In 2014, we planned a return trip with our dear friends, Carol and Doug.  Carol did some research and wanted to visit Ashford Castle to try her hand at Falconry.  And thank goodness she did.  Because of this itinerary we decided to visit the North West part of the island, arranging our trip around castles, cathedrals, abbeys, and ancient ruins.  We began in Dublin and traveled to Cashel, County Mayo, Galway, County Clare, and flew out of Shannon.  But the highlight of our trip was Ashford Castle and Falconry.

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Dublin

  • Attractions
    • Guinness House
    • Trinity College for the Book of Kells
    • Dublinia Museum – history of the Vikings in Dublin
  • Dinner
    • Fade Street Socialfadestreetsocial.com – Three great venues where you can eat their delicious food – the restaurant, gastro bar, or cocktail bar. Don’t miss ordering from the Wood Fired part of the menu, especially the lamb, fennel & olive & beef & truffle flatbread.  Also loved the Charred & Smoked section, order any of the items and you won’t be sorry.
    • The Winding Starwinding-stair.com – Above a bookstore, this lively bistro restaurant serves traditional Irish food with some modern twists. All ingredients are locally sources and organic, an excellent wine list, and friendly service. Try the Dingle Bay crab on soda bread or a bacon-wrapped pork fillet with roasted onion mash and apple gravy…YUM.
    • Chapter Onechapteronerestaurant.com – Chef Ross Lewis features local farm & small producers. The food is well prepared and mighty tasty.
    • Restaurant Patrick Guilbaudrestaurantpatrickguilbaud.ie – Has 2 Michelin stars for the last 15 years (the only one in Ireland). Chef Guillaume Lebrun cooks contemporary French cuisine in a lovely dining room (or request the heated terrace) looking out over a 16th century garden.  If on the menu, try the lobster ravioli, caramelized veal sweetbreads, and the assiette au chocolat.  Wine cellar is one of the best you will find in Ireland.
    • Thornton’sthorntonsrestaurant.com – In the Fitzwilliam Hotel, with views of St. Stephen’s Green, this Michelin starred restaurant turns out an exquisite range of dishes, including a tasting menu you cannot miss. They also have a Canapé Lounge for wonderful amuse-bouches.  The dining room is warm and stylish, a perfect place to relax at the end of a day of sightseeing.

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  • Pubs
    • Temple Bar (47/48 Temple Bar) – very touristy but soooo fun!
    • Mulligans (8 Poolbeg St.)
    • Farrington’s (29 E Essex St.)
    • The Stag’s Head (1 Dame Court.)
    • Grogans Castle Lounge (15 S William St.)
  • Breakast
    • Queen of Tarts (Darne Street) queenoftarts.ie – this place is very casual, has great scones and all types of tarts, homemade on the premises, like lemon meringue and warm plum.  Of course, they also have a full Irish breakfast (no beans, but delicious potato-chive cake instead).
  • Lunch
    • Doheny & Nesbittdohenyandnesbitts.com a classic pub that has been there for hundreds of year.  Great food and, what else, great beers.
    • Café Tiesan (46B Harrington St)
    • Bliss Café (l48 Montigue St/City Center S)
    • The Lovinspoon (15 N Frederick St)
    • Café Sofia (5A Wexford St)
    • Lenox Café & Bistro (31 Lennox St)

Cashel (County Tipperary)

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  • Hotel Cashel Palace – one of Ireland’s architecturally most important hotels closed in 2015 and is up for sale. The 20 bedroom hotel was housed in a red-brick Queen Anne style building from 1730.  It was built for the Protestant archbishop of Cashel, Theophilus Bolton.  Hoping it gets a new owner shortly and reopens it doors.
  • Rock of Cashel – also known as the Cashel of the Kings, on a slopping hill, is home to the ruins of a great Celtic Cathedral. Legend associates the Rock of Cashel with St. Patrick, but the name comes from Caiseal, meaning “stone fort,” and the hill was originally the residence of the kings of Munster.  Excavations revealed some evidence of burials and church buildings from the 9th or 10th century, in the early 12th century the Rock began to be developed into a major Christian center.  Cormac’s Chapel, a magnificent little Romanesque church that still survives today, was consecrated in 1134, probably for Benedictine monks. The frescoes, which are the oldest Romanesque wall paintings in Ireland, remained hidden until the 1980’s.
  • Restaurants – not many to choose from in this small town but we found some good and lively ones
    • Brian Boru – a true Irish pub, the food was better than expected and the service friendly
    • 42 Restaurant (Baileys Hotel) – contemporary restaurant featuring Irish and European cruise, using local ingredients. Setting is relaxed and staff create a feeling of being home.  The Cellar Bar next door is a gastro pub with interesting small dishes.
  • EntertainmentBru Boru – located at the foot of Rock of Cashel they perform traditional music, song and dance on summer nights.  Touristy.

Kilkenny – this medieval city is over 400 years old.  Filled with castles and cathedrals, endless stream of arts festivals, theater, bluegrass and dance.  This energy is constantly pumping the city with new life and international flavor.

