When you think Ireland, you think about the upbeat and–at times–almost shrill sounds of Dropkick Murphy’s music, maybe the color green, and probably the Lucky Charms leprechaun (then immediately daydream about a bowl of cereal with only those cute marshmallows and none of that flavorless oat nonsense). A few of you most likely think of bagpipes and kilts, confusing Ireland with Scotland as most careless Americans would. Well friends, I am excited to be the millionth person to tell you, Ireland is all of that and more.
Ireland seems to be the new destination for us wanderlust-filled 20-somethings (or so my Facebook seems to tell me). If it’s not Iceland, it’s Ireland. Those who are lucky and really think they’re unique hit Iceland on the WAY to Ireland. I figured, ok, there has to be something fantastic waiting on the other side of that rainbow we call the Atlantic Ocean, I’ll give it a go. And a pot ‘o gold we found.
My trusty travel companion (my mom) and I suited up and jumped on an airplane. Only 5.5 hours after leaving America’s east coast we arrived–exhausted–in Dublin. I’ll have you know, not a single person greeted us with “top o the morning to ya” so, just put that to rest right now. We decided to rent a car the first day and drive to the ancient site of Newgrange and the infamous (thanks to Mel Gibson) Trim Castle. This is where the list of Favorite Things About Ireland starts.
Ok, I’ll be honest. I completely forgot about the whole “other side of the road” shenanigans. I rented the car in my name because I was super excited to drive a manual transmission again (and mostly because I’m a control freak). YAY STICK SHIFT WOOO!!! Then, while signing all the paperwork for the car, I see a little diagram of basically how to drive. Ireland gets a ton of American tourists (remember, Facebook) thus they constantly need to remind us that we will be driving on the opposite side of the road. How hard could that be, really? And then I looked at a second diagram–one of a roundabout. Shit.
A roundabout. Traffic circle. Whatever you want to call them. Americans already have no idea how to use them here in the states. Think of your worst roundabout experience and then add 4 lanes–going clockwise. And add, if you’re lucky, stop lights. And then remember you’re on the other side of the car. And the car is tiny. And the car also smells of burnt clutch because you haven’t driven a manual transmission in oh, let’s call it 7 years. Also your mother who is a terrible back seat driver, is in the front seat, screaming. All the while, the Irish people around you are probably calmly saying “tourists…..”. As if your life isn’t flashing before your eyes. It’s a Sunday morning, what are you all doing in these roundabouts??? Anyway, we finally got out of the densely populated area and onto the Irish countryside. Which leads me to my next favorite thing
4) Irish countryside
This is the part where I find out why the Irish love the color green. Their countryside literally consists of green pastures, sheep, fastest drivers on Earth, random castle remains, gorgeous houses, and celtic graveyards. Walking through their grass at the site of Newgrange made me salivate…I would seriously eat this grass. I envied the sheep for about 5 minutes but then remembered I’m not livestock and I can eat pizza if I want. Or better, Guinness and beef pie. But in all honesty, Ireland has the nicest grass I’ve ever seen. Hands down. As in Norway, Ireland seems to have missed the ugly house era that struck the US so hard in the 60s and 70s. These houses dotted along the narrow roads were well kept and adorable beyond belief. While trying to find a place to park to visit Trim Castle (Braveheart) we stumbled upon an amazing graveyard. I hastily pulled over and we wondered about. Everything in Ireland is in ruin, but nothing seems ruined. In the graveyard stood the remains of an old Cathedral to Saint Peter and Saint Paul. It was once the largest gothic cathedral in Ireland, built in 1206. To me, graveyards make some of the most beautiful and unique areas. How we bury our dead is completely different across the globe and deeply interesting. After spending hours at Trim, the sun started to peek out and we headed back to Dublin for the night.
