Inside information & tips on what to see, do, eat, & special places to stay; Ireland, London & beyond!
Vibrant Ireland

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A day being in Ireland is a day well spent; especially if it’s Kilkenny Ireland!

There is so much to do and enjoy in Kilkenny, City and county.

You’ll find plenty of ideas for things to see and do here, and I’ve made a bit of a Kilkenny map to help you. Also look at the wee video to get a taster of what life in the charming Kilkenny countryside is like. Thanks so much to Suzanna at Zwartbles Ireland sheep farm for letting me visit & film!

US food writer Joanna Pruess loved her day in Kilkenny & Zwartbles Ireland! sheep

US food writer Joanna Pruess loved her day in Kilkenny & Zwartbles Ireland sheep!

Kilkenny Ireland: a perfect mix of city & rural culture.

Campagne Kilkenny Ireland- Michelin star desserts!

Campagne Kilkenny Ireland- Michelin star desserts!

 

You will truly get the best of ‘both worlds’ here; for example you can experience exquisite tastes at (not one, but 2!) Michelin star restaurants, and explore the rural countryside where several of the food products used in these & other Kilkenny restaurants are farmed. I’ve not yet been to the Lady Helen, but I’ve been to Campagne for special occasions several times. We always go for their Early Bird dinner menu or set lunch menu, as they are good value if you haven’t got the biggest budget. My top tip is to save room for dessert! Seriously have not ever tasted better, so if you are like me & go for 2 courses skip the starter not the sweet 😀

The Ireland you’ve dreamed of

Often when folk visit Ireland they want to experience some of the wonderful ‘cliches’ of Ireland; amazingly green countryside, an ‘Ireland traffic jam’ of sheep herded down a windy road, other-worldly megalithic stone circles and ancient monastic ruins, hospitality & craic of a traditional village pub which also doubles as a hardware shop, a friendly cupán tae in a handmade crafts shop. `

You may think that this is a tall order; perhaps you haven’t loads of time, and figure that in order to experience all this you’ll have to do a several hour trek across Ireland to Kerry, Galway, or Donegal. But you don’t! In under an hour and a half’s journey from Dublin you can be in a very special part of Ireland, a place that everyone, including outdoor adventurers, culture lovers, foodies, fun seekers, and family travellers will enjoy. Welcome to Kilkenny!

Kilkenny Ireland sheep traffic jam

Kilkenny Ireland sheep traffic jam

A world- class friendly city: Kilkenny, Ireland

Kilkenny City was voted the 9th friendliest city in the world by Conde Naste readers in 2013. It’s a compact medieval city home to Ireland’s Medieval Mile; this includes Kilkenny Castle, St Canice’s Cathedral with one of only two Irish round towers you can still climb, Rothe House and much more. There’s nearly always a festival of some sort happening! You should definitely go to Kilkenny City. But what you should also do is explore the Kilkenny countryside.

It is easy to get to Kilkenny City from Dublin. You can take the train from Heuston station, several bus companies go, or you can rent a car and drive. To get to several of the fantastic places in the Kilkenny countryside you’ll need a car. I’m afraid that is true for all of Ireland; many of the gems are tucked away from public transport routes. So, do seriously think about renting a car. If you just can’t get a car, you can still get to some of the towns by bus. There are two routes: Kilkenny City to Thomastown and Inistioge, and Kilkenny City to Graiguenamanagh.

There really is something for everyone in the Kilkenny countryside! What do you want to experience?

You want ancient ruins?

Knockroe passage tomb is second only to those in the Boyne valley when it comes to Irish Neolithic stone carvings. Unusually, is aligned to both the rising and setting sun on Winter Solstice. If you are in the mood for an adventure, this side trip is perfect. Non sign-posted, you have to traipse across some fields to find this truly hidden gem. Finding the 12c Aghavillar monastic site along the way is easier and you can actually go up to the top of the building. Brooding and beautiful, there is a part of a round tower here as well.

Kells Priory Kilkenny Ireland sheep

Kells Priory Kilkenny Ireland sheep

Kells Priory is 1,000 years old. It is a large, walled set of ruins, and the tumbled-down parts are rather maze like. Kids love running around here, and in the field populated by sheep on the short walk to the ruins. Kells Priory is usually deserted, though on my last visit I met a man with his pet fox. This is not the only pet fox in rural Kilkenny! You may also see another man walking with one in Thomastown. With accompanying fox or not, it’s nice to take a nice little walk along the river behind the Priory, where you’ll find the restored Mullins Mill.

Jerpoint Abbey is stunningly elegant & beautiful, dating from the 1100s. Unlike Kells Priory, there is a small visitor centre run by the OPW. Be sure to look carefully around this Abbey, because it has many carvings along and in the stone walls that you may otherwise miss.  There are many more fascinating historic sites in the area- keep your eyes open and investigate!

Want to stroll, or take part in more active outdoor adventure?

In the charming village of Inistioge where the movie Circle of Friends was filmed, walk along the river Nore to ‘Eve’s’ hidden cottage, or stroll in the Woodstock Gardens and Arboretum. You can go kayaking, SUPing, and canoeing out on the river Barrow in Graiguenamanagh, and you can even arrange to take a half day barge trip from St. Mullins to Graiguenamanagh on Larry’s Barge.  If you’d like to get into the water, there are two diving boards (or steps for the less brave) into the river along the quays.

 

Rent the beautiful Larrys Barge in Ireland

Rent the beautiful Larrys Barge in Ireland

Rent bikes and cycle along the Barrow river towpaths with Bike & Hike Graiguenamanagh (great for families as it is quite flat) or get more challenging along the Trail Kilkenny East Kilkenny bike trail. Or how about a hike up Brandon Hill to look across five counties, or hike in the Blackstairs mountains.

You want tasty artisan Irish food?

