I've been to Ireland lots of time to visit my husband's family and we actually got married in Cork in 2012. I already liked Ireland a lot but had never really travelled around the west of the country.
When David was invited over to a Gaelic football dinner in Westport, County Mayo, we decided to make a holiday out of it and travel around on a road trip with the kids.
We flew into Knock which is the tiniest airport! So quick to get through. We picked up our hire car, which was so cheap, a Nissan Qashqai less than £90 for 10 days. You pay a fee of £65 to pick up the car in one airport and drop it off to another.
We arrived at the Castlecourt Hotel in Westport in the rain, which we had predicted, but we didn't know that that would be the only rain we saw in the whole holiday! The place was busy as the hotel was being used for Confirmation celebrations and a wedding, but the atmosphere was great and we were so welcome.
We had a day at the spa, they have a Thermal Spa area where you can have different treatments and enjoy the outdoor hot tub, sea salt foot spa and steam/sauna. It was a treat.
The breakfast was incredible. Pancakes, pastries, cereals and fruit and then whatever you wanted cooked to order from the chef from a full Irish to salmon and poached eggs.
We spent a day driving to the Connemara National Park. This was an amazing drive along the Wild Atlantic Way. There were wild ponies, dark grey lakes and big brown mountains. The scenery was so beautiful we couldn't believe we had never been before.
After a few days in Mayo we moved on to County Clare, to the Burren. We stayed at a free range pork farm in a converted horse truck! This is also known as 'glamping'! It sounds pretty basic but actually there was a log burner, kitchen, shower room and toilet inside and enough sleeping space for up to 6. The beds were soooo comfortable. The couple who own it let our children feed the pigs, chickens and play with their dogs. It's not often the children get to be around nature and peace and quiet. In the morning the couple cooked us the most amazing organic Irish breakfast. I later found out this place has won many awards for its gastronomy and glamping accommodation.
Using it as our base, we travelled the whole of the Burren on small country lanes. We visited Michael Cusack's home, he was the founder of the GAA so my husband loved that. We stumbled on a chocolate factory which was really cool and the smell of the chocolate - wow. The best part was a visit to the Burren Perfumery where they make fragrance from the many species of wild flowers that grow here. There was a tea room and a secret garden... (basically heaven to me)
We also went to the Cliffs of Moher to walk off some of the scones we had eaten and this blew the cobwebs away perfectly. How did I not know about the Cliffs of Moher?! Stunning!
We moved on to Charleville where we got married and spent a couple of nights at the Charleville Park Hotel. It was great to reminisce! The leisure centre there is fab and we all swam a lot. And ate a lot (too much!)
After this it was a ride through the country to visit family near Mallow, Cork. We had babysitters that night so we went out in Cork City - what a great night out! The bars were brilliant. This was followed by a visit to Roscrea, Tipperary and ending up in very Sunny Dublin for the weekend. We totally lucked out with the weather!
What I will remember most about this trip, was the way the little villages are so colourful against a background of - let's be honest - quite a grey sky. All the shops and little pubs are painted pastel, greens and reds, and look so quaint and perfect. And the other thing that was really special was the Irish hospitality, which we were shown many times, every single day of the trip, and something they are very proud of.
I will be buying a teapot (no more tea made in a mug) and making sure I have scones or biscuits for guests who might knock at my front door from now on...