1,813 kilometers, seven days, six hotels, untold pints of Guinness, countless castles and innumerable sheep—that’s what a counterclockwise road trip around Ireland looks like. I’ll admit it was an aggressive itinerary we envisaged: from Dublin to Belfast, Belfast to Ballymote via the Giant’s Causeway, Sligo to Galway via the Connemara Peninsula, Galway to Kenmare via the Dingle Peninsula, Kenmare to Kilkenny via the Ring of Kerry, and then Kilkenny to the Dublin International Airport. Sleep would be sacrificed for sightseeing, and sightseeing would be sacrificed for driving onward, ever onward, around the Emerald Isle.
But sometimes, particularly when you are compelled to see as much of a country as possible in a limited period of time, a frenetic pace is required. Prior to heading off across the Atlantic, I read an article in a travel magazine that encouraged its readers visiting Ireland to take the opposite approach. Go visit the Ring of Kerry, the author advised, but be sure to spend five days there. Maybe you can squeeze in a drive around the Dingle Peninsula, but be careful you don’t overdo it. Soak up Ireland slowly, leisurely, and contemplatively in one setting.
Of course, that’s sound advice for a certain type of person who wants to experience a certain type of trip. But that wasn’t going to be us—not this time, at least. My traveling companion and I were going to try to hit all of the highlights in one fell swoop with Guinness, beef and Guinness stew and Guinness-battered bread to sustain us. It was only during the final night of our trip, while cozied up in the corner of a Kilkenny bar as a band sang a lively rendition of Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On,” that a Galway native, upon hearing me recount all of the places we had seen the previous six days, looked me in the eye and said: “You’re crazy.”
Day 1: Dublin (0 km / 0 miles)
There’s a pub on every city street in Dublin, Ireland; I’m convinced. Walk far enough down the block, past the red brick houses with their black shutters and the narrow, cobblestone streets filled with flower carts and shuffling pedestrians, past the venerable stone churches and the street quartet playing classical music under a mural depicting James Joyce’s greatest literary works, and you are certain to encounter a sign hanging over a door beckoning you to step inside the Hairy Lemon, or the Old Storehouse, or the Temple Bar—each of which I visited my first day in Ireland.
I had been in Dublin for all of three hours when, while grabbing a pint and sharing a charcuterie plate at the Temple Bar with Angela, my road trip partner-in-crime for the week, I realized that people are happier here. The server brought us free samples of stout; a celebratory group of men asked to take a picture with us—or maybe we asked them, hard to recall; fellow Temple Bar patrons sang songs, slung their arms around one another, lifted their mugs, smiled, and laughed deep-throated, genuine laughs. I looked around at the ebullient crowd in that sort of bemused and cynical way typical of residents of large cities on the east coast of the United States, and I thought: How novel. How pleasantly disarming. I like this place.
After lunch we embarked on an afternoon sightseeing binge knowing that we had all of 24 hours in Dublin. We ambled through Trinity College’s grounds to check out its long and imposing Library and squint at the Book of Kells, a 9th century book of the Christian Gospel widely acknowledged as a masterwork of calligraphy and Ireland’s finest national treasure. We walked past the General Post Office, famed headquarters of the Irish nationalists during the Easter Rebellion of 1916, which is located on a busy artery of downtown Dublin. Buses whizzed by; cars honked; and people jostled to move past me as I scanned the building’s façade for bullet holes nearly 100-years-old.
At the National Museum of Ireland, my inner child lit up with fascination and glee at the sight of the bog bodies exhibit—room after dimly lit room filled with the sinewy arms, torsos and heads of victims of human sacrifice, such as Cashel Man who lived and died in the Early Bronze Age around 2000BC, or unfortunate souls who were simply mired in peat bogs centuries ago. I gaped; I smiled; I exclaimed aloud, “This is so cool!” approximately 42 times. And thus was born an enduring fascination with the power of the peat bog—a subject that will resurface on day 4 of this journey.
Day 2: Dublin to Belfast (160 km / 100 miles)
I awoke on the top bunk of a bed in The Dean Hotel—one of those new, trendy boutiques seemingly modeled after the Ace Hotel brand where DJs play club music in the first floor lobby after 9pm and espresso is served all day by a modelesque barista and housekeeping is informed that you would prefer to continue sleeping by signs that say “Feck off & don’t disturb!”—and I thought: “Today it begins.”
