First Trip to Ireland – DUBLIN! Days 5, 6, and Heading Home

We started our day with a cross-country drive from Galway to our last city of the trip, Dublin. Before we actually went into the city, we decided to check in to our B&B, Cornerville B&B in Howth. Howth is a beautiful peninsula northeast of Dublin that offers magnificent views of Dublin bay. Cornerville certainly lived up to its 4-star status in beauty and service. In fact, I would probably say that it was my favorite of the three B&Bs we stayed at – although I admit I was a bit biased, given our new canine companions (and the fact that by this point in the trip I was missing mine).

Our hosts were nice enough to offer us tea and biscuits, along with some advice on what to do, before we headed into the city for the day. As you can see from the pictures, our new friends were also happy to welcome us (and were maybe hoping for a dropped biscuit or two).

The house was very charming and inviting, and our hosts took everything into account – we had heated blankets, the use of a computer and printer, and maps and guides for Dublin City.

With directions from our hosts, we found the train station on Howth’s main street and parked in the market. The area was exactly what you think of when you picture a seaside town: the smell of salt water in the air, lots of gulls flying overhead, and fresh fish for sale. From there we caught the DART, Dublin’s rail system, and headed into the big city!

Stepping off the train, we immediately noticed rainbow flags and a festive atmosphere. We then saw flyers indicating that this was the weekend of Dublin Pride. Along with the flags, the city was full of people in costumes, shops offering discounts for the festival, and crowds around some of the pubs that were so thick you could barely push your way through.

We were particularly touched to see graffiti messages about the recent attacks in Orlando and showings of  support for the victims.

We decided to just start by walking around with only a basic idea of what we wanted to see, and right away we happened upon an amazing site we didn’t even really know about, an ENORMOUS cathedral that captured our interest and drew us in: Christ Church Cathedral.

Located in the former heart of medieval Dublin, Christ Church was founded sometime in the 11th century. Much of the cathedral we saw was built after that time, but we did get a look at a bit of the original foundation on display (shown below in the bottom-left corner).  The cathedral is massive, spanning about two city blocks with a stone skywalk in between. Tours of the cathedral and dungeons are offered, but unfortunately we didn’t have time to take one on this visit.

We continued our walk around the city and encountered some pretty incredible sites including Dublin Castle, medieval walls, Dublin’s oldest pub (The Brazen Head, established in 1198), The Ha’penny Bridge, and many colorful buildings along the River Liffey.

We even found an area I thought would be perfect for our first picture in our new city.


For dinner, we went to The Porterhouse, famous for winning “World’s Best Stout” twice. We sat on the third floor, and we were completely surrounded by bottles on all the walls of various beers from all over the world. I was happy to see my new favorite lambic beer, which I promptly ordered (some of the guys of course got the world-famous porter), and even though I was tempted to get fish and chips (again) I decided to try the veggie burger this time – and I wasn’t disappointed! The guys in the group informed me that the porter did, in fact, live up to the hype, and everybody enjoyed their food.

One of the few world-famous things we knew about Dublin was that it had some kind of spire, which we decided we would try to see before heading back to the B&B. As you can imagine with something that tall, it wasn’t very hard to find. The Spire, built in 2003, is 121 metres tall (that’s about 398 feet for those of us that don’t think in metric) and was commissioned in 1999 when the city wanted a redesign of O’Connell Street to reinvent the area and improve its overall aesthetic.

After the Spire we caught the DART back to Howth and rested up for our last full day in Ireland.

The next morning I had a delicious breakfast of scrambled eggs and smoked salmon, which I had not yet had on the trip – and Howth was the perfect place to have it. The china looked very familiar, and I noticed that it was the exact same china my grandmother had used for most of my life! It was a neat coincidence.

Our plan for our last day in Dublin started with finding the tattoo parlor that two of our traveling companions had booked appointments with to get their permanent souvenirs. It turned out to be more difficult than we had anticipated – it was nestled in a tiny medieval street that you could pass by without even noticing (and we did just that!) We did eventually find Merchant’s Arch, though, and it turned out to be a colorful and vibrant little alley with lots of interesting storefronts.

While our friends got their tattoos, we enjoyed some tasty meat pies from The Pieman Cafe, which was just next door. We were served by The Pieman himself, and enjoyed talking with him about his business.

