Real Irish Travel

Ireland + Wales 2018

Ireland "Emerald Isle Discovery Tour" June 18-29th

Wales (optional add-on) June 29-July4th

 
 

Our popular Emerald Isle Discovery Tour makes a return...with an optional add on to Wales!

Prepare to spend 10 days adventuring through the western and northern parts of Ireland, including my home county of Donegal (arguably the best county, though I may be just a wee bit biased).

We'll start out from Shannon airport, tracing a path north and west through the countryside and cities like Galway and Belfast, ending in Dublin.

At the conclusion of those 10 days, you have the option to extend your tour with me, with 5 additional days in Wales. Our focus here will be on the beautiful North and mid Wales area including Snowdonia National Park. Our base will be in the beautiful town of Caernarfon which is home to Edward 1's grandest castle as he set to conquer Wales in the late 13th century.

 
 
 

Before The Trip

Three weeks or so before our departure date, for those who can make it, we'll meet up at Stout Irish Pub in Brighton, MI to enjoy some dinner, get to know each other, go over the itinerary and answer questions. 

 
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Day Zero: The Adventure Begins

Monday, June 18th

Today's the day!
If you fly out of Detroit with me, we will meet up at the airport and board together for the short flight to New York. If you're joining us from another city, we'll all come together at JFK airport in New York as we continue on to our transatlantic, overnight flight to Shannon airport (which includes an evening meal and breakfast). Some guests may be meeting us at Shannon airport as their flights took a different route to Ireland.

 

 
 
 

Day One: Hello, Ireland

Tuesday, June 19th

After our overnight flight, we land at Shannon Airport, located in County Clare on the west coast of Ireland. This is an ideal starting point as we head north following the "Wild Atlantic Way". Our expert driver-guide, Gary Tierney, will meet us at the airport, ready to lead us on our amazing adventure. Gary has been doing this for over 23 years -- he's lead hundreds of tours including those for Rick Steves who many of you will know from his PBS travel shows, and I can honestly say there's no one else I trust more to take us around Ireland. We'll be traveling in a full-size motorcoach so there's plenty of room to stretch out and get comfy (we only take 30 people max, so the bus is barely half full). Our first stop will be at one of Ireland's most beautiful and natural places, the Cliffs of Moher.

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The Cliffs of Moher

The Cliffs, which rise 700 ft above the Atlantic Ocean, take their name from a ruined promontory fort ‘Mothar’ – which was demolished during the Napoleonic wars in the early 1800s, to make room for a signal tower at Hag’s Head. The word ‘Mothar’in old Irish Gaelic means ‘the ruin of a fort’. From the cliffs, and from atop O'Brien's Tower, on a clear day you can see the Aran Islands in Galway Bay, the Maumturks and Twelve Bens mountain ranges to the north in County Galway, and Loop Head to the south

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The Burren

The word "Burren" comes from an Irish word "Boíreann" meaning a rocky place. This is an extremely appropriate name when you see for yourself the lack of soil cover and the extent of exposed limestone pavement. Even so, it has been referred to as "fertile rock" due to the mixture of nutrient rich herb and floral species. The Burren has an unusually temperate climate and supports diverse and rich plant growth including arctic, Mediterranean and alpine plants side-by-side, due to the unusual environment. It has been said of the Burren, "...a country where there is not enough water to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, nor earth enough to bury him."

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Galway City

Galway City originally was a small fishing village where the River Corrib meets Galway Bay.  Portions of the 16th cent. town walls remain today (Spanish Arch). In the Middle Ages, it was the principal Irish port for trade with Spain and France and was visited by  Christopher Columbus. Known as Ireland's 'cultural heart', Galway is renowned for its vibrant lifestyle and numerous festivals, celebrations and events.  See for yourself why this arty, bohemian city is one of Ireland's most engaging.  Brightly painted pubs heave with live music, while restaurants and cafes offer front-row seats for observing buskers and street theatre. 


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Dinner & Hotel

Located on Quay street, which is smack dab in the heart of the city, we'll check into Jury's Hotel for a the next two nights. We'll enjoy an early dinner at a local gastro pub one evening, the other being free for you to choose on your own.

