About 9 years ago, I watched a movie called P.S. I Love You.
Hilary Swank. Gerard Butler.
He writes her several letters about going out and enjoying her life instead of remaining so uptight.
Maybe you know it?
Half of the movie is set in Ireland, and after seeing it, I was absolutely in love.
I dreamt about the day that I’d get to visit Ireland in person.
A few years ago, I decided that I would make it to Ireland to celebrate my 30th birthday –
happening this November.
I had plenty of time to plan and save up – seemed like a good birthday present to me!
But several months ago, plans changed a little bit.
I had been diagnosed with a recurrence – #4 – and my uncle BJ got wind that my one big bucket-list trip was Ireland.
And he wanted to make that happen for me.
And to make sure I wasn’t over there by myself, he said he would send my siblings as well.
(I’m sure you’re wondering, Where can I get an uncle like this? Sorry to say, he’s one of a kind!)
Since the beginning of 2017, we put our heads together and started planning this once-in-a-lifetime trip.
About 10 days before we were set to leave, I had a little hiccup – I was admitted to the hospital with low counts, an inability to fight off infection. Luckily, a few bags of fluid and some antibiotics later, I was being released to go home and prepare for my trip!
One of my sisters was gracious enough to drive to Illinois early and help me ‘rehab’ before our trip. She pushed me like I needed to be pushed – getting out to walk, building up lung endurance and muscle mass.
And on May 23, my sister and I boarded the plane in St. Louis to begin the first leg of our overseas travel!(Russell family crest)
Now there’s obviously no way that I can share every single detail of the trip with you, but this trip was bound to be great – with the amount of planning put into it and the excitement from the 6 out of 7 siblings who would be going!
(Giant’s Causeway – an ancient volcanic eruption interlocked about 40,000 basalt columns)
After traveling nearly 4,000 miles, we arrived in Dublin and connected with another sister. We spent a couple of days in Dublin, touring places like the city centre and Kilmainham Gaol, a former Irish prison that held several individuals for petty thefts during the Irish Republican movement.
After connecting with yet another sister, we made our way to Belfast,
which is located in northern Ireland (still part of the UK).
Belfast was where the Titanic was built and first launched. In 2012, a museum dedicated to the ship was opened. We had the privilege of doing a guided tour and it was incredible!
After a couple of days in Belfast, we moved on to Donegal – towards the west coast. One of my sisters had found out that a Relay for Life was going to be happening as we were passing through there, so we planned to stop. There just happened to be an American team at this Relay – team Relay Nation! We quickly befriended them and enjoyed a few hours of great Relay spirit and shared in awe at how small of a world we really live in!!
After the Relay, we traveled a bit further on to Dunkineely where we were to spend the next 3 nights in a thatched roof cottage set in the country. It was so lovely!
Unfortunately, I took one of those days and stayed in, sitting out on seeing the sights, to work on summer school work. Doesn’t sound like fun, but I needed to get it done. After that, I put away my schoolwork and didn’t mess with it anymore on the trip!
(Dark Hedges – tunnel-like avenue of intertwined beech trees planted in the 18th century)
On one of our days in Dunkineely, we began by just driving and happened to come upon a sign for caves and a beach. We hiked to the beach, scaled some rocks and checked out a few caves. We were one of only a few small groups on the beach – very nice and secluded!
After a fun day, we went back to our cottage and got dressed up to go into town. After a nice meal at The Olde Castle Bar, we walked a few blocks to The Reel Inn and enjoyed live music for several hours! We ended up meeting two brothers from the Netherlands who enjoy a 2-week walking holiday together in Ireland every 2 years. They walk for several hours each day, and then enjoy food, music and beer in Irish pubs in the evening! This was also the night that I heard my favorite Irish song for the first time while in Ireland – “Galway Girl.“
When our time was up in Dunkineely, we traveled on to Westport on the upper west coast of Ireland. To break up our drive a bit, we stopped at St. John’s Point, a world renowned diving site and lighthouse attraction, with scenery that mirrors the Cliffs of Moher.
We also visited a church and cemetery at Drumcliffe (the final resting place of W.B. Yeats, a famous Irish poet).
We checked in to our first hostel along the trip in Westport.
