I'm starting a 10-article series on our July 2019 trip to Ireland. I'll talk about what I intended to see, what I actually saw, and some of the lessons I learned. Hopefully, this information will be helpful to someone. If there is a specific question, please contact me by way of my contact page and I'd be happy to answer.
We drove from our home near Lansing to Toronto - Pearson airport, a drive of about four hours and fifteen minutes. We made this trip because the flight was several hundred dollars less (per ticket) than flying from Detroit, and Toronto had direct flights. Unlike our last drive to Toronto for the previous year's trip to Iceland, this drive was construction-free, and we parked at SkyPark next to the airport. It was a dirt lot, but the rates were good, the people were friendly, and we were taken right to our gate with no waiting. I was very impressed with their service, and would certainly use them again.
We flew Air Transat for the first time and it was a pleasant experience, and there were no problems getting checked-in. Even the long wait in the airport (we were really paranoid after the Iceland debacle) wasn't too bad. Toronto has lots to places to eat if you need kill some time. I bumped up my Fitbit steps with many loops around the terminal.
Upon arriving in Dublin, things were OK until it was time to get our rental car. I hadn't used Sixt before, nor had I been to Ireland. Upon speaking to a representative, she told me I needed to purchase insurance. After assuring her my credit card covered the Insurance, Sixt (and all Irish car rental companies) needed a waiver to prove this. Thus began the hour-long ordeal to get my car. I needed to do Wi-Fi calling to call my credit card company who sent an e-mail with a PDF proving what I had told them.
By the way, we use Chase Sapphire Preferred as our credit card, and it is fantastic. We have gotten several plane tickets using points accumulated throughout the year, and whenever I interact with them, the people are great. I was especially impressed when dealing with the staff at this particular car rental horror show, as they quickly got the waiver to me within minutes of calling, saving my day and possibly preventing an international incident. And the card is made of blue metal, which is super cool.
The next tribulation with Sixt was getting the car. The shuttle took us to the second Sixt counter where a confusing miasma of humanity greeted us. If you are going to rent with Sixt, upon entering the door, go to the right and there is a "key pickup" station just for you. I wasn't aware of this at first and went to the "take a number" station. But you don't need to take a number, just go to that counter and give someone the paper you got at the first counter, after the painful process you may likely face.
And two hours after landing, we were off!
Oh, before I go any further, I want to give you a tip. I don't use my data plan internationally, only connecting to the Wi-Fi at our nightly stays. To get around, I download a Google Maps of the country I will be visiting, and use that offline. It's really easy to do and very handy. This did come back to bite us, but I'll get into that later. Regardless of problems, it is still an extremely useful tool, and I wouldn't travel internationally without it.
I had intended to visit Charleville castle southwest of Tullamore. However, the castle gives tours every hour, and because of the time spend dealing with the rental car issues, we would have just missed the tour I wanted, and waiting for the next tour would have thrown off my timing too much for my comfort. We were, after all, low on sleep, and I wanted to be at our first stay at a decent hour.
Instead, our first stop was Clonmacnoise, a ruined monastery seven miles south of Athlone. It was here that I bought our Irish Heritage pass, a fantastic deal if you planning on seeing many sites in Ireland. For €90.00, my family was able to access sites that we normally would have had to pay for individually. Before you go, run the numbers on the sites you intend to visit, but it may very well be a better deal to purchase the card instead of each site individually. The people at the Clonmacnoise site were friendly and helpful.
The most visible buildings on the site were the 12th century round towers. There are several round towers across Ireland, but Clonmacnoise has two - that's just how they roll. The graveyard has hundreds of stones and replica Irish crosses, the originals of which are preserved inside the on-site museum.
In addition to the towers, there are several churches on the site, the largest of which is the cathedral. The last High King of Ireland, Rory O'Connor, is buried there. He picked a good spot, on the rolling hills and fields around River Shannon.
We spent about forty five minutes wandering the grounds. As our rental car disaster put things behind schedule, along with the fatigue of flying to Europe, we went to our Air B&B rental in Kilcolgan. The house was wonderful, with views of Kilcolgan River as is flowed west to the Atlantic. Our hosts recommended Moran's, a fish restaurant across the river that served amazing oysters and fish & chips, a great spot and one I would definitely suggest, and a great end to our first day. With a Guinness, of course!