Updated: Sep 24, 2022
Our family had planned to spend 7 days in Ireland but the delta variant surge in Europe, and the pandemic disruptions in the airline industry, forced us to cut some of our time in the Emerald Isle, especially some of the more iconic sights like Trinity College, the Kilkenny Castle, and the Blarney Castle. Not being fans of any alcoholic beverages, we were also very comfortable missing out on the Guinness Beer and Jameson Whiskey tours.
During the pandemic, American Airlines had an app called Verifly for handling the covid documentation required to travel internationally. If you know your way around this app and are able to upload picture IDs, covid vaccination cards, covid test results, and personal locator forms for the necessary country you're flying into, it makes traveling to Europe during the pandemic a little less crazy. There was no online check-in allowed anymore since they had to verify your data and passports. We saw so many people in line at the airports at LAX, PHL, Dublin, and Ohare frantically trying to download the app and upload their information. The AA person at the counter was so happy that we had all our data uploaded, verified, and ready to present on the app, she said we made her day.
Due to personnel shortage, our flight out of Los Angeles to Philadelphia was delayed by five hours, we missed the connecting flight to Dublin, and were rescheduled for the next day's flight. This forced us to cancel the Kilkenny Castle tour we had booked, the reservation for our stay at the Blarney Castle Hotel, and to reschedule the car rental pick-up for the automatic van we had booked months ahead, knowing that 6 person vehicles are hard to come by.
We landed in Dublin on Sunday morning after the delayed overnight flight from Philadelphia on American Airlines, exhausted, jet-lagged, and cranky (well, some of us were). We were then notified that the automatic van we had booked was not available anymore, and we were super-lucky that they had one manual van left in the lot. The idea of driving a 6 gear manual stick shift van, on the left side of the road, around the tiny lanes of Europe was scary to me. Good thing Bruce used to be a Formula Ford race card driver and wasn't daunted by the challenge.
It was mid-morning by the time we left the airport. Inputting the Killarney National Park as our destination, the navigation tool led us past Limerick to the precious town of Adare where we stopped for lunch. Eric and I chose the seafood platters while the others ordered the more iconic shepherd's pie.
Adare is a quaint and lovely village, if a little congested. It has flowery cottages, restaurants, shops, a park, a church, and a castle ruin located all along the main street.
Although it was early afternoon when we arrived in Killarney, the Killarney Oaks Hotel allowed us to check in early so we all can crash. Several hours later, the kids were still too tired and full to get up for dinner so Bruce and I went for a walk and picked up some bread, cheese, and dessert at Hegarty's grocery store nearby for their late-night dinner.
The next morning, we had a good hot Irish breakfast in the hotel, buffet style, complete with black and white sausages, before setting off for a quick tour of the Killarney National Parks.
There was a sign for "jaunting car tour" just a bit south of our hotel along the Ring of Kerry drive, so we pulled into the parking lot. It turns out that a jaunting car means a horse-pulled carriage. And the drivers at this entrance was offering the Muckross Abbey and Muckross House and Garden Tour. (There are 2 other tours, 1 of the Killarney castle and 1 of the Torc waterfall, which were north and south, respectively, of our entrance)
The Muckross House and Garden was Alison's favorite part of the trip. It was a beautifully maintained grand house, grounds, and garden. Also, I think because we lost her somewhere in the gardens and she got to wander for a while by herself. She tried to text us but, of course, we hadn't picked up a SIM card at the airport being Sunday morning landing. I think by the time you're a teenager, getting lost is kinda fun rather than scary.
The Muckross Abbey was an old ruin located in the middle of the countryside with the almost extinct Kerry cows dotting the hills, munching on that amazing green grass. Incidentally, it is not surprising that the Irish Kerrygold butter is so good, considering that their cattle feed on green grass 90% of the year. The Abbey was surrounded by tombstones from a still-in-use cemetery and had a majestic tree growing in the middle of the courtyard.
After the jaunting car tour, we set off south for our drive through the Beara peninsula, first stopping at Kenmare for a late lunch. In the restaurant, we were required to show the QR code from our personal locator form before being allowed to enter and seated. I was wise enough to order the mussels in wine-cream sauce, having read about the mussels grown in the Class A pristine water of the Kenmare Bay. They really were the sweetest, most tender mussels I've ever had.
The Beara peninsula was wild and almost lonely. The further out we drove, the fewer people we encountered. The drive weaves in and out of inlets and bays, populated by abalone, mussels, and jellyfish. The scenery was spectacular, the air was clean and crisp.
Then, it was time to drive to Tralee where we were booked for the next 2 nights at the Ballyseed castle hotel. Staying in a castle overnight was one of the things on my bucket list. It turned out to be a highlight of the Ireland trip for us, and it was good enough for Cameron to almost forgive me for this foolish idea of traveling in the middle of the pandemic.
The castle was set in a lush setting, complete with its own massive guard dog and ponies.
We had dinner that night in the Stone Room Restaurant which was wonderful, complete with that great Irish soda bread and golden butter.
(to be continued)