My fiance and I took our first trip to Europe together, and we went to Ireland for week. Overall, Ireland was a beautiful country; I’ve never seen so many cow’s and sheep in my life, and I grew up in Michigan. The animals roam freely in grass fields and eat grass all day; they did not look like the cows we are used to in America. Also, all of the people we met were so lovely and nice; they also love to drink a lot of Guinness and whiskey and tell stories.
We started off the trip flying into Shannon Airport, and then driving an hour through the country up to Galway. Galway is a little fishing town in northwestern Ireland. A lot of the people in Galway speak Gaelic, which is the traditional Irish language; the people there raise their children to learn it to carry on the traditions.
We started wandering the city right when we got there, and we saw the beautiful brightly painted buildings, the Spanish Arch called ‘The Claddagh’, which is where the River Corrib meets Galway Bay, and many teens singing for money.
We went to the Galway Cathedral, which has the faced of an ancient stone architecture, but it was actually built in the 1960s using Connemara Marble (see below for more information on the marble). The cathedral was beautiful on the inside and outside. We learned that the Irish are very proud that JFK was of Irish decent, and they have a mosaic portrait of him on one of the walls.
Connemara Marble Factory
We went out to the Connemara Marble Factory, which is a family owned business that provides all of the green Connemara marble to the world. The original owner’s son gave us a demonstration telling us all about the marble and how they quarry for it, and showed us how they wash it, and make jewelery out of it. Across the street from the factory, they have a dining area where you can have tea and biscuits, and they also have a peat fireplace, which is dug up from the bog’s nearby. Peat forms in wetland conditions, where flooding obstructs flows of oxygen from the atmosphere, slowing rates of decomposition. I had never seen peat or a bog before, so both were really interesting to me.
Shopping in Galway
Mike and I also did a lot of shopping in Galway. Quay Street is lined with pub’s and little shops to buy nick-nack goodies.
Irish Pubs: We have two favorite pubs in Galway. First is called Quay’s, named after the street, and the other is called Tig Cóilí, which has live Irish music 7 nights a week. Something we thought was interesting about the pub’s was that they had police badges from all over the United States, and the World, posted on the walls from police men and women that brought them to the pubs. The first thing we wanted to buy was some Irish Guinness; we both ordered the draught Guinness as well as a Black Velvet, which is a Guinness with Champagne in it; I thought it was delicious!
Claddah Ring: We also were on a mission to find me a Claddagh Ring with a green heart stone. A Claddagh Ring is a traditional Irish ring given which represents love, loyalty, and friendship (the hands represent friendship, the heart represents love, and the crown represents loyalty). I have small fingers, so after about 5 jewelery stores, we finally found one that would custom make one for me. I love my ring so much.
Chocolate: We found an amazing Irish chocolate store called Butler’s, where they sell all sorts of chocolate. We bought a bunch of different flavored bar’s, as well as their special Butler’s Hot Chocolate; it was one of the best hot chocolates I have ever had in my life!
Wool Sweaters and hats: We received a brief presentation from an Irish woman and learned that the Irish sheep have really dense wool because of the inclement weather, and the Irish women used the wool the make their fishermen and farmer husbands sweaters to keep warm while they were working. The stitching used in the sweaters was unique for each family, and typically represented something in the families lives such as a fishing net, fishing ropes, etc., and the clan families passed the sweaters down from generation to generation. Mike and I each bought a sweater, and I also bought a hat, which I cannot wait to use this winter!
On our final night in Galway, we went to a Medieval Castle for a banquet, where they named a king and queen in the audience, they told us poems, sang songs, played the harp, and told us old folk stories about the Castle. We were served a 4 course Medieval dinner, which was delicious. We also had mead, which is fermented honey wine, it was really sweet. Overall, I really enjoyed our experience in the castle.
Cliffs of Moher
When we got to the Cliffs of Moher, it was a really cloudy day, but after about 30 minutes of walking along the 8 miles of cliffs, the sun came out and it was a beautiful day. The cliffs are 320 million years old, and are made of sandstone, siltstone, and shale. The cliffs are so beautiful, and you can see the birds flying everywhere; the cliffs are home to 40,000 birds. There is a fenced path that you are supposed to stay behind, but most people go over the fence, and walk along the edge. It was a wonderful experience, and truly beautiful.
On our way down to County Cork, we stopped at a castle called Bunratty Castle. The rest of the trip, Mike kept calling me bun ratty because I like to wear my hair in a bun :). We grabbed a quick bite to eat at a local bakery, and then headed on our way.
