After deciding to make a break from our guided tour, and setting off on our own in our tiny Irish cars, we started the short drive from Dublin to Galway. Now, I say “short” but that is really a relative term. Map quest says the trip is approximately 2.5 hours – to Texans, that could be a round trip ride to a soccer game or in my case, a day going to/from work.
We used Galway as our home base for a couple of days as we explored the countryside taking a day trip with our son, Liam, my parents and sister. Here are some of the highlights from our trip:
The night before heading out of Dublin, I went online and booked a small Bed & Breakfast in Galway – for the life of me, I can’t recall the name. After arriving, we walked around downtown, ate at a pub and then visited a sweets shop that was filled wall-to-wall with colorful treats. Galway is such a charming little town – it reminded me of my hometown of Fredericksburg, Texas.
Our plan was to keep the next day open for exploring. The destination that we had in mind was the Cliffs of Moher so we left early in the morning, right after we had our delicious Irish breakfast.
As we were driving down the highway, there was a pull off on the left hand side of the road which boasted grand views of a castle on the right. Ireland had castles everywhere and they ran the gamut from being fully restored to crumbling to the ground. I often wonder if people become accustomed, and sometimes immune, to this type of history. Coming from America, our history is so much more recent and we don’t see this type of grandeur.
Across the street, there was a road sign that indicated that this was Dungaire Castle. This gorgeous castle was built in 1520 and its restoration began in 1924. We spent time walking around the grounds of the castle that was built on a spit of land jutting out into Galway Bay. In comparison to other castles that we have seen, it was very small and somewhat unassuming. The castle is open year round from 10am – 4pm and if you have the time (we just stopped while passing through) try out Dungaire Castle’s Banquet which will allow you to eat a traditional multi-course meal accompanied by music, song and storytelling. Because we were ultimately headed to the Cliffs of Moher, we didn’t stay too long – so off we went.
Aillwee Cave and Burren Birds of Prey Center
Staying on the N67, we continued on until, like a moth to a flame, we noticed a sign for Aillwee Cave and we took the short detour and gravitated towards it. After winding our way up and around the Burren hill, we finally made our way to the top where the entrance to the cave was located. The spectacular views were something to admire.
The landscape in the area was a stark contrast between the lush green fields and the barren limestone rock that is characteristic of the Burren. In fact, the word “Burren”comes from an Irish word “Boíreann” which means rocky place.
The cave is one of the oldest in Ireland and similar to other caves, has interesting formations, bridges over deep gorges, and a waterfall. Kids will enjoy the tour, and at 30 minutes it isn’t too long where they will get restless underground.
In addition to the cave, the site also hosts the Burren Birds of Prey Center which has aerial demonstrations by eagles, falcons, hawks and owls. Get up close to these amazing animals and learn more about the ancient art of falconry.
The Cliffs of Moher
After leaving Aillwee cave, we set off to the Cliffs of Moher. This magnificent natural attraction stands 702 ft high and sprawls over 5 miles on the Irish coast. The Cliffs of Moher Visitor Experience is a work of art which blends seamlessly into the hillsides.
Photo courtesy of www.cliffsofmoher.ie
The day that we visited the cliffs (and who knows, maybe it is every day) it was SO windy!! We started walking up the pathway past the visitor center and the wind about knocked us over. Liam couldn’t hide far enough in our jackets and he was upset! You would swear that we were pinching him or something. We didn’t even make it to the edge of the cliffs before we had to turn back. My mother offered to sit in the car with him so that the rest of us could explore.
The site also boasts O’Brien’s Tower – a 19th century viewing tower, and 800 metres of protected cliff side pathways, viewing areas and steps. My father ventured off to the left, down a trail to a viewing area and then off into a field with some sheep to get a less crowded view of the cliffs. The rest of us turned to the right to take in the scenery at O’Brien’s Tower. The entire walk took around 45 minutes. We didn’t want mom to have to wait too long with Liam in the parking lot.
The weather changes often at the cliffs, so best be prepared with a rain coat and shoes with some sort of grip. The park must have some brave (a.k.a. “not so smart”) tourists that attempt to get as close to the precipice as they can because we noticed these interesting signs. They don’t post them for no reason…
Adam kept to the paths and behind the barriers so he had a successful trip.
Kilfenora High Crosses
Taking a different route back to Galway, we decided to take a loop around deeper into the Burren. Not really knowing where we were going, we drove through Kilfenora and saw signs for the Kilfenora High Crosses. I’m glad that Ireland had such great signage or we would have missed a lot of interesting places!!
The stone church that is in the location dates back to between 1189-1200 (previous buildings had been burned down). The site is famous for the 3 remaining High Crosses of the 7 that were believed to be standing here. There was some restoration ongoing when we visited but it didn’t interfere much – in fact, we had the graveyard and church to ourselves.
After viewing the Crosses, we packed the family back in our two cars and headed back to our home base in Galway. You can see our route below. Is there anything that we missed in the area that you would recommend?