Ireland has always been on our list because Connor and his family are of Irish descent. Connor visited Ireland 10 years ago, but has wanted to return, and Sara had never been. We caught a late evening flight into Dublin and drove to Athlone, a small town in central Ireland, and a stop for convenience really, since we were heading to Galway the next morning. We actually found the town to be quite charming, as we’d soon learn is true of most Irish villages. We got in just in time for some late night food and a pint in a fabulous pub full of rowdy locals, Gertie Browne.
Then it was off to Galway for two nights. What an incredible place! Galway is a lively town with great restaurants, packed Irish bars, constant live music, and a unique art scene. It’s full of tourists but it’s narrow old streets have retained a lovely small town charm. First, we went for a run to get a feel for the town, and of course, we then took in the culture by visiting the local pubs and restaurants.
Galway was a great place for us to celebrate our first wedding anniversary, treating ourselves to an excellent stay at Kilbree House B&B and enjoying some of Galway’s best cuisine, highlighted by a meal at John Keogh’s The Lock Keeper. At John Keough’s, we shared whiskey cured salmon, crab cakes, mussels, duck spring rolls, ploughman’s fingers, and fresh, inventive cocktails in a pub atmosphere, all for less than 80 Euro, a great deal.
We could have happily spent a few more days enjoying Galway, but we had just a week to see Ireland so we drove south, stopping to take in the 700’ Cliffs of Moher. Afterward, again for convenience sake, we landed in the shady/strange town of Tralee for one night, which seems like it has been badly hurt by recession – abandoned buildings, very few Irish locals, and not much of a bar/restaurant scene. Of the many villages we drove through in Ireland, this was literally the only one that did not seem worth stopping for. The play it by ear strategy of travel sometimes results in a swing and a miss…
We drove around the scenic Ring of Kerry, which provides views of the green southern Irish hills and farmland as well as beachside cliffs and caves, and of course castles. Our favorite part of the Ring of Kerry was Killarney National Park, where we stopped to go for a fun trail run around Muckross Lake, a 6 mile loop that winds through the forest. If you are someone who enjoys the outdoors, stopping here is a must.
We continued on to the town of Cork, which has a fun tourist scene full of bars and restaurants, although it didn’t hold quite the same charm as Galway. We spent much of our one night enjoying an intimate evening of music and pints at Sin E, which we’d highly recommend if you find yourself in Cork.
After a night in Cork, we stopped briefly in Cobh, formerly called Queenstown. This was the last stop for the Titanic before it set sail across the Atlantic, and we spent a morning poking around the heritage museum and learning about the history of Irish immigration – particularly interesting given Connor’s family history.
We drove on to Duncannon, one of the places where Connor’s Irish descendants were said to last be living. Since it is not a touristy part of the country, we were pleasantly surprised to find a quaint seaside town with nice sandy beaches. We checked out a few of the old graveyards in town, and spoke with someone who maintained a record of the graves, but there was no evidence of any Eagans to be found.
Our last stop before Dublin was Redwood Castle, a castle near Portumna in Central Ireland said to be affiliated with Connor’s descendants. It was an impressive structure, an active castle for many generations, and we were lucky enough to line up a tour during our stay.
It was originally constructed in 1210 by an Anglo-Norman family, and was later gifted to the Mac Egan family by the O’Kennedy family around 1350. It lay in ruins for 300 years until it was purchased by Michael Egan for renovation in 1972. He did an amazing job rebuilding the castle and furnishing it to look and feel as it would have when the family originally lived in it, centuries ago, similar to a scene out of Game of Thrones.
Finally, we spent three nights in Dublin for our last Irish hurrah, where we were lucky enough to meet our great friend Annie. We stayed in Clontarf Park, an upscale waterfront neighborhood about 3 km outside of the city center, which made a great base for exploring Dublin. We went to a few of the obligatory tourist attractions, including the Guinness factory, the Jameson Distillery, and the National Gallery, but the Jameson Distillery definitely took the cake – they provide a really fun and interesting tour and of course a few rounds of whiskey.
We also enjoyed a run down the Clontarf waterfront and through beautiful St. Anne’s park, as well as a bike ride from Clontarf up to the nearby fishing village of Howth (highly recommend if you’re lucky enough to get good weather, which we were).
In the evenings, we did our best to make it to a variety of local pubs – everything from the classic tourist scenes of Temple Bar to more local neighborhoods, and even the pub that claims to be the oldest in Dublin, The Brazen Head. Temple Bar was everything people said it would be – loud, crowded bars filled with tourists – but the other pubs we visited had great character and of course delicious beer and Irish cuisine classics.
We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Ireland, particularly given Connor’s personal ties. Our time in Galway was definitely the highlight of the trip. We hope to make it back there again someday and also down to Dingle, a coastal tourist town that we missed but that many people recommended. Maybe someday we’ll even be back to check out Northern Ireland, which we didn’t have time to explore.
If you have any questions about our journey or thoughts you’d like to share, please comment on the blog or send us a message on Instagram @theadventuregoeson!