When we found out that we’d be moving to Dublin later this summer, we decided to spend a week in the country’s capital reacquainting ourselves with the city and examine how the country had changed since our trip there in 2009 (see full details below). While Alan was at work, I explored the city on foot and by LUAS and bus, and when Alan wasn’t at work, we spent our time visiting pubs, going on walking tours of potential neighborhoods, and scouting out some good eats. It went by quicker than we could have imagined and now we’re counting down the days until our move in August or September.
If you’re interested in getting a feel for what a trip to a city looks like when you’re not necessarily on vacation, follow these links: A Quick Walk Around Dublin’s City Center | Exploring Dublin on Foot | A Long, Beautiful Day in Dublin | Neighborhood Shopping in Dublin | Wrapping Up Our Week in Dublin | Dublin Instagrammed
While both of us have visited Ireland for work, the only trip we’ve taken together was in November 2009. We completed a 12-day full circle tour of the island, starting in Dublin, then to Kilkenny, onward to Cobh, then Tralee, then to Ashford Castle in Mayo, onward to Belfast in Northern Ireland, and then back to Dublin. It was an ambitious schedule, made all the more difficult by the fact that during our trip Ireland was struck by what the news was calling the Storm of the Millenium. We heard multiple times, from multiple people, that the weather we experienced was the worst in the 1000-year history of recording weather in Ireland (the reality is it’s the worst storm since 1914). I don’t know if that is true, but it was pretty epic – roads were washed out, whole towns were flooded, and the sun made very few appearances.
Also, because it was November, we also had limited amount of daylight available to us so we did a lot of driving in the dark in pretty bad weather. That would have been bad enough on its own, but Alan had a really hard time adjusting to the time change and for the first several days of our trip only got an hour or two of sleep a night. As the primary driver (I can’t drive a stick shift), I felt horrible for him – fatigue mixed with bad weather is never good. Still, we made it to all of our destinations safe and sound, if not dry and on time.
The upside to traveling to Ireland in the off season during terrible weather is that in general rain doesn’t bother us, and so a lot of the historic sites were completely devoid of other tourists. In many cases, we had the whole place to ourselves (or nearly to ourselves): Glendalough, Jerpoint Abbey, The Rock of Cashel, Ashford Castle, Bushmill’s Distillery, Giant’s Causeway, and Dunluce Castle were nearly deserted. It was awesome!
Arriving in Dublin
The Three C’s: Cashel, Cahir, and Cobh
Experiencing The 1000 Year Storm
The Ring of Kerry
A Very Long Day to Ashford (Bunratty, Cliffs of Moher, The Burren, and Galway Flooding)
Winging It at Ashford Castle
To Belfast We Will Go
They Might Be Giants, Drunk on Whiskey
Getting Literary in Dublin
We flew from San Francisco to Dublin via Amsterdam on KLM. The flight was great, and I do not hesitate to recommend this route. The only weird thing is how Schiphol (the airport) is laid out and how they perform secondary security checks, but it’s fine. Weird, but fine.
During our stay we had a number of overnight visits, ranging from bed & breakfasts to historic castle hotels.
The Shelbourne Dublin – This is a beautiful hotel in a fantastic, centrally located area of the city center. The facade and public spaces are first class all the way. The room we had was your standard high-end Marriott room, with a view looking into offices behind the hotel. The service was impersonal, and not really in keeping with what I expected. It wasn’t bad, just indifferent. I’m not sure I’d go out of my way to recommend this hotel, but I wouldn’t advise against it.
Mt. Juliet Golf & Spa Hotel – Another beautiful hotel to be sure. We arrived just after dark, and I think we were the only guests staying in the main house that weren’t part of the Toyota corporate offsite that was taking place. My understanding is that right before our trip the hotel changed ownership (or management, I’m not entirely sure) and they were going through some renovations during the off-season. I’m pretty sure the renovations were taking place in the wing we stayed in, but they had no impact whatsoever to our stay. Our room was large, comfortable, and lovely. The service from checking in to checking out and all points in between was gracious, courteous, and efficient. This was where we were introduced to Irish breakfast, and where I tasted my first-ever peated whiskey, Connemara. While this manor house hotel is located about 15 minutes outside Kilkenny and therefore not convenient for a night at the pub, the hotel has it’s own intimate pub area that was just fine for us. I would definitely recommend Mt. Juliet.
