Best Places to Visit in Ireland, Part 2

Top Places to Visit in Ireland – Castles to Visit in Ireland

desmond-castle
Desmond Castle, Adare, Ireland

Castles are my favorite things and we were able to explore and tour
several, but wherever you drive in western Ireland there’s almost always
a castle ruin on the horizon somewhere, it’s amazing. Most of these are
locked away on private property. There are also ruins of 17th century
stone cottages everywhere, too, and they are also unique.

After we left Limerick our hostess pointed us to Adare,
one of the most picturesque villages in Ireland. There’s a whole row of
thatched-roof huts-turned-shops the town has restored, and the entire
village is beautiful with colorful houses adorned with windows boxes
lush with flowers, and there’s a gorgeous wooded park with a creek in
the center of town. Here we toured one of our favorite castles for a
small fee – the ones with a fee are the best well-kept ruins and the
most interesting to see. This Norman castle, Desmond Castle, is
huge compared to the keeps, Napoleon watchtowers and ruined medieval pigeon towers and manor houses we’d seen around Ireland.

dunguire-castle
Dunguire Castle, Ireland

Dunguire Castle near Galway City was also a
favorite, and the most intact, as it’s been restored several times over
the centuries. They even host a medieval banquet in the Great Hall on a regular basis – try to go if you can.

Visit Ireland on a Budget

This is how we did it:

  • First, we signed up for Next Vacay, watching our daily email flight deal alerts until we snagged our round-trip flights from Denver to London for $420 each (closer to $600 with luggage and seats). We enjoyed London for four days, then flew cheaply on Ryanair to Shannon Airport from Stansted Airport, in Essex outside of
    London – you can take a train there from London. I am not an affiliate
    of Next Vacay, but you can try their email subscription for free and if
    you like it, it’s only $25/year to get daily flight deal alerts – with
    them you can travel almost anywhere in the world for around $400-$500 round trip.
  • We planned our trip eight months in advance, having all that time to plan, save and prepare for the trip.
  • We stayed at AirBnb places everywhere we went. With AirBnb you can find accommodations to fit any budget, even nice hostels with private rooms. We stuck to a budget of around $50-$80 a night, and all the homes in Ireland included breakfast. The spacious flat in London was within walking distance of all the places we wanted to see, like St. Paul’s Cathedral, The Tower, The Museum of London, the Museum District with The British Museum, Southbank with the Globe, etc. So we used public transit and our feet in England, and all the museums are free. We bought the London Pass and used it for three days to visit the non-free places, and it was well worth it.
  • We rented a car in Ireland and drove to the places we
    specifically wanted to go. We mainly stayed in a smallish area around
    Shannon Airport in western Ireland. From Limerick or Adare it’s only a forty-five drive to the airport.
  • In both London and Ireland, my husband and I shared almost all of our meals, and we ate mostly at pubs. The food was amazing and delicious and we ate well. The portions were generally big enough for us to share, as we both eat smaller portions now. Sometimes we got our own entrees. The prices of meals were about the same as in America, we found, and they often included lots of sides.
    We also only ate out 1-2 times a day, mostly for lunch and supper.
  • We visited a lot of amazing places for free, like almost all the
    museums, many ruins, walking the island and the Dromore woods, etc. Even the castle tours didn’t cost much.

Reflections on Finally Visiting Ireland

After twenty-five years of dreaming of going to Ireland, we got to go
at last! I almost expected to hear an opera high note when disembarking
from the plane. Instead I found myself just soakingĀ  everything in – it didn’t feel like magic, it was mostly cold and rainy, I was just seeing and experiencing everything. It wasn’t till later, after the trip, when I got to process it in my mind and memories and be amazed at the
incredible photos we got of the all the top places we visited in
Ireland. Here are some of my reflections:

