Luck of the Irish

Goats, green and Gerard Butler was pretty much all I thought about when Ireland came to mind. While two out of the three came true —confession; I didn’t even like that movie that much anyways— what did come true was absolute joy, a new perspective, unforgettable adventures and friendships that will last far beyond a week together.

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After a two o’clock a.m. start, two buses, a plane, and taxi ride later, myself, Makayla, Maddie, Megan and Zack arrived in the great city of Dublin, Ireland. Dublin, the capital and largest city of Ireland, is a historical and contemporary center for the arts, economy, education, and industry. Voted the Friendliest City in Europe, the Republic of Ireland’s capital is an open invitation to a pint of beer, welcoming company and a walk into a city with thrilling history. When we arrived, our tiredness and hunger turned borderline desperation found brunch at Elephant & Castle to be the perfect meal to satisfy us all. Elephant & Castle’s simple yet tasty plates were so good that I returned there for dinner and they did not disappoint.

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Eager to explore, we first went to the Dublin Castle and then spent the afternoon relaxing in the great green of Phoenix Park, Europe’s largest urban park. If you are looking for a sweet retreat away from the city, Phoenix Park is the perfect place for getting some fresh air, people watching and enjoying the outdoors. Our stay at the Spire Hostel fit the cheap and easy requisites for five college kids travelling around Europe and with a bit of humor, I can say I successfully made it out alive.

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On the south bank of the Liffey River you’ll find the area known as Temple Bar, Dublin’s cultural and creative quarter. Walking Temple Bar’s cobbled streets and tiny alleyways you’ll be bombarded with a vibrant community full of culture, craft, design , galleries, studios, theatres, architecture and venues. In the day, grab a coffee and shop at a vintage boutique like Folkster. At night, watch the hub of all nightlife come alive and have fun at one of the many bars, cafes and pubs flooding with people, live music and entertainment. Quay’s, Finnegan and Temple Bar itself landed on our pub list, but there is certainly no shortage of pubs or people in this popular place. No matter what time of day, Temple Bar is the place to be.

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And of course, you can’t say you’ve been to Dublin unless you have gone to the Guinness Factory. Any Guinness lovers’ dream, inside the seven-floor storehouse there is more than just beer (but still a lot of beer). For someone who’s preferred drink of choice is water, apart from the actual beer I learned quite a bit about the history of the distillery and brewing process, but most importantly, I now know how to pour the perfect pint! There is a lot to see in this storehouse so plan to spend a few hours experiencing the crafting magic one of the world’s best-loved beers.

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After you’ve marked off the Guinness Factory checkbox, head on over to the historical St. Stephen’s Green Park. Though located in the city center, it’s peaceful atmosphere will take you away from the bustle of city where you can enjoy the bountiful blooms and pleasant walking paths for some rest and relaxation. Nearby is Trinity College , known fully as the College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity of Queen Elizabeth near Dublin, is Ireland’s oldest and most famous college. Free walks through the atmospheric campus are open to visitors as many are interested to see Dublin’s premier university complete with detailed architecture, beautiful landscaping and Ireland’s largest library. Needing a break from pub food, our dinner at Thai Orchid filled our hunger needs and to bed we went for the next adventure ahead.

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Though traveling by car has great advantages, none of us had yet mastered driving on the left side of the road so we turned to buses as our main form of transportation for this excursion. Getting around Ireland by bus is a nifty and inexpensive way to travel as you can watch the countryside glide by without any worry. Bus Eireann in the Republic of Ireland offers great daily coach service that run all around the island, which we took full advantage of its services and bonus free on board Wi-Fi between just about every city we went.

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We said an early farewell to Dublin and got on board our first coach for a full-guided tour of the Cliffs of Moher and Burren with the tickets we booked online through the Galway Tour Company. Starting with a walking tour of the tiny yet pleasure-filled fishing village of Galway, we came to the realization that we were on the wrong tour, but it ended up being just what we had hoped for. Making our way through the famous limestone Burren, our first stop was to the over 200-meter high, 8 kilometer long Cliffs of Moher. Beyond the cinematic fascination of Harry Potter or Princess Bride fans, the Cliffs of Moher are one of Ireland’s most outstanding coastal features and its raw beauty is worth the trip all in its own. The change of abundant green to dark limestone to churning sea along with its vast wildlife, geology and beauty make it an incredible sight you will surely not want to miss. Here, our tour gave us two hours to enjoy “stunning views over the Atlantic Ocean and the Aran Islands “ and “time to soak up the natural beauty of the Cliffs of Moher.”

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We had a lunch stop in the coastal village of Doolin where we ate at the famous Gus O’Conners followed by the sweetest of treats and fudges at the Doolin Chocolate Shop right next door. We returned via the Coast Road and took in fabulous views of Galway Bay, making a short stop to walk atop the lunar like landscape of the Burren before returning to Galway. Returning home after a long day’s tour, we finished the night off with some pie at The Pie Maker and a little pub music to end the night.

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The next day, we hopped on the bus to the quaint little town of Dingle. Dingle is the only town set on Ireland’s westernmost peninsula overlooking the Dingle Bay and is recognized for its charming atmosphere, isolated walks, green nature, friendly pubs and the town’s unofficial mascot, Fungi the dolphin, who lives in the harbor. We arrived to lovely lunch at the Boat Harbor and took a loop around the tiny streets. Unfortunately due to the rainy weather, slight decrease in energy and lack of transportation, we were not able to fit in the highly recommended drive to Slea Head Loop and Connor Pass, but there’s nothing that ice cream couldn’t make better.

