samuel Beckett. 
Glendalough, photograph by Joshua Kramer
After that delightful stop, we proceeded on to Glendalough.  My first visit to Glendalough had been in a fairly heavy rain, which honestly (along with the sound of the uilleann pipes) only added to an aura of spiritual charm this 6th century monastic site offered.  
Glendalough, photographs by Joshua Kramer
This trip; however, we had beautiful sunshine all day, which didn’t deter a bit from enjoying the monastic city and allowed us to explore some of the many hiking trails.  We enjoyed our time at the two lakes and a pleasantly shady walk down along the waterfall on one of the nine walking/hiking trails.
along hiking trail and the upper lake at Glendalough, photographs by Joshua Kramer
We finished our evening with some wonderful fish ‘n’ chips at O’Shea’s ( at the corner of Talbot Street and Lower Gardiner Street on the northside of Dublin.  This was a chance for me to show the rest of our smaller group one of my favorite dinner spots on my last trip to Ireland (as I’d been staying just up the street and enjoyed a meal at O’Shea’s more than once after a long day of seeing the sites in Dublin).
Buswells Hotel in Dublin, photograph by Marlene Lang
The next morning, we enjoyed our second Irish breakfast complete with eggs, bacon, kippers and a wide array of breads, cereals and fruit.  Buswells definitely offered a nice meal to get us ready for a long day of touring!

We then left busy Dublin for our drive to Killarney with stops at The Rock of Cashel and Blarney Castle on the way.  Again it was heavenly weather, better than anyone dared expect, as our pictures can attest.  
the Rock of Cashel, photographs by Joshua Kramer

The Rock of Cashel was a new and much anticipated stop for me, and it certainly did not disappoint.  The views were heartwarmingly beautiful, including a lovely view of the town below and of the nearby abbey.  And the interior of the cathedral was impressive and inspiring.  On a future trip I may plan a full day there to allow time to walk down to the abbey and enjoy the lovely town of Cashel.

view Cistercian monastery from the Rock of Cashel, photograph by Joshua Kramer
We took in some lovely Irish scenery in County Tipperary as we made our way to Blarney Castle.  
The gardens were gorgeous on the sunny day we had there, and we took some time to walk along the paths circling the castle.  Several members of the group went to the top of the castle, though few chose to kiss the Blarney Stone, which is a bit of a feat as you have to lay on your back and dangle over the edge (while being held onto, of course) to do so.  And after some shopping at the Woolen Mills we proceeded on to Killarney and our favorite lodging of the tour, Killarney Lodge (

views of Blarney Castle, photographs by Marlene Lang

Dinner that evening was a huge treat as we returned to a pub I’d visited on my first trip to Killarney and ate at the restaurant there, Hannigan’s.  I remembered the pub portion of the building for its terrific live Irish music and wonderful atmosphere, and the restaurant was just as grand.  Our waiter was fabulous with all the charm of the Irish.  The meals were phenomenal from the seafood pancake to the lamb shank to the cod scampi, everything was perfect.  Their desserts are homemade and superb … the chocolate cake is sinfully rich while the apple pie has the lightest of crusts sprinkled with powdered sugar.   It was such a treat, we returned the next night for another perfect meal with impeccable service.   

As the evening wore on there was live music in the pub just behind our booth, including an Irish harp as part of one ensemble.  Another part of our group also enjoyed some live music in the Killarney pubs, including our bus driver Sean joining a group of local musicians.
live music in Killarney, photograph by Marlene Lang
Just walking the streets of Killarney the one night and hearing wonderful music from buskers and at pubs like the Danny Mann was a great experience.  Others in our group also enjoyed some traditional music at the Killarney Grand.
at our favorite lodging of the tour, Killarney Lodge, photograph by Joshua Kramer
Killarney Lodge offered a welcoming atmosphere, lovely rooms, great service and a terrific breakfast each morning.  Along with the wide array of breads and fruits there was a nice menu of hot entrees, including the usual favorites, like eggs and bacon, as well as, some unique offerings, like cinnamon toast with bananas.  The owner and staff were extremely friendly, and helpful with laundry service arrangements and mailing postcards for members of our group.
views along the Ring of Kerry, photographs by Frances Draxl
The next day we modified our itinerary (one of the perks of being a private group).  Rather than a full day driving around the Ring of Kerry, we opted to visit nearby Kenmare, see a few scenic sites in the area and then spend some time in Killarney National Park.  Our driver was very helpful in arranging all of this, and it allowed us to get in a little bit of everything:  from gorgeous scenery, to a shopping and enjoying another great town in Ireland, to enjoying hiking trails or a jaunting car ride in some beautiful areas. 
Kenmare shops, photograph by Marlene Lang

