Our recent Irish Family Vacation was a one of a kind. For the first few days, we were tourists and for the second half of our trip, we stayed with friends which took the trip to a completely different level.
If you haven’t experienced a family trip that involves staying with another family who are close friends, I highly recommend it. Besides the fact that it’s highly economical (you eat out less, for one thing, and you save money on accommodations), it’s also a far more enjoyable experience with familiarity, comfort and companionship. It also presents an intimate and authentic way to get to know a place when you have your own personal tour guide who happened to be born there, which was the case for us.
Paul and Jo were two ex-pats living in our New York suburb for the past three years when they came over with his work from Perth. I happened to meet them during their first year in NY when their kids happened to be in the same class with mine. We instantly bonded and were had a steadfast friendship during their stay in the U.S. So when Jo dropped the bomb about their pending departure, my heart was broken. However, in the same conversation she mentioned that on their way home, they would be spending a month in Paul’s native town in the Ring of Kerry, a part of Ireland I had been to. They were renting a six-bedroom house on the water and noted that we were very welcome to come for a few days.
Since we were already heading to the UK and had not booked our flights, my husband and I jumped. We saw the visit as an opportunity to get a unique perspective from a native who was born and bred in Ireland, but also a chance to spend quality time with them outside our everyday lives. I didn’t take our decision lightly; I knew that I was very lucky to get to visit them. I had a feeling that the Ring of Kerry was already special but knew that our visit would be accentuated as a result of our families coming together.
Beginning and ending in Kilarney, the Ring of Kerry traces the coastline of the Iveragh Peninsula. We were heading towards Caherdaniel. Without stops, the whole tour takes four hours but we were driving halfway. It’s quiet curvy and does require stops along the way. There is Kenmare, a town on the bay; Killarney National Park; Waterville, home of a famous Charlie Chaplin film festival and where Chaplin apparently summered; Sneen, a charming town full of quaint homes and shopping; and Caherdaniel, where our friend Paul grew up.
The 120-mile route that encompasses the loop takes the N70, N71 and R562 roads and encounters some of Ireland’s finest landscapes, a breathtaking mosaic of rugged, storm-bashed coast, mountains, green fields, historic sites, slate-colored glacial lakes and welcoming towns and villages. As we drove down the curvy roads, we sang songs and gazed out the window.
When we entered the home in the Ring of Kerry, two things happened. First, our kids, who had been glued to our hips for the the past several days while touring around Ireland, ran off to join their little friends to make rainbow loom bracelets. Second, we joined our friends on the balcony facing the water. The Ring of Kerry is a vision of beauty like I had never seen before and I couldn’t believe it. Every which way you look there is the majestic sea, mountains, greenery, horses and blue skies.
We only had a few days with them, so we were open to whatever our friends suggested we do. They are very active and adventurous people, and the Ring of Kerry is made for that kind of life. We followed them around town and took their word for what they knew we would love.
Our tour included places Paul grew up going to including a magical walk through the woodlands of Derrynane House, right near Caherdaniel. Quite unexpected and delightful, we encountered a fairy trail in the historic gardens of Derrynane House. The fairy house trail comprises of approximately 20 little fairy houses, all with unique ‘fairy’ features. Children don’t even realize that there is anything special about the wood until they find their first house and they were running from one to another in laughter.
Paul grew up with a horseback riding instructor who runs Eagle Rock Centre in Derrynane National Historic Park. The stables are housed in a listed building beside a 15th Century castle at Ballycarnahan. His friend took us for a long ride on the sand fats during low tide across Derrynane Harbor. It was an experience we will never forget – my kids, who are newbie horse back riders, were put immediately at ease by the owner’s niece, who works for me at the age of 9. (Now my son is looking for a job!)
We also went fishing with his uncle and caught haddock, which we ate for dinner. We were fortunate enough to be Ireland during a sunny bout so we spent afternoon on the Derrynane Beach. In the sunshine, its beaches can assume a Caribbean-like hue and it was cosmic and I took the loveliest swim across the dunes.
Jo made fabulous meals for us. We celebrated my husband’s birthday with a gorgeous dinner and cake at the house. We spent one evening at the local pub, the Blind Piper (complete with an outside playground), where Paul said hello to everyone we grew up with . We had a drink outside at O’Carrolls Cove Beach Bar and Restaurant, “Ireland’s only beach bar” situated between Caherdaniel and Castlecove at Glenbeg Beach (where Paul once worked as a young man). They showed us their church. We met his parents. We met his aunt. We heard about growing up in Southern Ireland and we watched our children run in circles on the Irish sands. After the kids went to bed, exhausted and happy from a day being together, the four of us sat back and drank wine watching the Irish skyline.
It was a trip we will never, ever forget.
And I suspect my children won’t either.