It wasn't the luck o' the Irish but rather the generosity of my parents that took my husband and I to the Emerald Isle this summer. The four of us wanted an adventure full of idyllic landscapes, mysterious castles, rousing pubs, and hearty feasts, so we put ourselves in the hands of Gate1 Travel's 9 Day Classic Ireland escorted tour. The country itself and the tour company with which we traveled exceeded our expectations! Join me as I reminisce about our experience.
We made our trip across the pond in mid-July, escaping the Midwest heat for Ireland's cooler temps. We'd decided that we'd rather brave the large crowds likely in peak tourist season than travel during a less popular but more cloudy time of year, and we were pleased with our choice. Gate1 and our fantastic tour guide made sure we didn't wait in many long lines, and the weather was pleasant with several days of bright sunshine!
Lest I paint too glamorous a picture of this voyage, I'll admit to you that I don't sleep well on planes and my luggage had decided to travel to Amsterdam instead of accompanying me to Ireland, so I was a bit cranky as we strolled around downtown Dublin those first few hours. Nevertheless, eating some Irish bacon at O'Neill's and meeting up with our tour group at our stately hotel lifted my spirits.
The next morning, after tea, pastries, and sausage, we began our tour of Dublin, learning from our delightful Irish guide about the long-ago nobility who lived in the grand residences we passed. We stopped at St. Patrick's Cathedral...
...and the library at Trinity College.
In the afternoon we traveled west to Galway, a small town by the sea that gave us a glimpse into a slower-paced life in Ireland. We walked past docks where people were feeding seabirds and a field where local men played soccer as if oblivious to visitors wandering through their everyday life.
Shops and pubs lined the downtown streets, and we enjoyed hearing a variety of music, watching a street entertainer, and settling into a cozy restaurant for what would become our signature Irish meal--stew, Shepherd's Pie, or some other iteration of meat and potatoes.
The sound of a flute playing an Irish hymn drifted through our hotel window that evening, and my day was complete when my suitcase and I were reunited--I know you were wondering.
Imagine how bright-eyed and bushy-tailed I felt the next morning wearing my very own clean clothes!
We traveled to the Connemara National Forest, making a brief stop to learn about the gorgeous green, pink, and black marble quarried from the region.
We spent the majority of the day at Kylemore Abbey, an amazing estate that was owned by Mitchell Henry, an inspiring man whom my husband has written about here on his blog.
The abbey itself, which had electricity even in the late 1800's, was impressive...
...as were the gardens, in which tropical fruit was grown...
...and the Gothic Cathedral that Henry built for his wife.
The next day--the sunniest we'd seen yet!--we visited the towering Cliffs of Moher, which reminded me of the iconic Cliffs of Insanity in the movie The Princess Bride. (I was glad to be already on top of these cliffs rather than hauled up via rope.) Seriously, how beautiful is this!
The next few days we traveled through the Ring of Kerry, and though the cloudy weather, winding bus ride, and soothing brogue of our tour guide tried to lull me to sleep, I fought back with tasty cappuccinos and a particularly delicious Irish coffee.
We stayed several nights in the town of Killarney, where we enjoyed a jaunting car (pony and carriage) ride through a peaceful park.
My favorite stop on our entire adventure was the Blarney Castle and Gardens. We climbed the steps to the top of the castle to kiss the Blarney Stone in hopes of acquiring the gift of gab. What an amusing experience! The Blarney "Stone" isn't actually a stone at all but rather part of the castle wall, and one must lay on one's back at an unseemly angle to kiss it. I'll spare you those photos.
While the famed Blarney Stone was humorous to me, the manicured lawns, grand estate, and curated gardens were no joke! This home made me feel like I was at Downtown Abbey or Pemberley, and I wanted very badly to enter this gate into the secret garden beyond!
Maybe I enjoyed this leg of our journey so much because it seemed to bring to life so many of my favorite stories--it sparked my imagination, and I was, for a moment, Mary Crawley, Elizabeth Bennet, and Mary Lennox.
Perhaps the most magical spot of all was this floral pathway shaded by rose-draped pergolas. It took my breath away! Pictured here are my dad and husband, trying to figure out what's taking my mom and I so long!
That afternoon we made our way to the town of Waterford, where we toured the Waterford Crystal factory and showroom.
The next day--our final day of sightseeing--we spent several hours in the charming town of Kilkenny, whose castle I'd love to revisit for closer inspection and admiration. Doesn't it look like we're standing in front of a painted backdrop here? Nope, it's just that awesome!
That evening we returned to Dublin for one last feast and some traditional Celtic entertainment, and the next day we began our trip home, vowing to travel with Gate1 again in the future, to return to some of these enchanting places, and to always remember our happy time together in peaceful Ireland.