“May you have the hindsight to know where you’ve been, the foresight to know where you are going, and the insight to know when you have gone too far.”– Irish Saying ☘️
In August 2017, my wife and I traveled to County Clare, Ireland, with my mother, for an experience of a lifetime. My mother has become a seasoned professional at traveling throughout Ireland and invited us to stay with her at the cottage she rented for the summer. With my wife and I on summer break from teaching, it seemed the time was finally right to join my mother. This trip would be a perfect opportunity to see some of the places that have become special to her. Our trip constructed incredible memories that, as I have said often, are helping me get through this pandemic. Join me as I recollect about this fantastic journey along the Atlantic coastline of Ireland and those towns and historical sites we visited.
☘️ Background ☘️
For the last few years, my mother has spent months at a time traveling through all of Ireland. I do not believe that there is an area she has not explored. What started as organized tours beginning in the U.S. eventually led to solo-traveling, which I marveled at and inspired me. This was my mother, an individual who barely traveled when I was young nor sought a connection with her Irish lineage. After my parents separated, she actively searched for meaning in her upbringing, which included losing her mother as a teenager and growing up with an absent father.
Looking for answers, she set off for Ireland, her grandfather’s birthplace, on her mother’s side. There she found a connection to her mother, her past, her present. Nearly two decades later, she has lived in this moment, exploring all those connections and freely living with the future at her fingertips, and the past an excellent companion, rather than an anchor. These countless trips have brought her immense happiness, a feeling of belonging, and I can’t imagine a world in which she didn’t continue these journeys of self-discovery and Irish fulfillment. My wife and I were often impressed by how much she did, the beauty she observed, and, in the end, how eagerly she has lived. In 2017, my mother invited us to Ireland to explore those places that meant the most to her. We quickly said yes, and prepared to see Ireland as excited tourists but eager to visit areas of Ireland that were far away from Dublin. Our itinerary brought us to Doolin, and from there, we set out to see places around the Atlantic coastline of County Clare.
In March 2017, we booked our flights, which took us nonstop, from Boston International Airport to Shannon International Airport. In the in-between months, we purchased new luggage, new rain gear since my mother warned us, or prepared us, for all weather types. Those of you who have frequented my blog know the weather has provided challenges for me during some travels. Ireland was no different, but not terrible. We picked out new raincoats, boots, cold weather gear, clothing, or supplies, for any possible weather-related issues. My mother inspired these purchases. She told us that our lodging in Doolin was about two miles from town. That required walking, which was not a problem, but we needed preparation. With our supplies purchased, bags packed, and our trip date upon us, in August 2017, we left Boston for Shannon.
☘️ Day ONE ☘️
Shannon, Ennis & Doolin
When we arrived at Shannon airport early in the morning, we needed to take the number 51 bus to Ennis. In Ennis, my wife and I would meet up with my mother and together enjoy an excellent breakfast in the city. When we got off the plane, we grabbed our luggage and found our way to the transportation pickup area, quickly finding the bus. As I have said in other travel posts, I can be, at times, a nervous traveler, but my nerves are often surrounding the “travel” part of travel. I get anxious I will do something wrong or won’t be able to find my way. My solo-travels in China washed away this anxiety, but this trip predated my trip to Shanghai, so I was nervous about finding my way from Shannon to Ennis. Even so, my wife is a travel champ who I look to in those worrisome moments.
Luckily, there were no issues, and we found the bus, paid our fare, and sat down in the front to avoid my wife getting car sick, which happened anyway. After watching our driver yell at a woman for trying to pay with a British pound rather than Euro, we were on our way. To note, we never made that mistake! The bus ride was adequate, although the bus’s swaying did turn my wife’s stomach, which took several hours to calm down. We did get to see the Irish countryside and grew more excited to arrive in Ennis. At this time, my mother was staying in Ennis and lodging at the Temple Gate Hotel, which is a beautiful hotel with wonderfully decorated rooms, in a classic sense, and plenty of amenities.
We arrived in Ennis on time and quickly met up with my mother, who was waiting for us at Temple Gate’s entrance. It was exciting to see her, and she was overwhelmed with joy to see us in Ireland! After some smiles, tears, and hugs, we dropped off our bags. While she was checking out the same day we were arriving, the hotel agreed to hold our bags in an office while we had breakfast and explored the city. My mother chose Mocha Coffee Co. as our breakfast location. Mocha is a charming, cozy, and friendly cafe with impeccable service and an inviting atmosphere, and we were seated upstairs, near a window, with a nice view of the energized street below. My wife and I had good Americano coffees, while my mother enjoyed a tea. Our delicious breakfast included eggs, sausage, omelets, pastries, and so much more. Our travel from Boston helped us build up an appetite, and we satisfied it.
