There was an hour in the afternoon of our second Tuesday in Ireland that was one of those hours you spend your entire life waiting for. We were sitting in the garden of our rented house in Castletownshend, a seaside village in County Cork, with the sun shining down, just hot enough to have dried the grass but not so hot as to spoil our beers. When we'd look up from the salmon we were eating or the newspapers we were reading, we'd see the baby crawling after our daughter, who was playing princess near the flowers that bloomed along the stone wall, which overlooked the castle and the sea beyond. In the oven was a chicken; on the bed upstairs was a pink comforter; back home, the Brewers had moved into first place; and for that hour, in that place, everything was righter than right with the world.

But don't be too envious. That heavenly hour of our wonderful second week in Ireland with our two children, aged 7 and 8 months, stood in sharp contrast to the six often-hellish days we spent circling the country. While Ireland -- more child-oriented than England, friendlier than France, more familiar than Italy and cheaper than just about anywhere -- is a terrific European destination with kids, driving around any country with a baby in the back seat tends to be disastrous. You've got 12 pieces of luggage -- everything from portable crib to diapers to 137 stretchies -- and feel as if you're spending half your day loading and unloading the car. The baby can't sleep at night because he's napped continuously during the drive and because he's in yet another strange place. When the baby's napping, you don't want to stop and eat, no matter what time it is or how hungry you are, because he would wake and be cranky. When he awakens, you've got to stop immediately -- I mean RIGHT NOW! PULL OVER! -- and make do with the first restaurant or hotel you find before the wailing starts.

You have to wait several years before you can stop playing this nightmare travel version of musical chairs and have any kind of fun on a driving tour. You have to wait, in fact, exactly seven years, because when we drove around England and Wales with our then-5-year-old daughter, she was as ornery as an infant, but in Ireland, at age 7, she was a dream.

Ireland offers a lot for a 7-year-old to look at from a car window. It seems as if around every turn there's a castle, or a hillside populated with sheep, or a lake and two swans, or a rainbow, or a village with a tiny shop selling whipped ice cream. There's a fairy-tale quality to the Irish countryside that sparks an older child's imagination, or an adult's for that matter: towers that look as if they once imprisoned Rapunzel, ruined stone cottages that might have been home to Snow White and the Dwarfs, gnarled and mossy trees whose roots must shelter leprechauns.

If our 7-year-old had been our only, or our youngest, child, our grand tour might have worked out, with a few exceptions, just fine. Immediately after landing at Shannon Airport on Sunday morning we drove the half-hour to Adare Manor, a castle-like hotel in the pretty village of Adare in County Limerick. Our daughter's single request for the trip had been that we spend one night in a castle, and while Adare Manor was expensive (about $250 a night just for the room, which in size and decor was one notch up from the Hilton), we figured it would be the perfect place to recuperate from the flight.

And indeed it was. Adare Manor has a beautiful indoor pool and sauna, a luxe bar, a lovely dining room, large grounds, a fishing river and a gracious staff. Throughout the day, we slept, swam, drank, ate, walked, fished, slept and ate in no particular order and with no rigid timetable. Our daughter made friends and the children romped at will throughout the castle and the lawn all afternoon. When she collapsed in the evening, we took the baby down to dinner and no one seemed to mind that he crawled around under our table, foraging for scraps. The only sour note was the breakfast tab: $50 for bacon and eggs for three.

Well-rested, we set off the second morning for Ballynahinch Castle, north in Galway's Connemara region. We'd chosen Ballynahinch because it was another castle, because Connemara's scenery was supposed to be spectacular, and because the fishing -- my husband's raison d'etre for the trip -- was supposed to be top-notch. Driving to Ballynahinch gave us a first-hand education in Irish roads: It took us more than five hours, stopping only for lunch, to drive a bit more than 100 miles. And then, after that endless journey, Ballynahinch proved a disappointment.

The first problem was the room. For something like $160, it looked like a room in a third-class hotel in Kansas City. The second problem was the dinner: five courses, three hours, no highchair, nothing suitable for children to eat. The third problem was the fishing: to fish, the game manager informed my husband, he would have to cough up an extra $60.

