Day 1: Shannon and Killarney
The Ireland extravaganza starts with a group pick-up at the Shannon Airport and a just under two hour transfer to our port of call for the next four nights, the town of Killarney in southwestern Ireland’s County Kerry. Situated on the shores of Lough Lein, the largest of the three Lakes of Killarney, Killarney lies in a beautiful valley surrounded with 33,000 acres of National Park, protected by the largest mountain range in Ireland. Our hotel, the Killarney Lodge, is a four star guest house minutes from the town center a short distance from the entrance to Killarney National Park, and within a short drive of lakes, castles, and long sandy beaches. Today you’ll have time to relax in the hotel, stroll over to the National Park, or walk around town before a welcome drink, trip orientation and our first delicious dinner together. Please contact us if you would like to arrive a day early and we would be happy to make inquiries on your behalf for a pre-trip overnight.
Day 2: Three Lakes of Killarney and Old Mass Path
Today’s destination is the Killarney National Park and its surrounding mountains and valleys. Our starting point will be the medieval Ross Castle on the shores of Lough Leane. From here, we will take a boat trip through the famous Three Lakes of Killarney, a trip which started as an 18th century tradition, to Lord Brandon’s Cottage, an old hunting lodge. Back then, it would have taken a full day with four men rowing the boat. Today, it’s a little faster but just as beautiful. We’ll then enjoy a hike through stunning scenery on the Old Mass Path by the lake and then along the old Butter Road (formerly the old butter road to Kenmare Market) back to the remnants of the old Muckross estate amidst wild mountain landscapes of the McGillycuddy’s Reeks, the highest mountain range in Ireland. From Muckross House we’ll transfer back to the hotel, with time to relax before dinner. Hike: 7 miles.
Day 3: Dingle Peninsula
Today we’ll travel back in time to Dingle Peninsula. A highlight of our time in Dingle will be a visit to the fascinating and beautiful Blasket Island Visitor Center. The Visitor Center, striking in its own right for its architecture and dramatic cliffside setting, tells the story of the Blasket Island, a group of six remote and rugged island perched perched off the tip of the peninsula in southwestern Ireland. The islands are Europe’s most westerly islands and were previously inhabited by a completely Irish-speaking population. They are part of the Gaeltacht, districts recognized by the government as predominantly Irish speaking in terms of the vernacular spoken at home. The small fishing community on the island mostly lived in primitive cottages perched on the relatively sheltered north-east shore. Turf cutting and harvesting ship wrecks rounded out a subsistence living. Great Blasket is famous as the home of a group of writers, who in the 1920s and 1930s settled and wrote here in the Irish language, attempting to preserve oral folk tales. Perhaps the most famous was Tomas O’Crohan, author of An t-Oileanach, "The Islandman," a story depicting the difficult life of the island people. At its most highly populated, Great Blasket Island was occupied by about 150-200 people. Young people emigrated at a consistent rate over the years, and there were only 22 people living on the island when it was finally abandoned in 1953, and its remaining residents were resettled in the vicinity of the current Visitor Center. We head outdoors to experience the area more directly on a loop hike along the cliffs that brings us by the school house that was part of the set for the movie "Ryan's Daughter," drive around the uniquely beautiful Slea Head, and even visit a fairy fort or two. Hike: 4 or 8 miles.
Day 4: Independent Activities in and around Killarney
Today we’ll enjoy an independent “play” day. Our in-town hotel location is a perfect base for a wealth of activities, including horseback riding through lovely National Park land, horse drawn carriage (“jaunting”) rides, shopping, experiencing the famous Ring of Kerry drive, fishing, kayaking, bicycling or hiking. Golfers can choose between historic links courses such as Ballybunion and Waterville, which are rated among the top in the world. We’ll facilitate individual plans and we’ll also lead a local hike. No visit to Ireland would be complete without a trip to a good pub, and after reuniting for dinner, we’ll head out to a pub for music and a local brew.
Day 5: Cliffs of Moher and Transfer to Connemara
Today we’ll say good-bye to Killarney and County Kerry, and travel north up Ireland’s "Wild Atlantic Way" west coast to the beautiful village of Leenane in Connemara. Leenane, snugly situated at the head of Killary Harbor, is often described at the Gateway to Connemara, and is close to Connemara National Park. An adaptation of John B. Keane's play "The Field" was filmed in Leenane in 1989 starring Richard Harris and Tom Berenger, and movie buffs may recognize some of the locations where this movie was shot. We’ll pass through County Clare on the way to this our second and final port of call, stopping to enjoy a cliff-top hike on the iconic Cliffs of Moher, towering 702 feet above the churning Atlantic. Our walk will be on part of a new coastal path, just opened in June of 2013, which connects area villages and the rural holdings of more than 30 landowners. Before traveling onward to our destination, we’ll stop at a pub for lunch, perhaps also indulging in a pint of local brew. Our hotel for the last two nights, the Leenane Hotel, is a charming hotel overlooking Killary Harbor and an ever-changing panorama of wild Connemara countryside. Dishes in the dining room vary with the seasons and include a wide selection of locally caught fish and Connemara lamb. Hike: 3-6 miles.
Day 6: Killary Harbor
Cutting a deep gash into the rugged coastline of northwest Connemara, where the counties of Mayo and Galway meet, Killary Harbor is a glorious hike with fabulous scenery. Dramatically surrounded by mountains that rise steeply from the water’s edge, the fjord, one of only three glacial fjords in Ireland, stretches 16 kilometers inland to the picturesque village of Leenane. Killary Harbor offers stunning views, which are only accessible on foot. It follows an old Famine Road, thus also providing visible history. We’ll come across the ruined famine village of Fohern and we’ll pass cascading waterfalls set against the backdrop of Maol Reidh, the area’s highest mountain. This hike takes between three and six hours, depending upon which way we hike and how much we choose to do. If we do the shorter version we may have the opportunity to visit Kylemore Abbey. Tonight we’ll celebrate the memories created during our shared Ireland adventure over the final dinner of the trip. Hike: 6 – 10 miles.
Day 7: Farewell to the Emerald Isle -- Start of Optional Dublin Extension
After an early breakfast we’ll say good-bye to the Emerald Isle. There will be a group transfer back to the Shannon Airport. For those, who can’t bear to tear themselves away from Ireland, we will help organize a two day extension in Dublin.