Ireland Housing

Last time we traveled the Emerald Isle, we stayed exclusively at hostels and B&Bs. B&Bs riddle the Irish countryside, even during the winter off season (though many were closed for the holidays). This time, we encountered reasonably-priced hotels, which suited us, much to our surprise.

 

 

 

Our first stay was in the Clontarf Castle Hotel. Modern construction emerges from the old structure of the castle to make a cozy, pleasant hotel. It’s high-priced, but not unreasonably so. The breakfast buffet is amazing, the rooms comfortable, and the pub generally quiet and pleasant.

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Clontarf, we headed to Donegal. Our first stop was the town of Stranorlar, largely on the basis of it having a pleasant riverside walk. After two B&Bs which were closed or didn’t take credit cards, we stumbled upon Kee’s Hotel. Initially, we dismissed hotels, since they appeared, from the outside, to be too fancy and hoity-toity. Kee’s, though, was awesome. It had a wonderfully cozy pub, affordable rooms, and a very fine breakfast. After that, we started looking more for hotels than B&Bs.

 

Our ultimate next destination was Galway for Christmas, so we made a stop in Sligo at the Riverside Suites. Immediately adjacent to the river but a little out of the way (easy to find and park), this was a wonderful hotel which suited us perfectly.

In Galway, we stayed at the Rock Lodge B&B, staffed by a pleasant hostess and offering very comfortable beds and a quite nice breakfast. Close enough to the Salthill commercial area, we had pleasant drinks and dinners there each night. A drive through Connemara was simply amazing- we had never seen country like it before. Filled with bogs, shining lakes, and little islands, this drive was one of our favourites.

From Galway, we traced the coast along the N67 to Ennis. There we stayed at the Auburn Lodge, an affordable and cozy single-story affair which reminded us a locally run event center in the States. Then, off to Dingle!

In Dingle we found the Dingle Marina Lodge and hunkered down for three days of blowing rain. We were given a large room on the top floor, and the pounding rain was both pleasant and startling. We managed to drive the Ring of Dingle, which was closed due to snow on our last visit. Dingle is also home to a surprising array of craft alcohol, which you can read about here.

For New Year’s, Susan rented us Nell’s Farmhouse, just south of Carrick-on-Suir. It was a wonderful, out-of-the-way but very cozy and well-appointed little abode. Flooding impeded our progress to and around it, requiring numerous detours on little local roads. The farmhouse boasted a hot tub, so we enjoyed an unexpectedly clear New Year’s Eve in the hot tub enjoying the stars.

After New Year’s, we went to the Wicklow Mountains and the park of Glendalough. This is a place we visited five years ago and loved. We tried to hike to Saint Kevin’s Cell, but managed to lose ourselves on the endless trails and never found it. The walk was still beautiful.

That night we found The Coach House Pub/B & B for dinner and a room. Unfortunately, the walls were quite thin and we were over the pub- loud revelers kept me up until well after 2am.

We hadn’t managed to visit the Jameson distillery when we were first in Dublin, so we swung by on our way back up north.

Returning to Donegal, we spent the rest of the time at Kee’s Hotel, making little day ventures out to the coast. It was a perfect, restful end to our adventure in Ireland.

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Ireland – Dingle

We visited the Dingle peninsula on our previous trip to Ireland.  It was snowed-capped and beautiful.  We started along the Ring of Dingle but turned back on account of snow.  Back then, it was pubs and B&Bs and little local shops.  This trip added breweries and a distillery to the mix.

West Kerry Brewery is a tiny affair adjacent to the Bricks Pub – Tig Bhric in Irish.  The Pub served aWest Kerry Brewery very nice pairing meal along with three of their drafts- a Golden, Red, and Winter Strong.  The Golden had a nice bready malt character and a light lemon hops character.  Susan felt it was slightly too hop-balanced to be a great representation of a Golden.  Their Red was wonderfully malty- distinct hazelnut and molasses flavors were more characteristic of a nut brown than a red for us.  The Winter Warmer was also delightful- fruit flavors dominated by plum and a good richness to the malt profile.  They had a special elderberry/flower dark ale which was fine, but the elder character was too muted for our tastes.  The pub music was quiet and, sadly, we were the only ones there.  Sadly, they do not take credit cards, so tourists be forewarned.

Dingle Brewery is located within town, close enough to walk from our lodging.  The day was beyond blustery, with the rain coming in horizontal from gale-force winds off the ocean, so we drove.  Somewhat amazingly, they only had one beer on tap- their cream Irish lager.  It was fine, but nothing remarkable.  We hope they expand their offerings in the future.

Dingle DistilleryFinally, the Dingle Distillery a little outside the west edge of town is only a few years old and contained in a drafty metal building.  The tour was lengthy and a bit wandering, but contained a few interesting tidbits.  Notably, that ‘pot still’ whiskey in Ireland refers to mixing malted grains with unmalted grains, using the enzymes from the malted grain to metabolize the starches in the unmalted grain.  As with all new whiskey distilleries, they do not yet sell whiskey- that requires barrel ageing, which takes time.  They do offer a gin- Susan liked it, I thought it tasted like soap- and a vodka, which was a bit harsh.  Hopefully their whiskey, once complete, will be delicious.

