Ireland 2023

           I headed back to Ireland this year to celebrate my, not really my cousin but… my cousin’s, hen party. We had several days in Dublin prior to our short flight up to Donegal, and I really feel like we did everything there is to do in Dublin.On my previous Ireland trip, I booked a CTE tour, which was excellent, but we only had about half a day in Dublin. This time, I had 4 full days in Dublin plus a one-day tour to the Cliffs of Moher and Galway City and we covered history, art, literature, pubs, and several great meals. As a proponent of the double decker bus tour in general, it comes in even more handy in Dublin where public transport kinda sucks. We were repeatedly told the jokey nickname for the DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit) was the “snail on the rail” so, buying the two day hop on hop off ticket for the DoDublin bus tour really gave us an easy way of hitting all the area hot spots.  I think most people know of the big-ticket tourist attractions- the Guinness Factory, Kilmainham Gaol (which is truly excellent and everyone should go, but book tickets in advance!), JamesonDistillery, Temple Bar, The Book of Kells, etc. but there are a few more really wonderful experiences that don’t get highlighted as often.

I’m not one for spending $20 on a beer, so we skipped The Temple Bar itself and just had lunches and pints in Temple Bar at other pubs in the neighborhood, including an excellent dinner at Tomahawk Steakhouse where we wandered in to get out of the rain and were very grateful they weren’t full, because the steaks (petite filet with a Jameson peppercorn sauce for me) were excellent and service was wonderful. We finally were able to get into Elephant& Castle (which also has locations in the UK and NYC) but the other locations lack the literally mouthwatering wings that the Dublin location has on their menu. Fish Shop on Benburb Street; which was for some reason wildly confusing for our Uber driver, “Benburb??? Really? There’s nothing on Benburb that you’d be going to.” A tiny, counter seating only restaurant. I think I counted 12 chairs total, with an amazing wine list and some of the best fish and chips I’ve ever had. You know that smell you get at a fry shop? I don’t know what type of industrial venting fan the Fish Shop had but there was no smell of oil at all, and while they had more than just fried fish that was clearly the majority of what they served, during our time there at least half a dozen to-go orders were made due to the limited seating, so they were really churning things out and clearly word has gotten around about how tasty a spot it is.

Dublin is bustling and while the Irish offer 100,000 welcomes it is clear that crime is on the rise in the capital city. A week before our arrival an American tourist was stabbed onStore Street, about a block away from where we were staying, right off of O’Connell Street. There were many more homeless than I remember from even a few years ago, and more pickpockets that we were made aware of as well as brazen petty thefts- our cousins were at dinner in Temple Bar and someone reached from the street into the window of the restaurant and grabbed a young girls phone right off the table next to them. All that said, I don’t think it should be a deterrent, but rather just a reminder to act as you would in any major metropolitan city and keep your pockets zipped and an eye on your belongings, and don’t be a sucker for gypsies or 3 card monte scams.

Every tour guide in Ireland has the gift of eloquence and from day 1 we had some really excellent guides. During our visit to the Long room at Trinity College a restoration was under way, they are actively working to restore and fireproof and digitally catalogue manuscripts, so during our time there the Long room had very sparse shelves.The Irish proclamation was of course there, encased in glass, as was the Brian Boru harp (which likely did not have much to do with King Boru). But the majority of the shelves sat bare, which was actually kind of an interesting way to take in the space, and something a little different for our tour that perhaps not many people get to see. Dublin has a number of well-known and large museums and exhibits, but the perhaps overlooked Museum of Literature is worth an hour or more of your time. Across the street from St Stephen’s Green the museum overlooks a garden of its own and beyond that garden is the Iveagh Gardens which is worth a wander through upon your exit from MoLI. The exhibitions are MoLI include all your big Irish names like Joyce, Swift, Beckett, Wilde, and Stoker, but they also include newer writers, information on censorship during political uprisings, they host story time for families, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Commons Café. Most cafes or eateries inside of a museum are basic cafeteria type fare…Commons Café is a legit restaurant run by the sisters Kemp (Domini and Peaches). Honestly our turn at the museum was influenced by my first having read a review of the café and really wanting a toastie. They serve an all-day breakfast menu and a selection of toasties, salads, and soups for lunch, as well as cocktails. The food is simple but artisanal, it was really the best grilled cheese I’ve ever had. The produce is local, the décor and all-around vibe is perfect for a literature café. The Guinness Factory is a big hit, if you love a pint you should absolutely check it out, you can even see a bit of the original yeast Arthur Guinness used for brewing, but the real gem of the whole place is the Gravity Bar where you can sip a pint while overlooking a 360-degree view of Dublin and the surrounding areas. It was CROWDED but worth the wait to sit down for the view, and if the dark beauty of traditional Guinness isn’t your jam, they offer up a number of other Guinness made beers including the Hop House 13 Lager which my Mom seemed to enjoy.