Kenmare was as charming as the travel forums I frequent promised.  Our morning stop there gave us a chance to do a bit of shopping and try out some local craft beer during our lunch at Foley’s.  We walked along the colorful main streets, stopping into small and large gift shops, antique and craft shops and a chocolatier.
view near Sneem, photograph by Joshua Kramer
After lunch we continued on to see a nice coastal view near Sneem before heading back to Killarney with stops at Molls Gap and Ladies View for the beautiful scenery there.  It was a bit crowded on the roads due to a rally being held that day, but we still saw some beautiful views.
views of lake near Ross Castle, photographs by Joshua Kramer

Once back at Killarney, some of our group went to Ross Castle to enjoy hiking trails in that area while others visited Muckross House in Killarney National Park.  Those visiting Muckross House enjoyed a tour of the area by jaunting car, including a stop at Muckross Friary.  It was a very full day, but some of us still felt up for dressing up a bit and returning to Hannigan’s for another wonderful dinner.
jaunting car ride through Killarney National Park, photograph by Frances Draxl
Muckross Friary, photograph by Marlene Lang
Leaving Killarney the next day, we made an extra stop on our way to Bunratty Castle at the small town of Adare.  Adare was highly recommended for being a quaint town with many thatched roof buildings, but some of us were even more taken with Adare Trinitarian Abbey (, which is still in use as a Catholic church.  We also visited the Adare Heritage Centre, a few local shops in lovely thatched roof buildings and Adare Park.  Before leaving lovely Adare, some of our group enjoyed an Irish coffee at Auntie Lena’s Bar.
Adare Trinitarian Abbey, photograph by Joshua Kramer
thatched roof in Adare, photograph by Frances Draxl
thatched roofs and flowers in Adare, photographs by Marlene Lang
We continued on to Bunratty Castle & Folk Park with a tour of the castle followed by free time exploring the folk park.  
Bunratty Castle, photograph by Marlene Lang
inside Bunratty Castle, photographs by Joshua Kramer
Some highlights of our time in the folk park included a nice walk to the little church, a stop at the tea room where we relaxed at the tables outside and meeting some Irish wolfhounds along the village street.  Some of our group also visited Durty Nelly’s pub nearby.
Bunratty Castle folk park, pictures by Joshua Kramer

We spent the night in Limerick with a stop to view King John’s Castle and see the Treaty Stone before proceeding to our hotel.  We stayed at the Clayton Hotel with views of the River Shannon.  While some of our group enjoyed the hotel restaurant, others ventured out to The Glen Tavern for some fish & chips and Irish stew.
Treaty Stone in Limerick, photograph by Marlene Lang
Already we were off the next morning with a full day ahead.  One of our participants had asked at the beginning of our trip about stopping at St. Brigid’s Well near the Cliffs of Moher, so we’d checked with our driver and it all seemed fated.  Sean, our driver, had just been to the well for the first time the week before meeting our group and was quite taken with it.  
statue at St Brigid's Well in Liscannor, photograph by Joshua Kramer
St. Brigid’s Well in Liscannor is only a short distance from the Cliffs of Moher.  It was a lovely spot to stop at both for a chance to collect some holy water from the well and just to see the lovely flowers and statue of St. Brigid.  There is a cemetery above, and the walls leading to the well are lined with countless mementos, rosaries and pictures.  The well is one of at least 15 wells dedicated to St. Brigid in Ireland, but it is one of the oldest whose waters have been rumored to possess healing properties.  It was a very moving stop for many of us.
Cliffs of Moher, photographs by Joshua Kramer
We continued on to the Cliffs of Moher and enjoyed some amazing views of the cliffs on a beautifully sunny, yet slightly windy, day.  Part of our group ventured to O’Brien’s Tower while others enjoyed a long walk along the cliff edge.  I also found one of my favorite souvenirs at the gift shop, a silver ring with a large piece of Connemara marble in the center.

