We were totally charmed by Ireland, but for very different reasons than we expected. We thought we would be taken by the Irish landscape—Jeremy loves himself some rolling hills dotted with sheep—but it turns out we were even more taken by the feel of the place. We loved the strong musical culture. We loved the extreme differences between the severe weather and the warm pubs. We loved the people. And most of all, we loved those delicious, frosty pints. All of it conspires to create the most comfortable, cozy atmosphere that keeps you crossing your fingers for lousy weather so you can spend your days in the warm embrace of Ireland’s fantastic pub culture (luckily, the weather delivers, most of the time).
Days spent here: 7 (August 2-9, 2009)
Highlights: We had a good time in all three places that we visited in Ireland, but the most charming moments to us involved a warm pub, jamming musicians, and a delicious pint of Guinness.
Places we would like to visit next time: County Cork
Average daily expenditures (for two people): US$205/day
Prices: No doubt about it, Ireland is expensive. Pub meals are spendier than simple meals in Japan. JAPAN! Accommodation prices are pretty much on par with the rest of Europe (expect to pay between €45-60 for a double ensuite at the budget end of the spectrum), but that doesn’t make it hurt any less. And, of course, a pint of Guinness will put you back about €5—that’s US$7.50 for a pint!
Guidebooks we used: None
Weather: It was cold and rainy in Galway, but pretty pleasant in Dublin. Of course, severe weather makes the pubs seem that much more cozy (after all, you probably wouldn’t want to hang out in a dark pub all day if it was sunny and glorious out), so rain really isn’t that much of a bummer!
Food: Meat and potatoes baby! It’s all about the carvery lunches: you get your choice of meat (usually a roast of beef, lamb, or ham), potatoes, and veggies, all smothered in gravy. It’s like Thanksgiving everyday!
Accommodation: As you would expect, Ireland’s accommodation is on par with the rest of Europe in terms of comfort and cleanliness. Just watch out for the late night partiers in Dublin. Outside of Dublin, homestays and B&B’s are good value—but this type of accommodation is easier to find if you have a car.
Transit: We were very happy with the bus system across the country (having tried both GoBus and CityLink on the Dublin to Galway circuit)—just be sure to book ahead for the cheapest rate. Our one experience with Dublin’s public transport train (DART) was excellent. Once you get out of Dublin, however, you’ll probably want to rent a car to explore some of the Irish countryside. Too bad rental cars are so unreasonably expensive in Ireland!
Culture: The Irish are laid back, funny, and easy to talk to. You know what? I think the photo below says it all:
In short: You really don’t need to try to “see” too much—all the best parts of Ireland are right there in the pub.
I finally started drifting off about 1:30AM, after another night gathered around delicious Guinness pints with our friends Chi-Chi, Conall, and Mariam. A bunch of random musicians had gathered in the pub to spontaneously play some tunes for the benefit of the pub’s patrons, and their music still played in the back of my mind as I thought of all the things we had seen in this enjoyable yet cozy city:
Beautiful Christ Church Cathedral (one short block away from the apartment where we stayed)…
Christ Church Cathedral at night. Creepy!
…the fun but information-light Guinness Brewery tour…
The actual St. James Brewery Gate!
Barrels at the Guinness Brewery. (This was the most interesting part of the Guinness tour—we spent an inordinate amount of time watching historic videos of barrel-makers using primitive tools to cut strips of wood into perfectly sealed, air-tight barrels. Amazing!)
A tender moment, reflected off the mirrored tables of the Guinness brewery’s Sky Bar—your reward for making it through the brewery tour.
…a walk around the grounds of Trinity College, where Conall’s brother Brian so generously acted as our tour guide and we got to see The Book of Kells…
Our 90210 moment at Trinity College. From left to right: Brian, his daughter, Jeremy, Mariam, Conall, and Chi-Chi.
…and our interesting visit of Kilmainham Gaol (that’s how they spell “jail” in Ireland, England, Australia, and New Zealand!), where we learned a ton about Irish history…
A local artist’s installation in one of the prisons’ cells. This piece features a giant tumbleweed that fills up the entire cell—emphasizing the stifling nature of captivity, as tumbleweeds are meant to exist in wide-open spaces.
Dublin is a place that is hard to capture in photos. It’s a place that is more felt (by roaming the streets and soaking up the ambience) than toured, more heard (in the music coming out of the pubs) than seen.
Wandering Dublin’s streets at night, looking for a warm pub and some good music.
On that note…just as we entered into deep sleep—
REEEEEEEEEEEE!!! REEEEEEEEEEEE!!! REEEEEEEEEEEE!!! REEEEEEEEEEEE!!!
Wha? GOOD LORD WHAT IS THAT NOISE?!? That can’t be—is that a FIRE ALARM? At 2:30AM? Jesus, someone turn that off!
Turns out some drunkards in our building pulled the fire alarm. OK, where were we? Oh yes, Dublin is also a place best experienced with friends. There are groups of people wandering the streets all night…in fact, the whole city feels like your friend sometimes—the Irish are the world’s best banterers and everyone seems to have a line or two to start a conversation.
Commemorating our final pint in Dublin with Conall, Mariam, and Chi-Chi.
Speaking of which—
[LOUD MUSIC, MUFFLED SOUNDS OF A PARTY, PEOPLE SHOUTING, HEAVY FOOTSTEPS]
At 4AM, we get another wakeup call, this time from the raucous party going on upstairs. I am wiling to bet that they are the same drunken idiots who pulled the fire alarm. Where are my earplugs?
BONG BONG BONG BONG BONG BONG BONG BONG!!! BONG BONG BONG BONG BONG BONG BONG BONG!!!BONG BONG BONG BONG BONG BONG BONG BONG!!!
OMG, what time is it? 9AM? Why are the bells of Christ Church going off so early? And when is it going to stop? (The answer: whenever you get your hungover butt into that church).
Sigh, just another Saturday night in Dublin…
How we got from Galway to Dublin: We took the GoBus from the western end of the country to Ireland’s eastern capital…for only €10 (approx. US$12.50)! The bus was comfortable, but the real reason why it was so cool—the bus had wi-fi! So fancy! You need to book your trip ahead of time on the internet in order to get this fare…and if you book early enough, you may even make the trip for €5.
Where we slept in Dublin: Since there were 5 of us, we decided to split a 2BR apartment in Christchurch Hall (booked via stayDublin.com), well-located a block away from Christchurch Cathedral. The apartment was clean, well-stocked, and had more room per person than your average Dublin hotel room. At €38 per person, it was a bit spendier than most hostels in Dublin, but it works out well for groups. Just watch out for the bells on Sunday AM and the drunk partiers before that!
Before our friends arrived in Dublin, J and I spent one night in the Jackson Court Hotel. We chose this place for its cheap price (only €50 for a double ensuite, with Irish breakfast included), and we probably should have been curious why the price was so low. Turns out this hotel is also the site of Copper Face Jacks Night Club. The hilarious Wikitravel entry describes it in the following way: “…Known in the fine Dublin phrase as a Meat Market this night out is crammed with people desperate to score and getting more and more willing as they consume more booze.” Read the full entry here (under the “Clubs” subhead). The hotel actually gives you earplugs when you check in. Luckily, our room was located on the top floor, so we weren’t too disturbed by the revelry, but light sleepers beware.
We arrived in Dublin a day before we were to meet our friends Conall, Mariam, and Chi-Chi, so J and I decided to get out of town and head up to the Howth peninsula (about 9 miles north of Dublin) for its famous cliff walk. It seems we got a cosmic payback after all those severe weather days in Galway, because the sun was out and the sky was the most glorious shade of blue during our day in Howth.
In addition to our luck with the weather, it seems our timing was perfect to see this little town on Ireland’s east coast—the peninsula was exploding with wildflowers in shades of sunny yellow and deep magenta.
It took us about 4 hours to walk the entire loop, and we pretty much hiked the entire thing straight since there wasn’t an obvious place to rest on the trail. Needless to say, we were pretty tired by the end of it, but the walk was definitely worth it—what a stunningly beautiful landscape!
Towards the southern end of the Howth cliff walk, you can see sailors and other wind-sport enthusiasts out for the day in Dublin bay.
We were very glad we got out to this corner of Ireland, as Howth let us see a different side of this country than Athlone, Galway, and Dublin. And it always feels good when you earn your pint, doesn’t it?
How we got from Dublin to Howth: We took Dublin’s efficient and affordable DART train up to Howth. We love it when a city’s public transport works well!
As a visually-oriented person, most memories of the places we’ve traveled come back to me in snapshots: that incredible field of wildflowers near Milford Sound in New Zealand, beautiful children trying to sell us trinkets at the Temples of Angkor in Cambodia, the infinite abyss of ocean off Shirahama in Japan. Despite my visual leanings, my memories of Galway are of the aural variety: looking back through our snapshots of this charming town on the west coast of Ireland, I can hear the music playing to each of our photos.
Ireland has a very strong musical culture, and Galway is often referred to as the epicenter of that culture. Everywhere you go in Galway, there is music. You can hear it in one of the many beautiful pubs, where there are live musicians playing every night…
…or walking down the block, where street musicians entertain the masses for a Euro or two:
There’s also the not-so-obvious music playing in the background of our Galway photos. The cry of seagulls as the cold, black ocean crashes into the magnificent Cliffs of Moher:
The Cliffs of Moher (aka The Cliffs of Insanity from The Princess Bride—yes, really!). To get an idea of the scale of these cliffs, look at the top left corner of the photo—there are people standing on that crag!
The sound of happy cows grazing in the Burren:
The echo of our footsteps through the gorgeous Gothic Church in Connemara:
And of course, quite possibly the happiest music in all of Galway—a delicious pint of Guinness being poured in harmony with the slurping of oysters:
How we got from Athlone to Galway: Hitched a ride with Conall and his girlfriend Mariam!
Where we slept in Galway: We stayed at Dunaras Village, which is basically student housing converted into short-term stay apartments in the summer. The place was very comfortable and spacious, and at €45 per night for an apartment with full living room and kitchen, it was quite affordable by European standards. The only problem was, since it was located outside of the town center, we had to take the bus into Galway, which was at times difficult to negotiate since the bus doesn’t run that frequently. In short: Dunaras Village would have been absolutely perfect if we had a car.
“So, um, I’m sure you guys aren’t interested, but the day you arrive in Ireland, we’re having a christening party for the boat I just bought. My whole family is going to be there and we’re just going to hang out on the boat and play some music and stuff. No big deal.”
So says our friend Conall, an Irish guy we know from SF who recently moved to London. Um, are you KIDDING? A boat christening party? With a big musical Irish family? Do you really think we would miss an opportunity to crack a bottle of champagne over a boat?!? (The answer is: of course not.)
Conall’s boat was in Athlone, pretty much the midpoint between Dublin (where we flew in) and Galway (where we were headed). So instead of going direct to Galway, we stopped off for a few hours in the middle of the country to meet his big, happy Irish family and spray some champagne over his new boat (Conall wasn’t having any cracking of bottles over his new baby).
In addition to his parents, Conall’s uncle, two brothers, and two sisters, plus all of their respective spouses and kids were in attendance. Conall’s sister Maeve and his uncle graciously provided live entertainment, playing traditional Irish tunes on the fiddle.
There was food and dancing and champagne, followed by a pint or two of Guiness at a nearby pub. Afterwards, Maeve and two of the kids went for a dip in the lake, despite the fact that the rest of us were bundled up in scarves and jackets. The kids wore wetsuits, but Maeve went in in her jammies. Brave Maeve!
It was super fun to meet this lively and close-knit bunch. During our travels in Ireland, we would find that this kind of warmth and intimacy was not at all unusual—the Irish are some of the friendliest and most social people we’ve met. Despite the cold weather that day in Athlone, our hearts were warmed through and through.
How we got from London to Athlone: We flew Aer Lingus from London Heathrow to Dublin. Even though our tickets were “only” £15 each roundtrip, after taxes and fees the roundtrip flight totaled £95 (approx. US$150) each. Not the worst deal out there, but discount flight buyer beware! That £5 flight you’re booking may actually end up costing you closer to £100.
From Dublin, we took the CityLink bus headed to Galway directly from the airport to Athlone for €15 (approx US$20) each. Note that if you book this bus ahead on the internet, it can cost as little as €5 from Dublin to Galway!