By: Connie, Brian, Tara and Al
When a good friend of ours, (Lois, Manager of Groups & Tours for CAA Niagara) told us about Trafalgar’s 10 day trip through Ireland, ‘The Best of Ireland’, we were immediately intrigued as Ireland is on our list of must-see destinations. However, I must say we were a bit hesitant as we had never been on a guided tour and we weren’t sure if this type of vacation was for us.
I can tell you that any concerns that we might have had were alleviated within minutes of our arrival in Ireland! Upon arrival in Dublin on a beautiful, sunny day, we were greeted by our Trafalgar Travel Director, Bernard, and our driver, Michael. We soon realized we had hit the jackpot! These two wonderful people would play a large part in the enjoyment of our vacation. We also realized soon enough that we would not have to worry about anything….at all…..! Bernard had everything taken care of for us; we did not have to concern ourselves with any of the details that we normally have to worry about when on vacation, like hotel check-in/check-out or getting our bags to and from our rooms. Our only responsibility for the entire ten days was to be on the bus on time! That’s it! I can’t begin to tell you how awesome that was!
Each leg of our journey through Ireland included wonderful stories from Bernard. A brief history given prior to each destination and a bit of Irish folklore made our bus time so enjoyable! He also pointed out many Hidden Treasures along the way. Bernard was a wonderful ambassador for Ireland with an obvious pride and love for his country. Of course the views of the glorious green Irish countryside dotted with sheep and cattle didn’t hurt either!
Day 1 – Dublin: “Happy Days!”
In Dublin we had an afternoon free, so Tara and I explored the city and the boys explored the pubs! We saw gorgeous St. Stephen’s Square (reminded me of Central Park in NYC), wonderful, bustling Grafton St. (pedestrian shopping area), the Jeanie Johnston famine ship and the painted doors. The boys took a cab to the Jameson Irish Whiskey factory and their cab driver pointed out The Brazen Head Pub – the oldest pub in Ireland. For the boys it was not to be missed!
Our Welcome Reception was at O’Neill’s Restaurant and included a typical Irish pub meal. Our group from Niagara was joined by a great group of people from the United States, Australia and fellow Canadians. The food at O’Neill’s was delicious and plentiful. The pub atmosphere was cosy, friendly, and typically Irish! What a great opportunity to meet the rest of the people with whom we would be sharing our experiences and building memories!
We continued our evening in the famous Temple Bar area and saw an amazing band in the Busker Bar, also not to be missed! That first day was a long one but we thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it!
Day 2 – Dublin Sightseeing & Free Time: “No Worries!”
Bernard showed us an amazing Hidden Treasure – Dawson’s Lounge – “probably the smallest pub in the world”! We toured the Guinness Storehouse with a very knowledgeable young man who took us through the many levels of the brewery, and most importantly showed us how to “properly drink a pint of Guinness”! We enjoyed a pint in the Gravity Bar on the top floor with a fantastic view of the city. What a treasure! Later we enjoyed a great pub lunch at The Bank restaurant/bar (loved it!). Two thumbs up for sure!
We saw St. Patrick’s cathedral, built in honour of Ireland’s patron saint. Stunning architecture. Our Optional Excursion that evening included a traditional Irish night out however we decided to have dinner at the Italian Corner which was absolutely fabulous!
We found Dublin to be a very compact city making it very easy to walk anywhere. If you need to take a cab, no worries – cabs are plentiful in Dublin and the drivers are a pleasure to talk to. They made the cab rides a fun experience!
Day 3 – Dublin-Kildare-Youghal-Cork: “Good Golly Gosh!”
Soon it was goodbye to Dublin for now, and off to Kildare! We loved the walking tour of the Irish National Stud and Japanese Gardens. Both were fascinating and highlights of the trip. We had another amazing Local Guide at the Irish National Stud. During our stop in Kilkenny we took photos at Kilkenny Castle and had time for a quick lunch at Syd Harkin’s Pub. Then it was off to Cork after a quick stop in Youghal for an Irish coffee at The Quay pub. Irish coffee…another treasure! Our room at the River Lee Hotel in Cork had a beautiful view. We had dinner in our hotel in Cork tonight. It was an excellent meal and a great time was had by all! It was so nice to see so many people from different places enjoying each other’s company!
Day 4 – Cork-Blarney-Killarney: “One thing ant anudder”
We wandered around sunny Cork this morning before meeting the rest of the group to head off to Killarney. We stopped at Blarney Castle and Gardens; such absolutely stunning grounds, green, green, green! We kissed the Blarney Stone, even me…..with my fear of heights! We shopped at the “Largest Irish Shop in the World” and had lunch at Christy’s Pub. Seafood chowder, sandwiches, Guinness…delicious!
In Killarney we walked through the town and found great Italian food at Robertino’s. We watched a football game (that would be soccer for us North Americans) in one pub and then ventured off to Sheehan’s Grand Pub – a great place to listen to live music!
Read Part Two of the ‘Many Shades of Green: The Best of Ireland’ Travel Tale next week…