Blarney Castle, Republic of Ireland

Blarney Castle sits north of Cork in the southern part of Ireland, its most famous for the Blarney stone which if kissed give you the gift of the gab! The castle is situated on an impressive estate where the entrance fee was part of our tour costs with Busabout / Shamrocker Adventures and we arrived early in order to beat the crowds (mainly tours with older clientele).

Blarney Castle, the Jewel of Southern Ireland Castles

There is a queue to enter the castle and kiss the blarney stone, to give an idea when we arrived it took 35 minutes for us to make our way (causally) through the castle up to the stone. However once we left I noted the line to kiss the stone extended well past a 2 hour mark, so early is essential to avoid a morning in queue and there is plenty of other things to see.

The main attraction… no not the sign!

The castle itself is quite a fascinating structure, while the walk up is enjoyable (yes lots of stairs and tight spaces) they have off shoots into the various rooms used by staff when it was a functional castle. Its a good idea if you can spare a few minutes to check out a few nooks and crannies as they are unique but also give you a bit of breathing room from the line of eager rock smootchers.

The Famous Blarney Stone – and protective rails and attendant.

Now if you don’t want to actually kiss the rock (I for instance did not) its still worth the climb for the amazing views of the grounds.

The poison gardens on the grounds is worth a wander around, if you are into botany or want to notch up your survivalist belt on which plants not to eat this is the place to do it.

A had a good giggle over how some of the plants were in tiny protected. Mandrake, Wolsbane, Nightshade… all deadly and in little cages; however, Cannabis (Marijuana) is kept in a playground sized bubble! Priorities…

Those yellow flowers looked so tasty!

On last glance back at the castle… through a rock… oh Ireland is the Emerald Island, but also the land of unique rocks.

Everyone has to get this photo… including me.

Celtic Steps, Killarney, Republic of Ireland

Quick post about this Irish dancing and music concert I went to (along with most of the people on our tour). The cost was 30 Euros for a ticket and our Bus driver drove us to and from the venue. They have a website for more info – https://www.celticsteps.ie/ on the details on dates and how to get tickets if you are in the region independent of a tour company. This is more a short review given its one of the more expensive things to do on the Busabout / Shamrocker Adventures “All Ireland Rocker” and “Southern Rocker” coach tours.

All the info you could ever need is written on the ticket.

Now video isn’t allowed during the show (photos are without flash were permitted) and I didn’t want to annoy guests by attempting to take high quality photos as I was just another guest and not on assignment (good time to mention I wasn’t paid/compensated for this review). So here are some photos of the show and a quick review.

The performance is a combination of Irish step and tap dancing as one would expect to see in larger travelling productions we sometimes get in North America along with traditional Irish Music and Singing of Celtic heritage songs. All told its quite a variety show that is put together on a single stage.

Getting whisked away but a beautiful but haunting Irish song in Gaelic verses, a powerful performance.

One of the favorite segments for me was a series of songs performed on uilleann pipes (Irish bag pipes that use an arm pump for air rather than breathing into the chanter). It was quite a treat to hear these pipes played by a real professional and they do sound similar but different from their more common Scottish cousins.

Riveting Dances and Celtic Music

The celtic step dancing was on beat, and the roster of dancers is filled with competition winning athletes who mid-performance put on an impressive dancing duel of ultra fast steps… mind blowing how fast their feet moved and clicked against the floor.

Fiddle, Irish Flute, Bodhrán (Hand Drum) and uilleann pipes were the traditional instruments on stage.

The only gripe I have about the show was how late it started, I don’t know if its due to our early arrival to get the “best seats” but the whole house was sitting for quite some time until the actual show started around 9pm (not 8:30 as printed on the ticket) so plan for a late but enjoyable evening.

While the Uilleann pipes are out of my price range I later picked up a Bodhran beater (double headed drum stick) to give it a go on my native american inspired hand drum at home.

Mandarin Palace – London/Derry – Northern Ireland, UK

Apparently voted the best Chinese Restaurant in Ireland, it was worth a look and see. Irish food quality I’ve heard has had an explosion of flavors and variety and as someone who enjoys Asian food (and pizza) I had to give it a try. So four of use broke off from the group to give this place a go.

