This is my last Ireland post. Then, we’re back to PA related travel.
SInce it was my first time in Ireland, we tried to see as much as possible, which resulted in a lot of seeing, and far less doing, which is not ideally how I usually plan trips. For my first time, I’m glad I was able to see as much as I did. Next time, and there will be a next time sooner than later, more focus will be on the doing. Here’s what’s on the agenda for round two:
1) Attend a Game at Croke Park:
We toured Croke Park and the GAA museum, which piqued my interest in Gaelic sports. Although I wouldn’t know half of what was going on, I’d really like to attend a hurling or Gaelic football match. If Croke Park wasn’t an option, I’d settle for a rugby match at Aviva Stadium, Dublin’s other arena.
2) Hike the Dingle Peninsula (and stay in Dingle):
I fell completely in love with the Dingle Peninsula and Slea Head drive. The Dingle Peninsula is in County Kerry, in the southwestern tip of the island. If you’re having trouble locating Dingle on a recent map (a big search engine like Google will be fine), it’s because the area is embracing a return to the Gaelic language, and it’s often found as An Daingean.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to stay in Dingle more than a few hours, which is unfortunate as I took an immediate shine to the town. Dingle, a small town of under 2,0000, is located in a protected harbor, and reminded me a lot of Cape Cod. The Dingle Peninsula was gorgeous and on a return trip I’d like to stay for an extended period, making a base in Dingle town.
Dingle has their own GAA team and its own brewpub. Dingle’s known for it’s Gaelic music and I remember walking by Au Chonair and being intrigued by the bands advertised. Danno’s Bar and Grill was another place I remember. It was located near the harbor, and since we were in Dingle so early, not open for business. Danno’s had an impressive outdoor beer garden. It’s also where the local Rugby team hangs out. Foxy John’s is another establishment I’d like to hit: part bar, part hardware store. My dad would be in love.
One excursion I’d like to take would be a ferry from the town of Dunquin at the end of the peninsula to Great Blasket Island, an uninhabited island off the coast. Do a google image search of the Dunquin Pier, from which the ferry leaves. You’ll thank me.
The one problem with the Dingle Way is that it bypasses the Conor Pass, my favorite part of Dingle. Located in Conor Pass is Pedlar’s Lake, a glacial pool situated high above the road. Next time I go, I will climb to Pedlar’s Lake and swim there, no matter the temperature. It’s my biggest regret of the Ireland trip.
Finally, to break up the hiking and drinking, some surfing lessons at Inch Beach would be in order.
The following link is chock full of Dingle information.
3) Go to the Galway Races:
Galway is famous for it’s festivals. We were there the last day of the arts festival, and sadly the only act we caught was a man who juggled fire batons while doing comedy and riding a unicycle. I wasn’t impressed. Generally, I don’t have time for circus folk.
This was a Friday. Monday started the Galway Races, a seven day event starting the last Monday of July. Think of it as an Irish Preakness, only much classier; you actually have to dress up. It’s the largest attended race in Ireland and an even more of a party atmosphere than normal one which envelopes the town.
I’d like to spend more time in Galway in general. I didn’t make it out of the pubs. The races seem like as good excuse as any.
4) Visit the Kilmainham Gaol:
The one attraction we missed in Dublin that I wanted to see badly was the Kilmainham Gaol. The Kilmainham Gaol is an old jail that now offers either guided audio visual tours ala the East State Penitentiary, or personally guided tours you can book in advance. The Kilmainham Gaol is infamous for housing prisoners who participated in the 1916 Easter Uprising and Irish War for Independence. The jail is supposedly grisly and eerie and almost everyone I talked to over in Ireland said it is without a doubt the one thing you should see if you’re in Dublin.
The Kilmainham Gaol is located in the suburb of Kilmainham, west of Dublin, which is why we were unable to make it there. The rest of the touristy sites, like Croke Park, The Guinness Storehouse, and the Jamison Distillery are all downtown, within walking distance of one another.
5) Experience Adventure Sports in Connemara:
The entire time I was in Connemara I kept thinking to myself: I want to be off this bus and outside exploring. The whole area has an eerie, but beautiful, otherworldly quality to it. Camping with a bonfire in the hills of Connemara is a definite on a return. What’s more, I discovered the Killary Adventure Center; a hostel and activity center near Killary Harbor that has reasonable prices and offers everything from rock climbing (some routes involve taking a boat to your route) to guided hikes, to an event called the turfman which resembles a mini Tough Mudder.
Killary is also home to a famous famine road that traces the Killary Fjord to where it meets the Atlantic.
