by Dr. Jessie Voigts
While I was planning our recent trip to Ireland, I was extremely concerned about disability access for myself. I can climb stairs, but they are painful, and I try to avoid them. I can walk up to a block, but usually use a combination of our car (park close!) and my electric wheelchair scooter to get around. I decided early on not to take my wheelchair scooter, due to the electricity being different and not
trusting the airlines with it.
One of the best places I found for information was Pat Preston’s www.irelandexpert.com forum, where I asked questions and people answered with their own experiences. In that same spirit, I’d like to share my own experiences with you, in case you, too, are searching for answers. Of course, your own abilities will determine what access you need. We also stayed mostly in County Kerry, with a few nights in County Clare. So, these are my own experiences based on where we were, and my particular needs for disability access.
We chose to fly into Shannon airport rather than Dublin. This allowed us to arrive a bit closer to our rental home in County Kerry. I had requested wheelchair assistance, and indeed, there was a wheelchair at the gate for me, although I had to walk the hallway after disembarking. The employee pushing it was an *excellent* introduction to Ireland – he was funny, full of great advice and quips. He patiently waited and helped with our luggage, and then helped us all the way through our rental car experience and out to the car.
We ate out several times a week, during our 17-day stay in Ireland. We saw two accessible bathrooms – one in the Burger King in Killarney (don’t ask, we were hungry and everything else seemed closed or difficult to get into), and at D. O’Shea’s in Sneem (great seafood chowder!). The handicap bars in the bathroom are slightly different than in the US – there is a frame over the back of the toilet, and an arm comes down to the side if you need it, to get down (or up). I was amazed at the many small steps to get into restaurants (often one or two), and the long passageway to the rest rooms (which are usually located at the far back). Besides the two aforementioned restaurants, none of the restaurants or pubs had ramps to get in or accessible bathrooms. I saw two other wheelchair users at D. O’Shea’s (bravo!). There were no automatic doors at any of the restaurants.
Grade: F (except for Burger King and D. O’Shea’s, Grade A-)
We stayed at two B&Bs, both highly recommended by Michele Erdvig of www.irelandyes.com. The first was Dubhlinn House B&B in Doolin, and the second was the Bunratty Castle Mews B&B in Bunratty. Dubhlinn House was beautiful and the owners were incredible. There were stairs, but I knew this going in. Bunratty Castle Mews B&B had one step to get in, and the rest was completely flat and accessible. Again, the owners were amazing hosts (owner Dolores is the friendliest person in Ireland!) and went out of their way to help us. Both had parking right outside the B&B, and access was easy, although not wheelchair accessible.
We rented a house (Pier Cottage), near Caherdaniel, from Homeaway Holiday Rentals. On their website, you are able to search for wheelchair accessibility. We chose a house that was right on the ocean, and had one step in. There was a second floor to the home, but as there was also a bedroom on the ground floor, it was usable for me. The shower required stepping into a tub. There was laundry right in the house, and I was able to get around very well. I chose this house for location and accessibility, and it worked for our family quite well.
We aren’t big tourist trap people, but we did explore a few places. I’ll share our experiences with each
Cliffs of Moher: There is handicap parking close, and there’s a paved walkway up to the cliffs.
Cliffs of Moher Boat Cruise: I had to walk across a gangplank and then down some stairs to get onto the boat. (It was worth it).
Killarney National Park: There is handicap parking in all of the areas where you can park – by the jarvey carts, and near Muckross House. We took a jarvey cart and I felt that we could explore more of the park than I’d ever see. There was one large step up into the cart.
Muckross House: There were both paved and stone pathways around the house. Wheelchair access would be very difficult. To go inside on the tour, I asked about wheelchair accessibility. The woman said that it was accessible, but no wheelchair or advice was offered. To get into the house, there is a small ramp. Once within, there is a very small elevator to get up to the first floor, and another elevator to go
between the floors.
Bunratty Castle & Folk Park: There are wheelchairs for rent in the admissions room of Bunratty Castle & Folk Park. The paths are very wide, mostly flat, although there are some hills. Within the folk park, you’ll have to get out of your wheelchair to enter each house and explore. In the village, there are curbs. Bunratty Castle is completely inaccessible – there are several flights of stairs to enter, and small curved stairs between floors.
Gap of Dunloe: This was one of the most accessible things we did, mostly because we took a pony trap ride through the Gap. The driver (one of the Gap Poneymen) asked able-bodied people to disembark and walk up the steepest hills, to save the horse. We took a boat ride back to Killarney. Everything else was mostly inaccessible – I had to walk a few steps to our van (Deros Tours), a few steps to the pony cart, about 3 blocks from when we disembarked to Lord Brandon’s Cottage (a way station, where we waited for our return boat), about 50 feet down to the dock, and a few steps down into the boat. Once we were back in Killarney, we had to climb a few stairs and then walk about 2 blocks to the waiting van.
Kenmare Market: Easy. Close parking, flat surface for the market (it was right on the street). There are lots of crowds, though, so it is a little difficult to get around.
Derrynane House: The house is about 2 blocks from the parking lot. Gravel pathway up to the house. First floor is wheelchair accessible, with a few bumps over doorways. You will not be able to see the second floor, or head down the steps and the pathway to the beach. Plenty of beautiful garden pathways, if you can get around on gravel.
Tesco Grocery Store: completely accessible, handicap parking spaces. Wide aisles, automatic doors.
Skellig Chocolate Company: easy flat parking lot, all on one floor.
Smaller grocery stores, shops: all of these had narrow doorways, steps, narrow/crowded/blocked aisles. It was extremely difficult to get into and around.
All in all, I was surprised at the lack of disability accommodations in Ireland. I know that many of the buildings are historic, and also that creating accessibility costs a lot of money. The sidewalks in small towns are usually narrow, and I didn’t notice curb cuts. However, if you have disabilities and are planning a trip to Ireland, I’d do a LOT of research, find places to stay that worked with my abilities, and then GO!
Dr. Jessie Voigts is the publisher of www.WanderingEducators.com