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RS Best of Ireland in 14 Days Tour Report

RS Tour of Ireland in 14 Days

This is a lengthy report so I apologize in advance.

We first visited Ireland in July 1994 and this was our first trip back after 28 years. The first time we were in Ireland it rained or was cloudy every day except for the day we were on the Dingle Peninsula. We were absolutely freezing, wet and mud spattered. We came to Ireland this time fully expecting rain and clouds and were pleasantly surprised by the fabulous weather throughout the tour. The weather was warm and sunny with a few brief exceptions and we worked up a sweat every day especially on the day we went to the Giant’s Causeway and hiked the Shepherd’s Steps. Our guide Lolly kept remarking on how unprecedented this gorgeous weather was. At the end of the tour, she laughed and said her next group would get lashing rain and wind as we had used up her budget for great weather and we had also used up her food budget so the next group would also be getting bread and water. We revisited some of the sites on the tour that we had already seen in 1994 but there were plenty of sites that we hadn’t visited so it was worth a second visit. This was a tour filled with views of rolling green hills divided by stone walls; the Wild Atlantic Way; endless thick hedgerows of fuscia and orange crocosmia/montbretia growing wild everywhere; a history of failed rebellions and lost battles; the potato famine; St. Patrick; myths and legends; leprechauns and fairy trees; Irish literature and music; Lolly’s jokes and personal reminiscences of her life in Northern Ireland and her beloved grandparents. We cried, laughed and ate our way around Ireland. We really lucked out with our tour guide Lolly. We have been on many tours over the years with RS and other tour companies and have been fortunate to have many wonderful guides. But they broke the mold when they made our guide Lolly. She is beautiful, so fun to be around, so energetic and so hard working. She wants you to love Ireland as much as she does. And we did. She added a lot of unexpected extras to our tour. We all loved her. She says no group will ever be as perfect as ours was but any tour that has Lolly as a guide will be perfect.

COVID - The specter of covid hung over all of us and we wanted to avoid being kicked off the tour. We were all diligent wearing our masks on the bus and indoors and Lolly noted that we were all good about it even when we didn’t know she was looking. We had plenty of individual space on the bus. Still we lost 4 tour members to covid early on. Two tour members got covid and left with their unaffected spouses. We obviously didn’t wear our masks at group meals or when outside. I tested myself a couple of times during the tour as my throat was dry and scratchy but was negative each time. I was a bit paranoid as we had just finished a tour in Scotland where one of the tour members had contracted covid and we could possibly be infected. I let Lolly know this and we distanced ourselves as best we could from others during the beginning of the tour. Lolly kept the seat behind herself and the driver empty to protect them from all of us. It would not have been good if either of them got covid. What a hassle that would be!

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TECHNICAL STUFF - We brought a Samsung A32 phone with us. We also signed up for Google Fi before the tour. When you sign up with Google Fi, there is no contract so you can cancel at any time and put it on pause for a while if you wish. We bought this phone and phone plan for emergency purposes while overseas but found it really came in handy on the tour for other things. Our plan is for one phone and costs about $25 a month. I called home and talked for about 12 minutes and the cost was 20 cents a minute. It would have been free if I had remembered to connect to the internet. But it was a good test of the phone so that’s ok. Although we were in Europe, I didn’t have to dial any differently than at home. I just selected the number from my contact list and hit dial. The call went through quickly with no issues. I made sure that I had any important numbers in my contact list such as Travel Guard Insurance in case of an emergency. I also texted and shared photos with the family and friends at home. We used google maps a couple of times when out and about. I used my camera phone in museums as it does a really good job in those situations. The camera is 48 megapixels. We also brought the Ipad but I think in the future we will just leave it at home as we can just use the phone instead for emails, etc. We also brought our dslr’s and lenses as there were certain shots that I wanted to get which I couldn’t have done with the cell phone.

The following is a recap of the tour.

Pre Tour - We arrived a day early before the tour started. We had just completed our RS Best of Scotland in 13 Days. We flew Aer Lingus from Edinburgh and took the Air Coach 100 from the airport to the hotel. The bus is located a short walk from the arrivals hall at Dublin Airport. There is a person at the bus stop to pay for your tickets either by cash or credit card before boarding the bus. Luggage is loaded under the bus. The bus trip took about 45 minutes from the airport. Our stop in Dublin was Kildare Street which was a block from our first hotel (Buswells) on the tour. Our hotel room was ready when we arrived so we checked in early. I had been a bit concerned about this hotel as another forum member had given it a really bad review but it was just fine. It was clean, had a comfy bed, plenty of choices for breakfast including a full English breakfast. The hotel is very conveniently located for all the major sites in Dublin. The bathroom was a step in shower and not huge but big enough. One thing I noted was that there are no outlets to plug in a hair dryer in the bathrooms of any of the hotels that we stayed in. You have to scout around for an outlet near a mirror in the bedroom if you want to dry your hair. And I had to do my hair every day due to the humidity as it was a curly mess at the end of each day. We had tea and complimentary cookies in our room and then went to Davy Byrne’s Pub for a lunch of fish and chips, steak and ale pie, wine and a Guinness. My husband joked with the waitress at Davy Byrne’s saying “I hear there’s a famous stout that’s made here.” She replied “You mean Guinness?” and then she laughed and said “Oh, you’re having me on”. After lunch, we went back to the hotel for a bit of a rest as we had not slept well the night before as we had an early departure from Edinburgh. The weather was warm with sun and clouds during the day and then cloudy at night. We explored the neighborhood that evening and went to the Marks and Spencer Food Hall on Grafton Street to pick up some fruit, a ready made sandwich to share, a small bag of crisps (potato chips) and a bottle of wine for our dinner in our room.

