Highlights of a West of Ireland Adventure

What did we love about our trip down the west coast of Ireland? Am I allowed to say “everything”? I can’t possibly narrow down our two weeks of adventure, driving from Belfast to Kerry, when every day was filled with unexpected discoveries, sweeping beauty, engaging history and surprising luxury. 

But if I must choose a few tips and “must sees”:

– The Ice House in Ballina was our favorite overall hotel. The river suite was so beautiful we could have just stared out the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the trees and the birds and and the boats and the rolling water all day. The spa may be small but who can complain when you are sitting in an outdoor hot tub in a lightly falling cool mist, overlooking the river. The food was excellent and the modernist style was a wonderful counterbalance to all the more traditional properties we stayed at. Overall, it felt like a secret, stylish getaway (in an unexpected location) that still managed to feel close to nature. Who knew!?

– The best dining was at The Moy House. The intimacy of the dining room and the extraordinary skill of the chef were truly special. We loved it so much we cancelled plans and ate there again on our second night. And the accommodations were a lovely compliment to the kitchen, with an extraordinarily helpful staff and quirky, inviting rooms like our Well Suite.  Like the Ice House, we loved lounging in the sitting room area of our room and being able to enjoy nature while still tucked in as the evening rain rolled through.

–  We spent our last night at the Dromoland Castle and it was the perfect closer to the trip. The service was 5 star and the grounds, particularly the walled-garden, were a lush, colorful dream. We felt like Kings and were dragging ourselves away to the airport.

– Our hiking guide in Dingle, Kevin of Celtic Nature Walking Tours, was truly special. We were so lucky with weather during 90% of our trip (we even had bright sunny skies for the entire first week!) but not here. Dingle was our one true weather wash-out day, with heavy fog, very limited visibility and heavy showers passing through. And yet Kevin made our hike a joy! His stories, his passion, his kindness made something magical out of what could have been a really rough day. We enjoyed our walk so much we went back to Dingle on our one “unplanned” day and, then with full visibility, fell even more in love with Dingle. It is glorious, romantic, Wild Atlantic Way countryside at its best.

– Our trip out to Skellig Michael was magical, given we almost didn’t make there…twice! We knew that the landings are a hit or miss proposition, and our day had some fog and wind. Our captain was great, putting safety first. Hearing that the seas were rough by the island, he cancelled the trip then put it back on before we even got in the boat. The seas were indeed very rough (which I found exhilarating!), then we got to the island and had a very hard landing attempt and the captain turned back for home. We trusted him and were fine knowing we had at least seen the island in person. But ten minutes later, the captain heard the waters had calmed a bit so we turned back around to the island and this time we made it. Crazy and not for the faint of heart but the trip was worth it. What a rare, unusual, stunning place. It almost felt like the entire experience was a beautiful, thrilling dream. (Did I mention we had a pod of dolphins escorting us for 5 minutes of the trip out?!)

Inishmore is one of my favourite places in the world and, if you can, stay overnight to fully appreciate the wonders of the island. Although we had spent some time upon our arrival at Dun Aengus, the awe-inspiring fort dangling over the cliffs, it was pretty crowded with day trippers. But because we were among the few who stayed on the island, for a half hour the next morning, we had the site entirely to ourselves! We also loved having time to bike around the island and explore some of the other wonderful spots. So quiet and special…it was such a gift to be able to share with my partner this place I had loved 17 years ago and for it to be just as magical the second time around.

As you can see, I could really go on and on. Ireland is heaven for outdoor people like us who also love to be pampered a little. By day we could visit Slieve League, a Belfast taxi tour, Downpatrick Head, the Ceide Fields, the Antrim Coast, the Rock of Cashel, each stunning and fascinating in their own way. And every night, we ended our day with a great meal and a first class wine (or a shot of Jameson)! That was the magic of our journey…and the magic of Ireland.

Tom Mizer