Spend Your Staycation in Ireland with a Virtual Tour
One year ago today, we took 65 of our friends and family to Ireland for my husband’s 50th birthday. It took two years of planning and was the trip of a lifetime! In honor of Dirk’s birthday, this blog will take you to some of my family’s favorite places in Ireland. We like to pay tribute to our Irish heritage by visiting annually. Ireland has become a place that is near and dear to our hearts.
If you had to cancel a vacation this year due to the pandemic, maybe a virtual tour of Ireland is for you! We have had several friends who had were supposed to visit Ireland this coming summer and had to change their plans. We thought this would brighten their spirits, while also encouraging others to visit “The Motherland” in the future!
Getting to Ireland
Ireland is a short 6.5 hour flight from Chicago, and for anyone who has not explored Europe as a vacation destination, Ireland is a great European adventure for families with children. When we fly “across the pond”, we sleep on the plane, caffeine up and adjust to Ireland’s local time.
When we land, the first stop is the K Club Hotel & Resort . The K Club is 30 minutes outside of Dublin, in County Kildare. It is rich in history and has stunning grounds! For those who golf, there are two courses on property (designed by Arnold Palmer). The K Club hosted the Ryder Cup in the early 2000’s.
The K Club is a great place to acclimatize for a few days once you land in Ireland. We love the resort because the staff is Irish (hotel staff in and around Dublin are often from Eastern Europe). There is plenty to do on the property; have a pint (of Guinness), tennis, golf, spa appointments, fishing, walking, biking (free bikes on property – but trust me – stay away if you’ve been to the bar first), afternoon tea, wine cellar tours, art/history tour with John Ryan, and one of my favorites -enjoying the fire in the drawing room! There are several bars and restaurants on property.
We celebrated my husband Dirk’s 50th birthday at the Club. Although we had mentioned the trip to our family and friends the year before, we didn’t dream that 65 people would fly over to help us celebrate! It was amazing – a once in a lifetime experience. Our guests that didn’t play golf went to Abbeyfield Farm where they were able to do archery, air rifle shooting, horseback/pony riding and more! Super kid friendly. Kildare is known as horse breeding country, and the Irish National Stud Farm Horse Museum and Japanese Gardens is a huge tourist attraction that is nearby. While we were there, a hotel guest from Dubai had just purchased a horse for two million Euro!
A phrase we hear often in Ireland is “Céad Míle Fáilte”, which means “a hundred thousand welcomes.” Ireland truly has an enduring culture of hospitality that is second to none!
Thatched Cottages and Medieval Monasteries in Adare, County Limerick
Our next stop after departing County Kildare is in Adare, which is in County Limerick. (We are traveling southwest). Adare is known as Ireland’s prettiest and cleanest town. It was founded in the 13th century and is famous for its thatched cottages (pronounced “tatched”). Main Street is filled with pubs, restaurants, stone buildings and medieval monasteries. The Adare Heritage Center has a large car park and wonderful craft shops inside. The River Maigue (pronounced “Mag”) flows through the town. A must-do is stopping by Adare Village Park, located in the center of town. It is stunning! Although we haven’t stayed over in Adare, there are plenty of B&B’s and hotels to choose from. Castle tours and horse racing are fun excursions.
Meet Us in Killarney!
From Adare, we continue to head southwest for another 90 km to our FAVORITE destination in all of Ireland- Killarney.
Killarney is located in County Kerry and has been named one of the top ten destinations in the world by Trivago. Killarney has a long tradition of entertaining visitors and is known for its colorful 19th century buildings, beautiful national park (mountains, lakes, woodlands), and epic shopping.
We have stayed in several hotels in Killarney over the years; and highly recommend The Killarney Park Hotel. They have Ireland’s only 2 Michelin star rated restaurant. The hotel’s customer service is excellent; make sure you ask for Padraig (Irish for “Patrick”), who is the Chief Concierge. He can set up golfing, restaurant reservations – whatever you need, and he will treat you like family.
There are so many things to do in Killarney! I highly recommend spending a day at Killarney National Park/Muckross Estate, Gardens and Working Farm. Upon your arrival to the park, take a jaunting car and hear the stories from the local Jarveys while you enjoy your horse and trap ride around the stunning Killarney National Park and Lake. Then tour the Muckross Estate, shop, rent bikes, hike the waterfall and tour the working farm. They have a cafeteria on-site with decent food.
Killarney’s Main Street is filled with antique stores, clothing shops, pubs, restaurants and more. Stopping by Charlie’s Auld Sweet Shop is a MUST! Niall is the owner, and if you are extra nice to him, he will open the secret door for a special photo op. Christy’s and Weaver’s offer Irish souvenirs like crystal, wool, lace and linens.
Our favorite pub is the Laurels: Sit by the fire and order a pint and some delicious soup! Be sure to stop at the Celtic Whiskey Bar, where they have over 1200 different whiskeys!
