Just got back from Ireland. For the most part, it was every bit as stunning and charming as it is made out to be. There were two things that I was a little disappointed to find, that were not called out in RS' books:
- When you rent a car, you are required by law to purchase insurance (unless you are covered in some other way, like through your credit card, etc.). This mandatory insurance is more than the base rate of renting the car, effectively (at least) doubling the cost of the rental. I wish I had known that before the clerk at the Hertz office broke the news to me. It was pretty much too late at that point.
- While many pubs in many towns have great traditional/folk music, they do not generally allow children unless there is food being served. And in most cases, they stop serving food exactly when the music starts. There are some exceptions, especially in more tourist-friendly towns. But you may have to skip out on some of Rick's favorite spots if you are traveling with kids.
Aside from the cost, I didn't have much trouble driving in Ireland. It was my first time driving on the left side of the road, but I adapted quickly. Some of the narrow country roads (as well as roads in little medieval towns) can be a little tricky, but motorists are very friendly and helpful to one another, so it's all pretty manageable.
We stuck to the southern half of the island for this trip (we'll have to visit again some time to take in the North). Some quick impressions:
- We didn't meet a single Irish person who wasn't super-friendly, and more than happy to give you their advice on how best to enjoy the local culture. They are, generally speaking, wonderful, good-natured people.
- Dublin is nice, but after a day or two, it feels like any big city. I wouldn't plan to spend too much time there.
- Kilkenny and the surrounding area were lovely. We only spent one night there, as we had planned on it just being a way to break up the trip between Dublin and Dingle. But we wish we had spent another night or two in the area.
- Kinsale was not super-exciting to us. The best thing to do in the area was not in the RS book: Old Head. It's about a 15 minute drive from town (not sure if any buses go there). Park at the parking lot for the Signal Tower/Lusitania memorial, and walk down toward the entrance to the private golf course. You will be greeted with stunning cliff/seaside vistas that are well worth the visit.
- Dingle is a cute and fun little town, but the word is definitely out. It is swarming with tourists (not just Americans). It's definitely worth the visit, in my opinion, but just be prepared for a high tourist-to-local ratio. A highlight for us was the archaeological tour of the peninsula, as mentioned in the RS book. The guide, Michael O'Coileain, was incredibly knowledgeable about the history and culture of the area.
- Driving the Connemara loop was cooler than I expected. Lots of neat stuff to see, most of which is in the RS book.
- Galway was not particularly good for families. It basically feels like one giant college party, all over the city. If you are young and/or single, you will probably have a blast there, but for kids it's just kind of noisy and crowded.
Despite some of the shortcomings noted above, we had a great time and are already looking forward to going back again some time in the future. There are some places we would like to see more of, and plenty of places we didn't have time to squeeze in to this two-week itinerary. The people and the scenery make Ireland an unforgettable experience.