After spending a couple of hours at Mocha Coffee, we departed to do some sightseeing. In Ennis, we stayed around the town center but ventured to see the River Fergus and explored Ennis Friary, a 13th-century historic Franciscan friary ruin known for its Gothic tower. We walked the streets, explored the shops, took in the fantastic artistic and architectural wonders in Ennis Old Town, and made our way to the Daniel O’Connell Monument. The moment dates back to 1867 and is a Roman Doric column with Daniel O’Connell “standing proudly at the top.” O’Connell is hailed as a hero and known as the “Liberator” because of his advocation for Irish rights. After observing Ennis’ history and beauty, we visited Dunnes Stores for some groceries/sundries to bring to the cottage. Then we headed back to Temple Gate Hotel, where we retrieved our luggage and waited for our taxi to take us all to Doolin. With time available, we went into Preachers Pub for a pint. It was a nice place, attached to Temple Gate Hotel and designed with a traditional theme and amicable atmosphere. With some sightseeing, breakfast, and a visit to a pub accomplished, our car arrived, and we departed.
We arrived at the Blue Stonecutter’s Cottage about 40 minutes later. It was a nice drive, and our driver was delightful, who even told us about the areas we drove through. The cottage, when we arrived, was “as cute as a button.” I mean, it was as if someone cut it out of a picture book about small countryside cottages in Ireland. It was far better than staying at a hotel or in the center of town. We were in a very rural area, a long walk from town, at a higher elevation, so it was chilly, windy, and powerfully pleasant. The cottage was adorable from the outside, and it was as if someone copied the inside from a magazine. It was everything we could have wanted. My mother stayed at the cottage for a month after we departed, so it was only a one-bedroom cottage but had adequate space for us all. The place was perfect, and the kitchen, bathroom, and living room were incredible, with a yard and shed with laundry. It was splendid for our visit to Ireland. I know most would select Dublin, Belfast, or an urban environment, but our cute place in Doolin was wicked fantastic.
After a few moments of settling in, we soon departed for Doolin town center under a cloudy sky. As I have said, it was around two miles to town, we had no car, and didn’t want to call a taxi every time we wanted to go to town, so we had prepared for lots of walking. While we did this walk several times during our stay, the first time was unlike all the rest because we observed some glorious scenery with fresh eyes. We marveled at Doonagore Castle, a 16th-century hilltop castle, and as you can see from the picture below, it is known for its sweeping views of the sea. This type of structure is unlike anything I get to see in the United States, and knowing that each time I walked to and from town, I would get to see this castle made for an exciting week.
After we made it to town, we walked around Doolin but grew hungry, so we went to McDermott’s Pub. It is a traditional Irish pub, and we ordered several starters and main courses. I, for one, ordered the steak, salad, and seafood chowder. It was delicious, setting an excellent food tempo for the rest of the trip. For a couple of hours, we ate, relaxed, and enjoyed the atmosphere. But, it had been a long first day, and we had a long hike back to the cottage. We departed McDermott’s Pub and, while walking about, observed the quant beauty of Doolin’s Main Street. After our return to the cottage, we had some hot chocolate and got comfortable by a wood stove and then, as we fell asleep, listened to the wind howl through the windows.
☘️ Day TWO ☘️
Although we did a lot of walking, we planned to explore Doolin, try the local cafe, and spend time with my mother on our second day in Ireland. We wanted to use this as a “whatever goes” kind of day. With the sun shining, we got dressed and walked into Doolin for breakfast. My mother suggested the Doolin Cafe because it was one of her favorite eateries. It is a vegan-friendly cafe with a great deli counter. I ordered a quiche, while my wife order salmon lox and French toast, and both of us ordered Americanos. With a nice decor, hospitable staff, and flavorful food, we started the day perfectly. We spent about an hour there, and soon after found ourselves strolling along Doolin’s Main Street and doing some window shopping. In need of another coffee and some pastry, we visited Stonewall Cafe for caffeine and a sweet treat as we walked around.
After a few hours of walking, we were ready for lunch. With my mother’s advice, we all visited the Doolin Deli. This eatery was a charming place, with tons of local products and a small deli counter with several seats to sit and eat. I ordered a tuna sandwich with chips, something simple and easy. We ate, chatted, and enjoyed the moment before departing and walking back to the cottage and getting a little rest before coming back down to the center of Doolin for some dinner and drinks, as well as live music.