  • Sites
    • Kilkenny Castle – standing dramatically on a small hill this Anglo-Norman stone 12th century castle, has been remodeled and restored with extensive parks, art gallery and playground. It is a must visit.
    • Canice’s Cathedral and Round Tower – 6th century Gaelic Church. The Cathedral has wonderful stained glass and the Round Tower is the oldest standing structure in Kilkenny.  With 121 ladder steps to the top it is a steep climb, but well worth it for the wonderful views of the city.
    • Black Abby – was founded in 1225 by William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke. The church has since been beautifully restored to its original splendor with a spectacular colored stained glass window. The Abbey was part of the Dominican Priory and derived its name from the Black Friars, as the Dominicans were called. Today the friars and the Lay Dominican Chapter assigned here are engaged in traditional apostolates. The public celebration and service is a daily event in which visitors to the abbey are encouraged to participate in.
  • Restaurants
    • Campagne – contemporary Michelin starred restaurant, is located at Gashouse Lane in the center of Kilkenny, serving modern French food using local Irish produce. A great dining experience.
    • Lady Helen – Michelin starred, has panoramic views over the Mount Juliet Estate and the River Nore. Chef Cormac Rowe produces top class artisan food and you will understand why after your first course is served.
    • Ristorante Rinuccini – Family run, this Italian restaurant has been in business for over 25 years. It is a lovely room of little nooks and crannies to allow for an intimate dinner.  The food was Italian, but with a modern Irish twist – quite interesting!  Great wine cellar.
    • Foodworks – Great for lunch. Won the “Best Casual Dining” award.  Located on Parliament Street in what was one a bank, this funky cafe / bistro offers good food at very reasonable prices.
    • Langton’s – Perfect for lunch. Several times winner of a National “Pub of the Year” and a bit of a national treasure, the 67 bar is lively where you can enjoy traditional Irish food.

County Mayo

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  • Ashford Castle Hotel – Built in 1228 on 350 acres, this was the estate of the Guinness family, and opened as a hotel in 1839. Recently renovated, it has been voted “Best Resort” in Ireland by Conde Nast.  All 83 guest rooms are unique, many retaining their original architectural features.   Activities at the castle include horse riding, fishing, falconry, shooting, golf, cycling, kayaking, and a full service spa. The lobby bar is just what you would expect – a cross between a private gentlemen’s club and an upscale pub.  And the restaurants have some of the best food you will eat in Ireland.  It is also home to Ireland’s first School of Falconry.
    • Falconry – This was, without a doubt, the highlight of our trip, and not to be missed. The birds at Ashford are actually hawks, pack birds, who quickly bond with their handlers (and that includes you!). You don a falconer’s glove, stretch out your hand, and your bird will elegantly land with pinpoint precision.  You stroll the forest grounds flying, handling, feeding (this is what brings them back to you), and interacting with these amazing birds.  They seem to leap up to the heavens, gliding through the trees, and returning gracefully to your gloved hand.  You can feel the wind from their wings as they playful swoop around your head, millimeters away, only to perch right back for a quick bite.
    • Boat Ride on the Lough – A fabulous way to experience the magic of Lough Corrib, gliding across the clear waters in the traditional wooden boat. Your guide, Frank, hand-crafted the boat himself, is an approved countryside guide by the Irish tourist board.  He will tailor the itinerary to suit your individual interest and preferences.
    • RestaurantsGeorge V Dining Room (fine dining) and Cullen’s at the Cottage or The Dungeon (casual), a must to dine here as the restaurants were excellent. Chef Philippe Farineau overseas all three restaurants using local ingredients from the nearby farms and towns.  Cullen’s was my favorite, don’t miss their signature dish “Chicken Peri Peri”, slow cooked in their rotisserie oven and the mouth-watering aromas greet you as you walk through the door.

Adare – a designated Heritage Town, is one of the prettiest and friendliest villages we visited.  Was founded in the 13th Century on the river Maigue.  Walk through the string of preserved thatched cottages which are craft shops and lovely restaurants.

Galway – a compact, walkable, harbor city, filled to the brim with small shops, restaurants and cozy pubs.  Get your fill of the views of the rushing River Corrib as it sweeps out to Galway Bay by sitting at one of the pubs, sipping a pint.   At the center of the city is the 18th-century Eyre Square surrounded by shops, and traditional pubs.  In the Latin Quarter, which retains portions of the medieval city walls, stone-clad cafes, boutiques and art galleries line the winding lanes.

