Ireland is one of the most special destinations I have traveled. The 10 days I spent there were beyond words. I was excited for a multitude of reasons most of which consisted of my great and undying love for Yeats, Joyce, Shaw, and Wilde. Ireland has had some incredible writers and a colorful history that I was beyond excited to explore. (I’d be lying if I also wasn’t hoping for a Leap Year/PS I love you situation to unfold as well) This trip was also special for another reason. As I would learn no country celebrates Christmas like Ireland. I have never in all my life experienced so much holiday cheer. Every single person I saw during day (and night) was sporting a Christmas Jumper (sweater to us Americans), carrying mistletoe, and singing classic Gaelic carols. They even have their own word in Gaelic that specifically applies to spreading holiday cheer. “craic” which means joy, fun, happiness in relation to the holiday season! I felt as if I had stepped right into Whoville. It was pure and unparalleled magic. I strongly suggest visiting Ireland over the Holidays.
My adventure began landing in Dublin and checking in at our Youth hostel situated perfectly in the Temple Bar region. What better way to celebrate arriving in Dublin then hitting the town? We did not have to go far. Dublin has per capita the most pubs of any other city in Europe. We chose to start our exploration of Dublin pubs with one of the most famous; Temple Bar. Arrival in Temple bar awarded you a piece of mistletoe and a Santa hat and we took our seats upon some barrels listened to the continuous stream of live music, sipped on a Guinness, and avoided men carrying mistletoe and mischievous grins.
The next morning was a Friday and we had plans to attend a free walking tour of Dublin beginning at 11. I have done free walking tours in many cities ranging from exceptional to did we just get led around Budapest by a guy who doesn’t even live here? Regardless, this walking tour was absolutely incredible AND free. I learned more about the history of Ireland and more specifically Dublin in 4 hours than I had in my entire life. I could now give a free walking tour of Dublin, that’s how exceptional it was. An anecdote from our tour: If you ever find yourself in Dublin and in Dublin Castle look up at the north wall. You will see a statue of Lady Equality for those of you familiar with Irish history you are familiar with the quite unequal lifestyle many people lived through. The Lady Equality’s scales are uneven, as a group of peasants one night snuck up to the top and drilled a hole in one side so when it rained the scales would be completely off balanced to represent the inequality they were facing. It ended in Trinity College where we got to view the Book of Kells. As we had learned about the Books incredible history in our Fine Arts class all semester I was exhilarated at the prospect of seeing the real thing as opposed to the slides and it did not disappoint! The calligraphy and artwork is awe-worthy and I had a marvelous conversation with a man that worked there who was quite impressed with my knowledge of the book! Thank you Dr. Loos!
As I stated previously Ireland takes Christmas very seriously and we soon realized we were woefully under dressed because of this we spent our afternoon shopping for the most perfect Christmas jumpers in the very colorful boutiques and second hand shops all over Dublin. We made friends with some local Irish Lads and spent the night exploring more Dublin pubs spreading Christmas cheer.
On Saturday we decided to spend our day thrifting. We went to an incredible Christmas Flea market wherein I found a wonderful refurbished old travel trunk which is now the most impractical purchase of my life as I ended up having to haul said trunk across Ireland. After many hours of thrifting we visited the old Jameson Distillery
Saturday night was the most fun night we had in Ireland for many reasons. First of, we started our evening at the Brazen Head Pub which is the oldest pub in Dublin dating back to 1168. It’s quiet, a bit out of the way but absolutely classic and a must visit to any Dublin travelers. In an effort to befriend the bartender I used this line, “So have you been working here since 1168?” Unfortunately he did not find it as amusing as I did.
We then went back to Temple Bar to dance to some classic Irish tunes. There had been a Rugby match earlier that day that caused every Pub to be bursting with more testosterone and face paint than usual which is the perfect equation for a good time. Another must visit Irish Pub is Hogans. They are always packed with young people and have a very fun dance floor! We made some great friends one of which I will visit on my next trip to Paris! It was a craic of a good time!
