I’ll admit it took me a bit to warm to Ireland. The gloomy, temperamental weather and its sad chronicles left me feeling blue. But the tinge of melancholy that gripped me during our first few days evaporated once we started hiking along the sea, and when our children arrive in Shannon for week two, not even a wailing banshee can dampen my spirits. We’re now a merry band of four and head straight for Dublin. We can’t be in Ireland without seeing it’s storied capital, so we spend just two nights and a full day there, all of us anxious to return to the countryside. We visit Trinity College, have a pub lunch in the Temple Bar neighborhood, make the much-anticipated visit to the Guinness Storehouse with its 365-degree views over the city and where Joe, Chris and Caroline create blond mustaches from the frothy brew. We then enjoy a delicious dinner on the third floor of a trendy restaurant along the recently rainbow-flagged River Leffey. The constant cries of seagulls punctuate our meal and we’re serenaded by the folk songs of buskers on the street below.
We say goodbye to Dublin and head south for a night in the colorful harbor town of Kinsale, known for its fine seafood, which does not disappoint. I must have imagined that the Emerald Isle would be all about corned beef, cabbage and boiled potatoes because its plentiful and varied seafood caught me off guard. You would think that the fact that the country is an island with hundreds of miles of coastline would have given me a clue. Over the course of our two weeks, we enjoy shrimp, oysters, prawns and mussels; hake, halibut, trout and John Dory; cockles, scallops, lobster and amazing Dingle crab.
Next up after Kinsale is the requisite stop at Blarney Castle where we ascend the corkscrewed stone stairway to kiss the fabled stone lying on our backs. The gift of gab bestowed by Blarney, Joe drives us across the hedgerowed countryside miles of Ireland on the left-hand side of the road and only swipes an unexpected village curb once, taking a nice bite from the tire. Fingers crossed that Enterprise won’t notice. In the evenings and while on the road, I resurrect what was a Bohr family vacation tradition when the kids were young: reading a book aloud. We have The Misremembered Man for this trip – a bittersweet story about the quest for love by two Irish forty-somethings to put us in the mood for rural Ireland. The characters and their quirky expressions have us alternately laughing out loud and on the verge of tears. “And may the sun always rise on your pig” declares Rose McFadden, one of the stories most colorful characters as she bids farewell to her neighbor, and thus we have our catchphrase for the balance of our week. We arrive in the idyllic town of Kenmare, a jewel on the Ring of Kerry at the head of the bay, for a relaxing two-night stay.
By the time we arrive for a six-mile hike along the towering Cliffs of Moher and then settle in at Gregans Castle Hotel (and where J.R.R. Tolkien once stayed while writing The Lord of the Rings), we’re fully ensconced in a bucolic, Irish mindset. We spend two nights at Gregans in the middle of the Burren, Ireland’s barren, limestone territory. The picture window of our sumptuous splurge hotel looks over a pink and purple garden, cows grazing in the meadow beyond and then the rolling, rocky hills. With its many fireplaces, warm, inviting bar area and country manor decor, it’s by far the nicest place we stayed on our trip. It’s one of those inns that make the decision of whether to stay and relax where we lay our heads or get out and explore the surrounding countryside so difficult.
Joe and I tell each other and the kids many times that we must return to Ireland just so we can stay at Gregans again. But we also must return for more than two weeks to drive the entire Wild Atlantic Way along the western coast, explore more of the peninsulas and hike the Blasket and Aran islands. On the day we planned our voyage to Great Blasket, the wind gods were too cross and the sea too rough to venture out in a boat. And of course, we must revisit to once again bask in the warm embrace of the Irish people who were uniformly kind, forever funny and always welcoming. Dear Ireland, may the sun always rise on your pig.