When we planned the trip, we'd toyed with the idea of staying in Ballynahinch for two nights, but given the reality we left as early as we could the next morning (not that early, after we packed eight bags and waited an hour for breakfast to arrive) and headed back to Galway City. Maybe I have to forgive Galway City because it was cold and rainy when we arrived, and I was in a foul mood. The sidewalks were jammed with people and, at the tail end of lunch hour, all the pubs had run out of food. But while Galway is supposed to be Ireland's jewel of a city, it seemed hectic and charmless to me.

Scratch yet another possibility for the evening's lodging. There was nothing left to do but aim north again toward my grandmother's hometown of Drumshanbo in County Leitrim. I didn't have high hopes for Drumshanbo. The guidebooks have only disparaging things to say about Leitrim, when they say anything at all. I visualized North Dakota. And while I'd written ahead to relatives, I had no idea what the relationships were or how to find them.

So dismal was my outlook onDrumshanbo that we stopped instead in the neighboring village of Boyle, where we shivered through the night in a cavernous wreck of a farmhouse. While the farm family was delightful, their only other guests were French fishermen who dallied at the local pub past midnight, rose before dawn and apparently kept themselves warm through the night by drinking large quantities of Guinness. As for us, we piled blankets a foot thick on our beds, and the baby's hands were still like snowballs.

I suppose you're getting the idea by now that we weren't having a very good trip. We weren't. That's why the gods decreed that the next day, our day in Drumshanbo, be one of the best days of my entire life.

The first happy surprise was the area: lush, hilly, unspoiled. The second was Drumshanbo itself, a charming old village built on a hillside, all the more charming because I knew my grandmother had walked its streets at the turn of the century. And the third was that our very first inquiry at a local pub led us to my two second cousins, the children of my grandmother's brother, one of whom lived in the house where my grandmother had grown up.

Just the feeling of sitting in my grandmother's childhood home, in the farmhouse my great-great-grandfather built, with my children would have made the entire trip worthwhile. But being there revived my own childhood as well, with one cousin looking so much like my grandmother, dead now for a quarter of a century, and the fields and trees bringing back her stories of "the old country" as vividly as if she were whispering in my ear. "Here," I told my daughter, "in the roots of this tree, is where my grandmother and her sisters built a dollhouse, and here is the field where the bull chased them each time they cut through to go to town."

If I had this trip to do over again, I would spend four or five days in Drumshanbo, which is off the tourist track and also the coarse fishing capital of Ireland, and the rest of our time exactly how we spent it, and that would be it. But as it was we pressed on to Dublin, because people had told us it was wonderful. It was in Dublin that we realized the trouble with listening to what people told us.

When you go to Ireland it's easy to find people to give you advice, because it seems as if almost everyone has been there. What you have to do when weighing advice about Ireland is to consider the source. It wasn't until we got to Dublin that it dawned on us that we'd gotten advice from two different kinds of people: people who had kids, and people who didn't. And it was the people who didn't who'd recommended Dublin.

Maybe, if you don't have kids, Dublin is a terrific town. With kids, it's the worst. It's fast-paced, high-priced, crowded and not terribly friendly. And if we hadn't bumped into the mother of the children our daughter had befriended at Adare Manor, neither would we have known that Dublin restaurants don't, for the most part, allow children in the evening.

Well, I guess we would have found out when, forewarned, we headed for the neighborhood pizza joint and even they wouldn't let us in. The only place we could find to eat was the coffee shop of Jury's, a bustling American-style hotel we had to wheel the stroller across a death-defying intersection to get to.

The one bright spot in Dublin was our hotel, Raglan Lodge, in Ballsbridge, which is the Georgetown of Dublin. Our room there was absolutely exquisite, the baby was welcome, and our daughter was invited downstairs to play with the child of the house. But even the splendors of Raglan Lodge couldn't persuade us to stay in Dublin for a second night, and so we found ourselves on the road again.