After lunch, we decided to do a little sightseeing while our friends were still occupied at the tattoo parlor. Trinity College was only a few minutes’ walk away and we were able to catch a tour of the campus led by a current student. He is pictured below showing us his academic robe.

At the end of our tour we had the opportunity to see the world-famous Trinity College Library and the Book of Kells. The library “long room” was even more captivating than it looks in pictures, and there was a lot more to see in it than just the architecture. The last picture on the bottom right shows the harp that gives Ireland its national symbol. I would have included pictures of the Book of Kells, which was incredible, but photography was not allowed in the exhibit – which seems fair, since the book is from 800 AD and has probably been through enough!

After Trinity College we met up with our friends, grabbed some pasties (mine was cheese, broccoli and leek filled – yum!) and got on a sightseeing bus tour to see more of the city.

At the end of our tour we hopped off at the Guinness Storehouse, long-awaited by some of the guys in our group and seen as a top attraction. The tour cost nineteen Euro a person, which included a beer at the end. It was mostly self-guided, and unfortunately – in my opinion – a little underwhelming. Unlike the Bushmills tour we had taken earlier in the trip, this one wasn’t of the actual brewery. Instead, we walked through what was essentially a Guinness museum. Many parts of the tour were just audio or prerecorded video, and it was so crowded and loud that you couldn’t really hear any of it. We did enjoy the top floor, which was a circular room surrounded in glass so that you could look out over the city while enjoying a pint. This area was also VERY crowded, so unfortunately you had to drink your pint fairly quickly and make room for the next group.

That was our last stop in Dublin, so we got on the DART and headed back to Howth for dinner. We ate right by the DART station and Howth Market at a restaurant called The Bloody Stream. It had a cozy atmosphere with a fireplace and dim lighting, and the seafood was as phenomenal as we had hoped.

After dinner we made our way back to the B&B for our last night in Ireland.

As if leaving wasn’t hard enough, I had some visitors while I was getting ready to go the next morning. The two Yorkies we had initially met on our arrival to Cornerville had become four (our hosts were dog-sitting two other pups). I enjoyed another breakfast of smoked salmon and our hosts talked to us a little about the area and gave advice for places to live when we came back in the Fall. We thanked them for a lovely stay and decided to see just a little bit more of Howth before we left for the airport.

We walked along a pier on Howth harbor and said our final goodbyes to Ireland… for now.



First Trip to Ireland – Day 4

After a busy day at the cliffs, it was great to wake up to a delicious breakfast and a relaxing break in the gardens behind Roncallli House before we set off for the morning.

For our second day on the west coast, we drove northwest to the deservedly famous region of Connemara: a region well known for its bogs, mountains, lakes and beautiful forests. The drive was beautiful, but the absolute best decision we made on this trip was to leave the main motorway on a whim and drive through an area that we thought looked like it could be beautiful. We were right!

The road R344 is a regional road that cuts between Lough Inagh and the Maumturk Mountains, and the entire route was peaceful, quiet, and the most beautiful place I have ever travelled to. After driving along a road with sheep constantly crossing in front of us and traversing a path through lakes, trees and mountains, we finally decided we had to get out of the car and look around.



What greeted us was an amazingly gorgeous pastorale scene unlike anything I have seen before. We parked right along a lake which sat at the base of rolling hills, across which we could see forests and mountains, and aside from the flocks of sheep roaming around us there was not another soul around.

Seeing and being in this area was my favorite point of  the entire trip, and it was pure happenstance that we decided to check it out at all. It was archetypal Ireland at its finest, and it’s a place I can guarantee I will go back to. I felt like I never wanted to leave, but we had more destinations planned for the day, including…


Kylemore Abbey! After parking, we walked along a path toward the visitor center and were greeted with the above view. Visitors immediately get an idea of the beauty of the abbey, and we were anxious to explore and learn more about it.

Upon entering I immediately felt that I had walked into my favorite show, Downton Abbey.  It’s like stepping back in time to that era, and visitors are surrounded by elegance and Victorian charm.

