Happy 2023 all! After a break for holiday and seasonal posts, I’m finally returning to Part 3 of our amazing Irish vacation.
While on this leg of our journey, we were still on the CIE Irish Legends organized tour. Please note that I have no affiliation with the travel company. This post is simply a digital travel log of our experiences. Begin the Irish vacation with me at 12 Day Itinerary in Emerald Isle, and continue on to Cobh, Blarney & Dingle Peninsula.
Before driving to the stunning Cliffs of Moher, the day started with a ferry ride across the wide River Shannon. Afterward, we enjoyed tea and scones and a herding demonstration at an Irish sheep farm.
The next morning, a high speed ferry took us across Galway Bay to Inishmore, the largest of three remote Aran Islands. There, we explored Dun Aengus, a pre-historic fortress perched on sheer cliffs. Back in Galway, Mr. Buzz and I headed into the Latin Quarter for traditional Irish music and dinner.
Our final day with the group was spent at Clonmacnoise, a monastic settlement founded in 545 AD. Nearby in Athlone, we visited Europe’s oldest pub. Back in Dublin that night, was an entertaining Irish dinner show. Join me lads and lassies!
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Cliffs of Moher
One of Ireland’s most famous and visited sites, the Cliffs of Moher tower over the rugged West County Clare coast. With about 1.5 million visits per year, they rank among the most visited tourist sites in Ireland.
It’s a sheer, vertical drop to the booming waves of the Atlantic. Across Galway Bay sit the Aran Islands. Formed over 320 million years ago, the cliffs sit between the edge of the Burren and ocean. Together, the landscape is an UNESCO Global Geopark.
Depending on the highly unpredictable weather, the cliffs can be cloaked in fog or basking in the sun’s rays. Although it was a clear day when we arrived, a bank of heavy fog shrouded the bottom two thirds of the cliffs, obscuring the surf below. As seen in the picture above, the mist gave the vista an almost magical, mythical quality.
We were very fortunate, because over the course of our several hour visit, the fog lifted and dissipated. Slowly, more and more of the cliffs — and finally waves — came into view. Not all visitors are so fortunate, and can experience a lot of rain during an Irish vacation.
Dramatic Land, Sea & Sky Vistas
From the visitors center, a half mile of paved pathways lead to various viewing areas. In the picture above, we are starting the walk towards O’Brien’s Tower. Below is the view from nearer the tower — after the fog had mostly lifted. It was worth the wait!
Visually spectacular, the sea cliffs run along the coast for eight to nine miles. The tower sits at about the midpoint. There, the cliffs rise out of the Atlantic to their maximum height of 702 feet.
Pictured below is the now clear view, from the perspective of the first photo at the start of this post. For a sense of scale, note the people on the viewing path in the upper left. Pictures fail to do justice to the spectacular vistas of cliffs, sea and sky! As usual, I took about a zillion photographs, and had a very difficult time picking the few shared here.
Tourist Tip: Although part of an organized tour, we were left to self-guide ourselves to explore the cliffs, pathways, and overlooks. There are also multiple good dinning options, rest rooms, gift shops, and a museum/exhibit at the visitors center. It’s a bit of a climb up to the cliffs from the center. They do shuttle people in golf carts, but they are in high demand. Once at the cliffs, Mr. Buzz and I walked along pathways and stopped at various viewing areas until reaching the tower. We did not have to time to walk to the areas seen in the picture above.
Tea, Scones & Sheep
After boarding the tour bus, we took a long, two-hour drive down winding country roads to reach an authentic Irish sheep farm. It seemed like an awfully long time, after the drive to the cliffs earlier. When we finally arrived, hubby and I were surprised and disappointed to find two other busloads of tourists already parked at the farm.
We joined the others at long banquet tables in a room where tea and tasty homemade scones were served by the farmer’s friendly wife. But, it was not the cozy, more intimate visit I had looked forward to. There must have been sixty of us!
