As you travel through Ireland, delve deeply into a land rich in history, legend, stirring music, and verdant landscapes. Begin your journey in Galway, an enchanting city on Ireland’s western coast where there’s a tune playing around every corner. Explore the eerie landscape of the Burren and the captivating Cliffs of Moher as you travel to Killarney, home of the 110-mile scenic Ring of Kerry. Then embark for Cork and its nearby seaport of Cobh, where thousands of Irish emigrated during the Potato Famine. Departing Cork, you’ll continue on to Kilkenny—where you'll stay for two nights in this historic city on our new 2014 itinerary—before finally arriving at the Irish Republic’s cosmopolitan capital, Dublin. This Ireland guided tour is an in-depth discovery of the Emerald Isle—its lore, its lands, and above all, the gregarious charm of its people.
Depart from the U.S. today on your flight to Ireland, arriving on Day 2. Please refer to your individual air itinerary for exact departure and arrival times.
Arrive in Galway today. A Grand Circle representative will meet you at the airport and escort you to your hotel, where you'll meet your Program Director and your fellow travelers, including those returning from their Northern Ireland pre-trip extension. Galway is a bustling young city with a lively nightlife. After your arrival, your Program Director will take you for a vicinity walk to explore the area around your hotel, and provide suggestions on how to maximize your day and explore on your own.
Tonight, get to know your fellow travelers over a Welcome Drink, followed by a Welcome Briefing. Then sit down for your first dinner together at your hotel.
This morning, your Program Director will introduce you to Galway on a walking tour through the city. You have the remainder of the day at leisure to explore Galway on your own. This enchanting city is a medley of narrow lanes, wood and stone shop fronts, and bustling restaurants and pubs. Originally presided over by the local O’Flahertys, Galway was taken over by Anglo-Normans and became a thriving center of trade and commerce by the 14th century. European galleons were a regular sight in the city, which was “home” to Spanish merchant ships during their western voyages. Galway declined after being damaged in battle with the forces of Oliver Cromwell in the mid-17th century, but regained its prosperity and vitality in modern times. Today, Galway remains a merchant town, but it is also a burgeoning center for technology and a lively bohemian mecca.
Dinner is on your own tonight. Or, join us for an optional Irish ceili, a celebration of the harvest that usually includes a hearty meal followed by song, stories, and dance. You’ll join local musicians as they explain this traditional Irish celebration. Feel free to join in song and dance with us as we watch the sun go down over Galway Bay. Your optional tour includes a three-course dinner with entertainment.
Spend the day at leisure, exploring Galway on your own. The city’s compact center spans both sides of the River Corrib. In the center of Eyre Square stands the Quincentennial Fountain, constructed in 1984 to mark the 500th anniversary of the Royal Charter granted by King Richard III that created Galway as an independent city-state. Nearby are some of the oldest streets in Galway, narrow winding lanes that curve in and around old wooden buildings, often meandering off toward the Corrib and the docks. Yet turn a corner and you will find modern Galway—certainly one of the liveliest cities in Europe. Artists and musicians crowd the sidewalks and almost every pub seems to offer live music.
Or, join us for an optional journey through the Connemara region of Galway. Once home to more than two million Irish, it still retains its regional heritage, as you will discover while we ramble around its lakes, mountains, and bogs. We'll visit the former Gothic mansion of Mitchell Henry, now the home of Benedictine nuns and better known as Kylemore Abbey. You'll have time to wander both the mansion and the Victorian gardens. Then cruise Killary, a charming fjord. You’ll enjoy lunch while cruising. On your return, we'll travel through the Inagh Valley to the coast, where we'll see the deserted village of Clough Na Mara and discover a sense of hardship the Irish experienced in the 18th and 19th centuries. Today, only the shells of their homes remain—set amidst hundreds of miles of stone walls.
This evening, enjoy dinner on your own.
This morning, you depart Galway for Killarney after a hearty breakfast. On the way, discover the intense natural beauty of Ireland on an included excursion to the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher. The Burren’s name is derived from a Gaelic word meaning “stony place,” and it is like no other place in Ireland. Instead of peat bogs and pastures, you’ll find a surreal moonscape full of huge limestone crags.
Despite this seemingly inhospitable setting, a diverse array of plant life—including wild orchids and rock rose—thrives here. Alpine plants nestle in crevices beside temperate species. The white, deeply crevassed limestone conceals “micro-environments” rich in potholes and hollows. The ample rainfall and strange topography have resulted in a paradoxical profusion of arctic and semi-tropical vegetation growing side by side.