With Sunday came our departure from Dublin and a long but very cheap bus ride down to Southern Ireland to the town of Cork. Cork is a gorgeous seaside town with rambling streets. As we were tired from our ride down we took this time to go see the Hobbit, as the landscapes in the movie were very similar to that of Ireland we felt as if we were living it ourselves!
Monday we traveled to Blarney and the very notable Blarney Castle to kiss the stone. Blarney Castle itself is fairly unimpressive as it not so much a castle but more of one corner of a castle. Regardless the grounds and gardens are spectacular and most importantly one can kiss then receive the gift of Blarney here. Notable speakers such as Winston Churchill, JFK, and Bill Clinton are all said to be receivers of the magical powers this stone can bestow upon you. I found the experience lacking although a more amusing aspect of the kissing experience is that when you lean backwards to kiss the stone an elderly Irish man who’s job is to “hold” onto you takes the opportunity to instead grope you while laughing.
the view from the top of the tower is beautiful and some great Irish landscape can be seen from here.
If one visits Blarney and the Castle I would highly recommend exploring the grounds as well as kissing the stone. The river walk holds such treasures as the fairy land, the wishing steps, and the witches kitchen. It’s a delightful walk filled with greenery and fun.
After our morning in Blarney we took another cheap but long bus to Galway on the western coast of Ireland. We arrived late that night so we took to just a quick exploration of Galway and it’s Christmas charm.
Tuesday was the day we had been waiting for and an absolute must to anyone with a good amount of time in Ireland. We took the ferry out to the Aran Islands. The Aran Islands contain what is the most preserved aspects of Irish culture and history. Knitting was invented here and is the birthplace of the very famous Aran knitting technique for sweaters. The islands themselves are absolutely breathtaking. We rented bikes and explored the main island for the afternoon.
The Aran Islands are the Ireland you envision when daydreaming about this tranquil country. They contain Quaint cottages, questionably constructed stone walls, elderly cows, and delightful people offering tea as you bike on by.
The next day we spent exploring the town of Galway and going on another free walking tour. After the walking tour in Dublin all others pale in comparison so I was left woefully unimpressed. Galway is a young city with most of its population being made up with students from the University. We had decided that after 6 nights in questionably clean hostels we would splurge on a bed and breakfast before heading back to Dublin the next morning. However, the b&b we chose was far out of town and we being student travelers made the choice to save money while exercising and walk there! Seems like a flawless plan until 2 hours later when you are lost, its dark and have walked the extent of Chestnut Road 3 times and asked 4 different people for directions. We had basically accepted that we would sleep under a tree until we did finally find it and now the memory of that walk is just part of our grand adventure. However, we did get to see this sunset which was quite magical too.
The owner of the B&B was the epitome of delightful Irish woman and she made us countless kettles of tea and many cookies and we spent our evening reading in front of a fireplace. Pure bliss.
Thursday morning we got on a bus back to Dublin and arrived mid afternoon. We took the tour of the Guinness Factory and then sat in the Guinness gravity bar which happens to be the highest building in Dublin and looked out over this perfect big little city.
Friday was our last day in Ireland and we spent it visiting the Chester Beatty Library which houses some of the most rare texts in the world.
Then we walked ceremoniously through the city we now knew quite well.
A unique gem from Dublin is that of the writers wall which began as a graffiti project with famous quotes from various writers hailing from Dublin and has now grown into a sort of back alley monument to the incredible talent this city has produced.
This trip was a great blend of the countryside and the city and was the perfect amount of time to see the best parts of this fabulous country. I will leave you with this poem from Yeats regarding finding a heart in Ireland
“THAT crazed girl improvising her music.
Her poetry, dancing upon the shore,
Her soul in division from itself
Climbing, falling She knew not where,
Hiding amid the cargo of a steamship,
Her knee-cap broken, that girl I declare
A beautiful lofty thing, or a thing
Heroically lost, heroically found.
No matter what disaster occurred
She stood in desperate music wound,
Wound, wound, and she made in her triumph
Where the bales and the baskets lay
No common intelligible sound
But sang, ‘O sea-starved, hungry sea”