Compared to my siblings, who are much more avid travelers than I, I would consider myself a high maintenance traveler. I’m not fond of the name hostel (probably something to do with the horror movie, I’d say!) and I wasn’t crazy about the idea of sharing rooms with folks we didn’t know. However, there were 4 of us and we were given a room with just 4 beds, so no issues there.
It actually ended up being an old abbey that a husband and wife had turned into a hostel and setting up their home with their two young sons in a few side rooms on the ground level. They were very kind to us and made sure that we had everything we needed – so I must say that my first hostel experience was a positive one!
(Corned beef and cabbage cannot be found everywhere in Ireland – it is a regional dish!)
Upon arriving and unloading our stuff, we rented some bikes and traveled to the Westport House (named the most beautiful house in Ireland). Two of the four of us continued on to Newport on the bikes, but myself and another sister turned back early and went back. When they returned, we walked downtown and found a nice place to have dinner.
We just spent one night in Westport, so upon our check out the next morning, we returned our bikes and headed towards Galway – slightly southeast from Westport. On our way out of town, we stopped at Croagh Patrick (a 764 metre mountain and and important site of pilgrimage) and did a small hike. As we headed to Galway, we stopped to enjoy Ashley Falls and drove through a beautiful mountain pass.
We traveled to Inverin where our next accommodation was located. It was a beautiful little home about 45 minutes outside of Galway city. Once unloaded, we traveled into the city centre and picked up our second rental car, as 2 more siblings were to join us later that day. We also ate some delicious fish and chips and enjoyed visiting downtown shops.
The final 2 siblings to arrive had some unfortunate luck getting to Ireland. Their St. Louis to Toronto flight had been delayed, causing them to miss the second leg of their flight. They were redirected to Chicago from St. Louis and caught a plane to London where they had a long layover before finally getting on a plane headed for Dublin. Once in Dublin, they had to get on a bus to come to Galway where we were to meet them.
Since we now had two rental cars, one sister and I chose to pick up some groceries and return to our house early while the other two waited a few more hours for the siblings to arrive in Galway. They walked into the house around 11PM that evening and were extremely tired, but the 6 of us sat around the dining table and talked about their “fun” adventures throughout the day, sharing lots of laughs!
The next morning, we visited a farm where we were given a private sheepdog tour! They had a couple of puppies who were just a few months old, so we had a lot of fun cuddling them! We also got to see an older sheepdog herd the sheep down the mountain. The gentleman who owned the farm explained what each whistle call meant for the dog. It was quite impressive to watch – the dog didn’t just ‘shoo’ them down in a straight line; it was a very diligent task, with it ending as the dog herded the sheep into the pen. The man made a reference to the movie, Babe, where the pig actually does sheep herding and is scored on it. He explained the scoring – it was quite interesting!
Once we finished there, we traveled through Connemara, known to be one of the most beautiful sceneries in Ireland. We also traveled to Kylemore Abbey (a Benedictine monastery founded in 1920 on the grounds of Kylemore Castle, which a rich man built as a gift for his wife) and enjoyed a nice walking tour. We did a hike at Diamond Hill (large scenic hill) and ended our night at a pub listening to great Irish music!
The next morning, we planned a trip to the Aran Islands, a set of islands off of the west coast of Ireland. One of our sisters wanted to see an island; she picked the nearest one and we jumped on a ferry to go visit. About 15 minutes into the 30 minute ferry ride, three out of the six of us (myself included) began to feel sick. A couple of us were on the lower part of the ferry while the others were above. Once we arrived on the island, we took it quite slow because motion sickness doesn’t just go away!
Initially, we had planned to continue further on the ferry once finished on the island to see the Cliffs of Moher from below. However, much to some of our delight, the waters were too rough and there were no boats continuing on to the cliffs. Once we arrived back on Ireland soil, we made our way (by car!) to the Cliffs of Moher (Ireland’s most visited natural attraction, stretching for 5 miles along the Atlantic coast.)
Some of us still felt a bit crappy when we arrived at the cliffs, but it subsided as we began our trek up the hill to the cliffs. Some of the shots we got atop the cliffs were absolutely incredible!!
