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  • Writer's picturethetravelingartemis

The Emerald Island Redux

Trip Occurred: September 2019 Blog Written: October 2020

The first international trip my husband and I ever took was to Ireland in 2014. It was a fantastic trip. In fact, we enjoyed it so much we went back a few years later, 2019, and this time we took my parents!

My mom always wanted to go Ireland as her family roots trace back there. She wasn't sure if my dad, who is not the biggest fan of travel, would want to go so we made plans to go together. My dad, ever the trouper, ultimately decided to come.

Our trip begins with our group getting picked up in Sacramento and driven to SFO. We checked our bags, went through security, and headed straight to the British Airways Business Class Lounge, which had recently been renovated. The new layout makes the space feel a little more open and I appreciate the additional hot food options. From there it was on to the pods!

Thankfully, we had an uneventful flight from SFO to Heathrow, where we had a multi-hour layover, and then hopped on a plane to Dublin. After what felt like a million hours, but was actually about 22, we finally landed in Dublin. We had arranged a driver to pick us up through the hotel we were staying at in Wicklow. It took about 40 minutes to get there and at this point in our trip, we were completely exhausted.

On our last trip to Ireland, my husband and I had stayed in Dublin for at least half the trip. For this trip, I wanted to make sure we spent most of our time in the Irish countryside. When we last visited Ireland, I fell head over heels in love with Wicklow. It's one of my favorite spots on the planet. Just endlessly, beautiful and peaceful scenery. It feels like you've stepped back in time. This is why I choose Powerscourt Hotel Resort and Spa as our home base for the first few days of the trip.

Day 1

Seriously, we got to wake up to this every day we were there.

As usual, our first full day was a rather relaxing one. We slept in a little bit and then headed next door to the Powerscourt Estate. The estate includes a grand house, though you don't spend much time in it. In fact, it suffered a horrible fire in 1974 and sat in ruins until renovation in 1996. Also, on this estate are miles of beautifully manicured gardens, which is really why you're here. In addition to the grounds, there is also an Avoca store, food market, and café. I love Avoca. As far as I know they're only located in Ireland, though I believe they have worldwide delivery. If you want a nice gift for someone, or yourself, from Ireland this is your store.

After exploring the Estate, it was time for afternoon tea. Powerscourt Hotel holds their afternoon tea in the Sugar Loaf Lounge, which as you may have guessed has views of Great Sugar Loaf Mountain. It was a wonderful tea and a great way to relax from our morning stroll around Powerscourt Estate gardens.

After lunch we all went back to our rooms and relaxed for the rest of the day...Or tried to relax. Turned out we had a problem with the air conditioner in our room, and as it was a little stuffy the hotel kindly changed our room and actually ended up giving us an upgrade. Our new room was beautiful, though honestly so was our previous room, and we ended the day with room service including sticky toffee pudding (my favorite!).

Day 2

Seriously...How could you get tired of waking up to this?

This day was all about exploring Wicklow. We started at Powerscourt Waterfall, the highest waterfall in Ireland. It was stunningly beautiful!

Next, we wandered around the mountains seeing Lough Tay (known as Guinness Lake) and Sally Gap. Wicklow is known for its beauty and is often used by Hollywood. It was used as Scotland for the film Braveheart, P.S. I Love You, Michal Collins, and The Tudors, to name a few.

The last stop of the day was Glendalough. Glendalough is a monastic settlement founded in the 6th century by St. Kevin. It's an impressive sight to see and if you feel like taking a hike there are various trails that lead you out to the lakes (Glendalough means Valley of the Two Lakes).

On our last trip to Ireland, my husband and I did this exact day using a tour company out of Dublin, with the exception of the Powerscourt Waterfall. I choose to experience it again because I wanted to show my parents this special spot of Ireland. Also, because I wanted to see it again. I have a large canvas up in the master bedroom from Wicklow. I see it every day and could not wait to return. If Wicklow is not on your list, add it! Add it now!

