Conas atá tú!
That’s Irish for, “how’s the crack?“
And no I’m not referring to your backside, or the white stuff. I’m talking about craic. For the Irish, craic refers to the fun, enjoyment, conversation, and general atmosphere of a place. It is also a common greeting- similar to how are you? During my week here in Ireland, I have discovered that great craic is what the Emerald Isle is all about. It is in the pubs, on the streets, and in the friendliness and willingness of the people. The Irish seem to love nothing more than grabbing a pint- or 12- of the dark stuff, and talking to anyone that will listen. They are deeply interested in everyone’s story. Since this is my blog, I will tell you mine.
After a long flight over the pond, I arrived in Dublin at 5AM. A bit drowsy, I exited the airport under a cloudy sky and caught a bus to the city center. I found my hostel, Paddy’s Palace, easily enough, dropped off my luggage, and hit the streets to explore. Dublin spreads across the River Liffy, with many scenic bridges crossing in key points. I mostly wandered, taking in the sights and marveling at the age of all the buildings. When it opened, I discovered the city’s viking heritage at Dublinia Museum and then viewed my first European church- Christ Church Cathedral. Ironically, the church had also played the role of a bar and a brothel at various points in history. I then made my way to Dublin Castle and had a looksy, before returning to the hostel for a much needed nap.
That night, I hit Temple Bar, the touristy, yet entertaining bar + pub district. It reminded me of Nashville- bars lining both sides of the street for blocks. Almost all of them had live music, many of which played American cover songs like Johnny Cash, Darius Rucker, Led Zeppelin- you name it! I met two guys from Manchester and we had a blast. We were doing Irish jigs and boot stomping all around right up front. It was a hell of a night. Somehow, I stumbled back to the hostel to get some rest. It had been a long day, after all!
I briefly visited the National Gallery and Museum of Archaeology the next morning. The Museum had a really interesting exhibit on the nearby passage tombs, as well as bodies that have been recovered in bogs around the country. Labeled as “bog men”, these bodies are remarkably preserved. From there, I headed over to St. Stephen’s Green where I walked some wonderful paths. On a bench, I ate a sandwich and watched a man literally get swarmed by 100’s of pigeons. They would land on his hands, shoulders, and head as he scattered birdseed around him. Nearby, I walked through a shopping area, listening to various people play music. One set of Aussies were really incredible. I took a peek at the Book of Kells in the Old Library at Trinity College, before going on a wonderful walking tour.
Our guide, a local Dublinite, was full of amusing stories and knowledge. As it rained on and off the whole tour, he said that Ireland generally has two weather patterns: it’s raining, or it’s about to rain! When he pointed out the huge spire that the city built in 2003 on O’Connell Street, he described it as a “drunk’s homing device”. It is one of the distinguishing features in the city and most Irish really disapprove. I must say, it doesn’t really fit in with anything around it. After the tour, I had dinner and a drink with a Turkish kid I had met on the tour. Then I had a second night out in Temple Bar. While I didn’t see any of my friends from the previous night, I met an Aussie girl and we danced and talked until closing time. It was her last night in town and she was not looking forward to going back home and to work. Luckily, I don’t have to worry about that for awhile!
Heeding the advice of several people, I took a tour out to Newgrange, the largest of the ancient passage tombs. Along the way, we stopped at Monister Boice, an old historic, as well as Mellifat Abbey. The highlight at Monister Boice were these incredibly detailed Celtic crosses that had whole scenes from the bible carved into them.
At Mellifont Abbey, we took a guided tour with a lady who frankly talked on and on and threw so much knowledge at us that I don’t remember much at all. It was a bit overwhelming. I did learn that the term honeymoon derives from the Middle Ages when a man brewed enough mead (honey wine) for 1 month before his daughter’s marriage. Then it was onto Newgrange, the highlight of the trip.
Incredibly, the tomb is 5,000 years old, older even then the pyramids of Egypt! We were able to go inside the tomb and the guide illuminated it, just as it is seen during the equinox. In a way, it was a play on light similar to that of the Mayans at Chichen Itza. The whole tour was great and the day was made even better by some amazing people. I learned a lot about Australia from another really awesome girl. I was impressed by how much she knew about the U.S. as well. That night I spent chatting with a Dutch kid at the hostel.
