I don’t get to Ireland nearly as much as I’d like (says me and anyone else who has ever been there before), but one of the advantages of what I do helping others plan their very first trip to Ireland is getting to live vicariously through them.
Sometimes, I get full reports that are so captivating that I feel like I am right there exploring and discovering Ireland for the first time with them.
Such is the case with Dottie Higgins, one of my favorite clients to date. :-)
Dottie and her hubby, Bill, traveled to the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and even a wee bit of Scotland for a special wedding anniversary trip–celebrating their 30th!
She sent me this day-by-day account, and I loved it so much I asked if I could share it with you. So tuck in, grab a cup of tea or a glass of something fun and enjoy.
Day 1: Caught the 747 link bus to the Ashling Hotel Dublin which drops you off right across the street from the hotel, arrived between 12:30 and 1 pm, had requested early check in per your suggestion and our room was ready!
This hotel was perfect, if we had not requested early check in we could have napped in their giant lobby with many comfy couches like other tired travelers were doing! The King room had everything we needed and we got caught up on some much needed rest since it was an all-night flight!
Ordered room service, showered and pinched ourselves! We were really in Ireland!
Stephanie’s Notes: Dottie & Bill did two things right here: They didn’t drive into the city and decided to rest up rather than rush through the first day (making it easier to really enjoy the next day!)
Day 2: Walked over Ha’Penny bridge, visited the Molly Malone Statue, Toured Trinity college and viewed the Book of Kells and the Long room (which we had booked ahead of time), made our way to the Guinness Storehouse for a pint or 2, a burger and listened to a fantastic band playing traditional Irish music.
Next we toured the Kilmainham Gaol (also booked ahead of time, thank goodness because the sign once there said sold out). We walked by St. Patrick’s Cathedral, stunning!
The Tall Ships were in town so we were able to view them from afar! An unexpected treat! Irish Luck!
Stephanie’s Notes: Booking ahead in Dublin is key if you’re heading there in high season and know your one to two things that are highest top priority. It saves you time (and a little money too!).
A Castle Stay
Day 3: Took the bus back to the airport and picked up our rental car from Budget. A cute Juke, spacious enough for luggage but not too big! It was automatic and we got the full coverage including windshield damage and a GPS system.
Boy did the GPS come in handy!!!! It was a last minute decision to add but I am SO glad we did.
I was co-pilot and my job was to gently remind Bill “remember, stay on the left.”
What a weird feeling to be on the driver’s side but not driving, I kept putting on my imaginary break. I can only imagine how Bill felt driving on the other side of the road but he did a fantastic job!
Once on the road we headed to Drogheda. What a beautiful drive but little did we know what we were about to see, Drummond Tower Castle! Breathtaking and we had the entire four level castle to ourselves.
We would definitely highly recommend staying!
There are 43 steps to the roof top so children and pets are not allowed due to the winding narrow staircase. It was fun watching Bill carry our suitcase up to the bedroom (and back down again!).
It had a rooftop with views for miles and the stars were so clear. We found an Aldi, grocery shop and dined at the castle.
Stephanie’s Notes: Some of the best, most authentic castles can be reserved for just a night or two. Many are on AirBnB (this one is my favorite run by my good friends Sonja & Kevin!).
The Boyne Valley & Castle Ward
Day 4: We toured Brú Na Bóinne Heritage Center and Newgrange (we booked this ahead of time). It was such a warm and sunny day.
We ran around Monasterboice after meeting Peter, a volunteer who gave us a map of the tomb stones and the history behind the cemetery.
We also toured Castle Ward and Winterfell! Love Game of Thrones. If I closed my eyes I would have thought I was in Maine where I am from. Beautiful shoreline!
I found an old ruin of a house I wanted to buy, fix up and live in right on the water but I guess not quite yet!
We returned to our castle and had dinner and cocktails on the rooftop.
Stephanie’s Notes: The high crosses at Monasterboice are amazing and it usually isn’t very crowded making it a great place for some amazing photos.
B&B Outside Belfast
Day 5: We left our castle and started our drive to Belfast. “Remember, Bill, stay on the left”.
We stayed at Pear Tree Hill, outside the city in County, Antrim. Avril and Ian were our hosts and what hosts they were!
Our room had its own set of sliding doors that led onto a private patio. The room had every amenity including the most comfortable robe I have ever warn.
Avril was gracious enough to give me the web site to order one. A little Irish comfort back in the states! (Christmas present idea Bill, lol.)
