Day One, December 16th/17th
Dashing to Dublin
So this last December, I was blessed with the incredible experience of going to Ireland thanks to my wonderful boyfriend Michael.
We flew out of San Francisco International Airport on December 16th at 11:20am. It was crazy because we were all so excited to go on the trip, of course, we were going to experience a rocky start. Is vacation really vacation without a little bit of chaos? Of course not!
This is the first time in which I’ve ever been out of the country, therefore making it the
longest flight I have ever been on thus far. So you can only imagine, but 8 hours goes by so very slowly when you are packed in like a sardine in a row of four people. Also, I think I have a phobia of sleeping in front of people, so of course, sleeping was really out of the question.
We landed in Iceland at Keflavik International Airport at around 4 in the morning, which was honestly mind-blowing considering we left San Francisco at 11am. Our layover lasted about 2 hours, so we boarded the plane for Dublin around 7am. The excitement was uncontainable at this point, so yet again, there was no sleeping on this flight no matter how badly I was fighting sleep! It was fascinating to me as well, hearing the flight attendants speak over the intercom in English, as well as Gaelic! I can not get over their language and how beautiful it sounds.
It felt like everyone else on the plane was sound asleep except for me. So this was frustrating because I just knew that sleep would help me in the long run but I was NOT tired. So when we landed, I was super excited and awake. Then came the reality of getting off the plane, finding our rental car company and then directing our party of four to the Clarence Hotel in Dublin.
I wasn’t even the one driving, but from the get-go, it was the most bizarre concept that they drive on the OPPOSITE SIDE OF THE ROAD. Mike was driving and it was a pure miracle that he was able to make it to the hotel without wrecking. Believe you me, it was the biggest relief making it to the hotel. Which, we stayed at The Clarence Hotel. Mind you, Mike and I booked this hotel online beforehand with no recommendation to go here we simply based it off of location, pictures, and the price and we were SO happy with this choice! If you’re planning to travel to Ireland and you’re staying in Dublin, this location is perfect because it is so centralized and everything was so close by to walk to! Literally, the back of the hotel opens to the Temple Bar area and from there-there are so many places close by like St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Trinity College, St. Stephen’s Green and so much more. To be honest with you, I’ve never been so tired in my whole entire life. Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but I shit you not, I slept for at least 5 hours straight once we got settled in.
It was honestly the funniest thing ever because Sharon (Mike’s mom) was sitting in the chair reading about the hotel and what not, and I was trying to hold a conversation with her. I remember looking out the window and thinking, “Wow, it’s daylight and I am so tired right now!” Literally, the next thing I know I’m waking up and Sharon is snoozing in the twin bed next to me, and the sky outside is dark and cloudy! I bolt out of bed and check my phone, pretty sure it was ONLY about six o’clock.
So we went out for our first night in Dublin, it was honestly one of the most surreal things I’ve experienced in my life thus far. We walked alongside the River Liffey, it was wide across and quiet and slow-moving – like many of the rivers in Ireland apparently. We ate at a familiar American restaurant that you all know, the Hard Rock. It was a momentous occasion for me, I had my very first Guinness here! It is safe to say that Guinness in America cannot even remotely compare to Guinness in Ireland and yes I’m saying this because it’s brewed about 10 blocks down from where we were drinking it!
It was funny too because I thought that while we were in Ireland we would get to hear that authentic Irish music. On the contrary, we actually heard more musicians singing American covers rather than traditional Irish songs. Granted, we heard some amazing music, it was just super ironic. We settled in at this craft brewery called J.W. Sweetman’s. Which was this gorgeous three story(I think) building, and there was live music playing on the second floor so we headed up there.
I know that there are some cool bars in America and I know if you’re reading this thinking, “Sarah you’re only 22 give it time,” but I swear all these bars in Ireland were beautifully interwoven! I made Mike come upstairs with me to explore this place further, and there was a bar on each floor and there were people all over the place! How I would kill to be a fly on the wall watching all the excitement in that place right now. Mike also found this door called the “Confession Box” which I’m assuming was a banquet room or something along those lines, but of course, made for a great photo opportunity… sorry mom and dad.
