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Friday, August 11, 2017

First Castle Experience and a Lesson About Small Town Ireland in the Off Season

In 2013 my husband and I went to Ireland on our Honeymoon and if you've been following our travels, you know we had a wonderful trip, but we definitely learned some lessons about off season logistics...

By day five of our twelve-day trip we were getting into the part of our vacation that was less planned. Because of that, we had to be more aware of:
  1. how much time we wanted to spend at each place, 
  2. how late in the day it was getting as we came to new places, 
  3. and where we were planning on staying the night. 
We went in March and our original plan was to rely on hostels and bed and breakfasts, but what we did not realize was that during the off season this was not always such a good idea. (Scott: Note to anyone traveling in the off season: its the off season... which means not so good business for hostel/B&B owners and they often take months off. This was interesting to learn the hard way.)
We rented a car, so day #5 took us from Glendalough west to Kilkenny where I got to experience my first castle! Over eight centuries old, Kilkenny Castle started as a stronghold fort on the river, and then became a residence. In the mid-1900s the Office of Public Works took over the building and it has gone through a huge restoration project (part of which is still going on). I won’t lie when I say I was a little disappointed in this being my first “castle” because it was more like a mansion. I am a dork and really wanted to see things like a dungeon and not a gilded ceiling. I think Scott knew the type of castle I wanted to see, so we left Kilkenny and went a little off the route to the town of Cahir (pronounced “care”). (Scott: Note to husbands - if your baby wants a dungeon give her a dungeon. Once she has checked a few things off her list then you can negotiate from a much better position for random things like “the highest pub in Ireland” if that is not her thing. Which I would like to point out is my baby’s thing, so I double lucked out!)

 Kilkenny Castle

Sam's a sucker for a cool, old door.

Cahir was about an hour and a half from Kilkenny which put us in the town around 5:30pm. (Scott: We decided to take the detour so she could get her dungeon. This is another reason to plan a significant amount of wiggle room into your itinerary. DO NOT PLAN EVERY MINUTE. Your love life will thank you.) The castle was closed for the evening, so our first priority was to check into the hostel on the square to give us the rest of the evening to relax. The problem was, however, that we could not find the hostel, so after we walked around for about 30 minutes we ended up at a pub and started talking to people about where to stay. One guy suggested a bed and breakfast right down the street from the pub, so we left to check it out, (Scott: walking, mind you) just to find out that ALL the bed and breakfasts in town were closed for the season.

Cahir Castle Entrance

Back of Cahir Castle (it was a beautiful walk in general too)

By this point we had spent over an hour trying to find someplace to stay and both of us decided that this was not how we wanted to spend our evening. Instead, we sucked it up and stayed at the Cahir House Hotel in the middle of the square - it cost us more than we thought it should in the off season, but we were able to spend the evening relaxing at a pub instead of stressing over where to stay.  

So, just to make sure the lessons sink in here is our list so you do not make the same mistakes:
  1. leave wiggle room in your travel plans
  2. don’t stress the little things and be forgiving because mistakes happen, it's nobody's fault
  3. March is off season in Ireland
  4. check your definition of a castle
  5. hostels and bed and breakfasts in smaller towns close during the off season
  6. check and make sure hostels and bed and breakfasts actually exist first 
  7. if you want to experience Sam's kind of castle (aka the type with a dungeon and built in the 12th century), she preferred Cahir Castle to Kilkenny Castle
More Ireland itineraries and tips coming soon...

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