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Day Two: Explore Galway

Wednesday, June 20th

 
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Galway City

Today, after a good night's sleep and your first of many hearty Irish breakfasts, you'll be ready to explore all that Galway has to offer. Quay street has lots of shops, pubs and restaurants that you can spend some, or all, of your time in. There's Galway Cathedral (officially Our Lady Assumed into Heaven and Saint Nicholas) with its striking interior of Connemara Marble. Other places of interest include: Lynch's Castle, a medieval town house, now a branch of Allied Irish Banks; the Church of Ireland St. Nicholas' Collegiate Church, the largest medieval church still in everyday use in Ireland and the only Anglican church in Galway; the National University of Ireland, Galway, one of the 3 colleges of the Queen's University of Ireland (along with Queen's University Belfast and University College Cork); the Lynch Window (Market Street) where in 1493, the Mayor, James Lynch FitzStephen, hanged his own son for the murder of a young Spanish visitor who was too friendly with the girlfriend of the Mayor's son; the 13th cent. Hall of the Red Earl, the earliest surviving medieval settlement fragment (off Flood St.) can be viewed through a protective glass wall.  Finally, the Galway City Museum near Spanish Arch features the heritage of Galway and a collection of the most important Irish artists from the second half of the 20th century.

 

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Dinner & Hotel

Dinner is free for you to try a cozy little hole-in-the-wall, a traditional pub with great music or a 5-star restaurant, or whatever suits your taste you'll find it in Galway. Note: Galway is famous for its oysters.

We'll spend a second night Jury's Hotel.

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Day Three: West to Connemarra

Thursday, June 21st

 
 
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Kylemore Abbey 

Kylemore Castle was built in the late 1800s by Mitchell Henry MP, a wealthy businessman and liberal politician. Inspired by his love for his wife Margaret, and his hopes for his beloved Ireland, Henry created an estate boasting ‘all the innovations of the modern age’. An enlightened landlord and vocal advocate of the Irish people, Henry poured his life’s energy into creating an estate that would showcase what could be achieved in the remote wilds of Connemara, with its beautiful castle-like manor house and gorgeous gardens. Today Kylemore Abbey is owned and run by the Benedictine community who have been in residence here since 1920, and recently Kylemore began a summer academic program with the University of Notre Dame.


The Walled Gardens

The Victorian Walled Garden is an oasis of ordered splendour in the wild Connemara countryside. Developed along with the Castle in the late 1800s it once boasted 21 heated glass houses and a workforce of 40 gardeners. One of the last walled gardens  built during the Victorian period in Ireland, it was so advanced for the time that it was compared in magnificence with Kew Gardens in London.

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Westport

This afternoon we'll arrive in the charming town of Westport in County Mayo. We'll have some time to look around the town before we make our way to our accommodation for the night.


Dinner & Hotel

We'll enjoy dinner together and spend tonight at Knockranny House Hotel and Spa in Westport. 

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Day Four: Onwards to County Donegal

Friday, June 22nd

 

Today we leave Westport and head to the most northern county in Ireland, County Donegal. It will be our home for the next two nights as we stay at 5-star Lough Eske Castle Hotel and Spa, situated under the Bluestack mountains in a stunningly gorgeous country setting. We'll visit the 15th century Donegal Castle and make a visit to Hanna Hats, a family-run business in operation for one hundred years, and who specialize in traditional Donegal Tweed caps. If you need a cap right now, visit our website realirish.com and shop the largest selection of Hanna Hats outside of the factory in Ireland. 

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Donegal Castle

The fortified castle keep, built by the wealthy chief of the O'Donnell clan in the 15th century and stronghold for this ruling family, was widely regarded as one of the finest Gaelic castles in Ireland.  The keep has been beautifully restored, adding new roofing and floors using 15th & 17th century techniques and materials. Here you will learn that the place name 'Donegal' comes from the Irish "Dhun na nGall", translated as Fort of the Foreigner, and is believed to have come from a Viking fort at this very location.

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Donegal Town

This vibrant town, situated in the southeast corner of the county, is a beauty and bustles with activity. The town's center square is known as The Diamond, surrounded by local shops, pubs and restaurants; it's a great place to people watch.


