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Are there any castles that you can explore outside of a guided tour?

Are there any castles that you can explore outside of a guided tour?

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Posted Tue 3 May 2016 2:21 AM
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I will be in Ireland with my wife in September for 4 days. 1 night in Ballynahinch, 2 in Ashford, and 1 in Dromoland. I am looking for the real Ireland. I would like to see the inner workings of a castle, the pubs where the tourists don't hang out, the little places away from foreigners. any tips?
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Posted Tue 3 May 2016 11:06 AM
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You are staying at some of the best places in Ireland, although all are quite touristy.  Ballynahinch is probably my favorite place to stay for authentic as you'll still have the locals in the pub at the castle and they make the best chowder!  You can explore more on the grounds with Noel Joyce, the resident walking guide. Well worth getting the local lore and see the countryside.  If you travel further into Clifden for a day trip, you can visit the Clifden Castle on the way around towards Clifden and the Skye Road loop.  It's a bit of trek, marked by newly built entrance and a stand of a few family houses, newly built as well, to walk down to the lower end of the fields where the ruined castle lies. There are a few standing stones to see, some authentic, some placed there.  You can get in and explore the ruins. Then take the Skye Road around Clifden for excellent views across the Atlantic and on over to Kylemore Abbey where you can explore the gardens and Abbey. The old church is well worth seeing there and for me is the highlight.  Also, there is a garden just before Kylemore run by Breanden O'Scanail that is sign posted Connemara National Park.  You could do this loop on the day you transfer from Ballynahinch to Ashford as they are just about an hour or so apart. The drives through Connemara are fantastic. If you come through past the Killary Fjord, you can take the road towards Cong / Maam, when you get to the craft cottage, take the left through the Lough Nafooey valley. This is not a well known road and the views are incredible.   If you come down through Maam to Cong, then you will also have great views, but the first is the road less taken and you'll avoid a few coaches. Please watch the coaches on this road. They give you no room to pass and it's quite dangerous. 

When you're at Dromoland you may be lodged in the purpose built wing or the old wing. The old garden wing, part of the castle, is haunted as are the gardens.  There are many ruins around if you pick up an Ordnance Survey Map (touring) to get more ideas on places to see.  The Hunt Museum in Limerick is worth seeing. 

Ashford Castle is still very enchanting and has just been refurbished. The garden and woodland walks are lovely and if you come into Cong itself, (5 minutes walk) you can find  Caitlin Cottage, a small shop that caters to the local artists and sells their goods as well as does a historical walk a couple of times a day. Well worth to get the local lore. Rob at Rare and Recent Books is head of the Historical Society there and is a wealth of information. We have two dry canals in the town that have a history as well as some older buildings.  The town itself is quite old and the local butcher Thomas Ryan carries wines and a few bits and pieces for picnics and is always full of stories. That is the real Ireland. Getting to know her people that are here every day.  You can also pick up a book on the local history and walks in the area at Rare & Recent.

Good luck on your tour around. There is a lot to see on your travels around and a lot of backroads worth taking. Don't worry about getting lost. Follow your bliss!

Ginger
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Posted Tue 3 May 2016 11:41 AM
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Hi David! You will be happy to know that there are plenty of hidden gems to discover throughout the west of Ireland! Ginger has given you some great suggestions above, but I have a few more that I would like to add to that list! :)

First of all, Dunguaire Castle, is a 7th century castle that overlooks the beautiful Galway Bay and can be visited without a tour. The castle is also located in Kinvara, a small but charming seaside village. Also in County Galway is Athenry Castle. While the tours here are guided, the castle has undergone some wonderful restoration work, so is really worth a visit. Both Kinvara and Athenry are south of Galway city and are a little bit off the beaten track, so you will easily come across some really nice bars and restaurants with welcoming locals. These include Connolly's or The Pier Head in Kinvara and McHale's in Athenry

While you're in County Mayo, I recommend visiting Rockfleet Castle. This 16th Century castle is steeped in history, and thanks to a restoration project in the 1950's, it is open to visitors. Rockfleet Castle is near Westport, which was once voted the best place to live in Ireland! For some nice pubs, check out Cosy Joe's or The Big Tree as both are popular with locals for their live music, while Cronin's Sheebeen is the perfect spot to sample some delicious seafood!

I would also suggest a visit to the Clare Archaeology Centre while you're staying in Dromoland Castle. On this site you will find Dysert Castle which dates back to the 15th Century. There is also a 6km walking trail which will guide you to many more historical wonders, including a High Cross and a 12th Century Church. Just north of where you will be staying is Ennis, which is a brilliant town to enjoy a pint in or relax with a bite to eat. Some local favorites include Brogan'sKnox'sPub or The Poet's Corner.

I hope this helps you with your travel plans and your itinerary, David! If you need any more ideas or tips, please just let me know! :)

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