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Day One - We were up early and had breakfast at 7 am, took our required pre tour covid tests which were thankfully negative and I quickly reorganized our luggage. After touring for 2 plus weeks in Scotland our luggage was a scrambled mess. I am a bit of a neat freak and can’t function if things are not organized. We then went for a photo walk in nearby St. Stephen’s Green then on to Merrion Square to photograph some of the many beautiful doors of Dublin, visited the Oscar Wilde Statue in Merrion Square Park and then went to the Archeological Museum which is across the street from Buswells. I highly recommend a visit to this museum. It is free and has a lot to offer from bog bodies to ancient gold jewelry. It is a small museum and easily digestible. Along the way to the museum, we stopped in front of the luxury Hotel Shelbourne where the doorman is in uniform. I stopped and asked the doorman if I could take his photo and he obliged me. We had a nice chat with him and then were back on our way. We bought lunch at a nearby Pret a Manger which had just opened a few days earlier. We had our lunch and relaxed in our room. We met with our tour guide Lolly before our first group meeting to present our negative covid tests and vaccination certificates. Lolly had a sign up that said masks were to be worn to the meeting. Everyone had a mask on as requested. There were 26 tour members including a couple who had been on the RS Best of Scotland tour with us. We made our introductions at the meeting and picked our bus buddies. Lolly gave us a brief on the tour. We would be using Whatsapp on the tour with Lolly. We had never used that app before so we had to load it onto our cell phone. It was easy to use. Using the app was really beneficial and I really wish the other guides would use it. It is more work for the guide but it really enhances the tour. Lolly posted the next day’s schedule on the app rather than posting it in the lobby the night before; photos; music, book and movie suggestions; poetry; dinner suggestions for meals when we were on our own, etc. Although we have been home for a while, we are still communicating with Lolly and our fellow tour members via the WhatsApp group that Lolly set up. After the group meeting, we walked a short distance to our first group dinner at Hugo’s. Everyone at dinner was quite animated and the group really came together at that first meal. We had the absolute pleasure of sitting with Lolly at dinner. After dinner, we took an orientation walk from the restaurant to Grafton Street. Lolly pointed out pubs and restaurants of interest. We stopped at the famous the Molly Malone statue where Lolly took our first of many group photos on the tour. We noted that the statue had been moved to a new location since our previous visit 28 years ago.

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Day Two - Today we lost two tour members due to covid before our first day even started. They had just been on a tour in Scotland (RS or OAT, can’t remember which) before joining our Ireland tour. One of them tested positive with covid and, therefore, had to leave our tour. They didn’t even make it to the first full day of the tour. We were now a group of 24. It was another gorgeous day in Ireland. Dublin was full of American tourists as there was a football game happening between the Nebraska Huskers and the Northwestern Wildcats. There were rallies and tailgate parties happening in the city. We saw lots of people sporting shirts with their favored team logos. We met outside the hotel at 9 am for a walking tour with Tommy Graham. The walk was about 3 hours and took us to the Book Of Kells and Trinity Library where we saw the Brian Boru Harp. The library displays two different pages of the Book of Kells each day. The room where the book is displayed is very dimly lit for preservation purposes so the pages were hard to see and no photos are allowed. The tour ended up at Christ Church Cathedral. We were then on our own for the rest of the afternoon and evening. We went to Davy Byrne’s again for lunch and chatted with a nice couple at the next table. We then walked to the replica of the Jeanie Johnston Famine Ship across the River Liffey. We crossed the Millennium Bridge to get there and had a good view of the Samuel Becket Bridge which is shaped like a harp. Really cool looking bridge! The famine ship tour was really interesting. You learn about the many ships that sailed from Ireland to the US and Canada during the potato famine in the 1840's and how many people died on those voyages across the Atlantic due to disease. You learn what life was like aboard those dreadfully overcrowded ships. The Jeanie Johnston was different as it was owned by a humane person who had a doctor on board. Although the ship was crowded, no one died aboard the ship’s 14 Atlantic crossings. We then crossed back over the Millennium Bridge and walked along the River Liffey to view and photograph the Customs House and the Ha’penny Bridge. Then we walked to the Temple Bar which was really crowded and crazier than usual due to the American football game events happening in Dublin not to mention it was a Saturday night. We passed by the Molly Malone statue again for another photo. We then stopped at the Marks and Spencer Food Hall again and bought more fruit and a sandwich to share with our leftover wine. We were pretty pooped from all the walking and called it a night.

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Day Three - Breakfast and then bags out to the bus in front of the hotel at 8:40 for the 8:50 departure. We met our bus driver Paul. The day started out cloudy but the sky was blue later in the day. Our first stop was the Kilmainham Gaol which we had visited briefly 28 years ago. We stopped for a group photo at the “Proclamation” sculpture across the street from the jail honoring those who were executed at the jail during the 1916 Easter Uprising. The sculpture is comprised of 14 bronze blindfolded statues. Faceless and limbless, they stand in a circle with what represents a table in the center. The proclamation of independence is inscribed on the table. At the base of each statue is a verdict and sentence of death. “Verdict: guilty. Death by being shot.” The statues are riddled with bullet holes to represent their way of death. We then played a version of the dreaded name game that every RS tour does and then went for our tour of the Kilmainham Gaol. The guide at the jail was wonderful and really brought the place to life. This was a very sad and moving tour learning about those who had been executed; seeing the place of execution where we could just imagine their terror and the volley of gunfire; and especially the story of one prisoner who was allowed to marry his sweetheart the night before his execution. That couple was only allowed a short while that evening to hold hands and be together under the watchful eyes of the guards. So, so sad. One prisoner was too weak to stand so he was placed in a chair for the execution. Horrible! I don’t know why but this tour affected me more this time around than it did in 1994. There is a museum where you can see artifacts from the executed prisoners. We also learned that in those days being in jail was often preferable to life on the outside as you had a roof over your head and a meal. They even jailed small children who were actually given an education while incarcerated. Our time at Kilmainham Gaol was too brief. I would have liked more time but we had to move on as there was a way to go to our next stop and final destination for the day. We then were back on the bus for a two hour ride to the Rock of Cashel. The Rock of Cashel is the seat of the ancient kings of Munster and where St. Patrick baptized King Aengus in 450 AD. The hill is topped by a ruined cathedral and a cemetery with many Celtic crosses. We had visited Cashel before and had gotten soaking wet and muddy. Today was much different weather wise. It was sunny and warm again. We had a group lunch at a restaurant close by (assorted quartered sandwiches, crisps, brown bread, tea and coffee and a “bun”. Dessert is called a “bun” in Ireland. Our bun was a brownie with whipped cream and a strawberry on top. Yum! We then went to tour the Rock of Cashel. We climbed a small paved road to get to the ruins. We had a good tour guide there.