Overall, we’re pleased Ireland seems to be trying to evolve its beer and distillery production to be more local and unique.  We have to say, though, that the mega-companies just do SUCH a fine job in Ireland, it’s difficult to root as hard for the underdog as we do in the US.

Dingle Farms

Ireland – Dublin

Alcohol Tourism Belgian Beer Atlanta Aiport“Belgian Beer” said the auspicious sign immediately outside our gate in the International terminal of the Atlanta Airport.  A pint of Rare Vos later, we were set to begin the journey to Ireland.

We had both been to Ireland once alone and once with each other, for our 1 year anniversary.  This trip would mark our 6 year anniversary, 5 years since our last journey to Ireland.  On our last trip, we had a hard time finding breweries or brewpubs not associated with a major, large brewer like Guinness. Guinness was our first favorite beer, so we didn’t miss our beloved craft beer too much.  Wine seems to be unmade on this island, and the distilleries often did not have tours.  Let’s see if time has improved Ireland’s alcohol tourism prospects.

Our first pints, in the Clontarf Castle Hotel’s Knight’s Bar pub, had to be Guinness and a cider, though they didn’t have Bulmers on tap.  The next day saw us start at Grogans Castle Lounge.  We had heard about the pub from Drinking with Men by Rosie Schaap, who hailed it as a great place for a chat.  That night, and the next time we tried it Saturday afternoon, it was crowded to the point just beyond standing-room-only.  Maybe if you arrived at 10am you could get a spot to have a chat.  After that was JW Sweetman’s in downtown Dublin.  We had been to Sweetman’s previous incarnation, Messr Maguire’s, on our last trip and were delighted to score the same quiet, tucked away spot to have our drinks and meal.  Their Irish Red Ale was a bit hoppy for that style- more like an American Red.  The Weiss was our favourite, with a nice banana aroma and a wonderful creamy mouthfeel.

Alcohol Tourism Against the Grain DublinThe next day saw us in what can simply be described as a Wonder of the World- a pub on a college campus.  Maybe they have these outside of the South, but I cannot imagine the outcry if any Southern university were to put a pub on campus.  The Clubhouse at UCD was surprisingly lively, as the quiet and comfy lounge was closed.  Still, the concept is sound- let’s get on this one, America.

Our last alcohol stop was Against the Grain, an outlet of the Galway Bay brewing company.  Their beer was delightful- the milk stout and the wee heavy were absolute stand outs.  We managed to find an off-license (liquor store) which featured several dozen Irish craft beers.  We selected Kinnegar’s porter, Bo Bristle’s stout, Jack Cody’s Samhain, and Dan Kelley’s cider.  Each was quite impressive, rivalling the best American craft beers for their adherence to style and pleasant mouthfeel.  This bodes well for Ireland’s alcohol touring prospects this trip.

Gross Guinness?

Our gateway beer wasn’t Coors Light, or Budweiser, or Natty Light, or even <shiver> Milwaukee’s Best.  Our gateway beer- beer that got both of us to accept that beer is a reasonable thing to drink- was Guinness.Alcohol Tourism - Belgium Pub

It took a long time for me to get around to Guinness.  My friends told me it was like drinking a whole meal, was dense, and was far too intense to have as a starter beer.  Instead, I was plied with light American lagers, which, even then, I realized were unacceptable.  It took my first trip to Ireland, where you drink Guinness or get looked at askance, to experience and enjoy it.  Susan’s first experience with Guinness was as a completely alcohol-naive 19 year old on a college trip to Ireland.  She found it enjoyable, but had no real basis for comparison.  After these first Irish experiences, Guinness in America tasted funny to us both.  Maybe it was the psychological component- it MUST taste better in its homeland, even though it’s the same beer.Alcohol Tourism - Gate

Guinness is not near to a full meal.  It is in fact low cal, at 125 calories- less than Budweiser or Coors.  A stout, by definition, includes roasted barley, which provides a pleasant ‘burnt’ or ‘roasted’ flavour.  Guinness has a characteristic tang on the finish, originally from mixing some of the previous batch with the next batch.  Guinness is brewed in 50 locations around the world, although Guinness Draught enjoyed in the US is brewed in Ireland.  Guinness in Australia is not.

Perched comfortably at the bar of the Grosvenor Hotel in Perth in 2004, I eyed my first pint of Guinness in Oz.  It was black and had a perfect head on it.  The bartender jauntily added an impression of a clover into the head.  The Guinness website claims that experts have blind tasted Guinness from around the world and found it to be indistinguishable.  Maybe that’s true.  I expected Guinness in Oz to taste like Guinness back home.  I was destined to be disappointed.Alcohol Tourism - Guinness and Bulmers

Guinness in Australia is brewed in Australia, purportedly using the same process and ingredients as that brewed in Ireland.  We are here to tell you, it is not.  The light acidity is absent, and there’s a flat, oxidized quality to it.  The body is not as light in mouthfeel and the finish is more burnt.  It all adds up to a disappointing pint of a beer for a beer which we both fondly recall as our gateway beer, and still have a keg of in our house for ‘regular’ beer enjoyment.  Try it for yourself, and share your experiences with us!