Kevin and Debby in Ireland
Copyright 1994, Kevin C. Killion. All Rights Reserved.
Here is a collection of observations and notes on visiting Ireland, based on our
honeymoon trip way back in the summer of 1986. Now, that is quite a while ago --
since then, the Irish economy has vigorously exploded and that has led to quite a few
changes. But we suspect
that many of the best parts of our trip are near-eternal. We hope that they will help you to enjoy
your visit there as much as we did!
-- Kevin & Debby Killion
Don't be afraid...
- to try pubs
- to pick up hitchhikers
- to ask directions: everyone will be happy to help, and it starts some good
- to start conversations: we had a wonderful discussion of castles and folklore
with some older ladies we just said hello to on the sidewalk.
- to explore unmarked castles, ruins, towers, monasteries (e.g., Quin Abbey near
- to try Guinness
- to be known as an American -- Americans are quite popular, just about everyone
has relatives in America
- to inquire about relatives
DO be cautious...
- In Dublin -- watch purses, passports, lock car. Consider staying out of town
(there is a good train system in). Dublin is a real city and a modern city,
and one with its
share of modern day problems. They're not kidding you when they warn about
crime, etc., though it's probably way safer than New York.
- Kids in rural areas have been known to revolve the directional signs for fun.
Wear and bring...
- something warmer than whatever you expect. Expect at least a few clammy days.
However, you'll be in a great location for buying some great, very warm Irish
- subdued colors if you want to blend in (except in Dublin)
Things to know
- Are you on your honeymoon? If flying Aer Lingus, make sure your reservation
- On bright overcast days (i.e., most days), compensate cameras accordingly
- Bord Failte (tourist board) offices (in most towns) are very helpful, friendly
and honest, but only if you ask for help. They can help you plan an itenary, or
will make reservations at a B&B for you.
- Bord Failte also has guides for individual things you might like to do, and
for each county
- Get literature from the Bord Failte office in New York before leaving. Some
of the booklets they give away for free in the U.S. have a fee in Ireland.
- Pronounce that as "Board Fell'chuh". "Failte" means "welcome", so it's the
welcoming board! You see the phrase "Caed Mille Failte" everywhere, meaning,
"one hundred thousand welcomes".
- The "Real Guide" to Ireland is your best bet for a down-to-earth
Irish adventure. Look for guidebooks that cover the whole country; some
cover Dublin to excess, while slighting everything else. Another excellent
guide: Bord Failte's "Ireland Guide"
- Dublin is a modern city (in spirit, that is), unlike most of the rest of
Ireland. Bright colors and a wider range of modern restaurants and modern
things to do are in Dublin. But our own visit to Dublin
was somewhat less than we had hoped for: it didn't help that
a steady -- not merely "soft" -- rain fell throughout our stay in Dublin, and that
a garbage strike was adding a certain aura to the place as well.
- Among smaller cities, Killarney is pleasant, with some good shops and
restaurants but it's very tourist-oriented.
Galway is a good compromise: it
may be bigger than Killarney, but it copes better with holding onto an identity
in the face of tourism.
A reader of this page adds:
One small quibble...Killarney IS touristy, but, compared
to tourist areas in
the U.S., it's unspoiled! We're going to use it as our travel base on our trip...
- The most Irish Irish pubs, restaurants and scenery will be in smaller towns.
The Connemara, Dingle, and Doolin are the places for traditional music, etc. If
asked to choose just one of those on a limited time budget, we'd pick Dingle. It's
amazing how many people rhapsodize about their time spent on the Dingle peninsula.
Driving in Ireland
- If driving, you won't get as far as fast as you think
- Ireland has the lowest traffic density in Europe (7 miles of road for every
registered vehicle), but be careful on curves.
- Plan for a day or so to adjust to driving on the left (and then watch out for
the Irish driving in the center and the Americans driving on the right!)
- Buy a good map as soon as you arrive, or before. The roads are very
convoluted, and the map they give you at the rent-a-car just won't do. (We
highly recommend the Michelin map, #405)
- It's a personal preference, but we can't imagine going back to Ireland without
renting a car. (Or, if we were 15 years younger, just hitchhiking around.) Too
much of the "good stuff" is hidden away in obscure towns and back roads.
