We casually mentioned to friends and family back in the states last November that we were heading to Ireland in March for the kids’ spring break. Within a few days, three people had booked flights to meet us there. Turns out, most of the people we know in America are part Leprechaun and have been waiting for an excuse to visit their motherland and gather more lucky charms. We wanted to explore the Atlantic coast and were able to find a great house to rent that fit all of us on Dingle Peninsula.
“Hi Hertz? We are going to Ireland and would like to see options in your ‘clown-car’ class of tiny vehicles.” In hindsight, this is how we should have reserved our car, instead of thinking about practicalities like trunk space and comfort. We also spent an extra 15 minutes learning all about special insurance procedures for Americans.
“Do you have proof of rental car insurance coverage?” the Hertz agent asked.
“We don’t have any with us. We haven’t driven a car in almost a year,” which in retrospect was probably not comforting to hear to the person giving us keys to a car.
“I think you will need to add insurance to the rental. Most Americans do.” We’re not sure if this last part was supposed to make us feel better or worse, but we paid for full insurance and then immediately started noticing the many dings and scratches on the passenger sides of the other rental cars. A bit worrying, but how bad could it be?
We had chosen the Dingle Peninsula for its gorgeous natural landscapes. However, it is one of the more remote parts of the island and the drive from Dublin took six hours. Since we had so many folks, we decided to rent two cars rather than make two trips. Jana, Cori and the kids were in one car and Barry with his dad and niece Sarah in the other.
The first couple hours were during the day on highways with wide lanes and great signage and gave us confidence that this whole “driving on the left side of the road” deal was going to be a non-issue. We stopped to visit Cori’s ‘family’ in Limerick, and enjoyed a great meal at a local cafe before getting back on the road.
It was these next three hours of driving that were a bit tricky. We were driving on increasingly narrower roads in the rain and light was fading. Soon Barry was frequently hearing words like “CURB!” or “TOO CLOSE!” coming from the passenger side, along with the sound of feet trying to hit an imaginary brake pedal. Although, the scene in Jana’s car was a bit quieter, which could reflect Jana’s many years of experience driving in Australia, but really probably had more to do with Cori’s nerves of steel. Those roads were tough!
We had directions to our house that got less and less clear as we got closer to the property with way-points (mostly pubs) as our guides. But one thing was very clear, do not take the fork in the road that leads you over Conor Pass if it is dark outside and/or the weather is not perfect. At 9:30 p.m., as the road narrowed to one-and-a-half lanes and all other cars seemed to have (rightly) exited a few miles back, we realized that Google Maps had not heeded the warning. Did I mention the fog? Yes, the fog was now so thick that you toggle between brights and low beams, unsure which lets you see farther. A lone sheep clung to the short rock wall on the left side of the road, narrowly avoiding our side mirrors and staring at us as if to say “What the hell are you doing up here at this hour and in this weather? I hope you opted for the extra damage insurance.”
We slowed to a crawl, trying not to hit the short rock curb that was now very close to both sides of the car and served as our only indication of where the road was, while simultaneously trying not to think about the sheer cliffs on either side of us or the possible on-coming car that could be just over the next ridge. Suddenly out of the fog came a waterfall, cascading off the side of the mountain and onto the road and our car, just a nice little jolt of excitement in case my knuckles weren’t white enough on the wheel. In Jana’s car, this is the point where short exclamations of “crap” stopped being effective and she went full f-bomb – at least the kids in the back seat learned something new.
Miraculously, we made it to the rental property without a scratch around 10:30 p.m., but not before driving up to not one, but two neighbor’s houses as we had (once again) misinterpreted the directions, shining our headlights into their living room windows as if to shout “WAKE UP – the American tourists are here! Is this your lawn? Don’t worry, we bought the extra insurance!”
We woke the next morning to beautiful views of shoreline, sheep and a nearby bay from our house and soon set out to explore Slea Head Drive, which does a loop around the peninsula. There are several landmarks to stop at ranging from sandy beaches to ancient ring forts and castle ruins. The kids were in good spirits with their grandpa, cousin and home-town nanny/BFF all visiting from the states.
A couple different stops featured old stone forts in the shape of bee hives dating back to the 12th century. The kids got a kick out of them since they seemed to be built for their size.
Since we were traveling in March, we had an added bonus that it was lambing season. And, that meant tourists could contribute to the exploitation of lambs by paying lamb-pimps/farmers money for a chance to snuggle with one. Of course, Jana and Sarah were first in line with their Euros and maintain it was the best two Euros they ever spent. They also let you feed the older sheep and goats, which was a huge hit with C and H.
The next day we headed down to Cork to visit Blarney Castle. The trip there took two-and-a-half hours, but seemed longer with the narrow two-way roads and passenger commentary most of the way (“YOU ARE ON THE CURB!”).
As fate would have it, a cousin of ours was also visiting Ireland (again, Leprechauns) during our stay and we were able to meet up at the castle for the afternoon. The castle grounds include gardens, a playground, walking trails and another manor house you can tour. The castle itself was impressive and Jana and my cousin A.J. ended up kissing the Blarney Stone and getting “the gift of eloquence.” Jana quickly added this feat to her C.V. under “professional development.” Barry, being the reformed germ-a-phobe he is, didn’t feel the risk of contracting a lip fungus was worth the eloquence [but just imagine how good this blog could have been if he did.]
The next morning, Jana, Sarah and Barry took one of the rental cars to find a ring fort we had seen on the map near our house. With Barry driving the two wheel-drive sedan, they followed signs to a tractor path. The rain that had been falling all night turned suddenly to hail as we left the main road. Jana, being the sensible person she is, suggested parking near the start of the tractor path and walking, unsure about how muddy/slippery the slightly uphill climb would be for our two wheel-drive sedan. Barry didn’t want to have to walk up the muddy path in the hail as that might dirty his shoes. A few minutes later, Jana and Sarah were helping push the car out from being entangled in a barbed wire fence after it lost traction and slumped sideways into it (no damage to the fence, but scratches to the car). Moral of the story: always listen to your wife’s seemingly casual suggestions about driving risks. Or, if that’s too hard to remember, just always listen to your wife.
Now we knew why the Hertz rental agent said that unless we had written proof of rental car insurance through our credit card or insurance agent, we would have to spring for the extra damage insurance. Unfortunately, the car we scratched up was Poppy’s, who they did not give such an ultimatum to. When we got back to the house, we broke the news to Poppy about the car. He seemed to take it really well. Turns out, he didn’t catch the part about it being his rental car – he assumed we had scratched up our own. A bit of awkward laughter was had by some, not all, as he realized the truth.
We knew this was going to be a short trip at just about five days total. We reluctantly left beautiful Dingle Peninsula on the last day and drove back to Dublin for an evening there before departing early in the morning.
With so many tours and sights to see in Dublin and really no time to see them, we settled on the Jameson Whiskey tour on the advice of cousin A.J. who had already toured the city earlier that week. Besides, it was about time the kids knew the difference between Irish, Scotch and Tennessee whiskey.
The tour was relatively short, highly interactive and visually engaging – perfect for kids and grandparents, alike. H spent half the time flirting with the young man giving the tour, clearly distracting him as he was giving his spiel. Afterwards, we enjoyed some spirits in the bar (the kids got apple juice) before meeting back up with cousin A.J. and heading to Darkey Kelly’s pub for dinner and traditional Irish music – the perfect ending to our quick Ireland escape. Thanks to Barry’s dad, cousin Sarah and Cori for flying out to join us and to cousin A.J. for meeting up with us along the way!