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Inishmore Photo by: Andrea M. Meek

How to conquer Ireland in just two weeks

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Inishmore Photo by: Andrea M. Meek

Legend has it that if you walk up and down the steps with your eyes closed, your wish will come true. I first tried to do this alone and fell on the slippery steps. Declan gallantly offered to lead me. Let’s hope this doesn’t count as cheating!

The next day began at yet another gratifyingly touristy site, Bunratty Castle and Folk Park in County Clare. The medieval castle was jammed pack and claustrophobic (we were there at the height of tourist season) but I’m such a sucker for recreated historical villages and the Bunratty Folk Park was no exception. The living village bestows a glimpse into a small Irish village circa 1900, complete with shops, farmhouses, a school and pub.

After Bunratty, we headed straight to the spectacular Cliffs of Moher, looming high above the Atlantic Ocean, then drove through the Burren, a 10-square-mile limestone plateau unique in its own stark rough beauty. We stopped for dinner at Monk’s, a seafood pub in the village of Ballyvaughan, serving delicious mussels and chowder.

After spending the night with friends in the charming and colorful town of Ennis, we caught a bus the next morning to Galway.

We arrived during the last weekend of the Galway Arts Festival, so everything was in full swing. Galway’s streets were alive with street performers and musicians, and we enjoyed the arts festival, including a concert by Maigh Seola, an Irish music group performing traditional Irish love songs.

I really fell for the adorable House Hotel, with its quirky artwork and cute sleeping cat logo. But what I loved most about the boutique hotel was the breakfast.

My first morning in Ireland, I'd had my taste of a real Irish breakfast.Since then, nearly every hotel and B&B we encountered served up the same fried fare, and usually had little else. My boyfriend relished the eggs, tomato and rashers (bacon) he rarely got back in the States, and I was game to try the black pudding made with pig’s blood - once.  But already by day two of the journey, my stomach was rebelling, and I rejoiced in the House Hotel’s breakfast of smoked salmon, fresh juices and hot, buttery, melt-in-your-mouth croissants.

The following day, we took a bus and ferry ride to Inishmore, the largest and most popular of the Aran Islands, where we rented creaky old bikes and cycled around the island. Having not been on a bike in almost 20 years, I more than once questioned this decision, thinking I’d have been better off hitching a ride on one of the pony carts. Pedaling up the hills was rough, and I had to walk the bike up several steep inclines. I couldn’t remember bicycling being this difficult when I was 12.

So immersed in playing the tourist, my boyfriend led us into an Irish language school, mistaking it for a tourist attraction, where a bunch of teenagers taunted us in Irish as we bicycled around the playground looking for a way out. We took a breather at Dún Aenghus, a stone fort perched precariously on the edge of a cliff, and I finished the day off buying cream-colored wool scarves at the Aran Sweater Market while Declan had a beer in a nearby pub.

I had a chance to rest my aching muscles on the two-hour train ride to Dublin the next day. Once in Dublin, we took a quick stroll through St. Stephen’s Green, Trinity College, Merrion Square, Temple Bar and across the Ha’ Penny Bridge. And for dinner: the best burgers in the world at Bó Bó’s Gourmet Irish Burger on Wexford street.

The next two days were filled with day tours out of Dublin. The Newgrange Tour by Mary Gibbons covered the Boyne Valley including Newgrange, a megalithic passage tomb and the Hill of Tara, the ancient royal site of the Irish High Kings.

Newgrange was constructed so that each year, the winter solstice sunrise would illuminate the inner passage and chamber. It was thrilling to stand in a structure that, having been built over 5000 years ago, is older than the pyramids in Egypt. Entering the ancient tomb was the highlight of my trip.

Our final bus tour, with Bus Éireann, was to Powerscourt and Glendalough. Powerscourt, an estate situated in the mountains of Wicklow, is famous for its gardens. The grounds include Italian and Japanese gardens, a walled garden, and a pet cemetery. Glendalough, meaning “valley of the two lakes,” was a monastic settlement founded by St. Kevin in the 6th century. After a guided tour around the ruins, a walk to the upper and lower lakes offered exquisite scenery.

Our last full day in Dublin, we toured Number 29, on Fitzwilliam Street Lower, a Georgian home exhibiting upper middle class Dublin life between 1790-1820, and the National Museum of Ireland Archaeology. The museum houses many Irish antiquities, including the Tara Brooch, a decorative, silver-gilt brooch created in the 8th century. But what really set my spine tingling were the bog bodies, discovered in the peat bogs of Ireland and thought to be over 2,000 years old. It is believed that the well-preserved bodies were victims of ancient human sacrifice.

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