Last month, to mark my 26th birthday, I finally visited a country that has been on my bucket list since I was a child: Ireland. Despite it being so close, it has been over looked in my previous holiday ventures but I thought it was time to finally pay a visit. It was also the first time I have traveled alone and with Ireland only being an hour flight away, what better opportunity than to go now.
So the day after the anniversary of my birth, I arrived in Dublin. Big eyed and full of wonder, I checked into hostle room at The Four Courts Hostel and began scanning the map for things to do. My first venture was to be to Phoenix Park, the largest in-city park in Europe. First thing in the morning, I set out into the wilds of Ireland’s capital city. The park was only a 30 minute walk from my hostel and lead me past the famous Guinness factory. I didn’t go in; as a teetotaler, I couldn’t justify the cost of admission but from the outside, it was a very impressive looking factory.
I arrived at the park a short walk later and had totally underestimated how large it actually was. Four miles of wilderness, my mission was to find a herd of wild deer but with the weather being typical of January, I didn’t know how succesful I would be. The deeper into the park I ventured, the less it felt like I was in a capital city and more in the highlands of northern Scotland. I hiked up hills, passed a training rugby team and even the Irish houses of parliament. Then, in the distance, I saw some big, black, lumps. The closer I got, the more they began to look like deer. I got pretty close to a small group of about twenty Red Deer. They were so relaxed and breathtakingly beautiful. As I was watching them, taking as many photos as I could, I heard the sound of galloping coming from my left. It was getting louder. I turned to witness about thirty more deer running towards my group. I have never seen anything so majestic, so angelic. I stood and watched them for about half an hour before heading back into the city.
I have this tradition that whatever country I visit, I go to the Hard Rock Café. Spain was the only country I didn’t manage to go as we stayed in the resort most of the time. The Hard Rock in Dublin was only a five-minute walk from Four Courts.
I ended up hang around the Hard Rock for about four hours. I’d got talking to the bartenders, learnt that it was the last shift for one for of them. Then a friend of theirs, with his six-year-old son came in. I ended up having a three-way conversation between them all and was invited to sit next to the friend. I was very skeptical of his intentions at first. In Britain, you usually only invite someone to sit with you if you’re interested in more than just a drink. I am not the kind of person to meet guys at bars and go home with them. We talked, I found out that there was a coffee tasting championship that this guy took part in. He was very passionate about coffee. As soon as I noticed his wedding ring, I relaxed and took it as just a friendly Irishman (I had been warned about how friendly the irish are).
From Monday to Friday, I was a passenger on a Shamrocker Tour around the west coast of Ireland. Known as ”The Celtic Rocker“, the five-day tour only consisted of 8 passengers plus our driver/tour guide as it was winter. In all honesty, it was the perfect number and over the course of the next five days, we became a little temporary family. The 8 of us were made up of 1 Irish guy, 1 Chinese guy, Me and 5 Australian woman.
On the first day of the tour, our driver took us to the Hills of Tara. Covered in frost, the hills over looked the nearby villages in what was to be the frist of many breath-taking views Ireland has to offer. There were some ancient tombs resting at the very top that resembled more like Hobbit houses than a place to rest.
Further into the day and we arrived at Tullamore to visit the famous Tullamore Dew Whiskey Museum. As a non-drinker, I wasn’t sure how much of this I would really appreciate but I actually found it very interesting. The tour was very interactive, with every one of us discretely sticking our hand into a batch of grain at some point along the way. A whiskey tasting greeted us at the tours end. There were three batches to sample: Regular Tullamore Due, 45% Tullamore and a 12 year old Tullamore. I tried them all (and hated them all) but I think the 12 year old one was better. Less of a burn or perhaps I was getting tippy by the time I reached that one.
We arrived in Galway that evening. A beautiful university city with a rustic cobbled high street and a pub on every corner. The Australians and I found ourselves in The Kings Head. Nice pub and I bought a t-shirt. It was somewhat of a novelty to have a bar selling t-shirts.
The next day we ventured to Connemara, the Irish highlands. I have honestly never seen such a beautiful place. Snow covered mountains lined the horizon while gold and green grass scattered the fields around us. There was a lake every 5 miles or so and I took a photo of a gorgeous waterfall. We spend all day driving around this area, taking in every mountain, every river. At one point, we stopped at a nature reserve. The Chinese guy, the Irish Guy and the English girl decided the hike up one of the hills (that sounds like the beginning of a bad joke). It was only a half an hour walk to the peak, which was marked by a rather large stone.
On the decent, the heavens opened and we got soaked, so our driver decided to take us to a nearby pub known for having a fire place where we could dry off. We’re all gathered around, trying to keep warm when a frail, 80-ish year old man walks over to us. I offer up my seat and the Irish guy asks if the gentleman had any stories (perhaps this is a form of greeting in Ireland. It wouldn’t have been my first question). Then this elderly gentleman starts to take off his shoes and socks, claiming he fell into the river. We all look at each other, a little more than confused when he individually asks each of us to put his socks back on. The bartender sees what is going on and comes over, calls the elderly chap “Tom” and tells him to put his own socks on. Tom then responds by saying how sore his feet are to which the bartender advises a doctors visit. Then comes the best quote of our entire trip: Tom simply replies, in his thick Irish accent “Feck the doctors!”. It was hilarious and we regularly repeated it during the week.
