Erin go Bragh! Ireland Recap. 1-19-2018

Hello lovely friends!! Fáilte!

A week in Ireland with the whole fam damily. We left January 9 and came back January 16. My dad and sister and I planned this trip as a surprise for the other four who joined us (my youngest sister, step mom, my boyfriend Patrick and my sister’s boyfriend Erik). This was also Patrick’s 30th birthday gift from me 🙂 Shall we begin the tour??

Day One: We flew out of Chicago O’Hare direct non-stop to Dublin Ireland. It was just under a 7 hour flight, and Ireland is 6 hours ahead of us in CST. Obviously we needed a pre-flight drink to get us all excited!! IMG_20180109_200300_529We landed in Dublin at about 9:00am on Wednesday morning, the 10th. Now, I should point out, we were traveling as a group of 7. Each with a checked bag and a carry on, minimum. So, naturally, we needed to rent a HUGE mini-bus (as they call it). It was an 9-passenger van and it was tall and massive and hilarious. But it served its purpose, and we were able to traverse across the country….. not exactly with ease though. Not only was it a manual shift bus, but obviously in Ireland, they drive on the right side of the car and the left side of the road. It proved to be an interesting and sometimes difficult time for my dad driving, especially with how much it rains in Ireland!IMG_20180116_112435

Above is a hilarious picture of my dad “driving”. But I digress…

We rented our van, and immediately drove down from Dublin to Kilkenny. After we dropped off the bags at our first hotel, what did we do first?? Obviously we hit up Smithwick’s Brewery!! It’s not particularly my favorite beer, but the red ale was exactly what I wanted after such a long journey across the pond. IMG_20180110_162500_886We saw the most epic sign ever!! But then realized that Dunnes Stores are all over Ireland. That kinda makes us super famous right??IMG_20180110_171829We stopped for our first bite in a cute little area of Kilkenny, and had our first traditional Irish meal. But we were EXHAUSTED, so we headed back to the hotel and hung out in the pool area for awhile before crashing!
IMG_20180110_180218Just look at these lovebirds ❤IMG_20180110_203610IMG_20180110_203924We woke up the next morning and went for a wonderful run along the river. It was between 30-50 degrees the entire trip, so it was a nice change from the CHILLY Wisconsin cold! IMG_20180111_092427My loooove.IMG_20180111_092657After our run, we had breakfast at the hotel. It was wonderful and delicious and food was happily received since we hadn’t had a normal eating schedule for probably 18 hours after the long flight, the time change, weird sleep, etc.

And then we looked over and saw THIS GUY peeking through the window begging for food. I died. Ded.IMG_20180111_103827After breakfast, we headed to Kilkenny Castle for a tour. It was GORGEOUS and the history that our tour guide knew was incredible; he was clearly a historian, not just a tour guide, and had been working with/at this castle since the mid-80’s. I wish he could’ve followed us all around Ireland! IMG_20180111_120127IMG_20180111_120218And then… WE HIT THE JACKPOT.

Our 2nd night was at Ashford Castle, and I can’t even tell you that these pictures do not do it justice. I didn’t even take as many photos as I should have, I was just in awe of the majesty and beauty of this incredible hotel. It’s an 800-year old castle that was recently converted into a hotel. We each got our own rooms, the employees at this hotel were the most accommodating and friendly people I have ever met, and we all could not find a SINGLE THING to complain about (not that it was our goal!). IMG_20180111_181739Everything. Every detail. Just stunning and so breathtaking. IMG_20180111_190028_289Slippers, bathrobes, heated bathroom floors, the most plush comforters and pillows, turn down service, homemade chocolates and lemonade, and they even sanitized the TV remote (no we didn’t watch any TV – how could we!! We had a castle to explore!).IMG_20180111_193748We enjoyed THREE bottles of complimentary champagne in their rustic dark-wood-covered lounge, and some incredibly delicious, unique cocktails before we got dinner. 00011XTR_00011_BURST20180111193704This castle just keeps getting better. There are two HUGE Irish wolfhounds that live on the castle grounds. I couldn’t even tell you their names, because they were in Gaelic, but I’ll try and remember them as I keep typing this LOL.

The first thing they told us was that they walk the dogs every  morning throughout the castle grounds for about an hour, and you can join them at 8:30am SHARP. So of course DUH we were there! Oh, and the castle was surrounded by a moat. 🙂IMG_20180112_083505The most necessary water break.IMG_20180112_084456It was such a fun walk around the castle, through the mud and through their (of course) huge and Lord of The Rings-esque forest. They gave us all rain coats and galoshes to wear, you guys. Can you say hospitable?!IMG_20180112_090710IMG_20180112_161552_799After the dog walk (the best part of my life), we went for a short jog through Cong, a neighboring city adjacent to Ashford Castle’s boundary line. It was the place where they filmed the movie “The Quiet Man,” so everything was decorated or named after something like that, it seemed. IMG_20180112_095958And yes, they have a huge incredible gorgeous spa and pool, complete with an all-rock steam room (which we enjoyed) and sauna. I mean c’mon, what else would you expect from a 5-star castle?!IMG_20180112_123443IMG_20180112_123454They even piped music in through underneath the water so you could hear it while you swam.PANO_20180112_122831
Sadly, our time at Ashford had to come to an end. 😦 But not before Patrick and I got in our own silly game of Chess. I ALMOST WON, but didn’t. Of course he won… 🙂IMG_20180112_134741We’ll miss you forever and always, Ashford!! You stole our hearts! And so did your doggies 🙂IMG_20180112_161552_801We drove through the afternoon after leaving County Mayo where Ashford Castle is all the way North to Sligo. We got in town very late, so we just had dinner and crashed at our hotel (sorry no photos were taken).

