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A Family Road Trip through Ireland

A family discovers why Irish eyes are always smiling  

By Holly Rosen Fink, GoGirlfriend contributor

A few years ago, we thought about summering in Ireland but decided our kids were a tad too young to go on what would largely be a road and hiking trip. We weren’t sure how they’d cope with long hours in the car and we wanted to be able to take advantage of the dynamic countryside. So this year, at ages 8 and 10, we thought it was time to journey further.

the beauty of an Irish countrysideMy kids were ready to embrace an adventurous Irish spirit, exploring the history, countryside and over-abundance of delicious food. They’ve been traveling since they were very young but this was our most exhilarating trip to date. We rented a car so we could get around easily and see as much of the country as possible in the five short days we had in the country.

Weary travelers come home to Irish hospitality

We flew directly into Shannon via Aer Lingus, which was a relatively easy flight from JFK. So easy, however, that none of us slept. When we arrived, we phoned the

Fitzgeralds Woodland House hotelFitzgerald’s Woodlands House Hotel to see if we could get our room earlier and they were kind enough to give us a room to rest our heads for the morning. I honestly don’t think we would have made it through the day without that rest and I loved how easy-going the staff was about it. They also offer tea and cookies at the entrance, which is a really nice touch and one that my kids loved.

Fitzgerald’s is a family-run hotel located in Adare, a small rural village in southwestern Ireland just outside Limerick. Its minutes from Adare Manor Golf Club and within easy driving distances of many attractions. Their rooms and suites are spacious and include 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. While our room could have used a modern refresh in the décor, fresh flowers made us feel welcome.  

While the rooms feel old world and cozy, the hotel was family-friendly and staff were happy to help us transition gently into the drastic time zone change. My kids loved their swim in the pool although my son was upset that he couldn’t enjoy the Jacuzzi as the lifeguard was strict about keeping kids under 16 out. Note to self: teach him to be more flexible. They also have a kid’s club and game room, which is a bonus to every parent.

Picturesque villages, historic castles

On our one night there, we wandered into town for dinner at a local pub. Adare is known as one of Ireland’s most picturesque villages. It’s lined with thatched cottages, restaurants and shops and is home to Desmond Castle, the Franciscan Friary and the Trinitarian and Augustinian Priories. In the mood for pub grub, we settled at Aunty Lena’s Bar & Lounge and happily listened to live Irish music while noshing on over-sized dinners and pints of ale for the adults.

historic Bunratty CastleAdare is near Limerick, home to two castles, the Bunratty Castle & Folk Park and King John’s Castle. Both adventures took up several hours of time and were excellent ways to orientate both us and the children to the history and heritage of Ireland.

Bunratty is one of Ireland’s most popular tourism destinations, featuring a village of recreated buildings from the 1800s (doctor’s office, school, farm house, shops and kitchen). The name Bunratty, Bun Raite (or possibly, Bun na Raite) in Irish, means the ‘bottom’ or end of the ‘Ratty’ river. This river, alongside the castle, flows into the nearby Shannon estuary.

We wandered around the dungeon, captain’s quarter and great hall and I was excited and proud to watch my kids run up and down the old staircase as they were eager to see and learn as much as possible about the castle.

King John's Castle, IrelandKing John’s Castle re-opened a few months ago after a major renovation and we explored 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 (the site of an earlier Viking settlement). It’s a five-sided castle, with high curtain walls surrounding a rectangular yard and has been repaired and rebuilt many times over the centuries. After being severely damaged during the Siege of Limerick in 1642, it was rebuilt as a garrison and later in the 18th century, military barracks were built within the castle.

The castle has been called the bleeding heart of Ireland as it signified the end of English rule.

Discovering our wild Irish rose in Dingle

Our Ireland family vacation continued with a ride from Adare to Dingle, which was a bona fide adventure, driving along curvy, rugged roads past sheep and cows. Dingle neighbors the Ring of Kerry, where we were heading next to stay with friends.

picturesque Dingle IrelandWe had no idea we were about to experience the truly raw and rugged beauty of Ireland. In Dingle, the sea was so blue, the grass so green. We made our way along the peninsula and into the small town filled with painted shops and pubs, a harbor with sailing boats and a famous dolphin.

It was time to find our hotel, the Dingle Skellig Hotel & Peninsula Spa, and take it all in with a pint of Guinness.

Perched on Dingle Bay, Dingle Skellig Hotel is contemporary and clean with spacious rooms and spectacular views – and cows munching on grass just outside your window. Its quintessential Irish with a lovely staff and traditional music at the bar come nighttime.

The rooms are tastefully decorated and 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 I do mean full with cereals, cheeses, capers, poached eggs and pancakes.

relaxation at Dingle Skellig Hotel and spaAnd wow, did they have options for my kids. From the minute we stepped in, my kids were thrilled to be shown the game room with Wii and XBox, a nice-sized swimming pool and Jacuzzi, the Funghi Kid’s Club (free of charge).

During our one night at the hotel, we treated ourselves to dinner at the hotel’s “posh” restaurant, the Coastguard, where they also happen to serve breakfast. It’s a beautiful room facing the water and once again, the kids were treated royally, with a 3-course meal. Being in Dingle, my husband and I felt compelled to order fish caught that morning by local fisherman and our salmon and trout dishes were superb.

After a morning hike with the kids on the Bay passing by ruins and old farmhouses, my husband and I treated ourselves to spa treatments followed by a thorough soaking in the Jacuzzi. Champagne was the only thing missing but it was still perfect, soaking, relaxing and chatting about our adventure while overlooking Dingle Bay. The spa offers all kinds of treatments, from facials to massages to body treatments.

our family loved King John's historic castleAfter our stay (it was hard for us 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 charm comes naturally to the Irish. We bought snow mobiles, painted seashells and books for the kids and then headed to the Ring of Kerry to see our friends.

Looking back at this this leg of our trip, I know that we created some very special experiences for our kids.

Stay tuned for more on our visit in my next chapter on our Irish Family Vacation here on GoGirlfriend.

Ever been to Ireland? Connect with us on Twitter and Facebook - and let's continue the conversation!

About Holly Rosen Fink

Holly Rosen Fink ~ @TheCultureMomHolly Rosen Fink is a Marketing, Communications, Public Relations, Branding and Social Media expert with over 15 years experience increasing brand awareness and sales at leading publishing houses and media companies. She is the founder of TheCultureMom.com and is a current contributor to This Girl Travels, Ciao Bambino, Family Vacation Critic, The Broad Side and Women & Hollywood.

Last year she edited Come Closer: How Tourism is Shaping the Future of Nations and associate produced the off-off-Broadway hit The Best of Everything and the NYC production of Listen to Your Mother.

Catch up with Holly online:

To comply with the long list of regulating bodies, possibly even Geneva Conventions and in the interest of transparency, a portion of Holly’s trip was sponsored. Commentary and perspectives are those of Holly Rosen Fink.

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