I’m Tripping!

That’s it, I’m off … so it’ll be hit or miss here for the next three weeks or so. Here’s what’s on the agenda:

Dublin City
We’ll be here the first five nights, sans car. Getting together for brunches and lunches and dinners with friends and family. In between, I have a few things I’d like to do and see (too much to mention here, but you’ll get a full report later), a few books I’d like to buy (and some more of my Moulton Brown hair product, oh yeah). I like Dublin, and I plan to enjoy this.

Portmarnock/Malahide, Co. Dublin
We’ll be three nights here, and we’ll have a car. We plan to finalize things with the hotel for our party later this year, including sampling and finalizing the menu. I want to check out their afternoon tea service (see how it stacks up to afternoon tea at the Shelbourne) and their spa services. I want to drive around the area and see if there’s anything to add to the sample itineraries I’ve created for our guests who will come from America for the party; for many of them, it will be a first trip to Ireland. Also I want to walk on the beach.

A Wedding!
The real reason I’m here is the first of the nieces is getting married (here).

Save the Date

We’ll move into the wedding hotel in Dublin for one night, then to an airport hotel for the next night, and I’ll fly away home. Possibly the last time I will fly home from Dublin alone. Fingers crossed. 🙂

Your Trip Is, Well, Your Trip

My vendors at the farmers market know me and know I’m about to travel. One of them pointed out the vendor next to him: “She’s going to Ireland too!” Her eyes lit up and we talked some. It was a nice chat.

I always ask, first, “Which airport are you flying into?” Shannon. Ah.

She’s on a golfing vacation, eight courses over a couple weeks. She mentioned Lahinch (one of my favorite places), so I suspect they’ll be golfing at the Lahinch Golf Club. She mentioned Killarney too. I suspect all the courses and thus their sightseeing will be in the west, which is as it should be.

I tried to talk her out of Blarney Castle and Bunratty Castle because they are so, so touristy. “But what other castles are there?” she said. So I gave her the address to this blog. 🙂

When she started talking about the Giant’s Causeway, I blinked. “That’s a long way,” I said. “Not that far,” she said. “And I have four extra days before my golfing friends arrive.”

I gave her the everything-will-take-longer-than-you-think speech, but I’m not sure she believed me. You look at a map and think, Oh, it’s only 300 miles … but I’m tellin’ ya, if you’re an American, they are not the kind of miles you are used to.

Well, it’s five hours in a car from Shannon to the Giant’s Causeway. And you know my position on this: do you want to spend your precious vacation time driving or doing? There’s so much spectacular scenery and things to see and do just in a one-hour radius from Shannon, I can’t imagine going all that way just to see one thing, then coming back.

But that’s just me. In retrospect, I feel bad about the conversation. I should have just said, “Have fun!” The touristy places are just fine for some folks. Not everyone wants my kind of vacation, and that’s as it should be too.

I should have said, “What do you want to do that your traveling companions aren’t interested in? Go do that with your four days!” But, you know, maybe the Giant’s Causeway is that one special thing that the traveling companions aren’t interested in.

I should have said, “Yes, you’re right to wander. Do it, friend.” Who am I to make a pronouncement on her vacation?

It was crowded at the farmers market, and her regulars were coming and buying while we were talking. I am getting ready to depart in just a few days, fewer than a week, so I’m stressing about a variety of things. (Work; it’s always work.) So I should have said much better things than what I did say, but at least I have had some time to reflect and repent. 🙂 Again:

1  Different vacation strokes for different folks.
2  I’m only an expert on my kind of vacation, not hers.
3  It’s your vacation! I hope you have a great time!

Lesson learned!

Rethinking the Departure Madness

I have a lot of things to do before I leave on this trip. Sure, it’s still two weeks out, but I know, I know how quickly it goes by. It’s this whole self-employment thing: I’d like to have a vacation with no work (hasn’t happened yet), so I try to finish as many projects as possible, as early as possible.

I was so frantic before my Phoenix trip last December that I was packing at 10pm (a first for me) when I had to get up at 4am, and still went off leaving the crucial piece of two separate outfits hanging next to the suitcase. I was a wreck.

Something has to give, right?

And when a friend I need to catch up with before I leave asked if I’d be too busy the day before departure, I remembered this article of travel tips from Rick Steves. (I’ve featured it before.) Steves is all about planning and practicality, and generally I am too. But I remember being absolutely convicted by this one:

Leave well-rested to start your trip healthy.
Jet lag is stressful, and if you’re just on the edge of a cold, the flight will likely kick it into high gear. Many travelers are in a chaotic frenzy the night before they fly. Avoid this by putting a fake departure date on your calendar long in advance. Everything related to your trip must be taken care of 48 hours before you fly—even if it means staying up all night. Then you’ll leave healthy and rested.

That chaotic frenzy thing got me.

So I said to my friend, “No, I won’t be too busy at all. I’d like to ease into this trip. Let’s do it.”

In point of fact, I depart on a Wednesday—and I have a massage scheduled on the Monday of that week, and now lunch with my friend on the Tuesday. I’m going to work very, very hard through Sunday night, including packing. And then I’m going to make a point of calling loved ones, catching up on email, and not worrying (too much) about work.

This is my Departure Madness Manifesto. 🙂

Travel Essentials

I get a big kick out of Catherine Howard, the delightful Irish gal who writes (and presents workshops) about the publishing industry at her blog Catherine, Caffeinated.

“For the next two weeks I’ll be out of the country on Proper Holidays,” she announced recently.

Proper Holidays, if you’re not familiar with this term I just made up, is when you take a holiday (vacation, American friends) and while you’re there, you actually take a holiday. You don’t read your blog comments. You let the e-mails build up. You avoid any work-related social media. And as a consequence of this, you actually manage to relax.

I knew immediately what she was talking about, because I haven’t taken a Proper Holiday in years, although I do dream about it on occasion. And I’m not talking about checking email; I’m talking about taking actual work—editing—that needs to be done.

But I want to draw your attention to this post, because it’s fun and has some very useful travel advice. That is, the five things Catherine is sure to pack when she gets ready to travel:

1. A Kindle (and some books)
2. One-cup coffee filter
3. The bag within a bag
4. Zip-lock bags
5. Bubble wrap
6. Laptop

More than one friend of mine has watched me tell a waiter I’ll do without rather than make a cup of tea with their cheap, off-brand (or worse: herbal) teabags, so the only thing I would add to this list is a few teabags. Don’t, as they say, leave home without them.

There’s some good information here! (And, if you really want a definitive packing list, check out this one from the folks at Evernote.)

P1030880

Happy Christmas 2014

Thursday, 25 December 2014, Christmas Day / Day 8
Jesse and Kaci and I had celebrated our Christmas a few days earlier, so this was a low-impact Christmas Day for Jesse and me. To avoid cooking, we went out for Chinese food for lunch (so-so), then to the theater downtown …

I was drawn by the pattern in these palm trees, seen from the parking garage.

I was drawn by the pattern and color in these palm trees, seen from the parking garage.

… to see The Theory of Everything, which was moving and sweet. And spectacularly acted. (And I even wrote that before Eddie Redmayne won the Oscar for it.)

After the movie, we drove around—and then walked around—the historic neighborhood where Jesse and Kaci live.

IMG_6245I love looking at houses, don’t you? I particularly love colorful front doors and the tableau a homeowner can create with door, porch, and landscaping. Here are a couple.

There is nothing I don't love about this—the shady front porch, that aqua front door, the way the palo verde tree both frames the entrance and mimics the curving lines of the side wall, the way the apple green pots echo the bark on the green tree, the way the marigolds pop. Gosh, this is just gorgeous.

There is nothing I don’t love about this—the shady front porch, that aqua front door, the way the palo verde tree both frames the entrance and mimics the curving lines of the side wall, the way the apple green pots echo the bark on the green tree, the way the marigolds pop. Gosh, this is just gorgeous.

There were several homes that had given their yards over to desertscape. This one was particularly spectacular … although I also think it sort of screams “STAY OUT!” or “KEEP AWAY!”

There were several homes that had given their yards over to desertscape. This one was particularly spectacular … although I also think it sort of screams “STAY OUT!” or “KEEP AWAY!”

Same house. Perhaps this yard is really saying “Leave your toddlers at home, friends!” or “Don’t approach if you’re tipsy!” Use caution.

Same house. Perhaps this yard is really saying “Leave your toddlers at home, friends!” or “Don’t approach if you’re tipsy!” Use caution walkin’ down that sidewalk, y’all.

Jesse was dogsitting for a friend, and we gave Jack a walk. What a lovely street!

Jesse was dogsitting for a friend, and we gave Jack a walk. What a lovely street!

Stay tuned—there’s more to come!

I’m Going on a Trip and I’m Taking …

My friend, author Laura L. Smith, likes to travel as much as I do, and when I saw this piece she wrote on packing for an international trip, I knew I wanted to share it with you. Laura has a whole alphabet of things you shouldn’t forget to pack. I particularly loved these:

N You’ll see smell and experience so many amazing things on your travels. You’ll want a place to jot them down. It also comes in handy to play tic tac toe if your flight/train/bus is delayed.

Open mind. Things will be different. You might have your meal served to you on a leaf instead of a plate. You may order chips and get fries. There may not be air-conditioning. You might not be able to drink the water. But life is an adventure. Be open to the people, culture and experience God has in store for you.

Yes. Yes, you would like to try the fried plantains. Yes, you would like to try jumping in the lake. Yes, you would like to hear the local’s explanation of the plants growing at the side of the road or why there’s a parade on a random Tuesday. You will learn so much if you’re willing to try. Never agree to something that makes you feel uncomfortable like going off with strangers, taking a ride somewhere you hadn’t prearranged or drinking the water in Central America, but be ready to say yes to something new.

Laura’s attitude and mine are the same—I tell people all the time they must be prepared to be out of their comfort zone when they travel to another country. It always astonishes me when people whine about some little thing that is “different.” I say so what? I’ll be home soon enough. 🙂

(If you’d like a for-real packing checklist, here’s Mike Hyatt’s, another friend of mine. I’m especially impressed that he includes a corkscrew for opening wine.)

So You Want to Go to Ireland! (Part 9): Last Thoughts

This series began with an introduction, and here are parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8. We started with anticipation and forward planning, discussed how and what to put on the itinerary, and finished up with thoughts on making your trip everything you want it to be—making it magic.

But part of finding the magic is planning just enough so there are no unpleasant surprises and no disappointments in your logistics. So let’s run down a list of miscellany …

• Eat your breakfast. Always. And bring some snacks along, just in case.

• Definitely make reservations. Remember that rates quoted for lodging are often pps (per person sharing), so double it!

• Generally, B&Bs are less expensive than hotels … which is the opposite of how things are in the States.

• Remember to ask for a VAT (tax) form or VAT card and then clear it when you leave the country. You might be surprised at what you save.

• Do bring an adapter. The right one is easier to find in your country of origin.

• Yes, you will need the extra insurance on a rental car.

• Bring your own GPS but don’t forget to buy and download the proper maps.

• Wi-fi will be dodgy sometimes. But, hey, it’s good to be unplugged on occasion.

• Use Skype to call home.

• Your local AAA office sells “tip packs” of coins and small bills in euros. It’s always nice to have a little local currency in your pocket.

• If you go into Northern Ireland, you’re in the UK—and you’ll need different money.

• I’ve gotten better deals on rental cars from on-site (that is, in Ireland) companies (which include Avis, Hertz, and so on) than by making arrangements before I left the States. (Here are some other tips.)

Driving on the other side isn’t all that hard.

• There are two major airports in Ireland—Dublin in the east and Shannon in the west—and you should choose which to arrive at based on your itinerary. This seems self-evident but you’d be surprised how many folks I’ve known who flew into Dublin and immediately headed west.

You’ll have seen some recommendations for sights to see in this series as well as in the trips I’ve already posted, but by all means, do your own research. You can find material online and in books, too, like traditional travel guides, but don’t neglect nontraditional travel books like Ireland, journalist Max Caulfield’s coffee table–quality book of six tours, illustrated with gorgeous photographs.

I’ve written some about being realistic about time and travel conditions—about not trying to squeeze too much into too short a time—but I want to stress that again. You won’t enjoy a trip that begins to feel like a forced march: up at dawn, into the car, drive, drive, drive. This is stated very well in “Five Trips for Planning Your First Trip to Ireland,” from from travel writer/tour operator Mindie Burgoyne, who says:

1. Lose the idea of “must-see” sites.

2. Think about your best choice for transportation.

3. Think about what appeals to you before you plan the trip.

4. Don’t be afraid to consult a travel blogger.

5. Book your first night before you leave and try not to move around too much.

There’s a lot more information in this article than just these points, but you’ll note right away that Burgoyne and I are mostly on the same page when it comes to planning a trip to Ireland.

You’ll note none of this includes signing up for a tour (which is where Burgoyne and I part ways). I’ve never been in a tour group in my life and I’m not starting now. It might be the right choice for you, though, and I’ll happily concede that some folks like having the logistics handled for them … and that’s OK.

One reason I avoid tours is the likelihood that you’ll be shown TOURisty sites. While I agree that some things absolutely shouldn’t be missed—the Rock of Cashel, say—Bunratty Castle and kissing the Blarney Stone are never gonna be on my list of things to do. 🙂 Instead, have a look at this list and see if there’s something that appeals.

And that’s it from me. I hope your trip to Ireland is spectacular!

Have you got your passport?

CASHonthehill

The Rock of Cashel, Co. Tipperary

So You Want to Go to Ireland! (Part 7): Eating, Drinking … and Music

This series started with an introduction, and here are parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.

Now, let’s talk about those to-do categories we skipped earlier, shall we? I haven’t forgotten them.

10 Have a drink in a traditional Irish pub
11 Hear traditional Irish music
18 Shop for uniquely Irish items
19 Enjoy the food

I’m going to put off the post on shopping, since this one has already gotten longish. So let’s discuss food, drink, and music! Here’s a little bit of background that will help when you’re planning your trip.

Traditional Music
What you may be calling Celtic is called traditional in Ireland. “Trad.” More than likely, you’re going to find traditional sessions in a pub—look for signs in pub windows. Don’t look for a stage so you can sit close—the musicians will most likely sit at a table somewhere in the room. If you’re an old fogey like me, do be prepared to stay up late: the musicians won’t show up until after 9:00 or even 10:00 pm.

If you love this music—and who doesn’t!—look for music stores in larger towns, where you can pick up CDs by local musicians to take home.

Public Houses
Ireland is the only place I know that exports its pub culture. You can go just about anywhere in the world—even my little town here in Tennessee—and find an Irish pub. (Authenticity is another story. About a dozen years ago I visited one such establishment in Nashville—now defunct—and was dismayed to find the wait staff dressed in caps and vests and short pants, looking like they’d just stepped out of the 1840s. Oh dear.)

You can search the Web or travel guides for well-known pubs in Ireland, but as far as I’m concerned, you can stop into any pub on your route, enjoy the ambience of the moment, and it will be an authentic experience. In his wonderful book, McCarthy’s Bar: A Journey of Discovery in the West of Ireland, Pete McCarthy has a series of travel rules, the first of which is Never pass a bar with your name on it … and this works for me. 🙂 Tourists have subtly influenced authenticity, though, so the further out you get, the real-er they’ll feel. (No pressure to look like an Irish pub for the tourists, you see.)

Unlike England, where you find pubs with names like Red Lion, Goose and Cloud, or Saracens Head, many Irish pubs are named after the owner or a previous owner. (There are exceptions, of course: the Bleeding Horse and the Confession Box, both long-lived pubs in Dublin, are just two.) A lot of social life happens in pubs—celebrations of all sorts, meet-ups, and general relaxation. We have nothing in the United States that approximates Irish pub culture.

With that in mind, here are a few things you should know:

• Belly up to the bar, there may not be a waiter.
• No need to tip the bartender.
• Don’t run a tab. Drinks are bought (and paid for) in rounds; that is, you buy a round for the entire table. And then someone else does.
• It’s pronounced JEM-i-sun (short e), not JAY-mi-sun.
• Remove your hat, young sir.
• Don’t ask for an Irish Car Bomb or a Black and Tan. Please.

Pubs in the larger cities and towns probably offer food—pub grub—throughout the day. More than likely it will be casual comfort food—soups, stews, hot sandwiches and fries—but some city pubs chase the business lunch crowd with expanded menus; in smaller towns you might be lucky to get a cold sandwich. Still, if you’re on a budget, a pub’s a good place to eat.

The local—a good place to meet new friends!

The local—a good place to meet new friends!

Eating
Let’s talk about what to eat. Don’t worry about “traditional” food and forget any jokes you may have heard about the quality of Irish cuisine. Some of the best meals I’ve had in my life I had in Ireland.

These, then, are the things that will always be good:

• fish and seafood
• lamb
• potatoes
• pork: chops, sausages, bacon
• brown bread
• dairy: cheese, butter, buttermilk
• fresh fruits and vegetables
• soups and stews: Guinness stew
• breakfast: white and black pudding

Some things are just obvious: you are never far from the sea in Ireland, so fish and seafood are fresh, fresh, fresh. By now you’ve seen the sheep everywhere, so it makes sense that the lamb will be good. Pork too—the locavore movement is in full swing here as in the States; the demand for organic and local foodstuffs supports farmers across the nation. Gerry gets delicious sausage from his local butcher, made to the butcher’s family recipe and available nowhere else.

Speaking of pork, be sure to enjoy the “full Irish” breakfast, wherever you find one; pay particular attention to the black and white pudding, which are really coarse sausages stuffed with oats or barley and pork (pig’s blood, in the case of black pudding). Seriously delicious. And the best B&Bs will be patronizing a local butcher for bacon, sausages, and puddings. Yum. Oh, and about breakfast: you’re not going to find a Denny’s or an IHOP in every town, so if you’re not staying in a B&B or otherwise find yourself in need of breakfast some morning and don’t know where to go, step into the local hotel, where the dining room will bring you a pot of tea and a menu right away. 🙂

Potatoes are served with just about everything in Ireland—fried, boiled, mashed, you name it. They are more flavorful than the potatoes you’re used to, so be sure to sample them. A decade ago we stopped at a pub for lunch and I ordered Guinness stew (a favorite of mine, and always a safe bet if you’re looking for comfort food); when the bowl of stew (beef, onions, and carrots swimming in gravy) arrived it was accompanied by a serving bowl of boiled, peeled potatoes. It was explained to me I should add one potato at a time to my stew bowl. Oh my. I felt like I was tasting potatoes for the first time, tasting ur-potatoes. I’ll never forget that meal. (Oh, and don’t you forget that french fries are called chips, and potato chips are called crisps!)

As noted, you can’t go wrong with a Guinness stew. And soup … OMG. Cooks across Ireland are stirring up the most imaginative pots of soup you’ve ever put in your mouth. I still fantasize about that bowl of parsnip and blue cheese I had in Glandore. Great pub food. You’ll also find delicious fried food in pubs—fish-n-chips, for example, and lovely fried chicken.

Parsnip and blue cheese soup with brown bread. OMG.

Parsnip and blue cheese soup with brown bread. OMG.

You can always count on these types of meals to be served with hearty brown bread and butter. By all means, set your diet aside (you’re going to walk it off anyway) and sample the bread, kids. Heaven!

Or put a slab of cheese on that bread. If your’re a cheese-lover like me, you’re going to love your stay in Ireland; artisan cheeses abound. Be sure to order that cheese tray from the dessert menu, or duck into a farm shop or grocer to pick up cheese to snack on later. (If you’re in Dublin, go to Sheridan’s Cheesemongers and they’ll take fine care of you. Try the English Market in Cork.) I could go on and on about this—one of the magic moments you’ll read about in the next post has to do with cheese—but just trust me: try the cheese.

One last thing: give tea a try, even if you’re a coffee drinker. The Irish drink a lot of tea, and they know how to do it right. And for a special treat, you should consider taking in a “high tea” (or call it “afternoon tea”) at an upscale hotel. (This will include sandwiches and baked goods in addition to your teapot full of joy.) We enjoyed this experience at the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin (read about it here) and have already decided to do it again. It was special—and delicious—and it’s a quintessential Irish experience, so you should consider putting it on your itinerary.

Up next: Let’s go shopping!

So You Want to Go to Ireland! (Part 6): “Official” Tourism

This series started with an introduction, and here are parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.

The official Irish tourism machine is your friend. About 7.6 million international tourists arrive in Ireland each year, and the powers-that-be are prepared to make sure those travelers have such a good time they’ll want to come back. 🙂 Be sure to avail yourself of everything they have to offer.

It’ll be easy, because there are 115 Discover Ireland Tourist Information offices scattered throughout the country. I love the one on Suffolk Street in Dublin—it has a lot of information, a large gift shop, and is in a beautiful historic church building. But look what else it offers:

• box office for theater tickets
• booking services for tours (including bus, rail, water, walking, and literary and musical pub crawls)
• tourist literaure and guides; tourist information of all sorts
• accommodation and reservation service
• ticket desk for music and sporting events
• itinerary planning
Dublin Pass
• multilingual staff

Be sure to make use of the Discover Ireland website too.

Fáilte Ireland, the National Tourism Development Authority of Ireland, is responsible for the tourist information offices and the website, but it’s meaningful for you in other ways, most notably because it sets standards for business in hotels, B&Bs, tour operators, attractions, even food and drink. Watch for the green shamrock logo—you’ll see it all over the country. (Oh, and pronounce this FALL-cha.)

Fáilte Ireland works hand in glove with OPW Heritage Services, and you’ll see that OPW logo a lot, too, because the Office of Public Works looks after national monuments and national historic properties, among other things. Their main web presence is Heritage Ireland.

I tell you all this so you will recognize the official websites when you see them. You can trust the information to be accurate and up to date. You might find sites or blogs with more information when you are deciding whether or not to visit a location, but as I say, the information here is up to the minute.

The Heritage Service operates most (though not all) of the major tourist attractions in the country, and almost all of them require admissions fees. They’re not expensive (the ones I’ve visited ranged from €2.50 to €7.50 per person, with the majority falling in between), but if you visit several, the fees can add up. So here’s where official tourism becomes your friend—you can purchase a Heritage Card.

Currently, cost of the cards are €21.00 for adults, €16.00 for seniors (age 60 and over), and €8.00 for students ages 6 to 18 with valid ID. And it gets better. A family pass is €55.00 for two adults and “a reasonable number of children under 18 years.” The Heritage Card guarantees free admission at all OPW Heritage Sites located throughout the country for one year from the date of first use. In Dublin alone you could recoup the cost of your investment.

You can buy the card at any OPW Heritage Site; the OPW maintains a desk at the larger Tourist Information Centres too.

There’s one more official tourism entity: Tourism Ireland. In the Republic, it works with Fáilte Ireland to market Ireland as a tourism destination to overseas consumers. It also has a wonderful website: Tourism Ireland.

If you must, you can also consult online travel guides (some still print travel books)—sites like Frommer’s, Lonely Planet, Fodor’s, Rough Guides, and others. But so has everybody else; take your chances. (And I’ll be frank: I’m not a fan of review sites like TripAdvisor.)

So let’s recap. I cannot possibly tell you everything you want to know about Ireland, so here are three official websites that will be of interest to you:

Discover Ireland
Heritage Ireland
Tourism Ireland

Here are some local/regional websites:

Dublin
Cork
Galway
Limerick
Waterford
Kilkenny
Drogheda
Ennis

And one last thought: don’t forget about unofficial Irish tourism. That is—ask a local! We’ll talk more about the magic that can result when you have a chat with a cab driver, a docent at the museum, a shopkeeper, a fellow traveler … We’ll talk more about this in the last post of this series.

Connemara, 2003.

Connemara, 2003.

So You Want to Go to Ireland! (Part 5): Some Sightseeing Ideas

This series started with an introduction, and here are parts 1, 2, 3, and 4

In the previous post we discussed the notion of planning a personal vacation that incorporates things you and your traveling companions most enjoy. This is a different concept from, say, a guided tour that presents participants with a list of destinations, fait accompli.

If you want a city vacation, you can have a city vacation. If you want an outdoorsy vacation, you can have that. More than likely, you’ll end up doing a sampling of several things. So let’s expand on that list we’ve discussed in the previous post.

In every case, in every category, there are literally hundreds of other choices you could make; I can’t list everything (and we’ll discuss travel guides a little later). Nor can I describe what makes each listed venue special; this is already a very long post. But in each case, there’s a link that should help you get started. And don’t stop there—research a little more yourself! With a little bit of work, you can put together a list of things that interest you, and you’ll be on your way to planning your vacation.

And I’ve found planning is half the fun!

1 See prehistoric sites
It’s the antiquities that really trip my trigger. 🙂 The prehistoric period of Ireland consists of the Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze Age, and Iron Age societies. Mesolithic hunter-gatherers settled on the island after 8000 BC, but it’s the Neolithic (4000–2500 BC), Bronze (2500–500 BC), and Iron ages (500 BC–400 AD) that are very well-represented, with stone circles, dolmens, burial mounds, passage tombs, cairns, promontory forts, hill forts, and ringforts. There are dozens of examples of these all over Ireland, some in better condition than others; the ones I’ve listed here are just a scratch on the surface.

Beltany stone circle / Co. Donegal
Brownshill dolmen / Co. Carlow
Brú na Bóinne (Newgrange) / Co. Meath
Cahercommaun ringfort / Co. Clare
Caherconnell stone fort / Co. Clare
Drombeg stone circle / Co. Cork
Dun Aengus / Co. Galway
Dunbeg promontory fort / Co. Kerry
Hill of Tara / Co. Meath
Poulnabroune dolmen / Co. Clare
Toormore altar tomb / Co. Cork
Turoe stone / Co. Galway

Toormore Altar Tomb, on the R-592, Co. Cork west.

Toormore Altar Tomb, on the R-592, Co. Cork west.

2 See old ruins
The recorded history of many European countries starts with the invasion of the Romans, but, hey-ho, the Romans didn’t make it to Ireland, so we have Gaelic Ireland emerging in the first millennium … but the best historical record begins with the emergence of Christianity from roughly the fifth century, at the close of the Iron Age. These include castles, monasteries, churches, high crosses, and so on. Again, I’ve been to these but there are many more spectacular sites, so check around in the area you’ll be visiting.

Aughnanure castle / Co. Galway
Boyle Abbey / Co. Roscommon
Burrishoole Friary / Co. Mayo
Clonfert Cathedral / Co. Galway
Clonmacnoise monastery / Co. Offaly
Cong Abbey / Co. Mayo
Glendalough monastic settlment / Co. Wicklow
Jerpoint Abbey / Co. Kilkenny
Kilfenora Cathedral / Co. Clare
Mellifont Abbey / Co. Louth
Monasterboice Christian settlement / Co. Louth
Rock of Cashel / Co. Tipperary

Jerpoint Abbey, Co. Kilkenny

Jerpoint Abbey, Co. Kilkenny

3 Visit or stay in a small town or village
When you get out of the hustle and bustle of Dublin, you find a different Ireland. For our purposes let’s say any town—and I don’t pretend to know how they differentiate between village, town, or city over there—with a population of less than two thousand. I know, I know—by U.S. standards that sounds very small, doesn’t it! Ireland has a thriving small town life, though, and you’ll find lovely B&Bs, pubs, groceries, and everything you need—in particular, peace and quiet—in a village. Some of my very favorites include:

Dingle town (Co. Kerry) / 1,929
Dooagh (Co. Mayo) / guessing 500
Ennistymon (Co. Clare) / 881
Glandore (Co. Cork) / guessing 50
Kenmare (Co. Kerry) / 2,175
Kinsale (Co. Cork) / 2,695
Lahinch (Co. Clare) / 642

These are places I’ve visited or stayed in, but there are hundreds of tiny towns that you could be delighted by. County Clare, I’ve found, is very warm and welcoming. And if you want something just a little bigger, try Kilkenny (Co. Kilkenny) / 24,423. I love it.

Kinsale, Co. Cork

Kinsale, Co. Cork

4 Visit a city
It’s just fabulous to spend some time in a city, soaking up the cultural life (museums, galleries, theaters, nightlife, parks and gardens, pubs and restaurants, shopping, and more, more, more). It’s all right there at your fingertips—and sometimes within walking distance. I’ve spent a lot of time drilling down in Dublin (and still have much to go); it’s the capital city, and not just politically. But don’t overlook Cork, Galway, or Limerick, either. Belfast is an option, too, just a hundred miles north of Dublin. For a great overview, use the hop on–hop off bus tour. And be sure to check a travel guide.

The River Lee, In Cork city.

The River Lee, in Cork city.

5 Visit historic house museums
This is just what it sounds like: a house—often furnished as it was when new, sometimes the home of someone historically significant—transformed into a museum. In Ireland, these houses often belonged to Anglo-Irish or British owners … but not always (see Castletown and Derrynane, for example). This is not an exhaustive list; you can find other suggestions here or check a travel guide.

Bantry House (1700) / Co. Cork
Castletown House (1722) / Co. Kildare
Derrynane House (1702, home of Daniel O’Connell) / Co. Kerry
House 29 (1794) / Co. Dublin
Kilkenny Castle (1195) / Co. Kilkenny
Kylemore Castle/Abbey (1867) / Co. Galway
Malahide Castle (1185) / Co. Dublin
Muckross House (1843) / Co. Kerry
Powerscourt Estate (13th century) / Co. Wicklow
Russborough House (1741) / Co. Wicklow

Castletown House, Co. Kildare

Castletown House, Co. Kildare

6 See beautiful countryside
You don’t even need to leave Dublin to see lovely scenery—just drive north on the Clontarf Road (which becomes the Howth Road) and you’ll be treated to spectacular views of Dublin Bay and the Irish Sea. Of course, I’m really talking about getting a little further afield than that, but once you start going from A to B (to see C), you’ll be treated to beaches, mountains, rolling hills, pastureland, woods and forests … anything you can imagine. All of the drives listed here happened as a result of my wanting to see a particular sight (that is, going from A to B to see C) but … what serendipity!

Slea Head Drive (Dingle Peninsula) / Co. Kerry
Ring of Kerry (Iveragh Peninsula) / Co. Kerry
Galway to Westport (Connemara National Park) / Co. Galway
Sky Road (in Clifden) / Co. Galway
Inishowen Peninsula / Co. Donegal
Around the Burren to the Cliffs of Moher / Co. Clare
Dublin to Portlaoise (through Wicklow Mountains) / Co. Wicklow
Bantry to Killarney (through Killarney National Park) / Co. Kerry
Around Lough Derg / Co. Clare, Galway, Tipperary

Wanna know my favorite drive? The R597 between Rosscarbery and Glandore. You won’t find it on anyone’s top ten scenic drives in Ireland, but I’ve done this drive twice now (once originating in Kinsale, once originating in Cork City; both times headed to Kenmare) and it’s really special. Next time I drive it, I’m spending a few days there!

Dingle Peninsula, Co. Kerry (Margaret's photo)

Dingle Peninsula, Co. Kerry (Margaret’s photo)

7 Fill your eyes with unique and spectacular natural vistas
There are two very unusual geological sites in Ireland: the Burren (Co. Clare), a large karst landscape region, and the Giant’s Causeway (in Northern Ireland), an area of interlocking basalt columns. The latter is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But there are other special natural wonders, so I’ve added them to the list too.

Blasket Islands / Co. Kerry
The Burren / Co. Clare
Cliffs of Moher / Co. Clare
Giant’s Causeway / Co. Antrim, UK
Malin Head / Co. Donegal
River Shannon / 224 miles long
Slieve League / Co. Donegal

If you want to visit the Blaskets you’ll have to get on a boat, but you should also consider boat rides to view the Cliffs of Moher and Slieve League (for something different). For those you’ll be on the ocean, of course; for a less turbulent ride, you might look into a cruise along the Shannon, including dolphin-spotting cruises.

Cliffs of Moher, Co. Clare

Cliffs of Moher, Co. Clare

8 Walk on the beach
On a smallish island, beaches are easy to come by. One of my favorites—in west Co. Cork—was discovered by taking a wrong turn (and to be frank, I’m not sure I could find it again; I have no idea what it’s called). I’ve walked the strand at Inch (Dingle Peninsula), Laytown (Co. Meath), the Velvet Strand in Portmarnock (Co. Dublin), Lahinch (Co. Clare), Salthill (Co. Galway), and Achill Island (Co. Mayo). But those aren’t necessarily the most famous beaches. I’ve heard there are beautiful beaches in Co. Donegal; near Dublin City, try Dollymount and Sandymount. For surfing—or watching others surf—go west, young man.

The strand at Inch, Co. Kerry

The strand at Inch, Co. Kerry

9 Visit museums, art galleries, and arts and crafts venues
You’ll find museums and galleries large and small wherever you go, seriously. And if you see anything called a “folk park,” take a chance. Ten years ago we stopped in a very small town to see a presentation Gerry’d been involved with; it was at their locally curated museum, which they’d called a folk park. It was charming, in an off-beat way (and that includes the cow’s head that had been stuffed and mounted).

Blasket Centre / Co. Kerry
Chester Beatty Library / Co. Dublin
Dublin Writers Museum / Co. Dublin
Galway City Museum / Co. Galway
Guinness Storehouse / Co. Dublin
James Joyce Centre / Co. Dublin
National Gallery of Ireland / Co. Dublin
National Museum of Ireland: Archeology / Co. Dublin
National Museum of Ireland: Decorative Arts / Co. Dublin
National Museum of Ireland: Natural History / Co. Dublin
National Museum of Ireland: Country Life / Co. Mayo
Waterford Crystal Visitor Centre / Co. Waterford
Waterford Museum of Treasures / Co. Waterford

Don’t miss craft shops that offer to let you observe, say, how the glass is blown or the wool is woven, either. I’ll cover these more specifically in an upcoming post.

Entrance to the National Museum of Ireland on Kildare Street, Dublin

Entrance to the National Museum of Ireland on Kildare Street, Dublin

10 Have a drink in a traditional Irish pub
We’ll cover eating and drinking in a subsequent post but you can find a traditional Irish pub anywhere.

11 Hear traditional Irish music
We’ll cover this later too. Bottom line: it will be pretty easy if you’re willing to stay up late.

12 See sites of historic interest
Obviously everything I’ve pointed out thus far is of historic interest, right? Sure, but here are some things that we haven’t covered yet.

General Post Office / Co. Dublin
Custom House / Co. Dublin
Trinity College, Dublin / Co. Dublin
Book of Kells / Co. Dublin
Glasnevin Cemetery and Museum / Co. Dublin
Kilmainham Gaol / Co. Dublin
Casino at Marino / Co. Dublin
St. Patrick’s and Christ Church cathedrals / Co. Dublin

You might consider touring for lighthouses or market houses; you might also consider specifically visiting the Gaeltacht, which is the Irish-speaking regions of Ireland. In research for this post, I also came across the Irish Astronomy Trail, which I think would be absolutely fascinating. I’ve put it on my list for a future visit.

The Casino at Marino, Co. Dublin (Margaret's photo.)

The Casino at Marino, Co. Dublin (Margaret’s photo.)

13 Visit public or private parks and gardens
All of Ireland is a garden, as far as I’m concerned, and there’s a lot to choose from! I’m most familiar with Dublin, so you’ll see several Dublin locations here. Whether you want to stroll or hike, sit and read a book, or take it all in, you’ll find something here … or even just along the way.

Dillon Garden / Co. Dublin
Ilnacullin / Co. Cork
Iveagh Gardens / Co. Dublin
Kylemore Abbey / Co. Galway
Merrion Square Park / Co. Dublin
National Botanic Gardens / Co. Dublin
Phoenix Park / Co. Dublin
Powerscourt Gardens / Co. Wicklow
St. Anne’s Park / Co. Dublin
St. Patrick’s Park / Co. Dublin
St. Stephen’s Green / Co. Dublin

There are six national parks in the Republic; if you travel around you’re more than likely to drive through one. And they make great intentional destinations, of course. Here’s a list of gardens in the Republic. You may be interested in doing some hiking, in which case this might be a good place to research.

St Stephen's Green, Dublin

St Stephen’s Green, Dublin

14 Visit sacred sites
This is a broad category—stone circles were probably sites of sacred ceremonies, for example. But I’m talking about Christianity here: pilgrimages, retreats, holy wells, shrines, beehive huts, monastic settlements, and other holy sites. I sometimes find the simple little roadside shines the most moving of all.

Croagh Patrick / Co. Mayo
Doon well / Co. Donegal
Gallarus Oratory / Co. Kerry
Glencolmcille pilgrimage / Co. Donegal
Glendalough, Clonmacnoise, Rock of Cashel (referenced in #2 above)
Inis Cealtra (Holy Island) / Co. Clare
Knock Shrine / Co. Mayo
Riasc monastic settlement / Co. Kerry
Sanctuary of St. Patrick / Co. Donegal
Skellig Michael / Co. Kerry

Don’t forget there are many sacred items in the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin too.

Gallarus Oratory, Co. Kerry

Gallarus Oratory, Co. Kerry

15 Visit islands or lakes
Again—so much to choose from! Here’s a list of islands; here’s a list of lakes; and don’t forget there are islands in lakes! 🙂

Achill Island / Co. Mayo
Aran Islands / Co. Galway
Blasket Islands / Co. Kerry
Glendalough, valley of the two lakes / Co. Wicklow
Ireland’s Eye / Co. Dublin
King’s Island, Englishtown / Co. Limerick
Lakes of Killarney / Co. Kerry
Lough Derg / Co. Clare
Skellig Michael / Co. Kerry
Valentia Island / Co. Kerry

Remember, you could as easily choose mountains or lighthouses. 🙂

A view from Achill Island, Co. Mayo

A view from Achill Island, Co. Mayo

16 Observe wildlife
Ireland is right on the migration routes of many passerines and sea birds, so it’s a very popular place for bird watchers. To get started, check BirdWatch Ireland. To get started with wildlife watching, check the Conserve Ireland site. If you search online, you can find all sorts of guided hikes for bird and wildlife observation.

Cape Clear Island bird observatory / Co. Cork
Dingle Wildlife and Seal Sactuary / Co. Kerry
Eagles Flying, Irish Raptor Research Centre / Co. Sligo
North Bull Island UNESCO Biosphere / Co. Dublin
Wexford Wildfowl Reserve, North Slob / Co. Wexford

In St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin

In St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin

17 Stay in or visit a castle
Americans are particularly charmed by castles—and lucky for us, there’s quite a few of them in Ireland. Some have been turned into high-end luxury hotels (here are some examples), others can be toured (Kilkenny Castle), while others are simply old piles (Ballycarbery Castle). They cover a broad range of eras and styles, too, ranging from an Anglo-Norman stone castle to a medieval-era tower house to something you might simply term a very large house. Here are just a few:

Ashford Castle / Co. Galway
Aughnanure Castle / Co. Galway
Dromoland Castle / Co. Clare
Dublin Castle / Co. Dublin
Kilkenny Castle / Co. Kilkenny
Leamaneh Castle / Co. Clare
Listowel Castle / Co. Kerry
Malahide Castle / Co. Dublin
Oranmore Castle / Co. Galway
Parke’s Castle / Co. Leitrim
Slane Castle / Co. Meath
Trim Castle / Co. Meath

Just say no to Bunratty and Blarney castles. You do not need to kiss the Blarney Stone, really.

Kilkenny Castle, Co. Kilkenny (Jill's photo)

Kilkenny Castle, Co. Kilkenny (Jill’s photo)

18 Shop for uniquely Irish items
We’ll cover this in an upcoming post.

19 Enjoy the food
And we’ll discuss this, too, soon.

20 Enjoy golf and other sports
Ireland boasts world-class golf courses, soccer (in Ireland: football) players, and horse racing, but don’t overlook horse riding, regattas, surfing, sport fishing, rugby, or the Gaelic Athletic Association games Gaelic football and hurling. These last two are played at parish and county level on a strictly amateur basis—and let me tell you, the country goes wild in the lead-up to the All-Ireland finals in late September, so grab some tickets if you can.

Six Nations Championship (rugby) / February
All Ireland Club Championship (soccer, hurling) / March 17
Irish Grand National (steeplechase) / March, April
Great Ireland Run (10K race) / April
Irish Derby (horse racing) / June
Dublin Women’s Mini Marathon (10K race) / June
Irish Open (golf) / June, July
Galway Races (horse racing festival) / July
Cork Week (yachting) / July
Croke Park Classic (U.S. college football) / August
Dublin Horse Show (showing, jumping) / August
Laytown Races (horse racing) / September
Dublin City Marathon (running) / October
Railway Cup Final (GAA football, hurling) / October
Leopardstown Christmas Festival (horse racing) / December 26

This is by no means a comprehensive list.

At the Laytown Races, 2012

At the Laytown Races, 2012

21 Enjoy an annual cultural event
There are lots of good reasons to plan your trip around a particular event. Don’t forget the sports events mentioned above, of course, but there are many interesting things going on—art fairs, film festivals, music festivals, writers’ conferences … A cultural event is a great way to feel like you’re part of the scene. This is not a comprehensive list; we could go on and on.

St. Patrick’s Day Dublin / March 17
Dublin Writers Festival / May
Fleadh Nua (traditional festival) / May
Bloom in the Park (gardening) / May, June
Bloomsday Dublin / June 16
Taste of Dublin / June
Seosamh MacGabhann Summer School / June, July
Galway Arts Festival / July
Yeats International Summer School / July, August
Killorglin Puck Fair / August
Fleadh Cheoil ns hEireann (music) / August
Masters of Tradition / August
Rose of Tralee Festival / August
Kilkenny Arts Festival / August
Dublin Fringe Festival / September
Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival / September
Galway International Oyster & Seafood Festival / September
National Ploughing Championship / September
Cork Folk Festival / October
Open House Dublin / October
Cork Jazz Festival / October
Kinsale Gourmet Festival / October
Cork Film Festival / November
National Crafts & Design Fair / December

Taken in Dublin, 2013

Taken in Dublin, 2013

22 Experience the local markets that happen weekly or monthly
I don’t have a lot of experience with this, since—as you know—I don’t live in Ireland. Your best bet is to ask the locals wherever you are. For example, we were in a small town in Clare for a wedding, and learned they had a farmer’s market in the village every Saturday. It was small and perfect. So these are a few ideas I’ve stumbled on. In some cases I had the desire to check it out but the itinerary took me in another direction.

Red Stables Food Market, Clontarf / Saturday
Temple Bar Book Market, Dublin / Saturday & Sunday
Jamestown Market, Dublin / Saturday & Sunday
Merchants Market, Dublin / Saturday & Sunday
Fairyhouse Market, Ratoath / Sunday
Dublin Flea Market, Dublin / last Sunday of month

The Irish Food Board Offers this list of farmers markets and this list of country markets. This is a small list of farm shops, and I can vouch for the Knockdrinna Farm Shop in Co. Kilkenny; I’m lusting to go back. Here’s an interesting site with lots of listings, including vintage and antiques. Finally, the English Market in Cork City is open every day, as is the open-air market in Dublin’s Moore Street (closed Sunday), but put them on your list too.

23 Work on your genealogy
This one is out of my bailiwick, so I’ll leave you with this information from Gov Dot IE—the website of the government of Ireland.

24 Wander, dawdle, relax
I think you can figure this one out on your own. But do stick around for part 8 of this series, which has a few tips for a stress-free, magical vacation.

I know this post has gotten very long—but I felt it was important to include all the information together. Be sure to use the summary list in the previous post to narrow your interests. And stick around! There are three more posts yet to come in this series.

Shall we go? On the N-71 in the Caha Mountains, Co. Cork

Shall we go?
On the N-71 in the Caha Mountains, Co. Cork