Two weeks in Ireland
May 13, 2014 1:54 PM   Subscribe

My fabulous in-laws are taking the family on a trip to Ireland this summer. Please help us find the real gems!

Our trip begins with a few days in Dublin (starting June 9), and then we'll be on the west coast in County Clare for a little over a week (starting June 12). We'll have a car for the latter portion of the trip, so day trips are fair game, with the caveat that home base will be near Lahinch. My in-laws will certainly have ideas of their own as they've been to Ireland before, but my husband and I will probably do our own thing part of the time, especially during the Dublin portion of the trip. We're happy to visit some typical tourist sites, and suggestions for must-see art museums and the like are fine and welcome, but bonus points will be given for the offbeat and/or distinctly Irish.

A selection of my interests: bookbinding/rare books (the Book of Kells is already on the list, but similar treasures and favorite used-book stores are most welcome); delicious Indian and/or vegetarian fare; and—more generally—nature, old stuff, and taking photos of everything under the sun (I suspect I won't need help satisfying these last few items, but...). I've heard mention of Connemara and the Cliffs of Moher and am very much intrigued, but I don't know much about them yet.

A selection of my husband's interests: history, music, mythology, film, and craft beer. Any ruins that are especially significant in terms of Irish history/mythology/folklore would be of particular interest to him. (I suspect that "significant" could apply to a great many sites, but, for example, he's already expressed a desire to see the Hill of Tara and Newgrange.)

As a reference point, here are some things that we both loved in Edinburgh/Scotland, when last AskMeFi helped us plan a trip: the food at Kalpna and David Bann, the National Museum of Scotland, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (I seriously fell in love with this place), Owl & Lion, Edinburgh's architecture, hiking Arthur's Seat, tasting local brews, and absolutely everything about the achingly beautiful Highlands (okay, except maybe the storm that drenched us and prevented us from getting over to Skye). We did not get to the Surgeons' Hall Museum or Real Mary King's Close, but I think they would have appealed to one/both of us.
posted by cellar door to Travel & Transportation around Ireland (19 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Dublin Literary Pub Crawl!
posted by barchan at 1:57 PM on May 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

If you're into books, there is the James Joyce centre in Dublin. I found it pretty interesting.

I also found the Dublin Writer's Museum really cool because there are so many amazing writers from Dublin.

You should also check out the tour of Kilmainham Gaol museum. It was cheap and super interesting.

We also went on a Tour of Trinity college which was surprisingly, really interesting.
posted by winterportage at 2:04 PM on May 13, 2014

If you go out Dingle peninsula, there is definitely a "foodie trail" which I think you'd enjoy, as well as it being a beautiful touristing landscape for the in-laws. Also a brewpub, which was one of two times in all of Ireland that the beers on tap were not just Guinness/Carlsberg.

As tourists, we very much enjoyed the Indian food at Kumar's in Galway city, but of course that was the one time we ate Indian food during the trip, so it's not like we can say it's better than every other Indian restaurant in the country, just that it's tasty food, and that it was fantastic to have a plate full of vegetables in contrast to the standard tourist pub-diet.
posted by aimedwander at 2:09 PM on May 13, 2014

Best answer: GET YOURSELF TO KINSALE SOMEHOW HOLY SHIT. That's become something of a foodie mecca.

Also - if Dublin Castle still has the underground museum, do that. "Dublin Castle" is kind of wht it sounds like - it was the governors' residence when Ireland was part of the UK, and is the ceremonial government seat now. Take the tour inside and it looks like a Georgian-era mansion.

But in the basement is a museum that tells the rest of the story - that some years ago they were trying to restore the place and someone dug down to restore the foundation, and discovered the remains of the foundation for a Norman-era castle, which Dublin Castle had been built upon. So they decided to create a museum to show that off - and while they were excavating that, they discovered that underneath that was the ruins of an 8th-Century viking fort. So now the whole basement is a double-layer archaeological museum.

Seconding James Joyce Centre and the Dublin Writer's Museum. The writers' museum blew my mind a little as a young thing because it had some of the earlier drafts of Yeats poems, which I in my youth had thought were already perfect as they were and assumed they'd sprung full-formed out of Yeats' head like Athena.