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After another bathroom break, we then drove another two hours to Kinsale where we would be spending the next two nights. Lolly had bought us all candy for the bus ride to Kinsale. Because the streets of Kinsale are small, our tour bus parked at a parking lot on the edge of the town and our bags were ferried to the Friar’s Lodge Hotel for us in a van. We walked to the hotel which was mainly downhill from the parking lot. Kinsale is a colorful little town situated on a bay. Our hotel room was pretty plain and simple but quite large. We had a double bed and two twin beds for two people. The bed and pillows were comfy. The bathroom had a tub/shower combination. There was a tea kettle in the room with instant coffee, tea bags, sugar and creamer and a treat. We had dinner that night with the group at the High Tide Restaurant. We had the restaurant just for our group which was good as we wanted to avoid mingling with others outside the group whenever possible. The dinner was absolutely delicious again. We had a choice of chicken, hake or a vegetarian option. I had the chicken and my husband (the fish lover) had the hake. After dinner, some of us went in search of a pub with traditional music. We tried Kitty O’Se’s but it was really, really crowded and none of us felt comfortable being there due to the covid risk. My husband and I and another couple from our group went to a small uncrowded pub close by called The Armada. We ordered drinks there. The traditional music performance there was mediocre to say the least but they were trying. We hoped to have a traditional music experience in the days ahead. We got a bit lost making our way back to the hotel and a guide that was leading a ghost tour in town on seeing us looking befuddled surmised that we were RS people and knew where we were staying. It’s a small town and RS tours are a regular occurrence there. He directed us back to the hotel which was not far from where we were standing.

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Day Four - Up at 6 am. Note that the hair dryer in the bathroom is very weak but there is a sign that says you can request a different one. I bring my own hair dryer so not a problem. The tap water is also extremely hot so be careful when using the shower. Breakfast was at 7:30 am. A special breakfast treat was the oatmeal (porridge) with optional Bailey’s Irish Cream. I don’t like porridge so I ordered “porridge and Irish Cream hold the porridge”. LOL! I got a small glass of Bailey’s with my breakfast. I love Bailey’s but didn’t need it for breakfast again. It was another gorgeous day. At 9 am, we had a walking tour of Kinsale with local guide Barry Maloney. He was very entertaining and it was a really good tour. We learned about the Battle of Kinsale; the sinking of the Lusitania and visited the cemetery where some of the Lusitania victims were buried; the Spanish Armada; and a pirate queen named Ann Bonney. More sad Irish history. We then walked back to the bus and drove up to nearby Charles Fort which overlooks the Kinsale Harbor. We had a guided tour of the ruins of the fort and then most of the group opted to walk back to Kinsale with Lolly rather than take the bus. Before we started our walk back to town, Lolly poured us all shots of an Irish Cream called Coole Swan (more expensive than Bailey’s) to fuel us up for the walk which was mainly downhill. We were on our own for lunch. We ate at a restaurant called Jim Edwards. We then went back to the hotel to dump off some stuff we were carrying and went off on our own photo walk of Kinsale. We stopped at a SPAR (small grocery store) for ginger beer and chocolate which was our dinner. Sadly today we lost two more tour members to covid. They had also just been on a tour of Scotland (RS or OAT I can’t remember which). I hoped that this was the end of people having to leave the tour due to covid. We were now a group of 22.

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Day Five - Bags out in the hotel foyer by 8 am and a walk back to the bus at the parking lot at 8:15 am. Another gorgeous day. We drove for about two hours to Kenmare where we had a bathroom break and picked up picnic supplies at the local convenience store before our visit to Muckross House in Killarney National Park. Lolly decided we should picnic at Muckross House as it was a nice day and there would be a long line at the café on the premises which would eat into our time at Muckross House. This would give us more time to explore the gardens and grounds at Muckross. While in Kenmare, we took a quick walk to see a small ancient stone circle. There is a wishing or fairy tree near the stone circle. You can write and attach a personal prayer or a wish to the tree but the prayer or wish cannot be about you. We wished our friends who had been touring with us in Scotland and were now on the same tour with us in Ireland a safe trip and they in turn did the same for us. It must have worked as the four of us made it home without getting covid. Back on the bus, our next stop was to the Kissane Sheep Farm where we could observe the border collies herding the sheep and watch a sheep getting sheared. The shearer managed to get the fleece off in one piece. Sadly the price of wool is now less than the cost of shearing it off the sheep. The sheep dogs are super friendly and lovable and want to be petted or have you throw a stick for them to fetch. They would come up to you and lean against your leg. So cute. After the sheep farm, we drove through the mountains and saw more beautiful scenery. We then stopped and visited Muckross House and found a place on the grass to sit and have our little picnic. There are jaunting carts that you can take for a ride but there was no time for that. We had already done that 28 years ago (in pouring rain and wind) so we didn’t need to do it again. We ate our lunch, photographed the gardens, visited the rest room and then back on the bus for the final leg to Dingle. One of our tour members got a little lost coming back to the bus which was easy to do and our departure was delayed a little bit. We stopped at several points so that Lolly could take more group photos of all of us. During the bus ride, Lolly told us about the Irish patriot Michael Collins since we would be passing by the place where he was assassinated. We finally reached Dingle and our hotels. There are actually two sister hotels that are side be side run by two brothers. Lolly says they compete to see who can give their guests the best experience. We were split into two groups with half of us in one hotel and the other half in the second hotel. We stayed at the Castlewood Hotel. This was our favorite hotel on the tour. It is about a 20 minute walk from the town. There was a beautiful bouquet of lilies on a table in the middle of foyer of the hotel and, oh, the aroma! We had a beautiful view of the bay from our hotel room window. The hotel was so beautifully decorated and the staff was wonderful. Everything was spotless. We all loved the breakfast especially the rhubarb compote. We had a wonderful group dinner at the hotel that night and then we were entertained by a couple who played the guitar and sang for us. They were fabulous. So although it was not a traditional pub music experience, this was a great substitute and we didn’t have to worry about getting covid at a crowded pub. We bagged up some laundry and brought it down to reception to be laundered. We filled a bag and the price was $20. The laundry was ready for us before we left Dingle.

