Ireland Road Tripping: Burren Birds of Prey, Aillwee Caves & County Clare

Instead of having a full week off at February like some schools, (we only have two days), so the kids have a full week off in early May. Truthfully I prefer that – purely based on having better weather in May.   Anyway, with Thursday & Friday off this week, we took advantage of a road trip to “West Country”. We are trying to see as much of Ireland as possible (within a tight budget),  

I found a two-night hotel package at the Inn at Dromoland.  The hotel has a pool, a voucher for 90 minutes in the indoor kids play area, supervised kid camp (which was not running this mid-term) and a 3-course meal for one night was included.   I knew going in that the hotel was not the Ritz but it was perfect for our family, a great value and really, I had no complaints.  

The room was a family room with a double and two singles and as expected, Maebh and I were in the big bed! 🙂   It was not one of their more recently updated rooms but wasn’t bad.

The kids enjoyed the indoor play area and made lots of friends.  Maebh mainly did the slides and ball pits and Soren played football in the back with some older boys.

Just up the road was the 5-star, Dromoland Castle – a “sister property” but to me it was more like a third cousin, twice removed, if it is still “part of the family”! 🙂  We didn’t go inside, but the grounds were lovely and offered a lot.  Instead of 200 for two nights, it was probably 400 for one night type of place. Way over our budget.

Getting to the hotel, we took a bit of the long way going through the Burren.  It’s a great rocky expanse in Country Clare and is one of the world’s truly unique places in that it supports Arctic, Mediterranean and Alpine plants side-by-side (yes I read that interesting fact). The limestone mountains are just beautiful and so different from other parts of Ireland.


The windy roads, which get somewhat narrow at places prove to be too difficult for trucks and busses to pass each other on the road.  These are the times when it’s perfect to say “only in Ireland”!

Oh and a car in the ditch?!
We stopped at O’Connors Pub in Doolin to have lunch in a pub.. it was VERY full of Americans and bus loads of Spanish tourists.  The food was just okay …  while nothing was wrong (including a doggy bag request),  I just would probably visit a different pub for lunch, if I were to ever return to that area.   If we were staying locally and they had a Trad night going, I’d probably consider going for drinks only – as I love those sessions.

Of course there are COWS – not so many sheep.

 

After lunch, we set off to the Cliffs of Moher, but when we finally arrived there it was raining and very windy and decided to not visit it with our kids until they are a bit older.   I did take a few photos from Doolin. Having been there before (12 years ago, I know they are cool).

On Saturday morning as the sun was shining, instead of heading to the pool after breakfast, we headed out to do something outdoors.  We were originally going to Doolin Ferries to take the Cliffs of Moher cruise but the seas were just too rough (and they start in March so a bit early on Feb 22). I think this would be so great in the warm weather.   

Check out this video – warning accent is brutal – but views are great!

So in looking at the map to see what other area attractions are around, we headed to the Aillwee CavesBurren Birds of Prey Centre.
The caves were amazing – having never been in any cave before, I had no idea what to expect.  I’m actually surprised I went in.  I think being American, I have been drilled for Health & Safety my entire life – and sure enough each step in, I kept thinking the worst thoughts… where is the exit, what if Nils someone bumps his/her head, what if here is a fire, what if the guide’s flashlight dies or someone falls into a while.. lol – you’d think I could relax a bit but surprisingly I did enjoy it.  I did disliked an Eastern European family who kept cutting, bumping and annoying me but I managed to get away from them.  I just read that when Kim and Kanye, were honeymooning in Ireland, Kim actually got stuck inside the caves and the fire department had to come free her.  
The Aillwee Cave is one of the many caves beneath the Burren. It was formed by glacial melt waters that seeped through the cracks in the limestone pavement during an early ice-age. It is the oldest cave in the Burren at 1.5 million years old, and boasts some of the most spectacular stalactites and stalagmites in Ireland . The powerful flow of these melt waters eroded through the rock, forming a subterranean river. Since the last ice-age, this river has subsided, leaving in its place one of Ireland ’s most spectacular caves. The largest area in the cave is known as The Highway, which is located at the centre of the cave.  Amazingly it only discovered in the 1940’s by a local farmer who lost his dog into a hole in the ground chasing a rabbit. The farmer went looking for his dog through the opening in the ground and some hours later managed to find not only the dog but the natural heritage feature. 
The cave was inhabited by animals for thousands of years before it was discovered by man. Hibernation pits dug out by bears were found in the cave, as well as bones of a brown bear. Bears are no longer found in Ireland , and have been extinct here for over 1,000 years.  
After the caves, we went down the hill to the Birds of Prey Centre.  It’s actually quite small place but had some of the most endangered species of birds in the area. We first walked through and got to see the various birds the had including Harrier Hawks, Sea Eagle, Falcolns, various owls including Jessie, the barn owl – my favorite!   They make the “show”,  very educational and you have the opportunity to handle some of the birds.

Soren was luckily the first one to spot Batty, the Bateleur Eagle coming from way up in the sky, so he was able to hold him first.   The handler in the photo was Dutch – which I could tell the second he started to speak! 

I took some photos but also a video with my phone – excuse the clicking sounds of my camera…

Batty is about 2 years old, he was taken from the wild in Africa as a chick, and somebody tried to smuggle him into the UK. Luckily, he got caught by customs, and was hand-reared by some kind soul. Eventually, he ended up in the centre in Ballyvaughan, and people just love him. He’s such a peculiar-looking bird! When he fluffs up his feathers, he just about doubles in size.  His cage is full of kids today.
 

 

 

 

 

 

He also did a demonstration with a falcoln called Mille.

 

When this guy was done, another guy brought out a barn owl named Jessie.   Maebh was brave and asked for a chance to hold the owl and later Soren asked too.

I think we paid €45.00 for our family of four to visit but if you plan ahead you can use the Adults Go FREE offer from Kelloggs boxes.   Or Tesco Days Out has a points for voucher scheme too.

I hope to get up to Sligo/Westport area and will have to stop at the Eagles Flying place up there.

After this fun adventure, we stopped in Ennis for some lunch at Knox – which I highly recommend and then back to the hotel where we went into the swimming pool. 

Sunday morning we fueled up on the hotel’s buffet breakfast, which was very good and headed south to Killimer, where we got onboard the Shannon Ferry for a 20-minute, very windy, wet car ferry across the estuary which separates County Clare from County Kerry.   Here is a video I took going on the ferry….

When we got off the ferry, we headed to the seaside town of Ballybunion but being winter and VERY seasonal place, the entire place was closed… but we did have a peak at the beautiful beach, which I’d love to see in the summer.

After driving a bit around we headed to Adare for lunch at Pat Collins pub  – great seafood chowder!
and then onto the M7 (major motorway) for a boring, two-hour drive back to Dublin from Limerick.  

Overall – a great two nights away exploring all which Ireland offers.  In thinking ahead, I hope our next road trip will be towards Westport, Mayo, Connemara region or Belfast for the Titanic Quarter and W5.

I just saw a posting online with 33 photos that prove Ireland is the most beautiful country in the world.  I’m not sure I’d agree with the most but surely is a beautiful place and so different as your travel to different parts of the country. 

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