Sunday, September 11, 2011

Crossing the Dublin Ritz off the Bucket List

Over the last five years, I’ve been slowly crossing off the North American Ritz Carlton locations off my bucket list including: Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale, South Beach, Orlando, Lake Tahoe, San Francisco, Cancun, Marina del Rey, Laguna Nigel, Maui and Half Moon Bay.

I first saw the Dublin Ritz online a few years ago and instantly fell in love. It looked so green, lush and decadent -- my version of paradise.

I promised myself if I ever went to Ireland, I would stay at least one night on their estate. And what better way to end my week of cycling through the rainy Irish countryside than being pampered at a luxury 5-star hotel?

The Dublin Ritz knows what a girl needs to feel pampered and spoiled. From the moment I walked in the door, I felt like I was a princess.

Located in the county of Wicklow just outside of Dublin, the resort has two championship-calibre golf courses, a luxury spa and Gordon Ramsay’s signature restaurant (and wine bar).

Plus, they have really cool things to do like archery, croquet and pheasant shooting -- if you like shooting things.

It’s also close to Enniskerry Village, a Guinness Brewery and Jamison Whiskey Distillery.

I was going mostly for the scenic views of Sugar Loaf Mountain and the gardens. No cycling, golfing or sporty stuff for me. It was time to be pampered and indulge in good food and wine.


Sometimes it’s the things that aren’t on the menu that make the average meal memorable. This certainly was the case at Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant.

Little things like almonds and olives before your meal, fresh bread that kept coming all night long and handmade chocolates at the end of your meal are just a few of the extras that add to the already exceptional service and food.

Then there’s the wine.

I love wine and I love having someone pair it up with food to give me the full experience. At the Dublin Ritz, they give you the option of choosing your own wine or you can have them pick a couple of glasses for you for €25 or  €35. I did this and was not disappointed.

Fabio Serafini, the restaurant manager, became my personal sommelier and chose three fabulous wines for me including a Riesling from Spain to go with my pea soup, a dry white from Italy to go with my scallops and a red Italian blend that went perfectly with my wild mushroom pasta. 

This one was my favorite. It was bold, slightly spicey and amazing.

The best part was he not only poured the wine, but explained where it came from, how it was made and why he thought it would go well with each course.

Just another little thing that made a night memorable.


As I mentioned I loved my stay at the Ritz – and as you can probably tell from this blog, I love really good food. So at the end of my meal when they asked if I would like a private tour of the Gordon Ramsay’s kitchen, my answer was an immediate “yes!”

The kitchen was spacious, clean and modern. I was surprised to see they had a chef’s table inside where parties of 6 could enjoy their meal with extra special treatment.

I also was surprised to learn that the chocolates they give you at the end of the meal are really handmade – as the pastry chef was handmaking them when I came in.

The tour was short, but I was honored to be able to go behind the scenes and meet the people who made my meal and my evening so special.

It was also so completely unexpected -- which made it that much more wonderful.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Staying in a Castle in Kenmare

The county of Kerry and the village of Kenmare were completely different from the Bantry and Ballylickey area where I had spent my first few days. With Ireland’s largest mountain dominating the horizon, the scenery of the area was stunning and the towns were even more quaint and picturesque.

My hotel in Kenmare, the Park Kenmare Hotel, was also stunning.

Built in 1897, the place looked a bit like a castle which is one of the reasons I wanted to stay there. Plus, each of the 46 rooms in the hotel is unique. They all have a spacious sitting area furnished with antiques and have either a full water view or private veranda. I had a view of the lake. Yay!

The hotel was charming and luxurious, but had all the fun of being authentically old such as nooks and crannies in the hallway.

Some of the rooms were tucked down little side hallways or you had to climb a three or four stairs to get there. It was definitely not wheelchair accessible and if you had heavy luggage, good luck rolling it to your room. But it was these inconsistencies that made it quaint.

Everywhere you looked there were pieces of art or old knick knacks like sets of china, old books and quills and paintings. There was even a suit of armor.

 I also loved the old style key they gave you for your room on the giant leather keychain. It took me a little while to figure out how it worked, but I loved it.

In addition to looking like a castle, I had specifically chosen this hotel because they boasted having numerous bike routes in the area, a scenic walking path and walking distance to the shopping and pub areas of Kenmare.

