Happy St. Patrick’s Day, friend! Today I’m offering up travel tips for the emerald, patchwork-quilt island known as Ireland. Specifically, the southern region.
First and foremost:
Pack a high-quality rain jacket. Maybe even test-drive it in the shower.
Because the weather in Ireland can be super rainy. Unless you visit in May or June, their purported sunniest months.
On the first day of our 2015 trip to Ireland, in June, mind you, the temperature was in the 50s with rain sheeting down sideways.
You can’t see it in this picture, but I pert-near froze when I darted from the car to snap a photo of this cairn. In the corner there, is Junior-Man huddled in his sodden hoodie because he hadn’t yet retrieved his raincoat from his carry-on.
Miraculously, thankfully, the weather was pretty much sunny and mild the rest of our trip.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s go back to the point where you haven’t left the country yet.
When booking your flight, you may want to fly into Shannon instead of Dublin.
So your driver can get used to driving on the wrong side of the road, sitting on the wrong side of the car, and shifting gears with their left hand instead of their right.
Better yet, rent an automatic transmission instead of a manual 6-speed. Yes, I said, 6-speed. Tony Bear was in his glory.
Consider leaving for the airport at least eight hours prior to your flight’s departure.
In case there is crazier than normal rush-hour traffic. Or, a massive wreck. Or in the event a rogue thunderstorm floods the access road to Reagan International Airport.
Be advised, if you arrive at your departure gate just as they are closing the airplane door, chances are, they won’t let you board. Not even if there is a nun—in a mud-colored, floor-length habit wearing a cross the size of her hand—praying favor for herself and your family.
Have everyone pack in carry-ons.
So if your rescheduled flight necessitates you staying overnight in a hotel, you’ll have your toothbrushes, pajamas, and clean undies.
Carry-on suitcases also eliminate the nightmare known as lost luggage.
In your Irish rental car, seat passengers prone to anxiety in the back.
Once you’ve stowed all the carry-on luggage in the tiny trunk of your wee rental, settle any panicky passengers in the back seat. Request that they only remind the driver once daily that the speed limit of 120 refers to kilometers per hour, not miles.
Instead of stressing about how narrow the roads are and how close the stone wall or very dense hedge is to the side-view mirror, suggest they focus on how few roadkills there are in the UK. Until…
Warning: When driving in Ireland, you may encounter cows on the road. And/or sheep.
With roads as twisty and windy as those in back-country Best Virginia, and the aforementioned free-range livestock, slowing slightly around blind curves is advised.
While in Ireland,take advantage of the abundance of bed-and-breakfast establishments.
In Ireland, in addition to being ubiquitous, B&B’s offer a wonderful opportunity to meet local folks. Be sure to assign rate negotiation to your most charming traveler. Have them mention the lower prices your party paid at other B&B’s. Junior-Man recommends asking what’s for breakfast.
Most B&B’s serve a “full-Irish breakfast.” That is to say, eggs, sausages, toast, juice and tea, at the very least. If bacon is offered, know that it will look and taste more like ham than American bacon. Sigh…
Bonus tip: When in Ireland, make sure you drink Irish breakfast tea. Because the coffee is really bad.
The Blarney Castle in County Cork was my favorite tourist destination.
The castle and gardens are breathtaking. Some of the flowers, though tropical, thrive at the castle due to its location within the Gulf Stream.
The property even boasts the original poison garden, enclosed in an iron cage for the safety of children.
Located inside the castle is the famed Blarney Stone. Legend says kissing it results in great eloquence. To do so, you (and probably hundreds of other tourists) will need to climb a 20” wide staircase to the top of the castle.
There, you will lie on your back on the stone floor and hang onto iron bars as a burly young man lowers you head-first approximately three feet into an opening in the wall to kiss the stone’s surface.
FYI, there is no stone sanitization measure involved. Kiss at your own risk.
The House of Waterford Crystal in the town of Waterford, is also very enjoyable.
The Waterford Crystal tour is fascinating and the gift shop offers special pricing on items such as brandy snifters, shot glasses, and fetching flower vases.
Available at a slightly higher price point are exquisite chandeliers.
Another worthwhile activity is the Dunbrody Emigrant Ship Experience in Wexford.
There, walking tours are conducted above and below deck by educators in period-dress who tell the story of famine emigration from the point of view of those who left Ireland.
For many travelers to the Emerald Isle, the highlight of each day is visiting a pub. Our favorites were:
Eugene’s in Ennistymon
Eugene’s Pub features the enigmatic owner-bartender, Eugene. He has been known to form immediate bonds with young people. He almost seems a prophet when he murmurs lines like, “Most find others a drop of hell, but you find them amusing.”
Dick Mack’s in Dingle
Walking into Dick Mack’s is like entering a just-opened bottle of champagne. The energy inside is positively fizzy. And has been since 1899. Among the masses standing shoulder-to-shoulder sipping pints, no one is a stranger.
Though these two drinking establishments were delightful, Irish pubs are like pizza. It’s hard to find a bad one. In fact, hanging out in a pub each night was usually my favorite part of the day.
Inside each unique and softly lit space, you can chat with locals, play cards, and record the day’s adventures in a travel journal. Or sing along to live music. No doubt there will also be a pint or two of Guinness. As velvety as the beverage is here in the States, it tastes even better in its homeland.
Speaking of Guinness, when you get to Dublin, make sure to visit the sprawling Guinness Storehouse.
According to their website, the Guinness Storehouse is Ireland’s most popular tourist attraction. Cool bit of trivia: The part of the building open to tourists is actually designed to be the world’s largest pint glass.
The journey begins at the bottom of the glass and continues up seven floors of Guinness-related exhibits, restaurants, and activities. At the top, you can enjoy a pint (as well as a 360-degree view of Dublin) in the Gravity Bar.
Tony Bear says the Storehouse’s Connoisseur Experience, located in an intimate private bar, is worth the splurge. During your session, a cheerful and knowledgeable bartender, quite possibly a “ginger,” will educate you regarding the history, benefits, and best pouring practices for the perfect pint.
Afterward, in one of the Storehouse restaurants, be sure to order the Guinness Beef Stew. For dessert, do not miss the Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake.
At the end of your trip,
To be near the airport for your flight home, make a reservation at the Woodley B&B in the nearby town of Gort.
There, Deirdre Marlborough and Sandy her pet dox—a reported cross between a dog and fox—will take delightful care of you.
After she serves you tea and biscuits, ask the feisty Dierdre for a tour of her amazing walled backyard. Out back in raised and netted beds, she cultivates celery, potatoes, English peas, broccoli and cauliflower, cabbage and berries. As well as flowers. Perhaps you’ll visit when she makes her specialty: Two layers of sponge cake—one spread with currant jelly, one with whipped cream—pressed together.
Listen closely when you take leave of Dierdre. She may impart something witty or wise. Something like, “Always be yourself. Dimming down to accommodate other’s expectations and/or comfort levels, only makes you smaller, less interesting.”