For the long weekend, Chris booked a hotel, rented a car, and we headed off to Athlone Friday night. Not twenty minutes on the road and Chris realized he forgot his wallet at home. Lucky for us, the next exit was an outlet mall. Kyra and I got out of the car in search of shoes and a rain coat for Elliot. Mission accomplished, we met the boys back at Starbucks to refuel and hit the road.
The journey to Athlone was all highway driving but we unexpectedly spotted cows crossing a bridge over the highway.Cows and sheep were always in view for the three hour drive.
After checking in and tucking the kids into bed, Chris and I wandered out of the hotel in search of a pint.A short walk over the River Shannon, tucked behind Athlone Castle, was Irelands Oldest Pub, Sean’s.A small place no larger than our living room, it had live music and an eclectic crowd of people young and old, local and tourist.
Today, our goal was to hit a number of places recommended in ‘Frommer’s 500 Places to Take Your Kids Before They Grow Up. It has quite a few places in listed in Ireland and many of them are in County Clare. '
We were given Google map directions from the tourism office but missed one of our turns. We did have several maps in the car. One had each and every little village marked, but the roads were not actually labelled. The other had all the numbers of the roads but not lacked a bunch of information too. It would take a little while to realize that using both maps would give us our best chance. We drove towards Ballyvaughan to see an audiovisual presentation about the Burren.Unfortunately, or fortunately as it would come to be by the end of the day, we took a wrong turn and ended up learning fairly quickly that in the future, we need to try to avoid the ‘R’series of roads. We were now stuck on a road with no place to turn around, driving along the coast of Galway Bay, up to Black Head where the Bay joins the Sea.The views were spectacular, but the two way roads were no wider than a drive way and twisted and turned. Needless to say, by the time we hit Doolin Chris really needed a break from driving. We stopped into McGann’s Pub and had a small bite to eat before continuing on to the Cliffs of Moher. They were very dramatic and musicians were sprinkled in the pathways playing traditional Irish instruments and providing a beautiful soundtrack to the outing.Pathways and steps were placed nicely back off the cliffs with a few meters of grass between ourselves and the drop-off making it much more tolerable for acrophobic me.
Our next stop was Bunratty Castle and Folk Park. We didn’t make it in time to get a reservation for the small banquet the hold each night, but I can’t say I am too disappointed. Bunratty is Ireland’s most complete medieval castle. It was built in 1425 and fully decorated with 15th and 16th century furnishings. We made our way though up a few flights of narrow spiral staircases to the great hall where the banquets take place nightly. We looked through the Earl’s kitchen with adorned with Turtle shells that would have been used as serving pieces. “Freshly” hunted pheasants and rabbits also hung around the room. We navigated through spiral stair case after spiral staircase to find bedrooms and chapels and also take in the never tiring countrside views from the top of one of the six story towers.
Bunratty Castle was built on that site, but much like Upper Canada Village, they have assembled the rest of the folk park to recreate the environment from Ireland over a century ago. We visited rural farmhouses, a village street, formal gardens, many animals and even a castle themed playground.
Once the grounds closed and we knew there were plenty of daylight hours left, we decided to head back towards the main drive of the Burren that we had missed earlier due to that wrong turn. We drove through more country roads and narrowly missed a run in with a stray bull on the side of the road.We enjoyed the scenic drive and stopped at Poulnabrone. The kids enjoyed jumping from rock to rock. The Burren looks as though you could be on the surface of the moon and this particular spot has a portal tomb to marvel at that dates back to 2500 BC.
Our drive back to the hotel included a stop just east of Ballyvaughan where we explored the shoreline of Galway Bay. More ‘rock climbing’ for Gavin, we enjoyed the panoramic view that included the mountains, both rocky from the Burren and green as they stretched east, the bay itself with Castle ruins in the distance and the magnificent shore. Kyra and Elliot looked for shells and explored the crevices between the rocks.