Dublin and South West Ireland, 6-18 September 2018

A holiday in Ireland had been on our agenda for some time as although I’d been to Dublin and Belfast on business before, neither of us had ever had the opportunity to travel more widely there. I therefore arranged a holiday consisting of three nights in Dublin, two in Cork, two in Dingle, three in Killarney and two in Bantry. We were to fly from Birmingham to Dublin returning from Cork, travel by train from Dublin to Cork and hire a car at Cork to get around south west Ireland.

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Dublin

Our journey to Dublin passed off without incident and our hotel, the Jurys Inn, was handily located on Parnell Street, just off O’Connell Street, north of the river Liffey, where the bus from Dublin Airport dropped us. Our first morning, Friday, was spent wandering around Trinity College, St Stephen’s Green and Merrion Square. While at Trinity College, we visited the old library with its impressive wooden ceiling and viewed the famous Book of Kells, thought to have been created in AD800 by monks on the Scottish island of Iona who subsequently had to flee to Kells in Ireland.

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One of the symbols of Dublin, the Ha’penny bridge over the river Liffey. When opened in 1816, it was one of the world’s first cast iron bridges and levied a halfpenny toll to cross
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Trinity College, Ireland’s most prestigious university

After the morning’s sightseeing, we decided to have a change from Dublin so caught the train to the pleasant seaside village of Howth about 10 miles away. Following lunch, we had a pleasant walk on the headland with beautiful views of Dublin Bay and the lighthouse. We could just discern Wales on the horizon.

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The lighthouse on Howth Head

On the second day, we decided to visit Kilmainham Gaol whose main claim to infamy is that it is where those who led the rising against British rule in 1916 were executed in very short order. This caused so much outrage that far from quelling the rebellion, it enormously strengthened it leading to a treaty with Britain in 1921 and the partition of Ireland in 1922. It wasn’t enough for some however, who wanted complete independence from Britain and a united Ireland; civil war was the result. I found the visit to the gaol fascinating and very sobering. Afterwards, we visited Christ Church cathedral, one of the two Church of Ireland cathedrals in Dublin.

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Inside Kilmainham gaol

Cork and Kinsale

Our first Sunday in Ireland was the day to leave Dublin and catch the train from its Heuston station to Cork, Ireland’s second city, a journey of almost two and a half hours. We had enjoyed Dublin, but society there appears to have a huge problem with the number of homeless people; I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so many in any other European city. The journey to Cork was a pleasant one; the train was busy but not overly so and it was a pleasure just watching the countryside roll by in an unfamiliar country. Following stops at Thurles, Limerick Junction and Mallow, we arrived at Cork’s Kent station at around 2.30pm and then just had a 10 minute walk to our B&B at Auburn House. First impressions of Cork were positive but as we got to know the central area later, it did strike me that it was less picturesque than I was expecting. We had a good explore of the centre and sorted out somewhere for dinner later. We also couldn’t come to Cork and not go to a bar with live traditional Irish music, so after dinner that’s just what we did. Afterwards, we had a stroll around Cork that was less than edifying; lots of young people the worse for drink and many queuing to get into clubs playing loud music; it didn’t really make it a pleasant experience and that was on a Sunday!

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The river Lee South Channel, Cork

The following day, Monday, dawned fine and we headed to the bus station to catch the 226 bus to Kinsale, on the coast, about 16 miles from Cork. We found it such an appealing place that we spent all day there, rather than the half day we’d planned. Quite reminiscent of Cornwall, it consists of brightly coloured buildings fronting on to a harbour filled with yachts; the only cause for criticism is that someone thought it was a good idea to install a tall communications tower right in town; what an eyesore!

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Colourful buildings in Kinsale

After coffee, we walked to the old Charles Fort, one of the best preserved star shaped forts in Europe and based on Vauban’s design. The tour round was fascinating for its history and beautiful for its views. As well as being a focus of the Williamite war in the late 17th century when the catholic James II was defeated, many thousands of soldiers passed through Charles Fort before being deployed to the trenches in WW1. Back in Kinsale, we had seafood chowder for a late lunch then did another walk on the other side of town offering different views of the town and harbour. Time then for tea and cake before catching the bus back to Cork. We had dinner at Gallaghers Gastro Pub, which despite being highly rated on Trip Advisor, we found the fish and chips we had disappointing.