The history of Ireland is the history of emigration, be it by force or by choice the Irish diaspora is global, and I’ve yet to travel anywhere in the world and not find an Irish pub. EPIC, the Irish Emigration museum is a testament to the culture, the music, the art, the sport, the diplomacy, and the people of Ireland all around the world. Overlooking the Dublin Docklands just west of the Jeanie Johnston replica tall ship stands EPIC and the Irish Family History Center (book some time with a genealogist! Unfortunately, I do not own a castle, but perhaps a bit of bog). The interactive museum lets you stamp your passport in each part of the exhibit, from the music and dance of Ireland, to the rebels and rouges throughout history, you’ll find yourself singing along and discovering a trove of history you never knew. EPIC is ranked as a top tourist attraction, but I had never heard of it before, so book a ticket, and take what you learn at EPIC with you to the GPO and Kilmainham Gaol museums. The GPO museum, in the basement of the still active General Post Office, offers a self-guided audio tour with a number of small exhibits of information to give an understanding of what lead up to the Easter Rising and includes a really excellent film that brings viewers through the rising itself and the aftermath. One thing I found really impactful is how few people globally and even within Ireland really got involved (despite their years of oppression) and it is very easy to forget why it took a relatively small group to push for change, and that is because the rising occurred in literally the middle of WWI. It’s hard to be on board to fight your own oppressor when most of your young men are fighting in their army. This brings us to Kilmainham Gaol, the jail where the leaders of the Easter Rising were imprisoned and executed, but also the jail where for years the poorest of Ireland were imprisoned for being poor. The 1847 vagrancy act made it illegal to beg in the streets, and so children were locked in the same prison as adult criminals. We heard the tale of Thomas Roberts, the youngest prisoner of Kilmainham, who at 3 years old was jailed for begging, though perhaps this was a better fate for him than the streets as he was at least able to get one meal a day. Jean Valjean got nothing on young Tommy. Kilmainham is a must see, but you MUST book advance tickets, they only offer guided tours and they limit group sized to about 25.

Donegal Airport has been voted the most scenic airport in the world several times over. I’m a sucker for deep blue rough seas, so I tend to agree, and upon arrival I couldn’t help but to be the person taking a ton of pictures out of my window. Upon arrival in Carrickfinn, about a dozen of us were on the same flight, we were picked up by several cars of family members and headed back to one of the houses for dinner, drinks, chats, etc. Because the group celebrating the hen party was fairly large, we were all staying in different places but Gweedore, the family home town, was our central hub. Leo’s Tavern (the home of Clannad and Moya Brennan!) has recently opened up a glamping area in a clearing behind the tavern, there are 6 “pods” with a full bathroom, a bed, pull out couch, TV, kitchenette, and a little outdoor seating area at each pod. They are immaculately clean and steps from all the festivities at Leo’s. We spent the majority of our nights there, while the rest of the group came in stages. Now as what happens at a hen party stays at a hen party I can’t give too many details, other than to say we hiked Mount Errigal and I’ve never felt more out of shape, but it was worth it for the view and I’d do it again, but boy am I glad that there is a path and it isn’t the march through the bog that I know it once was. We enjoyed food and drink and dance at Leo’s. We headed to the Crolly Distillery, formerly the home of the Crolly Doll Factory, many moons before that it was a barracks for the Royal Irish Constabulary, and before that it was a carpet factory. The Distillery folks not only take a great deal of care to make their whiskey, but they incorporated all the previous incarnations of the building into the design and make sure to include all of the history (ghosts and all) into their tour, also the whiskey is REALLY good! After the distillery tour and tasting we loaded ourselves into a bus and had a proper pub crawl of Donegal. We stopped in on more family and friends, visited a few local pubs, sang, danced and finally arrived in Donegal Town where we had dinner and spend the night at the regal, Abbey Hotel, after enjoying the nightlife of course. The next morning, we were unfortunately rained out of our planned sea-faring festivities and so after our drive back to Gweedore we all just hung out, we went for lunch and drinks, we all recouped from the night before and finally went back to the house for dinner and more time with family and friends.

If you’ve never been, you should go to Ireland, if you have been, you should go back, explore more, visit the places you wouldn’t think to visit. Dublin is wonderful but you can see it all in a couple of days, spend time along the Wild Atlantic Way, go to Dingle (eatMurphy’s Ice Cream!), to Galway, see the Cliffs of Moher, drink local whiskey, sit in pubs and listen to music, climb Mt. Errigal. Take your time, parts ofIreland are truly otherworldly, there really are 40 shades of green. And by all means visit our friends in Donegal, stay at Meenalack Glamping Pods and say hi to Bartley at Leo’s Tavern. Remember the true gift of Ireland is its people, they are friendly and welcoming, sit in a pub and talk to a stranger, you'll be glad you did.

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