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Emerald Isle Escapism

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The Cliffs of Moher are known for the variety of birds that live there. (Photograph by Rainer Jenss)

September is busy time of year for many of us. The kids are back in school and work has returned to full swing. Simply put, this is no time to relax.

We’ve all experienced how hard it can be to transition from vacation mode to everyday mode. That’s why I decided to tack on a few days of downtime to my family’s summer travels to help us ease back into our routines. After spending a hectic week in London navigating the Olympic games, I figured Ireland was the perfect place to decompress before our return flight dropped us back in reality.

Those of you who have traveled to Ireland might be scratching your head. Though there are beaches, there’s not a lot of lounge-chair lazing with a book and a piña colada in hand on this island. And Irish weather is as unpredictable as, well, the weather.

So what could we do here as a family to just chill out? Perhaps camping out in a real medieval castle would do the trick.

If you’re serious about taking it down a notch, flying in and out of Shannon is a good place to start. Not only will you avoid the hustle and bustle of Dublin, the airport’s small-town ease is a breath of fresh air. There are also several fine castles and manors in close range. Dromoland Castle, a 16th-century ancestral home that was converted into a 99-room luxury resort 50 years ago, is a prime example.

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Falconry has a long history in Ireland. (Photograph by Rainer Jenss)

From the moment we arrived, the staff treated the boys like royalty and welcomed us with quintessential Irish hospitality. While the kids made a beeline to the giant chess set in the courtyard, my wife and I took a leisurely stroll around the 410-acre property.

Even though the castle has undergone extensive renovations, its historic past lives on in its elaborate woodwork and stone statuary, hand-carved paneling, original oil paintings, romantic gardens, and antique furnishings. The family room we stayed in was a luxurious retreat in its own right, blending Old-World elegance with modern day comforts like a large flat screen TV and the latest video-game console.

Depending on how you define rest and relaxation, you can either unwind on the resort’s championship 18-hole parkland golf course or, as my wife prefers, be pampered at their full-service spa.

Our kids, on the other hand, don’t believe in R&R. The more action, the better. Out of all the unique activities on offer, they decided to try the “Hawk Walk.” Under the supervision of the dedicated director of the hotel’s School of Falconry, the boys learned how to handle and fly/land a Harris hawk right on their gloved hands.

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The Cliffs are known for the variety of birds that live there. (Photograph by Rainer Jenss)

Other outdoor activities included clay shooting, horseback riding, archery and fly fishing. As expected, they wanted to try them all.

As tempting as it might be to linger on the hotel’s grounds — and believe me, it’s tempting — you’ll want to make a break for it at some point and check out the Irish countryside just outside its gates. The Cliffs of Moher are perhaps the most dramatic highlight in an already impressive landscape. After a 45-minute drive to the western seaboard of Country Clare, we stepped out of the car to marvel at the sweeping expanses of sea and sky, and the cliffs rising up to 700 feet from the raging Atlantic below.

As an interesting aside, in 1835, Cornelius O’Brien, a member of the clan that once inhabited Dromoland, built a viewing tower for the tourists who started flocking en mass to see the cliffs. It turns out that his decision was rather prescient: an estimated one million people visit the site each year.

Join me next week for a visit to another incredible Irish estate that’s well worth the visit.

Follow Rainer’s story on Twitter at @JenssTravel.

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