The next morning I hopped on another bus and headed out to Galway, a city on the Western coast of the island. I spent the early afternoon walking the busy streets and then heading down the coast. On a beach I came across some guys basically playing bocce ball in the sand with rocks. It looked like a great time! Back in Galway, I ate some traditional Irish food at a nice place called Riordian’s right in the main Latin Quarter. I also had an Irish coffee, though I can say I’m not a fan. That night, I got a real taste of Irish music in an awesome pub called Tris Coli. I chatted with a local Galway cop named Tommy who told me all about the social structure and politics of the island. He had visited the states several times and told me about a bar that his friend owns in Manhattan. It’s called Jake’s! At the end of the night, I grabbed a Hooker and had my way with her… say, what? Don’t worry, I was referring to the local beer called Galway Hooker. It’s very hoppy! It is named after a type of fishing boat used way back in the day.
On day 2 in Galway, I arose early for a nice run along the coast. I then attended a hilarious comedy show at the King’s Head. The comedian was hilarious, making fun of almost every nationality. I had great company too, as I talked with a nice British couple named Simon & Kate. They had been attending a wedding and were now visiting for a few extra days. I took advantage of the sunny afternoon by having a picnic in Eyre Square. Then I called it in early and headed back to the hostel where I spent the night talking with an Engineer from Dublin who was out here for work.
The Cliffs of Moher
My final day in Galway was a lot more my style. I took a bus out to the Cliffs of Moher, Ireland’s most visited natural feature. The land abruptly falls 700+ feet down to the ocean where waves relentlessly crash against the rock.
I walked the edge for miles down to an old tower at Hag’s Head. An old fort once stood here, but it was demolished and the stone was used to create the tower during the Napoleonic Wars. On my way back, I ran into a Canadian girl who had been on the same bus and we sat in a particularly scenic spot, soaking up the rare Ireland sun. Down below, a lonely sea stack rose out of the water. I recognized it, confirming via a brochure, that this was the stack that Dumbledore and Harry apparate onto during the 6th Harry Potter movie, before entering a cove, which was not here, and destroying one of Voledemort’s Horcruxes. When it was almost time to get back on the bus, we entered the visitor center and ate some ice cream to replenish some calories!
Back in Galway, I had a super yummy Irish Breakfast Roll and then enjoyed some more Irish music back at Tris Coli. It had been my favorite day on the island yet!I took a bus back to Dublin the next morning. Then I headed over to the Guinness Warehouse for a tour.
The Guinness Warehouse
The place was packed, but the tour was super informative and interesting. In 1759, Arthur Guinness signed a 9,000 year lease, no longer valid as the company now owns the land, at St. James Gate Brewery and began combining barley, water, hops, and yeast to create his legendary dark brew. Nowadays, Guinness sells almost 1.5 billion pints each year. Incredibly, the Guinness Factory roasts 100,000 tons of barley each year, which amounts to 2/3 of Ireland’s total.
On the 7th floor of the warehouse, I cashed in my voucher and gulped down a free pint while chatting with some Canadian girls. Called the Gravity Bar, the 7th floor is solid glass and provides some amazing views of Dublin and its surroundings.
That is all for Ireland, as I head to Wales and on to Scotland tomorrow. My first week abroad on the Emerald Isle has been a great one. Cheers to 3 more months! Or as they say in Ireland… Sláinte!!!
Paddy’s Palace (Dublin)
This was my first experience with hostel outside of the U.S. and I loved it. The hostel boasts a free airport pick-up and drop-off shuttle, although they didn’t show up when I arrived. It is also situated around the corner from the main Bus Eireann station, so you can easily hop on a bus going anywhere in the country, as well as within walking distance of most of the main attractions in the city. The beds were nice and the staff were very friendly. I would highly recommend this hostel and would definitely go back! Also note, they are a chain and have other hostels located around Ireland.
Woodquay Hostel (Galway)
My second hostel experience in Ireland was also great, although this hostel wasn’t quite as nice as the first. It was a bit of a walk to the main quarter of Galway and didn’t have much around it. With that said, the staff was very friendly and the rooms were clean. I couldn’t ask for much more than that.
Abraham’s was just down the street from Paddy’s Palace, and thus also in a very good location. This was one of the nicest hostels I stayed in during my trip, even though I chose a massive 16 bed dorm. Each bunk had their own reading light, shelf for personal items, and outlets for plugging in electronics. For the very brief time I spent here, I definitely got a good vibe.