The breakfasts were absolutely delicious. We visited the hens on the property that gave us such wonderful bright orange eggs. A sheep farm was in front and we listened to the babies nahhing!
Ian lit a fire for us outside in the garden the last night we were there, and we shared drinks, conversation and a stunning sunset! Such Hospitable Hosts!
Stephanie’s Notes: Pear Tree Hill is such a fabulous place to stay–I have sent quite a few people there, and I don’t think anyone has been disappointed!
We opted not to do a Black Cab tour but instead to walk around Belfast ourselves, we stumbled across a bar called McHugh’s and quickly learned from our waitress that it was the oldest building in Belfast.
We had some great food and of course more great wine and gin/whiskey. It was used as a brothel years ago and still had bronzed bums in the windows, which we did not notice until out waitress pointed out! Oh my!!
Stephanie’s Notes: Can you really go wrong with a brothel turned bar in Belfast? I don’t think so either. :-)
Black Rock B&B
Day 7: Packed up, said our goodbyes to our new friends Avril and Ian and headed up the Coastal Causeway, stopping along the way at all the beautiful sights!
We have already put together one full album through Snap Fish!
We pulled into Ballycastle town for some sweets. Yummy! What a beautiful place! We found a restaurant on the water and had our first fish-n-chips and another Guinness.
We arrived at our next B&B late in the afternoon, Black Rock House!!!
You drive right by Dunluce Castle on the way. What a find. If I could give Nicola our host more than 5 stars I would!!! She pays such attention to detail!!!!
The Blackrock House is located in the heart of Portrush and you can walk down to White Rock Beach!
It’s a very old home that Nicola bought on her own and fixed up into a B&B. Her breakfast was out of this world! I have never had anything like it and it’s included with your room. Please, please, if you have the opportunity to stay please do so, or recommend to other future Northern Ireland visitors!
We stayed in a room named Portneen with a sea view which had twin beds. Nicola had rearranged the room and pushed the beds together prior to our arrival, again attention to detail!!!
Stephanie’s notes: While I haven’t stayed at Blackrock House myself, many people I’ve worked with have. I can 100% echo the comments by Dottie here. Nicola is a gem and this is a very special place. Next time we are sans kiddos in Northern Ireland you better betcha I am here!
Day 8: After our incredible breakfast we headed to Giant’s Causeway. WOW!!!!! Again another beautiful sunny day!!
We tried for Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge but arrived late because we took a winding road leading to nowhere that actual brought us to the Iron Islands, another Game of Thrones filming site! We investigated the area and collected some sea shells I brought home as a souvenir.
We’ll have to walk the bridge next time!
We stopped at Dunluce Castle and got some great pictures.
A local gave us a great tip about going to view the Dark Hedges between 9 and 10 pm as all the tour buses and hundreds of people would be gone so that’s exactly what we did!
We arrived at 9:15 pm and were the only ones there!! It did not get dark until close to 11:30 pm so we had plenty of light to capture some unbelievable pictures.
We walked all along the Dark Hedges road looking at the 300 year old trees and the new saplings planted to replace the ones lost in last year’s storm!
Stephanie’s Notes: Such. A. Great. Tip. Visit late in the day or very early for those spots that get ultra busy during the day (think Giant’s Causeway, Cliffs of Moher, Dark Hedges, etc.).
A Surprise Vow Renewal
Day 9: Unbeknownst to us, the town of Bushmills was having their annual festival today so we headed that way! We saw cloggers, visited with the vendors and Bill bought a pen from a local artist who carved it from the wood blown down from the Dark hedges! Dark Hedges wood!! What a souvenir for him!
Bill was just getting into the swing of the festival when I told him around 3 pm that we had to go back to Blackrock.
“Why?” he said.
“Because I have something special planned”.
So reluctantly we headed back.
Bill had brought a kilt over with him so the only direction I gave him was to please wear it. As we changed, he questioned my attire. No time to answer because just then we heard the sounds of a bagpiper!
We opened our room door and proceeded down the stairs, where at the bottom I was met with a bouquet of flowers.
I had arranged a surprise vow renewal ceremony and Nicola our host had helped me every step of the way!
Tucked away on the second floor of this most beautiful home was a room called the “snug” which over looked the Atlantic Ocean and White Rocks Beach. In this room, Nicola had hidden away the bag piper, the wedding photographer and the Druid who performed our ceremony so Bill would not see them when we came back to dress.
It was the most beautiful and special ceremony!
Clive Culbertson is a Druid and he performed a traditional Irish Hand Fasting Ceremony. I had secretly made our own Hand fasting cords and hid them away in my suitcase along with my dress and tiara. Yes, I wore a tiara!
