I’m sure you are all sick of hearing about it by now but in case you hadn’t heard – we’ve just got back from a 2 week trip to Ireland! We are lucky enough that my father-in-law has recently moved over there (back home after living in England for 30+ years) giving us a base to stay and explore from.
We started off our Ireland trip with 3 days in County Kilkenny for the annual family golf tournament. This is held every year in memory of an Uncle who passed away suddenly 24 years ago. The whole family gets together from all corners of the UK in July or August for a golf tournament and awards presentation evening (party!) followed usually by a BBQ the following day. Each year the winner of the golf tournament has the job of organising and hosting next years tournament. This years winner was my Father-In-Law so we’re back to Ireland again for next years tournament! This years one was held at Gowran Park which is also a racecourse. It’s a lovely place with a fab balcony from the clubhouse overlooking the course so we can watch as the players complete the 18th hole. There is also good food on offer so we were able to get something to eat before heading back to the hotel to get ready for the presentation night. We stayed at the Lord Bagenal Hotel in Leighlinbridge which was a real treat. The hotel was gorgeous and we would happily have stayed longer. You can read more about it here: Our Stay At The Lord Bagenal Hotel.
After a few days with the family at the golf we traveled North and crossed over the border into Northern Ireland to Father-In-Laws new home near Enniskillen in County Fearmanagh. We loved staying in their new home. This is the first time we’d seen it and we had no idea what to expect! The kids loved playing in the garden, especially on the big round swing hung high from a tree. I’m sure this was the highlight of their entire holiday! Again we spent lots of time here with family as there were a few other relatives staying along with us and more relatives live nearby. It was great catching up with everyone and just relaxing.
Part way in to our stay in Fearmanagh we ventured up to the Marble Arch Caves. Before entering the caves we enjoyed the visitor centre which was full of history about the caves. There were lots of geological facts about the site which is part of a national park. Ireland has some really beautiful national parks. It also has a cinema room with a 15 minute long film all about the national park and how the caves were discovered. The 75 minute guided tour of the caves took us along a 1.5km route of pure underground magic. It was stunning with the subterranean river flowing through it and beautiful stalactites. There are usually boat tours along the river but unfortunately this wasn’t possible during our visit. Due to the amount of rainfall in recent days the water level was too high. We were disappointed about this but the walking tour was fantastic and the guide was lovely so we still really enjoyed it. The caves are open to anyone of any age but you will need to be able to walk down the 154 steps from the visitor centre to access the caves. A reasonable level of fitness is advised. Our kids all managed it really well although Cody (our 4 year old) was tired towards the end. Climbing back up all those steps was seriously hard work! Thankfully the visitor centre has a cafe so you can get something to eat and drink when you reach the top.
On another day we put our National Trust passes to good use and went to explore the Crom Estate in Enniskillen. Crom has a museum, shop, campsite, boats to hire, fishing and lots of scenic walks. We decided (after a look around the museum) to follow the map and walk along the river to the castle ruins. It was a beautiful walk and when we reached the ruins the views over the lake were stunning. The kids loved exploring the ruins and letting their imaginations run wild. We then carried on walking further along the river to see some swans we had spotted before heading back through the meadow. We took our YippieYo crossbuggy with us on this outing and I’m so glad we did. Cody wouldn’t have walked as far as we did so it was an absolute lifesaver. Lois was able to hop in for a ride too. It was so easy to pull even with both of them in it that Lily was happy to pull them along for a while!
At the start of our second week we went up to Portrush at the very north of the country to visit that area. As it was quite a long time in the car for the kids (especially as one of them gets car sick!) we were very excited to have the opportunity to visit the Ulster American Folk Park half way along our route. The UAFP is an outdoor living history museum about the history of Irish emigration. You walk through the woodlands visiting various buildings from Ulster such as thatched cottages (with real fires!) and the ironmonger’s workshop. You then board a ship at the harbour and exit from your voyage into New World America where you get to explore the general store and traditional log cabins. Most of the buildings are the originals. They were taken apart brick by brick, transported to the museum and rebuilt. Amazing! The living history characters really bring the whole place to life and we absolutely loved it. We spent most of the day at the museum and could easily have stayed longer. I am going to write a separate full review of the museum (it was that good!) so keep an eye out for that.
We had booked a hostel in Portrush for 2 nights right at the very top of Northern Ireland. Now a hostel wouldn’t normally have even occurred to me as somewhere we might stay. However, the Townhouse Boutique Hostel came up on my search for accommodation. The reviews were all really good so we decided to go for it. I’m glad we did as the apartment we booked was perfect. It had a double bed, bunk beds, kitchenette, dining table and chairs, seating area, wardrobe and en suite. There was also patio doors out onto the shared courtyard. In the rest of the hostel there are shared bathrooms and a large shared kitchen/dining room with several cookers, etc. There’s plenty of space for lots of people to be cooking at the same time. A communal lounge has a good selection of games and books to borrow. These were great as I stupidly hadn’t brought any of the kids toys and books with us! It was a really friendly atmosphere and there were other families staying there as well. I would definitely look at staying in a hostel again.
