Northern Ireland

I have an obsession with the ocean, and I’m not picky about how land meets the sea.  Cliffs, sandy shores, jagged rocks or beaches made of shells-  every one of them is my favorite.  I’m not even particular about the weather when I’m standing on terra firma, gazing at the mighty ocean; I am just as happy with rain, mist, cold and wind as I am with sun, warmth and gentle ocean breezes.  It’s the ocean, man.  I love her.

It’s my duty as a blogger and all-around decent human being to share some of my favorite shoreline locations, and the northern coast of Ireland and Northern Ireland will not disappoint you, dear reader.



Derry-Londonderry, Northern Ireland:  The drive from Trim, Ireland to Derry took about three and a half hours, and although it was raining, the drive was still quite lovely. Northern Ireland, as you know, is a separate country, with it’s own currency, road signs and history.  Speed limits are posted in miles, rather than kilometers, but you’ll still drive to the left.  It’s a good idea to gas up before driving in to Northern Ireland, as gas is somewhat more expensive there, and if you are traveling between Ireland and Northern Ireland, you’ll want to remember to stop at an ATM to withdraw some Pounds so you have cash on hand.  Derry is a good sized city, and if we ever go back, we will definitely spend some time exploring it.  It’s the only city in Ireland that is completely walled, and our host at the BnB encouraged us to take the roughly mile-long walk along the top of the wall.  The town of Derry was also embroiled in the fighting between the IRA (who wanted to unite Ireland) and the Unionists (who want to keep Northern Ireland within the UK), and there are still skirmishes and bar brawls in certain areas of the city related to the IRA.  It’s really a fascinating city with lots of stories to tell!


We booked a family room at Merchant’s House to overnight in Derry.  For dinner, we can highly recommend Brown’s In Town, a quiet restaurant with delicious food.  Our FAVORITE part of our experience in Derry was sharing breakfast with all of the guests from Merchant’s and Saddler’s House.  We were served a delicious, traditional, family-style Irish breakfast with travelers from all over Europe, and it was the perfect start to a busy day.  Everyone was so warm and friendly, and by the end of breakfast we felt like old friends.

Carrick-a-Rede: Our first stop along the Northern Ireland coast was Carrick-a-Rede, which is a rope bridge over the cliffs along the shore.  The hike down to the bridge is easy, and the scenery is breathtaking.  Even though I don’t like heights, I wasn’t bothered too much by the rope bridge itself, and I thought the stop was really worthwhile.   Once you get over the rope bridge, there is space to wander around, take pictures and bask in the beauty of Northern Ireland’s coast.

Giant’s Causeway: We headed west after the rope bridge, and because we had read a lot about Giant’s Causeway, and we very excited to see it.  However, it’s a VERY busy sight, with tour bus after tour bus unloading large groups of people.  The rock formations were interesting, but there were so many tourists, we didn’t stay long.  Inside the visitor’s center there is a small cafe, and we can recommend the Irish stew as an inexpensive but tasty lunch.  It’s not a sight I would go out of my way to see again, and pictures (without people crawling all over the rocks) do the area more justice, in my opinion.


Dunluce Castle:  Run, don’t walk to Dunluce Castle!  (pronounced: dun-loose). You guys.  There are ruins all over Ireland, so you might think, what’s the big deal with Dunluce Castle?  Well, first of all, it is perched on the edgy-edge of a cliff, and some of it has already fallen into the ocean, so you have the feeling that the last of it might slip off the cliff at any moment!  (Apparently the kitchen fell into the ocean during a party, and that was the “last straw” before the lady of the house decided to move out.  I should think so!). There are towers and rooms and great halls and hidden nooks to explore, and you really get s feel of how it might have been to live in such a place.  I have to say that medieval people were certainly tougher than me when it comes to walking surfaces;  an hour on those cobbled floors and I was more than ready to walk on paved surfaces again.