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Day Six - Another beautiful day in Dingle. We are pinching ourselves for being so lucky with the weather. We had breakfast at 8 am and boarded the bus at 9:15 am for a tour of the Dingle Peninsula. But first we went to the Dingle Crystal Factory and saw a crystal cutting demo. Some of our group bought crystal glasses and had them shipped back home. The crystal was beautiful and tempting but I don’t need more stuff at this point in life so I abstained. I am collecting memories and not things. Then we drove on to Slea Head on the Dingle Peninsula. This is where part of the movie Ryan’s Daughter was filmed way back in the late 60's early 70's. We made several stops along the way for group photos. It was such a clear day that we could see the monastic Skellig Islands faintly of the horizon. We had a local guide with us on the bus. We stopped for a quick visit to the Great Blasket Island Visitor Center to learn about the lives of the people on the now abandoned island . We then visited the Gallarus Oratory which was built around 1300 years ago and is one of the best preserved early Christian churches. The Gallarus Oratory is a stone structure in the shape of a beehive. Lolly took another group photo. We then drove back to Dingle and my husband and I had lunch at a sidewalk café. After lunch we had a group walking tour of Dingle with a local guide. This was one I could have skipped. Later that evening we had a wonderful group dinner at Benner’s Restaurant followed by another wonderful concert at a local hall. We had front row seats and we were not missing out on the traditional music after all. Lolly had worked a deal where we got the tickets for 5 euros each rather than 15 so it was a great deal. During the performance, a little local girl started step dancing in the aisle. She was too shy to go up to the front of the hall. So cute. We booked boat tickets for the following day to Great Blasket Island. I didn’t book these much in advance as I didn’t know what the weather would be like. It turned out that it was picture perfect weather the next day.

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Day Seven - Today was our free day in Dingle. Yet again a gorgeous day. We were going to the Great Blasket Island with three of our fellow tour members. We walked 10 or 15 minutes from the hotel to the pier where Dingle Boat Tours was located. The boat was pretty well booked with just a few seats left. The price for the 4 ½ hour tour was 65 euros each. I tend to get seasick so I took a Bonine. The sea was calm and I did just fine. It takes an hour to get to the island by boat and an hour to get back. There was commentary on the boat ride over and coming back. Our route took us along Slea Head Drive that we had driven yesterday and we saw it from a different perspective. We had about 2 ½ hours on the island which was just enough. From the boat, you transfer to a small zodiac to get to the island. You have to be nimble enough to get in and out of the zodiac. You then walk up a short fairly slippery cement jetty to a very steep rocky path with a chain hand rail to get to the ruins. I took it slowly as it was a bit treacherous footing. The grass on the island is thick, fairly tall and damp so hiking boots are a good idea. There are few paths to speak of and the ruins are on a fairly steep slope. The walking can be slow if you are being careful not to take a tumble. The grass seemed to tangle a bit around my ankles at times. There are also sheep grazing and . . . you get the idea. There are no bathroom facilities on the island so don’t drink a lot of coffee at breakfast and use the bathroom on the boat before you take the zodiac to the island. Otherwise you will be left to your own devices while there. You get the picture. . I think there is a petition to get a restroom facility on the island which would be a good idea. We had picked up some picnic supplies the day before at the grocery store in Dingle. Our little picnic lunch included two small bacon sandwiches from breakfast. The ladies at the hotel kindly gave us tin foil to put our sandwiches in. We wandered around the ruins and took lots of photos and found a stone wall to sit on to have our picnic lunch of bacon sandwiches, two tangerines, nuts, cookies and an orange juice. It was very picturesque on the island. It was not crowded. There is a beautiful small beach where seals sometimes bask in the sun but we didn’t see any seals that day except for one poking its head out of the water. We didn’t make it to the beach. The water off the beach is a beautiful turquoise. You would think you were in the Carribean. We were told to be at the boat dock at a specific time and not to be late as there is only one boat going back. As we didn’t want to miss the boat, we kept an eye on the time especially as we had to navigate that very rocky path back down to the jetty. Two of our tour friends got back to the jetty just in time for the last zodiac so we were biting our nails a bit that they would not get back to Dingle with us. Back in Dingle, we went to a small pub and had drinks with the three tour members who had gone to the island with us and then went to the Dingle Pub to have an early dinner. More steak and ale pie and fish and chips. We walked back to the hotel and were pretty exhausted at that point. We picked up and paid for our clean laundry. Back in the room we packed up for the next day. Then we went to sleep with the window ajar, listening to the gulls and the waves gently lapping at the shore.

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Day Eight - We woke up at 6 am. We were really sad to leave this lovely place but more adventures awaited. The weather looked fine at the moment. I hoped it would last. We had a continental breakfast at 7:30 am and departed at 8:30 am. We drove for two hours to the Cliffs of Moher. The last time we were at the Cliffs of Moher in 1994 there was a gale. We couldn’t see anything and we got soaking wet. This time would be better. Along the way, we made a quick ½ hour stop in Adare to pick up a picnic lunch to have on the cliffs. Adare was not as quaint as it was 28 years ago. It was far more congested and commercialized now. Lolly bought us all white chocolate Kit Kat Bars for the bus ride. At some point during the day, Lolly had asked each of us to write a limerick as we would be having a limerick contest at the hotel in Westport. We drove past the South Pole Inn which was owned by Tom Crean who was a member of the Shackleton expedition to Antarctica in the early 20th century. Having read about that expedition, it was fun to see this link to that story. We passed by some of the many tower houses and castles that dot the Irish landscape. Not to mention the ubiquitous sheep. On arrival at the cliffs, we made a quick bathroom stop and then walked around and took photos. The cliffs are now walled off for safety now. When we were here 28 years ago, you could walk over to the edge of the cliff by just hopping over a short rope which was truly not safe to do. We found a place to sit and had a quick lunch. One of our tour members was missing when we were ready to leave the cliffs. I don’t know if he lost track of time or what. Lolly went in search of him and he was finally located. He took a bit of teasing and ribbing about this during the rest of the trip but he was good natured about it and it became our running joke. Then we were off to our next stop about ½ an hour late- the Burren. We were at the Burren for 15 minutes or so to survey the rocky landscape and tiny plants in the crags and then we were on our way to Galway. Along the way, we saw a number of thatched roofed houses. Thatched roof houses are not so much a thing now in Ireland which is sad as they are so picturesque and iconic. We arrived at the Park House Hotel in Galway around 5 pm, had a quick cup of tea in our room and an hour later we headed off again with Lolly and the group for a walking tour through Galway on our way to our group dinner at McSwiggans. On the elevator to the lobby, a woman in the elevator with us asked where we were from and we replied “The US”. She said she thought we were Irish. LOL! Lolly’s accent must be rubbing off on us. The Park House Hotel is really nice. In the nearby park/square, Lolly took us to a memorial erected to JFK and showed us some pubs we could visit. She warned us about one pub called Fibber MacGee’s, however, where you might enter through the door but exit through a window. After dinner we walked back to the hotel in the rain. It was fairly hot in the restaurant so the rain felt good and we were glad to finally have need of our waterproof coats and umbrellas.