Kissing the Blarney Stone: Not as Easy as It Looks
We are off to Blarney Castle, just outside of County Cork. Legend says that kissing the Blarney stone endows the “kisser” with the gift of gab. The stone was set into the castle in 1446 and is one of Ireland’s most popular tourist attractions.
Allegedly, millions of people have kissed the stone. It is not an easy feat, as you will see in the video. There is someone to assist you – but you must lower yourself over the castle’s edge and lean over backwards! If you have a fear of heights or are claustrophobic, this might not be for you. The lines are long, and you will have to wait for periods of time inside the castle, where the halls/rock walls are narrow, and ceilings are short. Still, it is super fun and is a tradition for tourists.
Next up, we highly encourage you to stop at the original Jameson Distillery in Midleton, County Cork for a tour and tasting. Your guide will take you on a tour of the grounds and distillery and after, you can enjoy a whiskey tasting experience. They have a delicious restaurant and wonderful gift shop on site. This is kid-friendly, but they obviously cannot participate in the tasting.
The distillery was founded in 1825 and operated until 1975, when a new distillery was opened. In 1992, the old distillery was re-opened as a visitor’s center. There is a second location in Dublin, but this one is (obviously) rich in history! Make sure you have secured a designated driver once you leave. 😊
Last but not least you must visit the Waterford Factory! Crystal production in Waterford dates-back to the late 1700’s. In 2009, the factory was shut down (and moved) but it is still open to the public for tours and demonstrations. Visitors can visit the mold room, blowing department and inspection room. After your tour, you can shop in the largest retail showcase of Waterford in the world. Guests can also enjoy the Waterford Cafe’ (soups, salads, sandwiches). And of course, they can ship your goods home.
Dining Medieval Style in County Clare
We venture northwest to County Clare and the magnificent Bunratty Castle, which dates back to the 15th century. There you will enjoy a medieval banquet (4 courses) while being entertained by Bunratty Castle singers, dancers and actors. It is definitely worth the stop and is super family friendly! The meal was average, but the entertainment was great.
The Cliffs of Moher are one of nature’s wonders! Located in the Galway Bay, their beautiful cliffs are unlike anything you’ve ever seen. If it’s a clear day, you can see all the way to the Aran Islands. There are guided walks, or you can choose to download an audio guide on your phone. O’Brien’s tower is a great viewpoint to see the cliffs. There are cute little shops at the entrance, which are worth a stop. Peak times for visitors are from 11am to 4pm, so I advise visiting in the morning.
From there, you have a short drive to Dromoland Castle. It is a 5-star luxury hotel that is absolutely worth splurging on! Many famous guests have stayed there – from Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush to Nelson Mandela, Bono and more.
This hotel is nothing short of MAGICAL. Photos do not do it justice. Their hospitality is second to none. There is so much to do here – from playing on their world-class golf course to having a massage at their spa, enjoying high tea by the fire – to name a few. We took full advantage of the activities – from archery and falconry to a horse and trap ride around the property – we loved every minute of our stay! They also have tennis, bikes, outdoor chess, go-karts, a pool, tennis courts or even just walking around the property. Be sure to check out the sun dial and its history!
We also visited a working sheep farm (outside of County Clare), where Aidan was able to help shear a sheep and make scones from scratch.
This part of our tour begins in Enniskillen, which is in Northern Ireland. As you probably know, Northern Ireland was part of the U.K. In 1920 when The Government of Ireland Act partitioned Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland (what we call the Republic of Ireland). The next 30 years brought “Troubles’ (as they call it), which was essentially civil strife. British troops were deployed to Northern Ireland and in 1998, the Good Friday Agreement was signed, which was a step towards making peace in Northern Ireland. There are two types of folks living in Northern Ireland: The Republicans (Catholics) and the Royalists (English Protestant).
We stopped at the world-famous Belleek Pottery. The pottery originates from the 1850’s. Belleek is known for their basket designs, and the skills to make the baskets have been passed down for generations. We watched the process, and it gave us a new appreciation for the art of pottery! The porcelain is super thin, delicate and their pieces feature their signature hand-painted shamrocks. The staff was super friendly; in fact, I put my name into a raffle in the gift shop – after I got back to the U.S., apparently I won – and they shipped a gorgeous piece of china to me! My mother-in-law and I stocked up on Christmas ornaments in their gift shop. They had a delicious little cafe’ on site as well.
We stayed at the Lough Erne Resort (pronounced “lock”, which means lake). Located in North West Ireland, the lake has 150+ islands, and is nothing short of spectacular! Irish legend is that it was named after a mythical woman, Erne. She and her maidens were frightened away by a giant – they fled north and drowned, their bodies becoming part of the lake. (Morbid, I know…)
The Lough Erne Resort hosted the G8 summit in 2012. It is Northern Ireland’s first AA resort, and features two championship Faldo golf courses. It has a wonderful spa, amazing restaurants and offers both hotel rooms and private homes. We stayed three nights there but would recommend one or two nights. There wasn’t much for Aidan to do on property besides golf and swimming. The staff was friendly!