After a couple of hours exploring Dunluce Castle, we drove west, out of Northern Ireland, toward County Donegal, Ireland.  For dinner, we stopped in Donegal Town and enjoyed a nice meal at The Blueberry Cafe.  I remember asking our server about the scones, “Why are they SO good?”  She was lovely, and we talked at length about ingredients and the differences between Irish cream and butter, and what we use here in the States.  Apparently it makes a big difference.

Slieve League:  Everyone who knows anything about Ireland talks about The Cliffs of Moher and their magnificence.  I would say that the Cliffs of Moher are second to Slieve League.  A distant second.  We have visited both sites, and hands down found Slieve League Cliffs to be the more impressive!  For one thing, the cliffs are 2,000 feet at their highest point (The Cliffs of Moher are around 500 feet high) and since Slieve League is so remote, you’ll find fewer people and more wildlife.  We initially attempted the hike from the backside (established by monks ages ago), but were concerned that the mist and fog would obscure the cliffs and drop-offs to such a degree as to make it unsafe for the kids who like to run ahead.



After a bit of a romp among the sheep, and about a mile of hiking  into the fog, we decided to turn around and drive to Slieve League the “normal way.”  You’ll notice a parking lot with restrooms just before the gate, but we saw several cars continue through the gate and up the road to the cliffs.  It would seem that you can drive most of the way to the top.


Hiking around the cliffs is thrilling.  We kept our distance from the edge because the wind gusts were quite strong, and we didn’t wish to be blown off by accident.  What a tragic end that would be!  Also, I imagine if you are falling 2,000 feet, you have quite a bit of time to think about how dumb you were to get so close to the edge, and I’d rather spend my last seconds thinking something other than, “Well, that was dumb.”


There are ruins to see and paths to walk, so we spent about three hours exploring around the cliffs.  The kids even found a pond, and some rocks to throw into it.


I love that Ireland is so wild and untamed, and that they don’t put fences up everywhere to keep visitors safe.  The beauty here is raw and unyielding but also soulful and familiar.


We will certainly return to Ireland at some point.  And when we do, we would love to spend several days in the northern parts of the island, revisiting the sites we loved, and exploring new ones!

Dingle Peninsula, Ireland

“If you have the words, there’s always a chance that you’ll find the way.”  

                                                                                                           Seamus Heaney

When we first arrived in Dingle it turned out to be completely different than we imagined.   Sometimes the unexpected can throw me into a tailspin, but it turned out to be one of my favorite adventures during our most recent trip to Ireland.

Dingle is the name of a town, a peninsula and a scenic drive.  It is part of the Gaeltacht region; an area where Irish Gaelic is the predominant language.  Most signs are in Irish Gaelic and you’ll hear Irish Gaelic songs and ditties spilling from the pubs.  It’s really charming and beautiful.  We fell in love with the pastel colored buildings and busy streets in this fishing town, and can’t wait to go back for a second visit!


We drove to Dingle on a sunny July day, after a three day stay in Kenmare.   First thing you should know is that Dingle is a rather large town.  Almost a city, in my opinion.  There are one million pubs in Dingle, and if you should happen to be there when the World Cup is going on (as we were), you can expect a. LOT.  of pub noise all through the night.  It didn’t bother us too much, and in fact, added to the flavor of our experience there.

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Another thing to keep in mind is that Dingle is a popular tourist destination.  Bus loads of people arrive there, and it’s crowded.  If we ever go back, I’d like to do it on the off season, when it’s just the Dingle-ites and a few of us lookie-loos.

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We stayed at Sraid Eoin House B&B in Dingle, and it was lovely.  The room was clean, fresh and inexpensive. It was bright and we had plenty of room to spread out.  The hosts were warm and friendly, and we were very pleased with our choice.