Immediately, my mind ran through a mental checklist of all we needed to see and do prior to collecting our rental car at the Dublin International Airport’s Avis branch: First, visit Dublin Castle, originally built in the 12th century during the days of King John, later seat of the United Kingdom’s government administration in Ireland, now a major Irish government complex; second, visit the Kilmainham Gaol where many Irish revolutionaries, including the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rebellion, were imprisoned and executed by the British; and third, stop by the Guinness Storehouse, home of all things Guinness.
And so that’s what we did. Over the span of a couple of hours, I stood in the inner courtyard of a castle whose foundation was built nine hundred years ago; I tried to imagine what it must have felt like to await the firing squad in a cold, damp prison cell wondering if the nationalist cause you were fighting—and now dying—for would ever be realized; and I marveled at the global reach of the Guinness empire as I walked around six floors of merchandise, memorabilia and interactive displays recounting the history of this Irish dry stout. Only in Dublin.
Belfast, though, Belfast would be different. If Dublin were home to smiling, singing Irishmen who tipped their hat to you in the middle of the street and practically hugged you as you stepped inside their shop, Belfast was home to something grittier and darker, toughened by the infamous Troubles that only ended with the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, which some will contest has not even ended at all given the sporadic violence that continues today in Northern Ireland. This was what I told myself as we drove north. These were the expectations of someone whose primary understanding of Northern Ireland had been shaped by U2 and the research conducted to write a Master’s thesis on nationalist-separatist terrorism. There is the Republic of Ireland, and then there is Northern Ireland: Two countries, two governments, two currencies, and two religions located on one island. The reality is that I did not even notice a sign indicating that I had entered Northern Ireland, just a subtle change of highway names and a new cell phone carrier.
It was only when we checked into the Malmaison and asked the receptionist if she could book us a Black Taxi Tour for the following morning and where’s the best place to grab a good bite to eat around here that she looked at us wide-eyed and said: “The Twelfth of July parades are tomorrow. Everything’s going to be closed, you know. Pubs close tonight at 10 o’clock. There’s a curfew. They want everyone off the streets.” “Why?” we asked, fairly ignorant of the fact that our 24-hour stay in Belfast coincided precisely with the one day of the year when Loyalist and Republican tension—the same tension the Good Friday Agreement purportedly snuffed out—was at its highest. Actually, I should clarify, we knew that July 12 marked the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne, fought in 1690 when Protestant Prince William of Orange landed in Ireland as part of the fight against the Catholic King James II. We knew the historical significant of the date. We did not realize, however, that July 12 is fraught with a type of ethno-religious tension that harkens back to the Troubles era with its car bombs and Molotov cocktails. “There are going to be huge bonfires all over the loyalist side of town,” the receptionist said. “Lots of drinking; lots of fighting tonight.” I am unsure what my face conveyed at that moment, but the inner monologue in my head was saying: Well, if I’m going to be in Belfast, I might as well get the full experience.
Day 3: Belfast to Ballymote via the Giant’s Causeway (300 km / 186 miles)
It was early on during our 90-minute black taxi tour of the political murals of Belfast that I decided this was among the most enlightening things I had done in recent memory. The remnants of colossal pyres lay smoldering in a heap; friends sat in lawn chairs in front of bonfires now on their last leg, tired flames licking upwards under the blue sky of an early morning. We were in Loyalist territory, gazing at murals of William of Orange and caricatures of U.D.F. members, listening to an anecdote about the Red Hand of Ulster, standing in a working class neighborhood where every block of houses resembled the next and everything felt perfectly normal. Hop in the car, drive a couple of minutes crossing nondescript streets, pass through an open gate that functions as a portal during the day and a barrier at night, and suddenly you are now in Republican territory staring at political murals of I.R.A. members who starved themselves to death while languishing in jail. Both communities have their martyrs; both communities claim abuse at the hands of the other; both communities are separated by walls and gates that function in the interest of the people because some of the people still seethe on occasion. Belfast does have an edge. I could feel it as I stood there on the side of the road, scanning mural after mural, trying to imagine the sectarian violence and the suffering and the stories that gave rise to this art. Belfast is also a city actively working on regeneration. From the masterful Titanic Belfast exhibition on the site of the former shipyard where the RMS Titanic was built to the bustling weekend market at St. George’s where jam vendors set up shop alongside antiques stalls which are next to guys hawking curry and fresh seafood, the city is refreshing because it feels so uniquely alive and emotionally raw, capable of capricious change at any moment.