By now it was Friday, but our house rental didn't begin until Saturday, and besides it was a six-hour drive from Dublin to our village in County Cork. We dragged the drive out over two days, and I wish I could say we found some fascinating things along the way, but we didn't, not really. Then again, we weren't trying very hard: All we wanted to do was arrive in Castletownshend, where our rental house awaited, with a modicum of sanity intact.

We'd had a lot of trepidations about renting the house. While it seemed to be a sensible thing to do with children, it was difficult to choose one town, sight unseen, in which to settle for a whole week. It was similarly difficult to commit to one house from the 1,600 postage-stamp-sized black-and-white pictures in the Tourist Board's Self-Catering Guide. And then after weeks of debate, when we finally made our choice, the rental agent talked us out of that house, saying it wasn't suitable for small children, and into another, which looked infinitely less charming in its little picture.

So it was with clutched hearts that we rounded the bend of R596 into Castletownshend. There before us was the steep -- the only -- main street, lined with old stone houses, ending at the bottom of the hill at the castle and the harbor. There, in short, was heaven.

We'd been instructed to stop at the castle to pick up our keys and meet Mrs. R.M. Salter-Townshend, descendant of the original lord of the castle and mistress of all this magnificence, who escorted us to our temporary home. The Self-Catering Guide had described Fuchsia Cottage, our Fuchsia Cottage, as being an "old world style" semi-detached house with three bedrooms and a garden. The guide didn't mention the four fireplaces, the wide-plank wood floors, the view of the sea from the French windows in the master bedroom or the big circular window at the landing of the stairs. Nor did it say that one of the bedrooms was down its own private corridor, perfect for a 7-year-old who'd always dreamed of living in a secret hideout, nor that the garden was lush with flowering trees and plants, that it was as big as two generous-sized suburban yards, and that it was bordered by a stone wall with a picture-perfect view of the harbor.

Our first move was to unpack all our bags and solidify the feeling that we were home. Even the baby was crowing with joy at finding real space and real furniture; he sensed this was going to be a lot more fun than a hotel room. Our next impulse was to call everyone we loved and tell them to fly over immediately and join us. But we really just wanted to gloat about our good fortune, to show off the beautiful house we had rented for -- are you ready? -- $160 a week. We decided not to be obnoxious and to keep our genius to ourselves.

Even if the house hadn't been so wonderful, we probably would have hunkered down for our remaining week in Ireland; the fact that it was great only made it more pleasant. Eating at home was not only infinitely more relaxing than contending with restaurants; the food was also better. The first day, we stocked up on groceries: huge hunks of smoked salmon for $5, locally raised chickens and beef, yogurt and butter from the creamery down the road, potatoes and carrots with the garden dirt still fresh on their skins. To minimize the housework/cooking/child-care burden, we turned it into a game: The 7-year-old was the waitress, in charge of all serving, table-setting and clearing, plus some apprentice chef work, and my husband and I alternated days playing chief cook and bottle washer. The person who was "off" took care of the baby.

Here's how our days went: Wake up, eat huge breakfast in garden. Read the paper, write some postcards, watch the baby crawl around. Lunchtime! Drink some Guinness, eat many slivers of smoked salmon and fresh brown bread. Nap time! Or maybe walk time. We might walk up the hill to get some ice cream, or down the hill around the harbor and down the path at the foot of the ruined 16th-century castle. Or up the incline near the harbor to the spectacular St. Barrahane's Church, in whose yard Edith Somerville and Violet Martin ("Martin Ross"), the Castletownshend-based authors of such books as "Some Experiences of an Irish R.M." and "The Real Charlotte," are buried. After dinner it was bedtime for the kids, while we sat by the fire in the living room and drank yet more Guinness ferried in from the neighboring pub.

