As the first installment of the Why Travel series, we're talking about Ireland; home to Guinness, KerryGold butter, and Liam Neeson. While the bucolic setting might be enough to get you across the pond, there are many other reasons to make the trip to the Emerald Isle.
Why Travel to Ireland?
Ireland make a great change of pace from the typical vacation, but allows inexperienced travelers to stay within their comfort zone. Be sure to come prepared with Slainte (Slahn-ch) to toast your mates down the pub when having a pint.
English is the Main Language
Ireland's main language is English, with a few small parts of the country still speaking Gaelic. English is quickly becoming becoming the primary language for travel and tourism and it's dominating Ireland. Whether you're a native English speaker or generally comfortable getting by in English, you'll feel comfortable in Ireland.
Pro Tip: While English is the main language, I'll be the first to say that Irish is quite a bit different from American. And they are on a completely different level of swearing. Nothing mean, but not for the faint-hearted.
Great Food and Drinks
If you want to spend week, or just a long weekend eating good food and drinking great beer, Dublin is the place for you. Dublin is home to hundreds of pubs and the home of the Guinness Factory. And don't forget about Bushmills, Jameson, and the Irish Whiskey Museum. While most people have a negative opinion of Irish food, it's not all corned beef and cabbage. Yes, you'll find the classics, like the best fish and chips in the world, or delicious bangers 'n mash, but you'll also find an ethnically diverse range of restaurants. Whether it's farm-to-table goat cheese and sage tarts or the best vegan buffet you've ever had, Ireland has it all.
Golf and Shopping
Right across the Irish Sea from Scotland, Ireland also has some pretty famous golf courses. Just outside the city of Limerick on the western part of the country, is Adare. Adare Manor hosted the 2007 and 2008 Irish Open tournaments. In November 2017, the Manor and its golf course will reopen after a massive renovation to both the historic home and the beloved links. In addition to Adare, there are about 20 golf courses across the country and including Northern Ireland (technically its own country and part of the UK).
If you're not a golfer, there's amazing shopping. You can spend your time in Dublin and hit the high street, or hop across the island to Galway. Galway is a hip, up-and-coming city with trendy shopping, exciting food, and exhilarating nightclubs. With a thriving city center and amazing surrounding countryside, you could spend an entire week in Galway and never want to leave.
It's Beautiful Year-Round
Whether you go in August or February, you'll always find rolling green hills dotted with sheep. Ireland is situated on the eastern edge of the Gulf Stream current, and while it does get chilly in the winter, the Gulf Stream keeps winter storms at bay. Much like the southern US, the Irish don't know what to do when it snows, so any snow-affected areas shut down until the sun melts it. In the summer, the weather is temperate and comfortable. It's far enough north to not be swelteringly hot during the summer, but warm enough to enjoy spending the bulk of your day outside.
Pro Tip: Be prepared when you travel to Ireland to have Sunday off. Since Ireland is still a traditionally Catholic country, few shops and restaurants outside of Dublin are open on Sundays.
The entire country of Ireland is lovely, but if you only can pick a few places, here are my top 3:
Cliffs of Moher
The Cliffs of Moher are Ireland's protection from the rough Atlantic sea and a majestic place to behold. During certain times of year, you can see Puffins nesting along the cliff face and when the weather is right, you can take a boat on to view the cliffs from the sea. There's also a delightful educational center to learn about the nature at the Cliffs.
Fun Fact: The horcrux scene in Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince where Dumbledore and Harry venture to find the necklace was filmed at the Cliffs of Moher.
While the Ring of Kerry tends to be more well-known, the Dingle Peninsula is the preferred way to see the "real Ireland." During your trip, be sure you don't take the main road into Dingle, but you take the way from Tralee through Conor Pass to Dingle. Conor Pass is one of the windiest places in all of Ireland and makes for a great photo stop. You can see down the peninsula to the sea and see hundreds of sheep roaming the hills. The Dingle Peninsula is one of the few areas that still predominantly speak Gaelic, so you'll see great shops, and hear wonderful conversations on the streets.