And then, just as I was starting to understand her, it was time to say goodbye to Belfast.
We headed north early in the afternoon, our destination the Giant’s Causeway—hexagonal columns of hardened basaltic lava formed 60 million years ago or alternatively, as legend has it, a stone walkway to Scotland built by an Irish giant named Finn McCool. An hour outside of Belfast, we exited the highway and drove down a two-lane road through verdant countryside, past the Old Bushmills Distillery with its tempting lure of whiskey tastings until we reached the coast and the 40,000 UNESCO-protected, interlocking basalt columns that awaited. Nearly all of the pictures I had seen of the Giant’s Causeway illustrate an otherworldly geological formation bereft of people. On the temperate summer afternoon of our visit, however, the latter was decidedly untrue. The columns were teeming with life as children hopped from one rock to the next and adults hurried after them. The shot I wanted to take with my camera—a panorama of black and tan hexagonal rocks juxtaposed against an angry sea, void of people, a furious collision of rock, water and sky since time immemorial—was not to be. For a moment I was overcome with frustration. (Admittedly, I recognize the irony of being frustrated with finding someplace UNESCO has deemed worthy of protecting—and therefore popularizing—popular). I thought maybe we should book a room at the Causeway Hotel just up the hill so that I can run down to these rocks at first light to take that exact picture before the hoards descend, but then reality prevailed. We had further kilometers to drive that afternoon. We had (nearly) an entire island to cover. The Giant’s Causeway was one stop among many, and the pictures would convey the scene for what it really was: a unique formation of a bunch of rocks set amidst steep cliffs strewn with bright green vegetation that is no longer a secret to anyone traveling in Northern Ireland.
Day 4: Ballymote to Galway via the Connemara Peninsula (284 km / 177 miles)
I opened my eyes in a small guest bedroom in someone else’s house—specifically, the Millhouse Bed and Breakfast—in rural Ballymote, Ireland, more than 3 hours to the southwest of the Giant’s Causeway. And, as was to be the case for the next few days, I could only gain a momentary appreciation of my immediate environs—in this instance, the quaintness of the house and the satisfaction I felt after a breakfast of scrambled eggs and lox—because it was already time to move on.
We had no predetermined itinerary to follow, no “must-see” sights to cross off as we traversed County Sligo and entered County Mayo, and so our drive to Galway was whimsical. Whatever intrigued us, we set out to explore. We drove past the National Famine Monument at the base of Croagh Patrick, which depicts a coffin ship with skeletons and bones as rigging. We gazed up at the fog-shrouded summit of Croagh Patrick, a mountain that serves as a site of Christian pilgrimage, with no intention of climbing it. We took our time passing through the desolate Doolough Valley with its green mountainsides and grazing sheep and stopped for lunch in Leenane to feast on fresh oysters gathered from the waters of a narrow fjord we could see from our table. I saw a sign noting that a peat bog (of bog body fame, see Day 1) was 15 kilometers down the road, and so we drove to some gravely parking lot, walked up an embankment and looked around for the bog. “I don’t see it,” I told Angela, half expecting to stumble upon a sign that would read: Here is the Peat Bog. “This is it, I think,” she replied, motioning at the ground we were standing on, a subtle sponginess to the texture of the soil. After seeing the bog bodies in Dublin, it felt anticlimactic. We were standing a few hundred yards off a road, staring out on a nondescript grassy field. If I was hoping to see a withered human arm sticking out of the ground (and I was), it wasn’t happening today.
That afternoon we drove to Oughterard to see a bridge made famous by being featured in a movie neither of us had ever seen—The Quiet Man with John Wayne—and then made our way to Ashford Castle, a medieval castle which time has transformed into a luxury hotel and is notably, to me anyhow, the site of actor Pierce Brosnan’s wedding reception. When asked what else there is to see around here, one of the castle groundskeepers told us about an abbey down the road, so we drove to Cong Abbey and walked around the withered shell of the 12th century building. I soon lost sight of Angela. She had wandered off while I remained standing in the abbey graveyard, captivated by the anonymous headstones whose writing had been scrubbed clean by time, lost in a sea of Celtic crosses standing sentinel over the departed.
