I went to Ireland in 2012, right around mid-September. I used YMT tours, which are low cost while still giving all the backstory, history, and personal touch to the countryside, cities and moors. I loved my tour director. For the only time I’ve experienced, our driver was also the director, so while navigating tiny, twisting Irish countryside roads in a gigantic bus, this guy was regaling us with stories of times past. I wish I remembered his name — tough part about writing in retrospect.
Arrival was in Dublin. I missed the first shuttle from the airport to the city, so a couple hours later I got into the heart of the place. It’s a beautiful city, feels really unique and distinct with areas of cobblestone streets and walkways along and over the River Liffey. I had an overnight flight in, and I don’t sleep on planes, so I was pretty pooped and didn’t get too deep into local culture as I had the next day in the city as well before the tour took me out of Dublin.
I expected to meet up with a friend of mine, Aonghus, on that second day, but it turned out the city’s Fringe Festival was in full swing at the time, and Aonghus took me out to a concert that first night. We saw Kormac Big Band, plus his AV show in this big outdoor courtyard. What a crazy-good show! I’d never seen anything quite like it, nor have I since. I wish I’d had my bearings a bit more so as to pinpoint where in the city we were, but I just followed Aonghus’ lead. Afterwards we went to a few bars, one a converted bank that was absolutely beautiful. You don’t have to tip bartenders in Ireland!
So I got about 4 hours of sleep during the first 2 days of this trip. I was basically delirious the next day when I went around Dublin. I went around Parliament, saw St. Patrick Cathedral, and walked around Trinity College that holds the Book of Kells. I do remember the university the most, I think, because we ran across a crew shooting a movie. Actors were in old-timey garb, maybe 1920s; I still wonder what that movie was about. That night I slept like a rock, but stayed logy the rest of the trip — sleep debt is rough.
The next stop on the tour was Cork, and we visited the Rock of Cashel and Cobh (the Titanic’s last stop before setting off across the Atlantic and into oblivion) before getting there. Cork is the second largest city in Ireland, and cities sort of spring up out of the countryside here. Not much by way of suburbs or sprawl. I loved the spaces between cities.
We set out for Killarney the next day and stopped at Blarney Castle not far out of Cork. I kissed the stone, which is on the underside of a destroyed wall high up on top of the castle. A beefy dude grabs your belt and supports you while you are suspended above the castle courtyard like five floors below. Above you the stone, below you the countryside and ruins of the castle. Fuck the stone, that view was worth it. Worth the long trek up the tiny claustrophobic stairwell, worth waking up at 6 to beat most of the crowds. I booked it down the stairs post-kiss and traipsed through the dew-covered nature til I had to back at the bus. Ireland is so, so green. I found little shaded havens full of ferns, rolling hills of wild grass, and very friendly locals. We also visit Muckross House which was a gorgeous Victorian home with extensive gardens. By chance, a horse-drawn carriage was just outside the bus when we alighted, and I and a couple others got to take it through the countryside up to the house. It was crisp and cool, and we passed a lake so clear and deep it looked black. We enjoyed traditional Irish music after dinner at a local pub. The next day we drove the scenic Ring of Kerry and plenty of the local cows just lounging in the sun. Apparently the grass in Ireland is so full of nutrients the cows don’t have to graze all day the way they do in the US, and they just lounge most of the time, getting sun and fun. Hell, I thought the cows were sick; they were just hanging out!
Next we visited the famed Cliffs of Moher, then went through the Connemara region. This is a gorgeous, barren space through the middle of the country where many Irish were banished when the English pillaged the countryside. They figured out how to use the resources, cut and dry turf for fuel, and survive. Not all, but some. The Kylemore Abbey is nestled in this region, and is eerily isolated. I think there may still be part of the abbey functioning as such, and I can imagine the whole place filled with dark-clad Sisters.
Our last stop before returning to Dublin to fly out, was Belfast. Wow. What a switch. Northern Ireland is UK territory, and it loses all of its charm the minute you cross into it. In the rest of Ireland, signs are in both English and Gaelic, the roads are winding, and there aren’t a lot of recognizable stores or chains. In Northern Ireland it felt very Western. I DID see the first brown people since Dublin, however, so that was nice, but chain stores and boring, low, industrial buildings just weren’t my thing. The murals from the war in the 80s were very interesting, though, as well as the “Freedom Wall” that separated the Catholic and Protestant sides of the city. They voted fairly recently to keep the wall intact, as it made them all feel safer. We visited the Titanic museum as well, as the ship was built and launched from there.
Overall, the trip was great. It was my first time in Europe, even if not on the mainland, and it was a great toe-dip in. I’d definitely go back if given the chance.