Alan Wade is a bagpiper and played Bills favorite songs, Oh Danny Boy and Amazing Grace.
We had our own personal bagpiper in Ireland. Does it get any better than that?
Yes it does! I got to remarry the man of my dreams 30 years later. In Ireland!!!
Simon Hodge was our wedding photographer. He captured pictures during the ceremony and afterwards we went to White Rock Beach and took many fabulous photos!!! Again, another sunny, warm beautiful day! He even took pictures of me up to my knees in the ocean with my wedding dress on!!!!
What a day we will NEVER forget!!!
After all my planning everything went off without a hitch and Bill had NO idea!! SURPRISE!!!
We went out to dinner later that night at a Restaurant Nicola had reserved for us!!! Lots of Celebrating!
Stephanie’s Note: Congratulations Dottie & Bill!! <3 <3
Oh–and I have a couple people use Simon Hodge for photos in Ireland–his work is phenomenal!
Isle of Islay, Scotland
Day 10: Nicola packed us a wonderful breakfast to go, we said our goodbyes to our very special host and headed back to Ballycastle to catch the 9 am Kintyre Express Passenger Ferry to Port Ellen, Scotland!
We left our rental car in the ferry parking lot which was where we had eaten our first fish-n-chips!!
A small 12 seater ferry that was full this beautiful sunny morning.
Once on board we met a man who was traveling to the Isle of Islay to visit the American Monument. The ship his father had been on was sunk in WW1 along these shores, and he survived. He was cared for by the locals. This man was traveling with 5 family members to view the memorial.
May 4, 2018 had been the 100th anniversary of the tragedy as close to 600 men had died. He suggested we go and view the memorial and his wife said we had to go to the woolen mill, so now we had two more adventures to add to our list!
After an hour and 15 minutes we were there.
Our rental car was waiting for us at the dock! Such service! We used Islay Car Hire. I would greatly recommend them!
We said goodbye to the family we met and off we went! We were in Scotland!
We called it our second honey moon as we were remarried only the night before.
We drove through some very narrow streets, I thought Ireland was bad! Whew! I was slamming on the invisible break on my side constantly, lol!
We arrived at our next B&B, The Glenegedale House early around 11:30 am. We were met by our Hosts Emma and Graeme.
“Your room is almost ready, how about some breakfast while you wait”. Out came a sterling tea service filled with tea, coffee and sweets!! We enjoyed this while sitting in the stunning living room with a fireplace!
Another sheep farm was in the front yard with lots of babies!
Emma introduced herself and started to share stories of how she hosted the daughter of the Queen, Princess Ann, because of the 100th anniversary and the viewing of the American Monument!
Princess Ann had just been at our B&B! Emma would not tell us which room but Bill and I fantasized that it was our room!!
We informed her on how we had just rode the ferry over with a gentlemen whose father had been on the ship. What a small world!
Just like that our room was ready! We unpacked, got settled, and were off visiting Scotland!
Emma told us about some church ruins we had to see, so that’s all I had to hear and off we went!
The crosses were amazing and again we found a head stone dating back to the late 1700’s.
We headed to the Port Charlotte Hotel to listen to traditional Scottish music! It was so packed we could not get into the bar. We met another couple from the Netherlands in the same situation.
Bill and Martin made their way to the bar, got us all some yummy cocktails and the 4 of us found a comfy spot in the adjourning living room to sit and listen!
We met the band on break when they came in and sat next to us! Another great evening!
We said goodbye to our new friends around 11:30 pm and headed back.
Bill said let’s get back before dark and believe it or not we did. Midnight and it was just dark! Perfect timing!!
Stephanie’s Note: Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland all in one trip without it being completely overwhelming?? It can be done! :-)
Woolen Mill, American Monument & Scotch
Day 11: What a breakfast! Again Emma had 50 hens and we had more FRESH eggs and several other goodies!
Per your suggestion Stephanie we made breakfast our big meal of the day, how could we not?
We headed off to the Woolen Mill. There we met Gordon, the owner. Bill mentioned that we wanted to buy some wool but did not exactly know the color of the Higgins Tartan!
So off Bill and Gordon went up to his office and they figured it out. Back downstairs Gordon said to go in the mill and see how everything is made. No one was in the store so we went.
We rounded the corner and guess who was there? The couple from last night at the Port Charlotte Hotel! What a pleasant surprise! We watched how everything was made and set out to do some shopping with some new friends!