The REAL treasure of Dingle town, is that you’re at a natural starting point for an adventure around the Dingle Way.  Dear readers, this drive is worth every bit of the time you take to traverse it!  I can highly recommend Rick Steves Ireland guide as a wonderful road map to this adventure.  He kindly includes distances to each stop and a brief description of each.  We decided on the must-see stops as a family, and started out after breakfast and a cup of coffee to go.

One of the things that impressed us was just how ancient some of the sites along the Dingle Way really are!  We stopped at several ring forts (also known as fairy forts) from the Iron Age (600-500B.C.), and my kids were fascinated by their construction and purpose.

As an added bonus, one of the ring fort sites included some darling farm animals that we were able to pet and enjoy!  This really made an impression on my daughter who loves animals of all kinds.

There are also several groupings of beehive huts which are fun to explore.  Be sure to carry some cash, because many stops require payment of two or three euros per person.

What we appreciated about the Dingle Way is that we could stop and spend as much time as we liked at the sites that interested us most.  Being stuck on a tour bus, or being herded through the sites holds no appeal for us, and is the primary reason we prefer to rent our own car.


The views are spectacular, and we stopped often to look around and smell the clover.


After a full half day exploring the Dingle Way, we stopped for some lunch in one of the small villages along the way.  The area is quite popular now, as scenes from Star Wars were filmed there, and the local pub had two sculptures; one of Yoda and another of Darth Vader.  It was cute without being commercial.  My daughter and I shared AMAZING fish and chips, while my husband and son split a yummy pot roast lunch.  IMG_20180708_120748962_HDR


After lunch, we headed north toward the Cliffs of Moher.  This drive yielded one of the most interesting driving situations we had in Ireland! The “highway” out of Dingle is a single lane “two-way” road, with cliffs and mountains on either side.  It was truly beautiful, and I’m so glad we went ahead and drove that way, but there were a few hair-raising moments along the way!

You know, there are places we visit that are a huge hit with all members of the family, and this was one of them.  I got to see my kids excited about hiking around and exploring some really incredible sites, and we all walked away with the feeling that we had seen something we might never see again.  This area is chalk-full of magic and intrigue.  Don’t miss it!

Taisteal sásta! (which means “happy travels” in Irish Gaelic)


Skellig Michael

You know, I’m drawn to things that “can’t easily be done.”  Unless the hard thing is avoiding pasta.  I’m not drawn to that at all.   When I was reading through Rick Steves Ireland for the first time, I stumbled upon the section about Skellig Michael, and the idea of taking Mark and the kids on this impossible adventure took root.

Skellig Michael is a world heritage site, about 7 miles off the southwest coast of Ireland. There are two Skellig rocks; Little Skellig and Skellig Michael and both islands are primitive, rugged and inhospitable.  At around 800 A.D. a group of monks came to live on Skellig Michael, and their dwellings (as well as the 600 steps to reach them) are still there at the top of the rock.  These days, a group of somewhat salty men dedicated to preserving the island live on Skellig Michael on a rotating basis.  Bless them, because there is no running water, fresh water, electricity or flushing toilet to be found out there.


During our first visit to Ireland, I scheduled a tour to Skellig Michael the day before we were to depart for the States.  Somehow, when reserving our trip, the issue of a departure time was never discussed and we literally missed the boat.  IMG_20180705_093503517

Skellig Michael tip #1:  confirm departure time and location several times before the day of your trip.

I’m not going to sugar coat the retelling of how I handled this monumental mess-up.  I was beside myself.  The thing is, my son was looking forward to our Skellig Michael excursion more than any other activity we had planned in Ireland, so I deeply felt the guilt of letting him down.

When we decided to return to Ireland, booking a Skellig Michael tour was the first thing I did.  We ended up booking with Skellig Tours with captain John O Shea.  Most of the charters to Skellig Michael depart from Portmagee, but John sails out of Derrynane Harbour, which worked well for us because we were staying in Kenmare.


Skellig Michael tip #2:  Book as early as possible.  Star Wars has made this site wildly popular, and reservations go quickly.  I booked months in advance.