You know, Dublin gets a bad rap. Everyone says “ugh Dublin is dirty” “Ew, Dublin is just another big city” “Bleh Dublin is gross” and to those people I say you’re wrong. Completely wrong. I found Dublin to be charming. Dublin is unique in its European-ness. In Dublin you’re not going to find high rise buildings and folks hustling and bustling about with their briefcases and their all-too-important cell phones to face screaming at their employees. That’s what comes to mind when I think of big cities (looking at you, New York). In Dublin you’ll find beautifully large churches, unique storefronts, the ever present “Look Left” stenciled before crosswalks, and of course, pubs. Cross one of the many bridges over the River Liffey and you’ll see maybe the most annoying of their attractions: the spire. Just short of 400 feet tall, it’s simply a giant flag pole that was erected in place of a statue to commemorate the Easter Uprising of 1916. The Irish hate it, but if that’s the most annoying thing you have to worry about while in Dublin, you’re doing alright. The people are friendly, the Guinness is flowing, and the Irish heritage is alive and well. Do visit the Dublin Castle. It is not much of a castle anymore, but it gives a great history and will give you a taste of what’s nearby. Bringing me to my second favorite thing about Ireland:
2) The Castles
Holy moly those things are everywhere. The Irish have a “great, another ruined castle” attitude towards them, but I was fascinated. Castles are so foreign to anything we see in the US that I could visit every single castle in Ireland and thirst for more. They’re in ruins, there’s basically nothing but a shell of what used to be. I love it. The castle we visited the first day, Trim Castle, is the biggest Norman castle in Ireland (Norman means it was built by a group of people from today’s Scandinavia who had settled in Normandy – they named the town after themselves, not the other way around). The current castle was built in the 1220s as a statement piece for the nervous Irish natives. We also explored the Rock of Cashel and castles Cahir, Blarney, & Bunratty. These castles are dotted along the Irish countryside and seem to pop up out of nowhere. As we drove from castle to castle we also passed ruins that were not on the map. These castles are simply a mascot to the rich and complicated history that is Ireland. Invasions, destruction, changes of power, rebellions–they’ve seen it all. And somehow, it is one of the most beautiful countries I’ve ever been to. Enough castle and heart emojis just won’t accurately describe my awestruck love for them. But castles wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the people.
Number One Reason to Visit Ireland: The People
I’ve heard it a million times, “omg the Irish are some of the nicest people on the planet”. People say it and you’re like yeah I bet! Cool! Awesome! I’m sure they are! But Canadians? They’re pretty nice too!
No. no. You have literally no idea. Canadians look like Massholes compared to the Irish (sorry Massachusetts, sorry Canada). The Irish will go out of their way to make sure you get where you need to be. They are hilarious, they are never annoyed by our ignorance, they are compassionate. This is just one example of countless instances of their kindness. We decided to walk from Temple Bar to Kilmainham Goal (jail museum, super awesome, highly recommend) which should be about a 45 minute walk. Ok, we’re young and apparently don’t feel like figuring out the bus system, let’s just walk. And it rains. I mean, it’s not down pouring or anything, but it’s raining and a bit windy at this point. Wind right in the face. For 45 minutes. We finally get to Kilmainham and the lady at the front tells us all the tickets have been sold out for tours for the day. All of a sudden her face looks like she’s just scolded a puppy and says “but you folks are absolutely soaked, you must’ve walked forever, please, please come in. You can look around the courtroom, there’s a cafe upstairs. please, warm up.” Thanks, lady! The next situation also had to do with a misadventure to Kilmainham Goal, the next day, after we bought tickets. We decide to ride the bus this time…easy. 45 minutes later we’re still on the bus (hmm it took 45 minutes to WALK….) and the bus driver comes out of his area and says “now where do you ladies think you’re goin??” Um….”Kil-main-ham” mom pronounces every syllable… “ohhh, you’ve missed it! It’s way back there, what’re ya doin??” blank stares from us, as we try to gather our stuff to get off and find our way back “sit down, ladies, of course I’ll take ya back!” Every single person. Every single time. I don’t know how else to describe it, as you folks are also probably like “oh yeah, they’re nice, ok cool”. I guess you will all have to go see for yourself. As you may know, Norwegian Air is starting flights to various places in Ireland later this year from the east coast for $70 one way…. You are out of excuses. GO! See the world, experience life, fall in love with Ireland. I dare you.