Meet the Author: Kayla Ryan’s Irish Background
As a first-generation Irish-American, the country of Ireland is a very special second home to me. As a child, I spent my summers there with family, and I still travel back at least twice a year to see them. Although I have been countless times, every visit I make to my beloved Ireland is special and meaningful. I always see or learn something new, and I take great pleasure in sharing that magic with our clients! I hope this blog gives you insight as to why Ireland is a great option for your next trip!
Why Travel To Ireland?
As the western-most country in Europe, Ireland is a quick stone’s throw across the Atlantic Ocean with short and various direct flight options from the US. Getting there has never been easier, and there is so much to do and see on this small but historic island! In terms of U.S states, Ireland is about the size of Indiana at 32,595 square miles and a population of about 5.5 million, including Northern Ireland (part of the UK). Although Ireland is a small country, its history dates back thousands of years and offers so much to all types of travelers. There is no shortage of hiking trails, off-road adventures, horseback riding, and various kinds of fishing for those seeking a bit of adventure on their visit. However, if relaxation is your purpose, Ireland is home to over 2,000 full spas as well as hotels and properties that are dedicated to wellness. After a full day at the spa, surrounded by stunning views and crisp Irish air, you will feel peace and tranquility like nowhere else in the world.
After travelers return home from their visit, it is always a pleasure to hear that it is one of their favorite trips of all time. Many people travel to Ireland and are blown away by how much they can fall in love with such a small country in so little time. Some of the most positive feedback we get is in regard to the people, the landscapes, and the food. Irish culture is very immersed in hospitality, and with such a close tie to the US, American visitors are always welcomed with a warm Irish smile. Strangers (who quickly become great friends!) are eager to tell you stories of the area, their families, or even local legends. As you travel throughout Ireland, the landscapes and scenery will take your breath away. For miles, there is nothing but greenery, farm animals, and ancient ruins in the most unexpected of places, sometimes just off to the side of the road with no one in sight. This unique aspect allows visitors to roam the country, discover their own bit of history, and explore these sights as if they were waiting just for you. And when you’ve worked up an appetite, Irish gastronomy waits to fill you right up! Being an island, seafood is always fresh and delicious. Traditional recipes such as bangers and mash, shepherd’s pie, and boxty will be widely available and with more modern approaches, you’ll be pleasantly surprised with Irish cuisine. We very much look forward to hearing your favorite aspects of your own future Ireland sojourn!
Please see below for some of our favorite places to visit while in Ireland and the best ways to make your experience as memorable and enriching as possible!
The Value of Driver Guides in Ireland
The easiest way to get around the country of Ireland is to drive. Although there is a train system, it is not as up to date as many other European countries and may not run as frequently. We recommend a private guide/driver as there is so much value to exploring this way! A unique aspect of this service in Ireland, in particular, is that you will have the same luxury vehicle and expert guide throughout your entire program. Getting to know your driver/guide throughout multiple days of touring makes for an even more personal experience and is of high quality to the guest. As your personal driver/guide gets to know you and your family, it will become easier to pinpoint exactly what it is you want to see and tailor-make your touring experience for an optimal visit. They will make it a point to make sure you see as much on your “list” as possible and even take you to some lesser-known places they may think you will highly enjoy. On top of this personal experience, you also have the flexibility to change touring plans based on weather or if tourist locations become closed at the last minute. You will become very close with your driver/guide, and they will quickly become an unsuspected member of your family, even if for just a few days! As you will also have the same vehicle throughout, you have the luxury of leaving items in the car if you so choose, and you don’t need to worry about leaving anything behind. It will be right where you left it on your next day of touring!
Some of our Favorite Unique Places to Visit
Skellig Michael Island
Located 8 miles off the coast of Co. Kerry, Skellig Michael is a well preserved ancient monastery on a rocky island in the Atlantic. Although the monks living here were interrupted by the Viking crusade in the 9th century, they lived on the island until the 12th century where they then moved to the mainland. The monks habituated in beehive-like stone huts that are clustered around an oratory and a small vegetable garden. The island has been fairly quiet of visitors, until its recent appearance in Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Many have been amazed at the beauty of the island Luke Skywalker had been laying low on, and the secret of Skellig Micheal was unleashed! Getting to the island can be a bit tricky, with boats running only between mid-May and October (weather permitting), as well as a 600 step climb to the top upon arrival. Well worth the adventure, you will be stunned by the beauty and history this little island has to offer!
Drombeg Stone Circle
Similar to that of Stonehenge, this megalithic site of Dromberg (also known as Druid’s Altar) is located in the countryside of Co. Cork. It has been discovered that the site was built and actively used between the years of 1100-800 B.C, and consists of 13 stones, although there were originally 17. Comparatively to Stonehenge, visitors can actually approach the stones for a more intimate experience and touch the rocks that have stood in this location for thousands of years. These stones are aligned along the southwest axis to line up with the midwinter solstice, an impressive scientific estimate by the megalithic Irish. These stones are so well preserved that the remnants of a kitchen and a sacred well can also be seen!
The Irish Sky Garden
Located in Co. Cork in the south of Ireland, you’ll find the Irish Sky Garden. Designed by American artist James Turrell, who was known for his work with space and light, the giant “bowl” allows visitors to cross the bridge between earth and sky. As you enter the garden, there is a footpath that leads you to two-foot stones in the center that resemble a sort of alter. This allows visitors to lay down in a specific spot and take in the magic of a unique and serene view of nothing but lush green and a bright blue sky (weather permitting of course!). For those who have a love for nature, this is a truly unique and special experience unlike anything in the world! Many come to meditate, relax, and find peace in the beauty of this fairytale-like garden.
Our Favorite Hotel in Ireland
Ashford Castle (KR)
A member of the Leading Hotels of the World and the Red Carnation Hotel Collection, the 5-star Ashford Castle is the icon of luxury accommodations in Ireland. It is not only one of the best hotels in Ireland, but it has been regarded as one of the best in the world! The 83 rooms and suites are individually and custom-designed to combine and accentuate the original castle features with a modern touch of luxury and technology, including electronic shades, free WiFi, and outlets for both European and American plugs. The 800-year old castle is the former home of the infamous Guinness family and has also been named one of National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World. Past guests range from royalty and classic authors to celebrities and government officials. Situated on a 350-acre estate, there is so much to explore, learn about, and do at Ashford Castle! Some of the on-site activities include a full spa, falconry, fishing, horseback riding, clay shooting, ziplining, and off-road driving. One of our favorite aspects of Ashford Castle are the two Irish Wolfhounds (Cronan and Garvin) who welcome you to join them on their morning walks through the beautiful property or for a snuggle in front of the cozy fire in the lobby area.
One of my favorite memories of Ashford Castle is the 90th birthday celebration for my late grandfather. The hotel offered my family magnificent rooms, and I had the pleasure of staying in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Suite. Reagan stayed at Ashford in 1984 and was very good friends with the owner of the property at the time. I’ll never forget the canopy bed, the classic yet elegant furniture, and the stunning views overlooking the castle’s grounds. The hotel staff made it a point to ensure my grandfather had the best birthday celebration, was comfortable and treated like royalty. A lavish dinner was served including a (surprise!) beautiful cake made by the in house chef, who personally brought it to my grandfather and sang “happy birthday” to him. Ashford Castle is not only a breathtaking property, but they make anyone staying here feel as if they are the king or queen (or prince or princess!) of the castle during their stay. As if it’s not enough to stay in a real 800-year old castle, it is the staff and experience that truly makes your stay special. It is a magnificent property and by far my favorite hotel in all of Ireland!