There are numerous moments during a trip when you become truly cognizant of where you are. Standing before a long-imagined sight made real, something heretofore only seen in pictures or on a computer screen, often does the trick. Sometimes it takes a spontaneous conversation with a stranger, whether in a taxi, on the street, or at a bar, to make the brain digest its new surroundings. But oftentimes it’s the smallest of things, barely discernible on their own but impossible to ignore when surveyed all together. I became aware of where I was on my fourth day in Ireland—the donkeys standing untethered beside the narrow country road in County Sligo, the myriad shades of green in the Doolough Valley, the sheep spray painted to reflect their ownership, the ratio of pubs per people in every little town we passed through, the crumbling facades of castles seen out the car window, the confused and slightly disappointed look of everyone who served us food or offered us a pint and to whom we had to say goodbye, sorry but we must be going, much too quickly. It was all starting to make sense, why people love this country so much.
Day 5: Galway to Kenmare via the Dingle Peninsula (460 km / 286 miles)
Galway is widely considered to be the “most Irish” of Ireland’s cities, with its countless summer festivals and untold number of pubs from which live music and joyously inebriated patrons spill out onto the cobblestone streets. The winding medieval lanes of the city’s Latin Quarter run down to the harbor where the River Corrib meets the Atlantic. Gulls soar in the air above; street musicians seemingly gather on every corner; trendy new restaurants intermix with shops selling hand knit scarves, gloves and sweaters made from wool sourced from the nearby Aran Islands. It’s a bustling university town that maintains a quaint, historic feel and subsequently is beset with the inconveniences of quaint, historic towns (most notably, snarling traffic jams on narrow one-way streets). Traffic complaints aside, I thoroughly enjoyed my 15-hour stint in Galway. Highlights included purchasing an entirely unnecessary wool flat cap from Ó Máille, listening to live music at McSwiggan’s, and surveying Eyre Square from our room at The Skeffington Arms.
When we arrived at the Cliffs of Moher two hours later, I stood at the edge of the cliffside walkway, gazing down the length of the impressive rock face, and I recalled the words of a friend who, upon hearing that I was traveling to Ireland, offered the following insight: “The Cliffs of Moher are not worth it. If it is foggy, you see nothing, and if you have ever seen a seaside cliff—that’s what you should expect.” On this day, however, the weather fully cooperated. The line of consecutive cliffs, each extending farther out into the Atlantic so as to form a jagged relief above the ocean waters, offered a magnificent vista, and Ireland’s most visited tourist attraction did not disappoint.
Cliffs of Moher Cliffs of Moher
From the Cliffs of Moher, we angled southeast and cut back across County Clare towards the center of the country. Over the course of the previous day, Angela and I had vaguely discussed our options. We knew we had to reach Kenmare that evening as we had reservations to stay at Virginia’s Guesthouse. We also knew we wanted to see the Cliffs of Moher, despite our aforementioned friend’s counsel. Beyond that, nothing was concrete. I had heard that the Dingle Peninsula was beautiful—Slea Head Drive, in particular, was something to not be missed—but Dingle was decidedly out of the way. It was also another peninsula circuit drive, and we were slated to drive around the Ring of Kerry the following day. I found myself wondering if the coastal drives would be too similar to warrant individual circumnavigation. If you’ve seen one seaside cliff, you’ve seen them all, right? Something within me balked at that notion. So we directed the car towards Dingle, unsure of what to expect but ready for another slice of Ireland to unfurl before us.
We passed through Adare, a charming town with a beautiful castle we admired through the car window. As we continued south, the verdant, rolling countryside gave way to mountains on the horizon—Killarney National Park and within it Ireland’s tallest mountain range, the enticingly named McGillycuddy’s Reeks. Rather than venture that way, however, we headed southwest onto the Dingle Peninsula. We stopped in Dingle Town, a charming seaside village (every small town felt singularly charming in Ireland) which serves as the peninsula’s “capital,” long enough to fill up our tank with gas and grab some coffee before setting out on the 47km/30-mile loop. The Dingle Peninsula is 10 miles wide, runs 40 miles from Tralee to Slea Head and is home to 500,000 sheep. Scenes from the Tom Cruise/Nicole Kidman movie Far and Away were filmed on an especially stunning piece of land that steeply falls from the road to the ocean. Old stone fences run wildly across the landscape, and sheep cross the road wherever they please. This place felt like a highly concentrated microcosm of the best of Ireland. We stopped to take pictures of sheep, of stone fences, of beehive stone huts built by early settlers centuries before, of fields and farms that had been ruined during the Potato Famine of the 1840s, and of nearby islands which popped up out of the Atlantic like spring bulbs after the thaw. Towards the end of the loop, we pulled up alongside the ruins of the Kilmalkedar Church and walked through its cemetery, which includes such relics as a sundial and an alphabet stone with Latin inscriptions from the early Christian period. Vibrant purple thistles sprouted next to an indeterminably old stone fence, and the glare of the waning sun momentarily blinded me as I cast my eyes out on the nearby Atlantic. To say that the Dingle Peninsula is scenic would be a tremendous understatement.
