TRANSCRIPT

Trip Coach: May 6, 2008

Anto Howard, co-author of "Fodor's Ireland 2009," answered your questions about Ireland.

By , Tuesday, May 6, 2008, 9:55 AM

Anto Howard: Hi everyone. This is Anto Howard here. I'm co-author of Fodor's Ireland 2009. Looking forward to hearing your questions about Ireland and trying to answer them. Let's get going.

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Pasadena, Calif.: I have a questions about B&B accommodations while I'm traveling in Ireland. My family and I will be arriving in Dublin on June 13 from LAX and leaving on June 23. My parents are 63 and 65; my sister and I are 37 and 39. We will be making a hotel reservation for arrival in Dublin and also for the night before we leave for home. In between those dates we will be traveling via train and/or bus to Waterford, Cork, Castlebar, and the areas surrounding Castlebar. We have not made any other plans for hotel or B&B reservations as we want to be somewhat flexible with our schedule. Do you think this is a wise thing to do or should we make reservations? We have family who have done this same thing in the past, but they were traveling at a different time of the year. I'm not sure how busy the month of June is with regard to tourists and I don't want us to end up scrambling for a place to stay since we'll need 2 rooms. Please let me know what you think! Thanks.

Anto Howard: June is busy in Ireland, if not quite high season. B&Bs are something we do very well—although a slew of new, cheap hotels have put them under pressure in the last few years and quite a few have closed down. It is usually possible to find a good B&B when you arrive in a major town or city (like Waterford, Cork or Castlebar), so long as you avoid big festival or holiday weekends in that locale. Perhaps the best move is to use the internet or phone to book a few nights ahead as you travel. This maintains your flexibility but also ensures you've a warm bed waiting when you arrive in a new place—especially since you need two rooms. Pick out the B&Bs you like in your destinations (plus a back up or two) before you leave the U.S. Then give them a call or book online as you are traveling. If by any chance you are caught out, contact the tourist board and they'll find you something at short notice. Weekends can be busier and you might want to book these in advance of traveling.

A couple of extra tips: Check out our Country Houses. They are the most unique places around the country and are often only a little bit more expensive than an ordinary B&B. If you are going for a B&B try for one with only a few rooms, then tend to have the best, personal touch.

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Brunswick, Ga.: How "handicap (wheelchair) friendly" is Ireland? Looking to visit Ireland in the Spring 2009 with one member of my party needing the use of a wheelchair when having to walk long distances. From my research I came away with the feeling that wheelchair accessibility is not as wide spread as I have found in the U.S.A. —Jeff

Anto Howard: Having worked on a travel book for people with disabilities in the USA I can definitely say Ireland lags well behind The States when it comes to accessibility issues. Things are improving and European Union law requires that all new public buildings (hotels, restaurants etc.) are wheelchair accessible. But, of course, a lot of the more interesting buildings in Ireland (i.e. all the Georgian mansions in Dublin) pre-date such legislation and are generally not accessible. Of course the cities tend to be better than the countryside for accessibility. So you'll have to do your research and probably choose a newer type hotel. The best people to get advice from are the NGO Irish Wheelchair Association.

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San Leandro, Calif.: With all the limits on luggage, what should visitors in mid-July bring to wear? I have heard many different stories on the weather, so I am having a difficult time figuring out what to bring for 16 days.

Anto Howard: It is true that in Ireland you can have four seasons on a single day, so prepare for any weather. July is generally a warm month, with average highs of 65 F (OK, not that warm if you're from California). Average lows are around 48 F. But you can probably be sure that you'll get a little rain some time during your 16 days. So bring a light rain jacket (and a umbrella), one sweater (or a jumper as we call it) and some long pants just for the evening if you need it. Otherwise go with your summer clothes.

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Annandale, N.J.: My husband, my daughter and I are leaving for Ireland in two weeks. We've rented a car for the two weeks. What does gasoline cost in Ireland these days?