Let me be very clear about something:  the boats that take you out to Skellig Michael are smaller than you’d think.  And you’ll be crossing open ocean.  This excursion is only possible during the summer months (May to August) and even then, many trips are cancelled due to rough seas.  If you are prone to seasickness, buckle up.  This is no quick jaunt across a placid lake.


Skellig Michael tip #3:  laying down on the boat will help with seasickness.

Disembarking onto Skellig Michael is described as “jumping off a trampoline onto an ice rink.”  (Rick Steves, Ireland)  I found that to be an accurate description, and although I was happy to be off the boat, I was immediately taken aback by how stark and uninviting the island actually is. Yes, I watched the videos and read the brochures, but the ruggedness is somewhat shocking.


As I said before, there are 600 steps to the top of Skellig Michael.  They are uneven and cracked, and there are no hand rails.  Vertigo is an issue as well because the steps are so steep.

IMG_20180705_182047_184The real prize is reaching the top where you can explore the ancient beehive dwellings of the monks who lived there over 1200 years ago.




And of course the view is spectacular!


Skellig Michael is literally crawling with sea birds.  Their loud squawking will almost drive you mad, and the gulls especially, will dive bomb you for your sandwich.  However, it’s the adorable puffins that really make a lasting impression.  They are not afraid of humans, and will resolutely growl if you get too close to their nests.  Puffins are not aerodynamic birds, and watching them fly is a hilarious sight.


The length of time on the actual island is short; about an hour and a half.  It’s such a remarkable experience, though, that I highly recommend making the effort to go if you have the chance.  The fact that humans existed on Skellig Michael is almost unbelievable given that the conditions are so harsh and inhospitable.

Skellig Michael tip #4:  Pack food for a quick lunch, but keep in mind that you will have to eat furtively while hiding by a stone wall because the sea gulls are overly aggressive and will swoop down and steal that sandwich right out of your hand!  I imagined a leisurely picnic at the top of the rock, but the reality was probably closer to a maximum security prison cafeteria…guarding our food and avoiding eye contact, while shoveling it all into our mouth as quickly as possible.


If you must know, I did not, in fact, make it to the top of Skellig Michael.  There was a seasickness situation on the way over, and I think I almost died.  By the time we actually set foot on the island, I was dizzy, weak and shaking like a leaf…not a great combination for climbing 600 steep, death-defying stairs.  One of the salty preservation men bellowed, “Then why’d ya come at all, lassie?!?”  How do you explain to a pirate-y man with a ruddy complexion and copious amounts of chest hair that nothing makes you happier in life than seeing your children’s eyes wide with wonder?  What words really express the satisfaction a mother feels when she gives her son a rare and miraculous adventure that he will likely never have again?

Skellig Michael tip #5:  When explainging mother-y feelings to a pirate-y preservationist, just liken your love to the love he has for the island.  He will slowly nod and softly say, “I understand ye.”





Ireland Itinerary 2018

Day 1:  Arrive in Dublin and drive to Trim.  Stop at TESCO in Swords along the way, to pick up the things we need.

Day 2:  Explore Trim until lunch time, and then run by the grocery store as we leave to pick up picnic lunch items for Skellig Michael.  Drive to Rock of Cashel on the way to Kenmare in the afternoon, and check in to Virginia’s Guesthouse.

Day 3:  Get up early and drive out to meet the boat for a Skellig Michael boat tour.  Arrive back in Kenmare late afternoon and take a nap!  Overnight in Kenmare.

Day 4:  Explore the Ring of Kerry and eat Banoffee Pie!  Overnight in Kenmare.

Day 5:  Leave Kenmare in the morning and drive to Dingle. Check in to Sraide Eoin House  BnB.

Day 6:  Travel the Dingle Peninsula Loop from Rick Steve’s book after breakfast.  Head to AirBnB cottage outside of Gort. Do laundry.