That night, after spending some time in the cottage then having an enjoyable walk back to the center of Doolin, we went to Fitzpatrick’s Pub for dinner and drinks. We had a wonderful time laughing, listening to music, and eating. Once finished, we called a taxi since we were uncomfortable walking back to the cottage in the dark. It was a smart decision. We knew we had a lot of walking to do the next day. Once at the cottage, my mother made tea for my wife and herself, and I enjoyed some hot chocolate. This night was crisp, cool, and windy like the one before, and the cottage was so pleasant under these conditions. We slept very well each night in Ireland!
☘️ Day THREE ☘️
Visiting the Cliffs of Moher
While our second day might not have been exciting, our third certainly was. Located at the southwestern edge of the Burren region in Country Clare, Ireland, are sea cliffs. Known as the Burren & Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Geopark and part of the Global Geopark Network, the cliffs run for roughly nine miles. They raise 390 feet above the ocean at Hag’s Head, the southern end, and a maximum elevation of 702 feet slightly north of O’Brien’s Tower. With Doolin only four miles away, towards the north, visiting this beauty of the Irish coast was not only a must but a lifelong wish. The Cliffs of Moher are more than a “geographical and geological wonder.” They are a landmark and offer “a multi-faceted experience of Ireland’s incredible west coast.” The cliffs’ beauty is impossible to describe, but I have photos to assist me.
We woke in the morning and walked into Doolin for breakfast at the Doolin Inn. Offering coffee, a delicious breakfast of eggs, sausage, toast, and more, the Doolin Inn was across the street from the bus stop for our transportation to the Cliffs of Moher. The buses were slightly delayed because the morning had proved windy, and there was concern that the visitors center would close indefinitely. My wife and I were anxious and did not want to miss out on this opportunity to see the Cliffs of Moher. Soon after finishing our breakfast and waiting by the bus stop, our bus arrived. With the cliffs only four miles away, there was no need to make ourselves comfortable.
The weather was windy, a rain mist had set in, but we were excited. When the bus stopped at the primary location to drop us off, the driver informed us that the cliffs were closed. He asked if we still wanted to get out, and we said yes, deciding to take our chances. What other choice did we have? So, we departed the bus and walked to the visitor center. We learned that true, the Cliff Walk had closed, but that didn’t mean we couldn’t go. It was more like, go at your own risk. But the wind picked up something fierce, and the rain started to come down strong. Therefore, we decided to go into the visitor center and look around, hoping that sky would clear up. Within thirty minutes, the sky cleared, the rain stopped, but the wind continued. With wind but a cloudy sky breaking up, allowing for the sun to appear, we left the visitors center and headed for the Cliff Walk.
When we made it to the edge, what we observed was wondrous beyond expression. I had not seen a site of its equal, at least until a year later when I visited the Great Wall of China. Even as I made some references to The Princess Bride, the “Cliffs of Insanity,” and the inconceivable fact that Wesley made it to the top alive, jokes were far and few between as I marveled at the beautiful sight. Still, the wind was incredible. As we walked along the cliffs, to the south and then towards the north to O’Brien’s castle, built in 1835, the wind was a force of nature. I felt that if I jumped, the wind would carry me to Newfoundland. That’s how powerful it was. While at O’Brien’s castle, the three of us laughed as we could barely move because when we tried, we failed, and we could not navigate against the amazing winds. It was a wonderful memory, one I won’t forget. We walked in one of the most beautiful places in the world, and the wind, furious and ferocious, toyed with us to the point that our smiles, at that moment, are burned, happily, into my memory.
After this fantastic adventure, we had lunch, and more coffee, in the visitors center cafeteria. It was okay, and we bought extra sandwiches to go so that once back at the cottage, we could spend the night in, by the fire, and enjoy a meal with hot chocolate and tea. Once we finished our time at the Cliffs of Moher, we left, but instead of taking a bus, my mother wanted to walk. That’s right, walk the four miles back to Doolin. I voted against this, but my mother was excited, so we began our journey. The sun was shining, the temperature was pleasant, so I recognized nothing wrong with walking. After a couple of hours, we arrived at the cottage, exhausted but fulfilled. Our night was as I described and allowed us to put our heads on our pillows with ease, ready for another day of travel and adventure.
☘️ Day FOUR ☘️
The Wild Atlantic Way & Ballyvaughan
One of the big, albeit not that big, trips that my mom planned was a two-day journey to Ballyvaughan. We started the day with a quick breakfast at the cottage. Once we departed, we walked about a mile to the bus stop and, in a slow rain, waited no more than two minutes before the bus arrived. We climbed aboard and headed toward our destination. Before making our way to the coast from Doolin, and thus entering the Wild Atlantic Way, we drove through a couple of interesting towns like Lisdoonvarna, which is known for “annual matchmaking festival each September” referenced in the fourth season of Schitt’s Creek. Once through the town, the bus took us towards the coast for the scenic route. The ride is not long if you go from Doolin straight to Ballyvaughan. As this was our lone opportunity to venture along part of the world’s longest coastal route, which totals 1,553 miles, we happily took a long way. Of course, we only enjoyed a fraction of this, but it was beautiful.