Anto Howard: Ireland is suffering the same nasty gas hike that you've being having in the States—except we started at a much higher level! The average price in Ireland at the moment is €1.20 for a litre, but that can vary a great deal. It's €1.30 in quite a few gas stations in Dublin, and a notorious one on the South Quays of Dublin is charging €1.45. So I'd ask a local's advice on the best deal before going to fill up and in general avoid city centre gas stations. [Remember a U.S. gallon equals 3.8 litres, so average price per gallon is around €4.56 (a whopping $7.08!). I think we need a Gas Tax Break!! Check out www.pumps.ie for an update on prices across the country.]

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Norfolk, Mass.: What things would you recommend for a family (with a 14-year-old boy and 13-year-old boy-girl twins) going to Dublin, Ireland Jul 13-27, to see in the greater Dublin area? We like history and the outdoors—and it's the first trip to Ireland for all and first trip to Europe for the children.

Anto Howard: Well if you like the outdoors you need to get out of Dublin—the city centre at least. The easiest way to do that is to take the wonderful DART commuter train that hugs the coastline right around Dublin Bay and passes through some wonderful seaside towns and villages. I recommend Howth village on the north side of Dublin, and Dalkey on the south. If you are brave enough go for a life-changing swim at Vico Rock in Dalkey—cold (very cold), crystal blue water.

Wicklow, tthe county just south of Dublin, is full of mountains, lakes, and country gardens. A simple climb (a steep walk really) is the Sugar Loaf mountain not far from the stunning Powerscourt gardens. The 6th century monastic settlement of Glendalough is also in Wicklow and is a great little hike. The Wicklow Way is a series of connected hikes right through the county.

To satisfy the history buffs in you firstly do all the sights in Dublin City—including Trinity College (with the Book of Kells), Christ Church and St. Patrick's Cathedrals, and Kilmainham Gaol (where the leaders of the 1916 rebellion were executed). The tour guides at Kilmainham are some of the best I've ever encountered.

Then head out the Co. Meath, to the west of Dublin. Here you'll find Ireland's most impressive historical sight—Newgrange, a passage tomb much older than the pyramids and Stonehenge (we love saying that to English visitors).

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Annandale, N.J.: My husband, my daughter and I leave for Ireland in two weeks. We've booked everything on our own. Will our ATM cards work over there? Will they accept our American Express credit card there?

Anto Howard: Your ATM card will work in every machine (or just about every one). American Express is not accepted everywhere. It tends to be the more up-market hotels, shops and restaurants that take it. Visa or Mastercard are accepted everywhere that takes cards.

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Toronto, Canada: Hi, Anto. I'm planning my honeymoon for this August. We have between 5-7 days in Ireland and would like to spend the majority of it hiking along the west coast. Could you suggest a few places with beautiful scenery, good hikes and that are reasonably priced? Also, we won't be renting a car, so any tips on how to travel from place to place would be much appreciated.

Anto Howard: First of all, congratulations on your upcoming wedding. If you come to Ireland and only go one place it has to be the West Coast. Firstly I'll list a few must sees: Cliffs of Moher, The Burren (a lunar landscape, stunning area in Co. Clare) and as much of Connemara as you can fit in.

Might be a good idea to start in Co Clare and head north, via Galway City, to Connemara. You could hike pretty much the whole way, varing the level of difficulty by going over the mountains or not.

Cheap places to stay in Ireland are much harder to come by since the Celtic Tiger brought prosperity to the country. But there are still a few good value, beautiful spots out west. Try Aran View House just outside Doolin on the Clare Coast. It has stunning views in every direction, The Aran islands to the west, the Cliffs of Moher to the south, and The Burren to the north. The Merriman Inn in beautiful Kinvara, Co. Galway has great views out over Galway Bay. And the bargain Burren View Farm in Doorus Co. Galway, has stunning views out over the Bay to The Burren beyond.

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Oklahoma City, Okla.: Is the weather good in October and is October a good month to go to Ireland?

Anto Howard: A nice short question, I love it.

October is one of my favourite months in Ireland and I often recommend it to visitors. The weather is usually good (average highs of 55 F and lows of 40 F) and it is also one of the driest months in Ireland (a relative term, of course). But it is also a time when most tourists have gone home (no lines!) and you can see Irish people going about their normal lives. The theatre and art seasons reopen after a summer hiatus, and the students are back in college.

