It seems every family has a culture unique to them. Ours might be called nature enthusiasts; with an appreciation for art, design, and history thrown in for balance! We tried to embrace this as our family of 7 planned a month-long trip to Ireland. We stayed in four distinct regions of the Emerald Isle to give us a variety of experiences to savor and landscapes to admire.
The Dingle Peninsula, Co. Kerry
This land jutting into the Atlantic is poetry. Even with a ten-day stay at a seaside cottage, we could have been perfectly happy doing absolutely nothing – other than immersing ourselves in what sights lay at our doorstep; Minard Castle just down the hill, tidal pools at Kilmurry Bay
that daily gave delight with their fascinating array of sea life, visits to a local holy well,
complete with creaking gate entrance, bluebells, the honeyed smell of gorse, and a horseshoe-shaped spring. The walks we took in this bucolic setting were plentiful and invigorating! The best things in life are free, right?!!!
Further afield, we found…
One misty day, we boarded the Pieg Sayers for a bracing 45-minute voyage over the choppy Atlantic to one of the now-uninhabited Blasket Islands, once home to legendary writers and poets.
We were able to observe a large seal colony at close proximity, picnic in one of the many deserted cottages, and climb the mist-shrouded hills to the sound of gulls wheeling over the sea far below.
We spent another fine afternoon hiking in Glanteenassig Wood. We had this remote location to ourselves as we wandered through moss-draped trees, lake and waterfall settings, and performed a collective rescue of a sheep whose wool was entangled in barbed wire.
The procedure was done with courage and a sharp rock, the only implement at hand! There was great rejoicing as the sheep bounded away – free!
Brandon Creek was the landmark of one day’s exploration. This was the location where St. Brendan reportedly set sail in an animal skin boat and reached the New World 900 years before Columbus. Here we enjoyed a picnic, a walk along the creek, and musings on the long-ago voyage undertaken.
We set out one blustery day for lunch at the South Pole Inn, the former home and pub of Tom Crean, a heroic crew member of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s famed Antarctic exploration. Photos and memorabilia on the walls made it a veritable museum. Fish and chips were a great way to end the history lesson. We made a day of it by meandering through the charming village of Annascaul, driving up to the lake above the town, and happily observing a shepherd and his sheepdog taking a flock to new pasture.
We wanted to give our children the advantage of seeing excellence in the work of a few world-class artisans in the area. Penny’s Pottery was the most colorful and imaginative studio/cafe and furnished us with souvenirs.
Holden Leather Goods, a showroom and workshop tucked into a moody wood, was another memorable stop. The items were superbly crafted, and Mr. Holden himself conversed at length with our family, where his quick Irish wit brought smiles all around. These leather pieces may have had a justifiably hefty price tag, but the smell of all that glorious leather was absolutely free!
Our family enjoys Irish folk music, so we were happy to find a folk concert at St. James’ Church in Dingle town. We were by turns informed, serenaded, and amazed at the local talent. The intermission provided us an opportunity to ramble through the church graveyard, where crooked headstones set amid countless wildflowers, and the fast-approaching twilight created an unforgettable ambiance.
The Sunny Southeast – Co. Kilkenny
An 18th century converted coach house became our home for one glorious week. It made me feel that we were actors on a period movie set with its old stone structures, walled gardens, beech-lined drive, and sweeping views of the River Nore. As an unexpected bonus, two bicycles and a large, two-seater tricycle were provided for our use. These afforded hours of enjoyment, and sweet sibling memories were made when two of the older kids cycled into the local village for a few needed items.
In this picturesque village of Inistioge was a river path to wander, historic buildings to admire, a tree-lined village green, and Woodstock Gardens & Arboretum through which to stroll.
A bit further away in the medieval city of Kilkenny, we toured Kilkenny Castle, built in 1195 A.D., and walked through St. Canice’s Cathedral, a heritage site where worship has taken place for 800 years!
For those of our children over age 12, the St. Canice’s Round Tower was climbed. It provided magnificent views of the city from its heights.
One other notable thing we did while in this lovely corner of Ireland, was to let our then-14-year-old son Jake take a private class on woodturning (this was a dream of his!) from world-renowned Irish artist, Glenn Lucas.
While Jake had his lesson, we decided on a drive to St. Mullins in nearby Co. Carlow, an area near the Barrow River where we soaked up the peaceful atmosphere, sipped hot cocoa, and watched the kids roll down a hill once crested with a Norman tower called a bailey.
Inishowen Peninsula – Co. Donegal
The cottage we rented here in wild and remote Donegal was a gem! Not only was the interior warm and cozy, but it was within walking distance of two beaches – one with huge rocks and tidal pools and the other with smooth, colorful stones to delight our resident geologist.
Here are a few excursions we took from here:
- Drove to Northern Ireland to see The Giant’s Causeway. We also walked the narrow rope-and-plank bridge at Carrick-A-Rede
- Hiked to the lovely Glenevin waterfall
- A trip to the northernmost point of Ireland, Malin Head. The power of lashing wind, battering sea, horizontal rain, sudden hail, and brilliant rainbow combined to make this an almost life-altering experience!
- And at the end of (a few of) the day(s), dinner was at The Rusty Nail, a warm, inviting pub with traditional music and the finest fish and chips we have ever encountered!
Connemara Region- Co. Galway
Set among hedges of fuchsias, blooming rhododendron, Caribbean-blue sea, and mountain views, we were awed by the natural wonders that enveloped us. We did venture out of our airy cottage a few times to see what the area offered.
An excursion to the Aran Island of Inis Mor occupied a full day.
Ferry travel. Bicycle rental. Ancient forts. Lunar-like landscape. Off-the-beaten-track explorations. Running late to catch the ferry back. Flat bicycle tire. Hurry! get on with Mama (I had the only motorized bike. Don’t laugh!)! Huff. Puff. Last ones over the gangplank. Whew!
Another day we set aside to visit Achill Island, easily accessed by a bridge. This gusty day found us standing atop dizzyingly high sea cliffs, visiting a pirate’s castle, holding a fledgling rook, relishing the sweeping sea views, finding starfish, rockhounding for amethyst, and watching gannets diving for their dinner in the gorgeous surrounding of Keem Bay.
One of the most beautiful spots in Ireland!
Kylemore Abbey was a sight to behold! Its crenelated castle is iconic in its stunning setting, and the Victorian Walled Garden was delightful! It was a bit too touristed, but that was not without reason!
I hope that reading this small sampling of our family’s travels – as we made our way around Ireland’s happy shores – will inspire you to plan your own unique adventure!
Did you count all 26 Terrific Irish places to see, things to visit and do? 🙂
- Minard Castle
- Kilmurry Bay
- Pieg Sayers
- Blasket Islands
- Glanteenassig Wood
- Brandon Creek
- South Pole Inn pub
- Penny’s Pottery
- Holden Leather Goods
- St. James Church
- River Nore
- Woodstock Gardens & Arboretum
- Kilkenny Castle
- St. Canice’s Cathedral
- St Mullins
- The Giant’s Causeway
- Glenevin waterfall
- Malin Head
- The Rusty Nail pub
- Aran Island of Inis Mor
- Achill Island
- Keem Bay
- Kylemore Abbey
Read Theresa’s trips for visiting Ireland with your big family.