The majestic Cliffs of Moher are precipitous rock formations—towering more than 700 feet above the crashing ocean surf at their highest point—that offer breathtaking panoramic views of Ireland’s Atlantic coast. These magnificent cliffs provide nesting sites for tens of thousands of seabirds. If the wind is strong, the sea foam and spray flies up and over the cliffs along with the rain; while on clear sunny days, fantastic views can be seen from every angle.
Over the centuries, people have also made their mark, with towers, quarries, and well-worn paths, but they’re almost lost in the scale and grandeur of the sea cliffs. One that does stand out is O’Brien’s Tower, a huge structure built to house the guests of Cornelius O’Brien, County Clare’s legendary Member of Parliament from the 1830s until he died in 1857.
You continue on to Killarney to spend the next three nights. This market town is known for its verdant, rolling hills and glittering loughs (lakes). This afternoon, you'll enjoy an introduction to this area during a ride on a jaunting car (a traditional Irish horse-drawn carriage) for a tour of the forested hills of Killarney National Park, and the Kenmare Estate, a former residence for an Irish noble family.
Dine with your fellow travelers at your hotel this evening, then enjoy an exclusive Discovery Series discussion with a local resident, to learn about the history and culture of the Emerald Isle and its people.
On this morning’s included tour, you’ll discover the Ring of Kerry, a drive that traces the coastline of the Iveragh Peninsula and offers breathtaking views. There is always something new to appreciate in the combination of ocean, islands, mountains, light, and ever-changing weather patterns. We ride most of the way, making scenic stops.
The first town along the route is Killorglin, where an elegant eight-arched bridge crosses the River Laune. Then you'll advance to the water’s edge at Kells, an attractive fishing village with panoramic viewing points.
The next stretch is one of the highlights of the Ring, with outstanding views of the coastline. On the return to Killarney, the route takes you through Moll’s Gap, where you’ll have an included lunch, and Ladies View, named after Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting. The vistas of lakes and mountains remain magnificent today. We’ll continue on and return to Killarney, where the afternoon is yours.
Dinner tonight is on your own. Or, join us for an optional performance by the National Folk Theatre, the country’s only repertory company, with an included dinner. Using the disciplines of traditional Irish music, dance, storytelling, and mime, the group offers a cultural experience dramatizing the essence of Irish culture, including the myths, legends, lore, language, folkways, and folk life of a bygone era. Please note: This optional tour is available on May-September departures only.
Your day is at leisure to pursue your own interests.
Or, join us on an optional tour as we venture out along the Dingle Peninsula. You’ll stop first at Tralee’s Kerry the Kingdom Museum, where you’ll enjoy the fascinating experience of a recreated medieval street. Then follow the rugged Dingle Peninsula with its wild mountains and some of the most spectacular coastline Ireland has to display. You’ll view the famed Blasket Islands, the most westerly point of Europe, and their prehistoric ring forts and beehive huts. One of Ireland’s largest Irish-speaking areas, the peninsula has attracted many writers and artists for the inspiration the wild landscape offers. The movies Ryan’s Daughter and Far and Away were made here. We will stop in the fishing town of Dingle to enjoy locally caught fish (and chips) for lunch, included with the cost of the optional tour.
After breakfast, we will stop at a working sheep farm and see Ireland’s finest Border Collies in action at a sheepdog demonstration. Please note: This is an outdoor event and is weather-dependent. It will not be conducted in wet, muddy conditions.
Next, you’ll transfer to Cork, stopping for a visit to Blarney Castle, where a 129-step staircase leads up a tower to the famed Blarney Stone. According to legend, anyone who manages the backward lean to kiss it receives the “gift of the gab”—a smooth, soothing way with words that at best mean nothing.
The word “blarney” was coined by Elizabeth I to describe her endless and fruitless discussions with Dermot McCarthy over his surrender of the castle to the Crown. The McCarthys built the present castle with its 85-foot-high keep in 1446, replacing an earlier castle. Though the Blarney Stone gets all the publicity, the castle’s tower house and surrounding gardens are superb in their own right. The castle’s grounds also include caves, dungeons, and a rock garden of ancient trees and weathered stones.
Continue on to historic Cork, Ireland’s second-largest city. A walk through this island city takes you into the famous English Market, noted for its wide selection of fresh Irish produce. Discover the rebel city of Cork through its many medieval lanes and back streets.
This evening, you’ll enjoy dinner at your hotel with your fellow travelers.
This morning, ride to Cobh (pronounced “cove”). This picturesque town long served as the main harbor for the city of Cork, and is dominated by the spire of St. Colman’s Cathedral, which contains the largest carillon in Ireland. This morning, a local historian will give you some insight into Cobh's history.