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West Haven, Conn.: Hello. My husband and I are in the talking stages about possibly re-locating to Ireland. We are both American. Are there any companies that handle that sort of thing, i.e. housing, jobs, school for my son, etc... We were thinking of somewhere south, close to Ardmore.

Thanks,
Tina

Anto Howard: Before I try answer your question I wanted to say you couldn't have picked a better place to move to. My girlfriend is from Ardmore (in fact we are going down there this weekend) and it really is one of the underrated gems of Ireland—historically and scenically.

I'm afraid I usually deal with visitors and don't know that much about moving to Ireland to live. The Relocation Bureau is a company who handles moves to Ireland. I don't know them well enough to recommend them or not. The Irish employment website has some good, detailed advice about relocating. The official website has more legal info. Sorry I couldn't be more help.

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Corpus Christi, Tex.: We made a quick stop in Cork (off our cruise ship) and traveled by bus to Waterford. We want to return to see ALL of Ireland. What is the best way to do this? Where is the best town to base ourselves from? What time of year is the weather best? Thanks.

Anto Howard: A few question and I'll take them in order.

• Best way to see Ireland in a short time is in a car. But even though the country is small don't rush about and try to see everything. Pick a few places and spend a bit of time in each so you can get into the slower pace of the country areas.

• I would base myself in Dublin for a couple of days to see the Capital and to do half day visits to the historical and natural wonders of Meath and Wicklow.

Then I'd head west and base myself in a small town in Connemara (Clifden perhaps, or Leenane) and from here I'd spend a few days exploring this most beautiful and mysterious part of Ireland. You could do a few hikes here, or get bikes and cycle through the mountain passes.

If you have time I'd head down south to West Cork and Kerry. I'd base myself in Schull in West Cork or on the Dingle Peninsula and I'd drive around the peninsulae of the Southwest.

The warmest months are July and Aug, but the best weather is in June and September because they are dryer and still warm.

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Wilmington, Del.: I have traveled to Ireland to play golf a number of times. With the joy(?) of the weakened dollar, I'd like some suggestions of golf to play, especially links courses, that won't break the bank, if my son and I fly into Shannon over the summer. I think we'd like to rent a car and do B&B for overnights.

Anto Howard: You are right, if you're are going to play golf in Ireland it has to be links. A lot of the top links courses are ridiculously over priced and a bit of a rip-off.

As a general rule courses in the Northern Ireland tend to be better value than in the Republic. Try the cheaper "Valley" course at stunning Royal Portrush or the Old Course at Potstewart Golf Club, both great value links. In the Republic County Donegal is full of underrated, brilliant value links courses. Try Rosapenna Golf Links or Donegal Golf Club. In the West I'd go for Westport Golf Club, a difficult and scenic links in Co Mayo.

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Columbus, Ohio: Hello! The song Christmas in Killarney always makes me think of a very picturesque and very quaint Irish town. Is this accurate or are there other smaller towns you would recommend that would fit this description? Thank you!!

Anto Howard: Maybe when the song was written Killarney was quaint, but no longer. I never recommend that visitors should stay in Killarney because it really is a bit of a tourist trap that just isn't authentic anymore. Prices are artificially high. It's also not 'small' anymore.

If you want to go to the Kerry/Cork area there are scores of really beautiful little villages. Schull is West Cork is a beauty, and Kenmare is a more 'real' large town than Killarney. Castletownebere and the other small towns on the Beara Peninsula all fit the bill, as do Kilorgin and Glenbeigh on the Ring of Kerry.

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Charlotte, N.C.: What is your best advice in visiting the Causeway? How do we maximize the visit? We are departing from Charlotte to Shannon and have a driving/B&B package for only 6 nights and departing from Dublin back to USA.

Anto Howard: I might get in trouble for saying this but I personally find the Giant's Causeway a bit of a disappointment. It is interesting, and beautiful, but there are more stunning sights in Ireland (The Cliffs of Moher, The Burren). So I wouldn't plan to spend a lot of time there. But the Causeway is part of one of the most under-appreciated and glorious drives in Ireland: The Antrim Coast. Nine stunning glens all run down to the sea along a rugged area of coastline that includes some of the most serene seaside villages in Ireland. So the answer is the best way to see the Causeway is as part of a drive along the Coast and try to see it at dawn or dusk to make the most of it.

