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Alternatives to Cork

Hello all!

My partner and I have a couple of days in Ireland in May following a trip with my mom and sister, so we're very much looking to toodle around and see the sights that interest us. We love castles, markets, and old towns. Before this time we'll be in London, Dublin, Belfast, Derry, and Galway. Our original plans were to go down to Cork for two nights, then to Kilkenny, then back to Dublin for two nights (we have daytrips planned before we fly out). Our only focus in Cork was a bit of a trip out to the Rock of Cashel, and maybe Cobh, but the hostels in Cork seem 1. Potentially iffy for two young women, and 2. Very expensive on the weekend. I'm okay with spending that amount of money, just would prefer a welcoming environment for it.

So, I was wondering if anyone had recommendations for other places to stay instead of Cork (or strong recommendations to visit Cork anyway!). We won't have a car for this period (non-negotiable), so the place we choose has to have fairly easy transportation options from Galway and to Kilkenny. We're okay with long bus trips.

I've been playing with the idea of going from Galway to Shannon or Limerick (no hostels there on our dates but hotels are cheap enough that I can consider it), then spending a night in Cashel (since the Rock is our main draw to the area anyway), then up to Kilkenny (a long bus trip, but we're happy enough to do it).

Thanks all!

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I had a car, which I know you won't, but I drove from Dublin to Kilkenny, spent the day there, and then drove on to Cashel in the evening. I spent the night in a B&B at the foot of the Rock (and happened to stumble onto a fantastic informal neighborhood jam session in a local pub). One advantage to overnighting in Cashel is that you can be up at the Rock the minute it opens. For over an hour there were only four of us touring the site. It was a magical experience (helped, I must admit, by crisp air and crystal clear skies, with the sun casting deep shadows). A little after 10 am, the first tour bus arrived, and the atmosphere changed.