Knockeven House, Cobh – I don’t know there is a warmer, more caring hostess in all of Ireland. We arrived in Cobh at the end of a trying day (Cork was flooded out completely and we ended up lost a couple of times trying to get to Cobh), and were immediately greeted by Pam with tea and scones. What a great way to shake the travel off! Later on, when it came time to go into town for dinner, Pam drove us herself. The next night we were lost again (re-routed multiple times due to more flooding), and didn’t get back to the b&b until after midnight. Pam was waiting up for us to make sure that we were able to get in. In addition to her warm and caring nature, she is an excellent cook. The breakfasts were delectable, and it was great to chat over breakfast with Pam – those conversations taught us a lot about the attitudes of locals following the downfall of the Celtic Tiger.
Ballyseede Castle – We had booked a different hotel in Killarney for this leg of our journey, but about a month before we left I received an email from management letting me know that they were closing the hotel for the season and wouldn’t be welcoming guests. Thank goodness they gave me a month’s notice! (Incidentally, the hotel that we didn’t stay at was flooded when the Lakes of Killarney jumped its bank). Unfortunately there wasn’t anything as nice that was still available in Killarney for around the same price so we looked outside the area knowing that we might have to travel for food and evening entertainment. It wasn’t an ideal situation, but it was what it was. Thank goodness we found Ballyseede Castle (and for cheaper than our canceled hotel, to boot)! While we weren’t staying in one of the nicer rooms, the room we were in was perfectly adequate, with a lovely bath tub which was great after a cold wet day exploring. The breakfast was good as well, but what really made us love the hotel so much was the resident welcoming committee – Arthur, an Irish wolfhound, and Einstein, a small dog of dubious mixed breed. Einstein would take us on walks of the property and bring me gifts when I was sitting at the computer (in his case, rocks). My understanding is that Arthur has passed on since our trip, but Einstein is still going strong.
Ashford Castle – As you would imagine, stunning, stunning, stunning. Everything you could hope for and more. We arrived and were shown to a room with two queen beds. I didn’t think anything of it because we booked the cheapest room possible just so we could stay there. After five minutes we received a phone call asking us if we wanted a room with two beds, or if we’d like a king size bed. Yes, please! The room we were shown to was beautiful, overlooking Loch Corrib. Definitely an upgrade. The public spaces of the hotel are straight out of an historic movie set (I got lost trying to find Alan at one point), all rich wood and leather. The only downside I can possibly come up with is the service can be rather stuffy and formal, and unless you bring a suit and dress, you can’t have dinner in the main restaurant (we ate in The Dungeon, which was fine by me). As decidedly NOT stuffy and formal, there were a few uncomfortable moments (I wasn’t allowed to pour my own tea at breakfast because the wait staff was so good at getting to it before I could), but otherwise I have nothing bad to say about the hotel. I would also recommend booking an excursion with the onsite School of Falconry – there is nothing else like it! Stay here if you can as it’s a destination unto itself.
Culloden Estate and Spa – another manor house hotel, this time a short train ride into Belfast. For whatever reason, none of the hotels I wanted to stay at in Belfast had availability, so we looked outside of town. I’m glad we did because the hotel itself, its grounds, and the cute little town it was located in were just great. This was another hotel that after checking in upgraded our room. We went from a regular room overlooking what I think was a parking structure, to a slightly larger room overlooking the estate grounds. We spent some time in the hotel bar, and our service there was great too. Very warm and personal service from start to finish, even if the rooms are a bit Marriott looking (or they were in 2009). If you can’t get a room in Belfast proper, I would definitely recommend this place.
The Burlington (now a Doubletree) – DO NOT STAY HERE. From start to finish this was one of my worst hotel experiences ever. We had booked a different hotel, but they moved us to their “sister” property to accommodate some wedding guests instead and we ended up in this tourist class hotel. Not pleased, especially given that we’d paid to stay in a castle. This place is forever known to us as the Banana Peel Hotel because even though we were upgraded to an “Executive” floor, the level of care to this place was appalling – so bad in fact that there was LITERALLY A ROTTEN BANANA PEEL IN THE MIDDLE OF THE HALLWAY. There is no telling how long it had been there, but no one was in the mood to pick it up anytime soon. I looked on TripAdvisor recently and the bathroom ceiling fell in on one guest. Yeah, it’s horrible.
So there you have it. If you have any questions about anything else, feel free to drop me a line and I’ll try to help you out.