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Springfield, Ohio: We are taking a British Isles cruise in June. We will be visiting three ports in Ireland (Cork, Dublin & Belfast) and also three ports in Scotland (Glasgow, Inverness and Edinbough). Do you suggest bringing GBP and euros bought in the US before we leave? What currency in needed in each of these 6 ports? (Can you tell me which places take what currency? ) Thanks!

Anto Howard: Before I answer your question a little (not very serious) warning: don't call The UK and Ireland 'The British Isles' when you are in the Republic of Ireland, people don't like it and never use it. The term hints of the old colonial days.

I always recommend getting your foreign currency out of the local ATM machines. It is the easiest, safest and often the cheapest way. Your US ATM card will work in the vast majority of machines in Ireland and the UK.

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Chicago, Ill.: My husband and son (29) and I are going to Ireland in Sept 3-22. My son is only coming for 7 days to golf with my husband and then he will fly to London for 3 days. For the week we will be together, I feel they could get in 3 days of golf. We want to stay at a castle for a night, can you recommend one? We will be traveling from Dublin to Gallway traveling south. Thank you.

Anto Howard: Not too far from Galway, in County Mayo, is the glorious Ashford Castle, a famed mock-Gothic baronial showpiece built in 1870 for the Guinness family. Prince Rainier, John Travolta and Jack Nicholson have all stayed here and it really is a romantic place with the most amazing location at the head of Lough Corrib (a lake). Be warned, it's not cheap.

Further south in County Clare is Dromoland Castle, another 19th century castle full of towers and crenellations and also situated on a forest and lake. Once again, not cheap.

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Albany, Ga.: A group of us will run the Dublin marathon Oct 27th then spend the next week staying in Ireland. We will have cars and are tentatively planning on staying in B&B's in Killkenny, Dingle, Doolin and Clifden. Is this a reasonable itinerary to see a good bit of Ireland over 10 days? We don't want to rush. —Paul

Anto Howard: I'd say it was just about the perfect itinerary. They are all good towns that attract plenty of tourists but still feel like real places. The distances—especially for an American —are small and the roads good so you won't spend too much time getting around. I always advise visitors not to rush around too much—the thrill of Ireland is in meeting the locals and getting to know a couple of places well. And above all you are heading west, which is the most unique part of the country. On the way to Kilkenny you might consider a diversion to the Neolithic passage tomb of Newgrange—2000 years older than the pyramids. Incredible place!

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Arlington Heights, Ill.: My daughter, granddaughter (age 18) and I are planning on going to Ireland next summer (2009) leaving from ORD—we will only have 9 days to spend there and would like to know the best cities to visit and whether we should travel by car. We want to see as much as possible in that short time. Also we would like to spend one night in a castle. Is that a possibility?

Thank you,
Carol

Anto Howard: Best way to see Ireland in a short time is in a car. But even though the country is small don't rush about and try to see everything, pick a few places and spend a bit of time in each so you can get into the slower pace of the country areas.

With the exception of Dublin (and perhaps Galway) Ireland is not really about cities, so I wouldn't spend too much time in them.

• I would base myself in Dublin for a couple of days to see the Capital and to do half day visits to the historical and natural wonders of Meath and Wicklow.

Then I'd head west and base myself a small town in Connemara (Clifden perhaps, or Leenane) and from here I'd spend a few days exploring this most beautiful and mysterious part of Ireland. You could do a few hikes here, or get bikes and cycle through the mountain passes.

If you have time I'd head down south to West Cork and Kerry. I'd base myself in Schull in West Cork or on the Dingle Peninsula and I'd drive around the peninsulae of the Southwest.

• Not too far from Galway, in County Mayo, is the glorious Ashford Castle, a famed mock-Gothic baronial showpiece built in 1870 for the Guinness family. Prince Rainier, John Travolta nd Jack Nicholson have all stayed here and it really is a romantic place with the most amazing location at the head of Lough Corrib (a lake). Be warned, it's not cheap.

