I was fortunate enough to spend nearly 2 weeks exploring the stunning countryside and coasts of picturesque Ireland, with a couple of days at the end spent in the city of Dublin. (This means this will be a long post.)
When I left on this journey, I had definitely planned to visit Ireland and Scotland at some point, because these were 2 countries that I hadn’t been to yet, and because I knew that I’d fall in love with the lush landscapes, scenic views and friendly and genuine people that are widespread in both places. I was especially lucky in the case of sightseeing in Ireland, as I had a personal, local tour guide in Derek.
Let’s rewind a bit, shall we. On my first stop in the Philippines (El Nido), I met a handsome and sweet Irishman by the name of Derek on gorgeous Nacpan beach while playing crossword puzzles with a few Manchester friends that I had met at my hostel. We met again at the (only) bar in town that evening and totally hit it off. I left El Nido the following day and we kept in touch frequently and eventually decided that I needed to schedule my visit to Ireland. I had already booked my trip to Scandinavia, and had plans to be in Amsterdam to visit Jackie to be there for my birthday and other scheduled events, so it made sense to head to Ireland next, and we were both just really ready to see each other again. The day finally arrived when I took off for Ireland, bound for Dublin via plane, then down to Cork via bus. With sweaty palms and a nervous excitement, I exited the bus to find Derek walking my way. When we saw each other, immediately the nerves disappeared and I felt comfort and ease in his presence and in our conversation. I knew right away that our time together while he showed me his beautiful Ireland would be incredible. What a way to experience a new country, lucky me!
I had forgotten to grab a bite to eat before hopping on the bus to Cork, so we decided on a late lunch on our way down to his hometown of Clonakilty, in West Cork. We stopped in Courtmacsherry at the Lifeboat Inn for some mussels and chips (read: fries for the remainder of my posts for the next few destinations), and my first official pint of Guinness in Ireland. When Derek initially asked what I wanted to drink (a question I’d been dreading), all I was thinking was….NOT Guinness. I’d had it in England and the States a few times and each time wondered why on Earth I had tried it again, yuck! He promised that it had to be much better in Ireland (after all it is brewed a mere couple hundred miles away from our current spot). I wearily said ok…thinking to myself that I’ll HAVE to have one at some point because, you know, when in Rome and such, so now is as good a time as ever. I tasted mine at the bar after letting it settle properly and was pleasantly surprised by the smooth taste and how easy it went down. Shocked at my change of heart, I was immediately a fan! We grabbed our pints and headed out to a picnic bench overlooking the harbor and settled in for a couple of hours of good conversation, views, food and pints. The next day we headed east a bit to an adorable harbor town called Kinsale. This is where young Irish kids learn to sail in the summer and there are lots of adorable shops and every other doorstep is the entrance to another pub. We walked around the town and harbor and eventually made our way to tour Charles Fort.
We had dinner at a cute place called The Bulman Bar & Restaurant, where we shared the fresh fish and scallops special and an order of Thai Green Chicken Curry and some pints. Yes, I had Guinness again…and again (and throughout the remainder of my time in Ireland). We decided to top off the night by listening to some live Irish music at a pub in Kinsale called Kitty Oses Bar. Derek said the music was hokey and not as authentic as it gets, but they could have fooled me (and the other 100 Americans in the bar)!
The next day we went on a longer roadtrip for the day down the southern coast of Ireland to Mizen Head Signal Station. The views at Mizen Head are stunning! You first see the waves crashing against the shore, then walk across a bridge admiring the rigid cliffs around you, then head to the building that served as the signal station where there are ledges that you can walk out on to get good pictures and feel the incredible wind sweeping in off the ocean.
We eventually left and Derek drove us into the nearby cute town of Crookhaven, where we landed at O’Sullivan’s Bar. Here we enjoyed some seafood chowder in the sunshine, along with a pint – which happened to be the “southernmost pint in Ireland” (due to us being basically at the southernmost point in Ireland for those who don’t appreciate a good pun). Derek had to work a bit the following day, so I took advantage of being in the country with wide open (mostly dirt) roads and went on a much-needed run. Since summertime weather in Ireland can vary quite a lot, it seems I hit the time when summer feels like late fall in Texas. It was quite cool out, but this made for easy running in the hills since I wasn’t pouring sweat in 2.5 seconds after walking out the door. That evening we had reservations for a fancy dinner in town at a place called Deasy’s Harbour Bar & Seafood Restaurant. We found ourselves with a bit of time to kill before dinner, so Derek took me to a famous pub called De Barra’s that is guaranteed to have live, local music each night, and the pub is covered in old pictures and relics. After a couple of pints, we headed to Deasy’s and dined on some fabulous fresh seafood dishes, desserts and shared a nice bottle of wine. I failed my blog followers miserably by forgetting to snap any pictures of this lovely evening out. Apologies!
