It was 7 a.m. when I arrived in Dublin, and I looked greasy, unrested, and ready to hurl after the vegetarian Indian curry that was my in-flight 3 a.m. "dinner." I unhappily waited my turn through customs and prepared for the official behind the plexiglass panel to ask me the standard questions. I answered the gentleman with the demeanour of a zombie, but suddenly perked up when he made a cheerful, sing-song assumption I wasn't expecting:
"You're here to meet a man!"
I denied his assertion with several tries and laughter, but he cut me off by officially letting me into Dublin with a stamp and a wink. I walked through Dublin airport romantically contemplating my solo trip with a sigh — but unfortunately, those trips only happen in the movies.
I've loved Ireland for as long as I can remember, which stems from the many stories shared about my grandparents growing up in Newry, County Down. I once tried to convince my first grade teacher that I was an excellent candidate for ESL (English as a second language) because I "knew" Irish and demonstrated it with "top of the morning to ya!" My infatuation was established, but also proved that any of my future attempts to get out of class would be futile. After years of waiting, writing school reports about my family's history, and glancing at photos, I finally crossed the pond for the first time in 2007 and went back again three years later on my own. The land is beautiful, the people are hospitable, and the sheep are abundant. But if that isn't enough to convince you to visit the Emerald Isle, perhaps a few of my favorite spots will.
1. Dublin — First, let me start off this places-to-go in Ireland post with this bit of advice: go in the spring. Last year I went to Ireland in December to celebrate my birthday, and, like most of my traveling weather luck, it snowed — a very rare event for Ireland. Lucky me. Dublin is a great walking city with plenty of excellent sites to visit. Make sure to visit Kilmainham Gaol, Trinity College, Dublin Writers Museum, Dublin Castle, the General Post Office, and the James Joyce Center, to name a few. Walking tours are a great option as well!
2. Newgrange, Knowth, and Dowth — On my group tour in 2007, our immediate stop after landing in Dublin was our visit to Knowth in the Boyne Valley, where I was nominated to crawl through a small muddy passageway, as I was the shortest in the group. Newgrange, Knowth, and Dowth are ancient neolithic mounds which were the center of farming communities and held spiritual significance. Newgrange is the most famous of the three and is known for its winter solstice ceremony held every December 21. My birthday happens to be on December 21 and I thought this might be a great activity, but unfortunately they don't let just anyone go. This festivity is extremely popular and tickets are given away on a lottery system.
3. Giant's Causeway — Ireland's most legendary figure is Fionn mac Cumhaill, or Finn MacCool. There are many different tales of Finn, but one in particular is his residence at Giant's Causeway where, you guessed it, he was a giant and did giant things, like challenging other giants to fights and creating the Causeway by building a bridge to Scotland to, well, fight a giant over there. Scientists say that the Causeway was created as the result of a volcanic eruption. Also in the area is the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, which dangles about 100 feet above jagged rocks.
4. Ulster American Folk Park — For New Yorkers, Ellis Island is a symbol of the millions of immigrants who came from various parts of Europe and the world. Well, they had to start somewhere. For those with Irish ancestors, the Ulster American Folk Park explores the history of the Irish emigration to America.
4. Glenveagh National Park — If you ever wondered what paradise might look like, then stop by the gardens at Glenveaugh National Park. If you're short on time, skip the castle tour and explore the gardens or climb to the top of the hill (located behind the castle) to get an amazing view of the lake and its surroundings.
5. Ben Bulben and Yeats Country — Driving along the roads of Ireland (if that is your choice of travel), you will pass beautiful green mountains and fields, but if you venture into Sligo, your eyes will pop as you look upon the plateau, Ben Bulben. For hikers, climbers, and even sheep, this is a great place to stop and take the challenge of climbing to the top. Be sure to also stop and visit the grave of William Butler Yeats. If you're lucky you might catch one of his faerie folk.
6. Croagh Patrick — From the beginning of my 2007 trip there was non-stop talk of our soon-to-be walk up Croagh Patrick. Since the average age on the bus tour was 60+ I was picturing a hill, but when we arrived in the beautiful village of Westport, County Mayo, I turned to my good friend Seana and said "That's a mountain!" Croagh Patrick is known for its once-a-year pilgrimage where thousands climb up the mountain, some on their bare feet. At the top there is an amazing view of Clew Bay.
There are plenty of sites that I would love to include on this list, but since this is just a blog post and not a guidebook I'll stop right here. If you would like to prepare yourself before heading to Ireland, here are some of my favorite writers, films, and other resources that are available at NYPL.
- You have to prepare yourself and learn some lyrics to traditional Irish folk songs. Everyone sings in Ireland. Try the Rough Guide to Irish Music.
Happy travels if you venture to Ireland, and "May the road rise up to meet you, may the wind be ever at your back."