They also had a world class spa, but after my car accident on Monday, I was curving my spending to help cover that expense. There would be no shopping for me. Thankfully, my daily bike rentals were cheap and ranged between €10 and €20 a day depending on where I was.

But even without the spa treatment, I was in heaven.  My tub was gigantic and they even had a heated towel rack.  I had never seen one before and quickly learned they are hotter than they look.

Word of warning -- don't grab the rail. It hurts.

Kenmare is exactly like you imagine an Irish town to be. It's made up of narrow streets lined with stores and pubs. But there were no American chain shops here. No Starbucks, no McDonald’s and no big grocery stores.

It was all small shops. You got your bread from the bakery, your meat from the butcher and your cheese from the cheese shop. Everything was fresh and when they ran out, it was gone.


There was one other reason why I picked this hotel and that was because of the Whiskey Bar. The bar is small but they apparently have the largest selection of whiskey available in all of Ireland. They have 155 different types.

While I’m not a big whiskey drinker, the thought of so many to choose from was intriguing. Would they have one for me?

The answer was “yes”. The Bushmill’s Black Bush whiskey turned out to be the perfect bedtime drink.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Taking the Road Less Traveled in Ireland

Ireland does have regular sized roads where there are lots of lanes and you can go 120 km without having to worry about knocking mirrors if another car comes along. While you will get places faster (and I probably wouldn’t have had the fender bender on Monday), you won’t get see much as you by-pass every town and there is no place to pull over to take photos.

One thing I did was switch off the “highway” and “toll road” options on my GPS – which they call Sat-Navs in Ireland. This way I could cruise the roads less traveled without being completely lost.

However, you will be traveling at your own risk as some of the roads my GPS sent me on were probably last used by sheepherders in the 1800s. I was in places so bizarre that not even the Irish traveled there.

And if there happened to be another vehicle, the road didn’t accommodate it. I swear, there were times I held my breath as the other car inched passed.

One of these roads is Priest’s Leap Road which is what I ended up on when driving from Bantry to Kenmare. When I told people that was how I got to Park Kenmare Hotel, their mouths dropped open. Apparently, none of the locals take that route as it’s dangerous and barely a road.

I know that now and agree with them, but where were all these people with their warnings when my GPS told me to turn right?

Anyway, if you do decide to live dangerously and take the road less traveled to Kenmar, Priest's Leap Road takes you over one of the highest summits in Ireland and it has all these crazy legends attached to it.

Frankly, I was more concerned about getting over it without my bumper falling off.

It was basically being held onto the car by a couple of screws the Irish guy drilled into it after my accident on Monday. One too many bumps and the screws could fall out.  But considering there wasn't any place for me to turn around, I was trying not to think about that.

The road began innocently enough. It started on this narrow road going through farms. Sure it was tight, but it was cute and scenic.  Then I started going uphill and the road was no longer paved. Instead, it was two dirt tire tracks with thick long grass in the middle that scraped the bottom of my car.

I double checked my GPS. I didn’t have highways switched off so it should have put me on a normal route.  I made sure I had the address correct and yup, this was the way it wanted me to go – for the next 18 km. The longest 18 km of the trip.

I kept driving and the road got progressively worse. It took me up and around bends and had dips and peaks that created blind spots. This would have been okay except that on one side of me was a steep cliff with no guard rail and the other side was a rocky mountain wall.

Keep in mind, they don’t have shoulders on the road – so you have about a foot before you plummet to your doom if you go off the road. So not only could I not turn around and go back, but if someone came from the other direction, I was pretty much screwed.

Running into someone turned out not to be a problem - since Irish people know better than to take that scary road. In fact, the only thing up there was sheep and lots of sheep poop (I stepped in some when I got out to take some photos).

But I have no regrets especially after seeing the amazed looks on people's faces when I say I drove it. Besides...Priest’s Leap Road was beautiful. The pictures don’t do it justice. It’s something you’ll need to experience for yourself - if you dare.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Only the Best Day in Ireland Ever

Each day in Ireland is better than the last. It’s still raining. In fact, it’s raining harder and is even windier than it was the day before, but if I wait for the sun to shine, I could be here until July. Not that it would be a bad thing, but I doubt my boss at the news station would keep my job for me.

