Group tour to recommend for those who hate group tours :)
I just got back from my first trip to Ireland and had to share my experiences and advise.
I had the luck to have two facebook friends who showed me around Northern Ireland (beautiful and wonderful area and I hope to get back there very soon...overlooked largely by tourists and well worth the visit..and safe...no dangers). And then I spent two days alone in Dublin (easy town to do by yourself..can walk everywhere...easy hop-on-hop-off buses or walkability) and flat town.
But the best part was that I hadn't been sure how to go see the South and West of Ireland. I wanted to be independent and avoid touristy places but I didn't want to drive myself and navigate by myself. I located WolfHound Tours online. This turned out to be best decision of whole trip. Dave is the tour guide in one-man business. He drives a 14 passenger van and has 12 guests (leaves some room for seat re-arranging now and then). He pulls trailer with bicycles on it. He has degrees in literature and history and spent our driving time and some hikes telling us about past and present politics, history, folklore, cultural tips,etc.
The trip had a family with 4 kids, people who couldn't walk in rough countrysides and then about 4 of us who were very interested in active hiking/biking. Dave was able to give us all options. He avoided the big crowded touristy places but made sure we saw examples of ruins, castles, parks, cliffs, ocean, beaches,etc. He had us stay in clean, tidy bed and breakfasts in smaller villages and they had fabulous large breakfasts included in the price. They were all friendly and well done. Each day he'd give the group options. Most days I hiked 1-3 hours. One day I rode a bicycle. I walked along two beaches. He made small efforts like finding a beach at sunset for a gal on the trip. He would say "those who want to do a bigger hike I'll let you out here and meet you on the other side of here..." and he'd give us specific and solid instructions for how to follow the trail and he'd give us walkie talkie in case we got lost or had problems (never did). Then he'd say "those who want a nice view but shorter walk, I'll let you out here to walk for 30 minutes along the road by cliff and I'll meet you up here"....then he'd offer bicycles to those who wanted to ride ahead to X. We had options to do kayaking near dolphin, horseback riding on beach or staying in town to shop. Granted, I'm sure the options vary with each route he does and the weather each day,etc. We were blessed with dry sunny March weathe. But it was a casual and interactive and fun tour.
As we arrived in a town each night he'd tell us our options...this quiet pub to talk to locals, this pub to hear best musicians, or this place to eat cheap or this place to eat great seafood. Dinner and lunch were on our own...but even there we'd often have options...the family on the budget could go to grocery store and get picnic items for time on the beach later and those of us who wanted our Guinness could go to pub for lunch along the route.
I thought it was cost effective, Dave was a delight and protective but gave us much flexibility and he had two people on our van who had done multiple trips with him so clearly my experience was not exception. March was fine but I'd probably recommend APril-June to get the flowers in full bloom and a few more shops open. We did have cool experience marching in local 6 a.m. St Pat's parade through a village behind a band and that was fabulous...so it wasn't bad....but when I go back to do his Northern tour I think I'll try a bit later in spring/summer. If you like security of group but dread the big buses and hop on, hop off mentality....look up Wolfhound tours....I can't rave enough.