An hour later, while discussing the existence of Fungie the Dolphin, Dingle Town’s most famous resident who resides in the harbor, over a meal of stew and seafood with our requisite pints of Guinness, Angela read the fine print on our reservation for Virginia’s Guesthouse. “Guests must check-in by no later than 8pm,” it read. It was 7:30, and we were nearly 2 hours away from Kenmare. After a terse conversation with the guesthouse proprietor over the restaurant phone and an errant expletive or two, we hurried off in hopes of setting a new speed record between Dingle Town and Kenmare. The sunset we witnessed that evening as we sped along Castlemaine Harbor, musing aloud whether we would be welcomed into the guesthouse and, if not, where we would stay in ever-popular Kenmare during tourist high season, lingers in my memory as one of the most unexpectedly spectacular moments of our trip.
Day 6: Kenmare to Kilkenny via the Ring of Kerry (472 km / 293 miles)
Good news: We made it to Kenmare where we were allowed to stay at Virginia’s Guesthouse despite arriving more than two hours after the owners would have liked. Bad news: We felt so uncomfortable about our late arrival that we did not eat the breakfast included in our B&B stay. Upon further reflection, I’m not sure we were even offered any breakfast.
Thus began our final full day in Ireland. Unlike Slea Head Drive on the Dingle Peninsula, the Ring of Kerry on the Iveragh Peninsula is, at 179km, the longest and most diverse of Ireland’s big circle drives. Windswept beaches, Atlantic waves crashing against cliffs, sheep dotting green pastures, quaint pubs in quaint little towns, and the ruins of castles and old ring forts awaited—a standard day on our Ireland road trip by now. We opted for the counterclockwise route, first driving through Killarney National Park, which was populated by waterfalls, mountain valleys saturated in every shade of green imaginable, and the immensely blue Lough Leane.
After passing through Killarney, we headed towards Ballycarberry Castle and two nearby stone ring forts dating back to the 10th century. Castle fatigue had set in, so rather than simply stare at the ruins in silence, Angela and I discussed what we would do if we lived within walking distance. “I’d have a kegger at night in here,” she told me as we stood inside the castle interior, its roof having caved in sometime over the centuries so that now when gazing up one was rewarded with the view of an open sky. We next walked atop the grass-covered walls of the ring forts, trotting circles around something architecturally significant and incomprehensibly old—specifically, a millennia old. Like a child teetering through history come alive, that’s the sensation I felt all day long as we drove the twisting Ring of Kerry.
Killarney National Park Ballycarberry Castle
We stopped in Portmagee for lunch, our Ring of Kerry drive now halfway complete. This sleepy town boasts a single street of colorful houses and serves as the departure point for boats crossing to the nearby Skellig Islands. By the time we arrived in Portmagee, we had missed the last boat to the Skelligs, but had we actually gotten our act together enough to visit the UNESCO World Heritage site, we would have been wise to book ahead as Skellig Michael’s fragility places a limit on the number of daily visitors. The Skelling Islands, recently featured in the final scene of the latest Star Wars movie, are jagged rocks that rise out of the Atlantic nearly 12km off the coast of the Iveragh Peninsula. Skellig Michael, the larger of the two islands, was the site of an early Christian monastery dating back to the 6th century. The monks cut beehive cells out of the steep rock face, built cisterns for collecting rainwater and tended vegetable gardens in the driving wind—their quest for unimpeachable solitude confounding and remarkable. Angela and I sat at lunch, the usual Irish stew for her, the usual catch-of-the-day for me, and we mused aloud what life must have been like for the monks, consciously vulnerable to Viking raids and the ever-pounding whims of the Atlantic.