Further south in County Clare is Dromoland Castle, another 19th century castle full of towers and crenellations and once again situated on a forest and lake. Once again, not cheap.

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Montgomery, Ala.: I'm starting to plan a trip to Ireland for a group of 8 ladies. We go on a European trip every March. When would be the best time to go to avoid the high tourist season yet still have decent weather? We travel on a budget, and need advice on the best way to see the main attraction areas using public transportation between cities. Which popular attractions can we cover in 6 days? Thank you for your help!

Anto Howard: I love it when I hear about groups of friends who do annual trips. I do a similar thing myself with a bunch of childhood friends.

Best time to get decent weather and avoid the heaviest tourist traffic is the shoulder months of early June and mid-September.

If you are using public transport I really does limit you options for getting out into the more isolated villages of rural Ireland. Best idea is to base youself in cities or big towns and take day trips or overnight trips to the smaller places. Try Dublin as you Eastern base, Galway City in the west and Dingle in the South. Use trains between these places and buses to get to the smaller towns. Check the bus timetable to see what time you can get out of the town the next day.

My advice for a short, six-day stay is one night and a day in Dublin and then head West. Base yourself in Galway and concentrate on going to the Connemara region and to Co. Clare. Make sure you see the Cliffs of Moher, The Burren, and as much of Connemara as you can. As you pass through Meath on your way back to Dublin try to see the Neolithic passage tombs of Newgrange, a real marvel.

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Boise, Idaho: My husband and I are planning on a trip to Ireland in the fall. We are active travelers in our 60s. We do not want to go with a tour group to Ireland nor do we want to rent our own car to get around. What is the best way to tour Ireland and see the sites around the country? Thank you in advance.

Anto Howard: In truth, a car is the best way to get to the more isolated parts of Ireland. If you are using public transport it really does limit you options for getting out into the smaller villages. But it can be done. Best idea is to base yourself in cities or big towns and take day trips or overnight trips to the smaller places. Try Dublin as you Eastern base, Galway City in the West and Dingle in the South. Use trains between these places and buses to get to the smaller towns. Check the bus timetable to see what time you can get out of the town the next day. Don't try to see everything, focus on a couple of areas and allow yourself to fall into the pace of life there.

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Bakersfield, Calif.: What are the best areas to stay for a week and day trip from? —Michael

Anto Howard: I would base myself in Dublin for a couple of few days to see the Capital and to do half day visits to the historical and natural wonders of Meath and Wicklow.

Then I'd head west and base myself a small town in Connemara (Clifden perhaps, or Leenane) and from here I'd spend a few days exploring this most beautiful and mysterious part of Ireland. You could do a few hikes here, or get bikes and cycle through the mountain passes. If you like the city buzz you could base yourself in Galway.

If you have time I'd head down south to West Cork and Kerry. I'd base myself in Schull in West Cork or on the Dingle Peninsula and I'd drive around the peninsulae of the Southwest.

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McLean, Va.: I'll be taking a car trip through Ireland with my 22-year-old daughter in June 2008. Will she be able to share the driving—are there age restrictions for driving a rental car in Ireland? Thanks!

Anto Howard: Legally your daughter can drive in Ireland if she's over 16 and has a full license. But a lot of the car rental companies only rent to people who are 24 or over. But there are a few exceptions, who rent to people over 21. Try the local agencies like Dan Dooley (who definitely rent to over 21s) and Murray's.

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Rego Park, N.Y.: We are going to Ireland in August. Do they get a lot of rain at that time? —Irma

Anto Howard: Hi, Irma. August is the warmest month in Ireland and the most popular with tourists, but it does get some rain, though not too much. Best advice is to bring a light rain jacket and/or umbrella just in case.

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Wallingford, Pa.: 3 of us (senior citizens) have been invited to visit a friend in Mt. Charles, Donegal, for a week and we would like to travel another week in Ireland by bus. How do we find out about bus routes and places to stay along the way that are reasonable? Also, we were told to fly into Dublin and out of Shannon. Can we do that at a reasonable air fare?