    • Ireland is incredibly ancient, its history goes back a long way,
      over six thousand years. One Irishwoman mentioned that the Potato Famine happened in recent history, and there was still hurt from that towards the English (many English overlords took away all their tenants’ livestock for rent in the middle of the famine, leaving the Irish with nothing to eat when they were already starving). My Irish ancestors left during the potato famine, made it to Canada, then eventually into the U.S. To me the potato famine feels like ancient history. But her attitude helped me to understand how it is we’re still dealing with racist issues in America, as slavery is also only about 200 years ago – recent history with hurt feelings and racist attitudes and actions still going on.
    • In fact, with all their violent history and complications between the
      Irish and the English, and with Brexit posing a potential problem of renewed violence, the Irish in general seemed to be struggling
      emotionally. Keep in mind I was only there for eight days and only in western Ireland. But I noticed an undercurrent of sadness in the many locals we talked to, not readily apparent at first, for the Irish are friendly and tough and know how to roll with the punches and know how to drink. Maybe it has something to do with the constant rain, but I think it’s the hundreds of years of bad history with their neighbors. It really made me glad that my Irish ancestors were able to leave and start fresh in a new world, leaving all that behind. I’m so grateful that in young America we are filled with a youthful optimism and a knowing that we can accomplish anything.
    • Both my husband and I had a hard time understanding many of the locals, especially in the rural areas. It seemed like every person had their own version of the Irish accent, and most of them spoke fast in a quiet, murmuring way, so it was unexpectedly challenging at times.

There is so much to see and explore in Ireland, I want to go back every year. Would I want to live there? No, I’d be too far away from family and friends and the weather is not nearly as nice as sunny Colorado, or even England. But it’s an amazing, gorgeous, mysterious land with so much to discover in every nook and cranny. No, I didn’t hear an opera voice in my head when I arrived. Yes, I loved Ireland and every part of our trip and I want to go back often.

Please comment below any of your stories of the tops places to visit in Ireland, or castles to visit in Ireland, or how to visit Ireland on a budget. Let’s find our way back again!

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Best Places to Visit in Ireland, Part 1

My husband and I were supposed to go to Ireland for our first year anniversary, we had points and were going to do a week-long horse-back riding with B&B nights across the emerald isle. Instead, I ended up being eight months pregnant so we had to put it off. Now, four kids grown and almost gone, for our 25th anniversary we finally made it to Ireland!

These are my reflections on our visit and some of the best places to visit in Ireland. If you’re looking for where to visit in Ireland or for some top places to visit in Ireland, read on.

And may I mention, we managed to visit Ireland on a budget and had a wonderful time.

Top Places to Visit in Ireland – Ennis

We flew into Shannon Airport and spent the first couple of days in Ennis. Ennis means “island” and this quaint little town is surrounded by a flowing river on all sides, making it a literal island. Besides enjoying the traditional Irish town with pubs and live music, shops and an ancient friary, there are lots of things to do close by in this area. We signed up for an AirBnb Experience – a three-hour hike at the Cliffs of Moher. It was so much fun, the cliffs are about a 45-minute drive from Ennis, and our hostess took us on a back trail away from the tourist center and all the crowds. We saw the cliffs from a unique and gorgeous perspective, learned about the history of the Napoleon watch-towers and the highly-intelligent Fulmar birds which live on the cliffs year-round – they look like seagulls, only smaller. After our lovely hike we were treated to hot scones and tea at the studio of her artist friend.

Besides the Cliffs of Moher, in and around Ennis are no shortage of old, ruined churches, castles and abbeys:

  • The Clare Museum
  • The Clare Abbey
  • The Dysert O’Dea Castle
  • Bunratty Castle
  • The Ennis Cathedral
  • The Quin Abbey
  • The Killone Abbey
  • There’s also horse back riding and golf courses, as well as driving along the Wild Atlantic Way (the Cliffs of Moher and beyond).

Best of all, if you like hiking you can discover the wildness of Burren National Park and our personal favorite, the Dromore Woodland Reserve, tucked in a corner of the Burren. Go walking down the mossy path, past the castle ruin, and you’ll soon be lost in a magical fairy-land of lichen-covered stone walls, grassy soft mounds and shapes and old trunks and castle walls rising and falling under the undergrowth in mysterious and unusual ways.

Best Places to Visit in Ireland – Aran Islands: Inisheer

On the Cliffs of Moher you can gaze across the sea to the closest and smallest of the Aran Islands, Inisheer. You can see how a fire lit in the Napoleon Watchtower on the highest point of Inisheer could easily be seen here on the Cliffs, where this tower would then be lighted, and so on around the island, just like in Lord of the Rings, as the Irish had to watch for an imminent attack by Napoleon’s forces in the 1800s.

