Prior to this trip, I’d been to Ireland twice, once in late 2014 and once in early 2015, and my mom had visited as a teenager in the 70s. But my dad had never been, and we both knew he would absolutely love it, so we pressured him until he relented. My dad is often a reluctant traveller, but always enthusiastic once we arrive. (See also our family trip to Italy in 2012.) We planned our Irish trip loosely, knowing where we would end up in the evening for the first eight days and then flying by the seat of our pants for the last two. All three of us had things we wanted to do, as well, but for the most part we went where our whims took us. Personally the thing I wanted to do the most was hop on over to Dingle Town to see Fungie the dolphin, and you will see how that turned out!
We started with a hilariously short flight from Glasgow to Dublin, a city I first visited in December of 2014. We repeated a bit of what I’d already done, including the National Museum of Archaeology (to visit my favourite bog body, Old Croghan Man, who made me have an existential crisis in 2014), Kilmainham Gaol (which neither of my parents had done but which I insisted they experience), and Trinity College Library. We found it slightly annoying that you have to pay €14 to see the Book of Kells just to enter the old library – you can basically see the Book for a nanosecond if you’re lucky since there’s such a crowd. Me and my mom had already “seen” it before and my dad didn’t really care about it, but we attempted to get a glance since we’d paid for it. In the end it was worth the ticket price because my dad adored the library, which was basically the only thing he actually wanted to do in Ireland prior to the trip.
We saw two other libraries while in Dublin, too. At the suggestion of a characteristically chatty taxi driver, we headed to Marsh’s Library next to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It’s a small library dating back to 1707, and they had on an exhibition of books that had been stolen from the library and either replaced or returned. Some of them had crazy stories attached – booksellers who would find 200-year-old books and return them to their rightful home, things like that. Plus, who can say no to perusing beautiful old books?
We also went to Chester Beatty Library and checked out their exhibition on the Coëtivy Hours, which consisted of a lot of tiny, intricate illuminated pages. Though the whole library seems wonderful, we were getting pretty tired so we ended up ducking out after we’d seen the book of hours. However, the library is completely free, so it’s worth putting on your list if you’re in Dublin!
Finally, we stumbled upon the Douglas Hyde Gallery on the Trinity College campus, which was having a free exhibition of artist Tamara Henderson’s textile work. Her creations are so special and interesting – some are purely beautiful, some are bewilderingly lovely. She’s also Canadian, and from the abundance of Maritime paraphernalia tucked into her work I would assume an East Coaster.
At this point I don’t feel the need to return to Dublin. There are a lot of really amazing things there, but it’s also very touristy and I think Ireland has a lot more to offer. However, if you are in Dublin, it’s a great city with beautiful architecture and a fascinating history. Everything I mentioned in this post is worth doing, but if I could recommend one thing it would be Kilmainham Gaol. I’ve done it twice and it was incredible both times! It illuminates so much about Irish history, from the famine to the cruelty the Irish people have experienced at the hands of the English to the Easter Uprising of 1916 which eventually led to Irish independence. It’s a bit out of the way from other tourist destinations, but it’s totally worth it.
After our day in Dublin we headed up to Northern Ireland to see the Giant’s Causeway, which was on my mom’s bucket list. Obviously, words really don’t do it justice, so here are some pictures:
We also stopped at the Dark Hedges on our way back into the Republic. I haven’t watched Game of Thrones in years so I 100% did not care about them for that reason – they’re just a really cool thing to see!
We moved on to the northwest of the Republic, ending up on the Inishowen peninsula in County Donegal. This is where my mom’s ancestors are originally from, although we don’t know exactly where they lived. This is probably the corniest North American Irish person thing to say, but being there was really nice because it made me think of my extremely well-travelled grandpa, who loved Ireland and who was the one who discovered where our ancestors came from. The last time I travelled a lot I kept a dedicated travel blog and he always commented on my posts to share his experiences in the places he’d been to or funny quips about the places he hadn’t. I thought of him a lot while in Ireland, and though it’s been over a year and a half since he died I truly feel his presence when I’m travelling. He’d love to know that we were up in the OG homeland.
County Donegal was beautiful and rugged and full of sheep (and lambs). I probably saw at least a thousand lambs over the course of the trip and every single time we drove past one I’d yell as if it was my first time ever encountering one. We drove past many on our drive up to Malin Head, the northernmost point in Ireland. At Malin Head, me and my mom hiked out to Hell’s Hole, a chasm in the cliffs. What a beautiful place! Again, pictures are better than words here:
From Malin Head we headed to Doagh Famine Village, a remarkable place. Ireland has quite a few famine villages that you can experience, but I’m willing to bet that none are as incredible as this place. It’s a true labour of love, run and guided by a man who lived in one of the small houses there until the mid-80s. He’s dedicated his life to teaching people about poverty around the world, and he is so passionate and well-read. I got to drink a shot of Irish moonshine (called poteen, or poitín in Irish), which was not necessarily enjoyable but which was cool nonetheless. (Unsurprisingly, it’s made of potatoes, so it’s quite similar to vodka.) It’s really hard to describe what the famine village is like – it’s not polished, it’s a large-scale DIY project, and it’s so compassionate. Another thing I’d highly recommend that’s off the beaten track!
