Next time I open my contact case, I’ll be in Ireland.
That’s what I was thinking as I switched my contacts for my glasses shortly before Pete and I boarded a plane for Ireland on Friday, Sept. 30.
I had similar thoughts the day before as I packed my suitcase: These shoes are going to touch Irish soil. … I’ll be wearing this scarf in pictures from Ireland.
If you’ve known me or followed my blog for any length of time, you know Ireland was on my bucket list for years. I estimate about 12 years, since college. (In fact, a blog post from this time 3 years ago was all about how adamant I was to visit. … And also mentions contacts.)
I knew I wouldn’t remember everything about my dream trip unless I wrote it down, so I diligently took notes on my phone throughout our five-day vacation. I plan to do the same when I return someday. 🙂
Day 1: Dublin to Kilkenny
My first glimpse of Ireland was around 10 a.m. Saturday morning, about 5 a.m. our time. The plane was quiet with most people still asleep on the overnight flight, but I couldn’t drift back off with Ireland coming into view. I smiled to myself as I watched the coastline become more pronounced—gray and rainy and perfect. Hello, Ireland.
Here are my random observations:
- Everyone we met in Ireland was friendly with the exception of the rental car shuttle driver. He picked us up from the airport to take us to Sixt, the off-site rental car lot, and wasn’t much for chit chat. “American Woman” was playing in the background.
- On the way to the rental car place, we passed a van that said Pigeon Supplies in big letters. Are Irish pigeons more high-maintenance than ours?
- By the time we got to the rental car place, after a long day of work Friday and flying about 8 hours that night, the guy behind the counter told us we looked “subdued.” He was really friendly, but it took 45 minutes to get the car because of an insurance issue. I grilled him about parking options in Dublin while we waited and asked if he could make change for a 20. He pulled out his wallet and asked what I needed. Not exactly what I meant but OK.
- The day we landed was also the day of the All Ireland Final replay between Dublin and Mayo (a rugby thing). We saw lots of blue (Dublin) and red and green (Mayo) across the city.
- As the Sixt guy gave us directions to various parking decks that would avoid the rugby fans, he kept referring to the Liffey. What’s a liffey?, I wondered. I assumed it was a highway or something, but turns out it’s a river.
- Once we got the rental car, we drove into Dublin to scope it out while we waited for a free walking tour to begin. We passed all kinds of restaurants—Asian, Italian, Dominos—and some double-decker buses. I was glad we had a tiny car because all the roads were narrow and kind of confusing. Pete drove the whole time.
Somewhere in the heart of Dublin
- Despite the plethora of Irish restaurants, our first meal was German. Oktoberfest was going on near the river, so I got a turkey skewer and potatoes. We ate in a big tent with “Country Road” playing over the speakers. Not very German.
- It was in the low-50s when we got there and I was thankful for my scarf and boots. At one point, though, we passed a bunch of girls in belly shirts and short skirts. If my grandfather had been there, he would’ve warned them about pneumonia.
- Prior to the walking tour, we checked out Temple Bar (meaning we took pictures of the outside because it’s famous) and Trinity College, where the Book of Kells are kept. The Book of Kells is “an illuminated manuscript Gospel book in Latin, containing the four Gospels of the New Testament.” Yes, that’s from Wikipedia. I didn’t see it myself, so I can’t think of a better definition.
- The walking tour was an hour-and-a-half or so and taught us a lot about the history of Dublin and Ireland in general. 2016 marks 100 years since their revolution, and we saw posters everywhere about it. I also learned from the tour guide that Bono was born in Rotunda Hospital, the world’s oldest, continuously running maternity hospital, right there in Dublin.
Rotunda Hospital, where Bono was born
Throughout the trip, I noticed plenty of Irish-sounding businesses: O’Malley’s, Paddy Wagon, Shannon, McThis and McThat. I also noticed that they say “toilets” instead of restrooms or bathrooms, but I couldn’t bring myself to ask where the toilets were. It just sounds less respectable or something.
- That first night, we drove about an hour-and-a-half (well, two hours … I made Pete stop so I could photograph swans) to a town called Kilkenny. It ended up being one of my favorite places on the whole trip, but more on that in Day 2.
- In Kilenny, we stayed at a bed and breakfast called Ashbrook House. We walked up to the front door that evening and just as I was about to knock, a balding, stone-faced man in glasses opened it. Me: “We have reservations?” Man: “Do I know you?” Pete: “Not yet.” Man: “What are your names?” Me: “I’m Tiffany and this is Peter.” Man: “Are you married?” Me: “Yes.” Man: “Are you sure?” Me: “Yes.” He let us in and introduced himself as Dermot. “Are you on your honeymoon?” Me: “No. We’ve been married six-and-a-half years.” Dermot: “Oh, well it must be going well if you’re still counting the halves. … Are you on holiday?” We learned that he’s a Dallas Cowboys fan.
