fly-hawk-ashford-castle-walkWalking a hawk on Ashford Castle grounds in Republic of Ireland

Ireland has always been that dreamy place I’ve always wanted to go for quite some time and so when I saw a Groupon (for real) package that included a castle tour for hotel stays and a rental car, I knew it was the perfect opportunity.  Of course with all the upgrades we did it wasn’t exactly cheap, but it was still that incentive to go.  Now finding a travel companion is very tricky – you have to find someone who can go at the same pace as you, spend the same amount of money on things you want to do, has the same interests, and someone you won’t want to pull their hair out by the end of the trip.

Mr. Wonderful wasn’t interested in the long flights and said somebody had to stay home and work and well, pay for the trip.  I was so happy that my long time girlfriend Melayne was up for the adventure.  She realized how close were were to London and so we threw in a 3 and a half day London trip – a 50 minute flight from Dublin!  I’ll share the London pictures next week, for now, let’s just talk about this dreamy place called Ireland, all shot with my Sony NEX-5R (c/o).

We flew from Phoenix to Chicago, and took a red eye to Dublin, landing at 10 a.m.  We got our Dan Dooley rental car – upgraded that baby to automatic because could you imagine driving on the left side of the road with a stick with the clutch and all on the other side? No way! We decided to not explore Dublin just yet and head straight through the country for a two hour drive to our first castle hotel.  Here’s a driving tip that a man told us – Red means red, stop, no turns.  Left side is the slow lane, right lane is the fast lane.  You gas up your car at a station then you go in and pay.

On the way there we were amazed to see exactly what we thought we would – sheep, rolling hills, green, fog, overcast, we breathed in deep and often pulled over to just snap a photo and take it in.

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At our first hotel Cabra Castle, we didn’t stay in the castle, but were on the grounds.  We had a cute cabin, like this one.  And the grounds were just gorgeous!

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Melayne really wanted to see some ocean/bay on our first day so we just looked at our GPS and tried to follow some water.  Only this is what we found…

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Ireland had less rain than usual the last few months so a few boats were stranded.  They’ll come back though, but we just weren’t that close enough to the ocean since we were in the midlands already.  Here’s a pretty shot of a cemetery that I nearly died crossing a busy road trying to capture, the irony.

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The next morning we took off to Northern Ireland, the British part.  If you want to understand the whole division between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, read this.  And, don’t really mention it, they don’t like to talk about it.  So since it’s British, they use pounds as currency. I was glad we already had a trip planned to London and I had some to buy some treats.  In true British fashion, they are very patriotic.

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We took the Causeway Coastal route to sightsee along the way.  Rugby game while the ocean is in the background, can you imagine?

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No they had no idea I snapped a photo of them – I couldn’t help it, I’m a wedding photographer!  Look how perfect their cute little blanket is.  They were reading a book together.

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Heading up to Northern Ireland was a huge detour for us, but a few spots were highly recommended to us by the restaurant owner we ate at the night before.  That was pretty much how our entire trip went – we had conversation with several people at a bar, gas station stop, you name it and they would give us directions and ideas on places to see next, and off we went!  I can’t express how genuinely friendly and sweet the Irish are.  Of course Melayne and I stayed and passed through small towns but we wouldn’t have had it any other way – to really see how locals live.  When people heard our accents they asked where we were from and what we were doing in their town (that’s how small they were) and we’d chat it up, get some ideas on where to go next, and people would take the time to write directions down for us.  I love the Irish so so so much!  Ok, back to travel photos.

The first stop in Nothern Ireland was the Carrick-a-rede rope bridge.  It was raining sideways before we got there!  Thankfully the rain died down so we could cross the bridge.  These images are not photoshopped, this is exactly what we saw as we walked to the location of the rope bridge.

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Just 5 minutes down the road was our second stop, Giant’s Causeway, it’s ancient volcanic lava flow that crazy enough created these insane columns and they are in the most beautiful shapes – like hexagons!  They call it Giant’s Causeway because the legend is that a Giant built it, read it here.  As you can see, this detour was absolutely worth the gas and time!

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Because our GPS wanted to route us through every small town on the way in, we rolled into our next castle, back into the Republic of Ireland at 2 a.m.  The next morning we decided to explore our hotel, Kilronan Castle.  There was a town about 30 minutes away called Sligo, very small but we liked it!  We ate at a pub called McHughs and made a few friends which then helped us decide our next stops.

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This wasn’t at the pub, but a different restaurant.  We ordered a club sandwich but what we got was a cod.  They didn’t understand our accents and we didn’t understand theirs.  Oops.  Also parking the car underground with their levels made much more sense to me than our system.  Ground floor is just level 0 and you work your way up or down from there.

