Fly a short 2900+ miles North East of Boston and you will land on the Emerald Isle. My family hails from County Cork on my Father’s side, so I was eager to learn about my native country. We were looking for a simple vacation where we didn’t have to worry about learning a language and could go at our own pace. Ireland was a perfect choice and the people were friendly and welcoming.
We flew into Shannon and out of Dublin to make the best use of our time. Along the way we stopped off at Limerick, visited the Cliffs of Moher, spent a day in Kinsale and then headed to the Dingle Peninsula before ending up Dublin. One caution, the driving was challenging, lucky for me, I was only the co-pilot. The streets and highways are narrow and you can end up in a roundabout for a good long time until you figure out which direction to head. Be prepared for sheep to cross the road randomly and large trucks to come so close to your rearview mirror that you find yourself wincing for impact.
We intentionally selected a variety of accommodations for our trip so we could get an authentic feel for the country. We stayed at a downtown hotel in Dublin, the Hayfield Manor House in Cork and the Carriglea a working farm near Kilarney National Park. Everything near our hotel in Dublin was walkable. The Hayfield Manor house was a splurge and offered afternoon tea and had a gourmet restaurant. My favorite was the working farm. Carriglea house came complete with horse named Beauty and a mule named Paddy. One morning as the mist cleared I looked out to see Beauty grazing in the field with a vibrant rainbow casting a crown of colors over the miles of lush green landscape. Emerald Isle indeed, lucky me!
Ireland offers a mix of vibrant cities, rugged cliffs, and quant coastal townships. If you are interested in history and cultural attractions Ireland won’t disappoint. There are over 35,000 castles in Ireland, each castle is different and represents a piece of history and charm. We visited many and one of my favorites was Bunratty Castle outside of Limerick in County Clare. The castle still has many furnished rooms allowing you to travel back in time. The village around the castle was full of folk lore and intimate cottages so you get a sense of how peopled lived in the old days. The most disappointing castle was the Blarney Castle. The lines were long, the castle is in partial ruin and you have to climb to the top to hang upside down and kiss the Blarney Stone, which we did, sort of. I actually stopped short of kissing anything as I had visions of centuries of germs dancing in my head. Alas, the scene made for a good photo opportunity!
The Cliffs of Moher were spectacular, be sure to bring a wind breaker or rain jacket. The Cliffs are one of the most popular tourist destinations and are often shrouded in mist. Pick a clear day if you are a photo aficionado. While in Dublin be sure to tour the campus of Trinity College and make a special stop by the library to view the Book of Kells. This unique piece of history from the late 6th century depicts the four gospels in living color.
The shopping along the way was a mix of folksy items such as; Celtic designs, shamrocks of all kinds, Claddagh rings and linen items. Once you get to Dublin you will find the fashion forward Grafton Street, where luxury blends with local tradition. Grafton has an eclectic mix of historic buildings and street cafes laced with high-fashion shops and musical performances by local artists. We always like to find something authentically made and locally produced when we go on a trip. One of the items on our list was crystal. We were surprised to learn that Waterford was no longer made in Ireland and had gone bankrupt in 2009. Fortunately, while we were in Kinsale we learned of Kinsale Crystal, made in Ireland and we made a stop at the showroom. The quality was beautiful, the shipping was easy and as we heading out our hand-blown goblets were on their way to our house in the States to greet us.
The pub atmosphere is fun providing lively Irish music, pints of Guinness served at room temperature and plenty of shenanigans to go around. Dublin had a great vibe and we were able to walk most of the city in a day. Be sure to tour the Guinness Brewery and The Jameson’s Distillery for samples. We enjoyed a lovely dinner at the Church of Dublin, a former 18th century church converted to an eating establishment complete with organ pipes. Also, the Brazen Head pub gives you a sense of time and place as the oldest pub in Ireland. Don’t forget to end your day with an Irish coffee to take the chill off.
There was no lack of drinking establishments in Ireland, each town along our journey offered friendly pubs to visit where we met new friends, sang a few songs and did a little jig. After all, a visit to Ireland wouldn’t be complete without a Guinness and a few songs at a typical Irish Pub. The Georgian Houses along Fitzwilliams Square in Dublin offer an iconic backdrop for some photos of the brightly colored doors. In fact, this is how we figured out where the word hangover originated. The houses in Ireland had bars near the door and as the tour guide put it, “you could either hang your coat over the bar when you came in or in many cases the men would come home late, inebriated and physically hang over the bar too drunk to make it to bed.” They would ring a little bell that was nearby and the servants would come and take them to bed.
My last tip is regarding the cautionary tale I mentioned earlier about driving. When we turned our car in at the airport, we saw several American’s handing their rearview mirrors to the car rental agent and apologizing profusely.
Ireland was an easy escape and just what we needed to relax. I hope you get a chance to break away and enjoy the wind at your back and the road rising to meet you. Cheers!