Trip Coach: September 13, 2005

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Suzanne Rowan Kelleher answers your questions on Ireland

Suzanne Rowan Kelleher: Hi, I'm Suzanne Rowan Kelleher. Thanks for joining me for this chat about Ireland. I'm taking questions now.

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Deer Park, NY: Hi Suzanne,
We have 7 children and as you can imagine have a very low budget for traveling. We usually take weekend trips in the northeast, but I absolutely have to get my wife to Ireland somehow. Where do I start to find a nice pkg that is affordable?
Desperately,
Tom

Suzanne Rowan Kelleher: Seven kids! You're going to have such a blast in Ireland. Tom, the problem with packages is that they tend to be priced on a per-person rate. Which, in your case, will add up very quickly to a hefty sum. You can put together your own scenario that will keep your costs lower than what a package can offer. Here are some tips for keeping costs down:
Aer Lingus's web site (aerlingus.com) offers better airfares than what you'll find elsewhere-even better than Travelocity, Expedia, and the other "best price" sites. Click "Fares Through Spring 2006" and you'll be able to see Aer Lingus's fare schedule through April 2006. Be aware that the fares listed are for one-way travel, but they are still much cheaper than what you'll find elsewhere. The site lets you see a calendar with upfront prices for every date, so you can choose the cheapest combination for outbound and return.
Hotels and B&Bs in Ireland also tend to charge by the person. So, to save money on both lodging and food, I would strongly recommend that you rent a cottage or house for your entire visit. Not only will you get more space for your money, but you have more control of which meals you'll eat out. Ireland is small enough that you could comfortably see a large section of the country by making short day trips from your base. I would recommend flying into Shannon and finding a cottage within a 2-hour drive. Check out the Clare coast (Personally, I love the Loop Head Peninsula) and Connemara, outside of Galway City. Both areas put you within easy striking distance of a lot of wonderful places to see and things to do.
There are many advantages for families having a home base. You don't have to pack and move every day, and you have more privacy and autonomy than either hotels, hostels or B&Bs can offer. Kitchens are usually stocked with the basic utensils and bedding is provided. Laundry machines are often provided, as are dishwashers and televisions. There are generally three price periods: April, May, June, and September (midrange prices); July and August (peak prices); and October through March (lowest price). Weekly rates can range from about [eu]200 to [eu]1,200 ($250--$1,500) in the peak season for a two- or three-bedroom cottage. Rates drop sharply in low season.
Many organizations offer rentals (called "self-catering" in Ireland). Check out Family Homes of Ireland (family-homes.ie)-be sure to click the "self-catering" rubric. Also, try Irish Cottage Holiday Homes (www.ichh and Rent an Irish Cottage plc. (www.renttage.ie). And for something really special, look into The Irish Landmark Trust (www.irisdmark.com), a non-profit preservation group that rescues historic but neglected properties all over the island and restores them into fabulous hideaways, complete with period furnishings. The properties range from lighthouse keepers' houses to old farmhouses to the gatekeepers' lodges on old estates. I have stayed at a half-dozen of their properties with my own family, and I can testify that each is simply wonderful.
A big part of your budget should be allotted to your rental car, which will be pricey since you'll certainly need a minivan at the very least. Gas prices in Ireland are more than twice what they are here-hard to believe, but true. It's another reason to rent a cottage within a few hours' drive of the airport. Shop around for a good rate, and definitely do not stick to the international rental companies like Avis and Hertz. Check out a local favorite, Dan Dooley (dan-dooley.ie), which often offers lower rates than those big guys.
Hope this helps, and have a great trip!

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Brunswick, Maine: What are the rainy, cold months to avoid?

Suzanne Rowan Kelleher: Typically, October to April are the rainiest. I've always liked traveling in May and September. They tend to be dry months (relatively speaking, of course) and airfares aren't as expensive as in the summer.

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Sharpsburg, MD: We have traveled to Ireland several times doing a self-drive intinerary. Our platinum MasterCard always covered our car insurance we needed to rent a car, but I have heard that credit card insurance coverage is no longer accepted for renting cars in Ireland? Any truth to this?

Suzanne Rowan Kelleher: Yes, you have heard right. The vast majority of American and Canadian credit card companies have changed their policies in the last 5-6 years and no longer provide coverage for rental cars in certain foreign countries. Ireland and Italy are the two of the most commonly cited destinations. Call your credit card company and find out about your coverage. Ask specifically about Ireland. Does coverage extend to windshields (by far the biggest number of claims), flat tires (another biggie), road service, theft, and so on. Is there a deductible? I'm sorry to report that the answers will likely be disheartening.
And there's more bad news. Even IF your credit card company says it will provide coverage, the chances are good that the rental car organization will mandate that you purchase their insurance coverage anyway. This has been their response to the credit card policy changes, since they have little way of knowing which credit cards do and which don't provide coverage.
Aside from complaining to credit card companies (who started this mess) and the car rental agencies (who are no better), there is little a tourist can do but suck it up and accept the added insurance costs. Yes, it makes for an expensive trip, but I'm afraid there's little way around it if you want to rent a car in Ireland. And, as you know, renting a car gives you such freedom and lets you see so much of the country that you just can't by public transportation. Sorry that I couldn't be of more help on this one.