Day 7:  Drive from Gort to Cliffs of Moher and explore the Burren and the many loughs (lakes) along the way.  Overnight at AirBnB cottage outside of Gort.

Day 8:  Leisurely make our way to Dublin, stopping along the way to explore and soak in the last bit of the Emerald Isle.

Day 9:  Early flight to Iceland, and then home to Dallas!


Trim, Ireland

Trim is a wonderful introduction to Ireland!  We made Trim our first stop in Ireland both times we traveled there.  It’s just about a 45 minute drive from Dublin, which makes it an easy choice after an all-night flight.

One of the things I love about Trim is that everything you need is a short walk away.  We stayed at the Highfield House BnB, and I can not recommend it enough.  The hosts are warm and friendly, the rooms are comfortable and clean, and breakfast is dee-lish!!  We booked the family room both times, and there was plenty of room for the four of us.

20170614_141851The house and grounds are impeccably cared for, and we just loved the quaint look and feel of the place.

IMG_20180703_172408133After settling in at Highfield House, we set off to explore the town!  One of the things we enjoyed both times we visited Trim, was feeding the donkeys across the street from Highfield House.  They are a noisy bunch, and will definitely bite, so watch your fingers!  (We picked up carrots at Tesco, on our way out to Trim, and recommend doing that if you plan on feeding the donkeys.)

IMG_20180703_162425831_HDR.jpgThe sidewalk in front of the donkeys will take you in to Trim, where there is a lovely path along the river, complete with castle, ruins and a beautiful foot bridge.

DSC_0109Interesting fact about Trim Castle;  it’s where parts of Braveheart were filmed.  The tour is inexpensive, and if you want to only wander around the lower levels, it’s even less or free.  Plan to spend 30 minutes to an hour on the lower part, exploring all the nooks and crannies.


As you leave Trim Castle, you will see a visitor center on the corner.  We stopped in to ask if there were any pubs or restaurants with live music, and the visitor center employee was really helpful.  Be sure to indicate whether or not you are traveling with children, as that may impact any recommendations.  Many pubs and restaurants allow children up to a certain time in the evening, but some allow them at all times.

With so much to do in Trim, it’s a great town to visit for an overnight or two.  We found the host at Highfield House very helpful in recommending a spot for dinner and lunch the next day.  You’ll want to enjoy breakfast there at the BnB, and I can absolutely tell you that the coffee at Highfield House did NOT disappoint this coffee snob!

Ireland Itinerary 2017

Day 1:  Arrive in Dublin, stop at TESCO to get toiletries, laundry detergent, etc., and then drive to Trim.

Day 2:  Explore Trim and then leave mid afternoon and drive to Derry, Northern Ireland.

Day 3:  Visit Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Dunluce Castle and Giant’s Causeway.  Drive to Kilcar (AirBnB for laundry).

Day 4:  Visit Slieve League Cliffs and then drive to Bunratty Castle for an evening of fun!

Day 5:  Drive to Kenmare and explore the village.  Meet family in Killarney for dinner.

Day 6:  Adventure tour to Skellig Michael.  Spend the night in Kenmare.

Day 7:  Drive to Dublin in late afternoon and check into hotel.  Flight leaves in the morning!

This trip was fast and furious, but we relished seeing so much of the island.  This itinerary could easily be adapted to a two or three week vacation.


Planning a trip to the Emerald Isle:

Ireland is a wonderful first European adventure!  It has lots to offer in terms of scenery and activities, and although we highly recommend it for a family holiday, it would be just as wonderful for single adults or couples.  Planning a trip to Ireland is not difficult, and with a little research and preparation it is easily half the cost of tour packages!