Thanks,
Elaine

Anto Howard: Donegal is a wonderfully wild and beautiful part of Ireland that is relatively undiscovered by tourists, so your trip will be off to a good start.

The best way to see Ireland is by car, it allows you to go to the most interesting and isolated places and to change your plans on a whim.

• But you can do it by bus. Bus Eireann, the national bus company goes to most towns and villages. Their website should be your bible for timetables and planning your trip. You will have to do some planning to make sure you can get in and onto of towns when you want to—although there are worse places to be stuck for an evening than a picturesque town in Connemara.

• As I'm not sure where you are going I can't recommend cheap place to stay. Get yourself a good guidebook (maybe one I wrote??) that is geared towards the budget traveler. Also the website www.discoverireland.ie will have places to stay in many towns.

• Yes, Ryanair and Aer Arann have very cheap flight between Dublin and Shannon.

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Princeton Junction, N.J.: My wife and I (25- and 26-years-old) are traveling to Ireland from July 31 through August 11 with our families (both sets of parents and a total of four younger siblings). We will be flying in and out of Dublin and driving counter-clockwise around the country. We already have lodging and are beginning to look into car rentals, which we have heard to be quite expensive. Do you have any recommended agencies? How about vehicle sizes for ten people with luggage driving on Ireland's back roads? A co-worker mentioned that he had rented a private coach in Europe once as part of a group of about twenty. Are there any private services in Ireland that would drive a group of ten? Would you recommend this over renting cars? Thanks for your advice!

Anto Howard: In general the Irish owned agencies are a lot cheaper than the chains like Hertz etc. Try Dan Dooley and Murray's. They do have larger vehicles for families etc. I'm sure a lot of the bus hire companies would get you a minibus for ten people with a driver but if cost is an issue (you mentioned the expensive car rentals) then this option is not suitable as it would be very expensive. Irish roads have improved dramatically in the last fifteen years and so long as you take your time on the country roads you'll be fine. Beep before you go around very tight bends where you are unsighted.

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Brick , N.J.: We'll be flying to Shannon soon to do some genealogical research on my GG grandparents in Roscommon county. We are looking for a centrally located hotel in Roscommon town so our evenings can experience the flavor of the area. Suggestions?

Thanks,
Frank

Anto Howard: I have to be honest with you here, Roscommon is the one county in Ireland I know least about. I have spent time sailing the river there, but not in the town. So I could look up a hotel for you, but I wouldn't feel right recommending something I didn't know personally. Sorry about that. You could try www.roscommon.ie or www.visitroscommon.com.

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Fort Lauderdale, Fla.: I am considering renting an RV to explore Ireland. Are there RV parks accessible from the major touring areas? More importantly, are most of the roadways accessible to RVs? Any other information or comments concerning RV rental in Ireland would be appreciated. Thank you.

Anto Howard: RV touring is becoming more popular in Ireland and most of the better camp and caravan sights would be fitted out for RVs these days. With a bit of planning you'll have no problem finding a site near any area you want to visit (Ireland is pretty small, after all).

Irish roads have improved dramatically in the last fifteen years and so long as you take your time on the country roads you'll be fine. Beep before you go around very tight bends where you are unsighted. There may be a few 'boreens' or tiny roads that you can't go up.

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Lewisport, Ky.: I'm planning a second visit (10days) to Donegal, Ireland and the surrounding area in mid-Sept. Should I book the air now or see if the prices go down and also would it be better to book to Shannon or Dublin? I intend to drive after reaching one or the other. I think Shannon, but my friend says the drive will be easier from Dublin due to the roads.

Anto Howard: The mystery of airfares!! Well September is still quite popular for tourism in Ireland so I don't think the fares will go down—except if there was a weird special offer or the dollar rallies. Prices to Ireland usually go up as they get closer to the departure date. My advice is to book now. If you're heading for Donegal then fly into Dublin, the drive is on better roads and quicker.

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Burbank, Calif.: Is it easy or difficult to find 1-, 2- or 3-day tours out of Belfast which cover areas of Northern Ireland?

