When my daughter picked us up from the airport in Dublin, speeding off onto the motorways of Ireland, my dad and I were second guessing our plans to hire a car on our own.
First off if you’re not familiar with a right hand drive on the left side of the road, you may be a bit daunted but don’t be!! Hiring a car in Ireland was one of the highlights of our 3 week trip and we only wished we had done it sooner than during the latter portion of our stay.
We decided on beginning our journey in Cork and hired the car from the airport. It was easy enough to take the train from Dublin and a short bus ride from the station in Cork city centre to the airport where the car rentals were.
Shop around. There are quite a few choices and prices to go with them. We went with ‘Europcar’ and chose the economy car for the best deal. In 2009 it cost us about $450 Canadian for 5 days (taxes and service charges included) with unlimited kms and we filled the tank once.
When we got to the lot to retrieve the car we had a good laugh. It was a peanut of a car (a Kia Picanto) but would do the job nicely. Comfy seats, cd player and cheap on fuel.
Besides, a lot of the country roads in Ireland are very narrow and you will manage much easier with a compact rather than a larger car. Some roads were more like laneways and barely enough room for two cars to pass each other. As one gentleman we met on the road told us;
“You’ll never fall asleep at the wheel on Irish roads!” Oh the joys of Irish driving had just begun!
By the way, as long as you have a valid driver’s license there’s no need for any special permits to hire a car in Ireland.
In Ireland you should be aware that roundabouts are plentiful and it’s a good idea to get your bearings before you enter one. Observe them as a pedestrian first or pay attention to them if you’re on a bus. Luckily my dad was a great navigator! It is very handy to have someone else reading road signs while you’re getting the hang of things. Make sure you’re going the right way because, as my daughter says, “You haven’t lived until you go the wrong way in a roundabout in Ireland!” (luckily we didn’t experience this wild side of living!)
Out of Cork we headed west towards the medieval town of Macroom.
Definitely worth a stop for the lovely bridge over the river Lee, the medieval gate and the historic cemetery in the centre of town. There are also a few good brunch places after Mass on Sunday’s!
We decided to go on straight to the town of Killarney in the Kingdom of Kerry to begin the famous drive of the Ring of Kerry on the Iveragh Peninsula. Killarney is worth staying the night and having a good look around as well as taking in the live music in the pubs, friendly locals and a pint or two! The streets are full of beautiful old storefronts and small intriguing laneways.
The next morning (to the sound of church bells) we headed out to Muckross Abbey just outside of town. This is a beautiful spacious park with wild ruins and a rambling cemetery. Wandering through these ancient burial sites is very peaceful and chock full of history.
The drive through the Killarney National Parks is full of amazing views of the lakes and mountains with good places to pull over for viewpoints. I think this might be one of my favourite places on earth!
As in pretty much most rural places in Ireland, watch for sheep on the road!! The Blackwater River zig zags in and out of wooded country roads here and a stop at this lovely bridge was an unexpected highlight.
That’s the fun of hiring your own vehicle. If you see something that you think looks interesting, you can pull over or turn around and take that little road that’s beckoning you to satisfy your curiosity. We did this a number of times and discovered some fantastic sights that may have been overlooked on a ‘tour’.
Take the day (or longer) to do The Ring as the more leisurely you spend your time, the more you’ll enjoy the drive. Jagged, sideways, monster rocks jut out of the ocean, the waves crashing violently against them.
Out off of this coast is Skellig Michael.
Unfortunately the weather was too stormy for us to make the boat trip over, but we did manage to pull over at a good vantage point for a few photos.
You can’t imagine anyone living out there in this day and age let alone one thousand years ago! Standing on the beach, with the winds whipping you about, thoughts go through your mind of how Christian Monks survived there for six centuries, totally self-sufficient.
From Killarney we took the road west to the Dingle Peninsula. This is one of the most rugged and scenic coastlines around.
Be sure stop at the Famine Museum along the way. A sad reminder of the hardships people had to endure during these troubled times. The tremendously well preserved thatched cottages are an excellent look into the harsh living (and dying) conditions many of the poor experienced.
We were the only ones there that day. An eerie feeling crept over us walking around on a stormy, grey day and I thought of my ancestors who had left there so long ago. The road around the Dingle Peninsula still remains a mystery for my dad and I. As we drove along the road, the two lanes turn into to one way and seemingly thinking we would come to Tralee, we found ourselves back in Dingle!
Magic strikes again in Ireland!
By the way, Dingle was such a joy to spend a few nights in. Colourful buildings line the streets with lovely views in all directions.
The B&B we stayed in was very comfortable, well priced with views of the harbour and the big Atlantic fishing boats. (Quayside B&B)
If you like fish, take advantage of it here, fresh off the boat!
The breakfast at the B&B was fantastic as well with everything from smoked salmon, bagels, porridge, fresh fruit and even Bailey’s Irish Cream for your coffee.
Another favourite place was a small traditional pub off of the main drag called O’Flaherty’s.
Steeped in the history of the area and the trials and tribulations of the IRA struggles to gain independence, this was the perfect place to spend a quiet afternoon or an evening complete with live traditional music. In fact the owner collected up the empty glasses as well as played the guitar, penny whistle and the accordion!
The following day after leaving Dingle, we headed east towards Cork. When we pulled off the road to fill up the gas tank, we noticed a sign for Blarney Castle. It seems that this famous name place is a sure sign of a pure tourist trap but we thought we’d have a look anyway…
Thank goodness we did!
For the 10 euro entrance fee it was well worth the lovely walk through the grounds up to the castle.
Yes, it’s full of photo packages of you kissing the Blarney stone (which we declined). But don’t pass up this opportunity to climb the spiral staircase and take in the vast and glorious vistas from atop the castle walls. Even the rooks are friendly!
Our journey through this incredibly scenic landscape would have been fine on a bus but the freedom of having your own vehicle and stopping where and when you like (if it’s safe to do so!) is priceless.
Locals are more than happy to direct you to known and maybe even a few hidden gems along the way. Just take your time and enjoy the ride!
Plane tickets to Ireland: $1200
Spending money for 3 weeks: $2000
Renting a car in Ireland with my dad: Priceless!
This guest post and the photographs within it were kindly contributed by Kerry O’Gorman, an artist and photographer, who shares her thoughts on farmlass.blogspot.com. You can also find some of the beautiful creations Kerry makes on etsy at www.etsy.com/shop/farmlass
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