As for "offbeat and distinctly Irish" - look for a pub that has a trad music jam session going on. It doesn't even matter whether anyone is listening to them - in fact, it's even better if it's a really crowded place. I went to some place somewhere in the middle of Grafton Street where I don't even remember the name, but the place was packed and the musicians were crowded into one corner, and the bartender and one of the fiddlers had to climb up on top of tables to hand things back and forth to each other. Some people were listening, some people weren't, it was all good; the musicians were just playing for the sake of playing, which made it all loose and free-form and awesome.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:13 PM on May 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

bookbinding/rare books

Narcissus Marsh's Library. Much much smaller than Trinity Library, more intimate, largely unchanged in 300 years, and with a conservation/binding section. It manages to be on the tourist track (next to St Patrick's) while off the tourist radar; recent reviews suggest that hasn't changed since I last visited. Email them and see if you can get a guided tour.
posted by holgate at 2:26 PM on May 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

And if you're going to do the Joyce Centre in Dublin, then you might as well take the DART down to Sandycove and the Martello Tower, which just reopened after renovation (and the fear that it would close for good).
posted by holgate at 2:30 PM on May 13, 2014

Best answer: If you are a literary/history nerd like me, I'd suggest the Chester Beatty Library. It was a little less touristy and had some more interesting exhibits than the Writers Museum.
posted by bookgirl18 at 3:03 PM on May 13, 2014 [4 favorites]

Glasnevin is somewhere else to consider while you're in Dublin. It’s on the north side of the city, about 20 minutes by bus from Trinity College. Glasnevin Cemetery could fit a couple of both your interests, and their guided tours are meant to be really interesting. Right next to the cemetery you’ve got the National Botanic Gardens which are lovely to wander around.
There’s also the Gravediggers pub at the cemetery’s pedestrian entrance if you wanted food and/or a really nice pint. Alternatively the Porterhouse has 3 pubs in Dublin with a really big range of craft beers, they've one branch quite close to Glasnevin Cemetery, with two more in the city centre.

When you’re in Clare, I’d recommend a trip to the Burren as well as the Ciffs of Moher. There’s lots of walking/hiking around there in wonderful surroundings.
You’ll also get loads of traditional music around Clare, villages like Doolin are famous for it.
posted by irishalto at 3:53 PM on May 13, 2014

Best answer: While in Dublin be sure to visit the the Dead Zoo (i.e. the Natural History Museum) as it is absolutely wonderful. It's essentially unchanged for the last century so it's as much a museum of museums as it is a museum of Natural History. It's held in enormous affection by the people of Dublin - far more so than any of the other museums.

A good general rule for Dublin is to avoid Temple Bar. Anything you are interested in there can be found better and cheaper elsewhere in the city.

In addition to Newgrange you might like Glendalough, which is a beautiful valley with a ruined monastery.
posted by coleboptera at 5:48 PM on May 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Take a trip to Howth which is north of Dublin (accessible by DART) which is a fishing village with gorgeous cliff walks with a great view of Dublin Bay.

For old stuff, there will be plenty of Viking related activities and exhibits around as this year is the 1000th anniversary of the battle of Clontarf, in which the Vikings were expelled from Dublin. The area near Christchurch will probably have most of the exhibits. Christchurch itself is a must see for old stuff (St. Valentine and Strongbow - who led the Norman invasion - are both supposedly buried there).

Newgrange and the Hill of Tara are both a short drive (about an hour) north of Dublin and are indeed worth a visit.

On the West Coast you must visit the Cliffs of Moher which are spectacular. It's also worth taking the short ferry ride from Dooling (itself only a few miles north of Lahinch) to the Aran Islands for a glimpse of the old-style Irish life (It is one of the few areas known as Gaeltachts, which still has primarily native Irish speakers).
posted by TwoWordReview at 6:45 PM on May 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

While in Dublin be sure to visit the the Dead Zoo (i.e. the Natural History Museum) as it is absolutely wonderful. It's essentially unchanged for the last century so it's as much a museum of museums as it is a museum of Natural History. It's held in enormous affection by the people of Dublin - far more so than any of the other museums.

Seconding this! I got a huge kick, as well, out of how on the first floor of displays, every label on every display took pains to point out that it was an example of "Irish [animal]" - the otter was an "Irish otter", the perch was an "Irish perch". I even saw one label proclaiming that it was a sample of "Irish protozoa".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:54 PM on May 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you happen to be going through Carrick-on-Shannon, perhaps on your way to Rathcrogan, you might stop at Anderson's Thatch Roof Pub on a Friday night for a traditional music session that can last far into the night. If the older bartender is there (think his name is Percy) and he is in a talkative mood, he is a wealth of local history. If you staying for more than one drink (drink driving laws are strict), a taxi can take you back to a hotel in Carrick-on-Shannon. From there, I would drive on to Sligo, making sure you stop along the way to see Glencar waterfall and Benbulbin mountain. Some of the most beautiful scenery is on the road between Manorhamilton and Sligo. Also in Sligo, there is Knocknarea and Carrowkeel. From Sligo, it would be about another 3 hours to the Cliffs of Moher. If you are a fan of Father Ted, stop by the Father Ted house for a cup of tea (reservations required) or just stand outside the gate to get a photo.
posted by Ariadne at 12:31 AM on May 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For Dublin: if you are into rare/old books, yes, you definitely cannot miss the Chester Beatty Library.

