Next stop Dublin: Travel agents Pat and Mark Hollywood offer tips for visiting their native Ireland, Cleveland’s newest nonstop destination

Travel to Ireland

On the Dingle Peninsula in southern Ireland. (Photo by: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)Universal Images Group via Getty


CLEVELAND, Ohio – For more than 50 years, longtime local travel agent Pat Hollywood has been sending Clevelanders to her beloved homeland.

The trip to Ireland is about to get a lot easier.

Starting next spring, Cleveland will launch new nonstop service to Dublin, Ireland’s capital city, via Irish airline Aer Lingus.

The trip, which previously required a layover on the East Coast or Chicago, will be an easy seven-and-a-half-hour flight from Cleveland Hopkins.

Shortly after the new flight was announced, the calls started coming in to Hollywood’s agency, the Travel Connection in Aurora. “We’re getting a lot of requests,” she said. Even groups that had booked on different flights wanted to be re-accommodated on the new route.

“We have to make sure we keep it full,” she said.

Hollywood came to the United States from Donegal, in Ireland’s far northwest corner, in 1960 at the age of 18, eager to make her mark in what she called the land of opportunity. She ended up in Cleveland because she had an uncle here.

In the 1970s, she moved back to Ireland, where she met her husband and had three kids. But the pull of Cleveland was strong and she returned here with her family in the early 1980s.

At age 80, she still runs the Travel Connection, working with several other agents, including her son, Mark Hollywood, who is vice president of global operations.

About two-thirds of their business involves travel to Ireland.

Mark and Pat recently agreed to answer a few questions about travel to Ireland – from the best time to go to driving on the left side of the road. They also discuss the importance of the U.S. Preclearance facility at Dublin Airport.

Travel to Ireland

Cleveland travel agents Pat Hollywood, right, and Mark Hollywood, take a break from touring at the Corner House in Ardara, Pat's home village, on a recent trip to Ireland.

Touring Ireland

A graveyard on Inisheer, one of the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland.

Touring Ireland

The Jameson Experience, Midleton, (also known as the Old Midleton Distillery) offers tours, tastings and a whiskey museum.

But first, a brief geography lesson: The island of Ireland, roughly the size of Indiana, is made up of two countries – the Republic of Ireland, which is part of the European Union, and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. The Republic of Ireland is roughly five times as large as Northern Ireland.

Dublin is the capital of the Republic of Ireland, Belfast is the capital of Northern Ireland.

Here, then, the Hollywoods’ tips for traveling to Ireland:

These new Aer Lingus flights start in May. Do you have a favorite time of year to travel to Ireland?

There’s no bad time to visit Ireland, as even in the winter months, the jet stream keeps the climate very temperate, so even from November through March the temperatures are in the 40s and 50s. And rarely does Ireland see any snow despite the northern latitude.

How long would you recommend that a first-time visitor spend in the country?

Depending on what the visitor would like to accomplish with their trip, seven to 10 days is ideal to be able to take in various locations, and get an authentic Irish experience. With this new direct service from Cleveland to Dublin, we also foresee people heading over and just doing Dublin and the surrounding areas for a long-weekend type of getaway, staying four or five days.

Top sights to see? (I realize this is a hard one.)

Wow, we could probably come up with five to 10 per county, but you don’t have enough room in this article. For the first time visitor, we definitely recommend Dublin and Belfast, with things like the Book of Kells at Trinity College, the Guinness Storehouse, EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum (which is fantastic for American visitors), the Titanic Experience, the Causeway Coast, and of course, County Donegal.

Underrated spots that don’t get enough attention?

Donegal has really become popular since National Geographic and Lonely Planet put it on their “cool locations to visit” lists over the last 5 years or so. But there are still a lot of places that are off the radar so to speak, that we try to encourage our clients to visit, or program on our custom itineraries.

Some of Ireland’s southern coast from Cork to Wexford have some amazing scenery, accommodations and visitor attractions that perhaps don’t receive as much attention as Kerry, Galway or Dublin, for example. But I’ll guarantee you that you’ll be happy you took them in.

Overrated spots that folks don’t need to bother with?

That’s a tough one, because there are so many unique experiences that will differ for each visitor. Some of the older manor houses and estates may not be a priority to a visitor who is excited to be on a Pub Tour, but are must-do’s on a historical tour. Our biggest piece of advice is to not try to do it all, which is a common problem we see with some travelers. Enjoy, and immerse yourself in the experience; you can always visit again.’

Benefits of touring on your own or going with a group?

We provide a lot of self-drive and chauffeur-drive itineraries that provide a tremendous amount of flexibility when traveling as singles, couples and families. You’re not tied to a rigid schedule, and can really take it all in. Groups tend to be a little less flexible as we have a schedule to maintain, including pre-planned reservations at attractions, which means we have to keep to the schedule. However, some of the feedback we’ve received from many of our group travelers over the years is the opportunity to meet new people, bond and develop friendships that last long after the trip is over. We’ve actually had several instances where folks met on a group tour with us, and then decided to take more trips together in the future.

What about driving in Ireland – how difficult is it? Any tips?

You definitely need to be aware, and comfortable with the fact that the steering wheel is on the opposite side of the car, and you drive on the opposite side of the road. It can be a little tricky, as your brain is so used to things coming and going in the opposite direction. One of our most popular products are our chauffeur-driven itineraries, where you leave the driving to our driver/guides as we get you around the country. That being said, we have plenty of clients who have no issues with us arranging rental cars, as they navigate around the island.

What about Northern Ireland? Should travelers add on a couple of days to travel to Belfast and surrounding regions? Has Brexit affected ease of travel between the two countries?

We absolutely love Northern Ireland and definitely recommend it, as there is so much to see, do and experience. Fortunately, Brexit hasn’t really affected the ease to which you can cross back and forth from the North and South. Aside from a cross border fee that rental car agencies now charge if you plan to enter the North from the Republic, there really hasn’t been any major changes or inconvenience.

One final question: How does the U.S. Preclearance facility work at Dublin Airport? How important will that be for travelers returning to Cleveland?

It’s extremely easy. In essence, you clear U.S. Customs and Immigration before you board the plane, which means you don’t have to do it when you land in the U.S. They have TSA and Customs officers onsite, which means when you land in Cleveland or, for that matter, any other U.S. airport, it’s just like a regular domestic flight.

Read more:

Nonstop service between Cleveland Hopkins and Dublin launches May 19 on Aer Lingus

Travel agent Pat Hollywood has connected thousands to her Irish homeland: Immigrant Entrepreneurs

Touring Ireland

Medieval Dunluce Castle on the coast in Northern Ireland. (Courtesy Mark Hollywood)

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