A few notes: We decided to divide our nine night trip into three parts. We stayed four nights in the Midlands region, three nights near the Ring of Kerry, and the last two nights near the Cliffs of Moher. We have been using VRBO for several years now for our vacation accommodations and have yet to be disappointed in the homes we've stayed in. Hotel rooms are too expensive (and too small) for us with four kids, so vacation home rentals have been the way to go! We can also cook some of our own meals, which is a nice bonus. The first few nights we kept things simple by eating out for lunch and then having "tea" for dinner. Our kids are foodies, and they love going to the local grocery store wherever we are traveling just to see what they have that is different. We picked up some bread, Irish butter and cheese, local jam, and local fruit and had that with our tea.
My basic plan for this trip was to have one major activity or outing each day, with the rest of the day for meals, travel, and hanging out at "home".
First stop: Clonmacnoise, the ruins of a monastery on the banks of the River Shannon. It was founded in 544! This is a gorgeous site, but we only did a quick tour since it was our first day and everyone was pretty exhausted.
Second Stop: the Belvedere House ~ a large estate house built in 1740 for the First Earl of Belvedere. Where things get interesting is that this particular guy had his wife locked up for many years because she cheated on him with his brother. He was also jealous of another brother who built a nearby estate, so he had a faux castle ruin erected in an attempt to block out the view. There are several other ornamental ruins or "follies" spread throughout the grounds of the house. It was a misty afternoon and we had the place pretty much to ourselves. We did a large loop around the property and woodlands and everyone tried the zipline before heading back home.
Third Stop: Newgrange ~ a 5000 year old passage tomb built by Stone Age farmers. We did a tour of both that passage tomb site and Knowth. First we had to head to the visitor's center. We arrived an hour after opening and only had to wait about 45 minutes for our first tour. We used that time to eat lunch in the cafe, which was so-so. Then we headed out, first to Knowth and then to Newgrange. The tour guides were awesome. I don't usually love guided tours, but they were a necessity to see these sites at all and I am glad we did them. In retrospect, we could have just done Newgrange and had a fine time, but I don't regret taking the time to tour both. The views from the mounds were incredible! We were allowed to head into Newgrange with our tour guide, but we could not photograph inside. Going into the tomb was an awesome, if a bit claustrophobic, experience.
Fourth Stop: We spent our fourth day touring Trim Castle. We had a choice of several castles in the area to visit, but I thought Trim would be nice for the kids because you are allowed to go inside on a guided tour and climb up into the keep.
I definitely recommend the guided tour at Trim - the guides are very enthusiastic and really bring everything you are seeing around you to life. Rose and I had recently read Castle Diary for BookShark 2 and it was fun to actually see and hear about some of the castle features we'd read about - we actually knew what a gong farmer was before our guide explained it!
Sixth Stop: We spent a day driving around the Skellig Ring and Ring of Kerry area. There were beaches to explore, ruins to clamber around in, cows and lambs to photograph, and a great chocolate factory. We were even able to get a glimpse of Skellig Michael, where part of The Force Awakens was filmed. I had originally debated taking the boat tour out to the island, but chickened out after hearing how rough it was. I am quite prone to seasickness. Another time maybe!
Seventh Stop: Killarney National Park ~ Here we visited Ross Castle and Muckross House (just looking at the outside of the castle and touring the gardens of Muckross). We also walked to the ruins of Muckross Abbey and had fun exploring all the nooks and crannies there.
Eight Stop: Cliffs of Moher ~ We were fortunate to rent a home for our last two nights with an absolutely fabulous view right on the Cliffs of Moher. I think seeing the Cliffs was my favorite part of the trip. We could walk right down to them and they are absolutely spectacular. On our last night we saw several puffins, which was a wonderful end to our trip.
Ninth Stop: The Burren ~ What a neat place! We parked far from the tour bus crowds and spent an hour or two clambering over the rocks and admiring all the gorgeous wildflowers. Not too mention the ocean! We had quite a bit of rain on our trip, which we expected, but we had long clear patches each day and on the whole we were quite happy with the weather.
And the next day we went home, but we hope to go back one day. Thanks for reading!