There are several award winning artisan food producers in the area, ranging from Stoneyford’s Knockdrinna cheese to Thomastown’s  Goatsbridge trout & caviar to Truffle Fairy chocolates– and loads more. Many of Kilkenny’s restaurants pride themselves on using fresh local ingredients. There’s a whole Kilkenny Food Trail you can explore, too.

You want to experience an authentic traditional Irish pub?

Graiguenamanagh is home to a pub which is also a shop, a hardware store, and a fishing and shooting depot! If you’re lucky, you may hear trad music, or the church bells as you have a tasty pint. Doyle’s is just across the street from the 800 year old (still functioning) Duiske Abbey.

There’s a tiny pub in a farmhouse on the road from Thomastown to Graiguenamanagh, just at the Coppenagh crossroads, . You can glimpse the family watching telly in their sitting room as you sip your pint.

Inside of Doyles, Graiguenamanagh Kilkenny Ireland

Inside of Doyles pub,Graiguenamanagh Kilkenny Ireland. Photo by @GraigueBikeHire

Get your name written in your pint by the barman in Inistioge’s O’Donnell’s pub. Better than Starbucks!

You want Irish crafts?

There’s Cushendale traditional woolen mill in Graiguenamanagh, between Thomastown & Stoneyford you’ll find Jerpoint Glass glassblowers, and in Bennettsbridge there’s Moth to a Flame candle maker and Nicholas Mosse‘s lovely handcrafted pottery & cafe in a picturesque stone mill. Thomastown is a very crafty small town, with several makers and craft shops. Do have a stroll around. There’s even more elsewhere, all on the Kilkenny Craft Trail.

Call it getting off the beaten track, call it community-oriented tourism, or just call it a good idea- exploring rural Kilkenny Ireland will give you an authentic taste of Ireland in uncrowded, special places.

Prepare for that Irish weather!

Transitions well from rainy field nice restaurant! Makes life simpler! My Cotswold Outdoor triclimate jacket

Transitions well from rainy field nice restaurant! Makes life simpler! My Cotswold Outdoor triclimate jacket

One thing I’ve found invaluable when enjoying a day out in Kilkenny, is to be prepared for any weather, any time of year! Even if it is sunny when you start out, it could change and lash down rain for 20 minutes, or just produce a steady, misty drizzle for a few hours before the sun splits the sky again. Don’t underestimate the misty type rain– it will soak you to the skin in a few minutes! Always bring a suitable rain jacket- preferably one that won’t be too warm, or cold!

The joke about Ireland having 4 seasons in one day is TRUE! I’m finding that one of those rainproof jackets that also has a removeable fleece lining is perfect. I got a 3-season one from Cotswold Outdoor online, and I wear it everywhere! I even wore it  into our annual Christmas lunch at Michelin-starred Campagne– I think it looks that good 😀 Cotswold contacted me about testing out an item, and when I chose the 3-season coat I never expected it to look as nice as it does; I figured it would be really frumpy or kinda gaudy because it was functional; but this coat goes fine with most any outfit! You can see me in it in the video & photos; often even with a skirt or dress! Of course if I get it mucky visiting the Zwartbles Ireland lambs that’ll be born around Christmas, I won’t wear it to eat out until it gets a good clean– I’ll let you know how it washes up!  If you are interested in checking out the one I got, it’s also on Sale right now at Cotswold Outdoor; the Women’s Evolution 2 triclimate jacket.

Here’s the Google map with driving routes & some interest points and activities for your visit to Kilkenny.

In the map I have you starting from the area of Kilkenny Castle, heading to Kells. (The route is figure 8-ish, with a side jaunt to Knockroe passage tomb.) I’ve recommended the journey with that starting point because from that driving direction a lovely view of the Barrow valley rises up on your right hand side as you near Graiguenamanagh. There is a roadside pull-off where you can stop and savour the scene.

Have a great time! If you have any questions, tweet me @VibrantIreland. And watch out for those sheep on the road 😀

A version of the Kilkenny information was first was written by me for TBEXcon’s site ahead of their 2013 conference in Dublin.


Donegal app

Sure, you see this all the time in Donegal! Flaming bagpipes are everywhere there 😉

Donegal is one very special place.

It really does have a special magic all its own. It’s where I fell in love with Ireland! If I’d had the fab Donegal app back then I might never have left!

It certainly is a bumper time for Donegal. More Northern Lights excitement the other night, two teams in the All Ireland on Sunday, and more and more folk finding out about the charms of this extreme Northwest Irish county.

One of the very best ways to get a feel for this stunning Irish county and to add depth to your trip is to download the free and very comprehensive Donegal App. It is definitely produced with love by the very funny and characterful John Ward of @racontouring.

For 2014 the Donegal App has been launched with significantly increased material for the north west visitor to enjoy. New additions include tours of Donegal’s Wild Atlantic Gems, a Best of Ulster guide and a Best of the Donegal Bay area. Check out one of their You Tube Donegal Abu videos below – they’re a real added treat, as are the extensive podcasts section under the Audioboo icon.

The Donegal app offers you the ultimate chance to sit down and plan a beyond-the-beaten-track visit to Ireland’s most beautiful region. Picture the scene; you download the new 2014 app onto your tablet or smartphone, and with it you not only get to read about where the great places are (and Favourite them for your itinerary), you find contact details & all you need to know about them, AND you get to enjoy a relevant YouTube video! That’s right, wherever possible, Donegal App have found the most original YouTube video to allow you to savour the wonder of that place. All in one handy spot! The mapping system even allows for turn-by-turn directions on both the most up to date Androids and iPhones/iPads.