With our Aran Island’s tour scheduled the next day (our final full day in Ireland), we were lamenting missing out on seeing the Connemara region.  I had been in 2009, and fallen in love with Connemara – from the beautiful scenery to the gorgeous green marble, and especially with spots like Kylemore Abbey.  We discussed another itinerary change with our driver, and after concluding that Kylemore Abbey was too far away to fit into our afternoon, we decided to travel to Cong and visit Ashford Castle.

Ashford Castle, photograph by Frances Draxl

Ashford Castle was another new stop for me, as well as the rest of the group.  The grounds are absolutely beautiful with gardens and wooded areas.  The castle is famous for its role in the movie The Quiet Man, and is a five-star hotel (named the best hotel in the world in 2015 by luxury travel network Virtuoso).  The castle also offers unique experiences such as a hawk walk at the school of falconry and an impressive afternoon tea.
Ashford Castle gardens, photographs by Joshua Kramer

We spent the night in Galway, right on Eyre Square, so it was easy to stroll down the pedestrian streets to a favorite pub from our last trip to Ireland, The King’s Head.  It was a busy night there, but the food was still excellent.  And our table was just above the live music area so that we could look down over the banister right to the stage area below.

Our final full day in Ireland was devoted to my favorite experience of the tour, a tour of Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands.  The weather threatened to be wet and windy that morning, but I like to think that St. Brigid was with us as it cleared up not long after we reached Inishmore and was absolutely perfect for our tour of the island. 
Inishmore, photograph by Joshua Kramer
After a ferry ride out to the island we took a local bus tour, with a wonderfully informative and friendly guide, which included a stop at the Seven Churches.  These ruins, made up of the remnants of several buildings, two of which were actually churches, were an early Irish pilgrimage site.  This was a very moving place for many of us.  The oldest buildings date back to the 7th or 8th century.  The largest of the buildings, St Breacan’s Church, has some impressive stonework in several areas including the altar.  
Seven Churches and Dún Aonghasa fort on Inishmore, photographs by Joshua Kramer
Another highlight of our time on Inishmore was taking the path up to Dún Aonghasa, a stone fort with wondrous views from the sea cliffs.  The walk takes about 20 minutes and is easy at first but then a bit challenging near the end with many rocks to negotiate during the steepest ascent.  All of the effort is truly worth it for the reward of such amazing views from the fort.  The wind was high and there is no barrier at the edge of the cliffs, so it could easily be a risky spot if you venture too close to the edge, but our pictures looking out at the ocean and down toward the rest of the island are stunning.  
view from Dún Aonghasa fort on Inishmore, photograph by Joshua Kramer
We finished our time on Inishmore enjoying tea and a light lunch and shopping at several gift shops, many with handmade Aran sweaters, a truly sought after souvenir.  I enjoyed talking with the shop owners, and found many beautiful sweaters for myself and my children, as well as, an adorable Christmas ornament of a miniature Aran sweater.
woolens shop on Inishmore, photograph by Frances Draxl
view from ferry of Aran Island lighthouse, photograph by Joshua Kramer
 It had been quite late when we finished dinner our first night in Galway, so we missed out on shopping, but we returned to the pedestrian area the next evening (our last in Ireland) and found a lovely gift shop with an amazing selection of Connemara marble souvenirs, including worry stones (which I had been searching for), an impressive Celtic cross and beautiful rosaries, some even made by the shop’s owner.  The owner was very pleasant to talk with and even recommended a restaurant nearby.  

Cooke’s Restaurant offered the most charming atmosphere and excellent food.  Some of us opted for the lamb shank, a house specialty, while others went with cod, but all of us greatly enjoyed our meal and the friendly service in this lovely spot.  As with The King’s Head, Cooke’s Restaurant is located in a restored medieval building which adds tremendously to its charm.  It was such a lovely spot, I wish I’d gotten some pictures of my own to share, but there are some lovely photos on the tripadvisor page (
Irish landscape, photograph by Joshua Kramer
On our final morning we enjoyed the scenery on our drive from Galway to Shannon airport, struggling to accept having to say goodbye to such a beautiful and moving country.  I think I can honestly say that every member of our group had already begun planning for and dreaming of future trips to Ireland even before we reached the airport that day.  It’s just one of those captivating places that keeps a piece of your heart and beacons you back.
Irish landscape, photograph by Joshua Kramer