Somewhere Over The Rainbow
Like all clichés, the one about Ireland being filled with rainbows ending with pots of gold well placed by little Leprechauns is fueled by reality. While visiting Ireland we saw more rainbows in one day than we usually see in several months here in Connecticut. In fact, in one day alone we saw 8 of them. The abundance of rainbows even led me to getting a rainbow tattoo to commemorate the trip, but I’m getting ahead of myself with that part of the story. We should probably start with how Lindsay and I ended up in Ireland in the first place.
Like most Americans, Lindsay and I are made up of mixed cultures. My family’s history is pretty well documented (My great, great, great + grandfather on my father’s side was born in 1599 in Suffolk County, Parish of Newton, England and his son came to the States in 1635 at the age of 3. My great, great, great + grandfather on my mother’s side came to the Colonies in 1639. His descendants include Robert Treat Paine, who signed the Declaration of Independence, and Robert Treat who was Governor of Connecticut from 1683-1698). Lindsay’s family’s history is more mixed and not as well documented. We know her descendants came from Quebec via France, Ireland, Italy and Poland, but that’s about it.
At some point Lindsay decided she wanted us to start visiting the places our families had emigrated from. So I, being a bargain hunter, started eyeing different flights to Europe on my Hopper App. I honestly hadn’t looked much into Ireland, but because I had looked for flights to London, Hopper decided to give me a heads up on some cheap flights to Ireland with Norwegian Air. And by cheap, I mean $255 for direct flights from New York to Shannon, Ireland. I got the notification on my phone and we promptly booked flights for early November. We also used Norwegian for our trip to Scotland last year and have had really great experiences both times.
So, November in Ireland. We already know what you’re thinking. You can envision short, dark days with lots of rain. The reputation for dreary weather helps keep most travelers away this time of year, which Lindsay and I see as a plus. We thought the same when we traveled to Scotland in November of 2017, and enjoyed the trip immensely. Everything is more affordable and less crowded. Yay for off season travel!
With our flights booked and a car reserved through Costco Travel (the only way I book a car, for the best price and service. You can read all about how we rent cars here) I decided to do a bit of research on where to stay while Lindsay did some research on her family’s history in Ireland. Combined, we opted to explore the Southwest portion of the country. We planned to fly into Shannon and circle around through places like Portmagee, Cork, Tipperary, Limerick, and Galway.
We booked our first night at an AirBnB on the Skellig Ring, right across the street from the Kerry Cliffs. We took the drive pretty leisurely, stopping in places like Limerick for a full Irish breakfast and Adare to see the thatched roofs, on the way. By the time we arrived at the Skellig View home of Marie it was pitch black out (as it should be considering the areas International Dark Sky designation) and just as we got out of the car it started to downpour. Thankfully Marie’s son met us and brought us into the house where he had started a fire to keep us warm.
Have you ever stayed somewhere and been pleasantly surprised at how great the stay turned out to be? That was our experience at Marie’s. The home was lovely, Marie and her son were friendly, and the location was absolutely amazing. We woke up the next day and ventured across the street to the Kerry Cliffs. I had googled some images of the cliffs, but nothing truly prepared me for what the actual experience was like. Lindsay and I were the only visitors that morning (again, yay off season travel!) sharing the grounds with a few donkeys, horses, and sheep. We walked along the edge of the cliffs in complete wonder.
After making a quick breakfast with the fresh eggs left for us by Marie we hopped in our tiny rental car and headed on the road to Cork, making stops at Ballenskelligs Castle and the Charlie Chaplin statue in Waterville. The scenery was spectacular. We wound up and down one track roads exploring the Southwest Irish coast. We always make sure to leave extra time for random stops, which was really handy as we drove through the town of Sneem where we pulled over when we saw a man with a large Bilberry goat on a leash. Of course, Lindsay had to make friends with the goat, and his owner. We also made plenty of stops as we drove through Killarney National Park, catching a spectacular sunset over Ladies View and making friends with a baby deer.
We arrived in Cork just in time to check into our hotel (which happened to be an old hospital) and spend some time in the hot tub and sauna at the onsite spa. We find having options like this are worth the extra cost, especially if the weather outside is cold and damp, and The Maldron Hotel definitely delivered. After warming up a bit we headed for dinner and some drinks. We popped into a lovely gastropub called Gallagher’s and then headed over to Dennehy’s Bar, who’s owner may be a distant relative of Lindsay’s. We enjoyed a pint and some conversation about family and travel with the current owner, Mary.
