Ireland is becoming more and more accessible and that’s a great thing. The main international airport is Dublin (DUB) but don’t forget that there are also airports in Shannon (SNN), Belfast (BFS), Cork (ORK), and Knock in West Ireland (NOC).
Coming from Canada, Dublin will be your primary access point into Ireland. My choice of airline is Air Transat where I had a fantastic experience on my own trip. I flew with them on my trip and was greeted with great leg room, a solid entertainment system, excellent service, and amazing food. This was all in economy. What sets the food apart is that they have a brand new menu by Chef Daniel Vézina which is absolutely stellar. I highly recommend you pay the extra to get this meal and bundle it with OptionPlus which gives you bonuses like a special check-in line, earlier boarding, and comfort package (blanket, headphones, and eye shades).
A Peek Inside the Ancient East
We arrived late to do the Kilkenny Castle tour but there was plenty to see walking around the grounds including the massive green park on one side and the rose garden on the other.
After dinner, we treated ourselves to Murphy’s Ice Cream which had just opened up in town. Our favourite flavour has to be their Dingle Sea Salt flavour which you have to try!
Smithwick’s Experience – Smithwick’s ended up being our beloved beer for the trip and would have loved to have done this tour. They also have a evening experience that sounded pretty rad.
From Castles to Kissing to a Ring Called Kerry
With a full stomach from our Irish breakfast, we hopped into our car and made our way to the Rock of Cashel. On a green hill, with banded limestone, ancient fortifications create a ring around the Gothic cathedral, round tower, and chapel. We were able to walk through the open yet remarkably intact ruins while also enjoying the rolling countryside of Tipperary. When Ed Sheeran sings about a castle on a hill, he surely must’ve been talking about this one. Entrance is 8 EUR per person.
Next stop was the famed Blarney Castle just outside of Cork. First of all the grounds of Blarney Castle and Gardens is huge and requires a half day to fully explore everything but since our mission was to kiss a certain famous stone, we walked straight to the castle tower to line up to smack lips with a stone famed for giving the gift of eloquence. We just managed to get there at the height of the queue and ended up slowly ascending to the top an hour later. If time alotted, we would have loved to have escaped the crowds and walked the Poison Garden, Fern Garden, Arboretum, and the endless other garden walks that explore the mystical and magical landscape. Entrance is 14 EUR per person booked online.
Magic on Skellig Michael
This was the most special day of the entire trip. Not only am I a Star Wars geek, I am also a super Star Wars geek. I’d be lying if I told you that I knew about Skellig Michael before The Force Awakens and I think that just goes to show you how powerful TV and film can be on travel.
The entire pilgrimage experience of zipping across the North Atlantic to discover that the white tipped Little Skellig was in fact covered by white gannets, followed by the adorable puffins that made Skellig Michael their home, and then following in the ancient footsteps of Luke Skywalker and Rey up to the monastery itself was pure magic.
One Day In Killarney
After a hearty breakfast at The Lake Hotel, we started off our late morning by checking out the hotel grounds. The hotel back right into the largest lake of the national park and as part of that, there’s also the ruins of The McCarthy Mór Castle.
You’ll need a full day exploring Killarney National Park because it’s that huge. For us, we wanted to hit up the main sights and we were able to do Muckross Abbey, Muckross House, Torc Waterfall, and Ross Castle. I was probably most impressed with the Abbey and its courtyard that must’ve inspired Tolkien.
Wanting to spend time in the town of Dingle, we hit the road right after we finished at the castle. The drive through the southern coast of peninsula was amazing to drive through as you pretty much had views of the water all the way through as you winded through. The Ring of Kerry side was always visible across the water and sufficed to say we made quite a few stops along the way.
Adventures on Dingle Peninsula
As beautiful as the Ring of Kerry was, I’d say rivals it in many ways as the drives are much more epic as Slea Head Drive literally hugs the coast. You then have the Blasket Islands that serve as the backdrop to the wild and jagged landscape of rock, ocean, and mountain ridges.
Starting in Dunquin, which is where our B&B was located, was a bit of a blessing and a curse because it allowed us to jump right into Dunquin Harbour and The Blasket Centre but since driving counter to traffic is highly inadvisable as we were told, we had to cut across the mountain in order to drive on Slea Head Drive in the clockwise direction.
Mighty Cliffs and The Burren
It’s invaluable to be able to chat with a local about their perspective of what to see and things that guide books don’t tell you about. Kris from Slieve Elva was great in this as he took the local tourist map and pointed out all the areas we should check out. While we weren’t able to follow his plan to a tee, his tips were super helpful.
So we started off getting our first hint of the Burren landscape by crossing through the countryside before dropping to the coast. Where there were rolling valleys before, large forested areas popped up and the ground bursting with streams of sharp jagged limestone.