An edited version of this post was also published on https://featheringmyemptynest.com/ireland-rock-beaches-and-atmospheric-graveyards/#.WXUbOdMrJo4
Several weeks ago my mother, publisher of the home decor and lifestyle blog, Feathering My Empty Nest, asked me to write her a guest post about my junior year study abroad trip to Ireland. I imagine she now regrets providing a platform for the rantings of a madman, but what’s done is done. What follows is a slightly modified version of what I ended up with. The photos also serve as proof that I was once brave enough not only to leave the house, but to travel internationally, and physically fit enough to do some serious hiking.
My story begins JFK airport where our group of students met for our flight to Limerick. Our flight left around 7:30PM and those of us who find it difficult to sleep in a sardine tin held aloft by some sort of black magic (particularly now that my long-held suspicions about the violent tendencies of United flight attendants have been confirmed) would end up being awake for over forty-eight hours due to the grueling fast-paced agenda set by our faculty chaperone. This would turn out to be an excellent method for avoiding jetlag—but I’m still not sure I’d recommend it to a friend.
Our first stop after getting off the plane was at Blarney Castle. This was where we saw the advantage of travelling in January as opposed to a time when the weather might be more pleasant—one of the biggest tourist traps in the whole country was totally deserted. Blarney Castle is a wonderful, fantastic deathtrap complete with a poison garden and something called a “murder hole” (Google it, it’s delightful). Before you ask, I did not in fact kiss the famous Blarney stone. Kissing the stone is a remarkably stupid thing to do for a number of reasons. For one thing, the stone is not conveniently located for kissing. In order to reach it you have to lie on your back on the roof of the castle, grab a metal bar behind you, and let some greasy Irish teenager push you a little bit over the edge. For another thing, the stone is not a place you want to put your mouth. I have been told that locals like to sneak up to the top of Blarney castle to piss on the stone. Finally, it is a common misconception that kissing the stone will bring you luck. The actual legend is that kissing the stone will give you the “gift of gab” and frankly, I already talk too much so I think I’m good on that front.
Limerick isn’t much to write home about unless, like me, you fell in love with Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes and have an interest in visiting South’s Pub, the bar where little Frankie’s father got blackout drunk every night. We only spent a day in Limerick before heading off to Galway followed by Sligo, Derry, Belfast, and ending up Dublin. I highly recommend staying in Galway if you visit southern Ireland, it’s a neat town with some fabulous pubs (and also, I’ve been told, some great live Irish music if you like that sort of thing, which I do not).
My day at the Cliffs of Moher was one of my favorites. The cliffs are gorgeous, and, you might be interested to know if you are a big nerd like me, they happen to be the sight of the cave scene from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. The cliffs, like Blarney Castle, are usually totally overcrowded but were almost totally deserted in early January. However, be aware, the weather can be totally unpredictable, and the second we reached the top of the cliffs we were pelted by hail and I nearly died…kind of.
Dunluce Castle (also known as Cair Paravel from The Chronicles of Narnia) is absolutely worth a visit. It is also a good idea to hike down into the valley to have a look at the “mermaid cove,” it’s a pretty vista with no actual mermaids as far as I could see—thank god because from what I’ve heard about mermaids, they are a bunch of terrifying mean girls.
I’m not sure my picture of the Giant’s Causeway really does it justice. Trust me when I say that it’s just really cool. Ireland is full of “beaches” that are actually just piles of rocks near the ocean, but this one is special. You can actually see Wales from there too, even if you can’t see Russia from your house. A couple of pro-tips should you choose to visit: ask every Irish person you meet to tell you the story of the Causeway, they will all have slightly different versions and insist whoever else you talked to was a dirty liar. Also, bring some change with you. The hike from the parking to the Causeway is long and steep—the way down is easy enough and you can take in some lovely views, but by the time you are ready to head back up you will be more than will to shell out a couple of euros.
Only a few years ago, taking the trip to Northern Ireland would have been too dangerous, and in Derry I would still be a bit cautious (the university actually shelled out money for our meals at the hotel so we wouldn’t go out at night, if that tells you anything). However, Derry was one of my favorite towns. The city has seen so much violence and is still recovering, even today there are still people living there who remember Bloody Sunday (the 1972 shooting of peaceful protesters). Both the Free Derry Museum and a tour of the walls are well worth the trip. It is important to remember that Northern Ireland, unlike Southern Ireland, still uses the British pound, and you’ll need different money. Or you can pay with a card in restaurants and enjoy the shock on waiters’ face when you tell them that in the States we actually let them take our cards away from the table, where they could be doing anything with them in order to pay for a meal. That is always a fun time. Speaking of restaurants, Northern Ireland was the only place I was able to get a hot beverage that was actually hot. I don’t know why.
We ended our trip in Dublin, which is a super-cool city living inside of a cloud of cigarette smoke. In Dublin I saw a George Bernard-Shaw comedy at the historic Abbey Theatre, visited the Dublin Writer’s Museum, and lit a candle at St. Patrick’s Cathedral (not technically a saint, and really more of a museum than a cathedral, but still a good time). All things I would recommend. I would also highly recommend a trip to Trinity College to see the Long Room of the library. It’s the prettiest place in the world and someday I will live in it.
The whole group was dragged on a trip to the football stadium in Dublin, Croke Park, for an afternoon. I was super bitter about having to go because soccer is a boring sport (fight me Europe) but I was pleasantly surprised. Croke Park actually has a rather interesting history and our tour guide was a born storyteller so there is something for everyone.
So, this has been an abridged list of some of my favorite spots in Ireland, some spots that were not included but that are still worth mentioning include: Inis Mor, Newgrange, The Leprechaun Museum (go during the day if you have small children, if not, go at night for the Nightland tour if you are eighteen or older), and Kylemore Abbey (the Abbey itself is ok, but the drive through Connemara is spectacular).
I’m not sure if I did this whole blogging thing right, but if you’ve gotten this far I thank you, and I would like to share with you one of my favorite Irish toasts: may your glass be ever full. May the roof over your head always be strong. And may you be in heaven a full half hour before the devil knows your dead.