The American Monument
After a while we said our goodbyes and Bill and I headed to the American Monument keeping our promise to the man on the ferry that we would. What seemed like an endless drive (and this is where our GPS system really came in handy), the road ended.
Now the hike began! A long hike but once you got up to the monument, what a view!!! Cliffs, sheep, something that looked like a woolly mammoth and cows but not very many people!
At times we could look as far as our eyes could see and we were all alone! What an unbelievable feeling! More spectacular pictures!!!
We then headed to Bowmore Distillery for a scotch whiskey tasting! Delicious and the distillery was right on the water, what a view!
We could not finish so they bottled it up and let us take it with us! We drove back to our B&B where Emma and Graeme had made us dinner!
We had a table facing the sheep pasture, ordered a bottle of wine and settled in.
We met a gentleman dining alone so we conversed and then decided to retire to the living room together for cocktails where we quickly finished the scotch we had taken from Bowmore!
We sat for hours and Graeme joined us even showing us his own whisky collection! Wow!
Stephanie’s Note: One of my favorite things to do in Ireland is chatting everyone up for their favorites. Whether you’re a local or a fellow traveler it’s likely you have some amazing experiences to share (and often some great stories to go along with them).
Two Ferries in One Day
Day 12: We sadly had to say goodbye to Emma and Graeme and headed to Port Ellen to investigate this small old town. We left our rental car at the port and boarded the ferry back to Ballycastle, Ireland!
We saw some Dolphins and Puffin on the trip back. We picked up our rental car from the parking lot and put in directions into the GPS for the Glen House B&B on the Inishowen Peninsula.
We had to take a car ferry over to Derry and drive on up! What an adventure, two ferries in one day!!
By now it had started to cool drastically and rain but it made our adventure even more exciting.
We arrived late and were met by Sonia our host. Our room was huge and beautiful!
We settled in under our warm comforter and got caught up on some much needed sleep!
Stephanie’s Notes: This is what I call a repositioning day. Moving from one area to another without anything on the agenda except the journey itself, which usually offers some pretty great adventures in and of itself.
Day 13: A wonderful breakfast in an old historic breakfast room with a fireplace!
We walked to the little gift shop in town and bought a few more souvenirs. Then we hiked up to Glenevin Waterfall that has a path right from the B&B.
This waterfall had just reopened after being closed for 9 months for repairs from last year’s hurricane that caused damage in the area! Doris, an American, has a plaque at the Waterfall as she is the one who discovered it. We learned she had just passed away last summer.
What timing, a week earlier and the this beautiful waterfall would have still been closed. Irish luck is what we kept saying!!!!
It was raining and cool but that added to the Irish charm!
Stephanie’s Notes: I love waterfalls in Ireland (Torc, Powerscourt, Glenmacnass, Maghera…). Glenevin is up there with the best (and with far, far fewer people to boot!).
Return to Dublin
Day 14: Good bye to Sonia and our longest driving day was ahead of us. We drove back to Dublin and decided to end our stay in another castle!
As we pulled up the winding road this magnificent castle revealed itself–Clontarf Castle. What a sight!
We checked in at 2:30 pm and were told our room was not ready but as the clerk looked he said “We just had a cancellation, for 90 euro more I can upgrade you to a King suite and that room is ready!”
No brainer! “Yes! Please!”
What a Room!! What a Castle!!
They had placed a bottle of champagne and chocolates in our room! Come ON! Again, Irish luck!! What a way to end our trip of a lifetime!!!
We never left the castle to go into Dublin! We were King and Queen again for one more night!
Instead we ordered room service and took advantage of our enormous suite!! WOW!!!
Stephanie’s Notes: What a way to end the trip. Clontarf has such a wonderful location, not too far from the airport in the morning and just a quick cab or bus ride into the city center if you itch to leave the comforts of the castle (which, like Dottie and Bill, you might not). :-)
Day 15: Sadly we checked out of the castle after a fabulous breakfast (which was included) and headed to the airport!
Handed in our rental car, no extra fees as we had bumper to bumper coverage, headed to customs and got settled back on Aer Lingus.
We enjoyed listening to the Irish accents of our cabin crew one more time, consumed a few more Irish cocktails and landed back safely in Miami.
Stephanie’s Notes: I can’t thank you enough for sharing your trip with us Dottie & Bill. I had an absolute blast working with you. Here’s to 30 more wonderful years (and many more trips to celebrate along the way)!
If you’re planning a trip to Ireland and want an incredible adventure like Dottie & Bill, check out my services. We’ll make this trip your best yet!