Dublin. Ireland. One of the top places on my list of travel destinations somehow became one of my last trips. In my defense, I wasn’t prepared for Ireland in August or September, having just arrived in Paris. Then, the weather on the isles turns to winter much sooner than it does in Paris so Irish adventures would not have been possible in December-February. So with four days off work, a travel buddy to meet, and a free place to stay I flew out to Ireland.
A friend I met at Dauphine was in Dublin, staying in the apartment that belongs to one of her friends from Canada. Having a free place to stay in one of Europe’s most expensive cities was an incredible stroke of luck. Unfortunately, because I booked my ticket so late I had to pay an obnoxious amount of money. I actually booked with AirFrance, but the flight was serviced by City Jet. This was the first AirFrance flight I’d taken since coming to Paris. The total cost round trip was the single most expensive ticket I’ve purchased so far (which is ridiculous considering how close Dublin and Paris are). My theory is that since Ryannair, one of the budget airlines, is an Irish company, they’ve managed to block EasyJet from getting landing space at the airport. Without Easyjet, all the other airlines can keep their prices up. It’s a conspiracy!
Anyways, when I landed in Dublin I walked off the plane onto the tarmac, surprising for an international airport in a capital city. We landed just as the sun was setting and I could see the green fields and the hills in the distance. There was a distinct smell of cow which seemed to make the atmosphere more pleasant. I went through the usual crankiness at border patrol. Ireland is not in Schengen so I actually got my passport stamped this time. Walking through the airport, I was surprised to see many of the signs in Irish. I learned from an Irishman that the language which most Americans call ‘Gaelic’ is referred to as Irish by the Irish. I had originally thought it was an old language, something people only used to speak with their grandparents. But it was everywhere, very official, and very much alive.
As I had expected, the Irish were extremely friendly and helpful. People were very warm and full of smiles, much unlike the French. When I got off the bus in the city center I asked the bus driver for directions to the street I was looking for. He placed a hand on my shoulder, walked me to the corner, and then pointed down the only street that lay before us, saying it was the one I wanted. I felt silly asking for directions when the street was right in front of me but he was extremely kind and didn’t seem at all bothered by my tourist gimmicks. In general, the Irish were very helpful, very welcoming, and very polite. They all seemed to have a genuine warmth.
After arriving at the apartment and seeing my friend I was shocked at how nice the living space was. The apartment wasn’t super-centrally located but it was a short walk from St Stephen’s Green and Trinity College. Inside there was a full kitchen – a stove, four ranges, and an oven! – as well as a full bath, a living room, and a separate bedroom. I got to sleep on a pullout couch. The amount of living space was shocking after being in Paris.
The next day my friend and I bought tickets for a bus tour and spent time wandering around the city. We walked up Grafton Street, one of the major the shopping streets in Dublin. Then we toured Trinity College. Trinity was founded in the 1500s and remains Ireland’s oldest school and one of the oldest schools in the western world. The setting was beautiful with gray, stone buildings, manicured lawns, and towers, and turrets. We paid to get into the library where we saw The Book of Kells, a medieval manuscript of four gospels dating back to 800. The pages were very intricately decorated with the tiniest details in every corner. I’ve heard a lot about the manuscripts and seeing them for myself was quite memorable. Additionally, we also saw the Old Library of Trinity. It looked like everything a proper library should look like – tall, high shelves, fancy woodwork, and interesting posters and figurines. Pictures were not allowed inside. I really enjoyed Trinity and I felt a surprising comfort on the campus. It looked so old, so regal, and so college-like. There was history there, in the walls and the grounds. It was a cool feeling to think of all the famous historical figures who have studied there: Samuel Beckett, Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, etc. I found myself thinking that I would like to come back; I could study here and be happy on this campus inside this huge city.
After Trinity we got back on the bus, saw some more sights and grabbed lunch: fish and chips. There were no mushy peas this time but the fish was very good. Afterwards, we toured the Guinness Storehouse, the original brewery of Guinness Stout. I was surprised at how ingrained Guinness is in Irish culture. They refer to ‘the black stuff’ all the time. While in the storehouse we took a tour of the St Jame’s Gate Brewery and learned about how Arthur Guinness basically invented stout. He bought the building and the surrounding area in 1759, signing a 9,000 year lease. The lease is on display in the center of the building. I also learned that the yeast used in the fermentation process comes from the same strand of yeast used by Arthur Guinness in the 1700s. A strand of the culture is kept under lock and key in the CEOs office. Finally, at the end of the tour we finished in the Gravity Bar, a glassed-in circular room that had awesome views of the city of Dublin.
The next day we took a bus tour to the west coast of Ireland to see the Cliffs of Moher. Like the tour I took in England, there wasn’t enough time anywhere. But it was still spectacular to see the countryside as it passed by. We first stopped at King Jame’s Castle in Limerick. We got out for a photo opportunity and viewed the castle from across the River Shannon. I’ve read numerous books where the river is featured and it was really fulfilling to finally see it, in real life. We also caught glimpses of Bunratty Castle, a medieval entertainment castle, and the Curragh Plains, a vast open area of land where the battle scenes for the movie Braveheart were filmed.