Cobh was a major emigration point for families who left the country during the Great Potato Famine, when some two-and-a-half million emigrants departed this port for North America. Here you’ll discover the story of Irish emigration and the era of the great ocean liners, when Cobh was a very active port. This was the last place the Titanic dropped anchor before heading across the Atlantic on her tragic journey.
Here you can also pay tribute to the victims of the Lusitania at a quayside memorial. In 1915, this ship was sunk off the coast of Cobh by a German submarine, with a loss of 1,196 passengers, including 127 Americans. This action helped bring America into World War I. Then, enjoy a short, leisurely walk around Cobh accompanied by our local historian. You'll have some free time afterward for your own explorations.
Then, learn about contemporary life in Ireland—and savor a traditional meal—during a Home-Hosted Lunch with a local family.
In the late afternoon, return to Cork, and enjoy dinner on your own.
This morning, you'll transfer from Cork to the city of Kilkenny.
En route, you'll enjoy a guided tour of Cahir Castle. Cahir, in its time (13th-15th centuries), was a state-of-the-art design for a defensive castle and is today one of Ireland's best-preserved castles. Situated on a rocky island in the River Suir, the castle still has its keep, tower, and much of its original structure. The last Lord Cahir died in 1961 and the castle came into state stewardship. You'll enjoy an included guided tour and an audio-visual show describing the castle's history.
Next, continue along the way, with a stop at Waterford, where you’ll visit the Waterford Crystal factory, founded in 1783 by George and William Penrose. Today, Waterford Crystal is prized the world over as the standard for the highest quality lead-cut crystal. You'll tour the Waterford branch of the company, now part of a worldwide operation that includes such notable brands as Wedgwood and Royal Doulton. You’ll hear about the organization's history and see a glassblowing demonstration.
After your tour, you’ll arrive in Kilkenny for the evening, where Dinner is included at your hotel. After dinner, you’ll gather at a local pub for an included drink and a live music performance.
Kilkenny city straddles both banks of the River Nore in the center of County Kilkenny, and you'll explore it this morning on an included walking tour with your Program Director. Your tour will take you to the sprawling gardens of Kilkenny Castle, an 800-year old stronghold that lords over the city center. Though originally designed to defend a crossing over the River Nore, the castle’s grounds today provide a peaceful place for locals and visitors alike to stroll about and admire the impressive artisanal floristry on display.
Later, partake in an exclusive Discovery Series event as you learn about hurling, an energetic and uniquely Irish sport, similar to field hockey or lacrosse, with traditional Gaelic roots. The Irish have been playing the game since the Celts invented it 2,000 years ago, and today you’ll learn about it for yourself during a demonstration.
Afterward, you'll have the rest of the day to spend as you please in this compact city to make new discoveries. Lunch and dinner are on your own today.
From Kilkenny, you’ll journey to the river town of Avoca, made famous by the Avoca Handweavers. This clothing manufacturer is Ireland's oldest line of business, active since the early 1700s. During an exclusive Discovery Series event, you'll meet with some of the handweavers when you visit Avoca's mill, which happens to be the oldest of its class in all of Ireland.
Then, you'll advance to lovely Glendalough, a glacial valley that would come to be known for a monastery founded here in the sixth century by St. Kevin. The settlement thrived for centuries, but was destroyed by the English in 1398. Among the monks’ great achievements was manuscript writing and copying, including the creation of the spectacular Book of Glendalough around 1131. Now at the Bodleian Library at Oxford, the book—containing historical chronicles, genealogies, and religious poems—is one of the most important and beautiful Irish manuscripts from the pre-Norman period.
You’ll arrive in Dublin in the afternoon. Enjoy a walk around the neighborhood with your Program Director, followed by an evening at leisure. Join your fellow travelers tonight for an included dinner.
After breakfast this morning, continue to get to know Dublin, the modern-day capital of Ireland, on a guided panoramic tour.
Next, you'll tour the Guinness Storehouse, a 7-story museum located in a former brewing factory inside the St. James's Gate Brewery. Learn about the history of Ireland's famous brew during your tour, which includes lunch, and a free drink in the Gravity Bar, a glass-windowed lounge located at the top of the building which provides panoramic views of the city below. You'll also receive a pint-pulling demonstration, to learn the master technique behind pouring a perfect glass of "the black stuff."
This evening, gather with your Program Director and fellow travelers for a Farewell Dinner.
After breakfast, transfer to the airport for your flight home. Or continue your discoveries of the Emerald Isle on an optional post-trip extension in Dublin, Ireland.