Arriving in Dublin at 4 am was not ideal.Â Our flight from Boston caught a tailwind and deposited us in Ireland an hour earlier than what would have already been too early.Â Thank goodness for the charming and sympathetic clerk at the Westbury, who taking pity upon us, snuck us into our room 10 hours before check in without charging us for an extra night.Â We would have been happy with the maidâ€™s closet, but the Junior suite we got was terrificâ€”spacious but comfy with a pair of fab modern (not dated) burgundy velvet chairs.Â We slept â€˜til 11, then began our 2-week holiday with lunch at Dunne & Crescenzi, which was perfect.
The reason to go to Ireland is for the culture.Â Not just the history and landscape, but the culture.Â Even if you think you aren’t into beer drinking and traditional Irish music, you have to hang at the pub.Â While the waiters and hotel staff are always cheerful, it is in the pubs where you really meet locals, and the people are where it’s at–Irish people are so friendly, so clever, so generous, so lovely.Â Obviously, people make the country wherever you go, but when you are not traveling in an exotic place, but an English-speaking country similar to your own, meeting people is your only real window into any nuances of culture that distinguish the two.Â The Lonely planet says ‘don’t go to Ireland without bringing a raincoat and a hollow leg’.Â While there’s some truth to that–it will rain almost everyday, but usually not for too long…then again, sometimes for two days–the drinking part isn’t 100% true.Â We made friends even when we were obviously pathetic lightweight yanks sipping Carlsberg by the glass in lieu of downing the black stuff by the pint.Â Ok, maybe we participated a little more fully than that, but you don’t have to…
Renting a car has the added bonus of Irish radio.Â We listened to the Jerry Ryan show everyday and thus learned of current politics and issues, as well as the national obsession with “The X Factor”–the UK version of “America’s Got Talent”.Â Silly me had never heard of “Jedward” before November 4, but I did not go one day in Ireland without hearing or seeing of the duo.Â And talk about timing–we were there for the two heartbreaking Ireland-France World cup qualifying games, the outcome of which is still being contested due to the blatantly illegal winning goal, now known as “Henri-Gate”, after the French culprit.
Although there are plenty of happening restaurants and modern cooking in Ireland, the country is still not known for the food.Â Maybe it was because,Â coming from Nantucket and New York, we are pretty spoiled, or, perhaps because it is hard to be dazzled when you eat out so many days in a row, but we were less than euphoric over most of our Irish dining experiences. That being the case, the high points were really high, so I thought I would emphasize the food highlights of our journey as well as the sights.Â The reality is, you can’t see every ruin, love every meal or drink in every pub, so here is my list of what is really worth it.
One caveat about fall/winter travels:Â We were traveling in November and it is definitely the off-season for tourist destinations like Kerry and Dingle.Â There was still plenty to do and see and no shortage of beauty and charm, but it did mean that a lot of places were only open weekends, if at all.Â In addition to the off-season handicap, many restaurants all over are closed Sundays and smaller stores close Sunday & Monday.Â Not a surprise coming from off-season Nantucket, but sometimes disappointing, nonetheless.Â The worst part is, it’s still expensive!Â The off-season specials only kept it from being very expensive, especially with the flagging dollar.Â Rugged landscapes, beautiful lakes, lovely people, green pastures, gray skies, rainbows, castles, sheep…Ireland is visual splendor at any time of year.
Where & What–Dublin
Dublin is a blast. We had so much fun there, landing with a friend at McDaid’s (just off Grafton, right across from the Westbury –Hillary Clinton was spotted there recently) for a Guinness on our first night. Â Most of our adventures were on the Southside, since we only had three days.Â I chose the cultural tour, ie eating & drinking, Vintage shopping with my darling friend, Kate,Â and admiring the footwear at Brown Thomas, while Mark did the historical city bus tour–the Guinness Factory, etc.Â One of our Dublin highlights was a wonderful theatre piece, Johnny Patterson, at Project Arts Centre in Temple Bar.
Westbury Hotelâ€”location, location, location;Â corporate sort of lobby, but excellent rooms
Dunne & Crescenziâ€”Excellent Italian;Â everything was fabulous
The Winding Stairâ€”Just over the ha’penny bridge.Â Good, not great–but bread & butter pudding was to die for. You cannot overestimate the pounds of Kerrygold in this dessert…like heaven on the way to calorie-hell. fyi, Bread Pudding and Sticky toffee pudding were consistently delish all over Ireland
Fallon & Byrneâ€”A trendy downstairs hall serving wine and small plates below a stupendous Dean & Deluca-like market.Â The best Smoked salmon on brown bread we had in Ireland!
Gruel:Â Awesome corned Beef sandwich and hot soup for a cold day
Queen of Tarts:Â Plum tart with vanilla ice cream was to die for…go here after soup at Gruel.
Powerscourt Townhouse restaurant (street level):Â THE BEST SCONE IN IRELAND.Â Go aheadâ€”jam, Irish butter, clotted cream.Â You will not have one like this again.
Trinity College Old Libraryâ€”If you see one sight, it must be this.Â Book of Kells (or ‘Page of Kells’–there are only 2 pages on view:) and Long Library, with the library being the real attraction.
McDaid’s pub for great pint of Guinness
John Kehoe on Grafton also good
Baileys Bar on Duke St for UNBELIEVABLE hot chocolate with Baileys outside under heat lamps
Hughes Bar on the Northsideâ€”the real deal old Irish pub with killer â€œTradâ€ (traditional) music–worth seeking out!