The 2014 app is extraordinarily detailed in what it offers the visitor to the north west, yet happily comes in at just under 50 meg. You likely know that the big news in 2014 is the Wild Atlantic Way from Donegal to Cork. The Donegal App has included all of the discovery points that Failte Ireland refer to along the Donegal coast and have augmented those Points of Interest (POIs) by adding a host of hidden gems known only to local insiders! You won’t miss a single treat along the Way’s most picturesque section – 97 interest spots in total. They’ve included the best places to eat, visit and stay along the way with all restaurants having won awards or acclaim for their efforts, with seafood a speciality of course. Accommodation ranges from glamping in Creeslough to a castle by Lough Swilly. *sighs wistfully*

But, wait, that’s not all! Donegal App folk felt maybe they were being a bit narrow in their focus on just Donegal in previous years – after all most travellers don’t just stick to one county, they visit a whole area. So now the curious visitor based in Donegal has App material to guide them to places like the Giant’s Causeway, Toddsleap Adventure centre, or Yeats Country down in Sligo. With your Apps, you have all of the information needed for these visits.

Sligo is Yeats country; Ben Bulben

Sligo is Yeats country; Ben Bulben

Why, now you’ll find a full audio tour of Yeats Country containing a comprehensive audio guide on both his poems and his favourite haunts! Drive along and as you round a corner you’ll be told about Dooney Rock or the Sally Gardens of Ballysdare. Perhaps you’re on the northern half of Donegal Bay? You’re in for a treat – all of the hidden gems along the coastal route to Slieve League cliffs are there for you to discover.

This cross-platform app offers a comprehensive travel guide where audio, visual and social media platforms are handily incorporated into the information. Not only can you connect to a place’s website, send them an email or call them with a click, but you’ll see any interesting YouTube video that exists out there on them. Best of all, the service works offline so that you will not be charged roaming charges when exploring the county! What’s not to love about all this? 😀 You guys, you’ll LOVE Donegal!

There are a total of 8 tours within the one Donegal App:

Donegal’s Arts and heritage – 82 of the best places to visit from trad music to festivals, theatres to museums and the pick of the county’s crafts artists.
Donegal Activities – a guide featuring 75 places for water sports, golf courses, adventure, horse riding & places for children to enjoy.
Best of the Donegal Bay area – 91 POIs from Slieve League to a Yeats Country audio tour, find all of the bay’s treasures.
Best of Inishowen – the northern peninsula that rewards you with 105 hidden gems.
Best of Ulster – enjoy 68 of the very best attractions of the province’s other eight counties from causeways to Nevin’s cuisine.
Donegal’s Greatest ‘shrines’ – from the sacred to the sublime, here are 24 special parts of the county that are worth discovering.
Donegal’s Great Outdoors – here’s a special guide of 80 POIs just for birdwatchers, fishermen, hill walkers and lovers of scenery.
Donegal’s Wild Atlantic Gems – experience nearly 100 of the most enthralling places to visit, stay and eat on Ireland’s finest coastal drive.

Get the Donegal App now in the App Store or Google Play, where all 8 tours download automatically for you. Follow ’em on Facebook or Twitter for further updates or for feedback/suggestions. (Please note that all tours are subject to acceptance of the Licence terms) Available on iPhone, Android, Garmin or TomTom devices – click on the various guides at the top of the homepage to download onto your device. See http://donegalapp.com/


Crescent moon over the lovely Belfast City Hall

Crescent moon over the lovely Belfast City Hall

Belfast is brilliant! Yup, the vibe is excellent!

When we went for a Belfast weekend break, we had no idea that it was such a fabulous, friendly, foodie, artsy city. Here are 3 videos & 3 reasons you’ll love it:

1. The People and Atmosphere.

Wow! Everyone was so friendly. The city was clean and buzzing with fun & positivity. We didn’t expect to love Belfast so much, but we did. We feel it combines the warmth of Dublin (friendly, funny people) with the exciting vibe of London (lots of new, trendy places & arts, especially in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter.)

 

2. The Culture & Food

So much culture happens in Belfast! The weekend we visited there were 2 festivals on as well as the play in Lyric theatre. Plus, exhibits in the art and craft galleries, all sorts of gigs in pubs, and of course the myriad of fantastic places to eat as well the delish food in St George’s Market. In the Market our Belfast Food Tour guide Caroline tempted us with the sinfully good and uniquely Belfast treat called a ’15’–OMG yum! ( Don’t worry, I’ll reveal more in upcoming Belfast posts. Well, maybe I won’t reveal the calories in a 15!)

 

3. The Amazing Surroundings

From buildings old to buildings new, there is plenty of beautiful and exciting architecture to be seen. Belfast is also a waterfront city, and if you take a short drive, rolling green countryside and sandy beaches are there for you to explore. The Giant’s Causeway is also just an hour away!

I think you’ll love having a holiday in Belfast. And of course, from Dublin, Belfast is less than 2hrs drive, or by train just 2hrs 20min– handy for a day trip. But I think once you visit you’ll be like us and want a longer Belfast vacation too. Perhaps we’ll see you there! 😀 If you’d like to see what we got up to on our trip to Belfast, this link brings you to all the places we went, and below are a series of videos. PS: LIAM NEESON ALERT! *swoon* 

This is a 2-minute video of our visit, I hope you enjoy it 🙂

Before I show you the other 2 videos, here’s the So You Know: I had been hoping to go check out Belfast  in 2014, and when I got a chance to do so via NI Tourism I jumped at the chance. Terry & I were guests of  AVB Group/NITB, agreeing for the visit to be filmed in these videos & TV ads, but everything we said is unscripted and what we really thought. We had a fab time, and plan to return as soon as we can. It will be nice to go back without a video crew so I don’t have to eat on camera! Trying to eat salad gracefully & without green bits on your teeth is hard! I suppose that’s why that part got cut 😉  Good thing Liam Neeson was only narrating & not actually there!

