Ireland basically flew by like the blink of an eye.
I know I have to come back and see more of the scenic landscapes next time, since I was just wedged into the tourist cities (Cork, Galway, Dublin) this time around based off where good friends were based.
Since Galway wasn’t very exciting (it’s literally just two main roads of colourful pubs, but then nothing else), I basically used it as a base for the two day tours. I didn’t know that Galway was so small – it definitely didn’t require a 3-night stay. I think my perfect itinerary is a new city every day.
The other day, I booked a bus+ferry to Inis Mor, the largest of the three Aran Islands. With the 45-min bus and 45-50 min ferry ride, it was a lot of travel time for one day back and forth – but the cliffs were worth it. We passed through Ceardlaan, an arts and crafts village, and had a bumpy coach ride the rest of the way – but the weather proved to be lovely and much better than my Cliffs of Moher day. It basically all depends on luck.
The main island, Inishmore, Kilmurvy, is only home to 850 residents. In off-peak season like now, only 50 passengers were on the ferry. In more prime times, there can be up to 2,000 visitors a day. The island itself is surprisingly large based off the one small road you see twisting around every corner, bordered by dry stone walls – it’s about 13 miles from end to end.
Since we only had a few hours to explore, it’s useful to either rent bikes for the day (€10/day) or hop in a private bus tour (also €10 for a few hours). Our bus driver was a lovely local who showed us around the historic churches, coastline, and his own farm where he makes goat cheese – so it was worth getting guidance through him. I’d highly suggest renting bikes for more freedom and solidarity in exploring, though.
The highlight of the island is Dun Aengus fort – it dates back to 1100 BC and is perched alongside the most stunning sea cliffs ever. It’s basically a less-touristy version of the Cliffs of Moher. Most say they prefer these cliffs because there aren’t many tourists out here, but there’s really no comparing the two. I absolutely loved how you just rock up to the cliffs and there are no guardrails, no signs, no anything – you could easily blow off the edges if you got too close, but it’s still worth it for photos. Being crazy, I was probably the only one out of the few up there who ran to the edge with my selfie stick – because WHY NOT. It’s so exhilarating looking over the edge of cliffs that drop down hundreds of feet below you into turquoise waters.
The farm that our bus driver owned was so interesting. He owned about 80 goats and raised them primarily for their milk to make goat’s cheese, which is incredibly popular in Ireland (still haven’t tried it). The baby ones were absolutely adorable and I loved getting to hold one (mine was extremely calm and probably weighed less than 4 kilos- so light).
Life on Inis Mor seems so quaint and beautifully Irish, much different than the mainland. If I thought Galway was tiny, then I definitely couldn’t survive on this island – it’s basically even smaller than a village, and quite isolated. It’s absolutely beautiful, but I’ve travelled around enough to know how bored I get after a few hours on an island- I prefer large cities the most. He talked about how the primary and secondary school on Inis Mor only had 50 students – and his mum was one of the teachers. There was just one small supermarket, one bank (open only Wednesdays in the winter and Tues/Wed in the summer), and a few restaurants/pubs that probably thrived off tourism.
Later that evening, I had a hell of a night out with one of my best friends from ships. It included my first Irish nightclub experience – I used to think I was into clubs, but no, I am not. And the thing is, with the Irish, they’re all so polite and lovely, but they drink more than any other culture – more than Brits, Scots, Aussies, and Kiwis combined. Everyone talks to everyone in the pubs (and the chances of them knowing your brother’s girlfriend’s mum is quite high), and people slag each other off like how the Aussies bag on Kiwis – but all in good nature.
I literally thought I was going to die because I kept being told to drink more, even though I had to physically run away just to contain myself and try to stave off my pounding headache. While I didn’t have a hangover, the 3.5 hour bumpy coach ride (bloody awful) from Galway to Dublin made my stomach turn – and the fact that I felt sick even looking at alcohol afterward made me feel like I suffered from an “Irish hangover” anyway.
I didn’t do much yesterday except wander around Temple Bar, the most jam-packed and touristic part of Dublin, for a bit before retiring for the evening with a friend I hadn’t seen in years (California transplant! Thanks for the hospitality, Alyssa). We hopped around some donut shops today (oh my God, that ice cream cookie sambo was the biggest thing I’ve ever seen- and I actually couldn’t finish it) and basically got our fill of sweets.
I really like Dublin. It’s very similar to Melbourne and San Francisco – all the right quirks and artsy lanes, and just miles and miles of historic pubs wherever you look. The rivers and parks (St. Stephen’s Green, College Green, Merrion Square) also give off a London vibe, but just a lot more compact and laid-back. The only downside is that its small size makes it seem even MORE crowded than central London because the streets are narrower and there’s obviously more tourists crammed into smaller space.
And while I absolutely loved Temple Bar when I first saw it, after a few walkthroughs of it, I wasn’t really fazed. I’m such a confusing hypocrite – I absolutely love cities but then get tired of all the people and wander off to the waterfront and dockland areas (which most cities thankfully have) just to feel at ease again.
The Book of Kells (in Trinity College) contains the four Gospels in Latin based on the Vulgate text which St Jerome completed in 384AD, intermixed with readings from the earlier Old Latin translation. I went on a whim and was more impressed by The Long Room (a Harry Potter-esque library) than the texts themselves. I probably wouldn’t recommend it to anyone that wasn’t a history or religion buff, because the admission was a bit steep for how quickly you can get through the exhibit (easily 20 min).
Like Edinburgh, it’s really easy to walk around the city centre here – everything is really close together. The Jameson distillery and Guinness storehouse are only a few minutes apart, for instance. I probably should have done the actual Guinness tour; I used to think that I loved Guinness. Yet, when I had 1/4 a pint in Cork, I think my taste buds changed because it was too heavy for me and I couldn’t finish it.
All the buskers on the streets here are absolutely fantastic (another similarity with Melbourne). Why aren’t these singers famous? One guy sounded like Louis Armstrong, for crying out loud (and I’m not exaggerating). One of my favourite parts of the city was Dublin Port, because it showcased signs for P&O ferries. What I’d give to sail on those routes (Dublin/Liverpool, Portsmouth/Hull/Rotterdam/etc.)! The 3 Arena also looked absolutely stunning in the evening, situated directly across the port. There was a massive show going on since there were huge queues and crowds around the building that glowed in pink/blue/green neon lights. I wish that I could attach photos, but they’re all on my camera (allow me to continue hoping and praying that nothing happens to it, because that’s my life).
So yeah, Dublin, you’re lovely. Not quite as spectacular as London, but you still rank. 😜