Southern Ireland in January


It was about 1:45am, just 15 minutes before our alarm went off when the phone rang. It was Julie, the automated system from American Airlines alerting us our flight to Chicago had been canceled. My wife and I were rebooked on the next flight from San Francisco, still providing plenty of time to connect to the Dublin flight. We had intentionally planned for a long layover so we could visit with family and dine at a Chicago institution, Gino's East Side Pizza. With less than three hours at the O'Hare airport, Gino's would have to wait for another trip.

Onboard the flight to Dublin, the American Airlines cabin crew was attentive and catered to our every need. After dinner, I opted to skip the viewing of ""Ratatouille"" and went for a sleeping aid. In seven short hours, we would awake in Dublin and begin our southern Ireland adventure sponsored by CIE Tours.

Upon arrival my wife Shauna and I picked up the Hertz hire car and set off for the Irish countryside, but not before a stop at the Guinness Storehouse for an education of Ireland's premier malted beverage. The tour of the facility is designed around a five story high ""pint glass"" where various stages of the brewing process is explained along with a hands on viewing of the company's rich history. We were treated to a pint of Guinness once we reach the fifth floor along with breathtaking views of Dublin.

With the jetlag starting to take effect, we decided to set off for our bed & breakfast about 90 minutes from Dublin in the charming community of Rathdrum, County Wicklow. Gerry, the owner of the Abainn Mor House met us at the door and immediately offered a warm pot of tea. The house was very comfortable with a variety of activities available including bicycle rentals and billiards. After unpacking, we set off to town for dinner and came across Jacob's Well, a family friendly public house with a great Irish stew and of course a seemingly endless supply of Guinness.

Our second day in country began with a hearty Irish breakfast and good conversation with the inn keeper. We had planned to leave the B&B early to maximize our time, but were so engrossed in our conversation we didn't get on the road until well after 10am! The first stop of the day took us to the Hook Lighthouse located in County Wexford. The lighthouse is one of the oldest operating lighthouses in the world, dating back to the year 1245. Guided tours are available during the summer months and a cafe is open year round.

Shauna and I set off for the picturesque town of Waterford, home of Waterford Crystal. We arrived in time for an afternoon tour. Our guide showed us various stages of the manufacturing process including molding a pitcher from raw molten crystal to hand blowing the piece to perfection. On display are various replicas of trophies and the Time Square Millennium ball that drops each New Year.

Due to the lack of daylight and a fear of getting lost on the dark country roads, we forfeited our reservation at the Heron's Cove B&B in Goleen, County Cork. Instead we made residence for the night at the Cork Travelodge which is a minimally furnished inn with a clean, comfortable room near the carriageway. For 59EUR the price was right. A lesson learned, don't rush and don't expect to cover 200 miles in a single day.

Halfway through our journey and confident with my new driving skills we set off for the longest leg of our trip. The morning would start off with a visit to the Blarney Castle located just six miles from Cork.

We reached the Blarney Castle grounds shortly after opening only to discover they accept only cash for admission. We took a quick stroll through the quaint town to the grocery store where the communities sole ATM is located. Blarney is a charming village, straight out of a postcard with colorful buildings that are so typical of Ireland.

Being off season we made quick time of our climb to the top of the Castle. Ascending the steep narrow spiral staircase was no easy feat for a pregnant woman, but my wife did it without much struggle and I was proud of her small victory. Once on top, the views of the rolling hills and green pastures were simply breathtaking. I had the honor of being the first person to kiss the Blarney stone of the day. Only time will tell if the gift of gab was passed on!

We left Blarney and set off for the Ring of Kerry. The 100 mile plus drive would take us through some of the most beautiful country on earth. The two lane road hugs the rugged coast of the western Atlantic seaboard. Most tour books recommend four hours to complete the drive, but without a tour bus in sight we owned the road taking advantage of the 100km speed limit and pushing our Nissan Tiida to the limit. It is times like this that I wish I would have upgraded the rental to the Alfa Rameo 159 that was just screaming my name! Our drive time was just about three hours including a stop for lunch and a walk on the beach to collect some shells.

Around dusk we pulled into the Churchview House B&B in the quiet village of Adare. Our hostess Birdie Riordan greeted us with great enthusiasm and a warm cup of tea. Our room was decorated with an elegant Georgian theme. The inn is located across the street from a market filled with fresh breads and a fabulous wine selection. After making a few choice selections, we settled into our room to plan the next day's adventures.

Day four took us back into Dublin for a double-decker hop on/ hop off bus tour. We parked near the James Larken monument which is a short walk from the beginning of the tour. With a light drizzle we took our seats on the top deck where we joined two couples, one from England and the other from Sweden. The bus weaved through the congested streets of Dublin providing excellent viewing opportunities and a brief history of such sites as the General Post Office, Trinity College and the River Liffey among others. A bit touristy, but given the time we had allotted, we definitely saw more and learned more about Dublin than we would have traveling on our own.

Our last night took us to the Lotus Lodge, a holistic B&B offering relaxation classes throughout the year. Though we did not spend much time at the property, it was well kept and offered the most comfortable bed we had experienced in Ireland. Shortly after dark we drove to a pub and spent some time watching the Heineken Cup. A trip to Europe would not be complete without watching a rugby match with the locals!

We awoke before dawn to make the short drive to the Dublin airport for our return flight. As the Boeing B767 took flight, the clear blue skies shed light on the pristine Irish countryside which had been blanketed by snow during the night. As we looked out the window, my wife and I thought about the people we had met, the places visited and the lifetime of memories that we will cherish.