This one is our 30 second ad for (Belfast) Northern Ireland:

And this last one is a 1 minute ad (showing in ROI) we & others are in, about some of the People & Places of Northern Ireland:

 

 


PaddyWagon tour guide Mike

Mike was a fantastic guide. He showed us how under the stone slabs at the beehive huts there are tunnels the monks used to flee from raiders. He also pointed out the glider trailers & told us about the gliding that goes on in Kerry- I would never had had a clue! At the Beehive huts, Mike told us about Tom Cruise & the huts property owner Mary. We got to chat with her & see her photos. Priceless.

Have you ever considered a Paddywagon tour?

They are reaching out for more than just the stereotypical boozy backpackers now. CEO Cathal O’Connell told the Irish Independent:

 “While our target market was originally 18 to 35-year-olds, our focus has broadened in recent years to include, not just the young but the young at heart.” (Read the full interview here.)

I reckon it was with this broadened demographic in mind that  Paddywagon and their new endeavour Daytoursworld reached out to us travel bloggers attending the Dublin TBEX travel blogger conference in October. Would we be interested in experiencing a 3 day Paddywagon tour out to the West of Ireland? Yes, several of us would– the majority of us over 30.  Paddywagon arranged everything, and said that they looked forward to our honest reviews— which is good, because that is what I write!

Now, you may be thinking ”But I don’t really see bad things written about or reviewed on Vibrant Ireland.”

That’s true- not because I don’t give my honest opinion, but because if something I’ve tried is crap or has nothing to really recommend it, I don’t write about it. This is Vibrant Ireland, not Vicious Ireland. 

For Paddywagon I’m going to give you my pros & cons of a Paddywagon tour as I experienced it, and I’m also going to give you links to the other travel bloggers’ posts & reviews. They are a brilliant additional resource, because we all remember different things, and we all took different approaches to writing about the tour. I think the combination will give you a helpful, broad feeling for the trip.

 

The Pros of a Paddywagon Tour

  • The Driver/Guide. Ours was Mike Coggins. Mike lives in Kerry, so generally does the trips in that area. If all the drivers are like him, this is by far your biggest plus in doing a Paddywagon tour. Mike was very friendly, and a great driver, storyteller, informational tidbit-imparter, photo-opp spotter, singer, and general hospitality master. YES. People like Mike are what make whirlwind tours come alive. Otherwise, you see beautiful/historic/interesting sights, but don’t really get a feel for a place. Some guides give you information, but Mike gave us a window into Ireland and hospitality. Maith thú!
  • You don’t have to drive on the wee, wind-y backroads. If you are a nervous driver, the little Irish back roads can be stressful.
    paddywagon tour: clare
    We had a brilliant time in Clare on the Paddywagon tour

    Our small bus was able to go on them, so we got to see some gems like Minard castle by the sea without anyone white-knuckling the steering wheel 🙂

  • For a single person staying in the hostels, cost is a pro: about €188 for the 3 day/2 night tour. I doubt you’d rent a car, pay for petrol & stay overnights for this.
  • Most everything is planned for you, no hassle. (This is only a pro if you hate planning & enjoy set itineraries, though.)
  • Similar to the first pro; you’ll find out things you probably wouldn’t have if you were just driving yourself, or on public transport.
  • You’ll meet other travelers, and very likely make at least one friend.
  • You can take a fun hour of Irish dancing lessons at the Annascaul Paddywagon pub for only €4. 😀

The Cons Of a Paddywagon Tour

  • The cost for a single traveller who doesn’t want to stay in the hostels. Approx €375, as there is a single room supplement of €58. It is expensive for such bland accommodation. We stayed B & B one night, and though it had a cute thatched roof and a curragh outside, disappointingly inside it was a soulless, plain, new-build type house. There was no character or warmth in the place. The B & B was immaculately clean, though; top marks on that!  But it wasn’t a happily memorable Irish hospitality experience. Breakfast was awkward, & the chairs nearly too wide to all fit under the table at the same time. This awkwardness made it fiddly to leave the table to get our milk and sugar as well as our coffee & tea; all located on a serving table. (Coffee and tea were both in teapots, which caused a few mix-ups.) The breakfast food was OK, but could be made better by even small things, like providing some Ballymaloe tomato relish, & adding that personal/Irish touch by saying a sentence or two about this Irish product, & how you may enjoy it on your ‘rasher’ (Irish bacon.) Another chance to add to the Irish-experience of visitors. Little touches can mean a lot, and the added value they give can actually cost the provider very little. The people working at the B & B were certainly nice, and I’m not criticizing the job they were doing; I just think the B & B needs to be  ‘warmed up’ & some important tweaks made. I am hopeful Paddywagon may consider these points, as they do want our honest feedback. And I will happily update this post to reflect any changes implemented.
    PaddyWagon b&b
    The Paddywagon B & B room I had. I snagged the double-bed room, VERY clean, but no bedside table or chair, so had to have my instant coffee balanced on the bed. Also no side lamp for reading or just avoiding the bright overhead light. Not worth the extra €100ish a night I would have had to pay for it (vs staying the hostel) as a single traveller!

     

  • Food could be an issue for you. The night we stayed in the B & B we were brought to the Paddywagon pub next door for dinner. It was rather expensive for ‘ boozy backpacker’ quality food. My veggie burger was €9.50 and I think that was one of the cheapest options. Living in Ireland, I know food here can be very tasty, and it doesn’t need to be fancy to be good. But if this standard is what people on the tours get, then no wonder many visitors think Irish food is pretty bad. I’m really sorry to have to write that sentence. But more and more people, especially the over 30s, want to to fully enjoy tasty food, especially if it has a bit of a ‘story.’ We have such foods here in Ireland! Please, please let visitors experience this–  at least give some in-house options other than those which taste like they are from frozen catering packs of school food.

