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Travel with Kids to Western Ireland.

Hitting the links in Adare, Ireland (Scarborough photo)Ireland is a popular destination in Europe for family travel, and no wonder; there isn’t much of a language barrier, the currency is the easily-understood Euro, scenery is great and the Irish people are so friendly.

Many Americans feel a close affinity to Ireland, either from family ties or just from enjoying our local St. Patrick’s Day shenanigans.

I’ve only had one opportunity for a trip to Eire and that was a quick four-day stop in the charming village of Adare in Limerick (here’s some info on nearby County Clare, western Ireland and another perspective on Ireland’s west coast from Budget Travel.) From our admittedly short visit, we can report that this is a fun destination for kids.

Even when my “musical evening out” to a pub with singers turned out to really be a hotel bar full of middle-aged lounge lizards crooning Sinatra tunes, we still had an enjoyable adventure. Other pubs in Adare were welcoming to children and all of us could have a good time shooting pool or just listening to local blarney.

We took a day trip to Bunratty Castle and Folk Park in nearby Shannon (the location of the airport servicing this part of Ireland) and I can highly recommend a visit for kids. There is an open-air museum with restored farmhouses, village streets and gardens plus costumed museum staff to explain local heritage, foods and crafts. The castle on the grounds began as a Viking trading center in the year 970 (American kids have a hard time imaging a history going back that far; they think 1776 was a long time ago.)

Bunratty Castle near Shannon, Ireland (Scarborough photo)That evening we went to a well-staged medieval banquet in the castle itself, which included cups of mead, a four-course meal and plenty of lively entertainment and Irish songs. Yes, it’s a bit touristy-hokey, but children often LIKE touristy-hokey and if they learn something about Irish traditions in the meantime, why not?

My husband had a fun but rainy round of golf at high-class but not high-snooty Adare Manor (gee, it rained in Ireland? No kidding!) I got up early one morning for a run through part of the Manor grounds and was greeted with low-lying fog curling around ancient ruins as I jogged past; a veritable Irish whiskey ad visual, just for me. We also had a nice time just strolling through the charming Adare village streets, poking into shops and looking at the little local museum.

We also made a side trip to the Flying Boat Museum in Foynes; in the late 1930s and early 1940s this was the hub of Atlantic aviation, and abuzz with flying boats/airplanes like the Yankee Clippers. Since it was a bit of a rainy, chilly afternoon, my husband and I decided to have fun being touristy as well, and we ordered a couple of Irish coffees to warm us up — they were supposedly invented here as passengers tried to ward off the Irish chill in the old terminal.

A word of warning about renting a car and driving here — we have lived in Japan and so we had been taught how to drive on the left side of the road as they do in Ireland, but that does not mean it is easy. For gosh sakes, get an automatic transmission so you aren’t working a stick shift on your left side along with everything else involved with driving the car. The signage on those charming country backroads is often in Gaelic, or missing altogether or otherwise, ahem, “quirky,” so have a good map and plenty of time on your hands.

And may the road rise up to meet you….

Update 27 October 2006: Here’s a link to Char’s post over at Casual Keystrokes, about her family trip to Ireland. Great photos!

Update 02 February 2007: The UK’s Guardian travel section features twenty places that you can rent for a short stay in Ireland (and not just in the western area that I featured above.)