Ireland Familiarization Trip
March 8-15, 2017
Guided tour hosted by Sceptre Vacations
March 8-9 / overnight flight to Dublin
Upon arrival at the airport we met up with others traveling in the same group. Our first taste of Ireland and first of many castles was Malahide Castle. We had a little time to roam the grounds and take in the beauty before boarding the bus to head toward Kilkenny. Upon arrival in Kilkenny we had free time for lunch and then met up with the group again for a guided tour of Kilkenny Castle, built in the 13th century and home to the powerful Butler family for almost 600 years. The castle was virtually destroyed from sitting empty for many years before it was renovated and restored to what it would have likely looked like when the Butler family still lived there. A few original pieces of furniture still remain although most items in the home were sold during a 10 day auction because the family was in need of money. Our first night of accommodations were at the Killarney Newpark Hotel. The hotel was pleasant but about a 20 minute walk from town so it was difficult to explore on your own. That evening the hotel hosted a welcome dinner where we were able to more formally meet our traveling companions for the following week.
March 10th / Kilkenny, Blarney and Killarney
Our bus ride this monrning from Kilkenny to Blarney took us through Cork with a narration by our bus driver/guide of the histroy of port town and surrounding area. Once we we were at the Blarney Castle we had time to explore on our own once again. Only the basic structure of the castle still exists. We climbed to the top of the castle which was mostly a spiral staircase made of smooth, slippery rocks. Once at the top we each took a turn at laying on our backs and reaching off the edge of the castle to kiss the Blarney Stone. Once we were done wondering the castle grounds we spent time shopping at the Blarney Woolen Mills. Dinner was at our hotel that evening which was followed by our first visit to an authentic Irish Pub for music and a second pub to watch a rugby game between Ireland and Whales, Ireland lost.
March 11th / Ring of Kerry
Today we drove the ring of Kerry roundtrip from Killarney. We stopped at many scenic outlooks for pictures, mostly of the coastline. At one stop a local farmer had brought some baby lambs and his dog for tourists to take a photo. We had sunny weather all day which made the scenery even more beautiful. One of our last stops was Moll’s Gap which is named after Moll Kissane, who ran a sibin (an unlicensed public house) in the 1820s, while the road was under construction. We had time for snacks, shopping and taking in the view. Tonight we had a presentation hosted by Sceptre and the Ireland tourism board.
Today was a long day including a castle hotel, visit to Guinness and an evening of Irish food, music and dance. Our morning started out with a short drive to Dromoland Castle Hotel for a tour of the unique property. Activities on-site include golf, falconry, archery, go carts and a full leisure center. After admiring a few high-end sports cars in the parking lot we continued on to Dublin. Upon arrival in Dublin we went straight to the Guinness Storehouse for a fully guided tour which ended in a private tap room where we learned how to pour the perfect pint. That right, I am now a certified Guinness pourer. Our full day culminated with dinner and a show at Taylor’s Three Rock. The afterparty this evening was at Temple Bar. This was also the last night with our guided tour.
March 13th / Belfast
Now on our own we rented a car near our hotel so we could head north to Belfast and visit the Titanic Experience. In Ireland they drive on the left side of the road and the steering wheel is on the right side. Spoiler alert, the car was brought back in one piece but not without a few screeches and twitching from the passenger side of the car. Once we were in Belfast we drove right up the stunning building that houses the museum. The most impressive part of the museum was an outline of the actual spot where the Titanic was built, we could stand in the footprint of where the Titan first sat before even touching open water! We also toured her little sister, the Nomadic, which is the ship that was used as a tender to bring guests to the Titanic.
March 14th / Waterford
Our visit to Waterford was one of my favorite days of the trip. After a 2 hour drive we arrived in Waterford and went to the Waterford Crystal Factory. The tour took us through the factory and showed us how all the pieces are hand made from the molding all the way to the final cutting phases and lastly quality control. It was amazing watching the workers create these amazing pieces of art. The tour ended on the showroom floor where I picked out a souvenir or two to ship home as I did not trust myself to take it on the plane with me. Once we were back in Dublin we walked around some more to explore the city and stopped in a few shops before having dinner and turning in for our last night in Dublin.
Sadly we left Ireland 2 days before St Patrick’s day but I did feel a little more Irish this year than I have any other St Patrick’s Day.