Memorizing my cycling route for the day, I put on a couple extra layers (plus borrowed a yellow rain jacket from the hotel doorman) and headed out towards the mountains from the town of Kenmare. My goal today was to climb up to Moll’s Gap and then cycle back down through the Black Valley

Moll’s Gap is a mountain pass on the N71 between Kenmare and Killarney. It’s on the Ring of Kerry and the mountains I would be seeing are Macgillycuddy’s Reeks mountains. Don’t you love Irish names?

The gap is known for its panoramic views and you can see Ireland's largest mountain in the near distance, but I was going in honor of Moll Kissane. She’s the woman the gap was named after and she apparently ran an illegal pub there during the 1800s – which was pretty daring back in her day.

The road to Moll’s Gap is steep, but not ridiculous like some of the other hills I’ve cycled up in the past. But it is a steady uphill climb for about 20 km until you reach the peak.  What kept me going during the climb was the lure of chocolate. That’s because the guy at the Park Kenmare Hotel who gave me the map and the jacket told me there’s a tea shop at the top. They serve a fabulous chocolate biscuit cake that he always gets as a treat. I had never had chocolate biscuit cake, but it sounded yummy.

The scenery along the way was amazing. It consisted of green misty hills, winding roads, cattle and of course, sheep. There were hardly any cars going up the mountain, but that was probably because it was pouring rain at the time and really windy.

It was also so cold the raindrops felt like tiny pins of ice as they hit my face. But I was loving it – especially when I passed two other cyclists who looked more hard core than me (ha ha - even on vacation I'm competitve). They had fancier bikes and real rain gear unlike me who really should have invested in waterproof pants.

But really…there is nothing like seeing the country by bike. It was even more beautiful than I imagined and riding down the back roads, I felt as if I was an actual part of the whole adventure instead of watching it go by from the windows of a tour bus.

Before I knew it, I was at the top of the mountain and seeing the promised tea shop. My nose was running from the cold and I was dripping all over the cafĂ© floor, but whatever – I was getting my chocolate biscuit cake before I continued onto part 2 of my day’s ride.

My next stop was Blackwater Bridge.


Because I had reached the top of the mountain, I assumed the rest of my trip would be a breeze.

Well, it was breezy…a little too much. The wind was much stronger at the top and the rain was now coming at me from the side. Every once and a while a gust would hit and push me off the road towards the cliff edges. I guess the extra weight I put on from eating all those scones was not enough to keep me grounded.

No matter how hard it rained or blew, I wasn’t turning back. I was already soaked through and my padded biking pants were so heavy from the rain that it like wearing a soggy diaper. Besides, I only had 30 km more to go and then I could relax at the hotel.

Blackwater Bridge was worth the trek. I don’t think it’s famous for anything, but it’s pretty. There’s no real sign for it, but you know it when you see it – also, you would have already passed Blackwater Tavern and would be biking down Blackwater Road through the Black Valley.

After the bridge, I was on the home stretch. Gone were the rugged cliffs and panoramic views. I was now cycling down narrow tree-lined roads and passing tiny farms, churches and houses. Once I saw a golf course, I knew I was near civilization.

I pedaled into the hotel parking lot soaking wet and shivering. It was definitely time for a hot shower and then some R and R at one of the local pubs.  It was truly the best day ever.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Totally Unexpected Day

Some days things don’t go as expected. Today was one of those days.

I woke up around 6:30 a.m. to the sound of rain drumming down against my window. It was not quite a hard rain, but definitely more than a drizzle. Plus, it was windy.

I know it is Ireland and it’s green and pretty because of the rain, but when doing a cycling trip, rain and wind really aren’t on the agenda.

I promptly went back to sleep deciding the 10 km run I was going to do before my ride could wait until tomorrow.

At 8:30 a.m. when I woke up again, it was still raining – but I was optimistic. I put on my cycling pants and cycling jacket just in case and headed over to Bantry in search of Nigel’s Bike Shop.

It turns out cycling was not to be my destiny this morning. Nigel wasn’t there. Apparently, he’s only open on Mondays in the summer and while this is considered the last weekend of summer in North America, in the UK, that was last weekend.

So no Nigel. He was home sleeping while I was standing outside his shop in my padded pants regretting the pot of tea I drank at breakfast because now I had to pee – and it was still raining which didn’t really help.