6) Go Coasteering in Northern Ireland:
Coasteering is the new “trendy” sport in Northern Ireland. In simple terms, it’s traversing the rocky Ireland coastline by foot. Coasteering is a mix of climbing up and over rocks that hug the coast, usually above deep water. Coasteering is not a dry sport, the purpose is to get wet and usually a wetsuit is worn. Swimming, and jumping into the ocean and tidal pools is an integral part of the sport. Clearsky Adventure Center and Irish C are the two big Coasteering companies in Northern Ireland.
7) Be So Lonely in The Fields of Athenry:
“The Fields of Athenry” might be my all time favorite Irish song, and all I really wanted was to take a picture in one of the fields outside of Athenry, maybe looking a bit pensive, and post it to Facebook with the caption “it’s so lonely, round the fields of Athenry” (I’m aware how sad it is that I planned this).
We passed the town of Athenry (13 miles outside Galway) on the first day of our bus trip, and while the driver played the song, and I was able to snap a picture and upload it in order to antagonize my college friends who love the song, it wasn’t the same. Next time, I’ll be in the damn fields.
8)Visit the Northwest :
The one part of Ireland we almost completely missed was the northwest coast (we did take a forty minute drive into Donegal), which is fittingly known by locals as “the forgotten Ireland” when it comes to tourism. Aside from a twenty mile strip of land, it’s almost completely cut off from the Republic by Northern Ireland.
Donegal Town is supposedly what you picture when you think of an Irish seaside town (although I must admit, a lot of Ireland looked the way I pictured), and Sligo, a lesser known community is known for both its traditional and kite surfing. They even have a kite surfing festival.
Ireland is an island. I realize that. However, there are a number of smaller islands off its shores which claim to give visitors more of a “real” Irish feel, as the majority of the country speaks only English (the islands are mostly a Gaeltacht population) and is very much “westernized.”
The Achill Island is the largest of island of Ireland’s western coast in County Mayo. Achill Island has a population of 2700 and is actually connected to the mainland via a bridge, depleting, in my opinion, some of its “islandness.” What draws me to Achill is that it’s known for the entire deserted famine and home to the highest sea cliffs in Ireland.
Tory Island is 9 miles off the coast of Donegal. Valentia Island, part of the Skellig chain, is located off the Kerry coast, and easily accessabille from Dingle. The Aran islands, famous for their sweaters are off the Galway coast.
10) Take a Day Trip to Scotland:
To be honest, when we were planning our trip I toyed with the idea of taking a day trip to Scotland. Ferries leave Belfast and its suburb of Larne on a daily basis for the small Scottish town of Cairnryan. In the end, a day trip to Derry won, which I don’t regret. Derry was very thought provoking.
I didn’t really give Scotland another thought until we were on our Paddy Wagon Tour. One of our tourmates had just come from a ten day Scotland tour and kept raving out his Haggis Tour. He might as well been a spokesman for the company, because by the time we were done, I had an itching to go to Scotland. I did some research and from what I gather, it’s a pretty prominent Scottish tour company, known for it’s yellow busses, the way Paddy Wagon was known for their green ones. My problem with Haggis Tours is that you have to pay for your lodging as you go. I liked that with Paddy Wagon, everything was accounted for beforehand. If I were to do a Haggis Tour, I’d pick “The Great Glen”, an adventure tour where you mountain bike, hike, and kayak your way across Scotland, and stay in tents.
Stena Line, the ferry company that connects Northern Ireland with Scotland offers some cool day trips as well. It’s a four hours round trip.
11) Play a Round of Golf:
I feel as a middle class white guy, it’s something of my civic duty to be at least passable at golf. I’m not. While I can putt just fine (I’m a champion mini golfer) and find nothing more calming than a morning at the driving range, my technique is poor, and my patience is even poorer.
Ireland made me want to be good. We passed a number of courses, the ones I noticed on the coast, with jaw dropping cliffs and ocean as a backdrop.
12) Experience Small Town Pub Life:
Our tour of Ireland had us staying and sleeping in Ireland’s most prominent cities: Dublin, Galway, Cork, Killarney, Belfast, and Derry. On my next trip I’d like to stay, and if not stay, at least make a pit stop in a small town to experience the pubs there.
I’m a huge fan of dive bars, and although that term is non-existent in the Irish vocabulary, I feel being Metropolitan rendered a real life Irish dive trip moot. Small town bars I always think, give you much more of a local flavor than those situated in more urban areas.
13) Get a Picture with a Sheep:
This one’s pretty self explanatory. There are sheep everywhere in Ireland, and I just wanted a photo with one. From the road it appears that they blend effortlessly into the landscape, while in reality, barbed wire and electric fences are hidden along the roadside. We stopped plenty of times to take a sheep picture only to be thwarted by said hidden fences. Next time, I’ll come prepared with a better game plan.