Sunday, December 23, 2012

ireland: family christmas 2012

Christmas in Ireland? We were up for an adventure and we had a wonderful Christmas and loved our time in Ireland. Knowing ahead of time that stores, restaurants and pubs shut down on christmas eve and remain closed during Christmas and St. Stephen's Day (the day after Christmas) was necessary in terms of planning on groceries, and activities. 
We flew into Dublin, signed for our pre-arranged rental car and proceeded on to County Claire on the west side of Ireland. We drove the northernly route which was known to be faster and more direct,
stopping on the way to get groceries, and items for Christmas and then proceeded to "our castle"...Ballynagowen Castle or otherwise known as Smithstown Castle:
We had the castle rented until December 27th. When we arrived Emily (our caretaker) greeted us and gave us a walk-thru of our 500 year old fortified turret. We were immediately enchanted. Everyone running up the winding steps choosing their rooms and getting settled. 

Ballynagowen Castle: Home away from Home

Our front Door with compressed peat stacked for our fireplace
The Castle did not have wifi but we were told the local pub, Kilshanny House, had wifi and the best Guiness around. We found both to be true. We had our first meal there and it was wonderful. The fish was delicious and the atmosphere cozy. I arranged for them to have some butternut squash soup prepared for our Christmas Eve dinner. When I picked it up the next day it was waiting with a loaf of fresh baked bread and a Christmas card. 

December 24th...Christmas Eve...our day was supposed to consist of a bit of local Christmas shopping and exploring the area, however a spontaneous stop at Lahinch Golf Club (10 minutes away), to peek before starting our day, changed our plans. Bren inquired at the pro shop as to any possible tee times. He was told that the pro shop would be closing in an hour for Christmas Eve but we were welcome to of charge no less. No golf clubs you say? Here you go...once again, free of charge. Just leave them at the door when you are done since the shop will be closed. Bren was in heaven. Bren, Nick and Cal played, while Trip and I explored. It was a glorious day.

"The Ascension"

Lahinch Golf Club: Christmas Eve

Heading back to our castle we found a Christmas tree for sale and managed to stuff it into our rental and 'head for home'.

unwrapping our tree

our dinning room
My Christmas away from home preperations: I brought a small strand of battery operated lights from home and a star tree topper and we purchased foil covered chocolate ornaments to adorn the tree from the local market. Gifts...what to do about gifts when flying with carry on bags only? I packed wisely. Most of Nick and Cal's gifts were I edited their bags and took into account all the new gifts they would receive and left out some of the clothes they packed. Gifts too big to pack? I took photos of those gifts and left them at home. The tree was decorated with white paper christmas envelopes with photos of gifts. We hung our stockings (which we brought from home) and Santa filled them with items from home and Irish goodies as well. We left out some Guiness and cookies for Santa, which I am sure he enjoyed.

Our Christmas was wonderful...different to be sure but special and unique. I think we all enjoyed it. A breakfast of soda bread, rashers and eggs...prepared in our kitchen, prepared us for an afternoon exploring the Cliffs of Moher (6miles away)...Breathtaking.

On December 26th we packed a picnic and set out to explore the Irish countryside. "The Burren", a limestone plateau is formed from wind, rain and glaciers. The area is dotted with pre-historic dolmens, ringforts and early Christian churches and ruins. 
We also went to Galway for lunch and some exploring, really enjoying the countryside, guiness and food along the way. Galway was a neat town but we much preferred the little gems along the way and around us in county claire.
The Burren

5000 year old Dolmen

We drove to Dublin on the 27th stopping at Bunratty Castle (I would not recommend...too touristy). We returned our rental car and walked while in Dublin, finding it easier to just take a cab to the airport on the day of our departure. We spent two nights in Dublin, right by Trinity College in The Trinity Hotel. A trip to the Guiness Brewery is a must, well put together but definitely a tourist stop. One of our favorite stops was the Kilmannan Jail. A short film gives you an unbelievable peek into the history of Ireland.
Some more pubs...more great food and alot more walking. Dublin was interesting but take me to the countryside any day. 
A visit to the Guiness Brewery
A view of Dublin from the Brewery
The Brazen Head Pub...Oldest Pub in Dublin

Kilmannan Gaol (Jail)...a must see for Irish History. Fascinating.


Temple Bar: Dublin
The Irish people were some of the friendliest I have ever come across. Certainly jolly with a quick wit. Even in December, we were surrounded by green. The food was delicious. One must remember that Ireland is surrounded by the ocean and the seafood is fresh and well prepared.
Some of my favorite dishes: Irish Stew, Shepherd's Pie, Seafood Chowder, Fresh Fish (fish and chips for the kids) and Soups ...comfort food at its finest.
Next time we might look into flying directly into Shannon Airport on the west coast and spend some time exploring the southern part of Ireland as well.

Christmas in Ireland...a Christmas not to be forgotten...filled with funny family memories and time together...exploring and experiencing.