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  • HotelPark House Hotel – a grand Victorian-style stone building with a columned entrance situated in the heart of Galway city center.
  • Sites
    • Collegiate Church of St. Nicholas – dates back to 1320 and is still used for services. Note the lovely low Gothic arches, and the smashed faces of the stone angles (damaged by Oliver Cromwell’s troupes during the 17th century)
    • Galway City Museum – by the Spanish Arch is a compact museum featuring exhibits on Galway history, including a life-size Galway hooker fishing boat suspended from the ceiling.
    • Nuns Island – is an easy walk over Bridge Street where you can visit Galway Cathedral and sit on lovely green areas. Romanesque arches and stained glass make this one of the more beautiful modern cathedrals.
    • Oughterard Aughnanure Castle – Aughnanure Castle is one of well over 200 tower houses in County Galway built by large, wealthy, land owning families, mainly of Gaelic stock. Tower Houses are fortified residences and were places of power and control over the surrounding lands. The name Aughnanure comes from the Gaelic Achadh na nIubhar – the field of yews. This Irish Tower House and much of the surrounding area was occupied by the O’Flaherty clan and was built beside, and at some positions straddling, a small river, the Drimneen, that has cut intriguing caverns in the stone below it.
  • Restaurants
    • Malt House – a relaxed place to eat in the center of Galway city, with chic modern art, and serving locally-sources Irish bistro dishes (with a modern twist).
    • Aniar – Michelin star restaurant that advertises themselves as “terroir based”, which they say describes their traditional methods of food preparation and locally sourced ingredients. They aim to capture the rugged beauty and flavors of the surrounding landscape and shores.  The menu is seasonal and reflects the best of what the local countryside offers.
    • Ard Bia at Nimmos – overlooks the Corrib river, the restaurant is warm, inviting, and casual. The table of desserts when you walk in will have you drooling till your meal is over.  They have a large menu filled with homemade dishes for lunch or dinner.
  • Kylemore Abbey (Connemara) – with its Victorian walled garden was built as a castle in 1867. It became home to a community of Benedictine Nuns in 1920 and is still today renowned as a place of spirituality and education.  Nestled at the base of Druchruach Mountain (1,736 ft) on the northern shore of Lough Pollacappul, the heart of the Connemara Mountains, it is regarded as one of Ireland’s most romantic buildings.

County Clare

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  • HotelLodge at Doonbeg – Close to the village of Doonbeg, on the water’s edge, sits this lovely hotel (since I stayed there it has been purchased by Trump International). The accommodations were top quality and the hotel sits in the middle of a magnificent backdrop of rugged landscape, rolling waves and sand dunes.  There are many things to do while at the Lodge including walking or jogging the 1.5 miles of coastline, horseback riding, hiking, biking, kayaking and golf.  We had dinner at the windowed restaurant, taking our cocktails outside to view the magnificent sunset, and ended the meal with a digestif and a walk on the beach.
  • Hike The Burren – the word “Burren” comes from an Irish word “Boireann” meaning a rocky place and is very apropos for this area with a lack of soil cover and exposed Limestone. An  Army Officer in 1651 was said to have remarked “it is a country where there is not water enough to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, nor earth enough to bury them”.  that describes it perfectly.  Burren National Park was bought by the government for nature conservation and public access and contains examples of all the major habitats within the Burren; Limestone Pavements, Lakes, Petrifying Springs, Cliffs…  There are some spectacular trails to hike, so don those hiking boots and start walking.
  • Aillwee Cave – one of the oldest caves in Ireland perched high on the Burren terraced mountain side. Take the 30 minute stroll through the beautiful caverns, over bridged chasms, under weird formations and alongside the thunderous waterfall and the frozen one.
  • Poulnabrone Dolmen – this dramatic site, on the limestone pavement of the Burren, is one of the most famous Irish dolmens. Standing tall in the stark landscape of the Burren, the megalithic tomb at Poulnabrone is one of most interesting archaeological sites.  Dating from the Neolithic period, this monument is a wealth of information about the lives and burial customs of Ireland’s first farming communities.  No one knows for sure how these very large stones were moved, but when entered, twenty-two human remains were uncovered.
  • Cliffs of Mohr – one of the most beautiful, awe inspiring sight in Ireland. The cliffs are 320 million years old, stretch for 5 miles, and consist of various types of overhanging rocks of sandstone, siltstone and shale.  You can walk the majority of the way on trails overlooking the sheer drop and dark blue water.  O’Brien’s Tower is near to the highest point so you can view the best coastal panoramas on the island from the roof platform.
  • Restaurants
    • Vaughans Anchor Inn, Liscannor – maritime themed restaurant, overlooking the coast, serving first rate seafood in a laid back atmosphere. Heaven!
    • Johnny Burke’s Pub, Spanish Point – this gastro pub has many cozy corners and a roaring fire. Bar menu is delicious and they have an impressive whiskey and craft beer selection.
    • The Old Bakehouse Restaurant – Main St., Milltown Malbay, fresh seafood caught locally and traditionally prepared.
    • L’Arco – a modern Italian trattoria situated in the middle of the Burren region, with art deco design. Elegant, but comfortable, the service is friendly, with fresh, locally sourced ingredients.
    • Barrtra Seafood Restaurant – run by the O’Brien family since 1988, is a cozy space overlooking Liscannor bay (sunset is lovely). You have a choice of their “surprise seafood menu” which is five courses of unexpected dishes.

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Kildare

One hotel I just read about and want to try in Kildare, K Club.  Listed it so I remember for my next trip and so you can also check it out.

  • K Clubkclub.ie – this country estate is a member of Preferred Hotels & Resorts, on 550 acres, and only a 30-minute drive southwest of Dublin.  In August they host “Taste of Kildare Festival” in its walled garden with cooking demos, talks and a market.  But year round they offer golf, falconry, fly fishing, and horseback riding.
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