Our official excuse for the visit was the Saints game in London, but of course, like so many other New Orleanians, we had to make a trip out of it. Our itinerary was simple: eat, drink, explore.
We started off our Irish adventure in Dublin, a beautiful city that has really come into it's own in the past couple of decades, thanks to its countless pubs and really attractive corporate tax rate. It was great, and had everything you'd expect from the biggest city in Ireland. We only had a couple of days in the city, so we tried to do as much as we could. It's not a very big city, so I feel like we got the true vibe of the place in just a few days.
I knew next to nothing of the Irish revolution or their history before our travels there...just the brief understanding that it used to be a pretty depressing place with a potato famine and nasty civil war. But now, along with most of the other cities in Europe, Dublin is beautiful, cultured, and filled with historic charm. In fact, in 2010 the Globalization & World Cities Research Network ranked it as an "Alpha" city, a label designated for the 'Top 30' cities in the world. So yeah, it's come a long way.
[Side note: if you want to watch a great movie that takes place in Dublin in the 80's, check out Sing Street - I highly recommend!]
If you're in Dublin and want to get a pretty good overview of the Irish rebellion and revolution, look no further than the General Post Office located smack dab in the middle of the city, it's still the main symbol of Irish nationalism. It's still an active post office, but also a museum. It's a great place to get an understanding of what took place during the rebellion that ultimate led to Irish independence...from the British, of course. A very convenient place to start your journey.
Trinity College was founded by royal charter in the year 1592. Most of the campus you see today dates from the 18th century, including the Old Library, which houses Dublin's most treasured tourist attraction: the Book of Kells. The Book of Kells is an old Bible (specifically the four gospels) made of calfskin vellum and dating from around the year 800. Think about that for a second. Like most things behind nuke proof glass and surrounded by tourists, it's hard to imagine that you're actually looking at something "real", but the artwork and calligraphy are just stunning. It is in perfect condition...which again is crazy to think about, because it's almost 1,200 years old.
TWELVE HUNDRED YEARS OLD.
Determined to hit every tourist stop in Dublin, we next stopped into Kilmainham Gaol, a Shawshank like jail built in 1796. It was, of course, where many Irish revolutionaries were sent and executed by the British. It was in operation up until 1924, when they decided to transform it into a music video set for U2. [ <--- Do yourself a favor and go watch this right now.] Obviously, it's now a museum, and a really good one at that. If you're off to Dublin anytime soon and want to walk where Bono once pranced, you're gonna have to make a reservation, it's pretty popular.
CASTLES ON CASTLES
The next day we would rent a car and drive a few hours to Kinsale, a small fishing town on the south coast of Ireland. We would stop along the way at an old castle and have a great lunch in a lovely little town. I can't remember the name of said castle, and I could probably find it on google pretty quickly, but honestly, there are so many castles littering the landscape that you can just point at the map and land on one. This one was basically 1,000 years old and a lot of historical stuff happened here. I'm being pretty glib about it all, but it really was fascinating. I could spend all day exploring old castles.
True to Irish cliche, it rained on us the entire day, which I must say, is a pleasure to drive in on the wrong side of the road with a manual transmission.
Our next Airbnb would be in the town of Kinsale, a small coastal town known for their sea, golf, and charming crooked streets full of cafes and book shops. It was the sight of a famous battle in 1601 between the Irish and English (and Spanish), and was the closest town to the sinking of the Lusitania when it was struck by a German torpedo, killing over 1,200 civilians on board. I had recently just read Dead Wake by Erik Larson so I was particularly interested in this...such a strange story of the sinking of such a large civilian ship in 1915. Read it, especially if you liked Devil in the White City.
We would also tour Charles Fort, built by the British in 1682 to protect their harbor after the Spanish invasion of 1601. It stayed in use by the British until the Irish Civil War in 1922, when it was largely burned to the ground. It sat vacant for a few decades until they realized that hey, we can make some money off of this! It was cool, but so wet and cold. We were quickly learning that the weather can change from an absolutely beautiful blue bird day to raining sideways in a matter of moments. It's safe to say we got the true Irish weather experience. We all came home with colds.
Later that night we would find some traditional Irish music in the pubs and of course, more great food and creamy beer. I don't think we had a bad meal in all of Ireland. I can highly recommend Jim Edward's, where I got the Duck two ways. I'm getting hungry writing this.
And if you're in Kinsale and looking for an entertaining tour, look no further than one of Don & Barry's strolls. Highly recommended.
I'm not sure there's a better way to see the Irish countryside than from the left side of the road. The Dingle peninsula is the western most part of Europe and a photographer's dream. It has everything: beautiful beaches, rolling hills, mountains, rock walls, towering cliffs, exploding waves, abandoned structures, and yes, all the sheep you can count! You could even presumably swim and surf here in the summer, and maybe even now, if you're crazy. The wind chill and epic waves looked a bit much to me, but it was September after all. Just bring your wet suit, I guess.
If you're a Star Wars geek, then you already know that this is where they filmed the next movie The Last Jedi. Pretty easy to see why. It was really fun hearing stories from all the locals about the cast and crew that would take over the pubs when filming was done for the day. I'm not obsessed with Star Wars by any means, but like most of the human race, I am excited to see the next movie. Go Dingle!
Driving around the Dingle Peninsula was my absolute favorite part of the trip. There's just something about a good ole road trip that sets the spirit free.
(And yes, there was a band called the 'Dingle Berries' playing in Dingle that night. Unfortunately we missed the show.)
I tried to narrow the photos down as much as I possibly could...I tried to keep it short.
Our time in Ireland was amazing. The people of Ireland were AMAZING. I cannot emphasize that enough. The were warm, polite, and went out of their way to make you feel welcome. And they weren't just polite, they seemed to be in genuinely good moods all the time. I had the most pleasant exchange with the happiest gas station clerk. When was the last time you've ever seen a happy gas station employee? Anywhere? The Irish people were just awesome, and they made the whole trip.
Traveling is so important, and I realize how lucky I am so get to travel where I do and with the people I do. Traveling is a true privilege, and I don't take it for granted. Traveling should be national priority for our people, because "broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.” I use that quote from Mark Twain far too much, but it's just so true. The world is still big. Travel opens your eyes.
In short, Ireland was my kind of vacation. It was the perfect combination of eating, drinking, exploration, and dare I say it, learning. I can't wait to get back. There is so much more to see.