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Day Nine - We woke up at 6 as usual. My husband brought me my coffee in bed and announced to me that he had his limerick written already. What!? When did he have time to do that? I had nothing prepared. I was starting to panic but managed to quickly jot something down and we gave our hand written limericks to Lolly that morning on the bus. My husband surprised me because his limerick was pretty clever and referenced things that Lolly had previously pointed out on the tour. It was also a bit naughty and Lolly remarked that she was shocked when she read it. I didn’t know my husband had a poetic bent. How long had he been brewing this limerick? Breakfast was at 7:30. We departed at 8:45 by bus to the port where we would catch the 10 am ferry to Inishmore which is part of the Aran Islands. We saw some swans along the way to the ferry which Lolly said were thought to be the souls of drowned fishermen. The ferry ride to the island was smooth sailing today. I had heard that it could be rough so we were lucky especially as I get quite seasick. We arrived in Kilronan on Inishmore and our group boarded two small vans for a quick jaunt around the island. We stopped at Kilmurvey Village where we had a choice of having lunch and then walking up to Dun Aengus or vice versa. As the weather was starting to look a little iffy, some of us chose to walk the half mile up to the fort and then have lunch later. Dun Aengus is the island’s blockbuster sight according to Rick Steves. It is an ancient 2,000 year old fortress that hangs precariously from a cliff. The first part of the walk is gravel but the last part of the walk is over rocky, irregular ground with primitive steps of varying heights. I took my time on that last section. If the rocky path had been wet, it would have been more treacherous. At the top, the fortress sits on solid rock. One side of the fortress crumbled off the cliff into the sea many years ago. There are no guardrails or wall at the edge of the cliff so we crawled on our bellies to the edge of the cliff as Lolly instructed us to do and hung our heads over the 300+ foot sheer drop to the sea. We then crawled backwards away from the cliff. I rolled over onto my back to stand up a safe distance from the edge and sat in a puddle. Thank goodness for quick drying pants. We then walked back to the village for a quick lunch of soup, bread and carrot cake (Lolly’s recommendation) at a small café as we had to be back on the vans at 1:15. We drove to a site called the Seven Churches which is a collection of ruined chapels, monastic houses and fragments of a high cross that dates from the 8th to 11th century. We then drove some more around the island, made a quick stop for another of Lolly’s group photos and then went back to the ferry area where those who wanted to could shop for knitwear or jewelry. I am not a shopper so my husband and I wandered around looking for interesting things to photograph. We photographed some mossy rocks, crocosmia and an old jaunting cart sitting in a small yard. While we were waiting to leave Inishmore it started to rain quite heavily and we sheltered with a lot of other ferry passengers at a covered waiting area. We then boarded the ferry to get back to our bus for the drive to Galway. On the way back the sun came out and there was a beautiful rainbow. Well, it’s Ireland and you have to have a rainbow at some point while you are there. It’s a must. As Lolly was sitting at the front to the bus, she snapped a photo of it to share with us on WhatsApp and played Somewhere Over the Rainbow on her music player. Such a pretty ending to our day out. She also fed us delicious cookies on the bus. I am sensing a theme here. She is plying us with liquor and sugar. I have no problem with that. We had a quick dinner at the hotel. We had no reservation and the restaurant said we had to be gone by a certain time. We were glad to have a table at any rate.

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Day Ten - Bags were to be out at 8:40 at the coach and we departed at 8:45 for Cong. It was yet another gorgeous day. We arrived in Cong and had a bathroom break. We took another group photo at a statue of John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara who were the actors in the movie The Quiet Man which was filmed here many years ago. We wandered around the ruined Cong Abbey for a bit and then walked to Ashford Castle where we would visit the School of Falconry. It was a lovely walk through the woods past a quaint church and up to the castle which is now a very, very pricey hotel. Wouldn’t we love to spend a night there. At the falconry school, we all had a chance to don a leather gauntlet and have a Harris Hawk land on our gloved hand. It was so amazing. The bird was actually quite light considering how big it was. This is a highlight for many people taking this tour and not to be missed. The guide at the hawk walk gave a talk about what to do and not do when handling the hawk. It was easy. Don’t pet the bird, for one. The guide kept a close eye on us and the bird so there wouldn’t be any mishaps. He also took a horned owl (similar to our great horned owl) from its cage and showed us that bird before the hawk walk. We then walked back to the bus and drove to our group lunch at Hamilton’s in Leenane. Leenane is situated on fjord. Along the way, Lolly talked about the horrors of the potato famine in the 19th century. She told us of people who were starving to death who crawled to the cemetery to die in hopes of a decent burial rather than being left by the side of the road, children gnawing on the remains of their deceased mothers and the poor who were employed building a pointless rock walls straight up a mountain which was a kind of Roosevelt WPA at that time. We could see the marks on the landscape where so many potato fields once existed and were now repopulated with sheep instead of the people. It was so, so sad and heartbreaking. Lolly really brought that bit of history to life for us. And then after hearing these sad stories of the famine and people starving to death, we had lunch. We had potato leak soup and various quartered sandwiches and crisps and tea and coffee at Hamilton’s. We had a little time to take some photos including another group photo and then back on the bus. Lolly fed us some more Kit Kat Bars. It was slow going as the road was narrow in spots and only one vehicle could pass at a time. We also had to stop for sheep in the road. Our expert bus driver Paul did a great job of maneuvering the bus past sheep and around other vehicles at times having to back up the bus on a very narrow road. We stopped at a bog and walked out to it. It was not solid ground but rather damp and quite springy when we jumped up and down on it. It was a bit like jumping on a trampoline that had lost some of its springiness. The landscape was a bit barren and bleak.