After Limerick we arrived in County Clare (hehe) home of the Cliffs of Moher. The sea cliffs were formed by glaciers thousands of years ago. They are a protected environment for sea birds. On a normal day, you can see the Aran Islands from the cliffs which rise to a maximum height of 700 feet. Unfortunately, we did not arrive on a clear day. For us it was driving horizontal rain, hail, ferocious winds, and quite a chilly temperature. I was wearing a pair of jeans, my North Face jacket, and a plastic poncho I bought, with sneakers. The wind was brutal on the cliffs and my poncho kept flying everywhere. My jeans were soaked through all the way past my knees and my hair was drenched. It was ridiculous. I was standing on the edge of a cliff looking out onto the Atlantic Ocean as winds and rain whipped around me. Although the weather was horrible, it definitely made the experience even more unforgettable.
And it was breathtaking. The cliffs were an incredible sight, very majestic and regal. What I appreciated the most is that they looked so natural. Some of the mountains and other natural beauties I’ve seen in Europe were almost too gorgeous to believe in. But these cliffs looked perfectly in place, like they belonged there and simply happen to be magnificent as well. If we had had more time we could have walked along the cliffs for hours. Before walking back we noticed a hole in the fence that is meant to keep visitors from getting too close to the cliffs’s edges. We climbed through and stood on the very edge, wind everywhere, drenched and soaked. I ran along a tiny cow path, further out along the cliffs. Seeing these cliffs is something I’ve dreamed of doing for a long time. It was very fulfilling and meaningful to finally find myself standing there, in the middle of a rain storm, on the edge of the Cliffs of Moher.
When we got back to the tourism center my friend asked why I wasn’t as cold and cranky and miserable as she was. It took me a second to understand why, despite the adrenaline rush, I wasn’t pouting and shaking from the cold. Then I remembered. Nothing but eight years of Marching Band in New England could have prepared me for that tour of the cliffs. In fact, I’ve definitely marched in worse weather…
After the cliffs we moved on to the small village of Doolin to grab lunch. Then we drove through the Burren, a limestone karst-landscape that has developed over thousands of years of water drainage and the natural stripping of bedrock. The Burren looks like, as our tour guide put it, the moon. The craggy rocks with strips of grass growing between them looked desolate and lonely but strangely beautiful, in a way. Once again we were right on the edge of the water, standing on jagged rocks. The stone walls in this area of the country were made by piling stones on top of stones, without mortar. This allows the wind to blow through the stones and keeps the structure standing.
The next stop was Corcomroe Abbey in the Burren. This ancient abbey fell into decline after the reformation of Ireland, when Catholicism was dissolved. The graveyard contained dozens of Irish High Crosses, the Celtic Cross. It’s solitary location and the ruins of the church gave it a creepy but hallowed vibe.
The final stop was the port city of Kinvara which would have been much more lovely in sunlight. We didn’t have much time to wander but I enjoyed the few brightly colored houses and pubs. It looked like it would be a cute town to spend a day in.
Back in Dublin, I spent the next morning before my flight touring to the great medieval cathedrals of Dublin – St Patrick’s Cathedral and Christ’s Church Cathedral. Both were originally Catholic but since the reformation they have been a place of worship under the Church of Ireland. I started at St Patrick’s, where Johnathan Swift was once a Dean. The floor of the church was intricately decorated with painted and carved tiles. There were ancient flags hanging along the nave, much like St George’s Chapel at Windsor. The church also displayed two carved stones that were said to be the covering of the Well of St Patrick, where St Patrick baptized the first Catholics in Ireland. I found the interior of the cathedral quite sparse, especially considering the high cost of entry (4.50 euro!). I also went to see Christ’s Church but I chose not to pay the entrance fee.
I loved Ireland. I always knew I would. Originally when I had planned to stay in Europe for the summer I felt something pulling me towards Ireland. I don’t have any regrets; I’m happy in Paris. But I need more time in Ireland, there is so much more to see in that country like the Blarney Stone, the Ring of Kerry, and all the other beautiful and historic places. My travel buddy had just returned from Scotland and her stories made me want to go there as well. I’m thinking an extensive UK tour is in order. The only bad thing I can say about Ireland is that the weather is absolute “feckin” crap. The day I arrived it was a bit chillier than Paris but nothing terrible. The second day it was overcast with a few rain showers but acceptable. The next day at the cliffs had miserable, freezing weather with non-stop rain. And the final day was seventy-five degrees and humid. I had always thought that New England was famous for ever-changing weather but since coming to Europe I’ve decided that Massachusetts has extremely stable, predictable weather. Not to mention, if I was cold and wet in Ireland in June I can’t imagine what December is like.
But overall the city of Dublin was beautiful. All of the tour guides were friendly, funny, and welcoming. I felt comfortable walking around. It’s true what they say, Boston does look like Dublin. I also loved all of the quirky pub signs all over the city. Dublin definitely felt like it could be home for some time. I could be happy there and seeing more of Ireland has become a high priority for my future adventures.