Also, while we're sort of on the topic, if you don't want to drive in Ireland there are plenty of tours out of Dublin that will take you to all the top sites throughout the country. On our first trip to Ireland we used a company called Wild Wicklow Tours for our day trip to Wicklow and I would recommend them. For this trip, we actually got a driver and split the cost with my parents. On our last trip my husband drove and it caused A LOT of stress. Getting a driver can be expensive, though we did find it to be worth it.

Day 3

It was time to leave Wicklow behind and travel to County Kerry but before I start this day, I want to share this picture of the breakfast set up at Powerscourt Hotel. Breakfast was included in the price of our room and had a nice selection. Even my Dad, who is VERY picky, enjoyed breakfast here. While all our breakfasts were nice, I'm pretty sure this was our favorite. Anyway, on to adventure...

Our first stop of the day was Kilkenny Castle. This was not on my original itinerary but was recommended by our driver. He originally suggested it for the previous day but that day ran a little long and we were tired. It occurred to me that as this day was mainly a travel day, and Kilkenny was (kind of) on the way to our new hotel, we could easily fit it in. I'm glad we did. Admittedly, I like more fortified castles (think Tower of London or Dover Castle) as opposed to residential castles (for lack of a better description) but I did enjoy Kilkenny Castle. While we were exploring the grounds, we randomly ran across a swimming competition of some kind in the river below. It looks like they have an active swimming club that has competitions. Interesting!

After Kilkenny, it was time to head to the Rock of Cashel. My husband and I saw this castle on our last trip but I liked it enough I thought my parents should see it as well. While it's mainly ruins it sits on a hill with beautiful surroundings. Another castle you could do, is Blarney Castle; however, I chose Rock of Cashel over Blarney, both times, because I liked the castle itself better and I didn't have any intention on kissing the Blarney Stone. If, however you would like to visit Blarney Castle, this trip from Wicklow to County Kerry could easily accommodate a stop there. Just trade out Rock of Cashel for Blarney. Actually, if you really wanted to, you could do both.

The Rock of Cashel was the traditional seat of the kings of Munster prior to the Norman invasion. Most the buildings date from the 12th and 13th centuries. Cormac's chapel is the only place on the property you have to have a tour guide and a designated time to visit. When we were last here, I don't know that this was true. The chapel is constructed primarily of sandstone and in the very wet climate of Ireland it became waterlogged damaging parts of the interior. Between 2014 and 2019 they had completely enclosed the chapel in a rain-proof structure with interior dehumidifiers to dry out the stone. It was interesting.

After a day of castle-viewing, we arrived at The Europe Hotel and Resort. It's located on Loch Lien, Killarney's largest lake and was lovely. We stayed at a different hotel the last time we came to County Kerry and while I really liked that hotel, and it was actually just down the road from this one, it felt a lot like a B&B and I wanted a hotel. I would go back to The Europe for the views alone.

Day 4

Today was the Ring of Kerry. To be honest, my husband and I almost sat this day out. We thought the Ring of Kerry was beautiful but not something we really needed to see again. The only reason we decided to go was to see if the driver knew of places we missed. Turns out, there wasn't. While I wouldn't tell you to not do the Ring of Kerry, I have a hard time talking it up. It's definitely pretty but I don't think it's a nice as Wicklow, for example. Having said that, if you're going to do the Ring of Kerry you must include the Skellig Ring. It's the best part of the trip. And stop at the Kerry Cliffs, see why below.

Before I get too far into the day, we also got breakfast included in our rate at this hotel. And much like the previous hotel, there was a nice variety of options and a great view.

After breakfast, our driver picked us up and brought us to the Kerry Bog Village, which, funnily enough, was also our first stop on our last trip on the Ring of Kerry. I do like the Bog Village. It's a little cheesy with its fake people but it's still a cool representation of a time in Irish life. Also, peat is an interesting thing. That you use that for a fire just fascinates me.

Next, we stopped at Rossbeigh Beach/Strand. Nothing particularly noteworthy here except it's a lovely beach looking at the North Atlantic Ocean.

