Driving from Belfast to Limerick was not something I was looking forward to on the trip.
- I generally hate riding in the car, but in Ireland that is the best way to see as much as possible.
- It was going to be a long drive on curvy roads. Google optimistically stated under 5 hours. However, we had already learned that while Google was our hero for getting us around, it did not comprehend Irish driving times.
- In case you forgot, our dear children (Goose and Chicken) were with us. Kids + Cars = Pain
Setting my expectations appropriately low for the day, we set off from our Airbnb apartment to caffeinate for the morning. Sadly, Sunday mornings in Ireland pretty much cause the country to come to a halt and Starbucks would not open until 8:30am. There was no way we could wait that long, so off we went to our first stop of Newgrange… Starbucksless.
Side note: this was a thing in general in Ireland. Starbucks and other coffee places would not open till late morning. What is the point? Coffee is for early risers, though I do appreciate a mid-afternoon latte – I NEED my morning latte.
Brú na Bóinne Visitor Center
Before we traveled to Ireland, I obsessively watched every Rick Steves’ episode filmed in Ireland as preparation. The 6,000-year-old Neolithic tomb of Newgrange looked very cool. Low Key and I had visited Stonehenge in England before kids and thought Newgrange would be a nice complement to that visit.
I carefully mapped out the journey from Belfast to Newgrange. When we arrived, I looked around surprised there were not more cars at the site. Hadn’t people watched Rick Steves? This place is cool – it is older than the Stonehenge and the pyramids!
We exited the car, convinced the kids how cool this would be, and approached the entrance. “No tickets sold here.” WHAT!!! Apparently, I missed the part that you had to go to a visitor center 25 minutes away to actually join a tour to see the site. ARGH!!!
I felt defeated. Low Key and I debated what to do. Drive on to Trim Castle and miss Newgrange (we could literally see it from the car), or drive to the visitor center and add another hour or more to the day of travel?
We went to the visitor center.
When we arrived, we were told the next tour that had availability was at 12:15. It was almost 11am at that point. We debated what to do. Faced with adding yet another hour to the day, we gave in and decided if we had come this far – what was another hour?
Ultimately, Rick Steves was right – Newgrange was in fact really cool. The tour guide was excellent and did a great job of holding Goose’s attention. He was very impressed by the 6,000-year-old tomb – as was I. The guide explained the complexities that were involved in building the structure and the internal roof, which was still in tact – and had very little reinforcement. Unfortunately, no photography is allowed inside the tomb – so you will need to go discover that for yourself! Just make sure you Google the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Center – and arrive early, the tours fill up quickly. [Also, not open when we were visiting, but open in summer months is Knowth – similar site associated with the Visitor Center]
To continue the theme of movies along this trip, our next stop was the location of several scenes in “Braveheart.” Both Low Key and I love “Braveheart.” One of our favorite scenes is with the Irish character Stephen – “it’s my island.” When I learned that scenes were filmed at Trim Castle, I appreciated the irony, but also had to visit.
We made the twisty drive to Trim and arrived at the castle. Approaching the entrance, the money issue bit me again. I had pound sterling – no euros – and we were back in euro land. And no, the castle would not take a credit card for the 4 euro fee for a family to enter. Dejected, we walked away and decided to explore the small town of Trim on foot. A couple in a car driving by had overheard our currency issue and stopped us. The lady gave us 4 euros so that we could return to the castle. Thank you, kind lady.
Returning to Trim Castle with euros in hand, we marched through the gates like an invading army (or at least a small brigade). I really wanted to yell “Freedom!” – but refrained. The kids expressed their own freedom from being out of the car for a bit to run and play all around the castle, its walls, and the former latrine. That’s right, latrine. Chicken’s favorite area of the castle was the former latrine – go figure.
Left, Right, Left, and Stay Left
To get to Limerick, we needed to make our way back to the motorway (aka interstate). To do that, there were some seriously bendy roads we had to navigate. Again, thank you, Google. Apparently, road signs, directional signs, and any other navigational signs had not made it to this part of Ireland – for that matter Google did not even have road names listed in many cases. The next hour or two was filled with me calling out directions to Low Key.
“Left, then right.”
“Turn right at the next place you can turn.”
“Turn left right after that tree.”
“Turn right, oh and don’t’ forget to stay left.”
And on it went. It was about halfway through this stretch that we learned invaluable information. Goose really does have motion sickness. Thankfully, it did not manifest itself in ways that were possible, but he was pretty miserable the rest of that drive. Unfortunately, I knew that this did not bode well for the next five days of the trip, which would be met with similar roads.
Key takeaway for future trips: always travel with Dramimine both the kid and adult versions.
What makes the best day ever?
It had been a really long day. We arrived in Limerick around 6:30pm and checked into the hotel. By the time we were ready to head out for dinner, it was 7:30 – about a half hour before the kids typically go to bed (no matter what the time zone is). It was also Sunday night. Just as restaurants open late on Sundays – they also close early. We drove to the center of Limerick hoping to find something quick and that’s when it happened.
For years, I have avoided taking the kids to a very popular fast food chain that serves meals of “joy.” However, on that night, there was no avoiding it. Chicken and Goose had their very first meals of “joy.” While Goose was unimpressed, Chicken declared it to be the “BEST DAY EVER!” Not because of a 6,000-year-old Neolithic tomb or a historic 900-year-old Norman castle – a meal of “joy.” Guess it is all in your priorities, and Chicken’s priorities that day were chicken nuggets and french fries – and that is ok.
At least that night, I was the first of many generations of my family to sleep by our namesake – the River Shannon – on “my island.” And that, like Newgrange, was pretty cool.