Northern Ireland Tour with Brendan Vacations

Laurie Daul, a travel agent in our Manitowoc Travel Agency, returned from a wonderful tour of Northern Ireland this fall with Brendan Vacations and wrote about her experience to share with all of us! 

ITINERARY

November 3: I arrived Dublin at 1:30 and was greeted by a very good looking young man holding a sign with my name on it (just like in the movies). He was my personal chauffer and made my ride to  The Shelbourne, Dublin quite enjoyable!

That evening we enjoyed a Welcome Dinner with our hosts including several reps from Brendan. They were all very delightful, knowledgeable and eager to share their country and their product. It was an early night as we were all pretty pooped after long flights.

November 4: Af

ter breakfast we headed north to the Boyne Valley where we stopped to see the Neolithic tombs at Newgrange. This is a UNESCO Heritage site believed to be an ancient burial site. It was pretty awesome to see, yet very mysterious!

We continued north to the city of Belfast where we stayed on our motor coach for a very educational city tour…Miriam, our local host gave us so much information on “The Troubles” which is how the Irish refer to the conflict in Ireland from the late 1960’s to 1998.

We made a stop at the Titanic Experience and enjoyed the unique adventure including artifacts and the timeline of the events that led up to her demise.

Dinner was at a local restaurant and after we stopped for drinks at The Crown Bar before heading home to the Europa Hotel for the night.

November 5: We were on the road bright and early on this chilly autumn day, headed to the Giant’s Causeway which is a unique coastline with amazing rock formations and of course an Irish Legend about the giant Finn McCool.  This was a photographer’s dream…so may beautiful rock formations standing against the waves of the Atlantic Ocean…it was breathtaking!

We drove to Donegal to enjoy the first of our castle stays on the shores of Lough Eske (Lake of fish). Lough Eske Castle is a beautiful medieval fortress overlooking a beautiful, eerie lake. We dined in the restaurant’s elegant “Cedars Grill Restaurant”.

November 6: Today we began our journey south down the west coast of the island to Sligo, in the heart of Yeats Country. Here we enjoyed the hills and loughs that inspired the poet William Butler Yeats. We were treated to a visit of a private home for a light lunch and Yeats’ poetry read by Damien Brennan who, along with his wife, lives at Broc House  overlooking Lough Gill. This is an experience only offered by Brendan. Damien is an acknowledged expert on the Yeats family and was very interesting to listen to and visit with after.

After leaving Broc House, we visited the cemetery where Yeats and his wife “George” are buried and headed to county Cong and Ashford Castle.  This was my second visit to Ashford Castle. Last time I was in Ireland, I traveled with Celtic Tours and as we passed through Cong, we made an unplanned stop at Ashford Castle to use the rest rooms and look around a bit…Brendan wins this one…I actually SLEPT there for two nights with Brendan!

November 7: We were able to experience Brendan’s chauffer driven tours. We were offered three different tours and our group split up into a smaller motor coach, a minivan and a sedan to sample independent experiences. Myself and 5 others chose to visit Connemara and Kylemore Abby which is also the site of a Victorian Walled garden (wrong time of year to visit it). The beautiful Abby overlooks a lake and was home to a community of Benedictine nuns who opened a boarding school and restored the nearby Gothic church and garden. We then stopped in the small town of Connemara for some shopping.

Our dinner this evening was formal and AMAZING! Before heading to the dining room we were surprised with entertainment by world class dancers and musicians from “Trad on the Prom” which is an Irish Dance Troop. This was an amazing experience!

November 8: Our last full day offered one of the most amazing highlights of the trip for me. At Ashford Castle we experienced Ireland’s School of Falconry.  Let me say right away that I am not a big fan of birds or other animals being above my head where I cannot see them. This did concern me but after watching the rest of the group I HAD to experience it! Our expert handlers showed us the proper way to hold and fly the beautiful falcons! This experience is available for 70-105 Euros depending on the length of experience you wish to enjoy…it was AMAZING!

We then had to pack up and head back to Dublin where we stayed at The Westbury Hotel for our last evening together.

November 9: We were transferred back to the airport for our return home.

The Hotels I stayed at on this tour of Northern Ireland

THE SHELBOURNE DUBLIN, RENAISSANCE HOTEL

Right across the street from St. Stephen’s Green (beautiful Georgian Park) and just a few blocks from the Trinity College area it’s in a great location. They recently had renovations and added 100 rooms making a total of 265. Very elaborate décor especially in the public rooms. There is a casino nearby, shopping, golf and boating/sailing.

This hotel is great for families and couples alike.

EUROPA HOTEL

Dubbed the “most bombed hotel in Belfast”…during the Troubles many reporters stayed here because of it’s great central location. Unfortunately it’s location also drew the controversy that came with the unrest. The term has 2 meanings as the reporters enjoyed The Crown Bar which is a lively pub right across the street. A high rise property a bit more modern than the Shelbourn bur beautiful just the same. It is a short ride to the Titanic Exhibition, theatre or Botanical Gardens.

This hotel is great for families or couples.

CASTLE ON LOUGH ESKE

This medieval castle has a long turbulent history including at one point it ended up in a state of “complete dereliction” as the forestry commission wanted to take over the forest surrounding the area. Luckily, the castle was saved and restored to a beautiful, tranquil haven for rest & relaxation. The décor is lovely and with a spa and banquet facilities, it meet the needs of many travelers.

This hotel is great for spa-goers &  relaxation seekers…more for adults than families.

ASHFORD CASTLE

I have only slept in 2 castles (tough, I know) but this one is by far my favorite! You truly feel like royalty when you stay here. Our motor coach was let to the castle by a bagpiper! It brought tears to our eyes! (nice touch only from Brendan)There are antiques everywhere…portraits, red carpeting, creaking floors and dark wood trim make for a warm and elegant feeling. The castle is about 27 miles north of Galway right outside the village of Cong. The grounds are stunning. Whether you approach the castle through the “bridge” or from the lake, it is a very impressive first impression.

This hotel is great for upscale travelers wanting to be treated like royalty and relax.

THE WESTBURY HOTEL

Just off Grafton Street this hotel is in a great location for clients wanting to enjoy the city of Dublin. Just a block away from shopping and dining galore! This hotel is much more modern that the castles I had grown accustomed to but lovely just the same.

This hotel is good for your “last night’s stay” as it is 7 miles from the Dublin airport. Couples and families alike will enjoy the location and amenities.

Final Note on My Trip

This was my second trip to Ireland…first time was with Celtic. They were very different from each other but neither was a runaway better choice. This time I was able to the experience Northern Ireland where last time was only Southern so it was a very different experience. I absolutely love it as a destination and have commented that I am afraid this was my last time there…I sure hope not!  If you would like to plan your own vacation to Ireland, I would be happy to assist you!  You can contact me online here.

Laurie Daul
Fox World Travel Vacation Travel Specialist