“You’re very welcome.” -A common way of saying “hello and welcome” in Ireland
As some of you know or might have guessed, my most recent blogging break was due to a vacation that has been nearly six months in the making. Mama Bender, Papa Bender, Eric, Bobby and I had the chance to visit Ireland for 10 days. Yes, at long last, we took in the Ladies View!
But more on that in a future post.
As promised from the reviews we read online or received from friends and family prior to the trip, the Emerald Isle was one of the most scenic and special places I have ever had the chance to see in person – and, in my opinion, at the top of the list of most stunning countries in the world. There was charm and beauty in every city we visited, and I’m so excited to share our adventures with you!
Our vacation was a mix of golf and sightseeing by design, and I can’t say enough good things about the company we worked with for booking it all. Michael Bowe of Irish Golf Tours has great attention to detail, was pleasant to work with and successfully helped two Type A and often indecisive ladies (ahem) plan and coordinate a comprehensive trip that involved multiple cities, hotels, tee times, tours and various other reservations. If you’re a fellow golfer with Ireland on your bucket list, I highly recommend going through them. Even if you’re not a golfer, I’d consider visiting a few of the courses. Some of the best views of our entire trip were right off the fairways!
Without further ado, I’ll begin with day one! We left Arizona on Memorial Day, flying from Phoenix to Philly to Shannon. Our plane arrived in Ireland around 8:30 am on Tuesday morning, and the views during our descent were enough to perk us up after a short night’s sleep. So much green!
One thing we were wondering about constantly before we left the U.S. was what the weather would be like. Mama Bender visited Ireland seven years ago on a golfing trip with friends and it rained almost the entire time. We were fully prepared for blustery cold conditions, but as luck (of the Irish?) would have it, we ended up bringing the Arizona sunshine and warmer temperatures with us for the majority of our time there.
First order of business after picking up our clubs and suitcases: meet up with Mike O’Neill, our driver and guide for the trip. Once again, I can’t say enough good things about him. He was incredibly prompt and respectful of our itinerary, but also gave us suggestions for ways to make it even better. He showed us areas of Ireland that we never would have seen on our own, and it was well worth it to put our trust in him throughout the experience. (Note: This photo was taken on our last morning after we’d all gotten to know each other a bit better!)
With five sets of clubs and suitcases, one rental car between all of us wasn’t going to cut it. Another great thing about golf tours like the one we used is that you are paired with someone like Mike who knows where they’re going and can handle the sometimes precarious roads of the Irish countryside (because highways would detract from that charm I mentioned). Plus the cost in our case was essentially the same as going it ourselves.
We loaded up the bus and exited the airport. Originally we had planned to attend a sheepdog demonstration at a slightly out of the way fort called Caherconnell, but with golf scheduled in Doonbeg later in the day Mike suggested we visit Bunratty Castle and Folk Park instead. It ended up being the first of many worthwhile changes we made.
The site on which Bunratty Castle stands was originally a Viking trading camp in 970. The present castle is the last of a series and was built around 1425. During the 16th and 17th centuries it was an important stronghold for the O’Briens.
Inside, the castle is furnished with pieces from the 15th and 16th century. Below is the “South Solar,” which was comprised of guest apartments. The ceiling is partially a replica in Tudor style.
Check out the kitchen complete with a large cauldron pot! Food was cooked here for guests in the Great Hall. The large turtle shells were used as dishes and covers.
The Great Hall itself was a banquet hall and audience chamber of the Earls of Thomond. The Earl gave judgements while sitting in his Chair of the Estate. Women weren’t allowed to attend any events here – the best they could do was watch from a viewing window above. Nice…
Bobby thought he could take the Chair of the Estate, but…
…ah yes, much better. This is how I imagine banquets would look in 2014.
Eric got in on the action, too. I’m a big fan of his serious face. In his own words, “All hail King Eric!”
Once we had finished exploring the castle, we made our way through the rest of the grounds. There was a lot more to see, such as the Cashen Fisherman’s House, a two-bedroomed home of a North Kerry salmon fisherman. Timber was salvaged from the sea, and the floor is made of rammed clay.
There was also the Blacksmith’s Forge. Because he made tools for many of the other craftworkers and tradesmen, the blacksmith was one of the most respected members of the community.
The Loop Head House was a typical dwelling for a fishing-farming family. The thatch on all of these roofs is roped down to protect against the heavy winds coming in from the Atlantic Ocean.
We then wandered over to Village Street, where we saw a school house preserved from East Clare.
It would have accommodated up to 80 children at one time. I love seeing old classrooms!
There was also a post office…
…as well as Ardcroney Church, which was moved stone by stone from County Tipperary to the park.
And the best views were at the Regency Walled Garden near Bunratty House, which overlooks the Owenogarney and Shannon rivers. It was our first official taste of the Irish countryside.
There is even more history not mentioned here (I was in heaven), but at the risk of losing you all well before the end of the post, I’ll leave it for you to read about if you’re interested. Once we had taken it all in, we made our way to our first hotel and golf course of the trip: Doonbeg Lodge.
The grounds were amazing, and we ended up in three rooms that shared a common area and kitchen, which was perfect for gathering together for breakfast or chatting at night.
It was tempting to crawl right into bed, but there was still a full afternoon ahead of us! We grabbed a quick lunch before our golf round and had the chance to experience our first of many yummy Irish bread baskets. As if I didn’t love bread enough, they make it even better.
I washed it down with a small glass of Harp, my first Guinness-brewed beer of the trip.
As for my first official Irish meal? Um, well…chicken quesadillas. To be fair, they were delicious.
Sufficiently satiated, we made our way to the Doonbeg first tee.
I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking because at this point, we were just taking it all in.
I do have to point out the grass-fed cows, which were a staple at every course we played. So cool.
Thanks to a later tee time and no one behind us, we were able to play as a fivesome! I ended up shooting 90, which I was very happy with considering the fact that we were all running on empty. Here we are, exhausted but thrilled to be there at the same time.
When the round was over, we headed back up to the clubhouse for dinner before our eyes glued shut for good. I had a glass of Sangiovese di Puglia, San Giorgio, which was smooth and sweet.
I started out with the soup of the day: potato and leek. It hit the spot!
For dinner I had the gnocchi, which was rich and full of flavor.
At this point, Mama Bender was literally falling asleep at the table, and the rest of us weren’t any better off! We made our way back to our rooms and fell asleep almost immediately, looking forward to all of the excitement still to come.