A Family Road Trip Through Ireland

Being an expat in Dublin had many benefits, and feeding my voracious appetite for travel was at the top of the list. We had the good fortune of traveling to many places across Europe while we were there, and I especially loved the time we had to explore Ireland itself. While small, Ireland is a spectacularly beautiful country full of amazing art, fascinating history and the friendliest people you could ever hope to meet.

One of my favorite tours was a seven day family road trip we took around the island. My husband’s family, the Madden clan, flew over to get in touch with their roots. In a mini-van. Seven of us. AND all of our luggage. Yippie!

St Stephens Green in Dublin

Day 1 – Dublin to Galway

After a couple of rare sunny days in Dublin, we packed into the van and headed north. As usual, my husband Dennis drove while I navigated, the other family members crammed in the back, most with luggage on their laps. Our first stop was Bru na Boinne, to see the megalithic sites of Newgrange and Knowth. These passage tombs were built over 5,000 years ago and are truly impressive. We spent time in the visitor center learning the site’s fascinating history, and then were taken by bus to the tombs themselves. Crawling into the tomb at Newgrange is a scary and exhilarating experience, even if my old bones had difficulty crouching down to make my way through the low ceilinged passageway.

The visitor center has an excellent cafeteria, so after fortifying ourselves with lunch we drove the short distance to the town of Kells to explore the Kells monastery. We had seen the Book of Kells in Dublin, so it was a treat to explore the monastic site where it had been preserved for centuries, with its excellent round tower and beautiful Saint Columba’s Church. After spending more time at Kells than we had planned, we headed to Galway for two nights in the Western Hotel, a nice hotel in the heart of the city.

Newgrange

Day 2 – Connemara National Park

The next morning we climbed into the van for a driving tour of Connemara National Park, one of the natural treasures of Ireland. But first, we took a short detour to the farming community of Grange, for some family history. Grange was the birthplace of my husband’s grandfather, who immigrated to the US in 1903. It was a moving sight to see three generations of Maddens pose for photos at their ancestral home, and I believe it was this moment that cemented Dennis’s decision to get his Irish citizenship. We spent the remainder of the day enjoying the natural beauty of Connemara. We stopped at Croagh Patrick, a important pilgrimage site, took in the nearby famine memorial, and finished with a short hike from the Connemara National Park visitors center. Exhausted from a very full day out, we had dinner at the lively pub in our hotel.

Three generations at the family farm

Day 3 – Galway to Lisdoonvarna

Unfortunately we didn’t have much time to explore Galway, a wonderful city worth a few days itself. We had an early morning start in order to get to Doolin in time for the ferry to the Aran Islands. We boarded the boat for our ride to Innisheer, and encountered very rough seas on our crossing. It was not a pleasant journey, with most of the people on the boat getting violently seasick; we braved the bad weather on the outer deck, huddled together under our raincoats, just to get some fresh air. Back on dry land we began to explore the island on foot, but the driving rain finally beat us down and we ended up hiring a man with a van to take us around to the various sites on the island. It was worth enduring the rough seas on the ferry ride back for the fantastic view you get of the Cliffs of Moher from the ocean.

We packed up and on to our next overnight location, Lisdoonvarna. Why there, you might ask? Well, we had several Tolkien fans on our trip (including myself) and there are numerous Tolkien associations with Lisdoonvarna and the surrounding area, The Burren. We had dinner at one of Tolkien’s hangouts, The Roadside Tavern, a pub famous for their live music. We only listened for a short while, since the music didn’t start until 9 pm; after our adventures that day we were too exhausted to stay longer. We went back to our home for the night, The Elements B&B, a wonderful property with extremely friendly proprietors.

The Cliffs of Moher

Day 4 – Lisdoonvarna to Tralee

We spent time the next morning at the Cliffs of Moher. Since our last trip there they’ve built a fantastic visitor center. While the cliffs themselves are the main attraction, make sure to spend some time in the center learning about the story of this great natural wonder. After gawking at the cliffs for awhile, we spent a few hours on a driving tour around the Dingle Peninsula. The scenery is spectacular, amazing ocean views and lush green landscapes around every turn. We made a stop to see the Beehive huts, medieval stone huts built without any mortar, believed to date back to the eighth century. After enjoying dinner and a televised game of hurling in a Dingle sports bar, we ended our day back at the very pleasant Willows B&B in Tralee for the night.

The Dingle peninsula

Day 5 – Tralee to Kilkenny

We had an early morning wake up call to get to the Kissane Sheep Farm in time for the show. Along the way we passed through the spectacular scenery of Killarney National Park, the first national park in Ireland. At the farm we were fascinated watching the sheep dogs in action, followed by a sheep shearing demonstration. Then we drove on to the Rock of Cashel, one of the most important medieval sites in Ireland. If you only visit one castle during your time in Ireland, this should be it (Blarney’s nice too, but the stone kissing can be skipped). After a wonderful guided tour of Cashel, we continued on to Kilkenny, checking into The Kilford Arms, a very nice hotel right in the heart of town. After wandering a bit, we happened upon Kytelers Inn and stopped for dinner. Built in 1324, this medieval pub is one of the oldest in Ireland. It has a wonderful history and a resident ghost, Dame Alice, the original owner of the pub. She had 4 husbands and a successful business of her own, so of course she was accused of witchcraft. Fortunately, the story has a happy ending with Alice escaping to England before they could burn her at the stake.

Day 6 – Kilkenny to Rosslare Harbour

We spent the morning walking the Medieval Mile from Kilkenny Castle to the Cathedral and back. At the Cathedral, the more energetic of our group climbed the 121 steps inside the round tower, the only round tower in Ireland open for tourists. We also found a great place for shopping near the castle, at the Kilkenny Design Center, where you can find a wide variety of locally made products. After shoehorning ourselves back into the van we drove toward Rosslare Harbour. Along the way, we stopped at the Irish National Heritage Park just outside Wexler. Here they’ve reconstructed buildings from the stone-age on up. While these aren’t authentic ruins, they did a good job of getting the reconstructions accurate and it provides a great overview of Irish history and heritage with lots of hands on activities for kids. That evening we checked into The Ferry Porthouse B&B in Rosslare Harbour, where some of our group were catching the ferry to Wales the next morning.

Day 7 – Rosslare Harbour to Dublin

With a wee bit more room in the van, the next morning we visited the town of New Ross for the Dunbrody Famine Ship Experience. These ships took starving immigrants from Ireland to Canada and the US during the time of the famine. There were actors reenacting what life was like onboard, many telling the sad stories about how a large number of passengers died enroute. One actress seemed to take a dislike to me (or she was just enjoying her role) and started yelling, accusing me of theft and berating me for my lower class status! I just stammered and stared at the ground which seemed to only spur her on. Traumatized, we made our escape and headed back to the port where our remaining visitors caught the ferry to Cherbourg, France. Then a long ride back to our Dublin home for Dennis and I, where we luxuriated in the peace and quiet. While I loved having family visit, we needed time for recuperation before the next wave of visitors arrived!

Dunbrody famine ship

I want to thank my sister-in-law Jensie for her contribution to this post. Jensie, your itinerary and journal (which I borrowed from liberally!) were a tremendous help in recalling the specifics of our wonderful trip. Thanks!

4 Comments

  1. Moira says:

    Thanks so much, Ross! I so enjoyed this delightful adventure through Ireland that you shared! I felt like I was back in the land of so many of my ancestors ☘️
    You went to so many more places than Bud and I were able to visit, but this all brought back lots of good memories❣️☘️❣️

    Like

    1. Ross says:

      Glad you enjoyed it, Moira!

      Like

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