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Morris Minor van at the Creamery Bar, with Bunratty Castle in the background. Photo by Marcie Miller

There’s not much to do in Ireland at 6 a.m. Found that out when I arrived at that ungodly hour yesterday morning. Actually sat in my rental car and napped in a dark parking lot at Bunratty Castle, waiting for the day to dawn. Then I spent a little time practicing my “hedge kissing” skills — driving on the left side of the road, just close enough to the edge of the narrow roads to lightly brush the shrubbery, but not so far over that the car meets the rock wall hidden behind the hedge. It’s a fine line, let me tell you. My car, a tiny Toyota Yaris, is already missing the left front hubcab. The rear one is held on with a zip tie. I’m not kidding.

But what a day it turned out to be: started with a free hot breakfast at Bunratty Manor Hotel, one possible Celtic Heart Tours venue, followed by a drive to lovely Adare and a private look at the amazing Adare Manor, which is now a hotel. We just don’t have places like this on the Olympic Peninsula, complete with turrets and gables and gargoyles and stained glass  windows and hedges cut into celtic knotwork.

Adare Manor, the kind of place that makes you just say "holy sh**!" It's huge. Photo by Marcie Miller

The manor is not open to the public, and signs on the long drive warn “guests only,” but I ignored them and drove in. Hey – I might be a guest. Someday. When I win the lottery. Besides, I had business there.

I met with the manager, who agreed to give my group private tours, usually reserved for guests of the hotel. This is a rare look at the “to the manor born” style of living in Ireland, once the bastion of the ruling English class. Many of the big estate houses were burned during the Irish civil war in the 1920s, or left to decay when the owners packed it in. The few remaining have become national treasures and highly lucrative tourist draws. Adare Manor also has a sprawling golf course; the first green is right up against a crumbling abbey.

I stayed at the humbler Adare Country House, a highly rated B&B right in town which is tops on my list of prospective places to stay. It’s new yet traditional, very clean and cozy and in easy walking distance to the main street in the village.

I had my first Guinness of the trip at a quaint pub called “Auntie Lena’s.” With an 8-hour time difference, I was so jet-lagged I was literally falling asleep in my beer. Still, the creamy tumescence was just as good as I remembered. Guinness really does taste better in Ireland.

Today I’m off to the Iveragh Peninsula, aka the Ring of Kerry, to check out accommodations in the village of Portmagee, hopping off point for Skellig Michael, UNESCO World Heritage site and once home to a colony of lonely monks. After holding off yesterday, it’s raining, or as the Irish say, “the weather is a bit soft today.”