Afterwards, the farmer led us to one of the barns where we saw sheep and lambs representing a variety of different breeds. He explained that today there is simply no money to be made selling the wool — which is mostly exported to China. Raising the animals to sell for their meat is the farm’s primary business. Giving tours supplements their income.
Sheering & Herding Sheep
But sheep still have to be sheared, and it’s laborious work that requires skill. Today, it’s hard to find people who will do it at a price that doesn’t eat up all his profits. Although the farmer can do the sheering himself, he’s at an age when it’s physically taxing. So, he and other sheep farmers are experimenting breeding sheep that require less shearing, but still produce quality meat.
A few of the women bottle fed lambs that greedily sucked down the milk in what felt like a split second!
Afterwards, the farmer introduced us to his two sheep dogs. One was an experienced senior nearing retirement. He’s a working animal who adored all the attention I lavished on him. The other was a young, rambunctious dog in training.
As the dogs demonstrated herding sheep from the field to pens and barn, the farmer explained how the young dog learned by watching and shadowing the other. Although the farmer trains his own dogs, he doesn’t usually breed them.
He left us with the impression that this is a hard life, especially since few members of younger generations want to own and operate a sheep farm. There’s also a shortage of skilled shearers, while there’s little market for the wool.
After the demonstration, we had free time to go inside the property’s original cottage home, with it’s thatched roof, beautiful garden and rustic furnishings. It was like stepping into a living museum.
After another lengthy drive, we arrived in Galway, a harbor city on Ireland’s west coast. It sits where the River Corrib (one of the fastest flowing rivers in Europe) meets the Atlantic Ocean. It is also home to a major Irish university.
Traffic gridlock and medieval streets made the advertised panoramic city bus tour impossible. Instead, our director Colum helped us to get our bearings on what was where, and provided an overview and history. Before heading to our water front hotel on the city’s outskirts, we made a stop by the lovely river. There we had the opportunity for a quick visit inside the massive Galway Cathedral. I particularly enjoyed seeing the tidal Salmon Weir Bridge.
As with other CIE accommodations on our Irish vacation, we spent two nights at the Salthill Hotel. Overlooking the famous Salthill Promenade, Galway Bay and the Clare Hills, the modern and stylish hotel is a little over a half mile from Galway’s city center. We had a sea, garden and Ferris wheel view from our room.
Rather than heading into the city after a group dinner at the hotel, hubby and I decided to stroll the promenade, watch the sunset, and make an early night of it.
The next morning we road a high speed passenger ferry from Rossaveal across Galway Bay to Inishmore, the largest of the three Aran Islands. There, hardy islanders still speak the Irish language and maintain traditional fishing and farming methods. It’s a unique place of natural beauty and historical interest, I highly recommend including an excursion there while on an Irish vacation.
It was a gorgeous day with clear blue skies, and an unusually warm day for Ireland!
Once on Inishmore, a van shuttle was waiting to take us to the visitors center at Dun Aengus, a huge pre-historic fortress perched on sheer, 300 foot cliffs above the Atlantic. A popular tourist attraction, the fortress is an important archaeological site deemed to be one of best examples of its kind in Europe. Built in the Bronze Age, it dates to at least 1,000 B.C.
Getting there from the center required a long, uphill hike, and you had to watch your footing over well-worn, slippery stones. But it was well worth the effort — even if I had to stop every so often for a break.
Consisting of a series of four concentric walls, surviving stonework is over four yards thick at some points. Originally, the fortress likely was an oval or D-shape, before part of the cliff and fort collapsed into the sea. Impressively large among prehistoric ruins, the outermost wall of the fortress encloses about 14 acres.
Rather than a military fort, archeologists theorize that the location of Dun Aengus suggests its primary purpose was religious and ceremonial. It may have been used for seasonal rites by the druids, perhaps involving the bonfires that could be seen from the mainland of Ireland.
The fortress location provides a dramatic vista of about 75 miles of spectacular coastline, which may have also provided for its defense and control over trade routes.
