Immersed in Ireland’s ‘Forty Shades of Green’

By Richard and Martha Berner
This article appears on page 32 of the May 2017 issue.
The very popular Temple Bar Pub in Dublin.

A song by Johnny Cash, “Forty Shades of Green,” celebrates the beauty and intense colors of Ireland (and the girl he left behind in Tipperary). He wrote it on a trip to Ireland in 1959, and, after our 2-week visit to the island last spring, we can attest that his description is accurate. Ireland is known as the “Emerald Isle” for good reason! 

A gentle start

My wife, Martha, and I left San Diego on a British Airways direct flight to London’s Heathrow Airport on April 5, 2016. We spent the night at Hotel Ibis near the airport, as we feel more rested and recover more quickly from jet lag when we pause for a night when arriving in Europe. 

The hotel was very reasonably priced (£64, or $80) because we booked ahead. 

The next morning we continued on to Dublin, again with British Airways. 

We took a bus from the airport to the Airbnb apartment we rented in Dublin ($492 for three nights). There we met Ian, the owner, who gave us the specs on the apartment (titled “City Chic” on, which was located on Mountjoy Square, north of the River Liffey, and was walking distance from many attractions. After settling in, Martha and I headed out to eat and to explore the city. 

We had a tasty late lunch/early dinner for $22 at Phó Viêt (162 Parnell St.,), which was recommended by Ian. (Parnell is a street of, mostly, Asian restaurants.) Following our meal, we walked south on historic O’Connell Street, passing the General Post Office that figured prominently in the 1916 Easter Rising rebellion against the English. We had watched the film “Michael Collins” just prior to our trip for some background on Ireland’s struggle for independence. 

Strolling through the Temple Bar area, along the south bank of the River Liffey with its lively street scene and many pubs, we stopped at The Temple Bar Pub to listen to traditional music and have a pint. 

On the town

In the morning, we took the local rapid transit, Luas, to Kilmainham Gaol (jail). Many of the principal leaders of the Irish independence movement had been incarcerated there, including the then-future president of Ireland Eamon de Valera. 

When we walked up to the ticket kiosk, we were informed that they had instituted a new ticketing system, starting that day, which required an online reservation to tour the jail. So we went across the street to the Hilton Hotel and used their Internet connection and our smartphone to reserve tickets (5 each, senior) for later in the day. We enjoyed the informative guided tour of the jail. 

It was lambing season, so there were many little newborn lambs.

We were first in line the next morning to see the Book of Kells at Trinity College, having reserved two tickets online for 14 each. We bypassed the other exhibits and went straight to see the beautiful illuminated manuscripts. 

There is only one page on display at a time, but more pages can be viewed on electronic screens. 

When the crowds caught up to us, we went back to the exhibits we had skipped. 

After a coffee break, we walked to the National Museum of Ireland-Archaeology, featuring fascinating displays of Irish culture dating back 4,000 years (free admission). 

We had a good late lunch at KC Peaches (54 Dame Street), then walked through the Temple Bar area again, continuing along O’Connell Street to follow a walking tour from Rick Steves’ Ireland guidebook. 

We rested our feet and quenched our thirst at our local pub, Hill 16 Pub (Gardiner Street), and enjoyed interacting with some of the friendly citizens of Dublin, including the bartender, who came over to our table to chat with us. 

On the road

In the morning, we returned to Dublin Airport to get our rental car from Europcar — a sporty, small SUV from BMW. 

After getting a lesson on the satellite navigation (satnav) system, we headed south toward Kilkenny. 

The weather turned nastier the farther south we went, and it turned out to be our worst-weather day, with chilly temperatures, wind and rain. 

Driving on the left side of the road was an adventure, aggravated by the inclement weather. My wife had to remind me occasionally to move over a bit to the right side of my lane, as my tendency was to drift to the left, but we made it without any major mishaps (unless you count a couple of curbs we “kissed”). 

Kylemore Abbey, a highlight of a tour through the Connemara region.