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Then we were off to the Clew Bay Hotel in Westport. When we arrived at the Clew Bay Hotel we had time to walk around the cute and colorful village and take photos. We met up with our group again at 5:30 in the hotel bar for a lesson on the preparation of Irish coffee and for the limerick contest judging. When we arrived at the bar, there were proper Irish coffee glasses set up for each of us which were already partly filled with Tullamore blended whisky and a little brown sugar at the bottom of the glass. The hot coffee was poured into the glass and then we proceeded to pour the cream (which the hotel staff had already prepared for us) on top. The trick is to get the cream to float on top of the coffee. To do this the cream needs to be whipped until it thickens but is still pourable and then to slowly pour the cream over a spoon suspended slightly above the coffee. I had done this before so it was easy for me but the rest of the group did a great job as well and we all had perfect pours and then enjoyed our coffee. Next up was the limerick contest. We all read our limericks to the group and laughed ourselves silly. It was so fun. The hotel manager judged the limericks and the three best were awarded prizes. I don’t know how he could choose the three best as they were all really good. My husband’s limerick took third prize and the prize winners were each given a signed photograph of Clew Bay taken by a local photographer. We were then free for dinner on our own. My husband and I chose to eat at the hotel restaurant and it was a good choice. I had the super food salad. It was healthy and delicious. My husband had the fish chowder and he enjoyed his meal as well.

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Day Eleven - We were on the bus at 8:30. Yet another gorgeous day. Today we headed for Northern Ireland. We made a pit stop at a gas station but unfortunately the power was out and we could not stop there. Lolly said she knew of a place where we could find relief and the bus diverted to a small town where Lolly knew there were public restrooms. Along the road we passed Classiebawn Castle which is the beautiful former estate of the late Lord Mountbatten. Unfortunately when we got to the public restrooms that Lolly thought we could use, they were locked. There was one porta potty in the parking lot where we stopped and half of us used that and the rest of us used the bathroom on the bus. Using the bathroom on the bus is normally only for emergencies and I would say this classified as an emergency. We then proceeded to Donegal where we had lunch on our own and walked around the city for a little bit. There is a castle there that some of our group toured but as our time was limited and we didn’t feel we would have enough time to do that justice, we simply walked around the outside and took photos. We walked back to the parking lot and walked around a graveyard with beautiful views and a ruined church. When we got back to the bus, Lolly and the bus driver were pouring all of us shots of whiskey (none for the bus driver, of course) and we had another group photo. The whiskey was left behind for us by two of the tour members who departed the tour early on due to covid. We raised our glasses and toasted them. Slainte! (Cheers!) Bonny and Lance. It was a bittersweet moment thinking of our tour members who were left behind. Back on the bus after stretching our legs and having lunch, we were on to Derry/Londonderry for a walking tour of the city walls and saw a tiny bit of the city. The local guide was very good and we really enjoyed the tour. The guide told us a little bit about the Troubles in Northern Ireland. She also told us about the huge Halloween celebration that happens in Derry. People come from all over the world for this so it’s a really big deal. Derry is known as the Halloween Capital of the World. Doesn’t that sound like fun! We then had a little free time on our own. We visited the city hall which looks like a church and not a municipal building. There is a small museum in the city hall that you can visit for free. We used the restroom at the local visitor center and then had an ice cream at a local shop. Then we were back on the bus headed to our hotel in Portrush which is a seaside town that is pretty much dead at this time of year as the kids are back in school and people are not there on holiday. We stayed at the Portrush Atlantic Hotel which is nothing to write home about. It certainly wasn’t the worst hotel I have ever stayed in and at least it was just one night. There weren’t too many restaurants that were open so a lot of us ended up at a restaurant called Ramore which was a short walk from the hotel. It was ok and we had a good time chatting with our fellow tour members at dinner.

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Day Twelve - We were now headed towards Belfast which is the last city on the tour. The bus departed at 9:10. It was another gorgeous day. Our first stop is at Dunluce Castle which was just a short bus ride away from Portrush. The castle is very picturesque and set on the coast. The castle is now a ruin so you have to use your imagination of what life was like there way back when. We had a guided tour and had time to take a few photos. Our next stop was the Giant’s Causeway a short bus ride away from Dunluce. Lolly told us about the legend associated with the causeway. Two giants (one in Ireland and one in Scotland) were going to have a battle. The Irish giant built the causeway as a bridge between the two countries. When the Irish giant found out how big the Scottish giant was, he used a ruse to avoid doing battle and later on destroyed the causeway linking the two countries. Remnants of the causeway exist under the sea and do connect the two countries. In reality, the causeway is comprised of basaltic volcanic columns formed over 60 million years ago that have eroded over time. It is an interesting sight on the Antrim Coast. Because the Rick Steves company couldn’t get us tickets to the site despite trying to book it a year in advance, the bus let us off at the site and Lolly took us in the back way. When we got there my husband and another tour member realized they had left something they needed on the bus so Lolly made a quick call to the bus driver and ran back to get the items to us. Lolly is a trooper and has a ton of energy. We missed going to the visitor center because we didn’t have tickets but the basaltic columns were the main attraction anyway so no big deal. We walked the mile downhill to the causeway and we had the option to take the shuttle bus at the bottom of the hill back up to the visitor center area. The shuttle bus ride is one euro. Instead Lolly suggested we do a hike in the opposite direction for a more varied view of the causeway. The hike took us past the “giant’s boot” rock formation and to the “Organ”which are towering basaltic rock pipes. We took a group photo there and then backtracked to the Shepherd’s Steps. The Shepherd’s Steps are 162 steep stairs straight up the hill. It was a bit of a haul for me and I had to stop a couple of times to catch my breath but the view at the top was spectacular. We did an easy walk back from there along the headland to the bus. All but two of us did the hike. Back on the bus, Lolly diverted our bus along the Antrim coast. What a treat! Lolly said that no other Rick Steves tours do this but rather they go inland to Belfast. We were later told by someone who lives in Ireland that we were really lucky to see this part of Northern Ireland as most people do the inland route as Lolly said. On a clear day you can see Scotland and we did indeed see Scotland in the far distance. This is the area that Lolly is from and she wanted us to see it. She passed the beach where she and her brother were encouraged to swam in the ice cold water when they were little while their mother and grandmother sat huddled on the beach wrapped in blankets and the “polar bear” near the beach which is actually a rock painted to look like a polar bear. Lolly had the bus stop at a tiny little house along the narrow coastal road where she knew a woman who sold dulce which is a dried seaweed and bought some for us to try. She said her mother loved this stuff but it is an acquired taste and she herself wasn’t a fan. I don’t think many of us tried too much of it so there was plenty left over for Lolly’s mom. We drove past the house where Lolly’s beloved grandparents lived at one time. This was a trip down memory lane for Lolly and she brought us along for the ride. This was just one of the personal touches that Lolly brought to our tour.