Ballyvaughan is the middle of the Burren and on the south shore of Galway Bay. The town’s location is perfect for tourists whose trips include visits north to Galway or south to the Cliffs of Moher. We arrived around lunchtime and checked into our hotel, The Wild Atlantic Lodge, which is in the center of town and walkable to everything. We planned to get lunch at an eatery near the hotel but noticed a German food festival, so we decided to attend. But, first, we dropped off our bags with the hotel, packed light, and went to the festival before beginning our journey, and it was lovely. I tried some local spices, cheese, sausages, and bratwurst. It offered us some enjoyable company and food as we began our hike to the Ailwee Cave by way of the Wood Loop.
We began our trek along one section of the Wood Loop, comprised of “green lanes, woodland and cross country.” Here we explored “the valley behind the seaside village of Ballyvaughan” with views of the Burren’s “folded limestone layers.” While walking the entire loop was not in our plans, we chartered our path along one section that ran directly adjacent to the Ailwee Cave. It was rocky, but we passed by, and along with incredible open fields, it was terrific. Although we came to a fence at one point, I climbed over it, while my wife and mother discovered that one could easily open the square-shaped door and crawl through it. We had a fantastic time during our journey and observed beautiful scenery as we got closer to our ultimate destination.
I was excited to see the Ailwee Cave, as it has large stalactites and stalagmites and an underground river and waterfall. I have never been to a cave before, so this was a first for me. This particular cave is the oldest in the Burren at roughly 1.5 million years old and formed by meltwaters during the prehistoric ice age. If that sounds like something I would be interested in, you would be correct. After our hike along the Wood Loop, we made it to the Ailwee Cave. First, we had a post-hike Angelito ice cream, bought tickets, and waited for our turn to enter the cave system.They only allow a certain amount of people in each group. They warn people, several times, that you go deep into the cave, so if anyone was nervous or susceptible to claustrophobia or dark spaces, they should reconsider joining. My wife did look concerned at that point, although my mother was eager and ready. For me, I was ready, although I kept thinking about the film The Descent. That is not the type of film you want to think about before you go into a cave!
The tour of the cave was amazing. The guide led us through as she told us the story of its formation and, at one point, turned off the lights, and we were surrounded by 100% darkness. That was pretty freaky. I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. I can’t say I liked it, but it was an experience. The tour lasted roughly thirty minutes, and I would suggest wearing boots and having a coat because it is slippery and cold. After the tour, we visited the gift shop and sat down for lunch in the visitor center cafe. We were able to find a seat upstairs and away from other patrons, so it was quiet, and we had a nice view of the Burren through the large windows. As we left, we decided to get our second Angelito ice cream of the day because “when in Rome.” We helped ourselves to three cones, sat outside, marveled at the view, and reflected on the cave tour. Then, before we knew it, we started our hike back to town, going the same way we came, but like all journeys, we felt it was faster getting back than coming. Maybe it was the anticipation, or because going, I was clueless at how far we still needed to go, unlike our return. No matter, as we laughed and talked during our walk back, we felt accomplished and happy excited about the path ahead.
On our return to Ballyvaughan, we went back to the hotel to freshen up before going out for dinner by the sea. Dressed comfortably, yet lovely, we went to Monks restaurant, which serves delicious seafood and more, but is located at the heart of the Wild Atlantic Way and adjacent to Ballyvaughan Discovery Point. To say the food was excellent is an understatement. It was freaking fantastic. I tried soup, mussels, and baked salmon, while my wife and mother tried the fish and chips, seafood chowder, mussels, and clam linguini. We had walked for a while that day, so the food, and beer, definitely flowed as we sat, talked, ate, and observed the beautiful ocean scenery. It made me feel like home, made me miss the house I grew up in by the ocean, and made me feel full—a perfect way to conclude our day in Ballyvaughan.
☘️ Day FIVE ☘️
Morning in Ballyvaughan & Evening in Doolin
As we woke up in Ballyvaughan, on our fifth day in Ireland, the weather was horrific with pouring rain, so we slept later. When we did get up, officially (we were awoken at 2 am to the false fire alarms going off), we headed down to the hotel dining room for breakfast. The restaurant was adequate, with good food and caffeinated coffee, so I wasn’t one to complain. I had my usual travel breakfast of eggs, toast, home fries, and fruit, while my wife tried an omelet. My mother stayed back in bed for a little longer but eventually met us for tea and breakfast as we finished up. We relaxed in the restaurant for a while before departing for a walk around town in the pouring rain. We walked by St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, which had stunning gothic architecture dating back to the mid-1800s.