Ring of Kerry
The Ring of Kerry is, as mentioned, one of the more famous drives on the western coast of Ireland. It's a smoother ride with more main roads and a focus on tourism. You have to go into and out of Killarney to make the drive on the Ring of Kerry. Killarney itself is a fun little town and perfect for your breakfast or lunch stop (or both) on your drives.
Old Stuff - Castles, Keeps, Churches, and More
Ireland is an ancient country, full of history, war, traditions, and superstitions. You can't throw a stone without hitting something that ties back to the original Celts. Whether you're a history buff or simply looking to visit your ancestral home, there's no shortage of history waiting to be discovered.
The Giant's Causeway is quite possibly Ireland's most famed landmark. However, it's technically in Northern Ireland. When you visit Dublin and the Republic of Ireland, you'll have to cross into the UK's Northern Ireland to visit the Giant's Causeway. It's worth the trip. The Giant's Causeway was formed thousands of years ago when giants still roamed the earth. See, a regular Celt, Finn McCool felt the Scottish giant, Benandonnner, was threatening Ireland. In a fit of rage, Finn picks up massive chunks of the Antrim coastline and threw them into the sea to create a path to Benandonner. Like all good Irish folk, we have a bit of a temper, and Finn was determined to teach the Scottish giant a lesson. When Finn crossed the sea and saw Benandonner's massive size, he turned-tail and ran back to his home. Unfortunately, Benandonner followed him. Luckily, Finn's wife disguised Finn as a baby. When Benandonner caught up to the McCool home and saw a baby the size of a grown human man, Benandonner thought the child's father would be massive. Benandonner retreated and on his way back, stomping in defeat, he helped to form Finn's causeway into what we know as the Giant's Causeway.
Or if you like science, it's because of a volcanic eruption and the quick burning and cooling of lava in the sea. Whatever, science. Nice try.
If you like to experience history for yourself, there's no better place than Bun Raite (Bun Ratty). Bun Raite is a working farm and historical reenactment cultural center where you can see how the Irish lived in the days of castles and keeps. You can tour the main keep and see how the lords and ladies lived and you also experience the village, completely with butter-churning, broom-making, and a traditional Irish feast. You'll see traditionally crocheted lace curtains and bedspreads and, as it's a working farm, you'll get to meet the local chickens, pigs, sheep, and cows. It's a great place to spend a day with the whole family.
The Beehives were an unexpected surprise. There are several locations of Beehive Huts (or clochan in Gaelic) throughout Ireland. These unit family dwellings attached to one another through connecting doorways. What's unique about the beehives is the construction. The druids building the huts didn't use any mortar to keep the stones together. Many of these same people created their pasture fences in the same way. If you're already going to the Dingle Peninsula, it's a great side trip to visit the beehives and marvel at the construction.
Castles, Keeps, and Churches
You can't drive 10 miles in Ireland without spotting a castle, a keep, a church, or ruins. Whether you stumble upon a fourteenth century Franciscan abbey, grown over with moss and trees, or you walk into any of the landmark castles, there's no shortage of this historical way of life.
Being a Catholic country, there's a church round every corner. I wish that were an exaggeration, but it's not. Whether you're looking for a tiny, ten-pew country church, or a massive cathedral, Ireland's got it all. If you're not looking for a formal church, there are hundreds of historically pagan places from the days of the Druids. The Beehives (mentioned above) are one such Druidic place, full of history, mystery, and magic.
Perhaps the most famous Irish Castle is the Blarney Castle down in County Cork. Home to the Blarney Stone, legend says if you kiss the Blarney Stone, you'll receive the gift of eloquent speech. I'd like to think that worked on me, but you should hear me before I've had my morning caffeine. If you'd like a bit more on The Blarney Castle, check out The Blarney Castle Disaster for a hilarious story of driving gone awry.
Nice Fecking People
The absolute best part of Ireland is the people. They'll give the shirt off your back, buy you a pint, and call you "mate" all before you know their names. Whether they're arguing with the police, singing drinking songs, or telling you the story of Finn McCool, the Irish are a warm, kind-hearted group of people. You'll feel at home as soon as you step off the plane.
No matter what you're preferences for travel and vacation are, Ireland gets into your heart and soul. Once you've heard Erin Go Bragh, you'll always want to go back.