 

  • The hostel we stayed in was definitely an old-school ‘backpacker’ hostel. Our dorm room had 10 beds- not a huge amount, but not small, either. It did have 2 bathrooms, but in one the door wouldn’t lock. When I took a shower there was only mildly lukewarm water even though no one else had showered recently. The building had a shabby feel to it, which a bit of DIY and colourful murals or such could help to rectify. Again, I’m hopeful this could be addressed, and when it is I’ll update this post. Paddywagon is operating successfully for years, I know, but if they do want to really expand their market, addressing these issues would help. I travel solo often, & stay at hostels both fancy and plain, but they must have hot water and feel well maintained.

Ok, those are my pros & cons. But look, the cons are things pretty easily addressed. And if you are a partying backpacker just looking for an inexpensive tour around parts of Ireland you may not care about those cons!

 

 But the thing is, I think that the people I met who work at PaddyWagon do care.

I think Mike cares hugely about giving all types of tour participants a hospitable, entertaining, enjoyable and warm Irish experience, one that they’ll talk about and remember for a lifetime.

And I think Zach, who arranged for us to take the tour & went along with us, full of enthusiasm & cheerful banter, wants that, too.

Although I didn’t spend time with the people who worked at the places we stayed & ate at, they were friendly and I’m sure they want to provide a brilliant experience for all types of tour-goers as well.

A few small adjustments could make middle aged ladies like myself very happy. There a lot of us out there, and we love to travel 🙂

I’ve done a stand-back-and-evaluate post on our PaddyWagon tour, but others have done posts that will give the feel for the wonderful time we had being guided around by Mike, and the beautiful places we saw.

And donkeys! BABY donkeys! AND we got to PET them! SQUEE!!!  (See a clip of them at the very end of this post)

So click the links below & enjoy!

Tanya from PA Girl Goes Abroad has fond memories of Mike’s stories

Alex & Bell from Wanderlust Marriage got lots of fab and sunny photos.

Anja from Travel on Toast had a brilliant time learning Irish dancing at the Paddywagon pub (in German, so use Google translate)

Nienke from The Travel Tester loved the donkeys & has great photos

Also, I did a photo post from the tour

More to come as the other bloggers write their posts.

Huge thanks to Mike, Zack, and all encountered on the tour, and to Paddywagon Tours as a company for having me & the other bloggers on a complimentary tour. I greatly hope you all will take my post in the spirit in which it was written- in honestly and in respect for an Irish business that is employing many well meaning people & giving so many visitors fun experiences; a business which I hope continues to grow and improve for many years to come. 


What you need to know about Ireland

What you need to know about Ireland

The feedback on this informational post I wrote has been brilliant, from both Irish folk & visitors, so I’m sharing some of it here with you, so you can see what you think. 

What you need to know before visiting Ireland

When I visited Ireland, it changed my life. Really. It touched a part of me, and then I think it kept a part of me, because when I returned home to The States I felt bereft and miserable for a long time. So I took a huge leap. I sold my car, gave away my things, and moved to Ireland on a wing and a prayer. Nearly 20 years later I’m still here and I’ve never regretted it.

This post isn’t about my story, but it is about some of the reasons I was able to have such a wonderful experience in Ireland, & what I’ve discovered is useful to visitors through my years living here— I’ve translated it all into some tips for your visit.

 

Open Your Mouth

Busy talking on phone

It is true-Ireland is full of friendly people who are happy to suggest things to do, or offer up interesting info about their area. Don’t be afraid to ask people if you are lost, want a suggestion on where to eat, what to see, etc. Most people are pleased to share their favourites & their local knowledge. On my first visit, my 2 girlfriends & I got off the train in Derry and stood around with our giant backpacks, looking unsure. Some young men came up to us & asked if we were lost. We told them we were thinking of going to Donegal, but weren’t sure exactly where yet. They excitedly suggested we go to Buncrana, as the festival was on that weekend, and that we’d have a brilliant time there along beautiful Lough Swilly. We thanked them, and they went on their way– no hassle, just friendly advice about a place they loved. (Whew! We took their advice & had a fantastic time!)

 

There May Be A Bit Of ‘Rudeness’

As an expat American, I must add this: most North Americans are accustomed to a level of immediate customer service that is not overly common in much of Ireland. You could have the same expectations where you are from, too. North Americans are used to being acknowledged when entering a cafe or such, especially when it is not always apparent if you seat yourself, order at the counter, or wait to be seated. (Also in regards to staff being on the phone; in The States we are used to the customer physically present being acknowledged, & then they may also take precedent over someone/customer on the phone. I find this doesn’t often happen in Ireland.) BUT don’t be put off– it doesn’t mean that the employee is actually unfriendly—I find that usually if you say a cheery Hello/ ask a question people are friendly & helpful. (Same for once they are off the phone. Not that I enjoy those differences in customer service, but it is good for you to be aware of them. I know many tourist businesses are trying to improve on this aspect of customer service).

 

Here’s the catch!

This post is continued over on http://nullnfull.com/2013/07/15/ireland-before/  I wrote it as a guest post, and, so if you’d like to continue reading, please head over there. Thank You! 🙂

 


Graiguenamanagh – A sparkling treasure waiting to be discovered

Evening along the river, Graiguenamanagh, Kilkenny, Ireland

Evening along the river, Graiguenamanagh, Kilkenny, Ireland

Dee Sewell of Greensideup.ie enjoyed a short break off the beaten track in the medieval village of Graiguenamanagh. She’s been kind enough to share her photos and unvarnished opinion. Do have a read: 

I’ve visited Graiguenamanagh on several occasions over the years given it’s not too far from home. The enchanting Town of Books Festival is held there every September and the place comes alive with book sellers and buyers ambling along the narrow pathways, clutching new and old books to their chests as they pop in and out of quirky old shops and marquees.

Graig’s a pretty riverside town, one of many dotted along the River Barrow in County Kilkenny, a waterway that runs through six Irish counties making it the second longest in Ireland. The deep channel that flows southwards along the end of the town, makes it perfect for high and spring board river diving on balmy summer evenings (lifeguard on duty at set times) and boats and barges of all shapes and sizes moor up along the tow path and weir, their occupants conveying the relaxed lifestyle they lead in their unhurried mannerisms.