If we felt ambitious there was always something to do. One day we drove down the little peninsula that Castletownshend sits at the head of to the charming but somewhat touristy fishing village of Baltimore and then to the salt-water Lough Hyne, an inlet of the Celtic Sea. Another day we meandered east along the coast road, in search of antiques (a very poor bet, by the way, in Ireland) and lunch, which we ate in solitary splendor at a hillside restaurant, once home to Jonathan Swift, outside Glandore. Our biggest day trip was a 30-mile drive to the town of Schull on the Mizen Head peninsula, where we had an exquisite deviled crab lunch. We also took mini-drives along the tiniest of local roads, which is the best of Ireland: visibility never more than 40 feet, around each bend and over each hill a new surprise -- a slice of sand beach cut into the cliffs, a Georgian mansion, a horse-drawn wagon, a vista of mountains or sea.

Castletownshend is also within striking distance of lengthier and potentially more interesting day trips. We could have easily, for instance, spent a day in the city of Cork, an hour away, or a half-day in Bantry, or driven around the wild Beara peninsula, or even ventured into Kerry. We'd chosen Castletownshend partly for its proximity to several places we'd wanted to see, but once there, we found it easier and more relaxing with the kids to simply stay at "home."

Sometimes, one of us would stay home while the baby napped and our daughter played with the kids from down the block while the other went on an individual jaunt. In the morning or the evening, my husband often took off to fish for a few hours in one of the local lakes. One afternoon, I went with Mrs. Salter-Townshend on a tour of all her rental properties, which ranged from a woodman's cottage on the old Somerville estate to a tower in the harbor-front castle. And one night, we hired a babysitter and dined on mountains of shellfish and fresh mayonnaise at the French restaurant Chez Youen in Baltimore.

It was very hard to leave, but our real home beckoned. Our plan was to take the scenic route from Castletownshend and spend the last night somewhere near Shannon, where we had to check in for our flight by late morning. We drove through Bantry (mmm, maybe next time), through Kenmare (definite possibilities), bypassed the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula for lack of time, picnicked at the lovely Lakes of Killarney, shopped for sweaters in the tourist-ridden town of Killarney and ended up, not by plan but by default, back in Adare, right where we'd started.

While Adare had seemed the quintessence of Ireland at the beginning of our trip, to our more experienced eyes it seemed a Disneyland reproduction of an Irish village. No matter; a burger at the thatch-roofed Inn Between, surrounded by American accents after a full two weeks of hearing only brogues, provided a valuable reentry experience. Vacation-poor, we spent our last night not at the pricey Adare Manor but at Hollywood House, a farmhouse a few miles outside the village.

Hollywood House proved to be Adare Manor's pastoral equivalent: The house itself -- a Georgian-style manor -- was charming and impeccably kept; our room was as large, as comfortable and as pretty as the one at Adare; breakfast was sumptuous, the table laid with old silver and homemade jam.

Not the least of Hollywood House's charms was 3-year-old Paul, who led us on a tour of the sheep pasture at dusk, a sliver of moon already high in the dark blue sky. As I stood there with my husband, the baby in our arms between us, our older child and young Paul chasing the fat sheep in the moonlight, I thought, "I will never forget this."

Pamela Redmond Satran is a freelance writer in Upper Montclair, N.J. WAYS & MEANS HOUSE RENTALS: If you want to rent a house in Ireland, the first step is to obtain the Self-Catering Guide, available free from the Irish Tourist Board (although supplies are limited). The guide details more than 1,600 houses for rent throughout Ireland, with photos and pertinent details on each. While the Self-Catering Guide is sort of an ultimate wish book, offering everything from beachfront cottages to country manors to castles for rent at eminently affordable prices, reading it becomes dizzying after a while. The smartest tack is to choose the area you want to settle in, then look for the house; otherwise, you'll be overwhelmed and diverted by fantastic houses in not-so-fantastic locations. Many of the houses include a cot (Irish for crib), and owners can often arrange baby-sitting. CASTLETOWNSHEND: Mrs. R.M. Salter-Townshend (The Castle, Castletownshend near Skibbereen, Co. Cork, Ireland, telephone 011-353-028-36100) is the letting agent for 20 local properties. Particularly appropriate for families with young children are the adjoining Fuchsia and Virginia cottages, charming 18th-century houses with large gardens on the town's main street; the West and more especially the East Tower of the Castle, which sits right on the harbor; Hartt House, which doesn't look like much in the guidebook but is beautifully furnished, has a panoramic view of the garden and includes a separate children's "wing"; and Cuin Brin and Shana Court, enormous "flats" that together make up a gigantic Georgian house, ideal for two families.

