Ireland. She is both pleasant and gloomy, quiet and roaring, rustic and chic, wild and tame. She’s historic and rooted, inviting and charming. She’s simple, yet complex, and occasionally inconsistent. She’s beautiful, majestic, friendly, and she feels like home. She’s a place I think of often, and can’t wait to return to.
When I sat down to write this segment, I honestly thought it would be effortless. I’ve been to Ireland several times throughout my life – first as a college student, swigging pints of Guinness in Dublin pubs, laughing hysterically with my girlfriends as we stumbled onto the Luas. Second, on a once-in-a-lifetime family vacation with my grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins to tour the entire country, and most importantly, to visit the ancestral home of my great grandmother in Creeslough, Donegal. And third, with my husband for an amazing, whirlwind, early first anniversary trip.
Each time I have been to Ireland, I have experienced that same familiar awe. From the rolling hills in the south, covered in green grass and dotted with grazing sheep to the Wild Atlantic Way in the north, winding and weaving through small towns, there is always something that leaves an impression on my heart and in my soul. Maybe it’s the fact that my Irish great grandmother left Ireland for Philadelphia, where I have always called home. Maybe it’s the fact that my same great grand mother’s dark brown eyes were inherited by her daughter, who gave them to my father, who passed them on to me…and that she’d want me to see her birthplace with a fresh perspective. I’m not sure what it is, but there’s something about that place that I wish everyone could feel. Maybe that’s why I started off this segment describing Ireland as if she possesses human qualities. If you’ve been to Ireland, you’ll understand that the Irish people have a welcoming, friendly manner about them that transcends so many cultures. Regardless of who you are and where you are from, I think can all appreciate the various sides of Ireland:
It is Pleasant and Gloomy – Like any island destination, storms pass through Ireland often…sometimes without warning. On our first day in Dublin last April, it was raining particularly hard when we arrived. After driving to the hotel and napping for a few hours, we woke to sun streaming through our windows, and I immediately jumped up, excited to explore the city again, this time with Dan by my side. As soon as we stepped outside and started walking towards O’Connell Street, it started to hail. The beads of ice angrily spewed down from the sky, and after a few moments, the sun was shining again. So, my suggestion is to dress in layers…and pack an umbrella…even on a clear day. While the weather has a mind of it’s own, it is also so beautiful, and it has a way of reminding us how small we are in this world. One of the greatest memories I have of Ireland is from when I visited the Cliffs of Moher with my family. When we arrived, it was raining, and I was initially a bit nervous to step too close to the edge. I wanted to look down towards the sea, but I was intimidated by the waves lapping against the rocky bluffs and wind blowing through my hair. So, I took a walk with my mom along a paved path, and within about 10 minutes, the skies cleared and there were two rainbows on display as we looked out over the ocean. Honestly, it was a moment I feel lucky to have been a part of, and it was worth being soaking wet from the rain. After that moment, we took a stroll near the edge with my cousin Paul, and my slight fear of heights subsided.
It is Quiet and Roaring – If you’re looking for some peace and quiet, there are plenty of places to go and escape the typical hustle and bustle…even in Dublin. Some favorites in Dublin include St. Stephen’s Green and Phoenix Park; which are perfect for picnics and relaxing, or you could take a day trip to the Wicklow Mountains. If you’re in the Killarney area, I’d recommend seeing the Killarney National Park. While in Killarney on my family vacation a few years ago, we took a horse and buggy tour with my grandparents. I will always cherish the sight of my Grammy, wrapped in a wool blanket; my Poppy’s arm draped across her back, even though it was mid-August and the rest of us were in shorts. The horse navigated tree lined paths, past streams and over bridges, and eventually led us to a clearing where a beautiful castle was perched on a lake. Alternately, if you’re looking for something a bit more young and boisterous, there are plenty of pubs all over Ireland with local, traditional music and lots of good fun. I recall Galway having a lively bar scene, and wish we could have spent more time there. My cousins and I swirled around on dance floors in pubs, waited in line at the local McDonald’s like the inebriated fools we were, and while I can’t put my finger on the exact names of the establishments, I know we made lasting memories there. In Dublin, the are hundreds of bars, and if you’re a typical tourist, you’ll want to at least pass through the Temple Bar area. If anything, it’s great for a quick pint or an Irish coffee (but there are a lot of other areas that offer less expensive drinks, so keep that in mind!) If you aren’t into beer, the Liquor Rooms had some delicious, unique cocktails, and if you’re looking to sip some whiskey, the Teeling Distillery in the Liberties was awesome. Not far from the Liberties is the Guinness Storehouse, which I like to describe as “Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory” for adults. It’s definitely something to check out…and the sky bar at the top offers some great views of Dublin. After the Guinness Factory, I’d suggest popping in to the Brazen Head…which is one of the oldest pubs in Dublin. Dan and I had the pleasure of meeting two gentlemen there who were betting on the horse races, and somehow we ended up talking about our lives, our jobs, and politics. We exchanged our opinions (which ended up being similar) of the current United States political landscape and spent a few hours laughing with them about the absurdities and harsh realities.
It is Rustic and Chic – When we visited my great grandmother’s sprawling property, it was lush, rugged, hilly, and beautiful. The home where she was born and raised is now a frame; the old stones standing insecure, but clear lines in the architecture depict where a door would have hung and a window would have opened. The windows may have let in a breeze from the nearby sea, or possibly from the Glenveagh National Park, an otherworldly landscape and beautifully wild place. There are homes like this all throughout Ireland, where the memories of the past live in the form of crumbling stone homes and walls. And then, just when you think of her rustic side, Ireland displays her elegance as you walk throughout Galway, taking in the vibrantly colored homes lining the streets, or you sip afternoon tea at a posh Dublin hotel.
Historic and Rooted – There is history everywhere you go in Ireland – from the bogs to the beaches. In Northern Ireland, I particularly enjoyed exploring the Ulster American Folklore Park in Omagh. It was an extremely interactive, open air park where we learned about Irish emigrants and their struggles. I’d also recommend seeing Derry (Londonderry) in Northern Ireland, where we were educated on the 1972 “Bloody Sunday” massacre and the civil and religious issues there. In Dublin, the National Museum of Ireland was filled with everything from archaeological finds to art pieces, and you can also find the Book of Kells at Trinity College. The history of Ireland is so complex and genuinely interesting, especially considering so many Americans can trace their roots back to the amazing, Emerald Isle.
If Ireland isn’t on your bucket list, it should be. There is a reason that communities throughout the world have recognized the inarguable hospitality of the Irish. There is something about the warmth, the goodness, and the sense of community that we all identify with and search for. That is why, “wherever you go around the world, you’ll find an Irish Pub.”
Special Thanks: I want to thank all of my family in Ireland & Scotland (especially Mary, Brenda, Jeanette, Sadie and John) for making Ireland so special to me. It truly feels like home away from home and I can’t wait to see you all again soon!
Cheers! Or should I say Sláinte…