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We arrived at a town where we could purchase some lunch supplies at a Spar grocery store. We had a picnic in the park and then Lolly bought us all ice cream at a shop called Maud’s. The shop sells an ice cream called Poor Bear ice cream which is vanilla ice cream laced with honeycomb nuggets. Some of us tried that flavor. Once we arrived in Belfast, we drove through an area of sectarian violence and Lolly talked about the Troubles. The neighborhoods are still divided into Catholic and Protestant sections and there is a peace wall dividing them. It is called a peace wall not because it commemorates a “peace” but because it keeps the two feuding groups separated and keeps the peace. There are gates in the wall that open from between 8 am and 6 pm. We spent our last two nights at the Hotel Europa which is very, very nice but also known as the most bombed hotel in Ireland. We had a group dinner that night at the hotel after which we had a private entertainment in the hotel of a performance by two musicians and two Irish step dancers. This was River Dance quality on a small scale. Really wonderful!

Day Thirteen - We had a 9:10 departure from the hotel to get to the Titanic Museum. The weather was cloudy but no rain. The Titanic museum is a stunning building on the site where the Titanic was built and covers the Titanic and other shipbuilding and industries in Belfast. I would have liked to have spent more time there. We left the museum at 11:20 and then the bus took us to the Ulster Scots Museum. This is the point where we said goodbye and thank you to our bus driver Paul. At the museum, we were served soda bread and coffee. We learned more of the history of the Ulster Scots and had a demonstration of one of the large drums. The drum weighed 25 kg and was really, really loud. My ears are still bleeding even though I had my fingers in my ears. We also learned how many US presidents are of Irish ancestry. I chatted with one of the museum staff and told him my maiden name. He reiterated to me what I had just learned on our recent tour of Scotland that my family/clan were notorious cattle rustlers in the Borders region of southern Scotland with a price on their heads. LOL! Who knew I descended from such stock! After the museum, we walked with Lolly back to the hotel and handed in our whisperers as we would no longer need them. We bought a picnic lunch at Tesco’s across the street from the hotel, went back to our room to get organized for our early morning departure to Dublin. Our final group dinner was at CoCo’s Restaurant a short walk from the hotel. The meal was delicious as always. We finished off the meal with an Irish coffee. We were all sad to leave Ireland and Lolly so most of us regrouped at the Hotel Europa bar for a nightcap and to reminisce. What a great group of people to have spent two weeks in Ireland with. Lolly said she knew from the first group meeting that we were going to be a special group and we really bonded with each other and her.

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Day Fourteen - We had our final breakfast at the hotel before heading off to Dublin. Lolly stayed at breakfast to say a final goodbye to all of us who had not left before breakfast which was really sweet of her especially as her mother had just had a serious medical incident and was in the hospital and I am sure she was anxious to get home and see her mother. Lolly was due to start another tour in a few days and we had hoped to meet up with her and her next group at Buswell’s Hotel in Dublin but it was not to be as we were leaving Dublin the day before the next tour group’s initial meeting. We were so sad as we really wanted to see our dear Lolly again and let the other group know how lucky they were to have Lolly as a guide and what a wonderful trip they were going to have. After breakfast, we walked to the Air Coach bus stop which was just around the corner for our trip to Dublin Airport. We had booked our bus tickets several days before and had the scan code for the tickets on our phone. Our fellow tour member Christin was with us on the bus. She was leaving for home from the Dublin Airport and we were heading back into Dublin for a few more days as there were more things we wanted to see and do there. Our bus arrived at 9:30 am and our bags were stowed under the bus and we headed for Dublin Airport Terminal Two. We arrived at the airport two hours later, gave Christin a quick hug goodbye and then took a taxi back to the Buswell’s Hotel. We should have just taken the Air Coach to the hotel as the taxi cost quite a bit more and was only fifteen minutes quicker than the Air Coach. We were now on our own and already missing being with our group. We arrived at the hotel at noon and our room was ready so we checked in. It is another beautiful day in Ireland. We then walked to the EPIC: The Irish Immigration Museum from the hotel, had lunch in one of the restaurants inside the complex and did a quick tour of the museum. The museum is near the Jeanie Johnston Famine Ship. You are issued a “passport” when you enter the museum and get it stamped at each exhibit. There are themed galleries telling the story of the Irish diaspora and the impact the Irish had on the world. We then walked back across the River Liffy to the hotel and rested up a bit as we did not sleep well the previous evening due to the Irish coffee at the previous night’s dinner and the diet coke in the hotel bar. We had dinner that night at Bailey’s Pub on Dawson Street and it was not very good. We did not have a restaurant reservation and it was the best we could do.

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Post Tour - The next day we took the Mary Gibbons Newgrange Tour which I highly recommend. The day started out cloudy and we did have some rain at one point but then the skies cleared by the end of the day. We met the tour bus just up the street from the Shelbourne Hotel. The tour takes all day and you get back to Dublin around 6 pm. The bus dropped us off at the corner of Nassau and Kildare which is a block from the Buswell’s Hotel. There were a series of 5 Garth Brooks concerts happening at Croke Park in Dublin for the next several days so there were a lot of people in Dublin just for those concerts. Each concert was for 80,000 people. Cowboy hats were being sold on all the street corners and a lot of people wearing cowboy boots and Garth Brooks t-shirts. There was increased traffic that day of concert goers being bused to the stadium so it slowed us down a bit getting back to the city. Aargh! We had dinner at the hotel as we were unable to get a reservation elsewhere.