Now, generally we avoid doing touristy things. We would rather walk the streets and meet people in bars to get recommendations on things to do or information on the history of a place, but it was raining so instead we opted to ride around Cork on a Cork City Bus Tour. It kept us out of the wind and rain and for a few Euro gave us a really great history of the city. We enjoyed it so much we decided to do another bus tour while we were in Galway a few days later. Both times the drivers were friendly and the ride was pleasant.
We did do another really touristy thing on our next stop in Cobh. We decided to visit the Titanic Experience. The museum is well run, and really gives a moving history of the last stop of the Titanic voyage. We wished we had a bit more time to explore Cobh, but we had dinner reservations that night at the Michelin Star rated restaurant at The Cliff House Hotel, the House Restaurant. Again, dinner reservations at a fancy restaurant is not the general direction we go when traveling (especially while spending 6 days driving around Ireland and living out of our backpacks) but life is short. And man, was it worth it! The food was spectacular and the service was stellar. We even received a private tour of their great room which they use for weddings. If anyone reading this decides to get married at The Cliff House Hotel; Lindsay will travel to be your photographer!
Back on the road in the morning we drove up to Galway. We had hemmed and hawed as we planned this trip about whether we should visit Dublin or Galway, because trying to visit both on our two last days seemed like a bit much. The general consensus we got from friends who had visited Ireland before was that Galway would be the kind of place we would enjoy. They were right.
As we headed to Galway we took our time exploring more of Ireland’s back roads. Again, I know it may seem cliche to think of rainbows, sheep, and green pastures when you think of Ireland but that really does comprise so much of the countryside. We saw multiple rainbows, endless blue skies, and lush green pastures surrounding castles filled with sheep in every direction.
Arriving in Galway after sunset we checked into St Jude’s Bed and Breakfast which is located just outside of the city center. The guesthouse was lovely, and provided a great breakfast the next morning. We decided to find a place for dinner, which turned out to be a bit harder than we expected being a Saturday night. I’ll fully admit that I wasn’t all that impressed with Galway in the first few hours. We struggled to find a restaurant and when we did, while the food was good, the service was somewhat lacking. My mind was changed, and I became fully sold on Galway, after we wondered into Tig Coili for a pint after dinner. The bar was packed, the music was lively, and we met some great people from all over the world. We stayed late into the night chatting with Finn from Vancouver, Peter from Indianapolis, and lovely couple from Galway who gave us some suggestions for the next day.
Galway was, indeed, right up our alley and quickly became our favorite stop in Ireland. It’s a small city with amazing history. There are wonderful pubs and shops along every road, and buskers playing fiddles and flutes in between. While we strolled along the city’s cobblestone streets we heard a man playing his flute in the alleyway, and we stopped to chat for awhile. The flute player, Peter, suggested we check out the Crane Bar for some Trad music later that day.
While we were game for some traditional music, we first had to find a tattoo shop. We had both decided to get tattoos commemorating our visit to Ireland. The first shop we stopped in didn’t have much availability, so we wondered into AWOL Tattoo instead. We were told to come back in about an hour and tattoo artist Ciaran O’brien would be ready for us. We had an awesome experience in that tattoo shop. Ciaran was a great artist and super friendly. Lindsay spent some time trying to convince him to travel to the states and do a tattoo party in her studio (hoping that pans out in the future!) A few people in the shop suggested we hit up the Roisin Dobh that evening for drinks and music before we went on our way. We popped in for a bit to check out John Conneely, which was well worth the stop.
There are so many places to explore in Galway; tea shops, restaurants, book stores, pubs, etc, all with welcoming people behind their doors. One place we kept passing by was the America Village Apothecary Tasting Room. We decided to spend our last evening there. Sitting at a table, we sampled several of the tinctures, elixirs, and bitters and enjoyed two cocktails. Just before the bartender was closing up, two women popped in. Now, I’m not entirely sure how the conversation started but by the end of the night (which was way past closing time) we had become fast friends with Nessa and Linda. We laughed so hard we had tears in our eyes, and Linda even offered up a friend to give us a tour if we ever visit Poland (we will probably take her up on that offer in the near future!).
Traveling offers up so many different things. We’ve seen rainbows that arch over cliffs raising hundreds of feet from the sea. Rolling hills of green, dotted with sheep and cows. Beautiful landscapes, historic places, amazing food and drinks of all kinds. But in the end I think our favorite thing that travel provides is the people we meet. Meeting new people, making new friends, learning new customs, and getting a different view of the world is probably the greatest gift you can give to yourself. So get out there! Travel somewhere new. Smile and strike up that conversation. Ask questions. Meet someone new. I promise you, it will be worth it!
As always, friends, Adventure On!