Ireland was never supposed to be part of our trip.
The plan was to spend 9 weeks in Southeastern Europe, driving all the way through to Greece before flying to London for a friend’s wedding. A month or so before we left, we started to question our plan of driving through Greece. Picking up our rental car in Slovenia and dropping it off in Greece was significantly more expensive than just dropping it back off in Slovenia after our two month road trip was up.
I also started to feel like we were stretching ourselves too thin; trying to cover too much ground in a short period time. In the end, we decided to simplify and focus our road trip solely on the Balkans. This new plan left us with a week to fill between our road trip and the wedding in London. On a whim, I decided to look up flights from Slovenia to Dublin. My jaw dropped when I saw that flights were only $29. I showed Alex, and after about 10 minutes of back and forth, we decided we had to do it, and the flights were booked.
I have always wanted to go to Ireland just like every other American descended from Ireland. I always assumed I would make it to Ireland someday, but I never imagined that day would come as soon as it did. Although my ancestors were Irish, I am not under the illusion that I am really an Irish-American. I might drink beer on St. Patrick’s day and wear green like everyone else, but that is about as far as my Irish culture has ever stretched (which let’s face it, is nothing what actual Irish people do). There is so much more to being Irish than having the last name Fitzpatrick.
Even still, I wanted to go. My mom had done amazing research on the ancestry of our family, and I wanted to put it into good use. I was extremely interested in checking out where my dad’s side of the family lived, but mostly I wanted to drive past the emerald green hills, stand on the Cliffs of Moher, see the Wild Atlantic Way, and have a real Guinness in a pub.
Soon after our trip was booked, we had the genius idea to try and convince Al’s parents, Patti and Bill, to join us to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary. Patti and Al both have strong Irish connections in their family lineage, so we used this to our advantage in our quest to persuade them. We annoyingly brought it up to them every chance we could, and promised that we would plan the entire thing so they didn’t have to worry or stress about anything. All they needed to do was show up. We continued to nag them until they had no choice but to agree to meet us in Ireland.
And that’s how we came to spend a week exploring our roots and drinking Guinness in Ireland with Patti and Bill.
Here is the route we took, beginning in Dublin:
Day 1: Dublin
We only had one day to spend in Dublin with Patti and Bill, so we knew we had to make it count. We started the day by walking over to Patti and Bill’s hotel, the Harcourt hotel, which was in the perfect location.
We picked up sandwiches from a deli next door, and walked to St. Stephen’s green to sit in the park and eat. We also used this time to look at each other and say ‘Can you believe we’re in Ireland together!?’ over and over again in disbelief.
After we filled up our bellies, it was finally time to head to my #1 most anticipated destination in Dublin, The Guinness Factory (yes, I am a tourist, and I am not ashamed.) We decided to walk so we could take in more sights on the way:
We finally arrived to the black gates of the Guinness Storehouse (which is what they call the brewery). We were completely blown away from the size and the scope of the whole place. The brewery is 7 floors of interactive Guinness history; from hands on learning about how the beer was made, to the building of the Guinness brand, it is unlike anywhere I have ever been. The experience even ends with a ‘multi-sensory tasting experience’ where you enter a white room filled with all the different scents that go into a glass of Guinness, designed to enhance your senses before taking your first sip of the beer.
Basically, they succeed at making you want a Guinness more than you have ever wanted anything in your life. In the end, you finally reach the rooftop bar overlooking Dublin and exchange your ticket for a pint. After so much anticipation, this will become the best beer you’ve ever tasted.
After our day at Guinness, we walked to the famous Temple Bar for dinner, more Guinness, and some good live Irish music.
Day 2: Fitzpatrick Country and Kilkenny
The next day, we left Dublin en route to Kilkenny, about an hour and a half drive from Dublin. This was our first day on the road, and we had a planned stopover to Aghaboe in County Laois, which is where the Fitzpatrick side of my family originated from.
We left the busy streets and headed into the open road.
After we explored my ancestry, we drove through to Kilkenny. Kilkenny is a beautiful town over 400 years old, built in front of a castle and filled with abbeys, endless stone buildings, small narrow streets with colorful houses, and medieval cathedrals.
It was the perfect place for us to have dinner before heading back to our Airbnb 15 minutes out of the city, which was a 150 year old stone cottage.
Day 3: Kilbrittain
Our next stay was nothing short of magical. We left our cottage in Kilkenny and headed about two hours towards the coast. We wanted to spend a day by the sea, so we booked a house that was a little off the beaten path, and hoped for the best. As soon as we arrived to our house on the hill by the sea, we knew we had made the right choice. We had no desire to drive around or explore anything else that day, because we had everything we needed right where we were.
We took long walks along the sand bar taking pictures, watched the cows wander the fields next to us, and spent hours enjoying being together and sitting on the bright green lawn overlooking the sea. When the sun went down, we had dinner in the living room; all four of us huddled in front of the fireplace. There was nothing to be distracted by; no phones, TV, or internet. Just good conversation and wine. It was pure heaven.