Our final day in Dublin, we slept until 6:30 am and had breakfast at 8 am. Another beautiful sunny day. We got our act together and brought our luggage to the lobby and paid the bill. The hotel held our luggage for us until we could pick it up later in the day to make our way to the Radisson Blu Hotel at the Dublin Airport. We walked around the corner to locate the Air Coach 700 bus pickup point which is up the street from the Shelbourne Hotel. We had already prebooked our bus tickets for later that day. There was a protest being staged on Kildare Street near the government buildings and police were setting up barricades. It turned out to be a bit of nothing. We walked to the Temple Bar to take photos as it was a quiet time of day and then made our way to the Chester Beatty Library. We got a little lost going to the museum. The museum opened at 11 am. We stored my husband’s backpack in a free locker and then took a docent tour of the library. After the museum, we walked back towards Grafton Street as we wanted to go for lunch at Bewley’s Oriental Cafe. We again got a bit turned around and google maps set us to rights. The restaurant was really busy but we got a table under one of the big stained glass windows. It wasn’t a Harry Clark stained glass window but I actually thought it was much nicer. I had a wonderful super food salad. Grafton Street was mobbed as it was a Saturday. After lunch, we walked back to St. Stephen’s Green which was also very busy as it was the weekend. There were lots of people lounging on the grass and having picnics. Sea gulls were also there en masse I suppose hoping for crumbs from the picnics. We went back to the hotel around 3:45 and picked up our stuff to go to the bus stop for our trip to the airport. When we got on the bus the driver asked us what airline we were flying out with and we said we weren’t leaving that day but spending the night at an airport hotel. Apparently there was a computer glitch at Aer Lingus and most of the planes in and out of the airport were cancelled. The airport was telling people not to come to the airport if they were flying Aer Lingus. Upon arrival, the bus driver gave us the advice to walk to the hotel as it would be quicker than waiting for the airport shuttle bus. It was a short and easy walk. We had an just ok dinner at the hotel

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The next day, the Aer Lingus computer glitch caused more chaos at the Dublin airport which was mobbed with people whose flights had been cancelled the previous day. No one knew which line to get into to check in and drop off their luggage. We got in the wrong line for a while and then had to get into another line. It took us 2 ½ hours to get our tickets and drop off our luggage and we still had to go through security. I was worried we would miss our flight. We made it to our gate in good time but unfortunately our plane did not. Our Aer Lingus plane arrived at the gate 45 minutes late and we were wheels up 1 ½ hours late. We consequently missed our connecting flight home on United from Heathrow. We were rebooked by United to leave the following day at noon time and were glad to have seats. We got in line at Aer Lingus to get a hotel reservation and meal voucher but the line wasn’t moving and there were a lot of angry people still trying to get home from the day before. I called our travel insurance and they booked us a hotel at the Hilton Garden Inn which is a short walk from the terminal. We flew the next day from Heathrow to San Francisco and the finally home to Reno.

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Holy cow, Mary…what a report! Awesome detail…thanks for posting!

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Loved your report Mary. My husband and I did this tour in 2019. It remains one of our favorite tours. The tour is a little different that ours. We spent 2 nights in Portrush and 1 night in Belfast. I’m so sorry that your had some tour mates get Covid. Have you heard how long they had to wait to go home? When was your tour? We took the tour starting on September 8th. Thanks again for helping me remember such a wonderful tour.

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Very fun to read and full of detail, thanks for all the work you put into this. I enjoyed it especially because I took the same tour in late May, with a different guide but same hotels and same activities (though we took the inland route from Bushmills to Belfast so missed the coastal scenery you got to see). I had a few days in Dublin before the RS tour and took the Newgrange tour as you did, one of the highlights for me. Even stayed in the Radisson before flying out, as you did. The RS company does a great job with these tours (this was my third) and I look forward to more in the future, as I'm sure you do too. Sorry your journey home was so difficult though. DUB is not one of my favorite airports.

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Hi Janet,

Thanks for reading the report. I am glad you liked it. This was probably one of our favorite tours as well thanks in large part to our guide and our wonderful group. Not to mention that unbelievable weather. I do not know how long the people who contracted covid had to wait to go home. We all felt terrible for them and were holding our breaths wondering who would fall victim next but thankfully we all finished the tour although one couple said they tested positive on arrival home after the tour. Our tour was from Aug. 26 to Sept. 8 plus the extra days in Dublin on our own. I am sorry you got stuck in Portrush for two days but maybe you did some things that we didn’t like the Carrick-a-rede Bridge.

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Thanks, Dick. The computer issue with Aer Lingus really caused a mess for people coming and going to Dublin. And add in the Garth Brooks concert goers to the mix. We sailed right through Dublin Airport when we arrived from Scotland. No issues then.

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Mary, thank you for your detailed, thorough report. I'm signed up for the June 18, 2023 tour and am looking forward to it. I've been to Ireland once before way back in 2006 and loved it. I need to get myself in better shape for all that walking, stairs etc. Lolly sounds like a wonderful guide and I can't wait for the Bailey's for breakfast!

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Thanks, gimmegrenache. The Shepherd’s Steps (162 steps straight up a hill) at the Giant’s Causeway was something most of us opted to do. It is not required. Otherwise, the walking wasn’t all that strenuous. My husband and I are in our early 70’s and we did fine. But getting is shape is always a good idea before a tour so that you can enjoy it fully.

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Mary - loved the trip report! We haven't been to Ireland but your summary sure makes us want the experience. Thanks a lot for such a detailed description of your tour.

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Great writing! Thanks for the details. Bookmarking this one!

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So glad the weather cooperated this time around, it makes a big difference! Isn’t Ireland grand? Thanks for your report!

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Wonderful trip report! You have a flair for descriptive writing. We were there just before you, as we saw plenty of football fans in Dublin in the lead up to the game. We went to most of the places your tour took you to, up to your visit to Westport. We flew to Inishmore because I have problems with seasickness as well and we arrived a couple of hours before the first ferry. It sounds like you had an experience of a lifetime.