Éire. The Emerald Ilse. Ireland. There are many different names for the small green island that lies to the west of England. After spending a little under four months there, I still feel as if I could go back, having not seen nearly enough. It is indeed one of the greenest lands I have ever seen: the accents light and the people friendly. It rains for a good amount in the winter allowing it to acheive the most brilliant of greens. Coming from Colorado, I have never truly experienced a winter such as this. The sun was obscured by clouds most of the time for the last couple months I was there; the wind was bitter cold, and the rain seemed unending. But of course, that is why it has been nicknamed the Emerald Isle. The summers are pleasant, warm but not too hot, and sunny, with a light breeze to cool you off, making you believe there is such a thing as true perfection.
Here, like most of Europe, the history is long, rich, and complicated. This same history is what has broken up the island into Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. The line separates the predominately Catholic world and the primarily Protestant world, which have clashed for some time. The Irish diaspora, may not be something you are familiar with, but it very much shapes this wonderful country.
Many people have since moved from Ireland, creating this sense of belonging from those who have emigrated from here and yet, a sense of outsider status from those who have returned. It is set this way with the locals as well. From folk religion to the official religion, from traditional to modernization, the country is filled juxtaposition interweaving itself into the every aspect of Irish life.
When I first began to write this post, I thought it would be just one, but after spending hours on it and noting the sheer enormity of the trip, I have decided to make this one section into at least three seperate posts, possible four or five, depending on how much I write. This country has truly captured my heart, and I very much hope that my writing reflects this. As a person reminissing their lover, I will be this amazing country, so please hang in there!
I took plenty of separate trips throughout the duration of my time here in Ireland, but by combining the longest of them, which was a week, and the smaller one to three day trips I took on the side, I spent around a total of three to fours weeks road tripping through Ireland. I could have spent another month here and not seen it all, so hopefully my experience will help you decide on what to see when you visit this wonderful country. I will be discussing my trips as one massive road trip, rather than the bits and pieces it was, so as to limit the potential confusion.
I started off my trip in Dublin, Ireland. There is plenty to do here, from museums to pubs, so you will not be disappointed. I stayed in the Spire hostel for four days, when I was not living in my apartment. Temple Bar is one of the most visited places in Dublin for tourists. It is not one pub, but rather a collection of pubs. Here you can find overpriced food, drink, and trinkets. It is very pricey, and most of the locals do not spend much of their time here, but it is worth checking out at least for one day; many of the Dublin hostels are located in walking vicinity of Temple Bar. Some of the pubs will play traditional Irish music, and you will meet a lot of travelers here. If you are wanting to meet fellow travelers, then I would recomend Temple Bar, as most of them will be here. If you go to the same pubs for multiple nights, you will notice that the same music will be playing. If you didn’t hear at least one rendition of ‘Galway Girl’ and ‘Whiskey in the Rye’, you probably didn’t make it to Temple Bar, or you did, and simply drank too much with your new hostel friends before making it here. Temple Bar is usually very crowded, but there are petty-cabs running up and down the street, making it easier to get around, for a small fee, if you so choose. These are especially nice when it is raining, or if you’ve had a bit much to drink and made the poor choice of wearing skinny high-heels. The cobblestone streets of Temple Bar are made to make women in heels walk as awkwardly as possible. If you do make this unfortunate decison, remember, slow and steady wins the race. There are hundreds of tourists waiting to laugh at you, if and when, you fall over. This road is treacherous, and yes, I am speaking from experience. Please, don’t put yourself through this misery. It simply isn’t worth it.
After a night spent celebrating your arrival in Ireland, the next day can be spent exploring the city. There is much to see and there is something for everyone. The ocean is nearby for those who want to visit but my next stop was at Trinity College. The college has a world renowned reputation and I was interested to see what the school was like. Beautiful and open, it looks much like a European Ivy League-esque univeristy should. (I am just guessing here as my knowledge of the Ivy leagues comes from my time spent watching Gilmore Girls’ portrayal of Yale.) Trinity boasts an impressive library, the largest in Ireland. While part of the library itself is free, this part is not. I first entered through the hall where there is an exhibit set up, featuring pictures of the famous Book of Kells, which is currently housed at the Trinity College library, as well as discribing some of the histroy behind the book. The book itself is set up in a small room. Its colors are not quite what I had expected them to be, vibrant reds and brilliant blues; only a couple pages of the manuscript were on display through the thick glass case, set in the middle of the room. From there, I entered the impressive Long Room. Many people come to see the Book of Kells, sometimes described as one of the world’s oldest intact books, yet I was most impressed by this room. It holds over 200,000 of some of the oldest books I have seen and the room smells of history, parchment, and old leather. Some of the most influential authors’ work throughout written histroy resides in this room, from Plato to Caesar to J. R.R. Tolkien to even J.K Rowling. It is every book lovers’ dream. Alas, I wasn’t allowed to actually touch the books, as they lay beyond the green ropes and there are guards here discouraging your parcticipation.