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Dinner & Hotel

We'll dine together tonight at Lough Eske Castle Hotel in the Cedars Grill which is a casual and relaxed, yet elegant restaurant that incorporates local produce, meats, and seafood. This is the first of two nights we'll stay at this luxurious hotel and spa. 

 
 

Day Five: Glenveagh Castle

and National Park

Saturday, June 23rd

Today we'll head into Glenveagh National Park, Ireland's most northerly national park situated in the Derryveagh mountain range, a place of stunning natural beauty.

 

 
 
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Glenveagh Castle

Glenveagh National Park is a remote and hauntingly beautiful wilderness of rugged mountains, pristine lakes, tumbling waterfalls and enchanted native oak woodland in the heart of the Derryveagh Mountains in the northwest of County Donegal. At the center of the park on the shores of Lough Veagh is Glenveagh Castle, a late 19th century castellated mansion, built as a hunting lodge. Although beautifully situated, the story of the surrounding land being cleared of the peasantry for the development of this property is sad indeed.  The Castle Gardens are regarded as one of Ireland’s outstanding horticultural masterpieces.

 
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After our visit to Glenveagh we'll take a scenic drive along the byroads of Donegal passing through charming villages and taking in stunning vistas as we make our way back again to Lough Eske Castle.


Dinner & Hotel

Dinner will be on your own tonight, maybe at Lough Eske Castle Hotel's Gallery Bar or at one of the great little pubs in Donegal Town which is just a short taxi ride away. This will be our second night (and unfortunately) our last night at Lough Eske Castle. It will be hard to leave.

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Day Six: Sea Cliffs and Handweavers

Sunday, June 24th

 
 
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Slieve League (Sliabh Liag)

Sliabh Liag is Ireland’s ultimate sea cliff experience and a signature point on the Wild Atlantic Way route. Located in the Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking) region of County Donegal, Sliabh Liag are the highest accessible sea cliffs in Europe, rising nearly 2,000 feet above the Atlantic ocean below. The Cliffs of Moher get more publicity, but the spectacular cliffs of Slieve League are higher . Looking down at the ceaselessly churning sea, you'll see two rocks nicknamed the 'giant's desk and chair' for reasons that are immediately obvious.


Handweaving in the village of Ardara

After exploring the Sliabh Liag sea cliffs, we'll make our way to Letterkenny, also in County Donegal, for the night. Along the way we will stop in the little village of Ardara. This part of the country is the traditional capital of wool and weaving. We'll visit a master handweaver's workshop and maybe even have time to stop in to wet our whistles at Nancy's bar as well.

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Dinner & Hotel

Tonight we'll dine together and stay at Castle Grove Country House, near Letterkenny. This 4-star hotel was originally Georgian manor house and boasts an acclaimed restaurant.

 

Day Seven: The Bogside, Natural Wonders and Whiskey

Monday, June 25th

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Derry City

Derry, also known as Londonderry, is a city on the River Foyle in Northern Ireland. It’s known for the intact, well-preserved 17th century city walls. We'll learn the history of the city, including the 17th century Siege of Derry and the more recent history of the Troubles such as 1972's Bloody Sunday (the Bogside Massacre) and the Irish civil rights movement. Near the Peace Bridge, the Tower Museum has city views and historical exhibits and huge stained-glass windows adorn the pretty as a picture neo-Gothic Guildhall.

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The Giant's Causeway

Giant’s Causeway, renowned for its polygonal basalt columns, is the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Northern Ireland. Resulting from a volcanic eruption 60 million years ago, the Giant's Causeway has attracted visitors for centuries because of the unique formations where land meets sea. The vast expanse of regular, closely packed, hexagonal stone columns beneath the waves looks for all the world like the handiwork of giants. We'll learn the legend of Irish giant Finn MacCool and the story of how he created the causeway. Nearby is Bushmill's Distillery where we will learn about, and sample, "uisce beatha", literally translated from Irish as "water of life", the name given to whiskey by Irish monks of the early Middle Ages. 


Dinner & Hotel

We'll leave the Antrim coast and all its beauty and drive on to the capital of Northern Ireland, Belfast. Our hotel is the 4.5 start Ten Square Hotel, superbly located right across from Belfast city hall, and convenient to shops and restaurants. We stay here for two nights. We'll dine tonight at a local restaurant that is all about Made in Belfast.

