On our recent trip to the UK, we decided to head to a spot I’ve dreamed of visiting for some time, Southern Ireland. I’ve always been intrigued by the ‘Emerald Isle’ and have long wanted to see for myself the spectacular scenery and take in this country that seems unique and full of magic, tradition, leprechauns, Guinness and endless rolling hills. We had a week to explore this amazing country and I knew it would not be enough to do the place justice but we gave it our best shot.
Our itinerary took in Kilkenny, Cork, Killarney and the Cliffs of Moher before heading back across to Dublin to enjoy the delights that the capital has to offer. The flight from Birmingham (London is a similar distance) took less than an hour and we picked up a car on our arrival in Dublin, ready to hit the road and take in Ireland’s delights!
First stop was Kilkenny, just over an hour’s drive from Dublin, and we spent a night here so that we could explore the medieval town. Kilkenny Castle and Gardens were fantastic and easy to explore as they are right in the centre of town, and the town was filled with medieval buildings such as St Canice’s Cathedral, Rothe House, Jerpoint Abbey, St Mary’s Cathedral and Black Abbey. The town itself was also lovely to walk around and the side-streets were all quaint and many were cobbled and adorned with Irish flag bunting which made the whole town appear festive and fun. After exploring the town, we settled in to a great pub to enjoy our first Guinness stew and ‘bangers & mash’, as well as our first pint of Guinness on Irish soil. At that point we knew it was going to be a great few days!
The following day we headed for Cork, stopping at Waterford (home to the renowned Waterford Crystal) and also the Ballymaloe House & Cookery School. I have been a fan of Irish cook/chef Rachel Allen for some time so an opportunity to visit Ballymaloe was too good to miss, even though it was miles from anywhere. Ballymaloe was gorgeous and situated in the heart of Ireland’s south east country, the perfect way to experience narrow roads, lush, green grass and rolling countryside. The cafe and shop were well worth the trip themselves but to participate in a B&B / Cookery Stay would be amazing… definitely a place I would like to return back to one day.
From Ballymaloe, and after our flat tyre experience (unfortunately we fell prey to a rather sharp pothole), we continued journeying to Cork for our overnight stop. Cork was another city filled with pubs, medieval churches and cathedrals but was also home to The English Market which was fantastic. The English Market is a traditional market filled with fresh produce and local specialties. People travel from far and wide to purchase meat, fish, cheese, vegetables and more here, and I can understand why; definitely work a look and a great place to grab food for lunch or a picnic.
Twenty minutes drive from Cork is Blarney, home to the Blarney Castle and where you are given the chance to kiss the famous Blarney Stone. Blarney Castle is set along a river with underground caves and magnificent gardens but the castle itself is the real drawcard. Climb the steps to the top of the castle to wander around the battlements and kiss the Blarney Stone. According to legend, all who kiss the stone will be given the ‘gift of the gab’ and great eloquence, and well as good luck.
Blarney itself is a beautiful Tudor city. The Woollen Mills are famous and there is also a Chocolate Factory and more medieval buildings to explore. So don’t just stop at the castle, make sure you take in the town of Blarney also.
Killarney was our next stop and gateway to the Ring of Kerry. Killarney is a great place to stay overnight or for a couple of days, filled with guesthouses and traditional B&Bs, very romantic and relaxing. The Ring of Kerry is a 170km drive, one of Ireland’s great attractions and a loop road of the most spectacular scenery you will ever see. Muckross House, Ladies View and Skelling Michael are ‘must do’ stops and we were amazed by the rambling countryside, water views and stunning scenery. We had a really fabulous day. Hiking and walking in this area would be out of this world!
The following day was our last day before arriving back in Dublin, and it was a long driving day but our stop at the Cliffs of Moher (on the far western side of Ireland) was more than worthy of the drive. The Cliffs themselves were really amazing, but the surrounding area was also unique, flat, farming country and a real sight to see.
We drove from Killarney, via Limerick, to get to the Cliffs of Moher and the walk along the cliffs was fabulous. There is an excellent Visitors Centre there and the Restaurant/Cafe area is set in the cliffs and the perfect place for lunch and to absorb the view. You can also take in the views of the cliffs from O’Brien’s Tower and check out the Heritage Centre as this gives you lots of information on the wildlife, nature and geological aspect of the area, which is really interesting. It’s easy to spend hours at this fantastic attraction and look out for the puffin birds, which are so cute.
From the Cliffs of Moher, we then journeyed directly across the country back to the eastern side of Ireland to spend a few nights in Dublin. And this I’ll tell you all about next week as Dublin deserves a blog in its own right!!!