In our tour of the abbey we were able to watch a brief video about its interesting history. It was built between 1867 and 1871 as the private home of Mitchell Henry, who had it built to show off what Connemara had to offer, and was sold to the Duke and Duchess of Manchester in 1909 after Henry returned to England. Unfortunately the Duke and Duchess had a bit of a gambling problem and were forced to sell it again after only a few years. During World War 1, a group of Benedictine monks had to flee their monastery in Ypres, Belgium and relocated to the abbey in 1920; they have remained there ever since. Between 1923 and 2010 it served as a school for girls from the surrounding area, but now it is simply a monastery for the nuns – and a great place for tourists to visit.

It’s not just the abbey that you get to see for the price of admission. Visitors can also visit a small Neo-Gothic church and a Victorian walled garden – although the surrounding woods, lakes and mountains and the beautiful walk to the garden ended up being our favorite parts. Even with scores of visitors all over the grounds, it was hard to not get the feeling of calm and serenity as we walked alongside a lake and watched the mists roll down over the mountains. At the end of our 20-minute walk, we came to the six acre walled gardens full of all kinds of vegetation we had never seen before. To see such a variety in one place was truly remarkable, and our pictures really don’t do it justice.

After taking  shuttle back to the abbey, we sat by the lake and watched swans and sheep going about their business a short distance away. It was amazingly peaceful.

Eventually the inevitable rain rolled in and we took that as our cue to leave. We started our drive back to Galway, but this time we went west instead of east and stopped in the capital of Connemara, a smallish seaside town called Clifden. We stopped there for lunch/dinner and walked through hilly streets with picturesque shops on all sides. Eventually we came to a pub whose name we recognized from travel guides online – Mannion’s. We wanted a traditional Irish meal, and we sure got it; the rest of the group had beef and Guinness stew, and I went with the old standby of fish and chips (my favorite of the entire trip). After lunch a couple of the guys got whiskey and a dessert called sticky toffee pudding – which was apparently good enough that they talked about it the rest of the trip. After we all tasted the pudding, a few more were ordered. I did have a bite, and can attest to the fact that it was absolutely delicious – even for somebody who isn’t the biggest fan of caramel.

After dinner we left for Galway, and because of rock slides we were forced to take a detour off the motorway through more winding country roads. None of us minded, because we got to see more beautiful Irish countryside (and more sheep). The roads were so narrow that we had to pull over every time we passed a vehicle going the opposite direction, and everybody worked together to make sure traffic went smoothly and always passed with a polite wave.

Finally we got back to Galway City and walked to Quay Street again for a night on the town.

The streets were lively and fun, and you never knew what you were going to see next. We came to a crowd and moved closer to see what was going on, expecting more performers of some kind. Instead we found a game I had never seen before; the sign above reads that if you pay a ten-Euro entry fee you can try to hang on the bar for 100 seconds to win 100 Euro. We watched a couple people try it, one of whom looked quite strong and almost made it. We were all rooting for him!

The rest of our night consisted of walking around the busy street, buying some trinkets for family back home, and enjoying some gelato and another pint. I was also pleased to discover one of my favorite beers (Kilkenny Irish Red), which I had only ever tried in Munich, in a liquor store on the way back to the B&B – I couldn’t pass it up.

Tomorrow marks the end of our time on the west coast – it’s time to go visit what will be our new city in a few months: Dublin!

First Trip to Ireland – Day 3

We started our morning with breakfast at our B&B, Keenogue House. This B&B was great and very accommodating considering our late night arrival after our Northern Ireland adventures the previous day. They provided a delicious Irish breakfast by a beautiful bay window that looked out to their stables and greenhouses; it was also nice to look out and see the Border collie at work since I was currently missing mine.

After breakfast we shuffled back into our rental car and set out for the western side of the island. It was about a 3 hour drive from Julianstown to Galway and it was a pretty peaceful drive full of lush, green countryside.

Once we arrived in Galway, we checked in to our new B&B for the next two nights – Roncallli House. This was another great B&B with friendly hosts that welcomed us and gave us an idea of things to do in the area. Our room was a very nice size and we were surprised to see that we had a view of the water in the distance.

From our B&B we then headed to our next destination: The Cliffs of Moher. This had been one of the sites I was most excited and anxious to see since we decided to visit Ireland. The trip to the cliffs was approximately an hour and a half traveling along the west coast. The road was constantly curving and narrow – not the easiest to navigate. The drive was very eye-catching as it spanned through an area called The Burren, which is composed of rolling hills of limestone. We also passed a few castles along the way and got many great views of the water and countryside.