Amazing colors on the countryside
Thankfully, Ireland has a lot of road signs so coming up with a Plan B isn't hard.

I’m talking more signs than normal places. On any street corner, you’ll see a post with arrows pointing in every direction tempting you with new destinations. And a new destination was my destiny for today. Sheep’s Head Peninsula to be exact.

The host at Seaview House where I was staying mentioned it the night before and said it was amazing.

I drove up to the first sign and there it was -- the icon of two sheep butting heads and an arrow pointing to the right.

Perfect, I was back in business. Plan B was in action.

Sheep’s Head Peninsula is gorgeous and I recommend it if you ever are in Ireland. It is 120 km of cliffs, hills and meadows all along the coast with trails you can walk/cycle and narrow roads you can drive. Believe me, you really can't have a bad day in Ireland when everything around you is so beautiful and peaceful.

And of course, there are sheep.

There are lots and lots of sheep. I took photos to prove it. I must have at least 30 pictures of sheep. I couldn’t resist their little faces and plump Irish sheep butts. So cute. Plus, you can hear them baaa-ing in the distance calling out to you.


I spent most of the day driving around the peninsula stopping only to pee (damn that tea) and to purchase a homemade scone from some little shop in the middle of nowhere called Bernie's Cupan Tae. But it was only 3 p.m. and I still had lots of time before the sun set.

I plugged in my GPS with its freshly loaded Ireland maps and checked out nearby landmarks. Jameson Distillery was option three – and only 40 k.m. away. Yay! 

After tackling the narrow single lane roads of Sheep’s Head, I was feeling pretty good about my Irish driving and had figured out the whole passing thing. Whenever, a vehicle bigger than me (like a bus or truck) approached in the opposite direction, I would pull over into the brush (they don’t have shoulders here) and let them pass. I had gotten it down to an art form.

Or so I thought.

Halfway to Jameson, a big tour bus headed toward me. There was no way both of us could share the road so I pulled over into the brush to let him pass. He swooshed by and gave me the double-light flicker thank-you and off I went. Unfortunately, I had no idea there was a knee-high post in the brush with me. It clipped the side of the bumper with a “thunk”.

I drove on thinking it was nothing – until I heard the distinct sound of scraping of metal against rubber.

Poop. The bumper was rubbing the tire. I must have clipped it harder than I thought.

I pulled over and checked. Yup. It was bad. Not only did I succeed in destroying the bumper, but I scraped the side of the car and the passenger door didn’t want to open. Poop. Poop. Poop. I know I had paid for some insurance on the car, but also remember the clerk telling me the deducible was 1,200 (euros).

This vacation suddenly got expensive, but while I was a little worried if I had enough room on my credit card to handle 1,200 (which I learned was close to $2,000 USD), I was more worried about getting back to Seaview House Hotel before dark.

I was 49 km from Cork where I rented the car and just over 30 km from my hotel in the other direction.  It was raining and I was sitting in a vehicle that was un-drivable. Thank goodness I paid all that extra money to get a special cell phone that worked in Ireland just for emergencies like this. All I had to do was call Avis Car Rental and they could come get me and bring me a new car.

I got out the phone – and no service. Lovely.


So onto Plan C. I plug in my GPS to find the nearest town with a gas station. It was 3 km away. Okay. I could do this. I’ll drive really slow (on the 100 km highway – sorry, Irish people who were behind me) and if the tire punctured, I could always walk the rest of the way to the station.

The gas station girl didn’t have a working phone, but she sent me to the village's grain processing place - yes, I really was in the middle of nowhere. This town was really only a street that provided a pub, gas station and convenience store for the local farmers. 

But my luck was about the change. The guy at the grain processing place not only had a phone, but after looking at the damage on my car, called up his other friend saying I had “had a bit of a tip” and needed some assistance.

His friend wasn’t able to save the bumper so I’ll still had to pay the 1,200 deductible when I returned the car, but he was able to pry it off the wheel with a crowbar so I could drive without the scraping sound. He also was able to fix it so the passenger door opened – Yay!!

I consider him and his friend my guardian angels of the day. Thank goodness for Irish hospitality.

