Above photo: Giant’s Causeway, Bushmills, UK (Northern Ireland)
A Chinese-Irish taxi driver said there’s only two kinds of weather in Ireland: cold or less cold.
- Cliffs of Moher
- Ring of Kerry (driving around through the small towns)
- Caves in Doolin (ginormous stalactites)
- Huge fields of yellow wild flowers, so vast you can see it from the airplane
I have a WTF story for my decade-long desire to go there. When I was working as a teacher in Brooklyn in my 20s, Frank McCourt, the author of famous memoir-turned-movie “Angela’s Ashes” called me. I had been tutoring after school to make extra money, and someone at my school had referred me to him. Random. So random.
He was looking for a math tutor for his 6th-grade granddaughter. At the time, I admit I hadn’t heard of the book, so when I told a fellow teacher at the school, her eyes widened and she insisted I read the book.
For the next several months, I tutored Mr. McCourt’s granddaughter at his ex-wife’s house in the Carroll Gardens neighborhood of Brooklyn. His ex-wife was beautiful. She was a granny, but she maintained a slender figure and smoked Virginia Slims in her brownstone, which she was awarded in their divorce settlement.
She asked if I read “Angela’s Ashes” and when I told her I had not, she thrust her personal copy of it in my hand.
As I read the book, I noticed her comments on the margins of the pages any time she was mentioned. It was scribbled in pencil, and she even underlined sentences that “weren’t true.” She wasn’t mentioned all that much in the book, but I quickly discovered after their divorce, Frank remarried a woman 25 years his junior (or was it 35?), something his ex wasn’t too pleased about.
Reading “Angela’s Ashes” and learning about Limerick, the River Shannon and many other towns in a far-off land called Ireland intrigued me. I told myself that I would need to visit someday. That someday turned out to be 13 years later.
OK, back to my trip
Ireland was absolutely breathtaking. The rolling green grass edged against monstrous, plummet-to-your-death cliffs was like nothing I’d ever seen before.
The only part that was difficult about Ireland was the food. It’s one thing to hear about the food not being very tasty, it’s another to experience it. After day three or four, I was really craving something spicy.
Luckily, Indian food is kind of a staple at restaurants – kind of like going to any restaurant in America and finding a burger on the menu. It’s not to say that we didn’t eat anything good because we did – but it was at a Mediterranean restaurant. If you visit Ireland, just expect the food to be a bit bland.
Driving on the Left Side When You’re Left-Handed
Did I just blow your mind with that intro? I really wanted to rent a manual car, to make it even more challenging and fun because you’d be shifting with your left hand, but my traveling buddy shunned that idea, saying it was “too crazy.”
It was my first international trip where I learned to drive on the left. The first rule to remember is to just follow the cars ahead of you. When turning, always look right. (Or is it left?) Either way, we had a few close calls, so it was good that there were two of us, looking out for each other.
We mostly drove around the countryside, and I quickly learned how narrow the roads in Ireland are. I’m talking, are-you-effing-kidding-me-narrow. I sometimes closed my eyes while I sat in the passenger seat, not because my friend was a bad driver, but because the roads were so tight you’d think your side mirror would get taken off by the car approaching you on the opposite side.
It’s inexpensive to rent a car, and a great way to see the countryside. We rented the car after our stay in Dublin.
Dublin was very touristy, and I noticed a lot of construction happening throughout the city.
Buses were relatively easy to take, and there were Ubers readily available.
The weather in April was still cold. It was in the 40s at night, but the part that surprised me was the wind. Since Ireland is surrounded by water, the wind is quite strong at times and makes it that much colder. It also rains a lot during this time.
Guinness tour: $25
Get your ticket on the Hop on Hop Off bus (any of them). Hot tip: when you get your ticket on the bus, you can skip the massive entrance line. You also get to drink lots of Guinness in the bar area upstairs – that’s included with your ticket.
Trinity Church: free
We walked around the campus and thought about checking out The Book of Kells (the world’s oldest book). Be prepared to stand in a long line. We skipped it.
Day trip to Belfast by bus: $75
Call me an ignorant American, but I had no idea the northern part of Ireland is technically considered a part of the UK.
As we passed through the border, I noticed that my phone’s roaming service changed, noting that indeed, we were in a different country.
We did a day trip bus tour to Belfast (it was an all-day excursion) and learned about the history of violence between the Protestants and Catholics.
After we arrived in Belfast, we were given the option of doing a cab tour through the Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods (the Irish version of the projects), or going to the Titanic Museum.
We chose the cab tour, which was such a psych-out because it was mostly a walking tour. In the rain. In the cold.
There were many murals painted on the sides of the apartments, memorializing the fallen comrades from both sides. It’s a terribly tragic, historical and a somber place.
We eventually stopped by the Peace Wall, which separates the Protestants and Catholics. To this day, there is a person who opens the gate that separates both neighborhoods every day and closes it at the end of the day. The guide told us that Protestants and Catholics still prefer to be separated.
We didn’t do the Titanic Museum, but I had a hot cup of coffee inside the cafe and stared down those lovely Irish pastries on display.
Other towns we drove through
We drove in a circle, taking the southern route, through the Ring of Kerry. We passed through quaint towns while encountering some awesome views.
Guinness Tour and other stuff to do
- Guinness Factory: 25 euros
- Extreme Tourism Ireland (the hop on, hop off bus): 20 euros
- Titanic Belfast: 18 euros
- Doolin Cave: 12 euros
- Kells House and Gardens
- Skelligs Chocolate store in the Ring of Kerry area
Gallery of Ireland
Here’s the map of place we went in Ireland.