Bar at the entrance of the restaurant and the waiting space while they find and prepare a table.
Staff Preparing a Reserved Section of the Restaurant for what ended up being a huge party of people.
End of our meal we got our fortune cookie, a different take to what we normally get in North America
Promises… Promises…

Overall I was quite happy to of tried this restaurant. The food was good and there was still an “Irish” vibe in the service and overall everyone in the restaurant seemed to be having a good time.

If you don’t want to do sit-down restaurant they also have take-away and delivery

Epilogue – Leaving the Republic of Ireland

Well first I will say it was a whirl wind tour of the Emerald Isle, covering all the major hot-spots in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Again the tour I was on was the All Ireland Rocker with Shamrocker Adventure Tours booked through Busabout (I got a past customer discount). It was a 7 day trip (9 days if you tack on a travel day in and out of the country). Overall its a fast pace trip and generally appeals to people in their 20s-30s although we did have some older travelers along with us to balance out the group. The trip really isn’t ideal for people with mobility issues as many of the hostels (not hotels) require a certain amount of stairs or inclines , plus you can’t always get the bottom bunk… trust me I tried!

One last surprise stop – the Rock of Cashel

First I want to give a special thanks to my tour mates on this trip, I managed to get ten times as many photos of myself as normal given I’m not a huge “selfie” fan.

I’d normally never be able to get photos like this…

I also wanted to say a bit on Irish food on this trip. While the morning food was “meh” the island more than made up with it with great lunches and dinners! Although not 100% traditionally Irish, although potatoes did make it on the menu more than once… and yes I ate pizza three time on this trip.

Flying over to England was a breeze although getting to the gate was an adventure in on its own (the plan leaves from a sub gate away from the main terminal, so you need to show up to board a transport that takes you to another gate where you then walk out to get on the airplane).

So Long Ireland, its been green!

Weather was great in Ireland and I was fortunately flying out in front of some pretty mean looking clouds… looks like my England portion of the trip is about to get wet!

Morning Flight Out Look over the Wing… are those rain clouds I see?

Dingle Peninsula, Republic of Ireland

Nearing the end of the All Ireland Rocker trip with Busabout / Shamrocker Adventures. Today we explore the Dingle Peninsula, a stretch of land jutting out to the sea that like most of Ireland is breath taking and green. It should be noted that the ring road around the peninsula while 2-way is generally taken only in one direction by the locals and tourists in the know, that is because for most of the journey its a cliff-side road without a lot of room for modern traffic to allow for casual passing.

First stop on the ring road was a farmer’s estate where for a few euros you can pay to explore the Beehive huts (Clochán), the old farmhouse and pet baby sheep. Expecting a bit of a tourist trap I was pleasantly surprised that it was actually pretty straight forward process. Pay to enter and explore at one’s leisure. The baby sheep where in one section and as long as you were gentle you could pick up one for a photo.

They don’t mince words… exactly as advertised… also historic Beehive Huts

But for a bit of culture I did manage to drag myself away from the cute baby sheep and check out the Beehive Huts that are another staple of the area history.

Next stop on the Dingle Peninsula is Coumeenoole Beach, first we stopped for another photo opportunity then headed down to the beach itself.

Overlooking Coumeenoole Beach

Its quite a trek down to the beach from the parking lot, I opted to grab some more photos and a awesome time-lapse using my iPhone and the DJI Osmo Mobile 3 which makes up my micro travel kit for photographers.

Next we headed out to the point of the peninsula, it got very craggy out there and the wind did start to pick up but was not unmanageable, again weather seemed to be on our side (fun note, the north side of the island was getting pelted by heavy rain so weather is highly variable on the emerald isle – I just got really lucky and I’m sure that luck with eventually run out… cough spoiler cough cough). The Devils Horn as the region is known is quite something, and looking out to the ocean you can see some islands which were used in a recent Star Wars movie.

At the start and subsequent end of our trip around Dingle is the small town of Dingle. Known for its dolphin Fungie that lives out in the bay I had to take a look and see if I could spot the elusive critter.

They even have a statue by the marina honoring their unexpected town mascot
Dingle Harbour / Marina
FOUND HIM!
(J/K – Photoshop is my friend – But I fooled a bunch of people on the bus!)