Ashbrook House in Kilkenny, our first B&B experience
- The next morning, after about 10 hours of sleep, we woke up to a window looking out onto a field of green with white laundry blowing on a clothesline in the backyard. Mountains rose out of the fog in the distance. I like waking up in Ireland, I thought. We went downstairs and sat in a dining room with other guests to await this thing called a “full Irish breakfast”—bacon, a fried egg, roasted tomato, “pudding” which looked like sausage patties, juice, tea and bread. Sure beats the apple slices I’ve been having for breakfast on the way to work.
Waking up to Ireland
A full Irish breakfast. This is actually from our B&B in Killarney a few days later, but it’s basically the same everywhere.
- Before we left the B&B that morning, I signed the guest book and noticed others from places like Italy, Wisconsin, South Carolina and around Ireland. I also noticed a sort of certificate hanging in the hall where the Pope had blessed the owners’ marriage.
- One downside of the trip for the first few days was that I was fighting a cold. I was ticked that I had one because I’d tried so hard to avoid sick people and had downed about 6 glasses of Emergen-C that week, but I had a cold nonetheless. It was more annoying than anything, and Pete ended up catching it at the end, but it didn’t keep us from exploring.
Day 2: Kilkenny to Cork
After a brief time in Kilkenny, I told Pete I wish we could’ve gotten married there. I told him it was one of my favorite places in Ireland and he reminded me I hadn’t seen much of the country yet. Even so, by the end of the trip, it was still one of my favorites.
A garden outside Kilkenny Castle
- Kilkenny is like a glorified Blowing Rock with Irish accents and a castle. It was beautiful, laid back, had hills, water, gardens, street musicians and basically everything you could ask for in a town. I could have spent a lot more time there, but we had to keep moving to see all we wanted to see.
- The most random thing I saw in Kilkenny was during a brief stroll through an outdoor mall. All of a sudden, I saw a Bassett hound walking around outside the shops, making its way into one store then popping back out a few seconds later.
A church in the distance, taken from beside Kilkenny Castle
Cute ice cream truck!
- One of the most beautiful spots in Kilkenny was a garden we stumbled upon. It was just outside Butler House, a Georgian mansion and former home of the Earls of Ormonde. It’s now a hotel.
Butler House in the background
- After spending a while in Kilkenny, we got back on the road for a couple of hours on the way to Cork. Pretty much every road sign we passed had words in both English and Gaelic. Our first stop in Cork was Blarney Castle.
- Everyone has asked me since we visited Ireland if we kissed the Blarney Stone. No, absolutely not. The Blarney Stone is at the top of Blarney Castle and the story is that people who kiss it are given the gift of gab (meaning eloquent speech). To kiss it, you have to lay on your back and reach your head backwards while someone holds onto you so you don’t fall down through this big open space below. No thanks, I’ll just take pictures. It’s dangerous enough going down the steep, narrow stairs to the bottom.
Atop Blarney Castle, with the Blarney Stone straight ahead where the red jacket is.
- I didn’t realize before we were there that the grounds around Blarney Castle were so big and beautiful. There are different gardens and sites you can see besides the actual castle, and I wish we’d had a little more time there.
Trying to climb a giant tree outside Blarney Castle. If you can’t tell from the pic, I was unsuccessful.
- That night in Cork, we walked around the city and ate dinner at Amicus where we had another not-very-Irish meal. I had chicken curry, bruschetta and a brownie sundae.
- This night, we stayed at a hotel instead of a B&B, but overall I prefer the B&Bs. Not only do you get a great breakfast, but it’s more personal and unique. The hotel was beautiful, though—Fitzgeralds Vienna Woods Hotel. There was a sign on the bathroom door warning about using tanning products with their nice hotel towels. I guess that’s been a problem.
Fitzgeralds Vienna Woods Hotel
- The next morning, we went to the cushy dining room for breakfast and listened to “Hey Ya” while drinking tea. It was pretty odd.
Day 3: Cork to Gougane Barra to Killarney
Day 3 may be my favorite day overall. I won’t lie—we had a couple of tense moments—but we also had a lot of fun and some uniquely Irish experiences.
- The first stop was Cork’s city center. It was rainy that day, so we didn’t walk around a ton, but we did stop at the English Market, which sold everything from fresh meat and fish to chocolates in the shape of sheep. I bought a smoothie called Banana Republic.
The English Market in Cork
- We also noticed that Ireland, and especially Cork, had a lot of Turkish barbers. I don’t know how they’re different from regular barbers.