Cork is known as the “Revel City”due to a history of independence from the Viking invasions to the Irish War of Independence. We stopped here for a few hours and walked along the Lee River. We found and explored the English Market, which is a market where local farmers sells their meats, cheeses, vegetables, and fruits; we had some really amazing strawberries. This city is much larger than any of the other cities in Ireland that we visited (besides Dublin, which we did not visit until the end).
The Garryvoe Hotel
We stayed at the Garryvoe hotel in Cork County, and it was a really beautiful hotel right near the sea. We had a great dinner here and then walked to the water to enjoy the view. There were kids camping right outside, and they seemed to be having a lovely summer vacation. The room Mike and I received had two double beds, and one single bed; I’ve never seen so many beds in a hotel before. It was an overall nice experience.
Blarney Castle was SO beautiful; definitely one of my favorite parts of the trips. The grounds and gardens were great and so fun to explore. While you are exploring inside the castle, they have the rooms labeled for what they used to be so that you can picture yourself living how the Irish used to in the castle. When you climb to the top of the Castle, you are supposed to “Kiss the Blarney Stone”. The Blarney stone powers were reportedly thanks to a witch that cast a spell on the stone to thank a king who saved her from drowning. Kissing the Blarney stone is said to give “The Gift of Eloquence” or “The Gift of Gab”. I was too short to reach the stone, so there is a worker there to help you, and to make sure that you do not fall. We also walked along the Wishing Steps on the grounds where you are supposed to close your eyes and walk up and down the steps and make a wish.
On our way to Dublin, we stopped in a little town called Cashel in County Tippery, and we had the most amazing lunch of the trip. We stopped at a restaurant called Brian Boru, and we had amazing chicken fingers and goat cheese. It was the cutest little town.
Temple Bar is an area on the south bank of the River Liffey river that is filled with pubs. We went to The Temple Bar two times, they have live music and really great food. I had a turkey and brie sandwich, and Mike had oysters and Guinness; the oysters are salty, and the Guinness is sweet, so it is a popular Irish treat.
This bar is the oldest bar in Dublin dating back to the 1100s. We went to the folk story telling dinner, where they told us stories of fairies (or “fallen angels”) and leprechauns. We also were able to enjoy some Irish music.
Doors of Dublin
The Irish were ordered to paint all of the doors black to mourn the death of Queen Victoria, but rebelled by painting them the brightest colors possible (and to help them find their home).
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
This Cathedral is really beautiful and has wonderful stained glass windows and beautiful architecture. It is the largest Cathedral in Ireland. The church was founded in 1191.
The Jameson Distillery was a great tour and very interesting. We did the tour at 11AM, and I was not quite prepared to taste a bunch of whiskey so early, but I really enjoyed it. You learn a great deal about the Jameson family and the history of the company. At the end of the tour, you have a tasting, and then are invited to have a glass of whatever you choose in the bar.
Mike and I loved visiting the Guinness Storehouse. We did the Connoisseur experience, and for anyone who remotely has an interest in beer, it was a wonderful experience. The tour takes you to a private bar in a hidden room in the building with only 14 guests total at a time. You get a one hour private lesson with one of the ten brewmasters. You learn a great history about Guinness and get to taste 4 varieties of beer. At the end, they teach you how to pour the perfect Guinness pour.
Trinity College was great. We took a student guided tour that was 12 euros, and it was well worth it. They explained the history of the University, and talked about what all of the different buildings are used for. At the end, you also have access to go to the Old Library and see the Book of Kells, which is a must see for visitors to Dublin. Trinity College also has a Sphere Within Sphere, which is a bronze sculpture by Italian sculptor Arnaldo Pomodoro. I have seen this statue in San Francisco and Rome before. There are 13 around the world.
We walked through Dublin’s Castle but we did not pay for a tour to go inside. It was beautiful to look at and I am sure it has a lot of great history to be discovered.
St. Stephen’s Green
Walking around Stephen’s Green was so beautiful and peaceful.
We went to a night filled with Irish Dancing, singing, comedy, and folk tales at Taylors Three Rock. Everyone was so talented. The show came with a three course meal. They also had the crowd interact and get on stage as well. It was a great time and I would highly recommend.
On our final night in Dublin, we stayed in the cutest AirBnb in the Jameson Distillery district. It was my first time staying at an AirBnb where the host actually lives there and stays there too. We had our own en suite so we never really interacted with the host. It was walking distance to a bunch of restaurants and bars. We really enjoyed it.