Graiguenamanagh buildings collage

Some Graiguenamanagh buildings & the river Duiske running through town

I love the way places change the instant you ditch the car and travel by foot (or boat) and it happened once again the day we checked into The Waterside, a colourful B&B located on the riverfront in Graiguenamanagh (pronounced grey-g-na-man-ah).

We were hot and flustered having left our house and children in the capable hands of granny for the evening but we threw our bags into the clean and bright room of the converted mill and immediately headed out to explore our surroundings.

Our initial impressions of Graig were mixed… So many empty shops and closed up businesses poignantly highlighting the many casualties of a struggling country. We were especially saddened by the boarded up Anchor pub/restaurant/B&B, established in 1810 that would once have stood proudly at the bridge end of the High Street, but now empty with sycamore trees growing out of its guttering. How the building must have looked in all its glory! Now its a home for jackdaws and swallows and wildflowers that are nesting in its crumbling facade.

We continued our walk on the warm summers afternoon, looking for craft or bric a brac shops to entice us in, but sadly there were none, just more boarded up frontages. [Ed’s note: Duiske Glass is just a minute’s walk up High Street, but obviously needs good signage to it!] We wandered along, taking in the architecture of the old houses and the Duiske Abbey, then headed up the hill to the traditional Cushendale Woolen. Mill The mill still makes and stocks a colourful array of pure wools and yarns, including the newly launched Zwartbles range, but we were disappointed to find it was closed on Saturday afternoon and Sundays. That does mean however, that I’ll be returning again soon to buy a ball for my winter glove making project and perhaps stop for a cup of tea and cake at the Coffee On High Cafe,  but that didn’t help us part with any money on that particular Saturday.

Riverside; Graiguenamanagh, Kilkenny, Ireland

Riverside; Graiguenamanagh, Kilkenny, Ireland

In the absence of craft centres, we headed back to the river to look at the boats and found ourselves walking along the tow path towards St Mullins ‘Carlow side’. Within minutes the stresses of life left our shoulders. We slowed down and began to relax as the gently flowing river wove her magic.

We noticed the varied and colourful wildflowers that made us stop every few minutes to capture them, listened and watched the fish that splashed in their shoals alongside us. We felt the breeze as a large Heron majestically flapped its wings as it flew along the length of the river before flying high across the treetops. A fleeting highlight of our walk happened when the flash of a kingfisher whizzed past us, it’s vibrant blue catching the light of the sunshine before disappearing out of sight.

We didn’t walk to the next village on this occasion as we weren’t suitably prepared for the 2 hour round trip, but now we’re aware of these beautiful towpath walks we will return to do so. For keen walkers there’s a portage service that will carry your bags from one village to the next, allowing you to stroll unencumbered.

Food at the Waterside Guesthouse, Graiguenamanagh

Lots of locally sourced food at the Waterside Guesthouse, Graiguenamanagh

You’ll also find many well priced, clean and friendly B&Bs along the route, as we did in The Waterside which also provided us with a delicious three course locally sourced meal, with a menu that included Knockdrrina cheese, Goatsbridge trout and Lavistown sausages as well as a carefully chosen wine list and the nicest porridge I’ve ever tasted for breakfast!

Whether you’re just exploring a small portion of the South Leinster Way as we did, the full journey on foot, or the Waterways of Ireland, this is really what these villages are about – the alluring river. You can walk, cycle, row or canoe along any part of it, sleep in a tent or a b&b, stop for tea or a pint, soup or three course meal and sing with the friendly locals in a bar or quietly read a book shaded by a tree.

If only more people were to stop their cars and take a little stroll in the fresh air, perhaps some of the riverside villages might begin to regain their splendour. The boards may start to come down and they’ll no longer be hidden gems but sparkling treasures.

Thanks to Dee for this wonderful post, tis so true; these ‘hidden’ special villages like Graiguenamanagh are charming, but need people to come to them & spend a little if the villages are to survive, thrive, & then have new businesses.  

Here’s a little more about Dee, and check out her blog for things green & growing– in fact here’s her post on the wildflowers she found in Graiguenamanagh 🙂

 Dee Sewell runs an owner managed business that teaches growth, teaches green in Old Leighlin, Co Carlow. She blogs over at Greensideup.ie  about growing your own, recipe ideas, community gardening, the natural world and anything that might cause environmental concerns. She also loves all things purple. 


 

Ireland Road Trip: Glenstal Abbey Big Leaves

Ireland Road Trip: Glenstal Abbey Big Leaves

There are some great tips in this Ireland road trip post from Tatjana, whom I met when we both did the Fast Track To Dance (watching, not performing!)  via Dublin Dance Festival & Project Brand New. She’s a very interesting person and has been kind enough to share the tips she learned from one of her weekend trips around Ireland. She has her own blog Out and About where she shares reviews of arts performances attended in Dublin, & her travels out & about elsewhere. You can also follow Tatjana on Twitter @kliony. Here’s a little of her bio:

I am your usual person with interests in pretty much any field you can imagine. Maybe apart from neuroscience and quantum physics. Trying out all sorts of things, not necessarily excelling in all of them, would be typical me as well.

I have a BSc in Information Technology and somewhat boring corporate career. Recently though I switched my focus to arts – theater, dance, visual arts, architecture etc. I also like to be out – see new places, experience new things– and share them!

So have a read, you’ll get some good ideas. In fact, I picked up a new one myself! 

 

Ireland’s perfect for road trips!

I love to travel. To be honest I am surprised why so many people prefer to go abroad rather than discover local beauty first. And by local I mean the entire island of Ireland. C’mon, it will only take you 3-4hrs to get from east to west.  By car that is; perhaps this is the main obstacle – not everyone wants to spend money on petrol going local and staying overnight in a hotel- which might cost the same amount, or even slightly more, than in your usual mainland destinations. However, you can find good value accommodation if you do your research and plan in advance, and the road is there for you, just get on to it!