When I got back to the hotel, I soon learned that I wasn't the first person to have a "tip" on the narrow roads. One Irish gent told me he lost a mirror and another woman said she had a door ripped off.  Every person had a "tip" story to share. I was officially Irish.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Making Winnie-the-Pooh Proud

Irish people love their carbs which is dangerous – because I really love carbs, too, and have very little resistance to them if they are on the table.

Last night, my fish was served with three different types of potatoes: steamed with butter, scalloped and fried. The cooking at Seaview House Hotel is much like their hospitality -- honest and truly Irish. Nothing fancy, but really good food as if you were staying at a good friend's place. 

A lot of the food reminded me of stuff my grandmother used to make like the creamy vegetables and the way the meal was prepared (although she was Scottish). The meal was carb heavy and filled with comfort.

But the breakfast carbs were even more delicious and in abundance.

This morning, breakfast began with an assortment of breads and a strange runny porridge. As I was eating these with stewed prunes and feeling very healthy, I was thinking what a good girl I was going to be today. I would eat this and then bike all over the countryside. Maintaining my diet plan in Ireland won’t be hard at all. Nope, not at all.

I couldn’t be more wrong, because it was then the server brought over the real menu.

Marmalade and toast
Apparently, what I thought was breakfast was just the starter course – something to amuse your taste buds while thinking about the real breakfast. The Irish potato pancakes, crepes, eggs, puddings, fish and everything else were still to come.

Still, I was thinking I could do it. I would just eat a bit of everything and besides, the black and white puddings are meat based so I wouldn’t be eating those, and really, how bad can potato pancakes with melted butter be?

I reserved myself to being only a little bad and settled back to wait for my pot of tea.

By the way, I love that they bring you this gigantic pot of tea just for one person. They totally get tea here. None of this tiny cup with a little baggy you get back home – where if you want more, they pour you hot water and expect you to squeeze the little bit of color out the bag (unlike coffee drinkers who get unlimited fresh cups). Here you get real tea in a real pot that seems never ending. Now that’s what I’m talking about.

So, anyway, while I’m praising Irish tea tradition in my head, the server brings out toast to go with it – because you know, just because I’ve eaten porridge, two croissants and some sort of grain bread they call Irish Soda Bread, I can’t have my morning tea without toast. That would be wrong.

And what goes with toast in Ireland? Only the best marmalade in the universe! OMG…it was good. Thick and chunky and wow.

I felt very Winnie-the-Pooh eating my homemade marmalade and toast and I swear if I keep eating like this every day, they just might have to roll me onto the plane when I leave.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Loving Seaview House Hotel in Ireland

The view from my room at Seaview House Hotel
After a day of travelling, I’ve made it to Ireland. I’m tired and bloated from plane food – but mostly I’m tired. I also just spent the last hour driving down narrow, winding roads and through the hills of Ireland (in the rain) convinced that I was lost. Really lost. In fact, there was one point where I considered picking up a hitchhiker thinking he could be my human GPS.

I was about to give up when I saw the sign to my little hotel, Seaview House Hotel. The rain had slowed to a drizzle as I drove up the crushed stone driveway, and I could see the lush gardens and the old house behind.

I pulled the tiny Micro I rented into the car park and hoped the inside was lovely as the outside.

It was.

My room at 80 (euros) a night was bigger than expected and from my window on the third floor, I have a view of the sea – I totally did not expect such a nice room. It’s full of antiques, which I normally don’t love, but it works here. The place feels like an old world hotel, yet the walls aren’t paper thin. I feel like I have privacy. It's everything I wanted and more.  I still can't believe how amazing it is.

Driving to the thotel in Ballylickey (just outside of Bantry), my plan was to eat the squished peanut butter cookie wrapped in plastic in the bottom of my purse and the leftover pretzels from the plane for dinner and go to bed, but I’m forcing myself to stay up to 7:30 p.m. so I can try their restaurant on the main floor.

Kathleen O'Sullivan, the host, tells me they’ve won lots of awards for it and I don’t want to miss out on homecooked Irish fare.

Who knows. I may even have a pot of tea by the fireplace afterwards as it seems like the natural thing to do on this rainy night in Ireland.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Girl of Sandwich

Sandwiches. Delicious, yummy, out-of-this-world sandwiches.
I’m sitting in the Heathrow Airport in London and having a late lunch as I wait for my plane to Ireland. I had completely forgotten how much I love sandwiches from the UK. They are the best thing to…um…go with…sliced bread!