Chapters is a terrific used and new bookstore. Used books are upstairs, but there are lots of great bargains downstairs as well.

Lots of wonderful craft beer in Ireland now. The Black Sheep is my favorite place for that (and it's just down the street from Chapters, so you can take your finds there afterward!), but there's also places like The Porterhouse and JW Sweetman that brew very good beer. (Sweetman's bonus: the beer is relatively inexpensive by central Dublin standards, and it is one place in the city center when even on the busiest weekend night, I have always found a seat.)

For vegetarian food: Cornucopia is a Dublin institution, and the food is good.

All of these places are within walking distance of one another in the city center.
posted by tiger tiger at 2:30 AM on May 14, 2014

We went to County Clare when we visited Ireland, and if you can, you should absolutely make Doolin a good part of your trip. They have a music festival every June, but even if you miss the festival, there will still be tons of music in the pubs and out and about the town and along the roads. You can grab a ferry to one of the Aran Islands for the day, and you're not more than an hour outside of Athenry.

We took a a day trip to Athenry Castle, and this really funny but knowledgeable guide named Seamus took me and my husband on this lovely little private tour of some of the ancient parts of Athenry --- the ruins were beautiful. Of course, this was years ago and I have no idea if that tour guide is even there, but it is worth the trip. (The castle itself had tours and play reenactments for school children, so we wandered around the castle while a bunch of children on a field trip were learning about their history.)

Doolin is also really close to the Cliffs of Mohr, and damn if that is not one of the most amazing sites I have ever seen. We also toured an ancient cave with stalagmites and stalactites. That was really worth the visit, too.
posted by zizzle at 6:04 AM on May 14, 2014

Ulysses Rare Books, should be right up your alley so. It's very central, on Duke Street. Pop into Davy Byrne's which is on the aforementioned Literary Pub Crawl, if you're that way inclined.

For something non-touristy in Dublin, hop on the luas out to Ranelagh - it is always busy and lively, and is full of pubs and restaurants. The taphouse is now serving loads of craft beers and is a nice spot.
posted by kev23f at 8:03 AM on May 14, 2014

Here's a link to a previous Dublin question that includes an answer I gave.

Nthing the Chester Beatty Library with a mandatory stop at the Queen of Tarts practically on its doorstep. And do go upstairs to the Long Room at Trinity College on your Book of Kells stop. In the Long Room you will inhale the atmosphere of the most ancient of rare books.
posted by Elsie at 10:43 AM on May 14, 2014

You should try to get to the Dingle Penisula, which has wonderful scenery but also many significant early Christian sites, such as Gallarus Oratory.
posted by Grinder at 4:18 AM on May 15, 2014

Response by poster: Another Dublin question reminded me that I needed to follow up on this. Thanks so much, to all of you—each of these answered helped us figure out what we needed to do, but I marked a few "best." We ended up with much less time in Dublin than I'd have liked—just one full day, plus a bit—so we had to nix a number of things we would have otherwise loved to see. Rushed through the Dead Zoo, Dublin Castle, Chester Beatty Library, Writers Museum, and the National Museum (Archaeology), but even that whirlwind tour was lovely. We managed to squeeze in some time for random wandering though the city and were pleased to stumble across the Oscar Wilde monument (or, I was—not sure that Mr. Door is quite the Wilde fan that I am). Loved The Black Sheep. Also stumbled into Keoghs for breakfast one morning and enjoyed it enough to return.

We took a bus tour of some historic sites in the Boyne Valley (hence some of the lost time in Dublin). Another day, we passed through Glendalough on the way to Clare. Saw lots in the west, including the Burren, Cliffs of Moher (and some other, equally stunning cliffs around Kilkee), Aillwee Cave, and the Aran Islands. Extremely friendly folk everywhere we went. Saw a dolphin, lived next to some cows... and only one day lost to rain in the entire trip. In short, Ireland was a blast (pictures are slowly getting posted to Flickr—linked in my profile—for the especially bored). Thanks again for helping us plan our trip!
posted by cellar door at 5:06 PM on July 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Oh! We of course saw the Book of Kells and Long Room at Trinity College. Got shoved around the book a lot and were in enough of a rush that we didn't get more than a glimpse, but the Long Room was totally worth the trouble. Just a beautiful, beautiful space.
posted by cellar door at 5:10 PM on July 2, 2014

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