Certain places in this world hold for us certain expectations. For me, Ireland was one of those places. Many years of reading chic lit and listening to Damien Rice had created an image in my mind of “Ireland” and I desperately wanted to experience it the moody romanticism of it all.
Upon arrival, I saw the lyrical Gaelic language printed on street signs and this got me excited, Ireland was delivering. Walking through the streets of Dublin past the murky waters of the Liffey, we came upon the tourist hub and pub central area of Temple Bar. Immediately we were overwhelmed with vintage signs, flower arrangements and live music. By this point, I was practically giddy, my heart was soaring with the music as I felt all my dreams of Ireland come to life in front of me.
As we later traveled further South and then around the West Coast, I came to realise that Dublin was only the beginning. I felt myself fall in love with the quaint and charming countryside towns which under the grey skies did hold true to the dark romantic ideal of Irish villages. The friendly locals we encountered made an effort to chat, make us laugh and give us recommendations on every “best kept secret” tourist attraction they personally held dear to their heart. Every expectation I had of Ireland was not only met, but exceeded.
This my Top 10 of Ireland:
10. Live Music
No matter the town I was in from Dublin to Kenmare, day to night, live music can be heard either on the street from cute young buskers or throughout the endless choice of pubs. There is a feeling of joy when music accompanies you anywhere you go. It gave me a sense that something fun was always around the corner or as the Irish call it – ‘craic’. In a couple of towns, our rooms in the Bed and Breakfast were right against the street. Trying to sleep while a band was still playing their set, as first proved difficult, but soon I just readjusted my mind to seeing it as my own Irish folk lullaby.
I’m not sure there are many things I love more than a well made hamburger. A Pepper Beef burger in Dublin served as my awakening to go on a burger eating frenzy through the land and things only got better in Cork. We stayed at the River Lee hotel and I ordered a Pesto Chicken burger at their Weir Bistro Bar. This has since proved to be a front runner thus far in my international quest to find the world’s most succulent hamburger. Ireland is hitting heavy in the ring for this one. Just don’t order a pizza here, even from a restaurant that claims to do them well. It will only lead to heart break and insufferable food envy.
8. Flower Arrangements and Hanging-Baskets
The dizzying array of colours and flowers that adorned the streets of Irish towns was unexpected for me. It served to endear me even further to this gorgeous country. Walking down the cobbled lanes of Kilkenny or Killarney and seeing flowers around each turn brightened my spirits against the grey skies and endless drizzle of rain.
7. Bed and Breakfasts:
Fresh baking in the morning to wake up to, how can one really top that!? Ireland sure does Bed and Breakfasts right, with most of the proprietors being open and friendly, happy to chat about their country and give helpful information and recommendations on restaurants and top sights to see in the area. There really was something refreshing and memorable about the different homes we stayed in as each had its own unique sense of character.
6. Cliffs of Moher:
I’m not sure a trip to Ireland would be complete without making the journey to the rugged and wild West Coast to see these beautiful cliffs. Picture book Ireland is delivered ten-fold in this region. It had been raining all morning as we drove from Killarney through Bunratty and onward to County Clare, but luck was on our side for this one. As we parked the car and stepped outside, brilliant rays of sunlight fought their way out of the dark clouds and beautifully illuminated the cliffs in all their majesty. If you get to the cliffs in the afternoon and need to stay in the area, the near-by town of Doolin has plenty of accommodation options, cute stores and a whole heap of angry cows for your entertainment.
5. Guinness Store House
The coolest tourist attraction in Dublin, the Guinness Store House takes you on a journey through the entire process of creating stout. It has many interesting gadgets and walk-ways that take you up from the bottom floor to an observation gallery with a birds eye view of Dublin. Not to mention, you’re rewarded with a free pint of Guinness after making it yourself! A process that takes over 3 minutes for it to truly settle down into becoming a ‘perfect pint’, the wait is worth the sense of achievement. Plus you get a nifty certificate for those who enjoy a novelty souvenir on the house.
4. The People
Good hospitality and an endless sense of humour is a way to sum up the Irish. Cracking quick wit we found from most of our hosts and the people we got chatting to. There really is a sparkle in their eyes that makes it clear why this is the land of a thousand chic-lit writers.
3. The Gap of Dunloe
This is intertwined in my memory with the most magical elements of Ireland. It appeared as though the entire area was embedded in folklore and I felt I could imagine leprechauns throwing parties with rainbow cocktails and golden sausage rolls. The gap is located towards the end of the Ring of Kerry, shortly before reaching Killarney. During our visit there was an abundance of “Irish mist” hanging about the green hills and mountains. Quickly this escalated to what is better known as – pouring rain. We rode through on a horse and carriage led by a wonderfully loopy Irish man who kept himself greatly amused by our state of woe as our clothes got soaked through to the bone and he was happy as Larry in his industrial strength rain coat.
2. Kissing the Blarney Stone
Is it touristy? Definitely. Is it worth it? Of course! Blarney Castle is set on huge grounds with a variety of walks which had the weather improved, we would have loved to stroll around to explore. As it was a day of constant drizzle, we decided to head straight to the castle. Up we went to kiss the stone and bestow ourselves with the gift of eloquence. Climbing up the crumbling castle is half of the adventure as it gets higher there are some very steep, very narrow, very slippery stone staircases. Once out on the balustrades, those with a fear of heights should be wary. Kissing the stone itself is fun as your hurl your upper half over the edge of the castle whilst holding on to the bars and supported by a worker. In previous times, before this became a tourist attraction, those who wished to prove themselves had to do it without any support – not so sure I’d have kissed the stone under those circumstances!
1. Stone Walls
I’d seen countless images of the classic Irish stone walls leading the way through endless green countryside, but when I finally saw it in person, I immediately asked my Dad to pull over the car and take a photograph. These stone walls are one of the quintessential images of Ireland in my head. When I did encounter them especially going through the Ring of Kerry and the Burren, I knew they would forever stay in my memories as a sharp contrast of solid grey against rolling green hills, the image of Ireland’s foundation.