- After Cork, we headed for Gougane Barra. Dermot of Kilkenny told me there’s nowhere on the island of Ireland named that, and it WAS hard to find in the GPS, but alas, we found it! This was actually a place I saw a picture of a couple of years ago (in one of those “places to see before you die” type articles), and when I found out it was in Ireland, I thought, “I’m going there.”
- But first, a detour! I mean, what’s an international road trip without a detour? On the way to Gougane Barra (another hour-and-a-half or so from Cork), we saw a sign advertising Ireland’s only toy soldier factory. At first, I thought, “Nah, skip it,” but as Pete neared the turn, I changed my mind. It turns out, the factory was so off course that they posted signs to encourage you to keep going. “Almost there! … 4 more minutes! 3 more minutes!” It was off some narrow, windy road up a hill where we passed only a few other cars. But finally, we made it, and it was pretty cool. We watched a lady pour pewter into a toy soldier mold, then browsed cases and cases of hand-painted soldiers, leprachauns and other figurines. I may have even purchased one for a Christmas gift. …
Encouragement on the way to the Toy Soldier Factory
Ireland’s only Toy Soldier Factory!
- It was also just outside the factory that I found a cute post box to mail my postcards.
Where I mailed my postcards
Somewhere on our detour
A beautiful cemetery on the top of a hill
- After the factory, we decided to keep going down the road we’d been on instead of heading back the way we came. It narrowed even more, then turned to dirt, then gravel. Pete said it was more of a hiking trail than a road, but somehow, it was on the GPS. We passed some sheep, cows, donkeys and a house here or there, but that was it. Where do these people go to the grocery store?
- Finally, we started to descend the mountain (or hill or whatever it was) and in the clearing I could see Gougane Barra! (Pronounced Goo-gun Bear-uh.) It’s a tiny community with a hotel, restaurant and a church called St. Finbarr’s Oratory. The church is what I’d seen pictures of. I’d even put a picture of it on my phone’s lock screen. But now I have my own!
I made it! Pointing to a picture of St. Finbarr’s Oratory on my phone while standing in front of it.
- After freaking out that I was actually in this place I’d seen pictures of, Pete and I ate at Cronin’s Café, overlooking the church. I had a delicious smoked salmon sandwich, then we walked back over to the church to go inside and take pictures. This was another favorite from the trip; I could’ve stayed there all day. It was the calm water surrounding the church, the beautiful stone building, the bright green grass, the brown-green mountains behind it. … Gorgeous. Pictures don’t do it justice.
Gorgeous. Just gorgeous.
Inside the church
I think I could live here.
Even a panorama just can’t capture the beauty of this place.
- The next stop was Kate Kearney’s Cottage, another hour away. The cottage is a meeting point for people who want to see the Gap of Dunloe nearby. I originally thought we could bike it, or maybe take a horse and buggy, but it was so rainy and windy that day that we decided to drive it. This was Pete’s favorite part of the trip and one of mine, too.
On the way to the Gap of Dunloe
- The Gap of Dunloe reminded us of Alaska with the huge mountains and open space. It was incredibly windy, though, and I almost blew away having my picture taken. This place also had really curvy roads, and anytime another car was coming, someone had to pull off to the side wherever possible so the other car could pass.
I almost blew away getting this picture taken in the Gap.
- It was also in the Gap of Dunloe that we finally saw wildlife cross the road. “Finally, something crossing the road!” I yelled, grabbing my camera. I feel like seeing a large animal cross the road is a legit Irish experience, so I had to snap a picture. At first, we thought it was a mule, which I named O’Malley the Mule, but then we realized it was a donkey. O’Malley the Donkey doesn’t flow, so it remained nameless.
Approaching O’Malley the Mule…
Then realizing he’s a donkey.
- That night we stayed at the Woodlawn House, another B&B. The owner recommended Kayne’s for dinner, so we did that, then headed to The Grand for live music. First, we heard an Irish band, then J90 took the stage and sang Maroon 5, Jack Johnson, Tina Turner and Pharrell. Oh, and “Footloose.” (There was a lot of American music on this trip.) There were some locals around, but also lots of tourists—people from places like New Jersey and Ohio. (The J90 video is the only one on here over 10 seconds. I got carried away.)
Day 4: Killarney to Cliffs of Moher to Galway
By day 4, it was a little annoying not to have internet outside of Wi-fi, but it was also nice to unplug more than usual.
- The morning we left Woodlawn House, we learned that the owner’s wife was 8 months pregnant. It was also her birthday the day before, so I left some Reese’s cups for her to celebrate.
