“Eight days is not much time, I must say,” said a friend who has spent many summers in Ireland. She sounded as though there was no point in going unless I planned to stay a good long while. I brushed off the comment. Eight days was what we had and we were going to use them well.
But after eight days, I see what she means. Once you are in Ireland, you just kind of want to stay there.
It is not to say that we didn’t use our eight days well, but travelers sell Ireland short by trying to “conquer,” i.e. cover as much territory as possible. It is a “smell the roses” kind of place, through and through. As I look back at the highlights of those eight days, the touristy things like the Jameson Distillery or the Beehive huts aren’t what I remember first. It is the conversations we had with the people we met. It is taking in the colors of the town of Kinsale. It is the taste of Guinness and stew. It is the smell of conifers and sea water along the Ring of Kerry. It is the sound of the rain on the windows as heard from the toasty fireside. I feel so grateful that we had these moments. I want more.
And this leads me to my five bits of advice for you…
1) Take your time. It is clear that going back to Ireland is not an IF but a WHEN. Because this will likely be the case for you as well, I urge you not to feel like you have to see as much as possible. Choose just a couple destinations and stay there long enough to pick out your favorite pubs and catch as much live Irish music as possible. You will be happy you did.
2) Driving, umm…. They drive on the left in Ireland. But this is not the problem. The problem is that they have ridiculously fast speed limits. No one in their right mind should go as fast as they suggest, especially when the stone walls are only four inches away from your car (no exaggeration). Also, signage may or may not be there for you when you need it. Yet another reason not to rush.
3) Talk to people. So Josh bought this sweater. The whole process ended up taking almost an hour. Some people might be annoyed by this, but our conversation with the shop owner is probably my favorite memory from Ireland. “What do ya do in America for Lent?” he asked in a thick Irish brogue. “Do ya know what we do here? We give up drinkin! It’s da hardest six weeks of der year. Now you know dat some people say dat Lent ends on Maunday Thursdee. But do you know what dey do on Good Fridee? Dey close da pubs! A real shame, dat is. Der was dis one Good Fridee dat I went down to a hotel because I heard dat dey served beer. So I go in an have a dinner and ask for a Guinnesss. And do you know what dey say ter me? ‘We only serve to guests.’ So I book a room, and 200 euros later, I have my beer!”
4) Get excited about the hospitality. Midway through our trip, we stayed two nights at the Seaview House in Ballylickey, the nicest hotel I have ever been to in my life and in the town with the greatest name ever. It was there we met Mary, the paragon of hospitality, who had been working at the hotel for 30 years. After getting lost in the dark and finding the hotel much later than we planned, she welcomed us in with open arms and made sure we were warmed and fed. Her jolly demeanor immediately set us all at ease. The next day, the wet weather changed our plans, but she was not phased when we asked to have our packed lunch saved for dinner. When we came back and sat by the fire, she brought in sandwiches, cookies, fruit, tea, and coffee on a platter and knelt down to serve us and entertain us with little jokes. Then when my mother-in-law offered to help clear the table, Mary was so flattered she gave her a big hug.
5) Drink Stonewell Cider. Best. Cider. Ever.
6) Prepare to get wet. It rained every other day we were there, and threatened to rain the rest of it. I am told this is very normal, so gear up and don’t fuss about it. No one likes a sourpuss. Plus, when the sun does make an appearance, it makes you all the gladder.