Due to the weather, we didn’t do much in Kilkenny, but we did hear some good music at Matt the Millers Bar & Restaurant (1 John St. Lower), on the River Nore. For the first of many times, we heard the maxim “You don’t come to Ireland for the weather.” 

Our lodging, Butler Court (Patrick Street, Kilkenny City; phone +353 56 7761178,, had comfortable rooms for $85 and provided a Continental breakfast from our room’s mini-fridge. 

The friendly proprietress, Yvonne, helped us in the morning with directions to the Rock of Cashel, a historic site associated with St. Patrick, with buildings dating back to the 12th century. She also made some suggestions for the route to Dingle, on the west coast. 

The rain had let up, so driving was easier. We stopped at the Rock of Cashel and toured the areas that were not undergoing restoration. An included video presentation provided some interesting background on the site.

As our journey continued, we ignored the satnav, as it tried to get us to go on the major highway. When it finally seemed to understand that we wanted to use secondary roads, it became more helpful. 

We stopped in the very attractive town of Adare, one of Yvonne’s recommendations, and enjoyed lunch at Aunty Lena’s pub ($20). Arriving in Dingle in the late afternoon, we checked into the Greenmount House B&B on Upper John Street. Our well-appointed room was large, the food was outstanding, and the personnel were friendly and helpful — all for 95 a night. (Gary was an excellent host.) 

We walked down the hill into town and had dinner at James G. Ashe’s Bar & Restaurant on Main Street. I had the best seafood stew of my life, and Martha had fresh local scallops ($50). 

Exploring Dingle

To see more of the area, we booked a minibus tour of the Dingle Peninsula with Tim Collins of Sciúird Archaeology Tours ( for the next day. 

Before the tour, we had a delicious breakfast at the Greenmount that featured a buffet of cold items and six choices of cooked-to-order items. It was one of those moments where I wished I could eat more than my fill, it was all so good. 

Tim and four other travelers picked us up for a thoroughly enjoyable day tour. We loved the cute little newborn lambs we frequently saw (it was lambing season), and we stopped several times to enjoy the views of the green fields and hills and the islands off the coast. 

The town of Dingle and Dingle Bay, seen from the Greenmount House.

The tour included a couple of archaeological sites: the ruins of the sixth-century Reasc Monastery and the ninth-century Gallarus Oratory. Tim pointed out locations where scenes from the movies “Ryan’s Daughter” and “Far and Away” were filmed. Offshore, we could see the island of Skellig Michael, which was used for the closing scenes of the 2015 Star Wars film (“The Force Awakens”). 

The tour was well worth the 25 we paid, and I was glad not to drive. 

Tim dropped us off at the waterfront back in Dingle, and we had another great, fresh seafood meal, this time at Sheehy’s Anchor Down Restaurant (3 The Colony) for $40. 

After a boat tour of Dingle Bay (including a sighting of Fungie, the famous resident dolphin) and a pub dinner in the evening, we sat in the common area of the Greenmount, enjoyed the sunset and watched the lights of the town come on. 

The rain returned on our last day in Dingle. Umbrellas up, we did some shopping in town and went to look at the frescoes and Harry Clarke’s stained-glass windows in St. Mary’s Church. 

On our last night, we went to John Benny’s Pub on Strand Street for a great evening of traditional Irish music. It was a recommendation from Gary, and he was spot on. 

Going to Galway

Too soon, we left Dingle and headed north for Galway. Based on Gary’s recommendation, we took a car ferry across Shannon Estuary. 

We entered the Burren, an area of rocky landscape without much greenery but with many archaeological sites dating back to the Iron Age. 

At the iconic Cliffs of Moher, one of the most visited sites in Ireland, the sheer cliffs soar more than 500 feet high and extend for 5 miles. The modern visitors’ center there had interesting exhibits and a film explaining the local ocean life. 

Our hotel in Galway, Park House Hotel (Forster St., Eyre Square), was well located in the center of the city. Our room cost 517 ($549) for three nights, including breakfast and parking. 

