I recently returned from a fantastic trip to Ireland! If you haven’t been, what are you waiting for? What a gorgeous country, with fields of every shade of green imaginable. For ten full days we circled the outskirts of the island, seeing cities like Belfast, Kinsale, and of course Dublin, and the beautiful sights along the Wild Atlantic Way.
After the overnight flights from Dublin (which was actually only a 7 hour flights from O’Hare), our first stop was in the town of Downpatrick, to see the supposed grave of Saint Patrick at Down Cathedral.
The next day we toured Belfast, the capital in Northern Ireland. Since there is a Catholic minority there with a Protestant majority, it was really interesting to see the clear divide between the two religions and the political strife that came along with it. To this day there is still tension between the two and it’s pretty clear throughout the outskirts of the city along with an actual wall to divide the two communities.
Belfast’s International Wall – one of the many political murals throughout the city.
Later in the day we visited the Titanic museum as it was built in Belfast. This was pretty interesting as it discussed how the building of the ship affected the city and what it took to make the ship happen.
The next day was one of my favorites – visiting the Giant’s Causeway, which are natural hexagonal basalt columns that resulted from a volcanic eruption. I love geological formations like this so it was definitely a highlight for me. It was pretty tough walking on the stones, so I do highly suggest wearing loose-fitting clothes, comfortable shoes, and not carrying anything really valuable because there’s a good chance you’ll fall!
This was not an easy climb!
After the Giant’s Causeway we took a walking tour of Derry (AKA Londonderry), still in Northern Ireland. The old city is surrounded by 17th-century walls and is the second-largest city in Northern Ireland with seven gates into the city.
“Hands Across the Divide” sculpture
The next morning we toured the Belleek Pottery factory, which at first I wasn’t too excited for but it soon became of a highlight of the trip. It really was fascinating watching the sculptures at work and learning about what kinds of clay they use and their methods to achieve the perfect item. You can imagine how everyone emptied their pockets there, especially with Christmas coming up. I really wanted to buy one of their Luminaire lamps but it couldn’t have been rewired very easily to US settings, so we settled for some pretty ornaments instead.
Later we stopped at Knock Shrine, an apparition site of the Virgin Mary. She had appeared to fifteen people in 1879. The part where I’m touching is taken from the inside of the church, the stones on which she had appeared. Because of all the tourists coming to touch the spot, the church moved the pieces outside into the structure.
That evening we stayed in the charming little town of Ennis. If you enjoy cute little European towns to walk around and check out the shops, I highly recommend stopping here in Ennis.
For dinner we had a fun, no-fork feast at Bunratty Castle! We all piled in the room and drank soup from a cup, got our fingers sticky from ribs, and ripped apart chicken legs with our teeth. They sang songs for the crowd and we really felt like it was a Medieval banquet.
The absolute favorite part of my trip, and the number one thing I was looking forward to, was seeing the Cliffs of Moher, which are Ireland’s most visited natural attraction and rise 700 feet above sea level. Thankfully we were very blessed as far as weather for the entire trip, so we enjoyed a sunny and clear day to see the full extent of the cliffs.
In the evening we went out for traditional Irish music in Killarney, which was probably my favorite little town. It was full of great shopping and pubs with lively streets and friendly people. There’s nothing better than sipping a Guinness and listening to the fiddle 🙂
The next day we visited Blarney Castle, where of course I kissed the Stone of Eloquence. Thankfully we were at the end of the tourist season so there were virtually no lines, but I heard that in the peak summer months the line can be up to two hours long! You have to climb up the spiral staircases in the castle, which are very cramped and claustrophobic.
To kiss the stone, you have to lie down on a mat and you are helped to lean backwards and kiss it upside down. There is no floor directly below the stone, so one has to be sure to not have anything in their pockets or it’ll fall a few stories down to the ground.
The next day we went to Kinsale for a couple nights, which is another cute little town next to Charles Fort in the very southern part of Ireland. There isn’t a whole lot going on in this town besides having the fort next to it, but it’s worth just walking around and seeing the colorful buildings 🙂
Checking out the grounds at Charles Fort.
On the way back up to Dublin we made a stop at the Kinsale Garden of Remembrance, which was put together by an Irish nurse who worked in New York City for 15 years. She had planted a tree in memory of each of the 343 firefighters who lost their lives during 9/11. This was such a meaningful stop and we couldn’t believe that someone all the way over in Ireland would go through so much effort.
Dublin was our last stop, which I was pretty excited for since I had been to Dublin a few years ago for just a few hours, so it was nice to see more of the city. We saw the Book of Kells and the Trinity College Library, which was so neat and reminded me of Hogwarts 🙂 Unfortunately we couldn’t touch the books, but apparently there were 200,000 of them in the hall. The neatest part was the busts of famous authors in front of each aisle.
We also toured the Guinness brewery in Dublin. I normally don’t like beer but I grew to love it while in Ireland; it’s so much creamier and sweeter than Guinness in the US, which is much more bitter. It was a bit disappointing not to actually see it getting brewed, but the brewery was interesting enough and interactive, and I learned how to pour the perfect pint.
Inside the tasting room, which has four of these pillars each emitting a an essential scent in a pint of Guinness.
I obviously took Guinness pouring very seriously.
Lastly, we enjoyed some down time to explore Dublin on our own. We mainly stayed in the Temple Bar area where I found the restaurant that I had dinner in a few years ago, so that was pretty neat! I had no idea at that time that I had found my way into one of the most popular restaurants in the area, so no wonder it was so crowded and I could barely find space to eat!
All in all it was such an amazing trip. If you haven’t been to Ireland, what are you waiting for? From its cute little towns filled with the friendliest people on the planet, to its rolling green hills filled with fluffy sheep, Ireland has something for everyone at any age.
I found this quote outside a restaurant window in Dublin, but I feel that it speaks to the country as a whole:
“Dream me a city where I can be myself. Where brewery hops drifts on the morning breeze & a tin whistle swells your soul. Where the rain sparks the cobbles, laughter surrounds, and a nation’s woes are solved from a bar stool. Where tales grow taller, and old friends become new. Where conversations start as day ends. Dream me a city, and I’ll show you Dublin. And you will feel home.”