Then it was on to Valentia Island. Now this was a new stop that we hadn't visited last time. Given its location to the Skellig Ring, I'm not surprised by its beauty. I would recommend going a little out of the way and adding it to your drive.

Our next stop is my favorite spot on the Ring of Kerry, the Kerry Cliffs. 5 years ago, my husband and I stumbled across this yellow house saying they had food and the best views. We stopped because we were STARVING and then decided to pay and see these "best views". We were very mocking about it (to ourselves) and it turned out, they weren't lying. They were the best views on the Ring of Kerry (technically the Skellig Ring, which is a little loop below the Ring of Kerry). When we visited them again in 2019, they had completely built up. It was like an entirely new place. 5 years ago, it was cold sandwiches and booth where you paid to see the views. Now it was a large parking lot, full of people, a food truck serving hot food, a larger booth to pay at, and an entirely new side of cliffs to explore (you could go left where before you could only go right). It was a bit of a trip to see the changes. I guess the secret got out.

Our second to last stop brought us closer to our hotel, Killarney National Park. We stopped at Torc Waterfall, a nice short hike through a beautifully green forest and Muckross House, though we didn't go in.

Our final stop, of the long, but nice day was Aghadoe Overlook. It was my first time here and it was a lovely overlook of Loch Lein.

Before I end the day, I wanted to share a few random pictures from the drive. They didn't fit at any one location so I thought I'd group them together.

Day 5

Today on the itinerary was the Dingle Peninsula. Having never been there, I was excited. Unfortunately, this is the day on the trip I started to feel sick. Not really sure where I got my cold from considering no one else on the trip had but it was not fun. We actually stopped at some point on this day at a pharmacy so I could get some drugs to deal with my nose but also my persistent cough and sore throat. While I really enjoyed this trip, admittedly, this put a bit of a damper on the whole thing. Anyway, let's start with another shot of the view from our room on a nice, moody Irish morning!

View from our room

We began the day at Inch Beach. It's an absolutely gorgeous beach that you can drive your car on (a rarity in the States) and given this was a bit of a drizzly day, being on a beach in a car worked out perfectly.

Our next stop was a place called Hold a Baby Lamb and, like their name would suggest, we held a baby sheep. In all honesty, I was a little reluctant because it seemed dirty but let me tell you...If you have a chance to hold a lamb, HOLD THE LAMB!!!!! It was the lightest, softest, most precious thing I had ever held. I wanted to keep it and never put it down. My husband, had a similar experience...but later that night ate lamb so I guess it didn't fully take.

Also, on the property were some beehive huts. Beehive huts are typically located in south-western Ireland. The most famous ones, I believe, are those on Skellig Michael, which is an island that was a monastic settlement from the 6th and 8th centuries. It is unclear how old these beehive huts are.

After finally putting the lamb down, we moved down the peninsula to Dunquin Harbour. There are two rocks in this harbor that may be the most famous image of Dingle. Dunquin Pier, which these rocks are next to, is sometimes called Ireland's sheep highway due to an iconic Irish postcard depicting the pier filled with sheep coming from the Blasket Islands. I guess it doesn't happen so often these days. Still, it's a beautiful location.

With rain, comes rainbows! While we were lucky and really only got rained on once this day, still the rainbow felt a little like a reward. We stopped at Ceann Sreatha to take in the beautiful coastal views and that beautiful rainbow!

Our final stop on the peninsula was Gallarus Oratory. It's built in a style similar to the beehives. There is a single, small window in the building and legend has it that anyone who climbs through the window is guaranteed access to heaven. My husband gave it a go but given its tiny size was unsuccessful. Still it was a funny site to see. Also, while we were in the structure, it started POURING. We tried to wait it out but eventually just made a run for it to the car. This is also where we had a very close call with another car, due to the narrow Irish roads, and then watched a van try to leave a space and also experienced tension watching them try to maneuver and not hit anything. STRESSFULL!!! And we weren't even driving!!!