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Richmond, KY: We're hoping to make a trip to Ireland in the spring and want to do some family research. Where is the best place to conduct genealogy searches when you don't know where in Ireland your ancestors came from? They came over during the famine years and we don't know their parents names.

Suzanne Rowan Kelleher: There's a lot you can do online from home, but to get started you really do need at least the name and, hopefully, birthplace of the family member that you're tracing. So shake your family tree to see if you can drum up some hard information, then dig in. If you don't have the name of the family member who immigrated, then start with your living relatives and trace backwards using birth and baptismal records. Hopefully you'll come up with a name and county to start your "real" research in Ireland.
Once you have some starting information, get online with the Church of Latter Day Saints, in Salt Lake City, Utah (wwmilysearch.org), keepers of the world's largest family-history library. For archives of ancestors who were born, died, or were married in the United States, check out the searchable databases of the National Archives and Records Administration (wwra.gov). Another excellent, searchable online genealogy aid is wwcestry.com for its U.K. and Ireland records collection, which includes New York Port Arrival Records containing passenger lists from the Irish famine era between 1846 and 1851. Finally, take a look at wwnealogy.com for more online help.
In Ireland, the principal online resources are the Irish National Archives (www.onalarchives.ie), which holds online searchable databases of Ireland's vital records. An excellent genealogy resource covering all 32 counties on the island is the Irish Family History Foundation's new Internet site at www.hroots.net. Much of the archived information is free for your perusal, or you can hire researchers to do the work for you. Initial searches cost [eu]75 ($94) and comprehensive family searches cost [eu]250 ($313). The Manuscripts Reading Room in the National Library, on Kildare Street in Dublin (www.ie) has an extensive collection of pre-1880 Catholic records of baptisms, births, and marriages.
That should get you started! Good luck!

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Dennis, MA: I understand that we people over 70 cannot rent a car in Ireland--which I used to love to visit. I bicycle, kayak, still work and drive daily. is it the government or the rental companies which put on the restriction? What is the rationale? As a gerontologist, I can tell you there is no scientific justification for this discrimination.

Suzanne Rowan Kelleher: I agree with you. Here's the deal: There is no law in Ireland prohibiting drivers over the age of 70 from driving or renting a car. But car rental agencies often do discriminate with their rates for older drivers (just as they do for drivers under 25). They attempt to justify it by citing higher accident rates among these age groups.
My favorite rent-a-car agency, Dan Dooley (wwn-dooley.ie) does rent cars to folks over 70. There is, however a surcharge of ¬10 (about $12) per day for drivers aged 71 to 75. Shop around and find out what the "over 70" surcharge is at other rental car companies, then choose the best deal.

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Novato CA: My husband holds a dual citizenship - Irish and American. He is 71. Can he drive a rental car in Ireland?

Suzanne Rowan Kelleher: Yes, he can. See my answer to the previous question. The issue isn't nationality, it's age.

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Tampa, F:: We would love to spend Christmas in Europe with our family. There are 8 of us with no one under 17. We are seasoned travelers, but are finding that Europe at Christmas is very expensive....any suggestions for a one-week destination that won't break the bank? Thanks

Suzanne Rowan Kelleher: Hi and thanks for your question. Please see my answer to Tom, who wants to visit Ireland with his wife and 7 children. Renting a cottage is definitely the most cost-effective way to go, and probably the most homey, too, at Christmastime.
Make sure you bring your warm sweaters--Ireland can feel very damp and chilly in December, especially if you're coming from a warm climate. Have a great trip!

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Blue Point New York: Hi Suzanne,
I work for Aer Lingus and I'm thinking of going to Ireland on October 9 with my friend who has never flown internationally. We will be leaving from JFK. We can stay for 1 week. I have been to Ireland three times, twice to Dublin and once to the west coast. We do not want to rent a car, the left side of the road is too difficult for us. Where would you suggest we go, beside the usual tourist sites. We are both in our late forties. Thank you, Lucinda

Suzanne Rowan Kelleher: Hi Lucinda. Without a car, you're much better off limiting your itinerary to a few destinations that are accessible by train. I would suggest that you start and end your trip with a day or two in Dublin, and pick one--possibly two--other destinations on the rail line, where you can spend a few days really exploring and getting to know your way around. Don't make the mistake of trying to see a zillion places in only 7 days-that kind of travel will only leave you feeling disoriented and shortchanged.
My first getaway recommendation would be Galway City. There are daily trains from Dublin to Ceannt Station, just of Eyre Square. Galway is perhaps the most vibrant, engaging, and instantly appealing town in Ireland. There's always something going on, and the choice of hotels and restaurants is wonderful. Two of my favorite, centrally-located places to stay are the Harbour Hotel (wwlwayharbourhotel.com) and Brennan's Yard Hotel (wwennansyardhotel.com). Galway is also a wonderful place to listen to live Irish traditional music. Drop into Tigh Neachtain, an ancient pub on Cross Street, for wonderful, impromptu Irish sessions.
In the Southeast, one of my favorite smaller cities to visit is Kilkenny. It's also a hugely popular weekend destination for Dubliners, which tells you that it's a buzzing, fun place. Kilkenny really has it all-great hotels and restaurants, a wonderful pub and social scene, and fabulous shopping, especially for artisanal crafts. For information on upcoming events and festivals, visit www.enny.ie and www.ennycraic.com.
Have a wonderful time!