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Charles Fort, Kinsale

Dingle

So, time to move on to Dingle with very high expectations! Some regrets that we had not seen all Cork has to offer by any means; the English Market, the cathedral, the Shandon district, and none of the museums or galleries. We caught the bus to Cork Airport and then took delivery of our hire car for the rest of the holiday. We were soon on our way west on the road towards Killarney and Tralee, the road signs etc looking very similar to British ones; the main difference being speed signs and distances in kilometres per hour/kilometres. After about 100 km, we reached the Dingle peninsula and after about another twenty reached Inch Strand, a tremendous stretch of sand backed by dunes and marram grass on a spit leading for about 5km out to sea. There was a café there and I enjoyed the best seafood chowder yet for lunch. Then we had an invigorating walk along the beach with moody skies dominating. It was then about another 20 km to our B&B just outside Dingle. Having unpacked, we headed out into Dingle for dinner, which we had at a very nice restaurant. We didn’t linger afterwards as the rain was falling steadily, so we were soon back at our B&B.

Wednesday started with the alarm going off at 06:25. This was so that I could drive to Slea Head to do some photography in the early morning light. Just past Slea Head, I reached Coumeenoole Beach, adjacent to Dunmore Head and with fabulous views out to the Blasket Islands, inhabited until 1953.

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Coastal scenery at Coomeenoole Beach
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View along the coast near Slea Head

After taking photographs, it was back to the B&B for a well earned breakfast and I have to say it was one of the best breakfasts I’ve had at any B&B. Then it was time to do the signposted Slea Head drive, which follows a circular route around the end of the Dingle Peninsula. This meant retracing my steps from before breakfast for about the first 15 km and we stopped first at Coumeenoole Beach. The light was gorgeous and the seascapes wonderful to behold; my camera was busy. We then walked around Dunmore Head, the most westerly extremity of the Irish mainland and saw more scenes to die for. Apparently part of one of the Star Wars films was set there.

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Looking towards the Blasket Islands from Dunmore Head

Next stop was the pier where the boats set off on trips to the largest Blasket Island, and then the Blasket Centre for lunch and a wander round the excellent interpretative centre that explains how the people lived on Great Blasket, some of whom emigrated to the USA. By now it was mid-afternoon as we completed the drive back to Dingle. We parked up by the harbour, then had a good look round Dingle. It’s a very picturesque and colourful place, although spoilt somewhat by the streets being choked by parked cars. It was also very busy with tourists. Having sorted somewhere for dinner, we drove up to the Connor Pass, at 456m the highest point on any public road in Ireland. The views were spectacular, enhanced further by climbing up an adjacent hill. To the south, Dingle was bathed in sunshine, whereas to the North West, Brandon Mountain brooded under grey cloud. After, taking some photos, we headed back down to our B&B to get ready for dinner. We just got into Dingle in time to photograph a stunning sunset at the harbour, then after dinner we drove back up to the Connor Pass. It was a clear night and I had an idea that the milky way would be clearly visible, which it was. By the time we got back to our B&B, it was feeling like it had been a long day.

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Sunset from Dingle harbour

Killarney

So with some regret, it was goodbye to Dingle. We drove over the Connor Pass and down its north side to a small car park from where I was able to scramble up some rocks to Pedler’s Lake, set in a fine mountain amphitheatre. We continued on to Brandon Point on one of the northern extremities of the Dingle peninsula; there were stunning views across to North Kerry and even into County Clare in the beautiful sunshine. We then drove to Castle Gregory, the main town on the north side for coffee and then to Killorglin for lunch, a picturesque town on the river Laune and noted for its Puck Fair each August when a goat is crowned King Puck. From there, it wasn’t far to Killarney, our base for the next three nights and having booked into our B&B, we set off to explore the bustling town and later returned for dinner. Being interested to know what the railway station was like, we had a wander there after dinner and saw the 20:20 train leave for Tralee. The day was finally rounded off with a visit to a pub with traditional music.

Our main reason for staying in Killarney was to do the so called ‘Ring of Kerry’, a driving tour of the Iveragh peninsula, which we extended to include the Skellig Ring and Valentia Island. However, before that, I was up early to run a circular route to Ross Castle on Lough Leane before breakfast. After breakfast we set off on the Ring of Kerry, first stop the main town of Cahersiveen for coffee, but with brief stops on the way at Glenbeigh beach and Kells.