From Ennis, we drove our rental car, pausing for our hike in the Dromore Woods on the way, then stopping for lunch in Galway City. This is a favorite destination as it is a bigger traditional Irish town, so you have lots of shops and pubs and sites to see in this colorful town that is fun to walk around in.

From there we drove onto the Connemara Peninsula, stopping for lunch at one of the many villages dotting the road, then took our ferry to Inisheer. Its name means “island of the east” as it’s the eastern-most and smallest Aran Island. Inishmaan is literally the “middle island,” and Inishmore, “large island,” is the largest and western-most island of the three.

Inishmore has the most activities to do and the highest number of tourists, but we wanted a quiet time, so chose to spend all three of our days exploring Inisheer. The lovely thing about this island is that it is small, you cannot bring your car over, so you spend your time walking all over the island, it’s wonderful. The island is covered with low dry-stone walls, dividing the land into small parcels used for farming, sheep-herding, gardening, etc. There’s a castle ruin near the Napoleon watchtower on the hill, O’Brien’s Castle, and you can actually walk all around and in this ancient keep. There are few castles in Ireland now where you can do this – most, we found, are on private land and locked away, or charge a fee for a tour, which is always worth it and never costs much.

On Inisheer our crusty Irish host cooked us a traditional Irish breakfast every morning. Besides walking, you can rent bicycles or pay $10 for a 45-minute horse and buggy tour. You can buy a real Aran Island sweater (our host pointed us to a local islander knitting and selling them from her house across from the Castle Cafe near the castle), Man of Aran Fudge and Turkish delight and various arts and crafts made by local artisans. There’s an Arts Cultural Center with a museum, delicious food in the pubs and restaurants around the Castle Village town. In the middle of town is the stone-age barrow, Cnoc Raithni. Go to the old cemetery above the airport and discover the medieval church ruin St. Cavan’s Church sunk into the ground! Wander to the eastern side to see the Plassey shipwreck – I took mermaid photos there and swam in my tail at a small, private beach just past the tiny airport. Wander to the western side to see Inishmaan across the sea and be sure to find the other medieval church ruin from the 11th century, St. Gobnet’s Church, on the hill near the arts center. Every night there’s live Irish music at the hotel restaurant.

Top Places to Visit in Ireland – Limerick

After ferrying back to the mainland, we drove down to Limerick, staying at a nice AirBnb south of the city in the countryside. This was a perfect location – just fifteen minutes into the city north of us, or about twenty minutes south to one of the oldest historical sites in Ireland with the largest stone circle – Lough Gur.

Limerick is fun with lots of things to do – be sure to visit the Milk Market on a Saturday if you can, especially if you love flea markets, local foods and shopping. You’ll also want time to tour King John’s Castle, St. Mary’s Cathedral, St. John’s Cathedral, Limerick City Museum and absolutely stop by The Hunt Museum – you’ll find all kinds of crazy items this merchant collected over his lifetime, even artifacts from ancient Egypt and from stone-age British Isles. It were here in Limerick where we saw a young woman performing live Irish dancing at The Locke Bar with traditional music every night – that was so cool and gave me the chills.

Our favorite place of all was the ancient historical site of Lough Gur, where evidence of 6,000 years of human habitation has been found. Be sure to visit Ireland’s largest stone circle at Lough Gur, and you must take time for the Lough Gur Heritage Center, where you can go on an audio self-guided tour and see the various ancient ruins, climb the mossy steps into the trees, pass a fairy village, get a lovely view of the lake with wild swans, flanked by two hills with a medieval castle poking through the trees. Listen to the legends of the lady in the lake or the hollow hill and how it’s dangerous to go on it because a fairy king lives inside. In the free Heritage Center Museum you can see unusual artifacts like the bronze circular shield and artifacts from neolithic to medieval times.

Comment below some of your top places to visit in Ireland, and watch for Part 2 of The Best Places to Visit in Ireland, along with my own Reflections on Finally Getting to the Emerald Isle!

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail