Some Tips for the Blue & White Weekend in Ireland

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This is how you're welcomed to Ireland.
This is how you’re welcomed to Ireland.

I can’t believe that I completely forgot that a large number of Pennsylvanians will  be  invading (or in some caes already have invaded) Ireland this weekend. Some friends down the shore last weekend mentioned they were going and my cousins texted to rub it in my face late last night. They’re all going for the 2014 Croke Park Classic, the Nittany Lion’s season opener against The University of Central Florida, for whatever reason, will be held in Dublin this year.

A view of Croke Park from "the pitch."
A view of Croke Park from “the pitch.”

While I think it’s somewhat sad that Penn State football is the main catalyst for so many people getting to Ireland for the first time, I’m excited for them nonetheless. I went to Ireland two summers ago and have a whole list of things I need to do (or in some cases re-do) upon a return trip.

It seems that a lot of these folks are basically taking advantage of the long weekend and heading over to Dublin for three-six days. Since the game falls on a Saturday, and will likely be a day-long party, that gives most of them two or three days to really explore the Emerald Ireland. While Ireland’s a small place (especially when we compare it to PA), there’s so much history and so much culture that that’s really not that much time at all. This being PA Weekend fun, I figured I’d help my fellow Pennsylvanians out by highlighting some things I’d definitely hit in Dublin, as well as some quick daytrips to help them get the most out of their mini-Irish vacation.

We essentially were in Dublin for three days, two of those including travel, so while I feel like I could’ve explored it much more, we covered a lot of ground and I felt that I got a pretty solid idea of what it had to offer. My number one tip: buy a Dublin City Pass. Much like city passes you could get to a bevy of US cities (I love the Philly City Pass), the city pass gives you entrance to 33 popular Dublin tourist attractions and at 39.00 euro (just about fifty bucks USD), is a pretty good bargain (you could also get a two day pass). You could look around around their website to see which attractions you’d most be interested in but I think you’d be amiss to not visit the Guinness Storehouse and Jameson Distillery.

The Guinness Storehouse is iconic and while some might call it a tourist trap, I think the 360 degree views from its Gravity Bar are worth the price of admission alone. I liked the Jameson Distillery because I feel like anymore brewery tours are a dime a dozen (especially if you are from PA) so it was neat to hear about how whiskey is made. As a bonus they also show you a whiskey tasting and explain the difference between Irish and American booze (note of caution: if you participate in said tasting you will be doing several shots in quick succession). I think since your hear on a sporting-centered trip you should probably visit the GAA Museum (maybe my favorite Dublin attraction, but I’ll get back to this momentarily) or Aviva Stadium (the rugby and soccer stadium). My biggest Dublin regret was not visiting the Kilmainham Gaol, which I was told rivals the East State Pennitentiary in dark history and spookiness (I’m embarrassed to have used to word spookiness but at the moment I can’t think of anything better).

I’m assuming you’ll all be drinking a lot, not only because it’s a Penn State game, but more obviously because you’re in Ireland. Don’t embarrass the rest of us and be the person who drinks Coors Light all over Dublin (which is an easy option, when I was there it seemed like Coors was running some sort of blitz like marketing campaign). I feel so douchey admitting this, but Guinness really does taste different in Ireland, so even if you swear it’s too dark or too heavy (which is BS because it has the same alcohol content and less calories than your average American light beer) just suck it up. Bulmers is another popular option. Have you ever had Magners? Bulmers is Magners, it’s just marketed under a different name in at home. I think it’s also worth mentioning that Dublin being an international city and all, that the booze is not cheap and you aren’t going to really find any happy hour deals.

On my last day, I ordered a Guinness and a Magners (It's marketing as Magners in Northern Ireland too).
On my last day, I ordered a Guinness and a Magners (It’s marketing as Magners in Northern Ireland too).

You know where you may find deals? A pubcrawl. We participated in a hostel pub crawl our first night in Ireland which included a free pint of Guinness, all covers, and shot at each bar. While I presume a lot of you are going to Ireland with friends, this is also a cool way to meet a host of new (often international) people. I found this Dublin Pub Crawl which I don’t believe is the exact one that we took, but looks similar enough.