Locally made, Murphy’s Ice Cream started in Dingle in 2000 and from the handcrafted and delicious taste of flavors (I’ll take another caramelized brown bread and Dingle sea salt please), it is apparent there is no stopping. Even in the cold wind and rain, when in Dingle, Murphy’s is a must. Something else Ireland feels is a must is rain so as a sprinkle turned into a downpour, we ducked into the Marina Inn for some good grub and a friendly atmosphere before calling it a night.

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The next morning we took Dingle by sea and despite my weak noodle arms, I could not have enjoyed the morning more as we kayaked our way across the bay. By some great luck, the sun was shining and blue skies greeted us as we paddled through the water, taking in the coastal cliffs, wonders of wildlife and spectacular scenery surrounding us. The wind made for choppy waves and our friend Fungi was nowhere in sight, but the peace and beauty itself was well worth it. Thank you to Enda for being such a wonderful tour guide (and teaching us the word “manky”) and I would definitely recommend Irish Adventures for a fun and memorable experience.

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With a bittersweet goodbye to Dingle, we hopped on the ever familiar bus and headed to Killarney. A vibrant little town set in Kerry County, Killarney’s natural heritage and prime location on the Ring of Kerry make it a number one destination while in Ireland. The pretty, clean, quaint shop-lined streets filled with local merchants, traditional crafts, art galleries, elegant boutiques, busy restaurants and lively pubs to experience made the picturesque town one of my favorites.

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We were grateful the sun continued to shine on and decided to take a lovely afternoon walk to the Ross Castle. Beginning near St. Mary’s Cathedral, we took the trailhead directly across Port Road and started from the Knockreer House. From there, we followed the 1.4 mile walk to Ross Island to tour the castle shored upon a breathtaking view of Lake Lough Leane. Surrounded by a treasure of wild flora and fauna, stunning scenery and of course good company, the overwhelming sense of serenity and beauty could have kept me walking forever. A little evening shopping and early dinner finished the day as we settled into a lovely stay in Gortcollopa at the Dunloe View Hostel.

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Waking up to farm fresh eggs and homemade bread, we thanked our wonderful host and headed back into town. As a helpful note for one needing a place to secure one’s bags during the day, the bus station will actually hold your bags at the office for a small fee of about 2.50 per bag. We dropped our backpacks off at the bus station and began the day. Something I learned in traveling is that the weather stops for no one, so why stop for the weather? Despite the pouring rain, we rented bikes for €15 for the day and biked through the Killarney National Park. Killarney National Park is Ireland’s first National Park and with its 26,000 acres of evergreen woods, grand mountains and majestic lakes, it is truly one of Ireland’s greatest natural beauties not to be missed. Set within the National Park are historic landsites such as the Victorian Muckross House and Gardens, Innisfallen Island, Torc Waterfall and many other splendors worth seeing… even when drenched in rain and mud. An early lunch at the River Café and we hopped on what, I have to say with great pleasure, was our last bus into the southern town of Cork. Since our trip was coming to a close, we spent our final nights at the Cork International Hotel which provided us easy, close access to the airport. Grabbing a cab back into the city, we were able to catch the end hours of the English Market. Among Ireland’s most famous covered food market you will find stands ranging from small family-run stalls to larger long-established businesses, full of a variety of organic products, from meats and spices, fruits and vegetables, chocolates and sweets, a mixture of clothing and art and so much more.

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A walk around the city and we crossed on over the bridge to the Cork’s iconic microbrewery, the Franciscan Well Brewery. Founded in 1998, the Franciscan Well Brewery is built on the site of an old Franciscan Monastery and Well, which holds the legend that the water from the well has miraculous curative effects on those who came to drink from it. A fun atmosphere and outdoor patio along with some of the finest hand crafted beers and fresh wood fired pizza make it a favorite for both tourist and locals to spend a summer evening in Cork. After a stop for some light snackage at The Woodford, we continued on the pub crawl and ended in the small yet lively Preachers. Decorated with vintage rock posters and old license plates, these close quarters give off good music and great company. For more good eats, right across the street is the New England influenced Liberty Grill, which has a fantastic selection of delicious, quality food that will fit anyone’s tastes and price point.

When I think of Sunday morning , thoughts of both heaven and good breakfast come to mind. Here to tell you that when one and two collide, it comes in the form of Paradise Crepe and leaves you in awe of true Sunday morning glory. Note that I am not a fan of crepes in the least bit, but when the savory combination of juicy chicken, melted edam cheese, warm potato slices, sautéed mushrooms and fresh parsley pressed in a perfectly browned crispy crepe two times the size of my face, there is no doubt I would travel back to Cork over Paris just to eat there again.

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Full of crepes and happiness, we could not say we went to Cork without visiting the famous Blarney Castle and Gardens. Built nearly six hundred years ago by the King of Munster, this medieval fortress is a historic landmark that draws tourists from all over the world to it’s beauty, nature and famous Blarney Stone. According to Irish folklore, make the climb up the top of the castle’s tower to kiss the legendary Stone of Eloquence and be bestowed with the gift of gab. Once you have bent over backward, kissed a hundred year old rock and been endowed with eloquence, make sure to tour the rest of the area including the arboretum and herbaceous gardens to take in all of its natural beauty. While in Blarney, the Blarney Woolen Mill is a sure stop to fit any shoppers need before leaving Ireland. Complete with a restaurant and café, inside you can find three floors full of any Irish good, gift and souvenir imaginable. Happy with purchases of wool sweaters, soft socks and a Claddagh ring, we left town and ended our day with a lovely dinner at Market Lane.

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Leaving with manky memories and a little bit more Irish in me, to the wonderful people of Ireland and the friends I’ve made along the way, “Slainte”!

(And for major photo credit, thank you Makayla)

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