Another evening we picked up Derek’s parents precious and gigantic Saint Bernard called Remi, and took her for a dip and a small hike up to a beautiful viewpoint of the countryside near Derek’s hometown. At the lookout point, you can see a few summer homes and lush countryside, with gorgeous wildflowers growing and also views of the water all over. It’s such a peaceful place to hang out and soak it all in.
We left on a Monday morning for a road trip called the Wild Atlantic Way, which goes all the way up the west coast of Ireland. We started in the south and headed north, with our first big stop being the famous Cliffs of Moher. This is one of the sights that comes to mind when anyone speaks of Ireland; people think of this well-known strip of rugged shoreline with insanely tall cliffs. They were both absolutely stunning and frightful all at once! There is NO railing on the edge and there are muddy paths (it’s always raining at some point in each day here) leading up and down the length of the cliffs. There are crazy people sitting down on the edge of the cliffs with their legs dangling down over the rocks and water way below. We walked in both directions for different views and got as daring as we wanted to be taking a picture….about 5 feet from the edge…yep, real risktakers, we were. Ha!
After spending a long while taking in the views and having slight panic attacks every time we saw someone get close to the edge, we moved on further up the coast for more sightseeing. A bit north of the cliffs is an area in Clare County called The Barren. The landscape here has a harsh beauty, but you can appreciate it all the same. It was hard to imagine that I was just traveling through the lush green countryside and now was in a vast area of limestone fossils and rock formations as far as the eye could see!A little further up the road, we stopped for lunch in a town called Ballyvaughan, at a place on the pier called Monks Ballyvaughan. We shared garlic crab claws, fish and chips and beef and Guinness stew. It was a delicious meal and fueled us for the remainder of the drive to Galway, where we would be staying the night. (No pics again, I was bad about not taking food pics in Ireland!)
Galway is a bigger city with a small town vibe, and I liked it the moment we arrived. We freshened up for a night out and hit the pavement early evening walking to the city center where the streets were already bustling with people and street performers. We listened to some live music and watched some dancing before settling in at an old pub called Tigh Neachtain, where we sat in the corner booth all night enjoying each other’s company, people-watching, admiring the atmosphere and unique local artwork on the walls….oh….and having more pints of Guinness and a bit of whiskey for D. The next morning we took a walk by the beach and then savoured a delicious breakfast by the water before heading out on the road to see more of the Wild Atlantic Way. Beaches in Galway
We made our way further up the coast to Connemara, stopping every so often to stretch our legs and enjoy the views. We stopped mid day at the Kylemore Abbey for a couple of hours. The Kylemore Abbey is an old monastery founded on the impressive grounds of Kylemore Castle, that eventually was a boarding school for girls until recently. It’s a stunning place and has an absolutely charming Victorian walled garden. We continued along the road taking in the picturesque views along this incredible drive until we made it as far north as Westport, where we turned around to take a different route back south to make our way back home. We even encountered a flock of sheep and it’s herder along the way. Words cannot express how stunning the Wild Atlantic Way drive is, how often we vocally admired the incredible views around us, and also how easy it was to sit in silence in the car taking in the sights on the wide (ok not so wide, actually the opposite, as the road was quite narrow) open road. The remainder of my time with Derek was spent relaxing, trip planning, running outside, doing laundry, cooking dinners and eating out at fun local restaurants, and just enjoying spending time together. Derek introduced me to the famous Clonakilty Black Pudding…tasty!
I could not have dreamed up a better first visit to Ireland and I completely have Derek to thank for that. He had told me all along that he couldn’t wait to show me his amazing country and he was without a doubt a wonderful private tour guide and we had a fantastic time together. It was extremely hard to leave and move on with my travels, but knowing that he was leaving for Finland for work days later made it easier. Derek dropped me off at the train station in Cork, saying “see you soon” (not goodbye) with plans in the making for weekend meetups over the next few months, and I headed off for Dublin for 2 nights.
I went on the 3 hour free walking tour first thing on Saturday morning and saw some of the main sights in Dublin along the way.
I met a super sweet girl who was traveling with her husband and 2 of their friends for just a weekend in Dublin, and we decided to go to the Guinness Storehouse together after the walking tour. The Storehouse is the brewery for my new favorite Irish beer and it did not disappoint! At the end of the tour, we enjoyed pints of Guinness in a huge hall full of people and performances. It was loud and fun and a great introduction to Dublin!
I had planned on spending the late afternoon and night with my friend Ali, whom I met on the same scuba liveaboard in Thailand where I met Jackie. Ali told me to join her and her friends for the day and I quickly took her up on that! We spent the evening at her friend’s lovely home where we had drinks and the Irish version of BBQ’ing which is simply grilling meats and veggies…no brisket here, but tasty nonetheless! Several hours (and gin and tonics) in, the girls were singing Irish songs and dancing on chairs, which meant we were ready to head out to the bars (in taxis of course). We had a grand time and I am so fortunate to have met Ali many months ago! We had the best time together!!
Super fun Dublin crew!
The next day I was off on a plane bound for Edinburgh, Scotland where more adventures awaited my arrival!These signs at the Dublin Airport just seemed fitting. Until next time Ireland!