We were spending the afternoon at Paumanok Wineries in Aquabogue, Long Island, drinking some great wine, eating some cheese, while the girls were running and playing with the children of other patrons. On a short walk to the little girls’ room, I spotted a brochure for a a Mediterranean Wine Tasting Cruise. At the time, both kids were younger (Kelsey, 4 and Gianna 7) and the word spontaneous was not really in my vocabulary. But I guess the wine and sunshine got the best of me, and I was 100% sure that this cruise should be a definite plan for us. Tedd was also under the affects of being completely relaxed (and a little buzzed) and was totally into it!! When I got home, brochure in hand, I immediately emailed the travel company for this tour and got all the details and was well on my way to selecting state rooms, and getting my passport number to put on the application when it hit me… and it hit me hard – I CAN’T LEAVE MY KIDS AND GO TO EUROPE FOR 10 DAYS! I think Tedd secretly felt the same way, so there ended our romantic, European Wine Tasting Cruise.
After a day or so of feeling blue and let down that my maternal instincts were so strong, the lightbulb went off – let’s go to Europe with the kids! We had never taken them to Europe before, although it was on my agenda for the not too distant future; but I thought, maybe this was finally the right time to plan it. All of a sudden, I was excited again. But, where? I decided to just Google “best place in Europe to take kids” and lo and behold, Ireland popped up. I hadn’t really thought much about Ireland as a destination. It was somewhere I knew I would visit, sooner or later, but, after some reading, I thought – “Why not now!” Something that caught my eye was a place called Dromoland Castle (pronounced DRUM-O-Land). I visited their website and must say, it was quite impressive!
I thought to myself, “imagine staying in a castle” – the kids would love it! I would love it! I studied their site for days – from the lovely welcome video with the horse and buggy and beautiful swans swimming; to the refurbished guest rooms, each with their own decorative theme; to the dining options onsite and of course, the anglers and hunters insurance plethora of activities offered, and I knew this was the place for our girls’ first European trip. So, I planned the trip with my reliable travel agent, Stephen Slovenski for mid August 2012. JSYK, Dromoland has a very interesting history -much of which we would find out from our friendly buggy driver, Sean Kilkenny! More about our buggy ride with Sean, (and Paddy his horse) around the palatial grounds of this amazing castle later.
Lovely outdoor seating area at Dromoland
Our flight to Ireland was great and uneventful. The girls were wonderfully behaved and slept quite a bit. Getting through immigration and collecting our bags was a breeze. I was very taken, at the onset, with the friendliness of the Irish. Everywhere we went, from the airport to restaurants, to tourist attractions, they were the nicest and warmest people I had ever encountered while traveling.
We arrived at Dromoland unscathed, considering, Tedd was driving on the opposite side of the road. We had no choice about taking the extra car insurance when renting our car, as it was the rental company’s policy to do so… and it’s a good thing we did! But you’ll have to read on to find out why. Upon our arrival at the Castle, we were greeted as if we were long lost family of the staff. I never felt so at home in a foreign country before. Our room was not ready, so we were invited to go down one of the hallways, where a full continental breakfast buffet was on display outside the main dining area. The walls of the hallway were lined with small tables and chairs and a small parlor area at the end of the hall had more tables, chairs and couches for sitting comfortably to enjoy our much wanted pastries, fruit and cheese. This room felt very medieval with it’s mismatched furniture, high ceilings and decorations on the wall. The kids were all excited (and so were Tedd and I) that we had wifi – so we immediately emailed and imessaged the gang at home (my parents and sister Danielle and daughter Rebecca) that we were safe and sound! This lovely lounge room led down to a sweet and welcoming outdoor eating court, which we sat many a morning, with a cup of tea and coffee, before starting our day.
Our room was finally ready at around 1pm and what a gorgeous room it was!! Decorated in the most welcoming shades of light blue and rose, it looked like a picture out of a decorating magazine. We had two full beds, along with a sitting area, a nice sized table, a desk and a flat screen tv. The bathroom was luxurious as well, with marble countertops and a large shower/tub. The kids had a great time taking pictures of the room! We also had an incredible view from our room of a lovely lake. You could hear the clippity clop of Sean’s buggy early in the morning and throughout the day, as he took guests on tour rides around the grounds of Dromoland. I need to mention that although it was mid August, it was not at all hot and humid. Quite the opposite. It was cool and even a little chilly and in spite of the great amount of rain that we experienced, there was not much humidity at all. In fact, the hotel did not have air conditioning and it didn’t need it either. A small fan on the table facing the beds, with the windows open, did the trick!
The grounds of Dromoland were absolutely gorgeous! Tons of flowers and picturesque garden settings. It’s no wonder this is a popular wedding reception location. A short walk from the main castle and guest rooms, through the gardens and a long arbor, is the spa, followed by the restaurant. The food was very good – I was a big fan of the pureed soups and brown bread! I even downloaded a recipe for Irish brown bread (which I’ve yet to make, of course). Both girls noticed right away how the portion sizes were smaller than what they were used to in the States. Of course, we all agreed that there is no need for such large portions and it was nice to see both of them finish the meal they ordered because it was appropriately sized.
As with all my trips, I had a full itinerary of activities and local sites to see fully planned. Dromoland offered many of these activities including falconry, archery, golf, fishing, clay shooting and more. The falconry and archery interested us most and both of which were completely new to us! As soon as I read on the Dromoland site that they had falconry, I was completely excited. I had only seen this in movies and on television. It sounded so exotic and I could not wait! The first day we arrived, we saw the instructors from the Dromoland School of Falconry on the front lawn, beginning their overview and lesson with other guests and right there front and center, was one of the birds from the school. This little guy’s name was TJ. It was quite an education the morning we spent out and about with TJ, the Harris Hawk, and our Instructor. Falconry is the term for using a trained bird of prey to hunt or catch game. The person who flies the “falcon” is called a Falconer. So we were getting a lesson in being falconers! Today, in modern falconry, the Red-tailed hawk and the Harris hawk are more commonly used rather than falcons. Just alittle trivia for you – Falconry is believed to date all the way back to ancient Mesopotamia, some 2000 years ago. So, there we were, the four New Yorkers, getting a lesson in early English falconry. It’s amazing how enthusiastically these birds will fly to a welcome outstretched arm! In the hawk world, females are called “hawks” while the term for the males is “tiercel”. The males are actually lighter, as they are a third smaller in size than the females. Our friend “TJ”, though smaller than his female counterparts, was still a substantial bird to have landing on one of your body parts. I have to admit, it was alittle intimidating at first. Because of the bird’s sharp claws, or “talons”, it is necessary to wear a very heavy glove when having the bird land on your arm. Kelsey and Gianna looked very cute wearing the glove – it nearly covered their entire arms! Kelsey, only 5 at the time, was so brave and unafraid, and as you can see from the photo, this bird was quite large compared to her! Gianna, on the other had, took a while to warm up to the whole idea – but she came around.