When I told her I was going to Ireland, the first thing my mom said to me was, "Don't walk across the moors." To this day I have no idea what she was referring to. I assumed it was some Brontë- or Jane Austen-themed B movie she's seen a dozen times.
Naturally, my good friend I was traveling with, Kara, and I mockingly wondered if every open pasture we drove past was a moor. This was just one of the many questions we tried to remind ourselves to Google later, being tragically deprived of WiFi on the road.
Other questions we got answered by talking to the locals, like the correct pronunciation of "lough". We kept rhyming it with through or plough, like any American would—turns out it's actually pronounced "loch" and means lake. We figured it'd be good to know, since two of the castle hotels we stayed in had "lough" in their name.
Lough Rynn Castle
Lough Rynn castle was the first castle hotel we stayed at on our trip. We couldn't have dreamed of a more luxurious place to cure our jet lag after our exhausting first day in Ireland. Naturally, our fatigue from the three-hour drive from Cork and being up for 32 hours straight vanished once when we got to the castle. We spent a good hour exploring our cozy accommodations with plush bedding and heated tile floors in the bathroom (my favorite feature) and admiring the hotel's amenities—like fresh cream delivered for your morning coffee or tea.
Kara and I got spoiled with an impressive continental breakfast (think: local yogurt, fresh-baked pastries, and a parfait bar) both mornings and—once we realized the full breakfast was included in our stay—made the most of the second morning and had our first go at black and white pudding, which turned out to be more like a meaty hash brown patty than what was our idea of pudding.
The castle was decorated to have a Victorian feel with hints of modern elements, having hallways of grey stone on one wall and glass over looking the grounds on the other, and common rooms with massive ornate fireplaces and oil portraits of women from the 1800s illuminated by dim pink mood lighting.
The castle grounds were just as beautiful as the castle's interior and a perfect to get lost in the morning—with intricate fountains, graceful statues, and maze-like gardens framed by a stone wall that ran along the shore of Lough Rynn.
Ireland's Oldest Pub
Day two in Ireland began with a trip to the west coast, stopping by Sean's Bar on our way. With history dating back to 900 A.D., Sean's holds the Guinness World Record for the oldest pub in Ireland.
The bar was as cheery and welcoming outside—with white columns topped with happy flower boxes—as it was dim and dismal inside. Save an old man sitting in the corner with his dog sleeping beneath the table, we were the only two people in the bar. (Although it hadn't hit noon yet, so that was probably why.) The bartender quickly appeared from the back room and we ordered two of Sean's own brews—I the porter and Kara the red ale.
The bartender gave us and a few other foreigners that had walked in a little later a short history on the ancient building, and honored us with a request to sign a log of Sean's foreign visitors. I was comforted to see several groups of people livening the bar by the time we left.
Cliffs of Moher
We took the advice of Sean's bartender and booked a Doolin2Aran passenger boat that would take us beneath the Cliffs of Moher—he said that was the only way to do it. We drove toward the coast and through the two-building downtown of Doolin to the shore, only to find several closed ferry stands in front of a dark grey choppy ocean.
We hoped it was just too rough for the boats to sail that day and drove back to a little sweater shop (the only thing open besides the bar) to find someone who might know for sure. The woman working was friendly and willing to make calls for us, but wasn't able to get through to anybody.
There was no way we were going to miss the Cliffs of Moher so, after spending too much on souvenirs at The Sweater Shop, we drove to the popular viewing point and found everything there was closed too. On the bright side, we didn't have to pay for parking. But we did have to brave gusts of wind and sea spray that some how managed to drift some 400 feet over the top of cliffs. It wasn't the most enjoyable weather we had in Ireland, but it did make for some beautifully eerie pictures that looked like something from the set of a Harry Potter movie.
Dinner in Galway
Unfortunately, we didn't have time for anything more than dinner in Galway. We got there when it already dark and found our way to the restaurant-laden street (I forgot the name) Sean's bartender recommended. We walked up and down the street reading menus and gauging atmospheres until we settled on The King's Head.
I ordered the most savory creamy dill seafood chowder and traditional Irish stew of tender lamb, potatoes, and carrots. Kara got something we've never seen before—a plate of crab claws. They tasted like any other crab I've had, but it was different eating just a plate of them. I also had my first Irish coffee that night. I couldn't get enough of the warm coffee made even warmer by the whiskey and slightly decadent by the heavy cream on top.