Country Counter: 21
Cities Visited: Dublin, Glendalough, Kilkenny
Timeframe: April 2017
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to visit Ireland. Having read and heard so much about it, I kept waiting for the perfect time to book my trip. As far as timing goes, it’s never perfect, is it? On some days, prices would be too high, visa issues, sometimes I’d be more focused on securing a job, and once I had a job, taking a few days off had to be accommodated to work schedules. So this April, after finally realising that my visa is going to expire soon and I’ve accumulated enough leaves from work, I decided I had to check this off of my list.
The tales are true. Ireland, especially Dublin, has that rare combination of relaxed and energetic vibes most small and big towns haven’t achieved yet. I also found that the Irish sense of humour is different from English one. It has the same undertones, but you feel that no one is really looking down on you.
My planning started in February, with Ryanair to the rescue again. I also discovered that everything is relatively inexpensive if you book it online. For example, the Guinness Storehouse experience will cost you €14 if you book online instead of the usual €20 at the venue. Direct buses to and from the airport are €10 for a return journey, valid for three months. The Cliffs of Moher tour conducted by Paddywagon Tours is €40 online (instead of €45 at their office) etc.
I chose to stay at the Paddy’s Palace. Not only is the location great in spite of not being at the very centre of the city, but everything is also easily accessible by foot. I enjoyed walking along the river Liffey from one end of the city to the other, covering all the main attractions, and not taking more than an hour to do so. The hostel was clean, well-maintained and included free (simple) breakfast. The only thing I felt was a bit annoying was the Wi-Fi coverage, which was only present in the main lobby and not in the rooms. That meant that after a long day of walking and sightseeing, we’d have to physically come down and sit in the lobby to get anything done on our phones/laptops.
There is much to see and do around Dublin. I spent time in the Kilmainham Gaol (€4 guided tours), Irish Museum of Modern Art (free entry), and the Guinness Storehouse (of course). The experience made me fall in love with my favourite drink even more. Next, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Christ Church Cathedral, the adjacent Dublinia and Dublin Castle. The Spire of Dublin is a must visit. I had to skip some spots like Malahide Castle, St. Stephen’s Green, Phoenix Park and the Wellington monument due to lack of time (see you next time, Old Jameson’s Distillery). The Temple Bar area (and the bar itself) has a lively atmosphere, although the place is over-priced in my opinion. For better deals on drinks, head over to the area around Trinity College, and maybe even drop in to see the library (think Harry Potter movies).
One of my main reasons to visit Ireland was to check out the majestic Cliffs of Moher. The picturesque coast looming high above the ground is just a magical place. The Atlantic Ocean presents itself like a vast, never-ending body of water. The weather there can be quite fickle and changes in an instant. I continuously kept checking the weather on my phone before finally deciding to book the tour for a Friday and hoping we’d have some sunshine. Trust me, you do not want to drive across the country and experience fog and rain there.
I booked the one-day Paddywagon tour to the Cliffs of Moher. The pickup point was Paddy’s Palace which meant I could sleep a bit longer in the morning. The tour was worth every dime. We had a really engaging driver/guide, who knew his country’s history well and kept us entertained throughout. We had mini-stops at the Dunguaire Castle, which is rumoured to have the power to bring back your virginity (why would I want that when it took me so long to lose it), followed by a drive along the Wild Atlantic Way and the Burren (a landscape filled with limestone rocks for as far as the eye can see). We stopped at Doolin for lunch, which is the nearest town to the Cliffs.
Post lunch, we headed out to the cliffs and we couldn’t believe our luck. We had the BEST weather possible! It was like the clouds had cleared out on our arrival, as our guide pointed out. Bright and sunny weather meant amazing pictures and a lovely hike along the steeps edges. The Cliffs were jaw-dropping and one of the best places I’ve ever visited. We had one and half hours at our disposal, which it seems was the case for every tour operator present there, in order to avoid over-crowding. We stopped by the Bunratty Castle for half an hour before heading back to Dublin. The only suggestion I have for Paddywagon Tours is to perhaps try and shave off 5 to 10 minutes from other stops, especially Bunratty Castle, and allocate more time at the Cliffs, to the extent possible. Having a one and a half hour stop at the main attraction on a 12-hour trip seems hardly fair.
On our way back, we passed by (but did not stop) a village where ex-President Barack Obama has some roots. The entire area is filled with signs, probably to get tourist buses to stop. The song The Fields of Athenry, that was playing on our way back, and almost everywhere in Dublin, is a must-hear for everyone. Sad and melodious at the same time, it recounts the dark past of Ireland and transports the listener to another world.
Booking a room at Paddy’s Palace turned out to be a bigger delight than I had imagined. Apart from the amenities and highlights I mentioned above, customers also get a free tour to Glendalough and Wicklow when they book a stay for more than 2 nights. We set out on a Saturday, with non-stop rain and I was thanking my stars I was able to see the Cliffs properly. The stop at Glendalough was for an hour and a half, giving us plenty of time to enjoy the scenery and go for a hike. Next, we passed by the Wicklow Gap, Turlogh reservoir and the bridge which was the setting for the movie P. S. I Love you. Around lunch time, we arrived at Kilkenny, the medieval capital of Ireland and known for Kilkenny the beer. The small town is filled with remnants like cobblestone roads and the Norman Castle dating back to the 1100s.
I saw a lot of connections between Ireland and the United States. Airports have pre-clearance options, immigration options are more relaxed and almost everything in the States can trace its roots back here, including Obama as I mentioned above. For example, we passed through Hollywood, which sure enough, was the inspiration for the industry that we all know now. An Irishman who left the country during harsh times on a coffin ship survived his trip and made his way to the West Coast, where he renamed the place Hollywood, in memory of the village he left behind. The hills even have their own Hollywood sign perched at the top.
It is a shame that I have to get a visa every six months to return to Ireland (and Scotland). The trip left such an impact on me that I’d definitely visit again, and maybe even visit the same places again, now that I know who, what and where. Talking to the people, listening about their hardships and oppression in the past and how they’ve rebuilt themselves made me feel proud walking among them.
‘May you be in heaven half an hour before the Devil knows you’re dead.’ – Irish blessing
Once again, thank you for stopping by, and Sláinte!