I flew in and out of Cork simply because it was cheaper than Dublin. My two friends flew into Cork but out of Dublin. They took a train back to Cork which seemed to work well. We did our trip counterclockwise, but it could easily be reversed.
Cork is the second largest city in Ireland and was originally a monastic settlement that was once fully walled probably to fend off the Viking invaders. It’s home to the world-famous Blarney Stone inside of the castle by the same name. This was the first thing we did in Ireland, and it was over-rated. I’m guessing things have changed since Covid, but then you wait in a long line only to lie on your back, bend over a precarious opening in the wall, and lean forward to kiss the stone that hundreds of other people just had their lips on. 🤢
I loved our evening at the Blackrock Castle Observatory which as the name implies is an old castle that has been repurposed as a small museum and observatory. It’s also perched on the River Lee which makes for beautiful sunset reflections.
The Cork Public Museum is also free and has some fun exhibits. Plus, it’s right across from the University College Cork which was a nice campus to meander around for a bit especially with the ivy putting on its fall colors.
Kinsale is a town south of Cork that’s home to the star-shaped Charles Fort. And further south yet is the Old Head Peninsula. At the very tip is a lighthouse which you can’t get to without paying for an expensive round of golf, but what a golf course! I went down there after the girls left on the train back to Dublin and experienced one of the best sunsets of my life! It kept building until the sky exploded with light.
Dublin is about a 3-hour drive from Cork, so on our way, we stopped in Cashel to explore an old ruin famous for being associated with the St. Patrick. While we were waiting for our timed entry, we went across the street to Hore Abbey which was Ireland’s last Cistercian monastery and is another cool ruin to explore. The grounds around the Rock have old headstone markers to meander in between.
We arrived in the afternoon and checked into our hostel before heading out to explore the city. I made a bee-line to St. Patrick’s Cathedral because the sunset looked like it might be a good one, and I was rewarded with a beautiful pink sky. I got up early the next morning while the others slept and walked down to the Samuel Beckett Bridge which looks like a harp lying on its edge. Later that day we booked tickets to explore the Library of Trinity College. The Long Room in the Old Library is famous for being beautiful. It is also a “copyright library”, so publishers in Ireland are required to deposit a copy of all their publications here, without charge. Their current collection is 7 million volumes!
One of my travel companions had only one request for the entire trip: we had to visit the Jameson Distillery for their tour. We got to peek behind the scenes of their operations and learn about the process of building out the barrels as well as partake in a taste test.
Wandering around Dublin we found some fun things like a very “puzzling” paint job on the front of a preschool, a barber shop with a memorable name, as well as a very important instruction poster for properly dancing Gangnam Style. Oppa!
We broke up our 2-hour drive to Galway with a visit to the Belvedere House Gardens & Park which is known for its “Follies”. These are ornamental buildings that serve no useful purpose; some are even designed as sham ruins. They were built to “provide subjects for melancholic contemplation of the triumph of civilization over barbarity.” The three follies of Belvedere were The Jealous Wall, the Octagonal Gazebo, and the Gothic Arch (all pictured below). All three felt a little like experiencing ArtPrize in Grand Rapids where the most common exclamation after viewing a piece of art is “Well, that was interesting.”
Once in Galway, we spent 2 nights there. On the first day, we explored the abandoned ruin of Menlo Castle. The entire thing was overgrown with an impressive amount of greenery. We posed outside, and I commented that if we were a band this would be the perfect cover art for our first album! We also hiked over to the Galway Cathedral which is an impressive Catholic church. For sunset, we drove down to Dunguaire Castle.
Ready for Moher?
The Cliffs of Moher rise just over 700 feet from the Atlantic Ocean and are one of Ireland’s most popular tourist destinations because of their raw beauty. They’re just over 3 hours from Dublin, so the tourist buses start rolling in about 10-10:30 and leave well before sunset. We decided to stay in a nearby Guesthouse to avoid these peak times. But as we were driving down from Galway, it started downpouring. We got a late lunch and then headed out after it let up. Stormy weather seems to lead to excellent sunset conditions and this was true for us that day.
We had an epic sunset and then went back to our guesthouse to relax. I was planning to do an astrophotography trip back to the Cliffs after the moonset and the core of the Milky Way became visible. I parked in the empty parking lot and was walking the path to my spot when I heard a spooky noise. I turned my headlamp towards the sound and was startled by a massive cow who was just standing in a nearby pasture. I was able to photograph both the Milky Way as well as the Big Dipper which was briefly visible between the fast-moving clouds. After getting back and finally going to bed, I still hadn’t adjusted to the time change, so I was stumbled upon news that the Northern Lights had been spotted. The area around the Cliffs has a northward facing view as I had just made a composition with the Big Dipper which points towards the Northern Star. Plus, the area around the Cliffs is rather remote and thus free from light pollution. So I got dressed for a second time and made my way back down and was rewarded with the lights dancing on the horizon!
The Dingle Peninsula, Killarney, and The Ring of Kerry
The Southwestern part of Ireland has a number of peninsulas that protrude out into the ocean. Many of these have roads that closely follow the coastline and lead to wonderful views. We did one quick day at the Dingle Peninsula with the highlights being Slea Head and Dunmore Head. We didn’t get to Dunquin Pier, but that’s another highlight.
The Ring of Kerry has a lot more marketing behind it and features the coastline of the Iveragh Peninsula. Killarney is a good town to base oneself in since it serves as both the start and finish of this route. For me, the highlight of this day trip was our sunset at the Kerry Cliffs. These overlook Skellig Michael and Little Skellig. The former was made famous again in The Last Jedi Star Wars movie because it was Luke’s hideaway. They were used in the 6th-8th century when monks built a monastery there and lived in stark beehive huts made of stone.
We did explore Killarney National Park the highlight for me was Ross Castle which has a large swan population that expects to be fed!
Here are most of the places we visited. You’re welcome to use it in planning your own trip!
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