Anto Howard: Ulsterbus runs half-day and full-day trips out of Belfast to the Glens of Antrim, the Giant's Causeway, Lough Neagh, and The Mountains of Mourne from June to September. Minicoach runs more flexible bus tours out of Belfast all around Northern Ireland.

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Annapolis, Md.: How can we (a party of four) visit the Dingle Peninsula and the Cliffs of Moher without renting a car? Are there local tours we can take?

Anto Howard: Destination Killarney offer tours of the Dingle region by coach or taxi. They can arrange accommodation, entertainment, special interest tours and sporting activities. There are a number of other companies in Killarney and Dingle who offer similar tours.

Healy Tours offers sightseeing tours of the Cliffs of Moher and The Burren with expert guides. There are plenty of other operators who doe the same based in Galway City.

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San Francisco, Calif.: Hi. I'm considering a one-week, solo trip to Ireland this summer. The popular "car and B&B" itinerary sounds good, but I'd prefer not to drive around by myself, since I wouldn't be able to drink at the pubs along the way. What's a good alternative for a solo traveler besides an escorted tour?

Thanks,
Marion

Anto Howard: Hi, Marion. In truth, a car is the best way to get to the more isolated parts of Ireland. If you are using public transport it really does limit you options for getting out into the smaller villages. But I understand your desire to enjoy a pint along the way and the pub is still the best spot to get chatting to the locals. So it can be done without a car. Best idea is to base yourself in cities or big towns and take day trips or overnight trips to the smaller places. Try Dublin as you Eastern base, Galway City in the West and Dingle in the South. Use trains between these places and buses to get to the smaller towns. Don't try to see everything, focus on a couple of areas and allow yourself to fall into the pace of life there.

Bus Eireann, the national bus company goes to most towns and villages. Their website should be your bible for timetables and planning your trip. You will have to do some planning to make sure you can get in and onto of towns when you want to—although there are worse places to be stuck for an evening than a picturesque town in Connemara.

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Half Moon Bay, Calif.: I am meeting my brother, brother-in-law, and mother in Dublin on May 13. (They are flying in on American from Chicago. While I will be coming in via London from the West Coast.) We are all adults between the ages of 42 and 76.

It seems that we are having difficulty finding relatively inexpensive car insurance through our credit cards as well as the car rental places in Dublin. (EuroCar, Hertz, Budget) Why is it so expensive over in Ireland? Our credit card companies say that car insurance is covered in all of Europe except Ireland/Italy. (Is that due to theft or the windy roads?)

We do not plan on driving into Northern Ireland. As a matter of fact, we haven't booked our rental car yet! (Any suggestions?!) Our plan is to arrive in Dublin on May 13, rent a car, drive to Trim and stay at the Trim Castle the first night. After that we will head towards Galway area for a few days before heading up towards County Donegal. We figure we can ask the B&B owners for suggestions for other B&B's to stay in along the way.

My brother and I would like to stay one night on the Aran Islands. Any suggestions of a neat place to stay there? Or something not to miss on the Island? Thank you for any advice you can give us! —Beth

Anto Howard: Firstly I am surprised your credit card companies said all countries in Europe are covered except Ireland and Italy? First I've heard of this. Ireland has a better road record than a lot of countries and theft would be less of an issue than in the UK. I always recommend that visitors us the Irish car rental companies rather than the international chains. They offer better service and usually a better price. Try Dan Dooley and Murray's and see if the insurance is cheaper.

Asking B& B owners for suggestions is a good idea, they will know the lie of the land. May isn't too busy in Ireland so you should be able to find accommodation without much notice.

Great idea to go out and spend a night on the Irish speaking Aran Islands. An unique, bleak, but fascinating and beautiful place. Kilmurvey House on inis Mór (the biggest of the three islands) is a rambling 200-year-old stone farmhouse at the foot of Dún Aengus fort and a few minutes from the beach. The owners are warm and chatty.

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Anto Howard: Thanks everyone for all the questions. Great to hear so many of you out there planning trips to Ireland. Just be brave and talk to the locals and build in some flexibility to follow any adventures that arise and Ireland will be the trip of a lifetime. If you need a travel book you could do worse than Fodor's Ireland 2009, which I co-wrote. Excuse the plug.

—Anto