We later detoured 18km off the Ring of Kerry to drive the Skellig Ring, which links Portmagee and Waterville via a small community centered on Ballinskellig. “The best view on the entire Ring of Kerry,” a sign promised us. So we parked and paid a couple of Euro to walk up a path where we stood atop a cliff with a commanding view of the Skelligs and the wild Atlantic below, seabirds circling, posted signs telling us not to climb over the fence under any circumstance.
When trying to see as much of Ireland as possible in a seven-day period, time-consuming side detours such as a half-day jaunt to the Skellig Islands are assessed in a strictly pro/con fashion. Pros: Riding in a boat across choppy seas to visit a rarely accessed island where we would climb a steep rock staircase, survey some long-abandoned beehive huts, and try to conjure up images of monks—hunched over and brow beaten, no doubt—trying to survive on a plot of land not meant for human existence. Cons: Seasickness, dive bombing seabirds, the possibility that the boat ride will take longer than expected or we’ll get stuck on Skellig Michael and somehow miss our flight out of Dublin—nearly 400km away—the following morning, and, of course, the simple fact that we didn’t factor the boat schedule into our plans and thus missed the last boat anyhow. All that aside, my greatest regret from this trip is not having gone to the Skelligs.
View of the Skellig Islands from Skellig Ring Ring of Kerry
Inertia now set in. From Waterville we drove past Caherdaniel, Castlecove and Sneem—a blur of tiny hamlets and fishing villages scattered along the coast, interspersed with old forts, historic stone circles, and roadside markers claiming to have Ireland’s finest view. I kept driving in a straight line, or as straight as the narrow, winding Ring of Kerry road would allow, resistant to any change in speed or direction. We arrived in Cork around 5pm and were ensnared in 90 minutes of traffic on a Saturday afternoon, and the positive sentiment in the car hit its nadir of the trip. Angela read aloud about the Rock of Cashel as we sped past it, our collective desire to reach Kilkenny greater than our desire collective to get out of the car and gaze at one more ancient fortress. (Another regret I now have.)
We reached our final hotel of the trip, Butler Court, nearly at sunset. I don’t remember how we chose to stay in Kilkenny. We were looking for a place to spend our final night en route to the Dublin International Airport without actually going into Dublin. I think Angela read about a scenic old castle that overlooked a river meandering through town, and that was enough to convince us at that point. The woman who checked us into our room gently admonished us for not spending more time in Kilkenny, and as Angela and I walked the span of a bridge crossing the River Nore, Kilkenny Castle perfectly reflected in its waters, we agreed: This is a town we wished we could linger in longer. It was later that evening, while tucked into a corner of Matt the Miller’s pub as a band played a stirring rendition of Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On,” that a Galway native looked at us incredulously after we detailed all that we had seen and done the previous week and told us we were crazy.
Day 7: Kilkenny to Dublin International Airport (137 km / 85 miles)
When I turned off the ignition of our rental car in the Avis lot at Dublin International Airport, the odometer read 1,813km (1,127 miles). It wasn’t the distance driven that surprised me, or the lingering splendor of the Irish countryside speckled with sheep and the empty shells of castles. As I rolled my bag into the airport terminal, reflecting on a week spent in Ireland, I realized that it had rained on us for a mere 10 minutes while driving between Dublin and Belfast. Touched by the hand of God? I think so. Sláinte, you beautiful country.
WHEN TO GO: March-October. The summer months will offer the greatest window for warm, sunny weather; they will also be the most crowded. Opt for spring or fall if you want to find deals on lodging.
RECOMMENDED TIME: 7 days minimum for a cross-country road trip, including Northern Ireland.
GETTING THERE: Dublin International Airport is serviced directly from the U.S. by United, Delta and American Airlines.
STAY: The Dean Hotel, Dublin (www.deandublin.ie; from $225)
Malmaison Hotel, Belfast (www.malmaison.com/locations/belfast/; from $165)
Skeffington Arms Hotel, Galway (http://www.skeffington.ie/; from $80)
Butler Court, Kilkenny (http://www.butlercourt.com/; from $120)
EAT & DRINK: Anywhere that serves Guinness, which means everywhere.
SHOP: O’Maille, Galway (www.omaille.com)