How to conquer Ireland in just two weeks
Getting around the Emerald Isle in fourteen days
The Black Cab murals tour through the neighborhoods of Protestant Shankill Road and Catholic Falls Road is a must-do in Belfast. Our cab driver and guide gave a fascinating and unbiased account of the Troubles. He stopped at the Peace Wall, which separates the Catholic and the Protestant neighborhoods, and gave us markers to add our own names to the messages of hope. After the tour, we meandered around Belfast taking in City Hall, Queen’s University, and the Botanic Gardens.
We had a few pints at the gorgeous Crown Liquor Saloon, located on Great Victoria Street across from the Grand Opera House and the Europa Hotel. This stunningly ornate Victorian pub, with its mahogany woodwork, stained glass and mosaic tiles, is a great place for imagined time travel. The place was crowded but much to my delight we managed to grab a corner snug . I got a kick out of this beautifully carved private booth, which had its own door and bell to ring for service. It was too easy to picture myself back in 1890 having a whispered clandestine meeting over some shockingly wicked sort of business.
The next day, on our first scheduled bus tour, we explored the Antrim Coast. The tour included crossing the over 90-foot-high Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge and sampling whiskey at the Old Bushmills Distillery, but the highlight of the tour was the Giant’s Causeway.
Stretching four-miles along the coast, this geological formation of hexagonal, stair-like columns was formed by a volcanic eruption more than 60 million years ago. We wisely decided to skip the scheduled lunch at the Causeway Hotel to have more time exploring the site. The basalt columns were shockingly smaller than I expected but the vastness of this natural wonder was still impressive.
We were back in Cork again the next morning to tour the southwest part of the country before heading to Dublin.
During my research, I’d read many reviews dismissing Blarney Castle as too touristy and a waste of time. But there was no way I was leaving Ireland without kissing that stone and I’m glad I didn’t listen to the naysayers. After giving the famous stone a big smooch, I was delighted to discover the grounds around the castle, including the Wishing Steps.
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.