The picture of Ireland in my mind has always been full of greenery, Guinness, and cobble-stone houses. Getting there and trying to experience what Ireland had to offer in ten days was going to be a challenge, but we picked 5 cities to see the Irish culture. It was best to fly in to Dublin, circle around the island, then fly out of Dublin. The island is driveable, but the only issue was the steering wheel on the right and driving lanes are on the left; what could go wrong?
The drive to Letterkenny from Dublin was three hours with little to no traffic. Just the drive heading north was scenic, full of rolling hills and rainbows around every bend. The town was just what we imagined: full of working-class people, busking on the streets, and pubs to drink the night away. It was a small town, with local people life, and I cannot envision that they see a lot of Americans visiting their slice of life. One of the elements that we loved about the Irish is that music is such a big part of their culture, with buskers on the streets and pubs. There is just something about acoustic music being played that brings Ireland alive while strolling their streets.
Letterkenny, located in the north—next to Northern Ireland, is a great place to start the Irish tour. There are day trips that can have you seeing some great dwellings and castles on the coast. We drove up to Glenveagh park to walk the grounds of its park and their castle. It really was something out of the movies. You are walking in the middle of fields, as far as you can see, while the fragrance of nature is all around you. The grass, flowers, and bogs leave the air sweet and fresh. It is one of the best places to really appreciate nature to its fullest. After enjoying the beauty of Glenveagh, we ventured up to Fanad head lighthouse, which is the most northern point of Ireland. The wind whips around you at blistering speeds, but you just look out over the cliffs in awe of the wide-open vistas. The wide views have you seeing for miles and miles. The traditional houses, the sheep, and the sheer size of the land fill your views while driving to these day trips. You get wrapped up in the beauty of the land and just enjoy being in the moment.
This day was filled with beautiful cliffs and hills that went on forever, so it was time to see a bit of city life. Galway was next on the list, with the drive only being three hours and thirty minutes away. I wanted some hot whiskey and Guinness in my soul, and it seemed Galway was the right place to get my fill. The city is a university town with pubs around every corner. We popped in to an Irish bar, complete with a fireplace and a rugby match of Ireland v. Wales on the television. Once you sit down in these pubs, with a fire at your back, it really is tough to leave. You get settled in, have a hot drink, and start chatting with the locals. You feel the history and culture in these pubs, which are centuries years old. This blows anything that America has for a pub culture out of the water. The pub life is just at another level in Ireland. From Galway is an easy one hour and a half southern drive to the Cliffs of Moher. No trip to Ireland is not complete without heading to the coast and seeing these massive, windy cliffs. You feel so small standing next to these cliffs that drop straight off to a four-hundred-foot drop to the ocean. The wind blows hard, the rain slaps you in the face, and the views are majestic. It is truly a sight to be seen while in Ireland.
It was time to move on and to keep moving south. Killarney was just a three-hour southern drive from Galway. Reading about Killarney, people usually use this city as a stopping point to do the ring of Kerry, which is a circular drive around the peninsula of Iveragh that include views of massive cliffs, old monasteries, and rolling valleys like Conor Pass. We did not spend much time in the city of Killarney because we needed to see these fields of green. In the morning mist, we headed to Conor Pass through these winding, tiny roads that are just cut from the sides of cliffs. You didn’t want to sneeze because you may hit a sheep, an oncoming car, or veer off the edge of a cliff; truly an intense drive. This drive brought us to a little rest area that you can park in, located right at the top of the pass. You can see out to the ocean and to the surrounding cities. Luck was on our side because the clouds seem to have held back a little for us to have these views. It was one of the best moments experiencing this amazing spot nature created. The hills cut down hundreds of feet, then just gently roll back up. It was as if giants carved out these valleys and hills.
The Irish tour continued. The days have been filled with everything driving and sightseeing. We mustered the energy to tackle the next two cities. Kilkenny was next on the list, and it was a two and an half hour’s drive. Kilkenny was used as a stopover for us before we arrived in Dublin; to recharge our batteries. To start the night, we headed to a local pub. While getting on with the bartender, chance had it he lived in America for a year. We stayed through the evening drinking some hot whiskeys and Smithwick Red Ale. Having a good laugh and chatting with the locals is always a great way to get to know the community. It was time to get out of the city for a minute and make it out to the countryside; Wicklow Mountain. While driving through the national park, a road cuts through the park with streams, lakes, rivers, and vibrant colors all over the place. There is just a single road that has you isolated. When we were rolling through the drive, there was only a handful of people that passed us in the hour of driving. It is a breathtaking drive to take that you need to do once in your life.
Our final destination was Dublin. From Kilkenny to Dublin was a little over an hour drive. Dublin did not disappoint with its cathedrals, pubs, Guinness Storehouse, and the busking. We did the Guinness tour, which everyone needs to do once in their lives. It was pretty amazing having a pint on the top floor overlooking the city of Dublin. The Brewery is one of the highest points in the city and you have a 360 degree panoramic view. They give you a pint to enjoy on the top, and it was a great memory. But, the big takeaway from the life in Dublin was the music. The buskers filled the streets and the music filled the pubs. Everywhere was live music. The Temple Bar area, which is right on the river Liffey, is where you can walk the bar-littered streets and bar hop. There are lots of tourists, but it’s Dublin, so you cannot avoid them. The city came alive at night with singers and their guitars. It was a great cap to our time in Ireland. It was also Christmas time, so the time to sing was in full throttle. Everyone was in the spirit.
We thought that we were rushing our time in Ireland. But, we feel like our time was well spent hopping around in our car, driving on the wrong side of the road, and chasing their Irish rainbows. It was one of those trips that change your perspective. The culture was full of kind people, beautiful countrysides, and neighborhood pubs. Ten days was great experiencing their life, but it wasn’t enough.