Day Two, December 18th
Kilkenny and The Rock of Cashel
On our first official day in Ireland, we took off for Kilkenny Castle at around 8:30 in the morning. I walked with Mike to go get the car out of the parking garage as the sun was just beginning to rise over the river Liffey.
We got coffee at this quaint, cute little place that was literally a life saver also because they were open on Christmas day… so score. Be sure to check them out! They were literally right down the street from the hotel! It’s called the Dwarf Jar Coffee, they also look like they have live music, and booze! (Now called something completely different since it’s taken me 1,000 years to write this LOL) It’s now called The Music Cafe Dublin.
Kilkenny castle was amazing, and we were lucky enough to have a special tour guide. I was able to capture some amazing pictures of the castle and the surrounding areas. We ate at Kyteler’s Inn for lunch which was this incredibly cozy little pub!
We were headed for Cork when Mike saw a sign for the Rock of Cashel. This was one of the spots that he had wanted to see and I am beyond grateful that we stopped. It was one of the most beautiful sites I have ever seen from a distance let alone up close. It amazes me that there are these ruins all over the countryside that have been preserved for as long as they have. It was kind of funny, I had never imagined that phrase, “Oh look! There’s a castle!” Ever coming out of my mouth… but literally on the Irish countryside that was a frequently used phrase between all four of us! It was incredible to imagine the monument if it was completely restored. The ceilings would have been so high, and you could see where there used to be walkways that looked like they were at least three stories above our heads. There was also a painting that it looked like they were trying to restore and preserve. The most mind-blowing thing was the way a piece of the building had come crashing down and they just put a fence around it to keep people from walking up to it. Also, the graveyard was hauntingly beautiful. There were so many high crosses and there was one in particular that I just recently found out had been struck by lightning in 1976 that was broken because of the metal rod that ran across the top of the cross.
We stayed in Cork at the River Lee Hotel. This hotel was not only gorgeous, but the staff was so sweet and extremely welcoming. It was so funny, the receptionist that was working at the desk when we came to check in asked us how the trip was going so far and she didn’t want to overwhelm us with information. We said we didn’t mind and that we appreciated the information! She proceeded to inform us that most couples come in on the brink of divorce because driving is so stressful. I’m honestly NOT surprised! She put these warm towels in front of us and I was so confused because I’ve never had anyone offer that before at a hotel. It was cold outside, but not too cold. Although the warmth felt nice on our face and hands. It was calming, and she said that because most people come in so flustered it helps to calm them down.
For dinner, we ate at Rearden’s, which had an eclectic selection of food from nachos to pizza but was still remarkably delicious. Mike and I went off and adventured through the town that night after dinner. We found ourselves at this pub called The Oliver Plunkett where I tried Bulmer’s Cider for the first time due to a recommendation from my sweet sweet God sister! It was so fun, I love live music but I hate when it gets to the point that it’s so loud and you can’t even have a basic conversation. So Mike and I traveled to the second story where he scoped out a quieter bar and we were able to drink and still hear our own thoughts!
Day Three, December 19th
Party in Killarney
The next morning we went and explored around Cork a little bit just by walking. Mike had recently seen this movie on Netflix that took place in Cork Ireland so we had to go the English Market! The movie is called The Young Offenders, it’s hilarious and to be honest I can hardly understand half of the stuff they are saying but it’s entertaining, to say the least. (Actually, I just went a rewatched the trailer for it and suddenly I can understand everything that they’re saying). So, of course, me trying to be the coffee/photography guru that I think I am I tried ordering Mike a mocha and he ended up getting a latte instead. SORRY MICHAEL! Then I forced him to take what I consider a cute picture in front of the English Market sign where a part of the movie was filmed.
The rest of the day was spent traveling to the Ring of Kerry. We had originally planned on continuing on and finishing the ring, but it was so late in the day! I would definitely advise anyone wanting to complete the Ring of Kerry to start in the morning so that you have sunlight on your side especially if it’s during the winter hours. So it was kind of incredible but my mom texted me the day before and it was my Godmother’s birthday on the 17th. She texted me telling me that my Godsister Heather had studied abroad in Ireland and to definitely text her. So, of course, I had to! I instantly was beyond jealous because who wouldn’t be jealous of someone that was able to study abroad in Killarney?!