After walking around for a bit, we decided to be like good Hobbits and have a second breakfast, visiting The Larder for some pastry, quiche, coffee, and other goodies. We used this opportunity to escape the rain and enjoy the local chatter, as each table was full. After an hour, we left, braving the rain, and headed back to the hotel to check out and wait for our bus to Doolin. It had been an incredible 24 hours in Ballyvaughan, but our time, though busy from start to end, had come to its conclusion. As we boarded the bus and departed the town, I could not stop thinking of our Ailwee Cave journey. To this day, that entire expedition was one of my favorite travel moments.
When we returned to Doolin, the bus dropped off us much closer to our cottage, which was great since it was still raining and we had to walk. But this cut our travel time down significantly. We returned to the cottage, did laundry, and rested. At night, we headed back to Doolin. With our boots on, we made our way to town for dinner, but more importantly, drinks and live music. We went to Gus O’Connor’s Pub and had a brilliant time. We stayed for several hours and ate delicious pub food, as well as drank excellent craft beer, as we chatted with other patrons, both local and tourist, and listened to live music. With time getting later, we called a taxi and made our way back to the cottage, where our night ended.
☘️ Day SIX ☘️
Aran Islands & Final Day
All good things must come to an end. On the morning of our last full day, we got up and got breakfast in Doolin. Of course, we walked our regular trek to town, went to the Doolin Market, and got some coffee and food. We had a scheduled ferry time for our trip to Inis Oírr or Inisheer, the smallest of the Aran Islands. Getting there was incredibly easy, as Doolin has a pier with vessels ferrying/transporting tourists, and others, to all the islands. We chose to go to Inisheer for several reasons. It is my mother’s favorite, it’s the closest to the mainland, and it’s the smallest, so we could do everything we wanted without sacrificing our exploring time to rigorous travel. We arrived at the Doolin Pier with a coffee or tea in our hands, and in a cold rain, we waited for our boarding time. Once aboard, we sat at the front of the ferry and, after departing, it took less than twenty minutes to get there. That’s the Doolin Express!
Once on dry land, we decided to forgo any transportation mode to get around the island and walked. I know, it seems like we walked most of this trip, but it was an excellent and patient way to see sites. Off the ferry and away from the pier, we headed to the east side of the island, observing Cnoc Raithní, a Bronze Age burial mound that dates back to 1500 BCE. We explored An Tur Faire (Tower Ruin), Caislean Ui Bhriain, and finally, the Plessey shipwreck, which is pretty cool. The Plessey is a ship that ran aground in 1960, and the remains, significantly rusted, have been stuck at this location ever since. We were able to get pretty close. On our way to the wreckage, we did observe a tractor fire, which was random, but while no one was hurt, the tractor was destroyed. We later learned from the hotdog vendor at the Plessey wreck that it was a new tractor, a terrible loss to the local farmer, who suspected faulty wiring.
After walking around, sightseeing, and spending time enjoying ocean breezes, we headed back to the pier for lunch. After lunch, we walked around for a little longer. With the weather once again showing signs of rain, we took the next ferry back to Doolin. Since we had an early taxi to the airport in the morning, we wanted to spend time at the cottage, relaxing and enjoying the incredible vibe. After we landed in Doolin, we got some sandwiches from the Doolin Market to bring back to the cottage, enjoyed a final Angelito ice cream, and purchased snacks for the walk. That night was relaxing, as my wife, mother, and I sat and talked about the trip and felt pleased with what we had accomplished.
☘️ Conclusion ☘️
While exploring County Clare, Ireland, my wife and I observed a beautiful country, which means so much to my mother. We allowed her to “take the wheel,” as they say, and plan our itinerary. Sure, we didn’t get to see some of the big cities like Galway, Dublin, or Belfast in Northern Ireland. But we visited unique locations that I, for one, will never forget. I do not pretend to think that this was my only time visiting Ireland. Therefore, seeing every country’s region was unnecessary, and I observed those I did explore with a much deeper appreciation. I know my mother will continue her visits to Ireland, and when she lands in Dublin, my wife and I will be there to share another journey with her. Let’s push through this pandemic and once it’s in the rearview mirror, let’s stamp that passport to Ireland again.
Cover Image by Jesse Gardner on Unsplash