Our first trip to Ireland was in June of 2017, and it was also the first time I took charge of planning the itinerary on a family trip.  I started by talking to family members who had visited Ireland previously, but honestly, that didn’t help me at all.  I got confused by all the strange names, and even when I wrote them down, my spelling of Gaelic words made research a challenge!  A friend of mine suggested the Rick Steves guide to Ireland, so I went and picked up a copy.  I literally read the book cover to cover before I started planning our time in Ireland.  

Since we were only going to be in Ireland 7 days the first time, and I wasn’t sure that we would ever go back, I decided to take us in a counter-clockwise trip around the island.  We definitely would not be able to see everything we wanted to see, but it would give us a feel for all but the southeast corner of Ireland.  To be fair, I probably crammed more into those few days than I should have, because we spent about 3 hours a day on the road, on average.  Lots of driving.  But on the other hand, it was a marvelous adventure, so I don’t know if I would change anything, if I could go back and do it again.  

Our second trip to Ireland was even better, because we knew where we wanted to focus our time.  We were there for 10 days in July, 2018, and again, I was in charge of planning the itinerary.  This time, I took input from the family of places or activities they really wanted to see and do.  Our time was much more relaxed, and I didn’t have to spend quite so much time planning, as we returned to several BnB’s that we really liked the first time around. 

Here are some ideas for planning a trip to Ireland:

1.  Use Google flights to find inexpensive flights.  We use this site exclusively, and our tickets were less than $400 a piece in 2017, and less than $600 a piece in 2018.  We bought tickets both times in November before our trip.  To avoid adding extra costs of checked luggage, we each wore a small city backpack, and carried on a rolling carry-on.    

2.  Ireland requires rental car drivers to carry insurance.  We called our credit card company (which includes rental car insurance), and they provided a letter guaranteeing insurance for rental car coverage, which saved us a bundle while we were there.

3.  Rick Steves travel guides are worth their weight in gold.  Pick one up as a handy starting place.  

4.  Jet lag is a real and terrible thing.  Plan on staying close to Dublin your first night- especially if you have just endured an overnight flight from the States.  We chose Trim for both trips, because it is a lovely town with lots to see, but is less than an hour from Dublin.  It gave my husband a chance to get used to the “backwards” driving, without any crazy narrow roads.   

5.  Call your bank and let them know you will be traveling to Ireland.  Any debit/credit card purchases will be charged normally, but there is a conversion fee for withdrawing cash from an ATM.  We did not use the currency exchange in the airport, as they also charge a fee- and for us it was more cost effective to withdraw from an ATM.  I withdrew 500 euros at the beginning of the trip, so we would have cash on hand for those places that only deal in cash- and there are far more of them than in the States. 

6.  Laundry is an issue.  One thing that was a challenge for us, since we travel with just one small carry-on each, is washing clothes mid-trip.  Laundromats in Ireland are, in our experience, not self serve.  You do have the option of dropping off laundry and then picking it up the next day.  However, since I like to air dry quite a few of our items, I wasn’t comfortable using the drop and go method.  The only way to mitigate this was booking an AirBnB accommodation (be sure to message the host and check that they do in fact have both a washer and dryer!) with laundry services midway through our trip.  You’ll have to spend a few minutes figuring out the European style washer and dryer, but it’s a LIFE SAVER…and money saver, by not having to pay for checked bags or full service laundry.  

7.  Speaking of checked bags:  one thing to consider is that rental cars are quite a bit smaller than most US cars, and trunk space can be an issue.  We were able to fit our 4 small carry-on rolling bags, backpacks and a few other items in both cars that we rented, but there really was not a lot of leftover room.  

8.  Save space and effort in packing by planning to visit a grocery store the day you arrive.  We purchased laundry detergent, shampoo and conditioner, razors, toothpaste and toothbrushes, Kleenex, etc at Tesco, on our way from the airport to Trim.  Easy peasy.  

All in all, both of our trips to Ireland were simply amazing.  We absolutely loved the beautiful country side, quaint villages and friendly Irish people!

Here are the itineraries for both trips:

Ireland 2018

Ireland 2017