A few years ago when we contemplated a trip to Ireland, we realized there would be a lot of driving involved and that we would want to do a lot of hiking. So with two babies in tow, we decided to put it off a few years. So when close friends recently invited us to spend a few days with them in Ireland, we decided it was time. Our kids are old enough to sustain long car journeys and we’ve done enough traveling to know what works and doesn’t. I never doubted the fact that Ireland would be a special place for us to visit.
The verdict? Ireland is a lovely country for traveling families. Great people, great food, easy to travel around. My children’s eyes were wide open as we discovered new places and they showed more interest in our travels than ever before. Before our visit to our friends, we decided to spend a few days exploring the country on our own.
Getting to Ireland is easy. We flew directly into Shannon via Aer Lingus, which was a relatively smooth flight from JFK. We got in early, rented a car and headed straight to Fitzgerald’s Woodlands House Hotel, located in Adare, a small rural village in southwestern Ireland just outside Limerick. Minutes from Adare Manor Golf Club and within easy driving distances of many attractions, Shannon International Airport and Limerick City, the hotel offers spacious rooms and suites, all inclusive of a full Irish breakfast, complimentary parking, free WIFI access and full access to a Leisure Center that’s equipped with a swimming pool and steam room. Our room was incredibly comfortable, although in need of a décor update. Yet the hotel has a small world feeling that makes for a cozy stay, perfect for Irish newbies like us. We devoured their Irish breakfast every morning, complete with Irish pudding and sausages. For kids, they offer a kid’s club, game room and pool, which were extra nice features during our short visit.
During our stay in the Limerick area, we made visits to Bunratty Castle & Folk Park and King John’s Castle. Both were great adventures and took up several hours of time. They were excellent ways to orientate all of us to the history and heritage of Ireland.
Bunratty is one of Ireland’s biggest tourism destinations, featuring a village of recreated buildings from the 1800s like a doctor’s office, school, farm house, shops and kitchen. The castle itself is impressive and historic. We wandered around the dungeon, captain’s quarter and great hall. It certainly felt older than anything we’ve seen in America! While there, we enjoyed a delicious lunch at MacNamara’s Pub, filled with real Irish homemade dishes and great ale. It was a great day.
King John’s Castle re-opened a few months ago after a major renovation and we were happy to explore the 800 year-old castle on a rainy day in Limerick. This Castle, built on the orders of King John in the early 13th century, occupies a commanding position on the southern bank of the River Shannon, on what was the site of an earlier Viking settlement. It’s a five-sided castle, with high curtain walls surrounding a rectangular yard, it has been repaired and rebuilt many times over the years to be used as a garrison, particularly after being severely damaged in the Siege of Limerick 1642. The exhibit inside offers a lot of detail about the history of the sieges, which changed Ireland’s fate and about the medieval structure, and we all, fortunately, found it interesting.
We then drove from Adare to Dingle, which was a certified adventure, driving down curvy, rugged roads past sheep and cows. Dingle neighbors the Ring of Kerry, where we were heading next to stay with friends. We were driving to the west coast of Ireland, and I had no idea that I was about to experience such raw, rugged beauty. In Dingle, the sea was so blue, the grass so green. As we made our way, driving onto the peninsula and into the small town filled with painted shops and pubs, a harbor with sailing boats and a famous dolphin, I was ready to take in the dynamic setting with a pint of Guinness. When we pulled into our hotel, the Dingle Skellig Hotel & Peninsula Spa, we were exhausted from the journey and ready to take it all in.
Our stay at this uniquely beautiful hotel was the perfect place to rest our heads on our second night in Ireland. Located right on the Dingle Bay, it’s contemporary and clean, the rooms are spacious, the views are spectacular and there are cows outside your window. It’s quintessential Irish with a lovely staff and traditional music at the bar come nighttime. But best of all, the hotel is extremely family-friendly. From the minute we stepped in, my kids were thrilled to be offered options such as – a game room with Wii and XBox, a nice-sized swimming pool and Jacuzzi, the Funghi Kid’s Club (free of charge) and enough space in our room to spread out and play. Our bed was so large that my daughter was able to crawl in between us when she couldn’t sleep. The rooms are tastefully decorated and very cozy, making us feel quite at home. The staff neatly set up two single beds in the corner of the room for my kids and after a long day and night of enjoying the hotel, they passed out. The room rate comes with a full Irish breakfast, and there was something for all of us to eat, from cereal to cheese to capers to poached eggs and pancakes.
After a morning hike with the kids on the Bay passing by ruins and old farmhouses, my husband and I treated ourselves to a bit of R&R. Having just come from America a few days prior, it was time to relax in the hotel’s professional spa. I had a nail treatment and he had a massage. We both loved being pampered at the start of our vacation, and more importantly, it gave me a chance to spend time with a local Irish girl. The beautician had grown up in Dingle and never left. She told me Irish stories, folktales and myths. Then my
husband and I reconnected at the end of our experiences and spent time in the outside Jacuzzi. Had we had a glass of champagne, it would have been perfect! But it was still perfection and an experience I won’t forget anytime soon – relaxing and dreaming about Ireland in a jacuzzi overlooking Dingle Bay. The spa offers all kinds of treatments, from facials to massages to body treatments and I can’t recommend it enough.
After our stay (it was hard for us all to leave), we spent time walking around the quaint village in the center of town. We had lunch and spoke to the cafe’s owner who was very forthcoming about her life, reconfirming my feeling that Irish folk are just lovely, and then we wandered around the shops. A creek runs through the center of town and it’s simply charming. We bought snowmobiles, painted seashells and books for the kids and then headed to the Ring of Kerry to see our friends.
Disclosure: I was provided with a complimentary room at Fitzgeralds Woodlands House Hotel and the Dingle Skellig Hotel and tickets to facilitate my reviews at the castles by Shannon Heritage. However, as always, my opinions are my own.