Where to go in the Irish countryside?
March 10, 2009 10:13 AM   Subscribe

Looking for the perfect small town in Ireland where my parents can spend a week or so this fall.

My retired parents, who are longtime U.S. residents but were born in Scotland, will be visiting the old country once again this fall. This time, they're thinking of spending a week in the Irish countryside but are not sure where to go. They visited Dublin a couple of years ago, but that's it as far as Ireland goes.

I asked my dad what he was looking for and he said "someplace with a good pub." He's not a big drinker, but does enjoy an occasional dram of whisky. They're in their 60s and still pretty active. One of their favorite things to do on vacation is to go on long walks and hikes, so someplace with great natural scenery is a plus.

They'd prefer to rent a cottage somewhere, but someplace with a nice bed and breakfast will do, too. Other than that, I think they're looking for what lots of travelers are looking for: a picturesque village with friendly people. So any suggestions, MeFi?
posted by Kronoss to Travel & Transportation around Ireland (18 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I recall from several years ago that Dingle, in the southwest, is absolutely charming. It's on the water.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:36 AM on March 10, 2009

I do like Dingle as well. It was nice and small. The views from the peninsula were excellent.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:49 AM on March 10, 2009

Try Kilcrohane (but don't tell anyone, we're trying to keep it secret)

We usually rent but the minimum rental period is 2 weeks in that place and its actually more appropriate for more than 2 people. There are plenty of other reasonably price accommodation options that should be easy to find in google.

Sheepshead Penninsula is relatively unknown and has spectacular walks and hikes for all levels.

There are 2 pubs that I can recommend: Fitzpatricks pub (otherwise known as Eileens) in the village and The Whitehouse that has/had a great reputation for traditional Irish music but its opening hours/days are a mystery to the general public.
posted by lapsang at 10:54 AM on March 10, 2009

Dingle is certainly a lovely place. I'd also recommend Bantry - great little town with a bit of history and good seafood restaurants.

My wife and I drove around for a week a few years back, basically doing about an hour or two of driving a day starting from Waterford, through Dungarvan, Cork, Clonakilty, Bantry, Kenmare and Killarney. We found b&b's in each town that we arrived at and we took walks and pints wherever and whenever.

Basically, though, once you leave Dublin it's very hard to not end up in a nice village with nice people and three good pubs (nothing against Dublin, I'm from there but haven't lived in Ireland for 20 years and when I bring someone to Ireland it's not really the ideal place for that famous Irish hospitality etc). And there tend to be walks and hikes everywhere as well.

I'd recommend getting a decent guidebook so they can read up on each town (historical sites and stuff) before they get there and decide which town to stop in.

Good luck, I'm sure they'll have a great time.
posted by gwpcasey at 10:58 AM on March 10, 2009

I will freely admit to being biased towards all things associated with Irish singing, so here are some of my favourite places:

Ennistymon is a gorgeous little town with very welcoming locals. This is the kind of place where you can strike up a song in a pub and find yourself surrounded very quickly by a full-on session. Lahinch is an even smaller town right nearby with a similar vibe. Nice B&B's there, too.

Rosscarbery in Co. Cork is a cute little town on the coast, with a monastic ruin. Very picturesque, very non-touristy. Has a great little sea-shanty festival in the summer.

If they want something a little more windswept and rough around the edges, check out Ballyliffin in Donegal. I can attest to some fantastic B&Bs up there, and some great beach walks. Not far from Malin head, the most northerly point of the island.

Falcarragh in in the Donegal Gaeltacht, but is the departure point for the Tullabegly mountain walk, and is not at all far from the Glenveagh National Park (which I have hiked through and think is quite a lovely place).

And because I was there just this past September, check out Spiddal, just outside of Galway. It's quite close to the edge of the Connemara Gaeltacht, and is home to a great little pub called Hughes where Irish musicians go for a drop. It's situated on one of the feeder roads into the Connemara gaeltact, so the road is quite busy, but it's a great jumping off point for other things to see and do.
posted by LN at 11:08 AM on March 10, 2009

This is the strategy that worked several decades ago. I suspect it still does.

Fly into Shannon. Rent car.

Drive to small town. Go to local gov. tourist bureau and ask them to recommend a B&B. Go to B&B. Have lovely time at B&B in small town. Repeat as needed.
posted by zippy at 11:08 AM on March 10, 2009

Falcarragh is in the Donegal Gaeltacht, dammit.
posted by LN at 11:09 AM on March 10, 2009

I spent two weeks last summer exploring the west coast of Ireland with my girlfriend. Our usual day involved hiking through sheep pastures and over hills (also full of sheep) in search of ring forts or standing stones, then hiking onward to a pub. We loved it, I'm sure your parents will too.

It's going to be hard for them to go wrong. My advice would be first, to skip the obvious tourist destinations. Sure, Poulnabrone Dolmen is the biggest portal tomb around, but you can barely see it for the crowds, while there's probably another perfectly good stone-age tomb like 2 km over in some farmer's sheep pasture. Likewise castles, scenic drives, etc. The countryside of Ireland is an embarrasment of riches...

