Our Wild Irish Honeymoon
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Honeymoons can be tough to plan – there are so many wonderful places to visit! We are both seasoned world travelers, and neither of us are the beach bum type, so when we were trying to decide on a place for our honeymoon, we wanted a place that offered hiking, history and adventure. While we were exploring our options, we realized that we always mentioned Ireland and how much we loved it, though we’d never been there together. With rich mythology, a lively culture, beautiful land and family roots for both of us, Ireland turned out to be the perfect spot to celebrate our new life together.
If we did it again, we would have allowed a day or two between the wedding and the honeymoon. We went straight from our wedding reception to the airport, where we caught a couple hours of sleep, then hopped on a plane to Dublin, already utterly exhausted from the wedding. A beautiful Georgian boutique hotel awaited us right on St. Stephen’s Green, and although we had booked a basic room, they upgraded us to the best suite in their hotel, where there was champagne and chocolates waiting for us, along with a note of congratulations on our wedding. It was an absolute dream! Our two days there were incredibly relaxing and romantic, and completely unforgettable. We learned there that you should always book ahead, and mention that you’re on your honeymoon – there are often a lot of great perks.
We liked Dublin, but we were itching to get into the famously gorgeous Irish countryside. The best way to see Ireland is by renting a car – the roads are much improved throughout Ireland due to the booming economy, rentals are very reasonably priced, and you can go places you wouldn’t be able to go otherwise. We started our real adventure by driving up to the Giant’s Causeway in Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland, where we hiked the unbelievable basalt columns. Tea and sandwiches were the perfect accompaniment to writing out thank-you postcards to our family, wedding party and friends.
After a couple of breathtaking days on the Antrim coast, we headed over to Co. Donegal, Erin’s ancestral home, to explore the friendly and fiercely independent Gaeltacht (Gaelic-speaking) rural areas of Northwest Ireland. We spent several days in Donegal, hiking to ancient hilltop forts and into verdant valleys, taking in traditional music, eating lots of Irish stew, and holding hands while walking along rugged coastline. We stayed in B&Bs, including an absolutely charming and very rustic old traditional Irish thatch cottage, on an old farm in a little town called Ardara. The ceilings were low, the beds were lumpy, and the water was brown, but it was so cozy and charming, the atmosphere so peaceful and relaxing, the view so amazing, and our French expat host so entertaining and friendly, we loved every minute of it and vowed to return again.
From Donegal we drove to Galway and Connemara, reknowned even in Ireland for its unparalleled beauty. Galway is the home of the Claddagh ring, the traditional Irish wedding band that features two hands holding a crowned heart. The original makers of the Claddagh are still in operation, and Erin found a sweet little silver Claddagh ring there – a perfect honeymoon memento.
Galway is the gateway to the Aran Islands, where life is still much as it has been for the last several centuries. We took a daytrip to Inish Mor, the largest of the three islands. Although there are a few cars on the island, most traffic is horse or human-powered, and we rented bicycles so we could tour the island in style. We rode past ancient monuments, picturesque and solemn graveyards, beautiful coastline, friendly horses, all the way up to the ancient hill fort known as Dun Aengus. This half-circle stone fort is bordered on one side by a sheer 300-foot drop into the sea below – and there are no fences to keep you from falling, only common sense! It is from here that the legendary Tir na Nog – the island of the fairies and of the dead - can be glimpsed, if the sun and the weather are just right. The island itself is an optical illusion, but the legend has been around for thousands of years. We stood on the top of the cliff, our arms around each other, and waited for the sun to be in just the right position, the weather unusually clear as a bell, and at the same moment we both saw the black outline of the mysterious, mythical island on the horizon. Amazing! It was an exhausting and thrilling day.
Co. Clare was our next stop, special to Sam because one side of his family had its roots there. We headed straight to the tiny town of Doolin, famous for its craic (good fun, typically found in pubs!) and trad (traditional music). From that base we not only explored the fine pubs in the area, but also explored the sweeping and majestic Burren, an amazing, expansive swath of limestone pavement that can only be described as strange and almost otherworldly in its beauty. We ran and danced along the limestone flats, careful not to step on any of the arctic or native plants tucked away in the Burren’s many crevices, and sang old Irish songs to each other into the howling winds. Because it was October and thus off-season, we were totally alone on the great, rugged expanse, and were free to dance, sing and be our silly selves in the setting sun. As we left Co. Clare in the early morning, we visited the ancient Poulnabrone Dolmen, a Neolithic burial site and one of the most famous landmarks in all of Ireland. We had the good fortune to experience this wonderful and meditative place in solitude – another plus for visiting in the early hours and off season.
The last week of our trip was a bit of a whirlwind – we went to Waterford and stayed in the only truly awful hotel we managed to find during our trip, but had an interesting tour of the crystal factory, and then headed up to Kildare to visit Saint Brigid’s well. Kildare didn’t seem like a great place to stay, so we chose a city at random – Kilkenny, a medieval city that still retains much of its character and charm. We booked a basic room in a hotel on the river, but when they found out it was our honeymoon, they upgraded us for free to an absolutely incredible suite that was fit for royalty. The suite itself was bigger than our apartment back home. Eighteenth century antiques, doors that opened onto the river and Kilkenny Castle, flatscreen TVs, a whirlpool spa, room service and the most comfortable bed we’ve ever slept in… we felt like we were living in a dream! The suite, the castle, the city itself – Kilkenny is an unforgettable place and we’re sure to return.
On our last day we headed back toward Dublin, and drove up to the Bru na Boinne and Newgrange, a Neolithic burial site famous for its architecture, carvings and incredible alignment with the seasonal sun. We stayed at a lovely B&B nearby, and our tour of the ancient site itself was wonderful. Afterward we went to the Hill of Tara, the seat of Ireland’s ancient kings and the site of legendary battles. Considered a holy place by many people, this land and its archaeological treasures are in danger of being overtaken by a highway expansion. We talked with some of the protesters who have set up camp at the site, and we are now amongst thousands of international travelers who oppose the proposed highway expansion. From there it was back to Dublin, where we spent our last night in a refurbished castle, and then back on to a plane toward home.
Our honeymoon was an amazing three and a half weeks, but it couldn’t have happened without our friends and family, and of course Traveler’s Joy, who made it really easy to organize. Ireland has a booming economy, and is an expensive destination – a “cheap” and simple meal can cost upwards of $40 or $50, just for two stews and some brown bread at a local pub. Accommodations are also expensive, not to mention admission to museums and landmarks. We were able to take a dream honeymoon, and make lasting memories, all thanks to the generosity of the people who love us. So thanks everyone, from the bottom of our hearts!