We did stop for lunch in town, so several of us found a nice place called John Benny’s Pub to have some lunch at the recommendation of our tour guide Gemma. I had the fish of the day and chips, which came with peas as the veggies.

And that was it for the Dingle Penisula, a great day exploring a unique region of Ireland. Along the way we did drive by the famous “Rose Hotel” and stop in town for a rest break. I managed to find a rose bush and an old car to take pictures of… but otherwise short break.

Cliffs of Moher, Republic of Ireland

Today we left Galway and continued our southern heading journey towards the famous Cliffs of Moher. Along the way we stopped at Dunguaire Castle for a quick photo-op. The bus dropped us off at the car park, it was here we discovered there was a back door! (So I’m a bit of keener and sat near the front of the bus and this was the first time we used that entrance!)

The castle was built in 1520 and sits just outside of Galway, the castle is open for guided tours but this was a quick stop for us so beyond enjoying some photos and the breeze as you can see from the flag and my hair we continued on our journey.

Next Stop was the “Little” Cliffs of Moher

Our next stop, the cliffs of Moher!!!! Just kidding, before we got to the cliffs we had a short park on the side of the road at what our Guide Gemma dubbed “The Little Cliffs of Moher” where the rock face stood about 20ft above the ocean. We had a chance to wander around the site and look over the edge, we were the only tourists when we arrived but a couple of cars stopped and other tourists came down to see the site as well while we hung out enjoying the wonderful weather.

The “Little Cliffs of Moher”

The make-up of our Shamrocker Tour Group had changed from the northern portion of the All Ireland Rocker, with tour-mates on the Giant Rocker (Northern Tour) having left back to Dublin and the tour-mates on the Southern Rocker joining us. It was time to get another group photo!

Now the cliffs of Moher have their own micro climate due to the ocean air currents coming up against such a sudden tall land barrier, so despite our luck with the weather it was a coin toss what kind of weather we were going to encounter at the cliffs, we got lucky, more clear skies!

The Cliffs of Moher!
Additional Cliffs of Moher – There is a Significant Trek if one has the time to venture along the craggy cliffs
Recently they have started putting up barriers to keep tourists from the edges of the cliffs but if you walk far enough you can reach a point where the slate stones no longer separate you from the cliff.
You really need to visit the Cliffs of Moher yourself to truly appreciate how awe inspiring they really are!

One Last photo from the Cliffs of Moher as I head back to towards the bus so we can head to our next exciting location!

One Last Look at the Cliffs

The Dough Bros, Galway, Republic of Ireland

After such a long day cycling and hiking on Inis Mor, we return to Galway and the first thought on everyone’s mind is…. those Kinlay Hostel stairs! So instead of marching up another 4 floors we opted for food instead.

Wood Fired Pizza is the Best Pizza!

Quick check of google maps and online reviews, a group of us ended up at a pizzaria called Dough Bros (yes yes… I’m in Ireland and this is the second time I’m having pizza…Sssh!)

At least the Cider is Irish… right?

After a terrific meal it was time to head back to the hostel, climb those stairs and sleep for the evening right? Nope! Time to go to another pub and check out the local night life culture of people dancing and live bands playing various jigs!

Potassium to avoid Leg Cramps from a full day of biking!

Our tour Guide Gemma recommended Monroe’s which was about a 10 minute walk from the hostel as the go-to place that evening for traditional Irish Pub Dancing.

Inis Mor, Aran Islands, Republic of Ireland

Today we leave Galway to check out Inis Mor, the largest of the Aran Islands just off the coast. We had to walk 1.5 blocks from the hostel to catch the charter bus, everyone from Shamrocker Adventures and some other tour groups boarded the Aran Island buses. After a short trip along the coast we reached a marina where large sea ferries waited to take everyone over to the islands.

There are four different ways to explore the island, walking, cycling, horse drawn cart, micro bus. I choose a bicycle option for 10£ although there are now options for electrical bikes for a bit more. Out of the group about 80% took the bicycle option, and the remaining 20% when with the pony trap option.