Here’s a window from one of the houses in the village. Each house was white with a different bright colour used to brighten up the trim.
And a beautiful vista from the adjacent café:
In Sligo we saw a double rainbow, and then I went to bed early because I had to be up at 6 the next morning to go back to Glasgow for under 24 hours to do a three-minute dissertation proposal presentation. (Crushed it, by the way!) When I got back to Ireland, I met my parents in Galway. Hilariously, I have now stayed in Galway twice without ever actually exploring the city at all – it’s just such a great place to stay for access to day trips in the stunning County Clare. I would also like to point out that our hotel had a cat named Wayne, who I bonded with very quickly. One morning I opened the door to find him lying on his back waiting for someone to rub his belly. Obviously, I was more than happy to oblige.
From Galway we went over to Inisheer, the smallest of the Aran Islands. Back in February of 2015, I went to Inishmore, the largest, and loved it. However, everyone who says Inisheer is more beautiful is correct. It’s a lot more wild and less touristy, though I imagine it’s pretty busy in high season. On Inisheer I bought a lovely hand-knit Aran sweater for €90. Having knit my own sweater I can confidently say that’s a steal!
Here are some pictures I took on Inisheer – I didn’t get too many because the sun made for less than ideal photography conditions. (I know, bummer – it was sunny literally the entire time we were in Ireland!)
As we were waiting for our ferry back to the mainland, Inisheer’s own dolphin started swimming around in the harbour with a guy in a wetsuit. (She’s a wild dolphin – he wasn’t her handler or any type of professional dolphin wrangler, just a dude.) I have never seen a dolphin in the wild before, much less in Ireland, much less so close, so it was a very cool experience and definitely rendered my years-long desire to see Fungie moot. (No offense to Fungie. I just probably would not have seen him so close, and the unplanned serendipity of this encounter was much nicer than chasing after Fungie in a boat.)
We did, however, head to the Dingle Peninsula the next day, stopping at the Grange Stone Circle on the way. We found a stone with some offerings to the fairies, and a local woman told us that it was actually one of the biggest days of the year for fairies. My mom and I left a 50 cent piece I found on the beach on Inisheer as well as a loonie in honour of my brother’s friend, who died two years ago.
On Dingle, our first stop was the Gallarus Oratory, which is over a thousand years old and still fully intact.
Then we went to our Airbnb, where our host informed us that there was a place in a nearby town where you could HOLD LAMBS!!!! Of course I told my parents that we would definitely be doing this the next day.
You guys. Oh my god. This is the best thing I have ever done in my life. No joke, every single day since then I have thought “I wish I were holding a lamb.” They were so cute, and so chill. They have been held a million times and they truly do not care. Well, except for this one tiny boy, who I fell in love with but who would not let me pick him up. He kept running away and yelling at me in his tiny, high-pitched voice. I still think of him as the one who got away…
BUT SERIOUSLY LOOK AT HOW CUTE HE IS.
We then checked out the Beehive Huts:
Of course, we stopped to admire more of the scenery on the peninsula:
We also made it to the Western edge of Europe, which is extraordinarily beautiful. I mean, hey, I guess if you’re going to be the last part of Europe before you reach endless ocean you might as well be gorgeous, right?
Now that I’ve seen a lot of Ireland, I’m pretty confident in saying that Dingle is absolutely unreal. The whole country is beautiful and I have enjoyed all of my time in Ireland (even the trips I took in December and February, when the weather is awful), but Dingle is something else, man.
Reluctantly, we headed off Dingle and through Killarney National Park, itself a gorgeous place:
And then we were up the next day to drive to Dublin so that we could catch our respective flights – my dad back home, me and my mom off to Denmark!
As I’ve said, I have truly fallen in love with Ireland each time I’ve visited. For such a small country, there is so much to do and see there. The people are unfailingly friendly, the landscape is beautiful, the history is rich and fascinating (if also heartbreaking). I genuinely think it’s a foolproof trip to take at any time of year, but I have to say that mid-to-late-April is possibly the ideal. The weather was gorgeous the entire time we were there, but the country wasn’t completely overrun with peak season tourists. And, well, there were baby animals everywhere. Who can even argue with the facts? I can’t recommend Ireland in general enough, but if you want the best experience possible spring is the perfect time.
Next time I will share you with you my adventures in Denmark and the Faroe Islands, which are very different from Ireland to say the least!
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