After the winding road stretched higher and higher, we finally made it to the top of the large hill with the visitor center for the cliffs. We parked and began walking – at this point we still couldn’t really see anything resembling the Cliffs of Moher, but as we walked closer to where all of the other people were looking, we could hear traditional Irish music being played by a street musician. The music grew louder as we approached the cliffs, and suddenly we were looking out over the ocean from a height of about 200 meters – it was absolutely astonishing.

Around the visitor center, there was a wall about chest high – as seen in the pictures above. As we walked along the cliffs, though, we came to a warning sign telling us that we were leaving the safer area. Past the sign, the only thing separating us from the cliffs themselves was a hip-high stone wall – which Kelsey of course insisted on climbing over immediately. Eventually I did follow him over, but I wasn’t there for long!

Just north of the visitor center is a small tower, seen below, called O’Brien’s Tower. Built in 1835, the tower doesn’t actually have the storied history you come to expect from Irish castles. In fact, it was built by the landowner at the time just as a place for tourists to have a view of the cliffs. It cost us two Euro apiece, and the view was definitely worth it. However, if we thought it was windy at ground level, it was nothing compared to the wind tunnel going on at the top of the tower.

Overall the cliffs, though they made me feel small, they also made me very excited to get to live in a country that offered such beautiful natural treasures. The pictures truly don’t do them justice – there is nothing like standing over the lapping waves far below, hearing the constant surf, and feeling the sea air blowing in your face. Even with a large crowd everywhere along the paths, it was one of the most peaceful and cathartic places I have ever been – but standing near the edge was also amazingly thrilling. There’s a reason the Cliffs of Moher are one of the most famous natural landmarks on the planet.


After the cliffs, we made our way back down the winding road to Galway. We stopped back at our B&B, got ready for dinner and then walked from there to Quay Street (pronounced “key” street). Quay street is the notable main street full of nightlife and entertainment in Galway. Our walk there was about a mile from our B&B. There we ate some quick dinner at a small doner kebab place (doner is Turkish shaved meat, very popular in a lot of European countries) and grabbed some pints at a local pub.

After Quay street we explored the main drag a little, and we stopped at a pub by the Claddagh called Salt House. We had heard they had the “best double IPA in Ireland” and some in the group wanted to try it but, unfortunately, they were out of that beer. However, nobody had any trouble finding something they loved – and we even saw some beers on tap from back home. I myself had a Belgian lambic beer that is now one of my favorites – Lindemann’s Cassis. The atmosphere at the Salt House was lively and fun and the people were inviting and genuinely interested in what brought us to the country.

The Salt House sits on the River Corrib as it enters the mouth of Galway Bay. When the river runs under the bridge the salt in it collects at the base of the bridge and collects to form a sort of foamy layer – you can see this collection of foam in some of the pictures below. It was a cool and unexpected sight.

After that last pint we headed back to our B&B to get some rest for a busy day in Connemara.

First Trip to Ireland – Day 2

Wow. Today was filled with some absolutely amazing activities and gorgeous sites. We left our hotel in Drogheda around 08:00 this morning and hit the road for Northern Ireland. I drove the entire time today and I have to say, I think I’m getting used to it. The only tough part was when we occasionally would get lost or have to drive on a small  country road barely big enough to fit our vehicle (let alone any other).


We stopped for breakfast at a place called Gables right off the motorway as we entered Northern Ireland. The staff were very kind and we were able to partake in some great breakfast tea and traditional Irish breakfasts. The meat-eaters in the group seemed intrigued by the blood pudding and were head over heels for the bacon, which looks very different from what I typically think of as bacon in the U.S.

After breakfast, we continued through Northern Ireland to our first place of interest for the day – Dunluce Castle. This castle as a whole is from the 17th century, with some sections dating back to the 13th, and unfortunately it sits in ruins today. It is still very beautiful and rests upon cliffs overlooking the ocean.

As you can see in the photos we got some cloudy weather, but luckily no rain. It was a gorgeous day to visit. Our second point of interest today was mainly to please a few of the guys in the group – the Old Bushmills Whiskey distillery. Though I am not a fan of whiskey, I still thought the town of Bushmills and the distillery tour were quite fun. The town is small but very inviting and the distillery tour was intriguing (basically like watching processes from my organic chemistry class in much larger format). The tour also ended in samples of Bushmills whiskey which definitely made the men in our group happy. For my sample, I opted for a “Hot Totty” which is a one part whiskey, two parts hot water, cinnamon, cloves and some lemon.