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Day Eight: Belfast City

Tuesday, June 26th

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Belfast City.

Once shunned by travellers unnerved by tales of the Troubles and sectarian violence, in recent years it has pulled off a remarkable transformation from bombs-and-bullets pariah to a hip-hotels-and-trendy-restaurants town. We'll start the day today with a guided tour of Belfast City's Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods in the famous black taxis. Our local guides will explain the history and daily life, highlights include the political murals of the Falls and the Shankill that graphically tell the story of Ireland's "Troubles". We'll see the Peace Line, a wall made of iron, brick, and/or steel, and up to 25 ft high. Some have gates in them (sometimes staffed by police) that allow passage during daylight but are closed at night. The wall keeps Nationalists and Loyalists apart and in the process, divides the communities.

Next we'll head to the Titanic Quarter, it's centerpiece is the stunning, star-shaped edifice housing the Titanic Belfast Experience, where you can explore the ill-fated ocean liner's construction shipyard, walk the decks, travel to the depths of the ocean and uncover the legend of Titanic where it all began. 

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Dinner & Hotel

We'll enjoy a second night at the Ten Square Hotel, Belfast.

Dinner is on your own tonight, and there are many great choices just steps away.


 
 
 

Day Nine: Older Than The Pyramids of Egypt

Wednesday, June 27th

Brú na Bóinne - Newgrange

Brú na Bóinne, which in Irish means the ‘palace’ or the ‘mansion’ of the Boyne, refers to the valley near the bend of the River Boyne which contains some of the world’s most important prehistoric man-made structures. Located close to the eastern coast of Ireland, in an area filled with ancient and important relics the great monuments including Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth. Dating to around 3,200 BC, the Newgrange passage grave is 1,000 years older than Stonehenge and centuries older than the great pyramids of Egypt. Newgrange's white round stone walls, topped by a grass dome, look eerily futuristic. Underneath lies the finest Stone Age passage tomb in Ireland – one of the most remarkable prehistoric sites in Europe.  Newgrange aligns with the sun at the winter solstice and allows the sun's rays to penetrate the tomb and light up the central chamber during this period. The chamber has a wonderful corbelled roof rising some 20 feet above ground level inside the tomb. An ancient, complex drainage system means that not a drop of water has penetrated the interior in 40 centuries.

 
 
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Dinner & Hotel

We'll spend our last two nights at the superbly located 5 star Fitzwilliam Hotel in Dublin, on St. Stephen's Green and steps from Grafton Street. Dinner is on your own this evening, with any type of meal imaginable at close hand in Ireland's capital city.

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Day Ten: Dublin's Fair City

Thursday, June 28th

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Hop On, Hop Off bus tour

Our last day will be a free day for you to explore the capital city. You will have a pass for the "hop on hop off" bus that will allow you to ride around the whole city visiting as many attractions as you can during the day. There are many interesting places to see and visit, including the Guinness Storehouse, the Temple Bar entertainment district, Kilmainham Jail, St. Patrick's and Christ Church Cathedrals, Ha'penny Bridge, the National Museum of Ireland - Archaeology, the National Portrait Museum, Dublin Castle, Chester Beatty Library, Grafton Street with its vibrant shops and side streets, Trinity College with the masterpiece Book of Kells in its Old Library, as well as much more. 

The Irish House Party

We'll finish off our tour with a traditional Irish dinner and a grand farewell "hoolie" with entertainment by the Irish House Party featuring music, song, and dance.

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Dinner & Hotel

Our final evening will be at the 5-star Fitzwilliam Hotel located in the heart of Dublin on St. Stephen's Green. 


 
 
 

Day Eleven: Saying Goodbye

Friday, June 29th

After breakfast those who are heading back to the USA will head to Dublin Airport as we begin our journey home. Until next time! 

Slán abhaile

For those heading to Wales on the 5 day add on extension to this tour we will head to the seaport of Dun Laoghaire where we will take the ferry to the Welsh port of Holyhead to begin our adventure in Wales where the first words you'll hear are "Croeso i Gymru!"

Welcome to Wales!

For pricing on this tour and the add on portion also click here

 

 
 
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