Foregoing the Cliffs of Moher for the cliffs of Ballybunion

Prioritizing friend-time over car-time to show off the beauty and spontaneity of North Kerry

Over the past few years, I’ve enjoyed many memorable visits to Ballybunion, a tiny beach town in Ireland, not far from Sean’s family. Located about fifteen minutes from Listowel in North Kerry, spectacular cliffs hang over the beach below. There’s a scenic walk that’s usually uncrowded and always has a price tag of entirely free. (Also, Seaside Waffles opened a gem of a waffle and coffee shop there overlooking the sea.) Even if we went every day, I’d still love going.

We spent one particularly wonderful evening in Ballybunion this past June. I was overcome by the area’s natural beauty. As the wind whipped through my hair and I tasted the salty brine of the ocean air, I had a realization: why travel further than we had to? The thought almost felt blasphemous, given that we were well into our year of travel with our daughter.

That weekend, our friend Amy was coming to visit us in Listowel for a weekend after a work trip in Dublin. We were thrilled to host her. A couple of weeks before her arrival, we crafted an itinerary that included some local jaunts around Kerry as well as the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare—about 2 ½ hours of a drive each way from where we were. Those famous cliffs are also stunning and worth a visit and we figured Amy would enjoy it. We went during my first trip to Ireland back in 2013, joining the crowds there to stare at the dramatic views around us and having fun taking photos next to a few of the warning signs (see below). The cost is now €8 for an adult (€4 if you book online at least a day in advance).

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Sean at the Cliffs of Moher in 2013. (In all seriousness, people have fallen off the cliffs so please be careful.)

But as we walked in Ballybunion and took in the views of its ragged cliffs leading to lapping waves, I asked Sean why we wouldn’t want to take Amy to Ballybunion instead of the Cliffs of Moher. Not only was it much closer, I argued that we’d want to maximize our time with our friend, not with our rental car. He took a moment to think and then agreed that we’d appreciate the extra time together and also said that he preferred Ballybunion too.

When Amy arrived, we had so much fun catching up. The last time Eliza had seen Amy was when she was only three months old and fell asleep at a Vietnamese restaurant in the East Village of New York City. Not only did Eliza enjoy her time with Amy, but our trip to Ballybunion was yet again a stunner. There was no sense in wishing we’d gone any further distance. If anything, we were both proud to share a spot that’s practically in our backyard. We pointed out the Bill Clinton statue at the entrance to town and chatted about his involvement with the Northern Irish peace process. We stopped to get another waffle at Seaside; even splitting it 3 ways was more than enough. (The owners are so friendly and cook up the best waffles I’ve tasted, seaside or inland.)

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Unexpected “wild life” for a city baby on our walk

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After our blustery but tranquil walk, we spotted a wood-fired pizza oven in a grassy field overlooking the castle ruins with a couple of happy patrons enjoying drinks with their dinner. We learned that McMunns, the bar across the street, owns the land and Pizza Base set up shop outdoors for a few days with the pub providing drinks. The pizza was delicious, and we dined overlooking the Atlantic with perfectly poured pints while Eliza eventually fell asleep in her stroller. We probably bored her with all our gushing about the view.

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Did I mention that Eliza and I like to dress alike?

That night, I was grateful to Sean for staying in with Eliza while Amy and I went to a local pub, John B. Keane’s, to have a drink. We realized quite quickly that there was a session going on and we were the only women in the room. No one seemed to notice and the singing went on as it had, though we did get a few looks if we’d even try to whisper to one another. (So we caught up less than expected, but it was well worth it). Had we made the trek to the Cliffs of Moher, I doubt we would’ve had the stamina to go out that night.

Sometimes I think Sean and I might overdo it when it comes to travel, trying to see more than we probably should and at times driving too far. While this sometimes can be worth it to see great destinations, it leaves less time for wandering and the simple pleasures of a pint or live music or the two together, if you’re lucky. But this was a blissful case where we chose the simpler (but still gorgeous) destination and didn’t look back.

My thoughts on Ireland are that once you arrive, you’ll realize how gorgeous the whole country is. (You’ll be happy if you do more than a Dublin-only visit, getting out and seeing more of the country.) While there are obvious destinations for tourists on the beaten path, you’ll find a lot of charm in the spots that are smaller in nature and probably not as adept at, or concerned with, marketing themselves.

Giving ourselves time and space for unexpected moments by not over-scheduling our travels has been crucial, especially with a little one. And most importantly, take it all in if you find yourself eating a pizza overlooking an Irish beach or at a session at an Irish pub—unless you want to try your hand at singing. If so, you’re far braver than I am.


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