The Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher - More than worth driving 3 hours out of the way for!
Cliffs of Moher – More than worth driving 3 hours out of the way for!

This is Ireland’s iconic site,and when I stood there, trying to process all this beauty, I just thought, ‘Ok, Ireland, we get it. You’re the most gorgeous place on Earth. You can stop now. Enough already.’  Although the Cliffs are not near any large cities or other obvious tourist sites, do go out of your way to get there. Yes, sometimes the clouds and fog cover the Cliffs. This would be a terrible turn of luck, but if you get to see the Cliffs, you’ll be absolutely awed by the sight.

Some tips: definitely plan to walk along the path on top of the Cliffs. I had read in my guidebook, the inimitable Rick Steves’, that there are warnings against walking on the Cliffs, but to do it anyway. I’m a bit of a rule-follower so this information made me a bit nervous, but really, once you’re there, you’ll see the caution is, well, overly cautious. You are well away from the edge of the Cliffs and can easily enjoy a walk along them without worry that you’ll slip.

Another tip: The Cliffs of Moher has an app which offers an audio tour. We didn’t know about this app until we were at the site, and then we didn’t get to listening to it until the next day, but it does have some interesting info about the Cliffs that it would be good to know about BEFORE you’re there. The commentary tends to focus more on filming done at the Cliffs than the geology of the Cliffs themselves, but still, this would be interesting listening on your long drive to the Cliffs.

Where to stay: I was given advice to stay in Lisdoonvarna as it’s near the Cliffs. This was a fine choice, but I will say that on our route from the Cliffs to Lisdoonvarna, we passed many beachfront B&B’s with vacancies, and this was in July. If you’re keeping a loose itinerary, you will likely be able to find accommodation nearby. If you’re interested, we stayed at Ballinsheen House, which is an absolutely lovely property. The breakfast here was particularly good – lots of home-baked breads and very fresh eggs.

One last tip: when at the Cliffs, don’t forget to turn around, with your back to the sea. If you do manage to tear your eyes away from the Cliffs, you’ll catch stunning views like this one:

Don't forget to turn around and look behind you!
Don’t forget to turn around and look behind you!

Skellig Michael

beehive huts
Beehive Huts on Skellig Michael

If you’re not sure whether planning a trip to Skellig Michael is worth it, it definitely is. For all three of us, Skellig Michael was the most magical experience on Ireland, and that’s saying something for such a beautiful country! I know it’s not guaranteed that the boats will be able to sail, and it’s out of the way, but the surrounding area is lovely anyway, so even if your boat ride is canceled, with the right mindset, you can still enjoy your surroundings in Portmagee and the Skellig Ring.

But we were lucky – we had one night to stay in Portmagee, and we hit upon a day when the boats were sailing. Our B&B host offered to reserve us a place on the boat, which I recommend you take advantage of as many people who tried to walk up to the boats on a first-come basis did not get a spot.  We left around 8:30 and were back by 2:00.

The Skelling Islands are other-wordly – craggy, sheer triangular jagged rocks jutting out of the ocean. Little Skellig is encircled by thousands of soaring seabirds; you really feel like you’ve come upon a lost island. It’s like something out of a myth. No one living in a civilized place can ever have seen so many birds flying at once. It is truly an amazing site.

little skellig
Little Skellig with Skellig Michael in the Background

Climbing the stairs on Skellig Michael and exploring the monastery huts is also awe-inspiring. And of course, you will pass many, many puffins on your route from boat to monastery.

puffin skellig michael
Puffin of Skellig Michael.

This is truly a unique place, and I feel privileged that I was able to spend a few hours on it.  If you are doubting whether it is worth the hassle to attempt to travel somewhere where it’s not guaranteed the boats will leave, I say, risk it. If you are lucky enough to be able to go, you will be so grateful. These islands will be like nothing you have every experienced. And if not, it will be disappointing, but at least you will have tried to get to an extreme place, and that’s worth something as well.

stairs skellig michael
A View of the Stairs Leading to an Isolated Meditation Spot
Contemplating Life on a Deserted Island
A Sheer Rock Face on Skellig Michael
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Contemplating Life on an Isolated Island. Note the garden at bottom right.

 

The Ring of Kerry

This day was quite an adventure! After dragging our jet-lagged bodies out of bed at 10:00 a.m. local time, midnight for us, we set out for a long day of driving from Cashel to Kenmare, so we could begin the ring in the afternoon. What we didn’t know was that our drive from Cashel to Kenmare would be almost totally on country back roads, complete with overgrown shrubs constantly swishing against the car. It was a beautiful drive through green rolling hills, but it did mean that the Ring did not impress us quite as much, perhaps because we’d been driving through almost equally beautiful scenery all day. Ireland can certainly spoil you with its beauty!

We divided the Ring of Kerry itself in half as we took the Skellig Ring in order to stay in Ballinskelligs overnight.

We stopped at the Straigue Ring Fort along the way – only attempt this if you’re comfortable on a very narrow, shrubby road with LOTS of blind curves. Be prepared to stop on a dime when another car appears right in front of you. One of you will have to back up to a ‘wide’ spot in the road to allow the other to pass. It’s quite an adventure!

Staigue Fort
Outside View of Staigue Fort
Staigue Fort
Archaeologists are not sure of the fort’s age, but some feel it could have been built 2,000 years ago. And it’s still standing, with no mortar used.
Beautiful Green Fields within the Ring of Kerry
Beautiful Green Fields within the Ring of Kerry
A ring fort along the Ring of Kerry
A ring fort along the Ring of Kerry
Beach View Ring of Kerry
A Gorgeous Beach View along the Ring of Kerry

Rock of Cashel, Ireland

So many guides recommend Cashel as a must-see, but we found Cashel to be pretty average. Okay, okay, it’s average for a country that spoils travelers with beautiful green views and crumbling ancient buildings, but if you have seen that kind of thing before, it is more of the (beautiful) same. It could have something to do with the fact that the Rock itself was surrounded with scaffolding during our visit, but if you have seen other views of rolling green hills and toured other crumbling castles or monasteries, you will have a strong sense of having seen it before. Yes, the views are beautiful and the grounds are too, but not in a unique enough way to warrant a trip out of your way.

I would, however, like to offer sincere appreciation for the staff who offered us a substantial discount because we came in 45 minutes prior to closing. We got to see the Rock & grounds, and we felt we did so at great value. So a sincere thanks to the staff for their generosity.

Celtic Cross Rock of Cashel
Celtic Cross at Rock of Cashel
Rock of Cashel
Keeping awake after a red-eye with no sleep, plus a 3 hour drive. Not recommended!
Cashel
Carolyn and Lindsay at the Rock