- Get wired into the B&B network: when you find a good one, the keeper of the
house will recommend you to another good one in the next town
- Good B&Bs will also have business cards of other good B&Bs in other towns
- B&Bs are the best way to get tips, meet people (there are many Irish tourists
as well as foreign visitors), and generally have good conversations
- Make sure you get the B&B directory from Bord Failte
Our favorite B&Bs
- Kinsale: Old Presbytery -- great fun, interesting place, right in town (can
walk to everything)
- Dingle: Mrs. Houlihan (easy walk to pubs, restaurants)
- Killarney: Fair Haven (Mrs. Teahan)
- Waterford: Foxmount in Halfway House (Mrs. Kent) -- More of a formal English
inn than a B&B, but still great fun and our best meal in Ireland! Phone
- Carrick-on-Shannon: Mrs. Nolan
- Open evenings until midnight (or at least that's when they lock the doors!
Actual festivities sometimes continue past midnight.)
- Dingle: Flaherty's
- Kinsale: Shanakee (a fun bar, with pass-the-mike singalong, mostly Irish
patrons). Don't miss!
Update: One reader of this page passed along these notes:
My wife and I visited Ireland in 1994 and had experiences very similar
to yours. We had a great time at the Shanakee in Kinsale. They have a
room in the back where locals do Set dancing (not step dancing). Its
very much like our square dancing but without calls. I miss the place
so much that I surf sites just to remember. I found yours, by the way,
by searching the word "gaeltecht". Thanks for sharing your memories.
- Doolin: we only visited during the daytime, when it was dead quiet. We hear
that the best traditional Irish music in the world is here, at night.
- Killarney is pretty touristy. The worst place is Laurel's, which caters to
the bus tour trade.
Stuff to see: OLD
- Newgrange (easy drive NW of Dublin): A must-see! We thought this was the most
astonishing thing we encountered -- a 5,000 year old burial structure in fairly
intact condition, with very significant astronomical alignments. Picture it
like this: Like Stonehenge, it's a wonder of antiquity, except that it's in
much better shape, you can actually walk right down and into it, and stand where
people did 5,000 years ago, and see where the sun will shine on the winter
solstice, and then only! Absolutely astonishing! The only way to account for
why everyone knows about Stonehenge but nobody knows about Newgrange must be
that Stonehenge has a much better PR firm.
- Glendalough (SW of Dublin): St. Kevin's hermitage. Very pretty,
verypeaceful, with high cross, round tower and other ancient structures.
Another excellent day-trip from Dublin: Glendalough is very pretty, and has
genuine historic/religious significance. There is a round tower and a high
cross: two of the items that should be on everyone's checklist of things to see
in Ireland. Also St. Kevin's Church (a ruin) and a place called St. Kevin's
bed. The legend goes that St. Kevin (a hermit) lived by himself on a rock shelf
above the Glendalough valley for a decade or so. But he was visited by one
Kathleen who tempted him with "eyes of unholy blue". He was so enraged by her
temptations, that he threw her from the cliff. (How come they never told the
really good stories like that in the lives of the saints when I was in Catholic
grade school?) St. Kevin was later visited by a fate that must seem even worse
to a hermit: they built an extensive monastic community around him!
- Staigue Fort, on the Ring of Kerry drive. An impressive and very ancient
stone fort. Follow maps carefully, the signage is minimal
- Book of Kells and St. Patrick's, in Dublin. As long as you're in Dublin,
these are the must-sees there.
- Clonmacnois, near Athlone (unfortunately, this is kind of out of the way for
most visitors. Our relatives live in Athlone.)
- Charles Fort, near Kinsale. More recent (only a few hundred years old!)
Stuff to see: MODERN
- Waterford Crystal factory tour: a very nice surprise. You can walk right
onto the shop floor.
- Dublin: A city that will leave quite different impressions, good and bad, on
different people. A reader of this page recently (1998) sent us this update:
I have to say that Dublin has changed a lot in the past decade,
but you may find some of the changes not in keeping with the
"traditional Ireland" that you liked so much.
It's true that Dublin has now got all the problems that you'd
expect to find in a "small" major city, if you catch my
But because of the recent economic boom in Ireland Dublin in
particular has become quite cosmopolitan. For example you can now
find, Italian, French, Russian, Chinese, Thai, Cajan, Mexican,
Mongolian and yes, even American restaurants, all in and around
the city centre. The prices do vary but they start at about
£15.00 a head.(that's including a bottle of wine)
As I'm sure you know from your visit there are plenty of pubs
around which now do all kind of foods also. But be warned ! The
price of the famous pint (Guinness) in the city is outrageous
at about £2.80 a pint, but it is a beautiful beautiful pint !!
Most of the pubs now stay open until 2am at the weekends.
You'll find all the snack food you can stomach, we get MTV here
too, so all things American are very popular.
It's true that a visitor coming to Ireland will want the old
country charm, but remember that Dublin is now over a thousand
years old and is as Irish as Irish can be.