During our stay at Portrush we put our National Trust memberships to use again and went to explore the Giants Causeway. This has been on my bucket list for years as it’s one of Ireland’s most iconic landmarks. We first looked around the new exhibition centre which is full of geological information about the site and lots of fun activities for the kids to have a go at. There is also information about all the local Game Of Thrones landmarks for any fans out there and a huge screen showing a film about Finn The Giant who, according to the myths and legends of the local area, lives on the Giants Causeway. We were given audio guide pods each and set off down the hill to the causeway, stopping at various sites along the way which the audio guide told us about. I was surprised how much the kids loved these and actually took a real interest in listening to each and every number. Even Cody was able to work his without any help and loved listening to the guide. He even pointed out to me the things the guide was talking about – I was amazed! Now I must admit when we actually got to the causeway it didn’t look anything like I’d expected! I thought it was flatter and the stones much larger – nope! And the place was heaving with tourists, really heaving. That’s not to say that we were disappointed because we weren’t at all. We really enjoyed our visit, it just wasn’t what I’d imagined! Shows how photos can make something look so different to reality I guess. As a keen photographer I should probably know that by now! The highlight for the kids was them being able to climb rocks freely without constantly being told to get down. The rock-pools were a real bonus. They loved looking in each one to see what they could find. There were plenty of fish in them! We just made it back to the shuttle bus in time before the heavens opened into a torrential downpour. One thing we’ve learned during our trip is that the weather changes within moments in Ireland. The locals motto is ‘Theres no such thing as poor weather, only poor clothing’. So with that in mind we wore wellies and raincoats everywhere we went (thankfully!). The shuttle bus (which Cody later told me was his favourite thing from our holiday!) took us back up the hill to the exhibition centre. I knew Cody wouldn’t be able to walk back up all that way, in fact none of us would. We had a walk around the shop which has a huge variety of lovely National Trust and Ireland themed goodies, then headed back to the hostel for our picnic lunch which I’d managed to leave behind……
Another Northern Ireland National Trust visit this time was the Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge which was fab. We hadn’t realised you have to book a specific time to cross the bridge so we had to wait just under an hour before our specific time slot but by the time we had walked to the bridge it was almost our time anyway! Be warned you need a reasonable level of fitness as its quite a walk along the clifftop coastal path and then down a large number of steps to reach the bridge. Again, we weren’t aware of this and although going to the bridge was fine, coming back was exhausting, especially for the youngest member of the family Cody. You can’t take pushchairs across the bridge so if you have a little one I’d suggest using a carrier if you can. The walk along the coastal path is very scenic and we took some lovely photos along the way. The kids loved jumping in the puddles and we spotted a lovely waterfall a long the way too. When we arrived at the bridge we waited for a large group to come across then climbed down the steps ready to take our turn. The bridge is 20m across and 30m above the sea so it can feel a little scary but the kids were all really brave. Cody was so proud of himself! When we crossed the bridge to the other side we were able to see the fisherman’s cottage on one side and on the other there were sea birds galore with lots of their young in nests on the side of the cliff. We watched for a while (in the rain!) before going back to the bridge to cross back over. Despite the weather constantly changing we really enjoyed our visit here and the views were well worth the long walk.
After our busy day enjoying the Giants Causeway and Carrick-A-Rede bridge we headed back to Portrush for some dinner and managed to get a table at the Coast Pizzeria by the harbour. The food on offer was very reasonably priced (in fact it was quite cheap!) and absolutely delicious! The were pizzas, pasta and burgers on the menu. Lois and Cody went for spaghetti carbonara off the childrens menu which came with a free drink (they both had milk!). Lilian had burger and chips off the kids menu with a lemonade (we don’t usually allow fizzy drinks so this was a treat!). The kids meals were only £3.99 including a drink each and the portions were huge! We actually took a tub of the pasta home with us for their lunch the next day as there was so much! I went for the bbq pulled pork with coleslaw rolled pizza. It was absolutely delicious! The atmosphere in the restaurant was fab and we enjoyed our meal so much we decided to try out the puddings as well. These are displayed in a glass cabinet for you to choose which one you want. We all went for different ones including chocolate brownie cheesecake, strawboffee cheesecake, strawberry meringue nest, bannoffee pie and nougat honeycomb cheesecake. They were all A.M.A.Z.I.N.G and again huge portions which we couldn’t manage to finish. Coast has by far become one of our favourite all time restaurants anywhere in the world. I just wish it was nearer to home so we could go there more often!!
The following day it was time to head back to Father-In-Laws house where we spent the next few days relaxing and spending time with family until it was time to leave Ireland and head home. Our 2 week trip has given us a real love for this beautiful country and it was really hard to leave, especially for the kids who wanted to stay with their grandparents and cousins. There were a few tears in the car on the way to the ferry and we can’t wait to go back again. There is so much more to see in Ireland and we hope to do another tour again to different places next year.