People always make fun of English cooking, saying it is bland and boring compared to the fare of France and Italy, but I don’t care. I could live on these sandwiches. What’s crazy is that I don’t even like sandwiches in the United States, but here it’s totally different. Here I am the Girl of Sandwich.

Today I got a tuna, watercress, cucumber and mustard sandwich on some sort of grain bread. It was prepackaged and nothing fancy, but it was heaven and so much better than a Subway or Quinzos sandwich.

I would show you, but my phone battery died somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean so you’re going to have to take my word for it. It was mmm….mmm…good.

PS My iPhone won’t work as a phone in Ireland, but I brought it as my camera as it takes up no room in my cycling pockets.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Planning the not fun stuff for Ireland

Learning a lot with this Ireland trip. Now it’s all down to the nitty gritty stuff that I hate planning because it’s the not fun stuff. It’s stuff like power adapters and making sure my credit cards work overseas. Boring - but essential.

But what I’m really learning is that things have changed since the last time I was overseas. In some ways, it’s gotten easier to do things as you can do them from your home – but of course, I didn’t know that until I went to the actual locations.

Credit Cards and Foreign Currency

Don’t bother going to your bank. I was surprised to learn my bank doesn’t even carry Euros. The teller told me they would need to get them in. But guess what…they don’t even order them for you. You have to go online and order them yourself AND there is a $20 fee to do this.

You have the option then of either picking up the money at the bank or having it delivered to an address. Either way it will cost you $20.

Also, don’t wait until the last minute as it takes 1 to 3 days for the money to arrive – another surprise as I did wait until just a couple of days before and now I’m scrambling. Sometimes being a last minute girl isn't a good thing.

Steve Jobs is NOT Popular in Ireland

Many mobile phones do work overseas and then all you need to do is enable global access. Sadly, my beloved iPhone is not Ireland compatible and won’t work over there. When I learned this, I had the option of going without any communication device --which I did consider.

Really, I did. Because frankly, just a few years ago cell phone coverage sucked and I would have been going phone-free anyway because nobody would have had a phone. But then I remembered my mom and how she would probably have a heart attack if she found out I did this.

So I checked out Verizon’s website which told me to visit my local dealer. I drove there and they basically gave me a 1-800 number to call to order a phone that would work in Ireland. Again, they did not have the phone. It would be shipped to me from Texas.

So yes, instead of driving around, I could have done this from my home – if only I knew in advance.

But now it's all done - phone, money, etc (or ordered at least).

Now the only thing I have to worry about is driving on the left side of the road and finding my bike shop when I get there.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Planning my Trip to Ireland - Part 5

Amazing day today! I have finally found the hotel where I’ll be staying during the cycling part of the my Ireland tour.

No, it’s not the Park Hotel Kenmare. I’ve emailed them and discovered they do have Hybrid Giant bikes I can rent for the day, but at close to $400 a night, they are a little out of my price range for a long term stay.

I may check out their spa or have dinner there though. It looks lovely.  And I admit, one of the advantages of being on my NPC Bodybuilding plan is that I'm saving money -- mostly because I can't eat out as often or go to Starbucks.

But even though I can't quite afford the Park Kenmare, my little hotel is just as cute and the people were so helpful.

Not only did they respond to my email within 24 hours, they also gave me the name of where I could rent a bike close by and a list of places I should check out while there.  And I love the name of the bike place - It's Nigel's Bikes. Don't you love it? Wonder if Nigel will be there when I pick up my bike.

So where is this dreamy place? It’s called Seaview House and it’s located in Ballylickey on the shore of Bantry Bay.

They tell me it’s close to the Ring of Kerry (might have to drive to this) and close by a 120 km long biking route that will take me down the northern side of Sheep’s Head Peninsula. So even if I don’t see sheep, at least I can go to a place that has sheep in the name.

They also said there are a bunch of cozy little pubs close by that play Irish music. Love it!

And here’s the best part. It’s 4-stars and only costs $110 a night and that includes breakfast!

This trip is finally coming together.  I checked and I only need a valid US driver's license to rent a car there -- and I can rent an automatic.

Just need to find a place to stay in Dublin and I'm all set. So glad I didn't give up on this dream trip. This is going to be fabulous.