The Nosworthy Family Trip to Ireland
If you’re anything like me, when I think of Ireland, my mind is instantly filled with images of John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara strolling through rolling green hills, the rocky desolate islands where Luke Skywalker finds solitude, the lively and boisterous pub music from P.S. I Love You, and quaint colorful small towns like that from Waking Ned Devine. As with many things in life, anticipation and expectation can often downplay the present experience – however, what I have found from my last trip to Ireland is that I have returned more refreshed and joy-filled than ever before… and eagerly anticipating my return.
Ireland is not a new destination for me. My first trip to the Emerald Isle was 16 years ago as a solo backpacker making use of any form of transport to get from hostel to hostel. Whereas July 2022 brought about a twice-postponed family road trip with two kids under 6, winding and laughing through some of the most memorable places I have ever visited.
While it is a small country, (we did two weeks of driving on 1 tank of gas), each region of Ireland has its own distinct character and flavor. Although Dublin, the thriving capital city, is a fantastic gateway into culture, cold pints, phenomenal shopping, unique sporting events and rich history; I’d like to focus some attention into three west coast destinations that are a must for your next Ireland itinerary.
Located in County Kerry, on the southwestern tip of Ireland, Kenmare perches on the rocky shores where the Roughty River meets the sea. With its two main streets meeting at the local park square, the brightly painted facades, the colorful streamers connecting the lamp-posts, the sounds of locals chatting outside the local bookshop or pub, and the impressive mountains rising up behind the pristine bay - Kenmare is the non-tourist-trap entryway to the Ring of Kerry that you must experience.
Where to Stay: Sheen Falls Lodge
Sheen Falls is the perfect balance of a luxury hotel and quiet country charm. With abundant lakeshore for sitting with a morning coffee, picnics by the waterfalls, or short walks into the local town – Sheen Falls is ideal for all styles of travel with a variety of accommodation choices from romantic fireplace equipped suites, to family friendly 2-or-4 bedroom thatched-roof cottages.
What to do: Hawk and Owl Walk
For my boys (2yrs and 6yrs), one of the things they were most looking forward to was getting up close and personal to some birds of prey on a Hawk and Owl walk. Our experienced falconer, Liam, met us and gave instruction at our private cottage before allowing each of us the opportunity to interact with Erin the Harris Hawk, Cookie the Spotted Eagle Owl, Puca the Barn Owl and Leah the Great Grey Owl. This age-old country pursuit was a memory my boys will always remember: wearing the handling glove, watching the Owl’s head spinning, the lightning speed of the hawk, and wing feathers flapping in their faces at take-off.
What my Kids Thought?
Lachlan (2yrs) – “I liked my big bed”
Sawyer (6yrs) – “My favorite part was the sun-room where I did my activity book”
The Dingle Peninsula
Named “the Most Beautiful Place on Earth” by National Geographic Traveler Magazine, the Peninsula just to the north of the Ring of Kerry is known for its beaches, winding roads, rocky cliffs and a ridiculous 1 pub per 40 residents’ ratio – making it also the world’s greatest pub town! You won’t find a playlist at any of the pubs, but you will find live music in all of them. You won’t find televisions on at any of the pubs, but you will find far more interesting conversation with the locals at the barstools. You won’t find modern gadgets or technology, but you will find the same Guinness tap and hands that have been perfecting the 45-degree half-pour for generations. The Loop Road hugs the coastline the entire way around and is a short 30 miles, open to car, bicycle, walking… and many many sheep crossings!
Where to Stay: Dingle Skellig Hotel
The Dingle Skellig Hotel is located perfectly just on the outskirts of town, on the shores of Dingle Bay – within walking distance, but also far enough away to enjoy the solitude of the ocean and lush countryside. Nothing beats sitting in the outdoor hot tub overlooking Dingle Bay where fishing boats and dolphin pods come in and out during the day.
What to do: Beaches, Hikes and Coffee
Sometimes the best memories are the ones you don’t plan, and such is the case for the 3 “down” days we had on the Dingle Peninsula. We walked to the local café for soup, brown bread and coffee; we hiked to the top of Dunmore Head amongst the sheep grazing where we had views out over the Atlantic and the Blasket islands; we picnicked at sunset on a remote beach with aquamarine waters; and we made friends with the locals everywhere we went. We truly felt like we were a part of the local community in such a short amount of time.
What my Kids Thought?
Lachlan (2yrs) – “I love ice-cream” (in reference to Murphy’s Ice Cream shop in Dingle)
Sawyer (6yrs) – “I liked the beach. Playing in the water and the sand. And hiking through the sheep’s farm.”
If you’re truly looking for authentic Irish culture, you don’t have to look too far from Galway. Home to one of Irelands few remaining Gaelic-speaking communities, here you can get a true sense of the unique culture. Wander down cobblestoned streets, enjoy a pint or stew as you listen to traditional Irish music, sit along the marina and watch the fishing boats return with their lobster pots, visit the nearby artisan village of Clifden or Claddagh, where the famous heart and hand claddagh ring originated.
Where to Stay: Ashford Castle
Located on an expansive 350-acre estate on the shore of Lough Corrib, Ashford Castle’s grounds are nothing short of epic! Formerly owned by the Guinness Family, who placed much fore-thought into the planting of over a million native trees, plants and shrubs to turn the vast property into not only a retreat for us, but also a haven for wildlife. You simply cannot understate the tranquil room views from an 800-year-old turreted castle, or sitting next to a crackling open fire with a glass of wine or Irish Whiskey in hand.
What to do: Ashford Castle
The grounds of Ashford Castle host an abundance of activities – from scenic 9-hole golf, ziplining or horseback riding through the woods, spa and treatment rooms, private movie theatre and clay pigeon shooting. However, it was some of the more non-experiences that were most memorable for us. Ashford Castle is a short stroll through the green and wild Irish woodlands from the village of Cong, which provided the setting of John Ford’s The Quiet Man movie. Here you can step back through time into the Ireland of old: narrow streets, flower box-lined window sills, the sound of the stream running under the stone arch bridges, and of course the local watering hole as the epicenter of the town. There is a slowness to the pace of life here that simply draws you in.
What my Kids Thought?
Lachlan (2yrs) – “WOLFHOUNDS!” (in reference to spending a morning walking with the two resident wolfhounds at Ashford Castle)
Sawyer (6yrs) – “I liked playing golf and hitting it into the hole… AND DRIVING THE GOLF CART!”
There are countless places to explore in Ireland, each with their own unique qualities. And I have been blessed over the years to experience this small country in a variety of ways. However, I can easily say that this slow-paced family-oriented trip has allowed me to appreciate:
1. simply being able to travel – the sights, smells, sounds and tastes of a new place
2. experiencing in a lived-culture – engaging people in their day-to-day life
3. and most importantly having fun! – travel should not be complicated, and for me, there is no better proof to that than seeing a new place/experience through the eyes of my young boys
If this has sparked questions or thoughts about travel to Ireland, reach out to Kris at KrisN@piquetravel.com