- This was the longest driving day as we made our way to the Cliffs of Moher a few hours away, but we also stopped at a couple of places on the way, so it wasn’t that bad. Our first stop was in Adare, which I’d read about in a travel magazine from the rental car place. Adare is known for its thatched roof cottages, although the one I kept seeing in the travel book had actually partially burned down shortly before our visit.
Cottages in Adare
- We did have a nice stroll around Adare, where we visited a park, took pictures of a beautiful church, found some souvenirs and I bought a cappuccino.
Because why WOULDN’T you have chickens on an umbrella?
One of the many beautiful churches in Ireland
- After Adare, we headed toward Limerick. On the way, we heard more American music on the radio, but with Irish and British announcers.
- We didn’t stay in Limerick long because we wanted to get to the cliffs, but we did get to see King John’s Castle. It was too expensive to go in, and again, we were short on time, but I was happy just seeing the outside. The castle was built in the 1200s by the River Shannon.
Why can’t we have castles everywhere in the U.S.?
On one side of the River Shannon
- As we got closer to the cliffs, I noticed some funny named things like the Mermaid House (a hotel or B&B maybe) and an injury clinic/Pilates place.
On the way to the cliffs
- OK, so I know everything can’t be my favorite, but the Cliffs of Moher are definitely high on my list. This is what I think of when I think of Ireland. We spent quite a bit of time there and learned that lots of movie scenes have been filmed there, including a scene from “The Princess Bride.” I loved, loved, loved it. (Hence the jumping picture at the top of this blog.)
Cliffs of Moher, pure Ireland
I could look at the Irish coastline all day.
At the bottom of O’Brien’s Tower, overlooking the cliffs
That’s O’Brien’s Tower in the distance.
- That evening, we drove another hour-and-a-half or so to Galway. The sun was setting on the way as we passed field after field of cows, separated by low stone fences. The fields framed the water, reflecting the red-orange of the sunset. It was breathtaking.
Sunset on the way to Galway
- That night, we stayed at Anno Santo Hotel. The people were nice, but it was our least favorite place to stay. (And incidentally, the only one I forgot to take a picture of.) We weren’t there long anyway. At least the location was good. We walked a couple miles that night along Salthill Promenade to find dinner and passed a place called Leisure Land. We ate at Oslo which had a section on its menu called “Pimp My Burger.” There were a few friends sitting behind us and one girl was spilling her life story the whole time. It was annoying yet entertaining.
Day 5: Galway back to Dublin
Here, it takes just under 4 hours to drive to my parents’ house the next state over. In Ireland, it took under 3 hours to drive cross country from Galway to Dublin.
- By Wednesday, I was getting that “I don’t want to leave yet!” feeling. But all trips come to an end, and the last full day in Ireland was a good one. We spent the morning on the Riverside Walk in Galway, peeking in shops and taking pictures. Then we got on the road to head back to Dublin, where we’d fly out the next morning.
- In Dublin, we walked around the National Botanic Gardens, home to one of the calmest places I’ve ever been. There’s a bridge going over a big pond there, surrounded by trees and colorful plants. It reminded me of the forest in “Sleeping Beauty.”
National Botanic Gardens, Dublin
One of the most peaceful places on earth
- For lunch, we ate at O’Neill’s, an enormous, multistory restaurant. Pete had Irish stew and I had shepherd’s pie. I made shepherd’s pie once from a healthy recipe book, but this was much better.
- As we walked around Dublin some more, Pete stopped at a kiosk to look at souvenirs. A man selling hats said things like, “Here you go, laddy.”
- This wasn’t just in Dublin, but I noticed in general that there are more red heads in Ireland than I normally see around here. I truly felt like I was in Ireland every time I saw one.
- That night, we were hoping to find a dessert spot, but our final B&B turned out to be far from anything open that would sell dessert. We ended up going to the gas station where I bought a Cadbury Dairy Milk Golden Crisp and Baileys Truffle Bar. I paired a couple pieces of each with hot Kenyan tea from the B&B. We also got soft serve ice cream at the gas station, but I didn’t like it and threw it away. (The first time I’ve EVER thrown away ice cream.) It tasted like marshmallow.
Broadmeadow Country House, our final B&B
- The B&B we stayed at was around a bunch of horses, and there was a sign on the staircase that said “No riding boots beyond this point.”
Thursday morning, we headed to the airport, where Pete flew back home and I flew on to Scotland to meet a coworker. There, we covered a work event in Peterhead, then went to London for a couple of days to train some of our UK partners on website and social media stuff. I was away from home for 12 days total and overall loved Europe.
Each place—Ireland, Scotland, London—had things I loved, but Ireland is still special to me. I know I spent the most time there, so it may be an unfair comparison, but there’s something about it that, as dorky as it sounds, calls to me. I really, really want to go back.
Sunset in Dublin