But the next morning we had a delicious and completely perfect breakfast at the restaurant next door (all included too!). It was a wonderful rebound from the royalty food we were privileged to eat at Ashford (haha!).IMG_20180113_092756We kept driving through the day to Derry (or Londonderry, depending on who you are- since Northern Ireland became part of the United Kingdom, they put ‘London’ in front of the name of the city). This city is the 2nd largest city in Northern Ireland, so we officially had entered the UK at this point. If you don’t know much about the separation between Northern Ireland (UK) and the Republic of Ireland, I would highly recommend reading about it. It’s fascinating! IMG_20180113_130720After walking around the city for awhile, we headed to our next city, Bushmills! But before we hit up the distillery (oh, you bet we did), we visited another…. CASTLE! (It’s the theme of the trip). The next castle was Dunluce Castle, or at least what was left of her. These ruins were stunning and vast, and it was incredible to see where parts of the castle used to lay and what is remaining. Breathtaking.IMG_20180113_145614_753IMG_20180113_193724_572The views were spectacular!IMG_20180113_145923And yes, then we zoomed over to Bushmills for their whiskey distillery tour!! It was a blast, and we had the tour guide all to ourselves, as we naturally jumped on the last tour of the day. They also gave each of us a sample of whiskey, and they had 5 options or two different cocktails we could try, including a spinoff of a whiskey margarita (my favorite!)IMG_20180113_153025_324Regal gentlemen.
Regal, gentlemen.
IMG_20180113_162836_972I never have really been a whiskey drinker, but learning about this wonderful company and listening to our Irish tour guide’s brogue was enough for me to slowly love it 🙂IMG_20180113_164857_914After we warmed up with the delicious whiskey, we headed to Carrickfergus for two nights at a lovely little bed and breakfast. And this city’s name was by far our favorite to say throughout the trip haha! We dropped our things off and headed to their city center for some dinner. IMG_20180113_204422We got up the next morning and saw the Carrickfergus castle on our morning walk (it was closed due to a HARRY POTTER WIZARDING WEEKEND that I unfortunately could not attend 😥 ). We then climbed back into our mini bus and headed down to Belfast for a day touring the big city!IMG_20180114_105739We took a short bus tour around the city and learned a LOT about the history of Ireland, and got to see the majority of their wall of murals. It was incredible, the artistry this city had! There were murals and paintings and graffiti everywhere, but not in the run-down way you’d imagine. They were all incredibly beautiful and well-done, and it actually reminded me a decent amount of Berlin when we were there in October (yes, that blog is still to come! I’m sorry for failing on that promise!)IMG_20180114_133823_200That evening, we toured a gaol (jail) in Belfast. Their now-closed Crumlin Road Jail closed in 1996 and walking through the halls and cells that some prisoners were living in (in my lifetime!) was bone-chilling at times. Reading about some of the stories about the inmates and hearing the alleged “ghost” tales from our tour guide made this a really fun tour for sure!IMG_20180114_160849IMG_20180114_164833_618IMG_20180114_215418_303After that tour, we headed back to our B&B for some more rest before our last full day in Ireland, Monday the 15th. We woke up and went for a short run, then visited the Carrickfergus Castle again (now that the HP weekend was over, SAD). It was HUGE and beautiful and right on the Belfast Lough (their sea inlet). IMG_20180115_111329_751We then drove down to Dublin, for our last night. Now, Ireland only has daylight hours from about 9am until 4pm, so we got there when it was already dark haha. But it was still a wonderful night walking around and touring the city on foot!

Patrick, Erik, Manda, Gracee and I all walked from our hotel to Trinity College, which was gorgeous and lively at night!
IMG_20180115_185712_868IMG_20180115_190419_579We stopped to get dinner at a popular and VERY well-reviewed place for dinner called Quay’s (pronounced Kay’s) and it did not disappoint! IMG_20180115_193343_995IMG_20180115_194757All of us were sad about this being our last night in Ireland, so we made sure we each got something very Irish and traditional for dinner haha.

Our last morning, we woke up bright and early, grabbed breakfast quickly, and headed down to Trinity College again to see the Book of Kells.  It’s a VERY old manuscript of the four Gospel all in Latin. It was gorgeous and incredibly old and damaged, but surprisingly they were able to restore some/most of the pages so they could present them in this area. Obviously we couldn’t take pictures there.

But we were able to take photos in their HUGE library above the exhibition. It was literally like Beauty and the Beast. I was blown away and wanted to live there for a whole month and just look at all the books they collected and displayed.IMG_20180116_101658_645They even had the oldest-known harp ever found in Ireland, named after Bryan Boru. As a kid, my dad always joked saying that our 8th-great grandfather was the King of Ireland in his time. Well obviously the timing on that number doesn’t pan out, BUT we could secretly be royalty in our bloodline and just not know it yet??IMG_20180116_101515_221Our vacation was busy and messy and we were in the car a LOT. But it was beautiful and epic and we saw yet another side of a culture that makes up half of my heritage. I’m so glad everybody had a great trip and I cannot wait for the next adventure across the pond to another place where we can explore ❤IMG_20180116_142219_978I hope you guys enjoyed reading!! I’m still reveling in how fast our trip went!
AND JET LAG IS REAL.

Love, xoxo,

Shannon

Instagram: @fitnessbyshannon

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