We returned to Galway not long after.
Day three saw us saying goodbye to Galway and heading south towards the Cliffs of Moher, a destination I was very keen to see with its links to the Harry Potter franchise. The weather hadn’t been very kind to us our whole trip and sadly today wasn’t any better. Thick blankets of fog engulfed the cliffs when we arrived exposing very little of the natural beauty. It seemed like a good opportunity for some lunch while we waited for it to clear. We had a brilliant view from our table and I can only imagine how spectacular the cliffs look on a sunny day. Eventually the fog did clear so we could venture up to the cliff.
It. Was. Amazing.
The views are absolutely breath-taking. From the blue sea crashing into the rocks below to the sea birds nesting along the cliff face. It was an incredible sight. I would highly recommend a visit if you’re in Ireland. There are plenty of photo opportunities and a HUGE gift shop (I’m a sucker for gift shops).
That evening, we arrived in Ennis: an adorable little town with one of Ireland’s fastest running rivers. Our hostel was right on the edge of this river so we had a great view from our dorm room. We went to a local pub for evening drinks with the hope of listening to some good old Irish music. I also tried my first Guinness… Think I’ll remain a teetotaler. Something that I’d like to point out with Ireland; It is not ‘sober-friendly’. During the course of my trip, I was the biggest spender most nights. Why? Because a pint of Guinness or beer cost €3 but a pint of Coke (or any soft drink that’s not tap water) set me back €6. I drank in several pubs along the way and the only one that didn’t charge me €6 was Hard Rock Café. Most likely because they are a brand.
We only stayed in Ennis for one night so on Thursday morning, we began our drive to Dingle and the Dingle peninsular. I think this was my favourite day of the whole trip. Dingle is a small fishing town in the south-west of Ireland with hugh hills surrounding its bay. There is a stray dolphin that lives in that bay called Fungie and its a popular tourist attraction for visitors. The dolphin tour companies are so confident that you’ll see Fungie that they will give you your money back if you don’t! When the tide was out, the bay revealed a lovely little stoney beach which was swamped by various sea birds by the time I got there. I was shocked to see so many oyster shells scattered on the pavement, clearly the remains for a herons lunch.
There was also a cute little ice cream shop in Dingle called Murphy’s Ice Cream and no word of a lie, their brown bread ice cream is the best ice cream I’ve ever had. Seriously, if you visit Dingle, you MUST try it.
The rest of the peninsular tour was beautiful. The roads hugged the sea as we weaved around the tiny roads. Our tour guide told us the story of the fallen giant (Blasket Island) who ‘body’ rests along the horizon in the middle of the ocean. Once you see it, it kind of creepy how much the island resembles a sleeping man laying on his back, complete with a little beard. Nature has some pretty cool abilities.
A few hours later and we stumbled upon a hidden little beach surrounded by some incredible black slate-like rock. It was as if the whole place had been photoshopped into our tour. It certainly wasn’t what you’d have expected in Ireland. We also found a filming location for Star Wars.
That evening, we stayed in the town of Killarney, a bit of a party town. We experienced another Irish pub and again I was the biggest spender on my pint of diet coke.
Our final day, we visited Blarney Castle. The home of the infamous ‘Blarney Stone‘. Legend has it that if you kiss the stone (which rest at the very top of the castle), you will get the ‘gift of the gab’. In order to obtain said gift, you must kiss the stone upside down… There are two rails to hold on to while an assistant will help you get into position, bend you back and kiss the stone… or nose-butt it like I did ever so gracefully.
The castle grounds themselves were well looked after, with several little attractions to explore such as the Poisonous Garden (Most of the plants had died as it was winter so we just saw iron cages in soil) and a waterfall hidden amongst a small fern forest. We spent the most of Friday at Blarney before taking the long drive back to Dublin to bid our farewells.
One of the Australians and I were spending the night back at the Four Courts Hostel, however we were in a 16 person, female dorm opposed to my nice private room I had my first two nights. Considering I’d been room sharing all week, I couldn’t see the harm of spending one extra night with a bunch of strangers… How wrong was I. We walked up to the top floor, opened the door and were greeted with a very large room, 8 bunk beds and a lot of personal belongings. It became very clear, very quickly that people were living in this room on a much more permanent basis. People had brought their own duvet covers, teddy bears and even set up blankets as bunk curtains. In the corner of our room was a white door saying “Shower”. Like any normal person, I assumed it was the showers and bathroom. I opened to the door only to walk into another huge dorm room! I immediately back out, fearing I’d somehow read the sign wrong but nope, I had to walk through that extra dorm to get to the bathroom. It was an… experience.
All in all, I had the time of my life in Ireland. I met some amazing people, tried some not so amazing alcohol. Saw some of the most breath-taking sights of nature, untouched by humans destructive hands. But most importantly, I traveled on my own. I have my own stories to tell that no one can take away from me or taint the holiday with. I feel alive, I feel free and I feel like this is only the start of what I can really achieve.
I have not been paid to promote anything or anyone mentioned this blog. All opinions are my own. Seriously, go visit Ireland.
I booked my Shamrocker Tour via Busabout.com. Service was great and they offer a wide range of other trips and destinations, check them out.