Later that day, we drove on to Kanturk (County Cork) where we would be staying for two nights. We arrived late at night, after spending a lot of time searching for the house. Once inside, the place was dirty and smelled like smoke, so we decided we wouldn’t stay. We drove an additional hour late that night, closer to our next destination, and enjoyed a night in a hotel.
When we checked out of the hotel the next morning, we headed to the city centre of Cork and visited an English market, then hit the road again.
A kayaking tour was planned for later in the day, but the directions that had been given were poor and we ended up missing it. However, my sister luckily came across one of the tour leaders at a lake near Ross Castle (15th century tower house in Killarney National Park). She persuaded him to let them join the tour for the following morning. We drove on to County Limerick that day, as that was where our next Air BNB was, and 4 out of the 6 of us planned to kayak the next day.
We stayed in another hostel, Ballyhoura Hostel in Kilfinane, and the accommodations were very nice. As our first hostel, this was ran by a husband and wife as well who were extremely kind – they made the effort to learn all of the names of the folks staying there and making sure everyone was taken care of. I was starting to learn that hostels weren’t too shabby!
The next morning, 4 of the siblings did a bit of backtracking to do their kayak tour, but my older sister and I stayed behind to enjoy a quiet, uneventful morning. We walked around the small town of Kilfinane and came upon an outdoor market fair that was taking place. We wandered into a shop that sold varieties of homemade apple juice and apple cider vinegar. The people were extremely nice, and we ended up meeting the owner, who wanted to show us the Vinegar Vault building up the hill.
This was where they made all of their delicious juices and vinegars. There were huge, aerating machines that held the vinegar; some vinegars took weeks to make, others took months. We then traveled up to a medieval motte and saw an incredible view of the village of Kilfinane.
We set out to meet up with the rest of the siblings a few hours later. We met them at the Rock of Cashel (the traditional seat of the kings of Munster for several hundred years prior to the Norman invasion), had a wonderful guided tour and then traveled on to Kilkenny where our next accommodations were located.
After touring Kilkenny’s city centre that evening, we adjusted the plans a bit for the next day. Myself and two sisters would head to Wicklow National Park (54,000 acre national park) a day earlier than planned, while the other three stayed in Kilkenny for another day.
Since my love for Ireland began with the movie P.S. I Love You, I wanted to visit the locations where they had filmed. Wicklow was one of the locations, as well as Blessington Lake (500 acres of water set within Wicklow National Park) and Sally Gap (beautiful scenic pass through Wicklow). There was a beautiful scenic drive recommended through Wicklow, along with an accompanying CD, so the three of us enjoyed some more beautiful scenery of Ireland and stayed at a beautiful country BNB that evening.
The next morning, we woke up and visited Powerscourt Waterfall (Ireland’s highest waterfall at 398 feet) on our way to Dublin. Unfortunately, our trip was coming to an end. We met up with the other siblings at our final lodging place and enjoyed the final night of all 6 of us being together, sharing many laughs at a restaurant!
Early the next day, two sisters had a flight back to Austria, so we all said goodbye. Once they left for the airport, the remaining four of us rented bikes (my first time on a tandem bike!) and biked around a gorgeous park in Dublin, even seeing the house of the American Ambassador from a distance.
We rode the Dublin Tram, jumping off at various places to eat and shop. We also did the Jameson Whiskey tour, which was a lot of fun! We enjoyed live music during our restaurant dinner within the Temple Bar district, then wandered into the Temple Bar (one of Dublin’s bars popular among tourists) for more live music (John Denver and U2 were covered by the musician!).
At the end of our last night, we tiredly returned to our AirBNB and prepared for our departure in the morning. One sister was returning to Hawaii, the other three of us were returning to southern Illinois.
Once we landed in St. Louis, after approximately 12 hours of travel, we loaded our car and headed for southern Illinois. We were to go straight to BJ’s house because he was so excited to hear about our trip. He had also requested 6 gifts, since 6 of us had gone on the trip, so we planned to give him his gifts.
We had a great evening, though we were tired, of talking about our trip, showing pictures and distributing gifts.
The memories made were priceless – it was truly a once in a lifetime trip
and I was able to enjoy it with some of the people I love the most!
I feel very blessed that this trip was able to happen
I’m happy to have been able to share it with all of you!!