I unfortunately don’t remember a lot of the specific bars we stopped at during our stay in Dublin. Temple Bar is probably where a lot of you will be pointed (and probably where a lot of you are staying here). It’s not just a bar but a whole nightlife region, and even though we stayed in the Temple Bar area, we didn’t explore that area too much. A lot of other people told us it was overpriced and touristy but I honestly can’t throw in my two cents. I will tell you to visit the Brazen Head, Dublin’s oldest pub. If you think McGillin’s 1860 founding date is impressive, how about 1198 for the Brazen Head? I didn’t make it there but I’d also suggest Dawson’s Pub, Ireland’s smallest pub and the Auld Triangle, a bar I took a picture of,  but didn’t make it inside.  I’m a big fan of the bar’s namesake song, and it is conveniently located near Croke Park where the game takes place (and the Royal Canal!).

Ireland's Oldest Bar.
Ireland’s Oldest Bar.

The game is being held in Dublin’s Croke Park, a GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) stadium. While the current stadium is modern, the site has been used to host Gaelic athletics since 1884. Croke Park has the capacity for over 80,000 people making it the third largest athletic stadium in Europe (which probably won’t be impressing PSU fans whose Beaver stadium seats over 106,000 making it the fourth largest in the world). Croke Park is an attraction in itself and while game attendees will be spending a few hours there on Saturday, I would highly suggest they come back to tour the grounds and learn more about the GAA. And if you really want to immerse yourself in traditional Irish sports, check out Experience Gaelic Games, where your group can actually learn how to play one of these sports in depth.

When I went to Dublin one of my favorite attractions was the GAA Museum, house right in Croke Park. It gave you the history of Gaelic Football, Handball and Hurling and had a bunch of interactive exhibits where you could try your luck. It’s included on the Dublin City Pass. You can do a classic stadium tour, and find the times here (they have a special pre-game tour, but you’ll be in a pub then won’t you?), or do the Etihad Skyline Tour, which I did. This tour takes you into the infrastructure of Croke Park and lets you walk high above the city skyline. Word of warning: you do have to be clipped in and there are several very high drops, but the views of the city are literally unparalleled. It’s a unique way to explore Dublin.

Dublin from above.
Dublin from above.
The "Royal Canal" as seen from Croke Park.
The “Royal Canal” as seen from Croke Park.
This part of the skyline tour hung over the edge of the stadium. I declined to participate and rather sat in the back hyperventilating.
This part of the skyline tour hung over the edge of the stadium. I declined to participate and rather sat in the back hyperventilating.

As I mentioned before Ireland is tiny and if you have a few days free, I’d suggest trying to get out of Dublin for at least one of them. Who knows when you’ll be back in Ireland, right? My suggestion would be to take a day tour with Paddywagon Tours. I took a 5 day tour with them two years ago and only have good things to say about the company. You could read their daytour options here. I’d suggest the Cliffs of Moher, Galway or Connemara, but you really can’t go wrong.

The Cliffs of Moher; it doesn't look real, right?
The Cliffs of Moher; it doesn’t look real, right?

I would suggest, and I hate saying this, to stay away from the Blarney Stone, which I found to be highly overrated. Renting a car is another suggestion and I speak from personal experience (and as a guy who doesn’t have the greatest driving track record) that driving on the wrong side of the road is a lot easier than you’d think. That being said I’d stick to main highways and not venture too far off of them; a lot of roads are very narrow and a lot of the coastal roads literally hug cliffs. Or, take the train up to Belfast for the day. I ended up liking Northern Ireland a lot more than I thought I would (and rent a car there, the roads are kept impeccably). Just remember that they’re part of the UK, so you’ll need to do some money conversions.

Regardless I’m sure you’ll all have fun over there. Have a pint of Guinness for me and I’ll be seeing some of you when I make my way to State College for a football game (ok, for a football game tailgate) this fall.

PS. If someone asks you where the craic is, is means “fun”, and not, well, crack.

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