Day 4 & 5: Killarney
After we left our dream by the sea, we drove two ours to our next stop in Killarney. We booked two nights in Killarney because there is just so much to see there. Our plan was to visit the beautiful Killarney National Park, and to drive as much of the Ring of Kerry as we could. Our Airbnb was the perfect base to explore everything we wanted. It was a little out of the main town (which we always prefer) but close enough to everything we needed. It was also within walking distance of one of my favorite hikes of the entire trip so far.
Once we got to our Airbnb, we threw our stuff down and decided to head out for a hike recommended by our guide. The hike would take us to the top of a nearby mountain, where we were told we would get a peek at the surrounding lakes. Once we were nearing the top, we came across a local Irish woman, who told us that there was a much better hidden hike that would take us to the top of the mountain. She warned that it was a bit treacherous, and we would have to watch out for wild deer looking for mates, but the pay off would be worth it.
We had already been hiking for over an hour at this point, so we went back and forth with what we wanted to do, but decided to take her advice. We hiked an additional 20 minutes, straight up an invisible path on the side of the mountain and were rewarded with some of the most insanely breathtaking views I have ever seen. I now think of this woman as our own Irish Fairy, who appeared out of nowhere to give us the best gift.
The next day, we got up early and took a walk around Kilarney Lake. Afterwards, we hopped in the car and started to drive the Ring of Kerry, counterclockwise (which we were told is the best way to drive it). I had been looking forward to driving the Ring of Kerry ever since we booked our trip. About 30 minutes into the drive, I became frustrated.
The hedges in Ireland are often so high that it is difficult to see the scenery around you. I found myself feeling like a restless kid, craning my neck to see, and feeling irritable when I wasn’t able to. After some time, the hedges started to open up and we were able to get panoramic views of the ocean and surrounding cliffs. We noticed an obscure sign pointing us towards the ‘most spectacular cliffs in Kerry’ and decided to go see them on a whim. We made fun of the sign the entire drive to the cliffs, and were convinced that we had been suckered into this detour simply because of the promise of ‘spectacular cliffs.’
We continued to laugh about it all the way to the cliffs, then complained about the 4 pounds we had to pay just to walk the cliffs.
We instantly stopped laughing as soon as we saw them. We admitted it right away; the signs didn’t lie.
They were spectacular.
Killarney was my favorite stop in all of Ireland. If could plan the trip again, I would have spent more time here. Two days was not enough to see everything, but we made it work with the time we had. We ended our day back at our Airbnb, watching the sun set over the mountains, and enjoying a glass of wine.
Day 5 & 6: Conroy Country and Galway
We had two days scheduled in Galway for our final stop in Ireland. We were staying in a little cottage about 20 minutes outside of the city. Our plan for Galway was pretty simple: 1) Visit the Cliffs of Moher 2) Explore the town of Maam, where Patti and Al’s family are from, and 3) See live music in Galway. I am happy to report we accomplished all three.
Our drive from Killarney was a long one, and since we were making a stopover to see the cliffs, it ended up being about a four hour drive. Although it was a long day, making the effort to see the cliffs was 100% worth it. Pictures really don’t do it justice:
After the cliffs, we arrived to our Airbnb, and took time to settle in before jumping back in the car and driving back into Galway. The city was exactly as I thought it would be, a small concentrated area of stone roads packed with bars and restaurants. We had some dinner and Guinness (obviously) and then headed to Tig Coili and The Kings Head for some live Irish music. We spent the night laughing and dancing. I have no pictures from this part of the night, because some things are just better left undocumented, particularly when it comes to intoxicated dancing.
The next day was our last, and we spent it exploring the Conroy heritage in the beautiful town of Maam, followed by lunch in Cong, the small village ‘famous’ for being the filming location for the 1952 move, ‘The Quiet Man‘
Day 6: Irish Goodbye
We left Galway early in the morning for our final drive together, before dropping Patti and Bill off at the airport in Dublin.
Sitting in the car, listening to the ‘Irish Rover’ and ‘Galway Girl’ on repeat, I became emotional realizing that our trip was coming to an end. I was overwhelmed with gratitude for having gotten the chance to explore this amazing country, and to be given the chance to connect with our family history. What made it even more meaningful was that I was able to share it with my husband and my in-laws. It was the kind of trip that you can’t put into words, the kind that you know is once in a lifetime, even as you are living it.
As I have been getting older, I have found a disturbing fact to be true. The people you love the most are often times the people you see the least. As much as you love each other, life takes us in so many different directions and it can often be unavoidable if you are trying to follow your own path. It is very rare nowadays that we get to spend long periods of uninterrupted time with family or close friends, without work or other distractions and obligations. I realize now more than ever what a gift it is to be able to just be with each other. It doesn’t matter if you are discovering a new country or just simply sitting in the same room together. It is all important. It all matters.
This is what Ireland gave us, and we will be forever thankful.