We booked a bus tour (20 per person, senior) of the Connemara, the region north of Galway, for the following day with Galway Tour Company (www.galwaytour
. Our bus driver/guide, Michael O’Malley, pointed out the sturdy Connemara horses, renowned for their strength and good disposition. 

Touring Kylemore Abbey was a highlight of the day. This striking building, with beautiful grounds, started out as a private residence, but the owner donated it to the church after the death of his wife. It later became an exclusive girls’ school run by the church. A few Benedictine nuns still live there. 

We had a pleasant lunch in the tearoom in the garden. 

The tour also stopped in the village of Cong, where “The Quiet Man,” with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, was filmed in 1952. Several businesses in town are named after the famous film. 

Our driver somehow managed to steer a full-size bus on some amazingly small roads and bridges. Once again, I was glad to let someone else do the driving! 

Our hotel was close to the area of Galway known as the Latin Quarter, full of pubs and restaurants. We enjoyed live music at An Púcán, just down the street from our hotel. 

During our stay, we had excellent meals ($20 for lunch and $61 for dinner, respectively) at McSwiggans (3 Eyre St.) and The Kings Head pub (15 High St.), and the included breakfast at the Park House was also very good. 


We left Galway on a Sunday, which made for an easier drive across the width of Ireland back to Dublin Airport. We returned our rental car and took an express bus to Belfast, Northern Ireland, a comfortable 2-hour ride away. 

In Belfast, we connected with the owner of our rental apartment, Ciaran. When we had first arrived at the bus station in Belfast, we asked a taxi driver to take us to the apartment, but he chuckled and said it was so close, we would be better off walking. 

Listed on Airbnb as “Perfect city center location,” the apartment cost $507 for three nights.

On our first morning in Belfast, we went to the Titanic Museum, which presented a very complete and fascinating look at the tragic end of the ship’s maiden voyage and offered a history lesson on turn-of-the-century Belfast and the shipbuilding industry. 

During our stay, we ate at two excellent restaurants on nearby Wellington Place: Solo ($52) and Home Restaurant ($71). 

Through the tourist office, we booked a bus tour of the Antrim Coast, north of Belfast, with McComb’s Coach Travel for £25. It made several stops, including at Carrickfergus Castle, Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Dunluce Castle and — the tour highlight — the Giant’s Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

The Causeway features spectacular geological formations with 40,000 mostly 6-sided basalt columns of varying heights. We joined a walking tour there with a geologist, who shared some history of the area and gave us additional insight into how the columns were formed by volcanic action. 

We stopped for lunch at the Bushmills Distillery, first licensed in 1608, and our driver paused along the road to show us one of the locations where the HBO series “Game of Thrones” was filmed. This was an all-day tour, but it was well worth the time. 

In Belfast, we took a city tour (£12) that went through the Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods and included a history of The Troubles between the two factions. The murals on the walls helped to define whether you were in a Catholic or Protestant neighborhood. 

Northern Ireland had a different feel than the Republic of Ireland. Perhaps it was because it is still part of the United Kingdom or maybe it was because of the area’s former strife, though we never felt unsafe. 

After three nights in Belfast, we returned to Dublin by express bus for our flight home. 

A few observations

We found the Irish people to be among the friendliest we have encountered on our travels to many countries of the world. It was a friendliness that seemed sincere rather than motivated by tips and/or patronage. 

The costs I quoted for our meals were for two people, but we are light eaters. 

The Republic of Ireland uses the euro, and Northern Ireland uses the British pound. Both currencies were easily attainable at ATMs everywhere. 

The decision to drive in Ireland is an individual one, but I felt I couldn’t enjoy the scenery while driving, as it was necessary to devote my full concentration to traffic and the road. I’m not sure the rental car made economic sense, either, as it generally sat once we reached our destination. 

We had decent weather most of the time, but when it rained, it didn’t stop us from enjoying our outings. After all, without all the rain, Ireland wouldn’t be “Forty Shades of Green”!