Second, go west. Now I didn't see much of the east or middle of Ireland, which I'm sure are lovely, but...wow. Absolutely stunning, damn near all of it.

Third, pick up the local Ordnance Survey Maps wherever they end up. Thes are obsessively accurate, down to every stone wall and creek, and they each show dozens, at least, of points of archaeological interest: standing stones, ring forts, Mass rocks, and more. There's no need, like in most of the US, to restrict your hikes to trails and parks. Between the openness of most of the land, and most landowners not seeming to mind people tromping through their fields, it was an entirely different experience from the hiking I was used to. You see an interesting hill out the window of your B&B? You can probably just up and climb it, and most likely there'll be a pub on the other side.

The good spots often require having a car, though. And be warned: insurance costs a fortune and your US policy/credit card insureance won't be accepted there full stop.

If I had to choose one spot to spend a week, it would have been Allihees on the Beara Peninsula; second place would have been Kilfenora)...but really, there's nowhere I went that I wouldn't have spent a great week.
posted by a young man in spats at 11:16 AM on March 10, 2009

Recommend: Dingle, Kinsale, Kilkenny.

Discourage: Limerick, Trim.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 11:34 AM on March 10, 2009

Another vote for Dingle, had a lovely few days there a couple of years ago.
posted by beowulf573 at 12:46 PM on March 10, 2009

Kilkenny is wonderful, and has something like uh, 152 pubs, but it's not a small town and it's highly touristed.

Anywhere in the west of Cork is going to be great. If you're down this way, Kinsale is worth an overnight stay on your way west. It's the gourmet capital of Ireland, and it has all kinds of food festivals and a nice harbour town.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:27 PM on March 10, 2009

I love west Cork and will add a vote for Allihies, which is incredibly beautiful and had good pubs.

However, please consider Westport. It's a town by the sea in Mayo, with loads of really nice pubs (from packed ones with traditional music to quiet ones with grocers at the front to my favourite which has a creased picture of the Kennedys above the couch), very friendly people who manage to sustain being sweethearts even through tourist season, a sweet bookshop full of antiquarian and quirky books, and a very varied landscape around it.

There's lakes, the seaside, mountains (most famously, Croagh Padraig - the Reek), bog, and a pilgrim route called Tochair Padraig which sets off from Ballintubber Abbey, with tiny stiles and handpainted signs marking the way, ending in the shadow of the mountain. You're also plenty close to Connemara in Galway, and there's a truly incredible drive by the sea from Westport to Leenane in Galway, passing Doolough, which has the kind of landscape tha's heartrendingly, uniquely Ireland. It's very easy to get off the tourist track, too, and it's a fairly active area with lots of information on walks and the like.

I moved here last summer for a year, and will self-link to photos if you want to see some of the town. It still gives me a thrill to walk through town to work and say hello to people on the street and go to the pubs, as sappy as it sounds, so please forgive the enthusiasm.

There are plenty of short-term rentals just outside of town - Louisburgh, Murrisk, Lecanvey and around there are lovely, as is Westport Quay and Rosbeg, and anything around Old Head beach gets my vote.
posted by carbide at 1:46 PM on March 10, 2009

Dingle (or An Daingean) is very touristy. It's very nice, but if it were me I'd be staying somewhere else and visiting it. There are some very good recommendations here already.
posted by knapah at 2:49 PM on March 10, 2009

Seconding carbide's description of Westport. Just got back from a 3-week vacation, a week of it spent in Westport (dang it, Carbide - wish I'd known! We coulda had mini-MeFi-meetup...).
We stayed at a great B&B called Boffin Lodge - it's halfway between the town center and quayside, is spotless, has great breakfasts, and heated floors, which make the rooms cosy without overheating (did I mention the heated floors?).
The tourist office there has a booklet of Westport Walks, and we did three of them - all would be recommended though. Also in driving distance is Achill Island, home of the deserted famine village on Slievemore - heartbreaking to see, but also fascinating. Achill itself has fabulous scenery as well.
The pubs are great, and we ate incredibly well at a few of the restaurants too.
Okay, I'll stop now.
posted by dbmcd at 3:11 PM on March 10, 2009

Awesome. I knew I count on MeFi to give me a bunch of great, diverse and detailed answers. I'm sending this link to my parents right now. Thanks guys!
posted by Kronoss at 3:25 PM on March 10, 2009

Probably too late but another vote for Dingle and I highly recommend the Milestone House B&B there. Here is my AskMe from 2007.

We traveled from Cork to Kinsale to Dingle to Kenmare and on to Doolin. Fine time had by all. Don't miss Slea Head drive and the Burren.
posted by jabo at 5:13 PM on March 10, 2009

County Cork is nice, but the city of Cork is....probably not what they're looking for.

Send them to Kinsale for nice and quiet, or up to the towns near Galway (see above) for fun.

On our honeymoom we were in all of these places, and they each had their appeal.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:03 AM on March 11, 2009

Tell them to go south, and west (in that order :-) ) Some islands make for great exploring too - try Cape Clear.
posted by hannahlambda at 1:48 PM on March 13, 2009

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