 

Where will the Ireland Road trip lead YOU? Down an autumn laneway?

Where will the Ireland Road trip lead YOU?

Make it easy with a clever plan

While planning another trip, I got a bit puzzled – where to go? Looking at the map, I realized I always looked at a county as a starting point. So why not to do a county over the weekend? Thanks to the modern technology there are tonnes of information on the internet; each county has a website with travel tips and famous landmarks. All you have to do – pin it down. The most convenient part of the entire planning for me is Google Maps. Even if you can’t find a landmark on Google Maps through the search, you can just pin it yourself ( if you find directions to it somewhere else like the county websites, that is). Add all your pins to a newly created map and voila. Look through it, think of what you are going to visit first and you have your plan. I personally use my Android smartphone as GPS, so I have the map with the outlined route accessible at all times. Snacks – check, water – check, wallet – check, and whatever else you want to take on the road trip – check, and off you go.

 

The Middle of Ireland

I set off to what I thought would be well, the very middle of our evergreen island – co Tipperary. North of the county, Lough Derg was my first stopping point. There was a scenic drive along the way and just on the route to my next destination. There are viewing points, where I was able to get out of the car, enjoy autumn breeze, a bit of rain and amazing scenery. The viewing points are  handily located; if you are caught in bad weather you don’t have to get out of the car to enjoy the picturesqueness.

Glenstal Abbey, Ireland-- Hogwarts?

Glenstal Abbey– Hogwarts?

Hogwarts?

Next stop on the map while driving down the scenic route was  my B&B. However after getting off the M7 I saw a sign that I recognised  from an iPad app– Glenstal Abbey. Rain cleared and wind was chilly but not enough to make me frozen and distracted. So, what did I see? A Boarding School – it  reminded me of Hogwarts (just being a bit silly here) I guess autumn greyness contributed to that comparison coming up in my head.

 

Autumn has its own magic

At this point I realized that timing of the journey was perfect – given the variety of trees and plants, autumn reveals a palette of colours that no other season can offer (unless we are talking about the colour madness in this fashion season – I mean have you seen what are they selling in shops? Off the topic, my apologies.) [Susan’s note: a fashion for magic capes from Hogwarts? ;-)]

The little walk around Glenstal Abbey’s premises with the fallen tree leaves rustling underneath my feet reminded me how much I miss the countryside’s  autumn. You instantly get the urge to plunge into a pile of those leaves, just like back in childhood days. It felt like walking on a carpet, beautiful yet fragile.

The magic carpet of leaves Glenstal Abbey Ireland

The magic carpet of leaves Glenstal Abbey Ireland

 

 

 Fantastic hospitality & felt like home

It was getting dark as clock approached 6 on the dial, so I decided to call my B&B to warn them that we are going to be a little later than previously agreed. The lovely lady Marian was so kind – she asked if I wanted to have some hot soup or maybe wine and cheese on arrival. She was also kind enough to explain me how to get to the Aisling B&B from Tipperary town (as apparently it is placed incorrectly on GPS and it is likely you are going to get lost and possibly end up around Limerick if GPS directions are to be trusted!)

 

Don’t Get Lost!

Being born without GPS in my head, I always struggle with directions, so it was no surprise that I felt I was lost. I decided to use my GPS, but also feared the consequences. Luckily enough following the directions ( Though I remember 30min left to destination being displayed) I spotted my target. Perhaps it was not as high of a standard as some people might expect, but it felt like home and for the first time I actually wrote a review on TripAdvisor thanking owners. Their hospitality was the best I have experienced – I even got sandwiches for the road back. My advice on choosing your lodging – make sure it is on your route, preferably close to your next destination.

The beauty of this particular B&B was – it was minutes drive from Glen of Aherlow. Even though weather was pretty miserable, I met some trail walkers which only proves the point – you can’t wait for the weather to be good in order to enjoy nature.

 

A 2 seater bench- stay & relax awhile!

Cozy and welcoming- stay & relax awhile!

Castles & Cottages on route

On one of the websites  I saw a mention of Alladin Caves, so I tried to located them on the map. I pinned down the approximate location and so it happened that my way lay on the scenic drive from Glen of Aherlow down towards Lismore town. The view was absolutely stunning. I can’t stress enough though the importance of visiting these places in autumn. As I arrived in Lismore, I saw a castle and a little market in front of it. It’s a shame there was a sign – Private property. [Susan’s note: Only the Lismore Castle gardens & art gallery are open to the public, not the castle itself. Cost €8pp. I think the Alladin Caves shop in the town has closed 🙁 ]

 

Swiss Cottage tips

There was no sign of the Aladin Caves whatsoever. I jumped into the car and set my GPS to the next destination – Swiss Cottage. The downside (or possibly upside, depends on how you look at it) was that I had to go all the way back on the scenic drive- and it’s not the short one, let me tell you. So make sure that all your pins on the map are verified by several sources, otherwise you end up spending time, petrol and your patience. Also if you are using Google Maps and going to Swiss Cottage – it might take you on a very narrow country road that looks more like a trail than the actual road! You are likely to end up at the gates, which look pretty closed, but are actually not fully locked, so you are able to open them, no panic. However, be aware of your timing – Sunday 4pm is not the time to pay a visit, you are going to be greeted by a closed door.

 

The Swiss Cottage is thatched & very intricate

Swiss Cottage, Tipperary, Ireland. Photo, Discover Ireland

Special charm- but also the downside of Autumn’s early evenings

Next up was Cahir Castle;  do go and visit, they’ve a great history display. After spending some time expanding my knowledge it was time to hit the road yet again. Driving up the county my next stop was Rock of Cashel. Unfortunately by the time I got there, it was already closed for public, so when you plan your journey, be aware of opening times for places you want to visit. Just pinning them down on a map is not enough. Rather disappointed, I had only 1 stopover to make – Hollycross Abbey. By the time I arrived there darkness was already taking over daylight, nevertheless I still managed to have a quick look around and I must say, fading daylight gave it a special kind of charm.