Tourist Tip: Most people either hire a shuttle van or rent bikes to cycle to Dun Aengus from the pier. There’s an eclectic mix of attractions along the way, including over 50 Celtic, pre-Christian, and Christian archeological monuments.
Aran Island Sweaters
The Aran Islands are famous for distinctive and easily recognized sweater patterns. Adjacent to the fort’s visitor center is the Kilmurvey Craft Village. There, we enjoyed browsing through several shops that provided a wide variety of patterns, colors and sizes of all manner of Aran sweaters. Although beautiful and reasonably priced, the sweaters were just to heavy and warm for Pittsburgh, or for NYC or Philly where our sons live.
After returning to the the island’s main village, Kilronan, our tour group enjoyed a delicious, multi-course lunch. That left us some free time to walk around the village, beach and pier. Before returning by ferry, I had a lovely conversation with a young man who provides horse and buggy rides. We struck up a conversation about living and working on Inishmore, as he bathed his horse on that particularly hot day.
Tourist Tip: Whether traveling to Inishmore from Rossaveal or Doolin (near the Cliffs of Moher), it’s absolutely essential to book ferry transportation well in advance. There is also limited hotel and bed and breakfast accommodations for overnight stays. It’s also best to reserve van shuttles to the fortress, but bike rentals (including electric options) are plentiful.
After returning to our hotel to change and relax a bit, Mr. Buzz and I were excited to explore Galway. Eighteenth-century Eyre Square is the largest in the city and one of the top things to see. Dating to medieval times when it served as a marketplace, today the square is the heart of Galway –– nestled between the transportation hub and historic Latin Quarter.
The Latin Quarter is one of the oldest parts of Galway. Getting lost in the maze of medieval streets is a must-do on an Irish vacation. Pedestrian-only, winding cobblestone streets are lined with stone-clad cafes, boutiques, galleries, and many, many traditional Irish pubs offering live folk music.
We enjoyed a wonderful evening of walking the Latin Quarter, enjoying live traditional (trad) Irish folk music and dinning.
Area Rich in Irish History & Culture
Fortunately, we were able to grab a corner, window table at Taaffes, an 150 year old village pub know for its trad music and bustling, cheery atmosphere. While hubby went to the bar to grab pints of Guinness and hard cider, I invited a young couple looking for a seat to join us. Turns out they were from Switzerland, and we had a lively and interesting conversation.
Afterwards, we walked over to The Kings Head Bistro for a delicious dinner. Located on High Street, the medieval building’s walls and fireplaces have been standing for over 800 years!
I had their famous Beef and Guinness Stew with creamy Mash — similar to my own Easy, Hearty Irish Stew for St. Patrick’s Day. Hubby thoroughly enjoyed an ample platter of locally caught seafood. We shared their exclusively brewed Blood Red Ale, which gets it’s name from a rather dark history.
After the execution of Charles I in 1649, Cromwell’s Army came to Ireland and laid siege to Galway. The building (then a long-time residence city mayors) was given as a reward to one of Cromwell’s most loyal henchmen. That man is believed to have been the actual executioner who beheaded the king. Hence the naming of the bistro and ale!
Tourist Tip: The district stretches from The Long Walk and Spanish Arch north to O’Brien’s Bridge and east to Buttermilk Lane. Some of the best streets to discover in the Latin District are lively Quay Street, quaint Kirwan’s Lane and Druid Lane.
The next morning we left Galway for Clonmacnoise, a ruined monastic settlement in County Offaly, set on the banks of the River Shannon. After crossing the bogs of Central Ireland, Saint Ciaran founded the monastery in 544 AD in an ancient territory where a major land route met the river.
The strategic location of the monastery helped it become a center of religion, learning, craftsmanship and trade. By the 9th century, Clonmacnoise was one of the most famous places in Ireland, and visited by scholars from all over Europe. Early wooden structures from that period began to be replaced with more durable stone buildings.
For centuries, the religious site was allied with “high” king dynasties, who are buried there. During the 11th century, 1,500 to 2,000 people lived and worked at the settlement.
