GALWAY — In our compact rental car on the Irish motorway, the signs for Limerick appeared, so naturally, we started composing some.
“There once was a teen who was surly,” I offered, glancing at the rear-view mirror to my 16-year-old slumped in the backseat. “Who complained that we left way too early …”
Indeed we had taken the overnight Aer Lingus flight from Boston, landing in Dublin in a morning drizzle, and hit the road determined to make the most of our time. But because we departed Logan at 9:30 p.m., and the flight, powered by tailwinds, took under five hours, it felt like the middle of the night to us. And we were being required to do many strange things, like drive on the left.
Maybe it’s the way I constantly chew things over after the fact. But as a lifelong traveler now grounded by the coronavirus pandemic, one of the things I find myself doing is analyzing how I could have organized a past trip better. A recent four-day weekend in Ireland with teenage boys has prompted all kinds of shoulda-coulda thinking.
Our scenario was a friend’s wedding on a Saturday, in horse country about an hour outside of Dublin; our 12-year-old son was the ring-bearer. The adults were veterans of the Emerald Isle, but it was the first time for the boys. So we figured let’s make it a four-day weekend, Thursday to Sunday, packing in as many highlights as we could. Our plan: Aer Lingus in and out of Dublin, rent a car, and head west to the Cliffs of Moher. Power through the jet lag and make the most of the first day, stay in Galway, then back east to overnight in Temple Bar, then back out to County Kildare for the festivities.
The second-guessing comes fast and furious. First and foremost, it probably would have been better to take Aer Lingus to Shannon, rent the car, and fly back home out of Dublin. That way we’d already be on the West Coast and might feel a bit less frantic.
Another choice, of course, was to let somebody else do the driving entirely, a service offered by Kennedy & Carr and many other outfitters. They have the travel times down to a science, balancing the need to maximize time, without making everything impossibly rushed.
I’ve rented a car elsewhere in Europe and driven in the UK on other occasions, so I might have been predisposed to being an American road warrior. It’s not exactly environmentally conscious, but Ireland is also making it easier to get around by car. Miles and miles of “dual carriageways,” have been built as a result of public-private partnerships — proudly announced, without irony, on billboards as “schemes.” As a result, virtually all interstate-caliber roadways are pay-as-you-go; some tollbooths, inexplicably, only took cash.
The sleek network of motorways includes American-style rest stops with rows of petrol pumps and tastefully stocked versions of 7-11, which admittedly came in quite handy. We couldn’t ever recall seeing a wider variety of flavored crisps (potato chips).
Still, it was good to get off the highway and onto the classic, winding, narrow lanes of the countryside — complete with the video-game adventure moments of coming upon flocks of sheep or a slow-moving tractor, just around the bend.
Downsides of driving? People get too comfortable. I kept pointing out castles and museums to stop at, and only got grunts of approval for souvenir stands and ice cream shops. “Keep going,” they all said, instead of veering off to check out Celtic ruins. If we were on a private tour, they bloody well would have had to get out at Bunratty Castle.
And it goes without saying that motoring in foreign lands is a guaranteed marriage stressor. The first argument erupted at the very first rotary, when an insufficiently deft stick-shift move prompted the vehicle to stall. Why on earth did you get a manual, my wife demanded to know. That means I can’t drive, she fumed. I muttered something about the manual car being the only one left, but dared not speak the truth: An automatic was 25 euro a day extra, and I declined it in knee-jerk Yankee fashion.
Trying not to feel the pressure of the whole exercise — and to stop thinking about how it felt like 4 in the morning — we sped down the M-7 in time for a midday lunch near Lahinch, which had just hosted the Ireland Open. The roadside lunch was a daze of fish and chips and Guinness. The Atlantic Ocean roared just on the other side of silky fairways and greens.
The visit to the Cliffs of Moher was executed dutifully, and, after getting soaked in a classic misty drizzle, we were grateful to dive back into our private transportation. On to Galway and the Glenlo Abbey Hotel, a mansion and grounds originally built by a family making their wealth as salt merchants. We crashed after devouring the luxury treats left for us in the two-room suite.
A full-on Irish breakfast was just the thing to get us going in the morning, and we made our way to the M-6 motorway for the trip back east to Dublin. There our choice of accommodation was The Clarence, which bills itself as Dublin’s “first rock n’ roll boutique hotel.” U-2 singer Bono and his lead guitarist, The Edge, bought the riverside building in the 1990s, refurbished the property, and filmed a great live version of “Beautiful Day” on its rooftop.
It is the definition of centrally located, with easy access to our checklist — Trinity College, Book of Kells, Dublin Castle, Stephen’s Green. The 16-year-old, recently appreciative of men’s apparel, was drawn to Grafton Street; we purchased a custom fascinator, worthy of British royals, for the wedding.
By nightfall, though, we had a problem. The central air conditioning was on the fritz, and we had to sleep with the windows open — not a good combination for a place in the heart of party central. You know how you can’t help but listen to every word of a vapid pub conversation? Not a restful night.
To be fair, similar properties are candid about the feistiness. On its website, The Dean says it is “smack bang in the heart of Dublin City. We’ve done our best to keep the noise to a minimum but there’s always going to be a big buzz around here at night, that’s the location you’re staying in when you stay with us. Please make sure to consider this when booking.”
The only solution was strong coffee and breakfast sandwiches at Roberta’s next door, and we were on the road again. I backed the Enterprise rental out of one of the tightest parking garage spaces ever known, and plugged the next destination into my phone: The Heritage resort in Kildare County, known for its horse racing and breeding, and, of course, more golf. Everything was quite serviceable, though the property hasn’t yet been awarded the five stars of the nearby K Club.
A big draw was relative proximity to the wedding, at our friend’s family home, in the middle of sprawling wheat fields. For the rehearsal and the ceremony, we hired a local driver in a lovely beige Mercedes and pristine leather interior, well worth it not to worry about being over-served.
Another great breakfast on Sunday morning and it was off to catch our early afternoon flight home. By that time I was navigating the dual carriageways like a local, and the rental car drop-off was astonishingly smooth. As we all settled in to our seats on the Airbus A-330 — doesn’t that sound so quaint and nostalgic? — I was even starting to feel good about my strategy and tactics.
Still, the mind wanders, as one gazes out the airplane window. And even after you touch down at Logan. We had a few hours of free time that morning, after all. Surely I could have scheduled one last activity.