The trip was almost over. On the way back I decided to pop into a little town on the other side of the motorway – Roscrea for a dinner. Found a lovely hotel – Damer Court hotel. Lovely food, friendly staff – after being on the road most of the day, it’s all we really needed before our final journey – all the way home to Dublin.

 

Thanks a mil, Tatjana, for sharing your Tipp trip (map pictured below) and your tips 🙂 I am now making and pinning on Google Maps myself, thanks to you! (My 1st one for activities for families in the Sunny Southeast is here) Have fun pinning & taking your Ireland road trip, everyone!

View co Tipperary in a larger map


Agata on the Inishmore cliffside during her 1st Ireland visit

Agata on the Inishmore cliffside during her 1st Ireland visit

 

A 1st Ireland Visit

A fair few people find their first Ireland visit is marked by an appreciation of Nature (yep, capital N- often a bit of awe in the feelings the Irish landscape inspires.) But what about visitors who are slightly iffy about Ireland before they arrive?

Like Agata, who visited Ireland for the first time in a record cold May. As she says herself, she didn’t have Ireland on her bucket list, and “considered it too cold and windy.” Did she enjoy Ireland, or was the weather in Ireland too chilly and damp? I’ll let her tell you what she thought in her own words:

 

Ireland As I Saw It

Ireland was never on my bucket list. I considered it too cold and too windy as for holiday destination. While it is windy and it is rainy this country has so much to offer! I’ve just got back from my first trip to Ireland and I must admit it was fabulous! My short description of Ireland would be: green, changeable, picturesque and fascinating.

 

Green

It is called ‘The Green Island’ and it really is green. I was lucky to see it in spring time when endless pastures were vivid green but I think that due to intense rain it remains green all year round. This color is everywhere: green ties, green neons, green bags, green pillows. If you pay attention you’ll see a green color everywhere. It is hard to imagine St. Patrick’s Day when even Irish beer becomes green.

Ireland is not only green in terms of color. It also favors green solutions like recycling or bicycles. Two examples: the length of cycling roads in Dublin and bike rentals on the Aran Islands. Although it might be tricky to cycle around Dublin without knowing the city, it is extremely comfortable in remote places, like Inishmore. Treating it as a mean of transportation adds pleasure to sightseeing.

 

Changeable

Change is good. In the Irish case this is even excellent because what I mean here is changeable weather conditions. I stayed in Ireland for a week and each day I had bit of sun, bit of rain and bit of wind. It seams very unlikely to rain for longer than couple of hours or- as in the case of my stay on Inishmore- for couple of minutes. As a result you get a certainty that at least part of your holiday will be blessed with the sun.

I’ve noticed there is a sort of general method how to deal with changeability of the weather. In a citycenter people tend to wait in a shop until the heavy rain passes and nobody makes any fuss of it. On the island the weather influences your daily routine and the sightseeing. You’ll learn appreciate every minute of sun here.

Aran Island cottage, Ireland

Aran Island cottage, Ireland

Picturesque

Breathtaking views are pretty much everywhere. I crossed the country from the east to the west and saw hundreds dream-like places. Blue sky, green grass, white tiny houses, stone walls, cows, sheep and ponies. A mixture of tradition and fairytale like views. Living in big cities full of noise, rush and stress people are deprived from a country side so when they finally see it their mind blows up. Ireland might not have exotic beaches nor high mountains but what it has is the idyllic countryside. On the other hand, the island also brought some epic vistas: the cliffs were absolutely marvelous. At some point you realize that although Ireland has a relatively mild climate some parts are extremely difficult to live in. The Aran Islands are a good example of rough conditions and bravery of people who live there. As a result the natural beauty is framed with human activity and you can admire a picture of stone walls, white houses along a huge variety of plants and birds.

 

Celtic crosses on the Aran islands, Ireland

Celtic crosses on the Aran islands, Ireland

Fascinating

Irish culture is captivating. Think about music, dance and prehistoric spots, to name just a few elements of the endless cultural heritage. I’m not saying that you’re able to absorb it all in two weeks of your holiday but coming to Ireland definitely gives you an opportunity to touch some of these miracles. For me the most spectacular was visiting prehistoric spots on Inishmore and listening to live music in a local pub. I think that strong attachment to the tradition is admirable. Moreover, Ireland does not close its culture in a museum with a sign “do not touch works of art”. You can actually experience it in many various ways. One of the biggest pleasures of my visit in Ireland was listening to the Irish language spoken by the locals. It is truly fascinating to hear the sound of cultural heritage and its rich history while sitting in a pub.

Don't get too close! Sea cliff edge, Ireland

Off into the sea. Cliffs on Inishmore, Ireland

To wrap up: Ireland is an interesting holiday destination for many reasons and I am pretty sure that each tourist will find his own. What you can expect from this country is a perfect mix of tradition and modernity, natural wonders and outstanding architecture, idyllic landscape and wilderness. In one word: you need to visit Ireland!

 

Agata has been always fascinated with travel literature and finally she decided she should travel herself. To date she has visited 20+ countries, focusing on Swedish Lapland, Italy, the United States, Canada and Ireland. Her blog brings interesting stories from remote and chilly locations.

She is currently working on her first book about philosophy of travel. I’m quite looking forward to reading it!

 I also want to say a huge thanks to Agata for writing this post! Give her a follow: 

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Aran Isle cottage, Ireland. No rain on this wee bit of Agata'sIireland visit ;-)

Aran Isle cottage, Ireland. No rain on this wee bit of Agata’s Ireland visit 😉