Krystle: IF you’re in to the VIP club scene, this is the place to go for it!Â Two floors, indoors, outdoors = not boring
Brown Thomas shoe departmentâ€”just for appreciation!
Powercourt Townhouseâ€”gorgeous exposed brick, cool boutiques, pop-up vintage store on Saturdays!
Avoca Handweaversâ€”cool Anthropology-esque store with killer cafÃ© for lunch or coffee and sweets
Meeting House Lane market had all kinds of food vendors; Cow Lane = cool handmade stuff
Dublin Places we heard were great and WISH we could have patronized:
Toner’s Pub, Ely Winebar, Bar Italia
Where & What–Dublin to Kilkenny
Kilkenny is a vibrant, beautiful medieval town with a happening arts scene that is also the home of another great Ireland brew, Smithwick’s Ale.Â The main attraction is the castle and we stayed in close proximity.Â The castle itself is more about scale than opulence, but the grounds are lovely.Â Kilkenny seemed like a really nice place to live.
Stop at Glendalough in Co. Wicklow for an hour or so.Â Monastic church ruins on a lakeâ€¦So beautiful and magical, it feels like St. Kevin just left.
The Butler Houseâ€”B & B manse adjacent to grounds of Kilkenny castle.Â Not inexpensive, but wonderful for a night.Â The president of Ireland stayed in our suite two weeks before we did…aren’t upgrades grand?
Kilkenny Design Center Kitchenâ€”Breakfast, lunch, or dessert;Â serves breakfast for Butler House guests–one of the best Irish Breakfasts we had.Â Basically, an upscale cafeteria with really good food.
Kilkenny Castle–home to 650 years of the Butler Family
St. Canice’s Cathedral–great!Â Climb the round tower and see the tombs of the some of the Butler clan
Black Abbeyâ€”small but great if you talk to the Friar and get the history
Kilkenny Design Centerâ€”a group of amazing art and modern boutiques featuring cool, functional clothing, furniture and home goods made in Ireland.
Where & What–Kilkenny to Kinsale
Postcard-pretty Kinsale is called the Nantucket (or Newport) of Ireland.Â We enjoyed just walking, dining and hanging for a couple of days.
Awe-inspiring Rock of Cashel is worthwhile, even in the rain. Picturesque Lismore is nearly shut down in winter, but we enjoyed looking at the closed for the winter sights and had the most fun cup of coffee at the Rustic Cafe.
The Old Bank Houseâ€”nice, comfy B&B in the best location
Fishy Fishy Cafeâ€”A MUST; lunch only:(
Jolaâ€™sâ€”absolutely gorgeous room with exposed brick, chandelier and fireplace.Â John Dory with sultanas was amazing; local cheeses
The Spaniardâ€”Cozy, fun Irish pub with great trad music and peat fireplace;Â nice walk up the hill
The Bulmen in gorgeous Summercoveâ€”the spot for an afternoon outdoor pint, even in winter
Blue Havenâ€”When you want more than a pub; nice for a glass of wine by the fire
Sunrise on the harbor
Old Head golf courseâ€”scenic 20 minute drive from town.Â It’s posted closed/private, but you can’t believe most signs in Ireland
Granny’s Bottom Drawerâ€”Adorable store with eclectic mix of vintage linens, local designer wear and home goods
Where & What–Kinsale to Kenmare
Coastal Western Cork is breathtaking, even in the rain, as we saw it.
Timoleague Abbey–off R600.Â Moody, photogenic c1305 gothic abbey ruins just 12 mi. west of Kinsale that house a covey of pigeons
Drombeg Stone Circle–off R597.Â Worth a look–a mini-Stonehenge sitting on a hill.Â A 1500 yr. old slice of history surrounded by pasture.
Bantry Bay–Homemade soup and Fish & Chips on a rainy day at Fish Kitchen on New St in Bantry was amazing (upstairs above fishmonger);Â Shopping at Gazelle, on Bridge St (across from Water Wheel) was even more so! Personable English shop owner, great Irish and European designs.Â (New St and Bridge St are the same street–name changes several times as it does on most city center streets in Ireland)
Brook Lane–an attractive “boutique” hotel on the edge of Kenmare;Â the look is mod and not always successful.
Jam Cafe–When you have had it with the full Irish breakfast (only in Ireland would oatmeal be a first course), go to Jam for a coffee and scone by the fire.
Salvados–A cute little Spanish tapas and pizza place
Where & What–Kenmare to Dingle Peninsula
Entering the Ring of Kerry was amazing, just as they say.Â In Autumn, the hills are not just brown, but every shade of yellow to orange to brown, which makes for a rich landscape tapestry.Â We opted not to do the whole ring and proceeded to the Dingle peninsula.Â The coastal road into Dingle was nice, but the rugged coast beyond Dingle town is what’s really special.Â Leaving via the Connor Pass to the north side of the Dingle peninsula was awesome, as well.
En Route: Stop in Killarney National Park for a few hours and visit Torc Waterfall and Muckross House.Â The town of Aghadoe outside Killarney is charming.
Benner’s Hotel, Dingle–not the cheapest, but comfy and convenient plus a Dingle landmark.Â It’s also a place with a little life and ambiance in the off-season!
Irish coffee at Mrs. Benner’s Bar
Slea Head–The spectacular loop drive beyond Dingle through tiny Irish-speaking villages was one of the highlights of our trip.
Beehive Huts–(historic rock monk cells) there are some just before Slea Head on someone’s private property.Â The owner sits in a booth and his dog opens the window with his paw when anyone walks up.Â That was worth the price of admission right there.