Beer drinker or not, I think everyone who goes to Ireland tries the Guinness. We arrived at the Dublin airport five minutes late to catch our bus to Kilkenny so we found a table, had our Guinness and waited. That’s when I got my first lesson in how “The Guinness” is poured. Throughout our month in Ireland I shared this lesson with other tourists who were about to make my same mistake. If you aren’t familiar, here’s how it works.
A bartender will often pour a Guinness and set it aside on a mat while tending to other drinks. It may be a while before they come back because they get busy and because it takes a good while for a Guinness to settle. In my naivete, I took the drinks off the mat and walked back to our table, all the while thinking “these pours are pretty short!” It was an airport restaurant and I didn't expect portions to reflect the price. But, lo and behold, the waitress comes over to our table to let me know the beers weren’t finished. She took them back and returned with two pints poured all the way to the top with a perfect head of foam. Irish Lesson #1. A proper Guinness pour is done in two stages.
Irish Lesson #2 is also a beer lesson. But I promise it’ll be the last beer lesson. I don’t want to reinforce stereotypes especially since I have a wee bit of Irish blood.
When we arrived in Cork we sought out a pub recommended for their live music. The bartender steered us away from the Guinness and toward their local brew, Beamish. We tried it and liked it even better. It would be our beer of choice but alas, it’s only found in Cork and County Cork. Every new county, sometimes every new pub required sampling a new beer. Darn.
Now, it sounds like we went to Ireland for the beer, but we didn’t. We’re not naive beer drinkers. We know Belgium is the place for beer! We came to Ireland for the GREEN. The green landscape that is.
We Really Went to Ireland for the Green
To help me find the greenest spots I asked several friends for their favorite places and spent hours on tourist sites like The Wild Atlantic Way and The Irish Road Trip.
There’s one thing these sites have in common with the itineraries of my friends. The CAR. Yes, touring Ireland is very much a car trip proposition. Or a tour bus. We’re committed to slow travel on public transportation and it was harder to make it work in Ireland than anywhere else we’ve been.
Jamie went to work on developing our transportation logistics which turned into mostly “The Irish Bus Trip.” With a few more months in Ireland I think he could write an itinerary for the whole country. Someone needs to.
During our month in Ireland we stayed south of Dublin the whole time and experienced County Kilkenny, County Clare, County Kerry, County Wicklow, and County Dublin. There’s so much more to do in Ireland but we are committed slow travelers. And we did two petsits while in Ireland that gave us some longer stays than normal.
What We’ll Remember About Ireland
For us, the “REAL GREEN” was on the Dingle Peninsula. There’s hiking straight out of the village of Dingle and a local bus out to the Blasket Center Museum which tells the story of the Great Blasket Islands and the people who lived there. We also took a full day tour that traversed a good portion of the peninsula so we could experience the Wild Atlantic Way without a car. The village of Dingle is enough to keep anyone entertained for a couple of days.
The number of American tourists everywhere in Ireland surprised us. The only other location with so many Americans was in Bayeux France and at the American D-Day Cemetery.
We had plenty of opportunities to speak with the locals and overwhelmingly we found them to be some of the most friendly, cheerful people we’ve encountered anywhere. We loved chatting with them because we could! With the exception of a short trip to the U.S. this was our first time in an english speaking country in over five years.
Spending time with our two petsit hosts provided deep insights into living in Ireland. It is a multicultural place for sure. American multinational companies flocked to Ireland after the country joined the European Union and the economy of Ireland went from an agrarian society to an economic powerhouse seemingly overnight. That bond is even tighter now that the UK left the EU. So while the animosities with the English are not forgotten or forgiven, they do love Americans.
As big cities go, Dublin is a delightful experience. Maybe it’s because our hotel was in the true Dublin, not the tourist Dublin. We had quite a chat with a shoe store owner who remarked that he didn’t often have American tourists in his store. He said most of them stay close to the big tourist sites in the 5 Star Hotels. Well, that’s not us so maybe that’s why we had so many fun conversations.
We stayed in quite a few “Tidy Town” winners - Kilkenny, Kinsale, Cobh - an honor given annually for best village, best small town, best large town, and best urban center. The contest began in 1958 with one town awarded best overall and the categories expanded from there. Volunteers work hard to spiff up their town and the effort has a huge impact on community spirit and pride. Ennis in County Clare has won the best overall prize several times. I’m really sorry we didn’t extend our trip that far. And that we didn’t spend time in Ireland in the summer. There’s always next time.
An Archeological Tour on Dingle Peninsula
This was not your typical tour. Our off-season tour was small, eight persons, and operated by Michael, an archeologist, who puts his whole self into his tours. Highly recommend! www.ancientdingle.com
Don & Barry’s Historic Stroll in Kinsale
We found this charming walking tour gathering outside the tourist information office and decided to join. Barry had a good sales pitch: “You pay at the end and if you don’t like it, don’t pay.” He knew he was good. He had me hooked with his first story about this fascinating little village. The rest was icing. www.historicstrollkinsale.com
Jamie found the public transportation network system in Ireland to be a bit less interconnected than those in the other EU countries we visited. For example, the Dublin light rail (DART) trains don’t call at the main Irish Rail station. We used the Google Maps public transportation option extensively when we arranged our travel in Ireland.
Ireland has a policy of competition in bus transport. So, while an extensive network of buses serves the country’s cities and towns, visitors like us face a bit of a challenge negotiating route and fare options, actually finding the bus stop, and deciding on whether to save money by buying a return (round trip) ticket with one company or having some flexibility by buying a single (one way) ticket with the option of using a competing bus company operating on the same route.
You can find a list of Irish bus companies here.
The Irish rail system isn’t extensive outside the Dublin area. We always needed to coordinate schedules on buses and trains on our longer trips.
If you are traveling along the coast to the north or south of Dublin the DART (Dublin area rapid transit) light rail service is an option. Trains tun about every ten to twenty minutes or so. https://www.dublinpublictransport.ie/
Most of the train routes in Ireland emanate from Dublin, although there are other routes. We traveled by train between Cork and Tralee, Cork and Cobh and Tralee and Dublin. All of the trains were comfortable and ran on time. https://www.irishrail.ie/en-ie/rail-fares-and-tickets/fares-info
A Ferry to Wales
If you have time and want to make a short hop across the Irish Sea to the UK, we highly recommend taking the ferry. We went on the Stena Line and found the tiny extra fee for the Hygge Lounge to be well worth it.
Susan writes about the things that make life meaningful for her. This includes places we’ve been and what we’ve experienced as nomads these last several years. And now, includes finding a place to call home.
As we come closer to a “settled” life, Susan will begin to emphasize aging gracefully with a plant based diet, plenty of yoga, and physical activity. She is certified to teach Hatha, Vinyasa, and Yin yoga. Adaptive and Senior yoga certification is coming soon.