The next place I went to visit was Dublin Castle. The city of Dublin is incredibly old, and the history behind this castle proves it. I had to register for a time, but thankfully, as I didn’t start my trip on a weekend, the next tour was available. My tour guide started off taking the group below ground where the excavation of the old castle from the 1200’s lies. You get to see the old walls, moats, and towers that once fortified the beginnings of the city. From there the tour guide took us up to the standing Dublin Castle and on a tour through the state apartments. I was not as interested in this part of the tour as my interests lie in the older histories, but the castle was very finely decorated. If you prefer modern history, this part of the tour would be more for you. At the end, we were allowed to glance around the state apartment by ourselves. The room are elegant and tastefully decorated. This also means you cannot touch a lot of furniture on display here. Yes, this especially includes sitting on the plush throne with the luxarious footstool. (Don’t try, the guards will not find you nearly as amusing as you find yourself.)
After Dublin Castle, I made my way towards the Christ Church Cathedral. It is a bit off the beaten path, and while many tourists still do frequent the church, it is not as crowded as others. While I had not intended on going to this cathedral, my roomate in Dublin had talked about this particular one, saying the crypts were exceptional. If you are a fan of the Showtime show, The Tudors, you will enjoy the crypts as they feature some of the clothing used in the show. Also, aparently a wedding or inaguration(?) scene was shot here. As I have never seen the show I cannot attest to the fact so those of you who have seen it will have to either let me know, or take my word for it. The best part of the exhibit though, was this particular skeleton, neatly laid out for your viewing pleasure.
Yes, that is right, in the crypt, while featuring many magnificant stautes, and stonework, it also displays this wonderful exhibit of a dead cat and rat. The story goes that the cat was chasing the rat when the rat went into the organ; the cat followed and the two got stuck and died in it. When the organ started making funny sounds this was discovered and put on display. I think it is a wonderful testament to the humor of the Irish.
Afterwards, it was too late to continue on to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, so I returned to my hostel. I ventured outside of Temple Bar this time. If you are a fan of travelling outside the realm of tourism, I would recomend travelling to the heart of the city, past the outskirts of Temple Bar. I got dinner at the Little Ass Burrito Bar. It is an incredibly small place, with only two stools for sitting on inside and a small table outside, but the burittos here are phenomenal. They added sweet potatoes to my bowl, and it was at the moment that I was converted from being a true Chipotle follower. From here Dublin really offers some fun nightlife. If you have the chance, I implore you to check out a Trad, traditional music, concert. I cannot remeber who I saw, and there were maybe thirty people in the larger music hall to see this band’s performance, but it was one of my favorite nights I had in Ireland. Just a quick search on the internet will let you know if there are any concerts in town while you are visiting Dublin. The comedy here is also class, (Irish slang that I am fairly certain I misused). I went and saw some of the funniest comedy I had ever seen. Again, a quick search online will let you know of what is going on, and some of the bars tucked away down the side streets feature some great nightlife. My favorite bar was the Bernard Shaw. Drinks are much, much cheaper once you get outside the Temple bar area. There it can cost you at least eight euro, if you are lucky. Outside, there are drink specials, and pints are much cheaper, usually rounding up at most, to six euro.
My next day was spent at St. Stephen’s Green and St. Patrick’s Cathedral, pictured above. I won’t even pretend that this picture does it justice, and very few of the photos I have seen really do. It is one of those places you just have to see for yourself. The building is impressive, with the massive arched walkways lining the room. St. Stephen’s Green reminded me a bit of Central Park in New York City, well the entire twenty minutes I spent in Central Park at least. St. Stephen’s Green is beautiful, and I would recomend a visit if you’ve have enough of visiting cathedrals, churches, musuems, and castles. Though really, on a trip to Europe, I would expect you to at least see one of each.
Later on in the day, I ended up walking on the North side of Dublin, just meandering to really see the city. The city is split inbetween the North side and the South side. Many of the locals from the south will warn you of going over to the north side, where they say the sketchier side of Dublin resides. I personally thought it was fine, and this is A Road Less Traveled after all. If you are looking for a truly local experience, you will find it here. There are plenty of shady pubs up here, but the people and friendly and excited to meet travelers, rather than the many of tourists. This is not to be confused with Travellers. I never truly got an answer from anyone as to who they were, but if you find out, I think it would be interesting to meet these people, though not everyone in Ireland shared the same sentiment. (Note: if anything bad happens to you on the north side, we take no responbility, so proceed with caution.)
