We're heading to Ireland Oct 18-25 with our daughter (age 4) and trying to decide how to make the best use of our first day. We'll be arriving in Dublin at 8:30 a.m. after an overnight flight from Canada (will feel like 3:00 a.m. to us). I know from previous experience that a few hours to nap as soon as we can manage it will make a huge difference in our jet lag. Our daughter is a great sleeper - I am expecting she'll be able to nap on plane/train/car.
Option 1: Our original plan was to book a hotel in Dublin that would offer early check-in, head straight there, and nap for a bit. Spend a low-key Day 1 in Dublin, then rent a car on Day 2 and head for the southwest, where we planned to see Dingle, but otherwise explore as the mood takes us. The down sides of this plan are that it splits our time in Dublin so we have only the first and last day there, plus there's the drive across the country to get to the southwest (a 5-7 hour round trip without stops).
Option 2: Then we thought perhaps we'll just rent a car at the Dublin airport straight away and aim for a not-too-tough drive, perhaps to Kilkenny (1.5 hours according to Google Maps), pre-book accommodation there (again with early check in), nap, and spend the first day there to break up the drive. On Day 2, we'd head for the southwest with a stop at the Rock of Cashel in the morning. The downsides here are this plan involves driving while jet-lagged (I've driven in Ireland before and didn't find it too hard but it was years ago and I do worry about driving before I've had a chance to sleep) plus I am not sure it makes the best use of our first day.
Option 3: Take the train from Dublin to a southwest destination (hopefully permitting a bit of a nap along the way), rent a car there, and head for our hotel. We are thinking of Tralee (3hrs 55 min by trail, sleep Dingle), Killarney (3hrs 16 min by train, sleep Kenmare), or Cork (2 hrs 45 min by train, sleep Kinsale). I just checked car rental locations and it seems like the most choice is available out of Cork. Only Enterprise and Budget serve Killarney, and only Enterprise serves Tralee. Option 3 gets us right to where we want to go on Day 1, avoids the 5-7 hour return cross-country drive to/from Dublin, and allows us to spend 2 consecutive nights in Dublin at the end of the trip, but involves at least 30-60 min of driving on Day 1 and adds a train ride to an already long travel day. It will make it harder to see the Rock of Cashel and we'd probably skip Kilkenny. If we rented a car in the southwest, we'd consider dropping it off at a different location. From what I can tell though, it looks like it would cost about 50 Euro and save us only a couple of hours of driving, so it might not be worthwhile.
Our only must-sees are Dublin and the Dingle Peninsula. Also interested in Kenmare, Killarney National Park, Muckross House, Kinsale, Cork, the Rock of Cashel, possibly the Ring of Kerry though deterred by the 5+ hour drive when we're already planning the Dingle loop. We aren't planning to see Galway, the Cliffs of Moher or The Burren on this trip.
Do you have any advice as to which option would be best? I am leaning toward #3 so particularly interested in thoughts/practicality of that option. If we can secure a car rental out of Tralee, I'd probably choose that - it's an hour's drive over the Conor Pass to Dingle (which I've done before) and I think it would be a spectacular introduction to Ireland for my husband; if not, Cork seems the next best place to start.