Ireland was never at the top of our travel list. Here’s the story on how we found ourselves seeing green on the Emerald Isle.
It’s not the story I was hoping to share.
Two months ago, I came across the webpage for The Hive, a gathering of digital storytellers, tastemakers & bloggers. I thought it would be a great way to network and learn more about the craft of blogging. Plus a great excuse to visit a new city I never thought of visiting before. I bought my ticket to the two-day weekend conference and my flights. And I convinced David to join me for the weekend. The plan was he could visit and explore Dublin while I attended the conference. And just so I could explore Dublin myself, we tacked on an extra day.
I was pricing out blog business cards two days after making our travel plans when I got a disappointing email.
The conference was cancelled.
Shit happens. Life doesn’t go as planned. I’m sure I’m not the only one who was disappointed.
So we had a decision to make… still go to Ireland or cancel it all together? Three full days in Dublin seemed like a lot. We were close to just forfeiting our flight.
Putting the gal in a pub… or three
Well you know by now, we went anyway. We don’t like to pass up an opportunity to travel and visit somewhere new. We’ve learned by now that places can surprise you. Places you go with little or no expectations usually turn out to be the best. (I’m looking at you Budapest, Riga and Ljubljana)
Before the trip, I associated Dublin with beer and pubs. Despite four years of engineering school, I’m not a beer person. I’m not a pub person either. I groan when friends suggest going to a pub to hang out.
I was dead wrong. I was happy to be wrong.
Dublin has so much more to offer. Ireland has so much more to see and do. The history alone is fascinating. And the scenery… well, you’ll see for yourself.
And in the end, I actually don’t mind Irish pubs… although I do prefer the mid-afternoon pub scene. The live music and warm ambiance convinced me enough to go once every day. Even if I still don’t like the beer, the pubs turned out to be a highlight.
A Dublin-Galway Travel Weekend Sandwich
The story starts with the unpleasant discovery of sky-high Dublin accommodation prices. I scoured the city and multiple web sites. We couldn’t justify three nights at over 150 euros a night for a room in a shared AirBnb apartment. Nor upwards of 200 euros for a hotel on HotWire or Booking.com. On the recommendation of a friend who lived in Ireland year ago, we rented a cheap car and spent some time near Galway. It became the meat in our travel weekend sandwich with Dublin being the bread.
I flew in Friday afternoon by myself and found a quaint, affordable hotel just a 15 minute bus ride south of the city centre, in Rathmines. The double-decker public buses were easy to use, frequent and cheap.
After settling in, and unpacking my much-needed umbrella, I hit the streets to explore. I started on O’Connell street, North of the river Liffey. I worked myself south across the river, around Trinity College, along Grafton Street, a pedestrian street lined with shops and buskers. I immediately fell in love with the typical British architecture, the row brick houses and colourful doors.
I walked through Stephen’s Green before enjoying a meal at The Pig’s Ear. The food was lovely, a sophisticated balance of traditional Irish classics with a modern twist. The service was even better. All the servers called me madam.
I can’t remember the last time I had dinner all by myself. The bar man graciously charged my iPhone so I didn’t even have my phone to distract me!
After dinner, as night fell, I walked along the river and through Temple Bar. Dublin just lit up. In Green! Buildings were green. The river bridges lit up in green. Irish music spilled out from the pubs. People walked the cobbled, narrow streets, meeting up with friends, some celebrating a bachelor or bachelorette, gearing up for the weekend. It wasn’t as loud or overrun as I expected. But then again, I called it a night around 10:30pm before turning into a pumpkin.
The next day, David flew in, rented a car and picked me up. We headed 215km to the west coast of Ireland to settle in a little town called Kinvarra. The idea was to relax in the countryside for two nights, visit the town of Galway, and the Cliffs of Moher. It really deserves it’s own post that will be published soon.
After two night on the west coast, we woke up super early Monday morning to make it back to Dublin. With an 8pm flight, we had the good part of the day to explore. For David, it would be his first and only taste of this lively city.
It started with a typical Irish breakfast at the Queen of Tarts. We had an Irish breakfast every morning in fact. That’s a lot of pork.
Then like always, we joined a free walking tour. We spent 3 hours with our guide Dave, a Dubliner born and raised, with a deep hatred for selfie-sticks, Jack Black and Starbucks. (He’s starting a movement against all three.) His passion shone through as he entertained us with stories and anecdotes. We learned about the complex and tumultuous history and culture of Dubliners and of Ireland while walking past monuments and relics of history.
Things that make you go hmmm…
Of all the cool, interesting facts we learned, I’ll share a few here:
- The Ha’ Penny Bridge across the River Liffey is the oldest in Ireland, dating back to 1806 when you needed half a penny to cross it
- They say the best tasting Guinness comes from Ireland because of the secret ingredient: water from the River Liffey
- Trinity University is the Oldest in the UK, dating from 1592
- Women were only admitted to the university in 1904 after the death of the Provost George Salmon who strongly opposed it. Apparently to mark the centenary of the occasion, a group of women marched over his grave. Ouch!
- The +1200 year old Book of Kells is Ireland’s greatest work of arts. Upon his recommendation we went to see it and it deserves the hype.
- Vikings had a big part in Ireland’s history. The myth that Vikings had horns on their helmets was started by the monks to liken them to the devil. There is no archaeological proof that they wore horned helmets. Proving ancient myths can become widely accepted reality.
- Red hair was introduced to the Irish genetic pool by the Danish Vikings. They also introduced pants.
- Due to the Potato famine and waves of Irish emigration, Ireland is the only European country with a smaller population than 200 years ago.
- Famous Irish: James Joyce (who wrote Ulysses), Oscar Wilde (who is buried in Paris), Jonathan Swift who wrote Gulliver’s Travels (a satire about the British in Ireland), C.S. Lewis, Samuel Beckett… I didn’t know they were Irish. Here I thought only U2 and Colin Firth were the only Irish exports.
After the tour we spent the afternoon squeezing in some typical Dublin experiences before our flight.
An impromptu visit to see the Book of Kells and the Long Room (The Old Library) based on our guide’s recommendation. The fine detail and vibrancy of colour is still incredible 12oo years after monks poured their heart and soul into the artistic publication of the first four Gospels of the New Testament.
We had lunch in the Old Stonehouse Pub in Temple Bar listening to the sweet sounds of a local musician. David had his 5th pint of Guinness of the holiday with a typical beef stew. I had bangers and mash. It was a cozy atmosphere and a great way to end our holiday.
That was our whirlwind trip in Dublin, in more or less 24 hours. An unexpected delightful experience immersed in history, pub, beer, great food and green everything.
Looking back, I wish we had spent an extra day to visit other top sights like the Archaeological Museum, the City Museum and the Kilmainham Gaol. And, dare I say, hang out in more pubs.
Maybe next time…
Eat: The Pig’s Ear 4 Nassau St, Dublin 2 // Queen of Tarts Cows Lane, Dame Street, Dublin 2 // Old Stonehouse Pub 3 Crown Alley, Dublin 2
See: The Book of Kells Library of Trinity College Dublin, 12 euros (adult) // Stephen’s Green // Temple Bar
Do: Dublin Free Walking Tour Daily at 11am, meeting at The Spire on O’Connell St.