Once we finished our whiskey, it was time to head to our third and most anticipated location of the day – The Giant’s Causeway. What’s great is that all of these locations are actually very close to each other. It didn’t take us long at all to get to The Giant’s Causeway, park, and get into the visitor’s center. Once we walked out of the visitor’s center, we saw a long trail leading by the water and around a  large cliff. The large stones we initially saw were black as charcoal and like nothing I had ever seen in nature – stunning, and not even the main attraction. Once we got farther down the trail and turned to pass the cliff we finally saw it. The Causeway is breathtaking. It looks like an array of interlocking hexagonal basalt columns forming hills in and above the water. It almost seems impossible that something like it could be a result of nature but they were formed  by an ancient volcanic eruption.

One more thing I found to be quite fascinating about this area was this section of very tall columns where people from around the world had appeared to stick coins in-between the interlocking pieces. There were thousands of these coins and I wondered how long this tradition had continued. Even while I was there looking at all the different coins I saw a man pick up a piece of rock and use it to hammer and wedge a penny in-between two of the pieces.

Lastly for today, we needed to start heading back toward the Dublin area where our B&B for the night would be. We wanted to make one more stop along the way. Admittedly, I had never heard of the Dark Hedges until I saw the series ‘Game of Thrones’ but as soon as I did see them in the show, I knew I would want to visit someday. For those of you that have seen the series, the hedges are on the ‘King’s Road’. They are an amazing tunnel of beech trees dating back to the 18th century.  The hedges were not terribly far out of our way but unfortunately we did get a little lost trying to find them. But hey, all is well that ends well, right? We did eventually make it and I am so glad we did.

Also, for anyone that likes ghost stories, there is a beautiful estate located right next to the hedges called Gracehill House that dates back to 1775. According to some local folk-lore, there is a ghost called the Grey Lady that haunts the estate and the hedges. Spooky.

After the hedges and a somewhat long drive, we made it to our B&B located in Julianstown called Keenogue House. It is a beautiful house located on a fully working farm with barns, greenhouses, fields and even a border collie (yay!). I’m sure this will be a great night’s sleep as we were are all quite tired from the adventures of today and have some very comfy looking beds to look forward to. More tomorrow!



First Trip to Ireland – Day 1

We are here! I am currently writing this from Drogheda, Ireland in a hotel overlooking a river and a beautiful town. We have our hotel window open to let in the cool breeze and the chirping and singing sounds of the gulls.

So far, Ireland has been pretty incredible. We arrived this morning (around 09:30 Dublin time) after having a 7 hour overnight flight from Chicago. The flight was fine (long flights are never really considered “good” to me but it also wasn’t notably bad). I met a very nice man from Cork, Ireland at the airport before our flight left Chicago who spoke with me for around 3 hours about Irish culture and the country in general. He was wonderful and gave me a lot of helpful advice.  IMG_5426

At this point I have slept maybe a total of three hours in the past 36 hours but hey, that’s international traveling! We have found that driving in a different country is definitely not the easiest, especially when habit insists that you drive on the right side. We have managed, though, and somehow remembered to stay in the left lane.

Most of our time today was spent getting our rental car, checking out Bru na Boinne, and finding our hotel and dinner in Drogheda. Bru na Boinne is an amazing area of land and farmland riddled with Neolithic structures. The specific one that we toured was called Newgrange. It is over 5,000 years old and still stands strong and even watertight. It is the only structure of all of them that guests are able to venture inside – which we did. Photography is not allowed inside the structure but believe me, it was incredible. There were many carvings in the stones inside and outside of the building (one is shown below).

The Bru na Boinne land in general is beautiful – lush and green, just what you would hope to see in Ireland. Seeing Newgrange was fascinating, but the beautiful countryside along the way was breathtaking.


After Bru na Boinne we headed to our hotel, The D, in Drogheda (a small city 30 min. North of Dublin). The little city is beautifully situated along a river, which our hotel overlooked. At that point we were very tired and hungry so we ate fish and chips at the gastro pub connected to the hotel and then tried to get a semi-early night in.

That’s all for now as we have a very early morning on the way to Northern Ireland!