As we were on our way to Killarney, Mike saw this sign for this place called The Shire I obviously started freaking out because I love anything Lord of the Rings… It was kind of hysterical because we almost went 10km down the wrong road, thank goodness we realized that this bar was actually on our way in Killarney. Driving on the opposite side of the road, and continuing on throughout these windy tiny roads really takes its toll, so I was grateful when we came into Killarney and we were able to take a break. Plus, this bar was one of the coolest places that I’ve ever been so that was also a plus. You will quite literally feel like you’ve been transported to Middle Earth, so if you’re a LOTR fan, be sure you stop by for a pint of Guinness at The Shire!
So as we were about to leave the shire, the bartenders advised us to “stay off the road” or in other words, drive the Ring of Kerry in the morning because it had grown so late after our pints of Guinness and we needed to seek to lodge somewhere nearby. Now the place Mike and I found wasn’t the Prancing Pony but it was this absolutely beautiful hotel that I never would’ve imagined staying at. It was called The Malton(I guess looking it up it is called the Great Southern?) and for the price? It was beyond worth it. We ended up wandering around the town, finding all these very neat little pubs and clubs – literally we discovered this random nightclub that you would never have expected to find in this small little “sleepy” town! I managed to track down this place and it’s called The Killarney Grand, thank goodness it was just a short walk to the hotel because otherwise, that would’ve been much rougher than it was! It was such a blast, and I mean who knew dancing to music on potentially someone’s iPod could be so much fun?!
There was this long glass corridor where you walked out to the pool, and at night, they had it decorated with these gorgeous pink lights, almost a champagne color. I remember telling Mike that I wanted to take a picture of them but by the time we got back there that night they had locked the doors and the lights were off. It made me appreciate the memories we have of the moments we spend with the people that we love when we’re not focusing on taking pictures with our cellphones honestly. I would give anything to go back and kiss him in that hallway of lights!
Day Four, December 20th
The Ring of Kerry
On the fifth day in Ireland we made our way to see the burning ring of fire… oh wait, the Ring of Kerry which I’ve mentioned at least four times now. It was gorgeous and we were able to go to Portmagee which was a little way off the beaten path but so worth it. Mike says as we’re traveling along the road, “Can you imagine, this had to of been the exact road that Mark Hammel had to drive down to get here,” because if you’re as big of a Star Wars nerd as we are then you would know that Skellig Michael is where the beginning of Star Wars The Last Jedi was filmed! DUH. Mike had shown me this picture a while ago of these beautifully painted houses that I couldn’t get over, I mean maybe it was increased saturation, but these were houses that I was not going to pass up taking a photo of. We ate at The Moorings, in the Bridge Bar which the food was absolutely delicious and there’s something so amazing about having authentic clam chowder right by the ocean that is unlike any other experience that you will ever have.
We continued around the ring, and of course, there were so many moments that I wanted to force Mike to pull over so that I could take pictures but if that was the case then we would literally still be there over a month later! So there were certain moments in which he also recognized the photo opportunities and I could not be happier about that. The ocean was beautiful, and the air was fresh and wonderful, it was turquoise blue. Even though most of the time it was sprinkling I just could stand there forever and watch the waves come rolling in. What I would give to own one of those little houses on the beach there. I could not believe the number of cars that were on the road for winter, and not to mention even the buses were so crazy to be out there in the weather and passing cars on the other side of the road. Being in Ireland really skewed my perception of time and distance because even though the map told us that places were only a certain distance away from the majority of the time they seemed so much further away and I swear that the map was messing with us, to be honest. The whole time we were driving around the ring I thought that it should’ve taken us at least a couple days but then suddenly we would arrive at a milestone or a significant marker and I would be caught off guard.
The next really cool place that we were supposed to stop at was Ross Castle, and that definitely did not disappoint. The castle stands at the edge of the lake Lough Leane, it was an overcast day, so it was perfect for taking pictures. The tours were closed due to the season, but you can still walk your way all around the castle and even up some stairs that are still intact.