Clonmacnoise was largely abandoned by the end of the 13th century. Today’s imposing ruins include many which have undergone conservation work. The site includes nine ruined churches, a castle, two round towers and a large number of carved stone crosses.
The Irish government manages the preserved ruin and Interpretive Centre. Pope John Paul II held a mass at Clonmacnoise as part of his famous visit to Ireland in 1979.
Travel Tip: I highly recommend visiting the center first. Begin with the informative film. Then marvel at elaborate High Celtic crosses decorated with biblical scenes. Convincing replicas stand in their original locations outdoors. Afterwards, take a guided walk of the grounds before exploring on your own.
Athlone & Sean’s Bar
Next, we headed to nearby Athlone. Located in central Ireland, it’s a popular stop for pleasure craft along the River Shannon. Lough Ree, the largest lake on the Shannon, is a short distance upstream. It was another gorgeous day on our Irish vacation, and Mr. Buzz and I watched a long, steady line of pleasure crafts move through the locks.
But first, we walked as a group past the medieval Athlone Castle to Sean’s Bar. There we all enjoyed an Irish coffee while the current owner explained the bar’s history. Featured in the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest pub in Europe, he showed us ancient walls and old coins dating back centuries.
Athlone marks the site of what was once a great ford across the Shannon. Around 900 AD an inn was established there, which is now Sean’s Bar. A settlement grew up around the crossing point, with a wooden castle to protect the settlement.
It’s a very atmospheric and wonderful spot to visit for a pint or meal. My photo’s inside the bar are quite dark and full of people. But, I did find myself sitting right beneath this Scotch sign. I couldn’t resist snapping a picture, thinking of my own Scottish Terriers, Fibber McGee and Whiskey. Read about them in, Sweet Scottie Dog: My Fuzzy Funny Valentine and Energetic & Playful Scottie Puppy.
After free time for lunch on our own, we boarded the bus for the last destination of our Irish vacation tour.
Back in Dublin
Our Ireland Vacation: 12 Day Itinerary in Emerald Isle began and ended in Dublin. Before checking into the hotel, Colum took us for a comprehensive and panoramic tour of the city. Our package included two nights, at the modern and stylish Radisson Blu Royal Hotel. Conveniently located next to popular attractions in Dublin, the hotel featured large rooms and bath, plus an outstanding breakfast buffet.
That evening was our group’s farewell dinner at Dublin’s Abbey Tavern, a traditional Irish pub and entertainment venue in a 16th century structure. The lively show showcased Irish music, song and dance. We also sang along to some of Ireland’s best loved ballads and songs, like Danny Boy. My favorite part were the dance routines; particularly the young man’s mesmerizing high speed footwork.
We added two additional nights at the hotel, which gave us three full days to explore Dublin on our own. Learn how we traced our Irish Ancestry: Genealogy, DNA & Mapping with a personalized consultation with a genealogist. It’s part of this year’s St. Patrick’s Day theme Lucky Charms Blog Hop.
Next up, in honor of Valentine’s Day, I’ll be sharing the Fun Love Boat Theme Engagement Party we recently hosted.
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Such a wonderful adventure!! We loved our visit in Ireland and can’t wait to go back, such a beautiful country and lovely people!!
Can’t wait to visit with you both in March!!
Much love 💕L&M
I can’t wait to go back either! Maybe that can finally be the vacation the four of us take together — plus visiting the places our ancestor immigrants came from? March can’t come soon enough either! Heh, maybe you and I could spend part of a day looking at dresses to wear to the wedding too?
It was such fun to revisit Ireland through your Blog, Debbie. We will be leaving in another couple of months for a trip to Italy that will end in two weeks in Ireland. It will be wonderful to see some of the places in Ireland again. Loved your photos. Thanks for sharing.
Lucky you Lynne to spend another two weeks in Ireland — and Italy too! We hope to return and this time visit the little towns and villages where we’ve traced our 30 plus Irish surname ancestor lines to. Curious what are your favorite places to return to? But this spring, we’ll be taking our pandemic delayed trip to Holland to see the tulips.
