A man much wiser than I once told me that nobody goes to Ireland for the weather or the food. Despite his warning or perhaps to spite his warning, Hair Of The Dog decided to bring our music and our friends to The Emerald Isle in April (we usually go in February) so it would be warm, and to also include Kinsale, the “culinary capital” of Ireland.
On Saturday, March 30th, our group of 74 arrived at JFK Airport, boarded Aer Lingus Flight #110 and arrived at Shannon Airport at 7:30AM on Easter Sunday. We were divided into two groups and directed to separate busses. As soon as we got outside, we realized that it was FREEZING COLD. “Unusual for this time of year”, was what we heard from the locals. Actually, just like the northeastern USA, The British Isles and most of northern Europe was in the midst of a freaky-cold spring. Our drivers John and Mick took very good care of us and turned the heat on right away. Since check-in time at our hotel in Killarney wasn’t until 2PM, we did some sightseeing as we made our way from Shannon to Killarney.
One of our first stops was the quaint town of Adare, known for it’s many thatched roofs. While wandering through Adare, I found Aunty Lena’s, the “last watering hole until Dublin,” but sadly, it was 10AM on Easter, Aunty Lena was in church and the doors were locked.
After a few more quick stops, we arrived in Killarney and checked into our rooms at The Killarney International Hotel. The Killarney International is a sensational hotel. The rooms are updated constantly and kept super clean. They have a fine pub and their restaurant is one of the best in town. And if you’re like me and you need a snack before bed (to soak up some of the Guinness), there’s a good, late-night pizza joint right across the street.
Monday morning many of us enjoyed a visit to The Gap of Dunloe. The Gap of Dunloe or T-God as I came to call it (I actually think I saw God while passing through) is an extremely picturesque, narrow trail between The Macgillycuddy Reeks to the west and The Purple Mountain to the east. We boarded four-passenger jaunting carts and spent the next 90 or so minutes traveling through some of the most beautiful terrain I’ve ever seen. Too bad the weather wasn’t a bit better. Unfortunately it was cold and blustery, especially in the mountain pass where the stiff breezes get funneled through like a General Motors wind tunnel.
At the conclusion of the cart ride, we met for lunch and then boarded twelve- passenger dinghies for an eighty minute ride across streams and lakes to the docks where our bus was waiting. Again, the weather made this a challenge too but guess what? We all had a blast.
That evening, Hair Of The Dog performed a set of Irish music in the hotel pub. As usual, there were people we knew that just happened to be in Killarney that night, amazed to find out that the “traditional Irish music” they were promised was being performed by a group they were quite familiar with from Upstate NY. The irony of this never ceases to amuse me.
Tuesday morning we motored to Blarney Castle for some shopping, some lunch, some drinks and some stone kissing. We arrived in Kinsale that afternoon and checked into the Trident Hotel, a beautiful inn situated right on the harbor. Kinsale reminds me of any number of my favorite coastal towns in Cape Cod.
The food in Kinsale did not disappoint. As far as their restaurants are concerned, Kinsale is a little like New Orleans or Chatham, Massachusetts. When you ask a native for a recommendation, they get quiet and then say something like, “Well, they’re all good”, and it’s true. I ate as much as I could, as often as possible. For Tuesday night’s dinner, the group I was with tried a non-descript hotel-restaurant called simply, Jim Edwards. The food and service were brilliant. An amazing dining experience.
The next day, Wednesday, many chose the Midleton Distillery and Cobh Heritage Center tour. I opted out and instead took the one hour city tour (the guide was outstanding) and then hopped into a rental car with a few friends and cruised around the coast. Highlights included Old Head Golf Links (made famous by a recent visit from Tiger Woods), a town called CourtMacsherry and a 17th century church and cemetery.
That night, the band performed for our group in the Trident Hotel pub. This session was a bit more spirited, probably because we knew our week was coming to an end and many of us were in an extremely festive mood.
Thursday, on our way to Bunratty (our final destination), we stopped for a couple of hours at the breathtaking Cliffs of Moher. These cliffs are featured on two Hair Of The Dog CD covers and they’re always a joy to behold.
This was our last evening together in Ireland and there were many choices in Bunratty. Some spent the night at The Creamery or Durty Nelly’s, two world famous pubs. About thirty of us walked over to Bunratty Castle and were treated to a Medieval Banquet. The banquet staff is made up of about a dozen men and women who not only serve food and drink and bus tables, but also sing and play musical instruments. This is dinner theater, Celtic style.
After gorging ourselves on mead, wine, soup, spareribs, chicken, bread, root vegetables and a desert item (I’m not exactly sure what it was), it was time to return to our hotel for a nightcap. I was sorry that our week was just about over. It was certainly a memorable trip and probably the nicest group we’ve ever brought to Ireland. Thanks to all of you. You made this vacation a wonderful memory. The weather may not have been warm but the food was marvelous, the music was fun, the craic was mighty and the company was grand. I’m guessing we’ll see many of you on our next tour. We’ll have completely different destinations!