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Off to our next destination which was Galway, we drove through Boyle and saw horses and people and realized the Boyle Horse and Summer Show was going on!  We did a quick 30 minute stop to see horses jump, compete, and a dog show!  I love that Melayne is just as spontaneous as I am, ready to pay for a quick ticket just for the experience.  It was so class!

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After enough random stops, we finally made it to Galway and we loved it!  We shopped, a lot!

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Then we rolled into Ashford Castle late at night and decided to explore the next morning.  This is where we would stay for two nights and the highlight of our trip.  This castle was built in 1228 and later was formerly home to the Guinness family – actually a vacation home before given to Ireland for a fraction of the value as a gift so it became a castle hotel in 1939.  After we realized how many different things you could do while on castle grounds – walk a hawk, horseback riding, archery, cruise around the Corrib, fishing, Melayne and I decided to forget about Cork and stay put to finally enjoy where we were.  We are SO glad we did.

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Woke up and had a lovely breakfast where I felt like I was living the Downton Abbey life!  Then hopped on a ferry for a cruise on the Corrib which was an hour long.

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We walked to the nearest little town called Cong which is a 15 minute walk.

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In Cong, we found ourselves at Pat Cohan’s Pub, where scenes from John Wayne’s movie, ‘The Quiet Man’ was filmed.  Melayne knows Marissa Wayne, John Wayne’s daughter and so this stop was very important for her.  The owners were amazing and so nice, as all the Irish were to us.

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Back to Ashford Castle, to WALK A HAWK at Ireland’s School of Falconry!! Have you ever seen the State Farm commercial about the guy who saves money and buys a falcon?  Well Mr. Wonderful is like that too – he loves hawks and eagles and falcons!  So when it was suggested to us by other hotel visitors to walk a hawk, we thought, Let’s do it!  When and where else will we ever have the opportunity?

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There were falcons, owls and hawks!  Each bird had their own perch they were tied to for a reason – so they wouldn’t fight for their food or territory.  It kept them safe from each other.

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Our falcon’s name was Fomhar means Autumn but pronounced like “Fallver” and he was born in 2009.  The little owl I was told loves brunettes in ponytails but doesn’t like children.  It’s funny how the trainers can tell bird personalities.  Walking a hawk is basically taking it out to the woods and walking with it as it flies around with you and comes back to you. I’m going to put a video collage up next week for you to watch our trip with the gear I brought, but for now, here are some pics.

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Isn’t he beautiful?  Our guide was Conal and he was awesome!  He taught us a few Irish lingos, like, “It was class” and “That’s savage!”

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After, we walked the grounds of Ashford Castle before dinner.

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Our last day was to head to our last castle, Dunboyne Castle Hotel which is close to Dublin.  We took a bus into Dublin since it’s a little crazy there.  Dublin is very busy, and very city like where it’s crowded and dirty.  You can say that we didn’t really like it and we both would have been OK not seeing Dublin.  But, we were already there and made the best of it seeing Trinity College, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Christ Church Cathedral and Dublin Castle.  We liked seeing ruins and history so we stayed off the streets as much as we could.

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Here’s Dunboyne before we left to catch our quick fight into London!

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These were all taken with my Sony NEX-5R (c/o) – the perfect compact travel companion with DSLR quality.  I was so glad I bought my extra lenses and it was so light it fit in my purse!

Highlights or things you should know if you’re visiting Ireland:

  • Freeways are called motorways
  • Side roads along freeways are called slips
  • Most stores close at 6 pm, and even gas stations in small towns
  • Always check your GPS is working correctly.  Ours was horrible and took us through every small town instead of keeping us on the main motorways like M4 or N6.
  • Bachelorette parties are called “Hen Parties” and bachelor parties are called “Stag Parties”  I’m aware this is not important but I thought it was hilarious.
  • Drinking legal age is 18
  • I’m just going to say it, there were quite a few spiders, not to freak anyone out.  I’m a little arachnophobic.
  • If you are driving and need gas, you fill up first then go in and tell them which pump and you pay.
  • I’m not sure if I’d recommend the castle tour but I would highly recommend Ashford Castle.  The issue with a package deal with hotels is that if you want to explore like Melayne and I did, we had limitations on where we could go because we had to get back to our hotel.  I am glad we did it the way we did of course because it did get us to venture more but if you can randomly find a B&B or hotel on the spot (if funds allow), you might enjoy it better that way.

Watch our Ireland video here!

Equipment used: Sony NEX-5R (c/o), 50mm f1/.816mm f/2.8 + 18-55mm (c/o).

Diana Elizabeth left a part of her heart in Ireland, with the people she met and the places she went.  She always thought this trip was a once in a lifetime thing, but now she knows she’ll definitely be returning again.