The down side of many of the Castletownshend houses is that the furniture is a mixed bag of shabbily charming and just plain shabby. But even that cloud has a silver lining: You don't worry so much about your kids climbing all over it. Electricity, gas, fireplace fuel, heat and in some cases linen are extra, but prices -- as with most Irish rental properties -- are still low. Our total tab for the week was 155 Irish pounds (about $263). The summer months are often completely booked by January; other seasons have frequent openings, except during holiday weeks. HOTELS: No matter where you are in Ireland, finding a place to stay that welcomes kids is no problem. Places that we liked are:

Adare Manor, a 19th-century manor house with a modern wing; exterior and public rooms resemble a castle, most guest rooms don't. Hospitable to children, restful for adults and an easy drive from Shannon Airport. Rooms start at about $250. In the United States, contact Adare Manor Inc., 51 John F. Kennedy Parkway, P.O. Box 910, Short Hills, N.J. 07078, (201) 379-6286 or 1-800-462-3273.

Hollywood House, a much more reasonably-priced and very pleasant alternative to Adare Manor. Hollywood House has just three bedrooms, all with bath. Bed and breakfast tab for four of us was about $56. Contact Peter O'Shaughnessy, Hollywood House, Ballinvira, Croagh, Adare, Co. Limerick, telephone 011-353-061-86237.

Raglan Lodge, a small, charming and child-friendly hotel that is a good base if you want to brave Dublin with kids. Bed and breakfast is about $42 per person (just a bit more than the average Dublin B & B, and significantly less than a large hotel) and the baby was free. To reserve: 10 Raglan Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4, telephone 011-353-1-606697. GUIDEBOOKS: While it's absolutely essential to get guidebooks geared toward parents and kids when traveling to many countries, not so with Ireland. With the exception of places in Dublin, children are welcome nearly everywhere, including in pubs.

The two guidebooks we ended up bringing with us offered refreshingly opinionated views of opposite ends of the traveling spectrum. "The Real Guide: Ireland" (Prentice-Hall), geared toward backpacking students and not families, nonetheless provided good advice on unpretentious and inexpensive restaurants and pubs, guidance on which roads were most scenic, and shared our aversion to overly touristy spots. "The Connoisseur's Guide to Ireland," by Don Fullington (An Owl Book, Henry Holt and Co.), served us well when we were in search of a more sophisticated meal, or when our American consumer instincts needed sating. DRIVING: If your child rides in a safety seat, bring it along; Irish versions, while available from most rental companies, are flimsier and less comfortable. Also, be sure to specify that you want a car with rear seat belts; not all have them. Another driving tip: Buy a Michelin map of Ireland before you go, as it details many more small towns and roads than the map offered by the Irish Tourist Board.

Rental cars in Ireland aren't cheap: The equivalent of a Ford Taurus sedan cost us about $250 a week. OTHER KID STUFF: Irish diapers, while not quite up to the standards of super-duper ultra-soft American ones, are perfectly adequate. Irish wipes, however, are weirdly greasy and totally ineffective; take your own. Likewise, if your baby will only drink some esoteric soy formula (as ours will), carry along an ample supply of powdered mix. Milk-based formula and jarred baby food are, however, readily available. In restaurants, what was invariably offered for our baby to eat -- and which luckily he ate with great gusto -- was "creamed {mashed} potatoes mixed with a bit of soup." A pickier older child is also easily satisfied if he or she likes soup and potatoes, served in impressive variety absolutely everywhere. And what about the parents? Listen, if there's something your kids will eat, that should be good enough. -- Pamela Redmond Satran