All kidding aside, I did not find it that bad; I have seen much more so-called ‘sketchier’ places than the north side of Dublin. So it really is up to you on whether or not you want to venture here. While meandering through the north side, I stumbled upon the picture to your right. I cannot tell you how to get there as I have no idea where this was, so any of our readers out there, if you travel to Dublin and know where exactly this is, I would be very interested to know where I ended up. The north side also has some musuems and there is a prison museum that you may visit.
It took me about an hour to get back to the south side of Dublin, since my phone had died, I wasn’t able to access maps, but I just walked down the road and eventually got to where I needed to be. You’ll find it is a lot like this in Dublin. If you do get lost, simply look for the Spire, located right near Temple Bar, and the heart of the city. You can’t miss it, and if it is at night, it is the bright light in the sky. That helped me on a couple of occasions when I had no idea where I was and there wasn’t anyone around to tell me where I should go.
While I did not go to the Jameson Distillery or the Guiness Storehouse, I should mention that these are both very popular destinations. My roommate had gone to the distillery and said it was a lot of fun, and Danielle G. made it to the storehouse, where she said you are able to pour your own Guiness beer. Aspiring bar tenders rejoice! She said the tour itself was very interesting and it was fun to see the storehouse. It is a right of passage for any traveler visitng Ireland, even though I didn’t make it there (so do I really count?). Also, an important announcement to my American friends, the drinking age in Ireland, much like everywhere else in the world besides the United States, is 18, so if you cannot partake in such activites there, come to Ireland. I also noticed that they also did not seem to be that big into checking I.D.s here. I think I was asked for my I.D. maybe twice throughout my four month visitation; however, if you are under 18, please do not book a ticket to Ireland expecting this, because it may just be that I look old.
The next day, I went to Bray, about a thirty minute or so ride by bus from Dublin, twenty or less by car. It is a pretty coastal town with a nice boardwalk. I spent three or four hours here hiking this day, as I did multiple times when I lived in Dublin. It is a bit breezy here, so I would recommend a jacket even on a summer’s day, but the area around it is incredible. Bray can be walked to Greystones along the cliffs, and while I did not so it this time, I did complete the walk another time. If you have the time, I would recommend it. Ireland is known for its dramatic cliff settings, and while this wasn’t as high, it still is impressive and provides some nice scenery.
This time, I just headed up into the hillside, passing by other walkers. Small trails run off here and old, fallen apart stones buildings are scattered amoung the hillside. There are wild blackberries that are along the path sometimes which you can pick right off the bush and eat, just please make sure it is actually an edible berry. The blackberries are fresh and some of the best I have had. I eventually went off trail. I didn’t need to do this, but I wanted to get to a specific hilltop which did not have a path heading up it that I could see. I noticed it did if you took the long way though. If you do cut up the mountainside, beware the stinging nettle. While Ireland doesn’t have any posion ivy, oak, etc., it does have stinging nettle which even through jeans, it can be a quick, sharp sting, that takes a couple seconds to fade.
The views, as seen from above, were spectacular, as you overlook the ocean. The small island seen above is accessible by ferry for short amounts during the summer as well and is aparently a very pleasant day trip, though I arrived too late in the year for that. I continued my way up past the wildflowers to the top of the mountain. It provides great views again of the ocean, as seen on the lower left, and also of the town Bray, as seen on the lower right. It also has a bit of rocks you can scramble around on, some with painted messages, like the middle below, reading ‘freedom forever’, a reminder of the tumultuous past Ireland has endured.
All in all, it was an amazing time spent in Dublin that honestly went too fast. I missed my chance to go into the Wicklow Mountains, which is fairly close to Bray, and would highly recommend to anyone who likes a bit of a hike to look it up. Many of the locals enjoy a good walk around the hills here, so if you are a nature fan, go check it out! There is also a lot of river kayaking (called canoeing here), climbing, surfing, and caving and potholing here, so if you are the adventurous type, Ireland has much to offer.
The next day, the rental car was all packed and I was leaving County Dublin and County Wicklow and heading to County Kilkenny. Again, as I did a lot of the Dublin trips into seperate day trips, I am condensing everything and narrating it as one long road trip, so you would have an idea as to how long seeing all this would really take, and to make it easier for you, my readers, to read it. I was living in Dublin for four months, so I took seperate three and four day weekend trips as well as days trips here and there throughout the duration. For what I did above, it would take about three to five days, depending on how fast you went through the sites, how much you saw, and what you decided to do.
Stay tuned for the next segment of my journey, Rich in Emeralds: A Road Trip Through Ireland, and be sure to get on our email list, like our Facebook page, and/or follow us on Twitter and Instagram to always get our lastest entries. Leave a comment if you like letting me know what you think.