Indagare member Liza Nugent recently returned from a ten-day trip to Ireland, where she, her husband and eleven-year-old son focused on ruggedly beautiful County Clare (and avoided the more touristy ring of Kerry). Here are the highlights of the journey.
“We flew into Shannon airport, which is wonderful because it is small (and has the added bonus that on the return trip, you are processed by U.S. customs, thereby bypassing customs back at J.F.K). One word of advice regarding renting a car: don’t choose an oversized vehicle, as you will regret it when driving on the left side along the very narrow, winding roads.
We headed north from Shannon towards Galway and the peninsula of Connemara. First stop was lunch at Moran’s Oyster Cottage (The Weir, Kilcolgan, Co. Galway; 353 (0) 91-796-113), in Kilcolgan. It’s a charming, family-owned restaurant that was established in 1797 and specializes in oysters and other Irish fare. Our first two nights were spent at the 18th-century Ballynahinch Castle (Recess, Connemara, Co. Galway; 353 (0) 95-31006), which is listed among the “great fishing houses” of Ireland. A well-stocked river is part of the 450 acre property, along with a seasoned staff of ghillies (guides) to take you fly-fishing. The hotel has beautiful common areas, which include a living room, sunroom, dining room and a lively pub, where we listened to a father/son duo serenade us with Irish music one evening. We drove 20 minutes to the charming town of Roundstone to watch a sailing regatta of the Galway Hookers (traditional sailboats) and had a fabulous lunch of fish & chips at O’Dowd’s Pub (Roundstone, Co. Galway; 353 (0) 95-35809).
After two nights, we continued south along the west coast to what is dubbed “the surfing capital of Ireland”, Lahinch, Co. Clare, where we stayed at the Moy House (Lahinch, Co. Clare; 353 (0) 65-708-2800). One of the highlights of our trip was mealtime at the Moy House…both breakfast and dinner are served in a lovely dining room with floor to ceiling views of the bay, with delicious, fresh local ingredients. The golf course is apparently quite nice in Lahinch, a championship links course but we are not golfers, so I can’t claim first hand knowledge. Lahinch is a nice spot to be based to visit the majestic Cliffs of Moher, and the Aran Islands. We cruised to the smaller of the three Aran Islands, Inishere, from Doolin, which is about ten minutes from the Moy House. On Inishere, we hired a horse and buggy to take us around the rock-strewn island, and then rented bikes to tour-around for an hour before our boat set sail back to the mainland. The return trip included passing beneath the Cliffs of Moher. There is a new visitors center for the Cliffs, but I can’t imagine viewing them from above would do the view justice—a boat ride is definitely the way to go.
We then continued south to Kenmare, a charming village with an open-air market, several shops and many pubs! We stayed at Sheen Falls Lodge (Killarney Road, Kenmare, Co. Kerry; 353 (0) 64-41600), also known for its fishing. This was our least favorite stop on our trip. The property is quite new and tries to be fancier than it needs to be, which results in less-than-personal staff and a lack in the kind of charm one anticipates from a lodge in Ireland. Due to the incessant rain, the river was too high to provide any of the much anticipated salmon or trout. We did enjoy walking around the town of Kenmare though, and we found another fabulous restaurant, The Lime Tree (Shelbourne Street, Kenmare, Co. Kerry; 353 (0) 64-664-1225), situated in a lovely, early-19th-century stone house and serving a menu focused on local fish and lamb.
Instead of the three nights planned, we left Sheen Falls a day early, and headed to the charming port of Kinsale, where we stayed at the Old Bank House (11 Pearse Street, Kinsale, Co. Cork; 353 (0) 21-477-4075), which was perfect. The town is adorable, and the hotel is lovely, with a charming cafe on the ground floor, the Blue Haven Food Co. We had hoped to have dinner at Fishy Fishy (Pier Road, Kinsale, Co. Cork; 353 (0) 21 470-0415), which is meant to be the restaurant in town, but it was fully booked. We peeked our heads in and it looked great; fortunately, Kinsale has several nice places for dinner. We headed for the sister property of our hotel, the Blue Haven Hotel (3-4 Pearse Street, Kinsale, Co. Cork; 353 (0) 21 477-2209) and ate in their restaurant, where we were entertained with Irish dancing.
Beginning our loop back north, we stayed at our favorite spot of the trip, the Longueville House (Mallow, Co. Cork; 353 (0) 22-47156), which is only an hour or so south from Shannon, near the town of Mallow. Longueville House is an 18th-century Georgian Mansion set on 500 acres. The 300-year old property is what one imagines a visit to the Irish countryside should be: the twenty rooms are all individually decorated and have beautiful wallpapers and antiques. The common areas are the former living areas of a regal family home, so they feel cozy and welcoming. The renowned restaurant is overseen by the chef, and owner, William O’Callaghan, who lives on the property with his adorable wife and two children. I spent over an hour one day meandering the two-plus-acre kitchen garden, where everything from berries to leeks are grown. There is an enormous apple orchard, as well as fields for the sheep, pigs, and cows to roam. The property is a working farm but it’s also extremely beautiful. Before dinner, you sip cocktails in the living room, pondering the menu over a surprise amuse bouche. Once your food is prepared, you are escorted to your table in the elegant dining room; it’s so civilized. The fishing is on the Blackwater River, one of Ireland’s finest salmon rivers. It was still raining, but that didn’t stop my boys from spending hours with the ghillie on the river. Of all of the properties, this would be the one we might return to someday. And it’s close enough to Shannon airport that a long weekend of pheasant shooting with a few other couples would be very manageable from New York.
In good faith, I must make a comment about the weather: it rained each and every day of our ten-day trip. Even though we expected such weather, it was definitely a bit depressing after awhile. You should be sure that sunshine is not a requirement before planning a trip to Ireland. That said, you can always fish—or golf—in the rain!
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