It was tough to leave our own castle, and the town of Kilkenny, but we had more adventures (and white-knuckled driving) to get on with, so off to Cork and County Mayo we went!

My friend Gillian (of My Life In Colour fame), recommended the Ballymaloe House in the East Cork countryside for our twenty four hour stay.

Pulling up to this manor was a DREAM, like something out of a Jane Austen novel.

We stayed in one of the courtyard rooms, to the side of the main building, as it had more space for families, and the dwelling was super cozy and private.

The grounds sit on three hundred acres of farmland, and offer seasonally and local sourced homegrown food.

The restaurant is recognized as the birthplace of modern Irish cuisine, and is home to a renowned cooking school.

Our five course dinner the evening we arrived made our top five meals OF ALL TIME, and we’ve had some amazing meals on our travels (Brazil and Positano come to mind). The ambience woven into the delectable food was pure magic.

If we happen to be back in Cork, I would take the thirty minute drive to eat here (and stay a bit longer) again… no questions asked.

The following morning, while Patrick and the kiddos chilled on the property and ate what I assumed was a delicious breakfast, I took a taxi to the city and met up with Gillian (mentioned above) for a catch up over coffee at The English Market.

It was a short visit, but so fun to see someone I know so far away! Gillian used to work at Nickey Kehoe (you’ve seen their pieces all over this website), and she also styled this shoot for me!

I asked her where we should visit on our way out of Cork to County Mayo, and we settled on Cobh, a seriously cute seaside town that just happened to be the last port of call for the Titanic before it set out on her final journey.

Side note: Meals and coffee are WAY less expensive than in the US. You can have a wonderfully made latte for two to three dollars. THREE DOLLARS. It makes me want to spit out my specialty six dollar version as I write this!

Cobh was a short thirty minute drive from Cork city center, and not too much of a detour from our three hour journey north.

The kiddos are currently obsessed with the Titanic, so the visit to the museum ticked off the right boxes (even though it was seriously wet and windy).

It was an educational and sobering experience, and left us thinking about Patrick’s relatives that ALMOST boarded this unbelievably beautiful ship.

I wish I had more photos of the town and cathedral itself, but please visit my Instagram Ireland stories to get a better idea of it’s charm.

Our longest (and most treacherous) drive of the trip (rain, wind, and eventually darkness), was up to County Mayo and Ashford Castle.

I REALLY wrestled with this location, because I tend to shy away from “touristy” spots and I want to make sure that when we spend our hard earned money on a five star hotel, that it will live up to our expectations.

I had both Ashford and another country house (listed below) booked, and finally went with Ashford after Gillian told me to go for it (“It’s a REAL Castle”!).

I am so thrilled I slapped that credit card down, because the building, grounds, surrounding areas, and activities were worth every penny.

From the moment you arrive, you know you will be taken care of in EVERY way…

…although I think being seated under the Murphy crest on our first night’s dinner was unintentional 😉 .

We were sleepy after filling our bellies (in The Dungeon), but strolled through the innards of the castle, and popped into the library. Fires were blazing, the mood was festive, and every inch felt like a holiday movie come to life.

The next morning Parker and Patrick tried their hand at archery (Parker kicked his daddy’s butt).

Afterwords, we splurged on a driver (booked through Ashford) to take us through the countryside to Kylemore Abbey and the Victorian Walled Gardens.

I hired a driver for two reasons.

1. I wanted to give Patrick a break.

2. Anytime I’ve had a local driver, I’ve learned SO MUCH about the history of the area we are traveling through.

I highly recommend treating yourself to this if you can.

One of the stories we heard was about a local female PIRATE, Grace O’ Malley, who was a fearless leader, entrepreneur and mother. You can read about her here (she’s pretty bad ass).

Kylemore Abbey had multiple owners and lived multiple lives (as a private home, boarding school, and ultimately as an Abbey), with some salacious stories to tell, but it was the location that took my breath away.

The drive through this part of the country captured my heart, and I can’t wait to revisit it. Have you ever landed in a location and felt in your soul like you were home? County Mayo was this for me, and now I’m googling old Irish properties to renovate!

Our second full day began with the Ireland School of Falconry, and if you visit Ashford, this is a MUST in my opinion. Whether you are with kiddos or not, you will appreciate these animals and the knowledge and experience of the falconers caring for them.

I have slow motion videos of the hawks (again, on Instagram highlights), where you can get a better idea of their wingspan and how they fly from the trees to alight on your arm. We were nonstop smiling!

I had planned an additional drive to the Cliffs of Moher, but we decided as a family to stay and soak in the sun and the trees, and to visit the town of Cong on our last day, which ended up being the right decision (sometimes it’s better to go with the flow (energetically) than to force a moment to happen).

We strolled through fall foliage (Ireland in the fall should really be on everyone’s list, even with the rain)…

… and climbed castle walls.

Cong is an easy and beautiful walk to the outside of the property, where we had a yummy lunch and I shopped for souvenirs.

The 1952 movie The Quiet Man was filmed here and there are plaques and statues to remind you that John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara argued their way through these streets (the film plays in the castle theatre every afternoon).

Parker and Patrick had dinner at Pat Cohan’s (the town bar) and LOVED it, and Avery and I went home for room service.

I requested some alone time to have one more drink at the bar and soak in the decor and details for one additional evening…

… with my new (old) friends.

It was really tough to leave the next morning, but we had to get to the airport mid-day.

This gave us enough time to demolish breakfast before hopping in the car.

We had eight full days in Ireland (ten days total if you count travel), and our hearts were full.

I always crave added time, but now that I’ve gotten a really nice “taste” of the country, I can plan out longer stays in less (and even more precise) locations.

If you are interested in your own Ireland vacation, here are a few other spots I was toying with for our itinerary (but had to delete due to time constraints).

1. Cahernane House: I had both this and Ashford booked at the same time, and agonized about which one to keep. Killarney is supposed to be out-of-this-world beautiful, but since we already had one country house on our list, I eventually chose Ashford.

2. Lost Cottage: I have been salivating over this property ever since I started to plan our trip. I love to get off the beaten path (which I felt we did with our medieval tower), but this stay is even more remote and enveloped by nature. The design looks incredible too.

There is less wiggle room when it comes to dates and length of stay, so it takes a bit more planning, which is why I would start a second trip to Ireland by booking this cottage first.

3. Finn Lough: If you know me, you know I love a good glamping moment, and Ireland has more than you would think! Finn Lough caught my eye, as well as a few others, but it was ultimately the weather that deterred me. I would include it (or an option from this list) into a spring trip!