We made our way through the mountains past all the mountain sheep – they were absolutely hilarious and SO cute! We made a couple friends as we came back into Killarney.
We had a slight change of plans. We were headed for Dingle, but because of daylight and timing, we ended up in Tralee the night of the 20th! We stayed at The Grand Hotel It was a lovely little town but we didn’t go out and explore that night and we had a quiet meal right there in the hotel. I think that it was good to have a balance between drinking and sleeping, I don’t know if I ever fully recovered from jet lag so it was good to get some rest.
Day Five, December 21st
Bucket List Item For Sure: The Cliffs of Moher
We got an early start on the 21st on our way out of Tralee. Sharon, Mike and I went to Costa’s in the morning at around 8am. Costa is similar to what Starbucks would be in California, and the service was excellent. Plus I could not contain my excitement… today was the day we were going to the Cliffs of Moher! This was something that I had wanted to do for a very long time, definitely bucket list material. I’ve always seen these majestic images of the cliffs and I never thought that I would get the opportunity to see them in person. It took us quite awhile to get there, we just went by Limerick but didn’t stop. After about 2 hours of driving, we finally got to the Cliff’s of Moher. I was getting nervous because the weather was quite gloomy. All the pictures I had seen of the Cliffs were bright and cast in the sunshine, I was trying so hard not to get my hopes up. When we pulled in to pay for parking, the woman working in the booth even told us the weather was rather bleak and that the view wasn’t going to be great. However, I think we truly lucked out. Breathtaking doesn’t even begin to cover our adventure to the cliffs!
After the Cliffs, we went to the little town of Doolin where we ate at Gus O’Connor’s pub. It was a cozy little pub and the food was absolutely delicious. We were also on our way to Galway, so if you’re kind of on the same route we were then you should definitely stop in for some eats! This was an overall beyond exciting day because we ended up in Galway, a city by the sea.
We stayed at The Salthill Hotel, it was so funny when we pulled in, there were all these people in fancy clothes and there was a wedding going on. So we all got settled in and our first order of business is exploring the hotel and finding out where the pool/spa/bar is. Which I mean duh, priorities, right? Mike, Derek and I went off adventuring that night into town. It was so funny I vaguely remember the cabby but I could BARELY understand him because his accent was so thick. We ended up at Blake’s Corner Bar, I remember it was pouring rain and Mike was so sweet wanting to get us out the weather so we snuck inside this super crowded bar. One of my friends texted me from school about an assignment and I started panicking thinking that I did terrible on an assignment but I ended up finding out that I got a 98/100 on my annotated bibliography. This resulted in a victory shot of Jameson, duh. There we walked down the street and found this awesome place to eat called McSwiggans Bar and Restaurant. The food was delicious, the wine was delicious. We wandered around and into another bar and then finally made our way back to the hotel.
Day Six, December 22nd
Have you ever seen The Quiet Man? Well if you haven’t… then go watch it! But if you’re a fan of John Wayne or Maureen O’Hara then Cong Ireland is the place for you to visit! This was the perfect day trip, and after Mike had done so much driving it was really refreshing. Ashford Castle was probably the coolest castle that we saw in all of Ireland. We weren’t able to go inside the castle because it was restricted to guests only(definitely a bucket list item to stay there someday) but the grounds by themselves were absolutely gorgeous.
After exploring the initial area around Ashford Castle, we made our way down to Cong. We had seen a beautiful picture by the lovely Elizabeth Toher of a bridge and I saw that it had been taken in Cong. We were driving around and Mike was so sweet and told me to go and explore and see if I could find the old Monk’s fishing house. Pictures don’t do it justice. There was a couple in front of the fishing house and they were trying to set up a timed photo, so I offered if they wanted me to take it instead. It turned out they were American too and super sweet! I grabbed a couple shots of my own and then there was another couple there that didn’t speak English but somehow I knew that they were asking me to take their picture too on the bridge, I wish I could’ve seen how they turned out!
With Sharon, Derek and Mike in the car I rushed back literally dropping everything as I went… (gloves, camera lens, phone). It was an incredible day that I will never forget the beauty of it.