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Dallas, Texas: Is it possible to travel around Ireland by public transportation?

Suzanne Rowan Kelleher: Yes and no. It's possible to see a lot of the country by bus and/or train. And there are several good-value bus and train passes that provide unlimited travel for a certain number of days within a designated time period. See buseireann.ie and irishrail.ie for more details.
But be aware that the Irish rail network is much more developed in the east of the country than it is in the west. So if you want to see the west coast (where, I believe, you find the most spectacular scenery), it gets difficult to get to the smaller towns using only public transportation.
Personally, I love the freedom that a car gives me, despite the hassles and expense of renting. If you want to stick to public transportation, consider devising an itinerary that focuses on the southeast of Ireland, where the rail network is the most developed.

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Columbus, OH: We will be in Ireland for the week leaving 9/30. Should you change the US dollar before leaving or once arriving in Ireland? What is the best method for purchases...credit card travel check or something like a Visa debit card offered by AAA?

Suzanne Rowan Kelleher: When you need cash, stick with ATMs. You'll get the best exchange rates using the same bank card you use at home. Don't exchange your cash before you go; wait and do it at an ATM in the airport when you land. The Cirrus and Plus networks are represented at virtually every ATM in Ireland, so you shouldn't have a problem. Your bank will charge you a higher per-transaction fee for withdrawing cash in a foreign country, so take out infrequent but larger sums to lessen the sting. Also, make sure you have enough money in your primary checking account at home before you leave home. It's usually impossible to access secondary accounts from a foreign ATM. For purchases, use your credit card to get the best exchange rate.

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Atlanta, GA: On December 18, my parents and I will have a 7 hour layover in Dublin, Ireland before we catch our plane to Venice. How do you recommend we spend our long layover to sample a taste of Dublin?

Suzanne Rowan Kelleher: Don't waste time with public transportation to and from the airport. Grab a cab and go directly to the top of Grafton Street, where it meets St. Stephen's Green. This is really the center of everything. It'll be the week before Christmas, so shoppers will be buzzing everywhere, and Grafton Street (the main shopping drag) will be decorated and lit up. You can take a horse-drawn carriage ride around St. Stephen's Green. Visit the National Gallery or Trinity College (where the Book of Kells is kept). Shop on Grafton, Wicklow, Nassau, and the neighboring streets (don't miss the Kilkenny Shop and Avoca). Wander into the vibrant Temple Bar neighbhorhood (ask any local to point the way, about a 5 minute walk from Grafton Street), where you can pop into a pub or cafe for a bite to eat. Don't try to do too much--having a meal, shopping a bit, and seeing one or two sights will fill your time nicely but not leave you too exhausted.

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Columbus, OH: We are planning to drive around Ireland during our weeklong trip from 9/30 to 10/8. Are the things to know about renting a car, insurance and/or driving itself?

Suzanne Rowan Kelleher: Please read my earlier response to Sharpsburg, MD regarding insurance. Aside from driving on the left, the other big difference is that nearly all Irish cars have manual transmissions. If you absolutely must have an automatic transmission, it will be more costly and harder to find. Make absolutely certain that you specify an automatic when you book your car, or you'll be given a car with a stick shift. Get it in writing on your booking confirmation, if at all possible.
One more tip: The Irish Automobile Association has a terrific website (wwroadwatch.ie) with information on where to park in various Irish cities and towns, toll prices on motorways, and other helpful info. One of my favorite features is the "route planner." You plug in your starting point and destination, and it kicks out an easy-to-follow, very detailed itinerary.

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Austin, TX: A general question about Northern Ireland...and a possible 5 day itinery, starting in Dublin/Belfast , then going north. Ideas of places to stop/stay. We will be driving, are seniors who lived overseas, travel a lot, and will drive anyplace on any roads. This would be in Oct or Nov, OR April! Thank you.

Suzanne Rowan Kelleher: Starting in Dublin, head north through County Louth, stopping at Carlingford for at least a few hours. It is a tiny, adorable little town with a lot of Medieval character and good restaurants. In the North, design your itinerary around those sites that you absolutely do not want to miss. At the top of the list will be The Giant's Causeway. Derry City has become the most talked-about, buzziest destination in the North, thanks largely to the wonderfully revamped district within the old city walls. And, of course, Belfast has so many cultural and historical sites. Those destinations alone will occupy you fully for 5 days. I always recommend that folks don't try to be too ambitious with itineraries. A gentle pace lets you be spontaneous when you see something wonderful that's off your hit list. Good luck and happy travels!

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Suzanne Rowan Kelleher: Well, I see that I'm out of time. I had fun answering your questions and I hope that you had fun, too!

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