The map we were given to navigate the island and estimated cycle times

I decided to check out Dun Aonghasa and the Seven Chruches, along the way there were a few other notable historic sites along the way but mainly it optimized views and I took the costal route to avoid to many hills (I have been sitting on a bus for the last 4 days).

First Stop at the Seal Colony – No Seals at the moment.
The beach on the island at the narrow point about 1/2 across the island. It is also the main split in the coastal road to the various sites found on the map.

Dun Aonghasa is my first stop, there is an additional fee to enter the site and its quite a hike up a hill. A fort on the highest point on the island, half of it fell into the ocean below when the cliff eroded.

Dun Aonghasa in half its glory!

Inside the fort was pretty barren, it is basically a large stone (semi) circle of stones that act as wall from the outside. There are a few holes in the walls to act as windows and a doorway.

The views from the fort are breath taking!

The View from the Fort back to the far side of the Island where the ferry dropped us off!
Fences? We don’t need no stinking fences..

Yes you can look over the edge, if you want too! The remnants of the fort can clearly be seen below in the ocean. Its quite a unique experience and hope everyone acts responsible so to allow people the opportunity to gaze over the edge!

Well.. gulp!

After having lunch and enjoying the views such a vantage point allowed it was time to head back down the hill and jump on the bike once more, my second location awaits for no one and the time on the island was running thin to fit it in!

View as I trek back down the hillside to the parking lot where my bike awaits!

Down the hill and past the beach again, this time turning left I cycled along some shallow rolling hills and farms, at least it will be downhill on the way back to the beach!

Now All I have to do bike 2/3 of the length of the island before the Ferry leaves… totally doable… erk!

Low Tide, guess the Ferry is stuck here (Just Kidding, its behind the derelict ship)

Kinlay Hostel and Galway, Republic of Ireland

Finally after a long day of travel from Londonderry we arrive in Galway and get dropped off at our Hostel for the evening… a perfect fit for a day of almost zero exertions… you like stairs right? The reward was one of the nicer hostels on this trip, and as we were staying two nights a chance to do laundry!

Welcome to Hostel Living… sometimes it not pretty…

So after we got our luggage up to our rooms some of us took to the town to look for food and take in the sunset golden hour.

Spanish Arc

Shamrocker Adventures (and Busabout) offer several tours in Ireland, and there is a combination that is very specifically setup so that the main four Rocker tours (North, South, Western, and All Irish) all meet up in Galway and here we join into one large group for Galway and the Aran Isles portion of the trip. Now while the logistics of this feat is notable, it is also why all the tours have funky travel days. So if you were ever wondering why 7/3/3/3 day trips were offered, its because of that 10 day rotation (with downtime for staff before the next rotation).

One of the bars we visited during the night

However, and I hate to be critical of what was already quite an enjoyable trip, but the “ice breaker” event that Shamrocker has set-up for everyone is an optional pub crawl through Galway with a contest to steal potatoes from eachother… what sounded like a fun game quickly got ugly competitive as soon as alcohol was thrown into the mix, with each bus group vying to win it for their “team”. After having my potatoe stolen, and stealing back another and a pinpong ball (?) the thrid bar we went to had a band playing in the other section and I left the pub crawl and enjoyed the rest of my evening…

Local Irish Band Playing at the Third Bar
I found out there was more than three flavors of the Cider I liked back in Ballitoy

Connemara Countryside – Republic of Ireland

The quintessential Irish landscape, endless rolling hills of green. It feels like we drove through the region for hours but with every new bend in the road was another breathtaking view. In a way it was good I was on a bus I didn’t control or I would of stopped over a dozen times in the first hour alone. But words can’t describe how beautiful this area in western Ireland is… and the photos barely do it service as well!

Its just so majestic, the landscape… not me 😛

Mid-way through our travels in Connemara we came across a small village nestled beside a shallow wide river. Here was our afternoon stop where we could try Irish Coffee or Hot Chocolate (both being mixed with Irish cream). I went with the coco and it was amazing.

Gaynor’s is our afternoon stop for a hot beverage!

The Gaynor’s field bar itself was pleasant nook which had a faint smell of smoke from the fire place and was full of locals in addition to the odd tourist that had stopped like us to grab a nip and use the facilities.

A final group image as we leave the Connemara Countryside, definitely making the “return” list.