We spent the night at the Salthill Hotel again and stayed in at the bar watching a local band perform.
Day Seven, December 23rd
Our trip to Tullamore was full of a significant amount of countryside to the very heart of Ireland.
We stayed at the Tullamore Court Hotel a beautiful hotel that was in very close walking distance to downtown Tullamore! If you even just stop by to check out the bar it was not only beautiful on the inside but they also had some delicious eats. We ended up at a bar that was insanely packed and made some great friends while we were at it. It was hilarious I remember telling Mike I wanted water because I was trying to pace myself. When Mike tried ordering water, the bartender flat out looked at him and asked, “Water?” shaking his head he said, “I want you puking in the street by the end of the night”. (This didn’t happen thank goodness) But it made us crack up laughing so of course we all got Guinness and kept on drinking. We were all quite a mess by the end of the night.
Day Eight, December 24th
The Rocky Road to Dublin
After recovering after a night full of drinking and live music, we were so close to Dublin! Christmas Eve in Ireland… you remember when I told you that walking in Dublin was the most surreal feeling I’ve ever had? Well, being in Dublin on Christmas Eve, thousands of miles from home was the craziest realization ever.
Sharon and I ended up getting a room facing the street and the River Liffey. Hands down lovely, I recommend you request it if you get a chance.
Before the day was over, Mike and I ran all around Dublin trying to see as much as we could knowing that almost everything would be closed the next day. Our first stop was Dollard and Co. It was this amazing restaurant and bakery right next door to the Clarence and we stocked up on some snacks as well as a bottle of Jameo(duh). We went to Trinity College and took some pictures. Then walked on down to a recommended bar O’Neills that was this super cool three story pub fully decorated for Christmas. You have to try Tom Crean’s Premium Irish Lager, this is one of the only places where they have it on tap.
Then directly across the street is Molly Malone a.k.a. the tart with a cart. For years tourists have been rubbing her busty breasts, possibly brings good luck? Who knows!
You’ve all probably heard the song by Ed Sheeran, “Galway Girl” which in this song he references Grafton street. Which turns out is in Dublin, AND there is no sign of a bar anywhere but a boatload of great stores to go shopping at!
If you make it to the end of Grafton street, you will come across St. Stephen’s Green. It was a little gloomy because there was quite a bit of cloud coverage, but it was still beautiful. Undeniable fits Ireland’s description of 40 shades of green!
I really wanted to go inside of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, but we weren’t able to go inside. It was still incredibly beautiful from the outside and of course if you know me I took a ton of pictures as per usual!
Day Nine, December 25th
Merry Christmas from Ireland! We didn’t do much on Christmas day, although we did walk around a little bit. It was magical with a slight drizzle outside, and the streets were quiet as everyone was home with their families. We managed to get a table for dinner at the hotel and it was something along the lines of a 4 course meal that was absolutely to die for. The menu looked something like this.
Day Ten, December 26th
The day after Christmas in Dublin, St. Stephen’s Day! We were told that this was one of the biggest celebrations in Ireland aside from St. Patrick’s Day and New Years. Mike and I attended a short mass at St. Mary’s Pro Cathedral, which was pretty incredible hearing mass given by someone with an Irish accent IN Ireland. It was also gorgeous, and we lit candles and said prayers for our loved ones that are no longer with us.
We walked down by the Spire in Dublin, and there were a lot more shopping areas than we saw before. We grabbed a hot mocha and a yummy treat at Ann’s Bakery after mass.
We went back to the hotel to rest. I wanted to go out one last time since it was our last night in Ireland, and Mike had texted me so we met in the lobby and wandered out to see what was open. We ended up at one of the first bars that we went to on our trip called the Merchant’s Arch for a Guinness and some Jameson on ice. There was live music and we were up top in a cozy little corner listening to a cover of Ode to Family by the Cranberries.
Day Eleven, December 27th
I hate the saying all good things have to come to an end. This was an incredible trip and I started missing it before we were even close to leaving. Ireland was an adventure that I will never ever forget and probably continue talking about forever until the next trip.