I loved seeing your trip details, Debbee. I had to open a map to determine the exact locations, but readily found them. My family’s roots are further north. Your weather looked fabulous. Thanks for taking along!
Appreciate you traveling along Rita. My Irish ancestors are all concentrated in two small counties in Ulster (so north). Hubby is an Irish “mutt”, with ancestors scattered from all over the country — but none where we visited on the tour. Although, most of Irish immigrants sailed from Queenstown, which we did visit in, Ireland Trip to Cobh, Blarney & Dingle Peninsula. We were very, very lucky in terms of the weather.
Debbee, your photos are amazing! Those cliffs are stunning and the Latin Quarter in Galway looks like so much fun. Like Rita, I had the map open and my roots are further north too – from my genealogy notes in Ulster, Derry, and “northern Ireland” more generally. It sounds like you had a fantastic trip – hope to get there myself one day. Thank you for sharing this leg of the journey. P.S. Those sweaters look like they would be perfect for our current weather (-26 C this morning brrr). Happy Sunday!
When there, I was so worried the view wouldn’t clear of the cliffs. But, some of my favorite pictures are with all the fog and mist lol! Medieval and waterfront Galway are really neat, and worth dealing with the traffic and congestion to get to. My Irish ancestors are also from Ulster, which we did not visit this trip. Hubby’s are from all over the Emerald Isle. Our return trip will take us to the non-tourist villages and towns they came from. Hope you get there too! So much to see and do, even for those without Irish roots. Oh my goodness, sounds like you need several Aran sweaters layered on top of each other! Stay warm Kim!
I so enjoy armchair traveling with you! Your photography is just fantastic! My late ex’s family came from Cork and are related to Grace O’Malley, a woman pirate in the 1600s. I enjoy learning about her! The greeness of Ireland has always fascinated me–maybe fertilizer from all those sheep? I can imagine “boggarts” coming up out of that fog with no difficulty!
Lovely of you to travel along Kathy! I love your pirate story too! It’s like my ancestor envy for hubby’s Revolutionary War spy lol! Got a giggle out of your theory for why it’s called the Emerald Isle. Sheep and cows are everywhere, and we were lucky not to experience any of their legendary rain.
Most of it sounds rather lovely but oh, those cliffs! How perfect that you got to see them all fog covered in the morning and watch as the fog lifted and cleared too.
I know right? Really awesome with and without the fog actually. Someday I hope to also get to see the white Cliffs of Dover.
You have really beautiful photos from your travels! Thank you for sharing, my sister went to Ireland several years ago and really enjoyed the countryside. Maybe one of these days…
Glad you enjoyed them Cara! What were your sister’s favorite places in Ireland?
My goodness Debbee, you know, she loved everywhere she visited, but the most memorable that sticks out to me at the moment is the Blarney Stone where tourists kiss it, and natives do not so nice things to the stone from what she relayed to me. I got a good chuckle out of the story, probably why that one sticks out to me most.
I loved visiting Blarney Castle — so beautiful! But hubby and I skipped kissing the stone, partly because of Covid, as I describe in, Ireland Trip to Cobh, Blarney & Dingle Peninsula.
I was lucky enough to visit Ireland a couple of years ago and really loved the Cliffs of Moher and Aran Island. I was very excited to see your pictures when I saw the name of your post. They were great and I enjoyed reading your post also. Thanks for sharing!
We are both lucky lassies Catherine! One of the reasons we chose that particular tour was because it was one of the few to visit the Aran Islands. Happy you enjoyed returning their with me for a trip down memory lane.
Wonderful and informative post! I’ve visited Ireland often as my sister-in-law was born and raised in County Cork. I never visited any of the Aran Island. however, and I’d love to see them someday.
Lucky you Pat, visiting Ireland with family — multiple times! That must be the best way to see another country/culture. I loved our Aran Island day and highly recommend it (but only in good weather). Working on my final post now, 3 days exploring Dublin and our ancestry.