We spent one afternoon in Belfast, and to be honest, it broke our hearts. Although it is a modern city, it appears there is still so much healing that needs to take place. We took a short bus tour around the city and had lunch at a local pub. There were still barbed wire fences up (that once separated the Catholics from the Protestants) constant reminder of the conflict. Murals and flags covered the streets.
Remember – you will need pounds, not Euros, when visiting Northern Ireland. Speed limit signs are in miles, not kilometers. You won’t see the Republic of Ireland flags, but the Union Jack flags instead. License plates are British as well. Northern Ireland is nothing to be scared of and is rich in history… but, in my opinion, it isn’t quite as hospitable as the Republic of Ireland.
Home Sweet Home in County Sligo
On your way back from Northern Ireland, stopping in County Sligo is a MUST!!! It is where the O’Hara family hails from. County Sligo is in northwestern Ireland; founded in the early 1600’s. It is where the famous poet W.B. Yeats is from. There are Megalithic tombs, championships golf courses, and many other outdoor activities in County Sligo.
Stop to see the sights, but don’t spend much time. Drive straight to Coopershill Country House (book your reservation at least 6 months in advance) – and stay a few days. Coopershill has been in the O’Hara family since it was built (1774) – and Simon O’Hara is the 7th generation owner/operator. His wife is an award-winning chef.
The country house features 6 beautiful rooms equipped with all of the amenities you could want, with the exception of tv’s. This is what I love about Coopershill – complete tranquility! Simon and his assistant Mary will take wonderful care of you. I am OBSESSED with this place, y’all. And you will be too!
The food. The FOOD! Most of the food is grown on property. They raise and sell venison on their 500 acres and have an impressive vegetable garden right outside of the house. We stayed at Coopershill in 2014 and again last year, and I am not exaggerating when I say that our dinners were the BEST meals of our lives. Christina is truly the most talented chef we have met. Dirk couldn’t get enough of the Irish cheeses and their homemade rhubarb chutney. Our filets were insane. INSANE! (See pics) We took our family back this past year and Uncle Ted the Foodie even agreed.
We hired a local professional photographer, Colin Gillen, to take family photos during our stays. (The first time, it was our 10-year anniversary.)
We know you will love Coopershill as much as we do!
Dublin, the Capital of the Republic!
Finally, we are in Dublin! It is the capital of the Republic of Ireland, located on the east coast.
There is SO much to do in Dublin. Explore Dublin Castle, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, St. Stephen’s Green (park), The National Museum of Ireland, Trinity College and much more.
There are many Irish dancing shows in Dublin: Celtic Nights, Gaelic Nights, The Church, Trinity Bar and many more. Most offer dinner. Although it’s “campy”, it’s family friendly, fun, and interesting to see other guests from around the world.
Grafton Street is the most popular shopping street in Dublin. “Buskers” (mime artists, musicians, performers) perform to the crowds. You’ll find a statue of Molly Malone (supposedly there is no such woman, but the song is about a “Molly” who lived in the 17th century and was a street hawker/lady of the night.) There is great shopping and pubs of course, including my favorite department store, Brown Thomas (like a Neiman’s back home).
The Viking Splash tour is a super fun way to see the city and entertain the kids – on “floating busses”. The guides are interactive and encourage guests to wear Viking hats and growl at pedestrians as they drive by. You’ll be able to see cathedrals, the Grand Canal Basin, the Viking heritage of Dublin, the Spire, and much more.
Guinness Storehouse is another “must”. Buy your tickets in advance and make reservations for lunch! It’s a 7-story tour (plenty of elevators), and at the top you can enjoy a “Perfect Pint” class while enjoying the panoramic view of Dublin. The gift shop is wonderful. Plan to spend 3 hours or so, if you have lunch. They have over 20 million visitors a year.
Something more off the beaten path is a visit to the Celtic Whiskey Shop on Dawson Street. It’s a quaint little shop with a large selection of Irish whiskeys. They will even let you sample some, and they ship back to the U.S.
Another fun experience is the Gin School at the Lough Ree Distillery. It’s owned by our dear friends, The Clancy Family. Although it’s currently closed because of COVID19, it’s a fun way to learn about the distilling process, and you leave with your own bottle of gin. Reservations are required.
Additional areas of interest include the Temple Bar district, where you can hear all sorts of music.
Hotels that I recommend include the Merrion (or at least have high tea there), The Fitzwilliam (their customer service is amazing), and the Westin. There are many B&B’s around town as well.
We hope you enjoy Ireland as much as our family does! It was a sweet escape for us while we were battling infertility, and now that we have our miracle children, we love taking them there to see their Irish roots. There is nothing quite like Irish hospitality. Slainte!