- Check Bord Failte and other literature for local festivals (e.g., we went to
"An Tostal" in Drumshanbo) and market days (e.g., a weekly event in Kilrush)
Dining in Ireland
In general, there seemed to be two extremes of food available: "pub grub" with
all the same thrills of English cuisine, and extremely fancy French-style
dining. (No kidding about that French influence: There is regular ferry
service direct from Ireland and France). So you'll find a million pubs that
serve smallish sandwiches, and a sprinkling of posh classy places. What we had
trouble finding in the rural areas was anything in between.
- Hot foods are served very hot; cold beverages are served warm
- Bring cookies: you'll have a tough time finding American-style munchies in the rural areas
- Based on our B&B experience, the national food of Ireland is Kellogg's Corn Flakes
- Hope you like eggs (fried), bacon, sausage, dry toast, milk and orange juice.
- The best meals we had were at Foxmount, near Waterford (see "accommodations")
- Kinsale, a quite interesting town on the coast south of Cork, has a reputation
as the fine dining capital of Ireland.
- Galway has a good selection of good restaurants
- B&Bs sometimes serve meals, and sometimes they're very good. Check to see if
yours serves dinner.
- We liked Foley's in Killarney. There was an older lady singing sweetly with
the piano. She did a wonderfully soulful version of Sloop John B!
- "The Mill House", somewhere near Macroom on the road from Killarney to Kinsale
- "Crook Log House", just west out of Galway
Dublin is a different story altogether, I hasten to add. It's modern, and
there should be something for everyone.
- Galway: many good stores (and other things to do). Especially liked Padraic O'Maille. (And I'm pining to visit
on our next Ireland trip.)
- Tralee: a delightful town! Many stores, restaurants. (Look for the wall
mural of St. Brendan discovering America -- really!)
- Dublin: specialty stores north of river, department stores south of river
- Killarney: good stores, but rather touristy
- Avoca mills, in Avoca, south of Glendalough. You can walk through the textile
mills (just ask).
"Corny, but it works..."
- Medieval banquets: pricey and a tad silly, but fun
- Blarney Castle: surprisingly interesting. Some of the guidebooks says
Blarney Castle is unpleasant and crowded, but they must be talking about the
heart of the vacation season. It was a kick to actually see (and kiss) the
Blarney Stone. As to whether or not you WANT to kiss the stone, that's another
story. You have to bend over backwards and let yourself be lowered by
attendants over an edge. (No, you can't fall, I think.)
- The whole island!!!! (In our first view as we descended, we were struck by
how intensely and genuinely green everything was!)
- The really gorgeous and classically Irish part of Ireland is the west coast:
The Ring of Kerry, the Dingle Peninsula (the tourist literature promotes the R
of K, we liked Dingle better), the Burren, the Cliffs of Moher, and Galway and the Connemara.
- Killarney National Park -- breathtakingly beautiful. If you're staying in
Killarney, you'll probably pass through this area on any trip to the west.
- Muckross House and gardens, just out of Killarney (you can park directly at
the house, despite many encouragements to park earlier and take a ride up).
- Cliffs of Moher
- The Burren (there is a good visitor's center as well)
- Dingle peninsula: stay here if you can. Great scenery, excellent restaurants,
pubs. See Conor Pass on the way to Dingle town, also shipwreck and rocky coast
at far point, Sleahead. Also, Gallarus Oratory (tiny, ancient).
- Dingle and Conamara are in the "Gaeltecht", the Irish-speaking area. Some
directional signs in Conamara are in Irish only, especially when you get as far out as Clifden.
Things we didn't do (but want to do on our next trip)
- Donegal (sounds wonderful!) and Mayo
- Spend more time in Doolin
- Aran Islands
- Nightlife, theater, restaurants in Dublin
- Visit the parish my grandfather came from,
Rahara in Co. Roscommon
Ireland is magic, maybe leftover from the ancient Celts.
But there is a feeling of things being in order,
of priorities that make sense, and an absence of the looniness of
corporate America. Soon after our trip, we ran into a few people who thought
that Ireland (at least back then) was depressing: they couldn't cope with the absence
of fanciness and obvious wealth. But on our trip Ireland seemed abundantly possessed
of certain qualities of life that we seem to have lost in America.
We can only hope that Ireland preserves these qualities in the face of
newfound affluence and a growing economy.
- All dogs in Ireland are black-and-white
- There are no leashes in Ireland
We hope you have a wonderful adventure!
Kevin & Debby Killion
Your comments are welcomed.
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Entire contents Copyright 1994, Kevin C. Killion, Arlington Heights, Illinois. All Rights Reserved.