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Glenbeigh Beach, Iveragh peninsula

Next stop was Knights Town on Valentia Island a beautiful location with lovely views of the sea and mountains. Close by, the lighthouse made a worthwhile diversion with some beautiful seascapes.

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Valentia Island, Iveragh peninsula

Then it was to the pretty village of Portmagee for lunch followed by the drive to Caherdaniel and the gorgeous beach at Derrynane, where we enjoyed a short walk to Abbey Island.

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Derrynane beach from Abbey Island

Next stop was the attractive village of Sneem with its colourful houses for a cup of tea before the final drive over Molls Gap and down into Killarney. On the way, we stopped at Ladies’ View giving fabulous views over the Killarney lakes, only marred by the wind turbines in the far distance; difficult to believe that one of the most fabulous views in Ireland should be degraded in this way. It was well after 7pm by the time we got back to our B&B and we decided that fish and chips would fit the bill for dinner, there being an excellent fish and chip restaurant in Killarney.

After a day doing a lot of driving, we decided that Saturday should be spent mainly walking. We drove to the car park at Muckross House, 8 km away and ambled around the Middle Lake, taking much of the day to do so. This is in Killarney National Park and has a similar feel to the English Lake District. Coffee at Dinish Cottage, about half way round made a nice break, and a worthwhile deviation off the main path at this point was to see the so-called ‘Meeting of the Waters’ and picturesque bridge where the water from the Upper Lake, further up the valley, runs into the Lower Lake, Lough Leane. The Lower Lake is joined to the Middle Lake at Brickeen Bridge, which we had walked over just before Dinish Cottage. Our walk continued and eventually brought us out above the impressive Torc Waterfall, which we followed steeply down back to lake level. By now, we weren’t far from Muckross House and its tearoom; tea and cake was very welcome!  Dinner was at Murphy’s Bar and we both had a very satisfying and filling Irish Stew.

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Torc waterfall, Killarney National Park

Bantry

I started off with a run in the National Park; it was stunningly beautiful with the sun catching the tops of the mountains and some of the trees now looking autumnal. After breakfast, it was time to move onto Bantry and we started by driving to Kenmare over Molls Gap. Kenmare is a lovely place and we had coffee and bought lunch provisions at a very nice bakery run by French people. Then it was on to the Beara peninsula, the next one down from the Iveragh peninsula. We pottered along the north coast on single track roads with jaw dropping sea and mountain views at every turn. Eventually, we doubled back part way and drove over the spectacular Healy Pass to the south side of the peninsula, then round to Glengarriff and finally Bantry, our destination for the final two nights of our holiday. We’d booked a really nice upmarket B&B, but the owner was rather pernickety about things, which put us on edge a bit. 

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View towards the Iveragh peninsula from the Healy Pass
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Sunset at Bantry harbour

Monday, our last day in Ireland, dawned dreary grey with light drizzle, but the weather notwithstanding we decided to explore the Sheeps Head peninsula, including the walk out to the lighthouse at the end. As we drove down the peninsula on its north side the road got progressively narrower and there were impressive coastal views despite the weather. We reached the car park a 2 km walk from the lighthouse and the wind was ferocious. Kathy decided to stay behind as I battled the weather to get to the lighthouse along the path. The lighthouse is perched on the cliffs right at the very tip and made for some good photos. I retraced my steps and we went into the cafe at the car park for a coffee.

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Sheeps Head peninsula light house

We then drove back along the south side and stopped off for lunch at a bar on the way, where we got chatting to a couple of cyclists. I have to say it wasn’t great cycling weather! Afterwards, we drive to Glengarriff, about 17 km north of Bantry to catch the ferry for the short crossing to Garinish Island and its beautiful garden created by a Scottish MP in the early 20th century. The Italianate garden in particular was exquisite. The weather by now had turned quite miserable by the time we caught the ferry back and drove to our B&B. We had a very nice dinner at a restaurant in Bantry for €27 for three courses, including coffee as part of an early bird offer.

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The exquisite Italianate garden, Garinish Island

Tuesday was simply a day of driving to Cork Airport, catching the flight to Birmingham and train to Derby and home. Cork Airport is a modern airport on a human scale so wasn’t unpleasant to spend time at. We’d greatly enjoyed our holiday in Ireland and thoughts were already turning to the possibility of another Irish holiday.

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