A few months ago, I came across a fantastic Groupon for a week in Ireland with hotels, airfare and rental car included. It was almost too fantastic to say pass up, but when I learned that we’d be able to spend our wedding anniversary and my birthday there, I knew I had to go for it. So I did! As an added bonus, I was able to keep the destination a secret until A came home from deployment. What a welcome home surprise!
The trip had us move around to four different cities, driving ourselves in a manual transmission, on the wrong side of the road. But A handled it like a boss and I think not being able to drive ourselves would have been a disservice. We were able to see so much and on our own schedule. Plus some of our best stories came from trying to navigate the Irish country roads.
Our first stop (after the airport and rental car office) was Kilkenny, a town in southeast Ireland. It was probably the quaintest town we stayed in and was A’s favorite for that reason. Situated along the River Nore, this town dates back to the early 6th century. That level of history boggles my mind as we think something is “old” in the United States if it’s 200 years old.
We actually lucked out with weather the entire time we were in Ireland and didn’t get rained on at all. The sun was out for a few days and it was in the high 40s. When you travel in the “off season”, you never know what you’re going to get weather-wise, but we couldn’t have had better weather.
Where we stayed: Aspect Hotel. We were only here one night and the hotel had everything we needed. It wasn’t in the city center, but was just a short drive away, which worked out perfectly for dinner the first evening.
Where we ate:
Nourish Cafe was a bit of an accidental find, but on our first night in Ireland, it was a very welcome surprise. They had fantastic hot chocolate and were so friendly. That was true of people everywhere we went; the hospitality lived up to their reputation.
We ate dinner at Kyteler’s Inn where we actually met up with a few individuals I know through my day job. They were a great welcoming committee to Ireland and I loved that we were able to connect, especially at one of the oldest inns in Ireland.
What we did: We spent much of our time in Kilkenny wandering around town; I loved the colorful buildings and cobblestone streets. We also came across their famous (to them) hurling statue, built in honor of their obsession with hurling.
Our second big stop was Kilkenny Castle, probably their largest tourist attraction. The cost was €8.00 per person, which included the guided tour. Our tour guide was really good and had so much information to share. It took about an hour to view the public rooms.
If this trip taught me anything, it’s that I LOVE castles. Big, small, furnished, ruined, the condition doesn’t matter. Kilkenny Castle started that love affair and was definitely my favorite one of the trip. That’s why there are so many photos!
I know this may make me weird, but the exterior of the castle was probably my favorite part. I am always blown away by the intricate stonework that was all done by hand. Everything from the gate to the windows was intricate and beautiful. I’m pretty sure A loved the exterior as well, but because of the perfect grass. To say he had lawn envy would be an understatement.
That’s not to say that the interiors weren’t breathtaking as well. My favorite room was definitely the art gallery. The floors, walls and ceiling were all so intricate and gorgeous. The hand-painted ceiling had so much detail and I could have photographed every inch of it.
I have a very large number of pictures of the details of this castle, but the fireplace in the art gallery and the stained glass windows in the dining room were showstoppers. The marble fireplace mantle depicts the story of Kilkenny Castle and is original to the home.
After a half day in Kilkenny, we hit the road to head to our next stop of the trip, but took a quick detour to Rock of Cashel. For €8.00 each, we had access to the entire site (minus the chapel which was under construction) and used our Rick Steves’ tour book and my wonderful reading voice to guide us through the buildings from the 12th and 13th centuries.
The buildings are in almost total ruins, but somehow that makes them even more appealing to me. I fully anticipate printing and framing some of my Rock of Cashel photos.
The Rock sits on a hill high above the surrounding small town so when you pull up, you’re greeted with a pretty breathtaking site. And then you climb up the hill and look out and see all of the countryside spread before you. Again, A couldn’t get over the grass and I was basking in the beauty of this country.
We spent roughly an hour or so at the Rock of Cashel and then we finished our trip to Limerick, our home for two nights. Coming from the small town of Kilkenny, Limerick immediately felt very large and industrial, but the more we explored the city, the more we both enjoyed it.
Where we stayed: Limerick City Hotel. The hotel was right on the River Shannon and had a nice bar and restaurant that was PACKED at night, but made excellent chicken wings. Yes, we flew all the way to Ireland and had delicious chicken wings.
Where we ate:
On our first night, we had our anniversary dinner at Bobby Byrnes Bar. A had “amazing” fish and chips that he continued to rave about for the majority of our trip. The atmosphere was much like what we found in every pub in Ireland: warm, welcoming and full of life.
The following day (my 29th birthday!) saw us stop at The Locke for lunch, where I had a delicious roast turkey sandwich and A had shepherd’s pie. I won’t say we both licked our plates, but I won’t say that we didn’t.
A mid-afternoon snack from Hook & Ladder was just the afternoon pick-me-up we needed to keep exploring. I cannot recommend the blueberry muffin highly enough; it was more like cake than a muffin. I would have eaten 45 of them if I could have.
For dinner, we opted to go a bit fancier at the Cornstore. I was in the mood for steak and when it’s your birthday, you tend to get what you want, even if you’re in Ireland! The food was delicious, especially dessert. I would highly recommend getting the fixed menu (3 courses for €37) so you get to try a little bit of everything.
What we did:
On our full day in Limerick, we walked all over the city, stopping at what else but a castle! King John’s Castle (€10.50 each) was night and day compared to the grandeur of Kilkenny Castle, but we both still enjoyed it. The 13th century castle’s history was very robust and they had a really great museum exhibit that took you through its ups and downs.
Anything the castle lacked in terms of opulence, it made up for in the views of Limerick from the top of its lookout tower. We spent maybe two hours touring the museum and then the castle grounds themselves. Like most of our stops, we had almost the entire place to ourselves, which made my photo-taking heart happy.
Our first two cities in Ireland set the bar pretty high for the rest our trip. Celebrating our wedding anniversary and my birthday were definite highlights, but the stand out for me was definitely the Rock of Cashel. I’ll share more about our time in Galway and Dublin on Wednesday!