GO TO IRELAND. Do it. If you’ve been thinking about it, do it. If you have vacation time to use up, do it. If you have any extra money, do it. And if you don’t have any vacation time or extra money… do it anyway.
I’ve wanted to go to Ireland for years. My paternal grandpa, Tim, was 100% Irish, and I grew up proud of my Irish heritage, though the other three of my grandparents are largely of Norwegian background and therefore make up an even larger part of my heritage. (I’ll go to Norway next!) My friend and I talked about going on a trip to celebrate turning 30 this year, and we finally settled on the Emerald Isle. We invited a few others to join us. After my cousin Beky accepted, we had a trio. We booked an eight-day tour that took us around the country, which started in Dublin, headed up to Northern Ireland, traveled down the west coast through Galway, visited the south part of the island including Cork and Kilkenny, and ended up back in Dublin.
I did a little bit of research before we went, and discovered that one of my ancestors came from County Down (in what is now Northern Ireland) in 1880. The other came earlier, in 1840, from County Tipperary in the southern part of Ireland. Eventually, their descendants moved to western North Dakota and two of them, James Dwyer and Grace Taylor, married. James and Grace were my dad’s grandparents. Although our tour took us to neither County Down nor County Tipperary specifically, we did drive through both areas, which made our visit that much more interesting for me.
Here is a brief rundown of our eight day visit:
Day 1: Dublin. We arrived in Dublin, checked into our hotel, and visited the downtown a little bit that evening.
Day 2: Dublin to Derry. We got on the tour bus and drove north to Belfast, birthplace of the famous Titanic and also a hotseat of conflict between Catholic Nationalists and Protestant Unionists in recent decades. From there, we went to Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site, which sports neat formations of hexagonal rocks as well as a beautiful coastline. Finally, we checked into our hotel in Derry, another hotseat of Catholic/ Protestant conflict. ‘ We also ate fish & chips meal #1. This started a strange little obsession with fish & chips which lasted for the week.
Here are some pictures from the Giant’s Causeway: Day 3: Derry to Galway. We traveled from Derry down to Galway, a quaint town on Ireland’s western coast. In Galway, we did a little shopping, visited a couple of pubs, and had fish & chips meal #2. Yum. Day 4: Aran Islands. This may have been the highlight of the entire trip. We took a ferry from Galway to the Aran Islands. When we arrived, we rented bikes, bought a picnic lunch at the grocery store, and headed to a set of dramatic cliffs about 5 miles away. It was overcast and cool, and we weren’t expecting such an intense bike ride (it was almost all uphill), but eventually we struggled up to the cliffs – where we promptly decided it was much too windy to actually eat our picnic lunch, took a couple of hurried pictures and tried not to get blown off the cliff, and headed back to the village. The return ride was much, much easier. Day 5: Galway to Cork. Our bus took us from Galway to Cork, with stops at both the Cliffs of Moher, which were too foggy for us to actually see, and Blarney Castle. We did get in line to kiss the Blarney Stone, but only one of us (Beky) kissed it. The other two of us were too freaked out by heights (Jackie) and germs (me). That night, we checked into our hotel in Cork and spent some time listening to live pub music.
Here are my travel companions taking advantage of selfie opportunities in front of Blarney Castle: Day 6: Cork to Kilkenny. On this day, we headed to Kilkenny, with a stop in the morning at the port town of Cobh, last port of call for the Titanic, as well as a stop at the Jameson Irish Whiskey distillery. Once in Kilkenny, we checked into our hotel and went out for a bike tour of the town. Our guide, a Kilkenny native with a great sense of humor, led us to various spots of interest in the medieval town and the lovely Kilkenny Castle. Day 7: Kilkenny to Dublin. We left Kilkenny and headed back to Dublin to spend more time in the capital city. One of the highlights of this day was a tour of the Guinness Storehouse, where we learned about the process of making Guinness and even learned how to pour a pint! Afterward, we ate our 3rd dinner of fish & chips. (The fish & chips dinners were slowly improving with each attempt. I felt I was on the verge of discovering the perfect fish & chips meal.)
We also walked through Trinity College and saw the Book of Kells. That night was another highlight of the trip – an evening at the Merry Ploughboy Pub, where we were served a delicious dinner and treated to a show of traditional Irish pub songs and dancing. If you ever get to Dublin, make it a point to spend a night at the Merry Ploughboy! Day 8: Dublin. This was our last day in Dublin. Highlights of the day included Murphy’s Ice Cream (AMAZING), a garden festival at Christchurch Cathedral, a little shopping, and a great meal at a delicious little pub called The Norseman. This pub had a fabulous selection of food and beer, and I couldn’t help from ordering just one more fish & chips dinner — and this one was the BEST yet! Furthermore, there was more traditional pub music and a lively atmosphere. I would highly recommend the Norseman as well if you find yourself in Dublin.
Unfortunately, that night was spent at the hostel in a frustrating attempt to get our plane tickets printed out for RyanAir on an ancient computer in the hostel lounge, which seemed to eat up a large amount of Euro for minutes used and sheets printed. I swear, I spent an hour and a half just trying to get those darn boarding passes. But I finally printed them successfully, and we left early the next morning for Scotland.
Despite the poor ending to the last night, I thought Ireland was fabulous. Next time, maybe it will be eighty days instead of eight!