For the second half of our Ireland trip back in March, we rented a 9-passenger van and drove west from Dublin to see Killarney, Galway, and Connemara. It was a great way to travel across Ireland — we purposely mapped our trip away from motorways where possible, so while it took a little longer, we saw much prettier scenery. Because it’s a small country, we drove from the east coast to the west coast in about three hours, a fact that seems sort of unbelievable when you consider our D.C.-to-Boston road trips that took at least ten hours and only covered about 1/3 of the east coast of the U.S.
I drove and Matt navigated, which is our standard plan. I am garbage at reading maps and Matt used to teach land navigation in the Army, so he’s pretty awesome at it. I prefer driving while Matt tends to get super sleepy when he’s behind the wheel for too long, which is, you know, insanely dangerous. So we have our roles and we stick to them. My kids and my parents played games and read books and passed around snacks. It was a really good road trip! And driving on the insanely narrow country roads in England prepared me well for the insanely narrow country roads in Ireland, so driving that big van was no problem at all.
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Our first destination was Killarney National Park, where the tallest mountains in Ireland ring picture-perfect lakes. We took a jaunting cart ride through the park and it was the perfect way to enjoy this spectacular place. We only saw a tiny portion of the 26,000 acre park, but we hit some highlights: Muckross House and gardens and Torq waterfall. Our driver made us laugh and explained the history of what we were seeing. It was absolutely beautiful.
One thing I’ve come to realize on these trips, though, is that my children are not “path people”. Anytime we’re out in a park or forest with clearly marked walkways, my children stay on the path for about three minutes, then they’re off climbing rocks and trees and picking their way across forests and fields.
It’s not intentional or even a conscious decision, they’re just drawn away from the paved walkways and into the wilder bits — and I understand completely. I don’t love the paths as much either. Watching them scale their way across rocks and get as close to the river as possible as we walked up to Torq waterfall, I had one of those proud mama moments where I just knew they were happy and I felt like we were doing things right. Since traveling with children brings a not-insignificant number of moments when I feel just the opposite, the moments of joy are important to remind me why we’re doing what we’re doing. Plus, when they veer off the path, I’m practically obligated to follow along – for safety purposes, of course – so I get to climb on the rocks and walk along fallen trees and poke around in the pools and eddys at the river’s edge. And that makes me happy.
After a few hours in Killarney, we hopped back in the van and then headed north to Galway, which was where we stayed for the second half of the trip. Our Airbnb was right on the water looking at Galway Bay, and so close to the shops and restaurants that it was an easy walk to town even with four kids. The view from the front steps was pretty hard to beat.
On our second day on the west coast, we went to the Cliffs of Moher. One of the coolest things about all our travels is that my kids have now started comparing places we visit with places we’ve already been. It was decided that the Cliffs of Moher are like a cross between Cornwall and the White Cliffs of Dover.
There was a main “park” part along the cliffs with walls and paved paths, but at the end of the path was a gate and when you crossed out of the official park, there were no more guard rails or safety precautions. We walked along winding, narrow dirt paths with just a few feet of air separating us from the sheer cliff face. It was amazing.
Walking along, it was clear that some of the people in our group would gladly have chosen to walk along the path even closer to the cliff edge, while some of us could barely cope with the interior path we were on. For safety’s sake I decreed that NO ONE was allowed to walk on the last path at the edge, not even the grown-ups. I am not afraid of heights myself, but it turns out I am quite afraid of having my children up high on a cliff side. And I wasn’t too interested in watching my parents plunge off the edge either.
That evening we went to Bunratty Castle for a medieval banquet. It was kind of cheesy, but also fun and funny. The food was good and the kids absolutely loved it. Plus they HAD to eat with their hands, as there was no flatware since it wasn’t used in medieval times!
The next day we drove north from Galway to Connemara. The change in topography just in that hour drive north was incredible — Galway was very green with rolling hills and fields, but Connemara was very severe looking. Sharp mountains and rocky hillsides, lots of rivers and streams cutting deep across fields, and no rolling green hills. It was really gorgeous but completely unlike the rest of the countryside that we’d seen.
We went to Connemara National Park and did a short hike and saw just these amazing, breath-taking vistas. It was really gorgeous. Connemara is different than any other place we’ve been.
If we’d had more time, we would have loved to do a longer hike, but that evening we were meeting my mom’s cousin in Tuam, the town where my grandfather grew up, and heading out to the family farm where my mom’s cousins still live. This was the part of the trip I was most curious about — seeing where my grandfather was from and where our family still lives!
Read about Part One of our Ireland trip!