With St. Patrick’s Day quickly approaching, some of us may have green beer and parades on our minds. Others may be thinking, “I should go to Ireland”. Well go ahead, do it! There are plenty of reasons to love the Irish and Ireland besides St. Patrick’s Day and here are my top five! Enjoy and start planning your trip to the Emerald Isle!
The people are really nice (even though they’re hard to understand!)
In spite of the difficult to understand, yet lovable accent, Galway and Dublin are considered two of the friendliest cities in the world by Conde Nast Traveler and I’m here to confirm it. As an example, we were in a SuperMac’s in Dublin, which is an Irish fast food chain. As we stood in line to order, someone approached us and asked us how we were doing. I’m from the east coast of the U.S., and I’m naturally suspicious when I’m in a fast food joint and someone tries to talk to me. Then I realized it was the store manager. He was doing his manager thing, out talking to the customers and probably overheard our “clearly not Irish” accents. The SuperMac manager was super nice (I know, bad joke), chatting with us about how we liked Dublin and Ireland, and how we came to know about SuperMac’s not being from Ireland. I told him we had read about it and that we just happened to see this one and decided to try it out. He thanked us for visiting (crazy, huh?) and wished us a bon appétit!
It’s Beautifully Green
We had a car and took many side roads (not always on purpose) and noticed just how green everything was. Sure, the country gets a lot of rain (Ireland gets anywhere from 750-1400mm/year or roughly 30-55 inches/year), and since Ireland is an island, the ocean impacts the climate. Curiously, for all its greenery, Ireland has surprisingly few trees. As a nature wonk, I had to find out why and there are a number of reasons for this. According to Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, one reason is due to a decline in some tree species in the 1st century AD. Another reason is industrialization and shipbuilding that occurred in the 16th and 17th centuries. Still another reason is that in the 19th century, the population of Ireland exploded and firewood was needed, so trees came down. However, since the 20th century, Ireland has been making headway into reforestation and has even encouraged private landowners to plant trees. Cool, right?
It’s Easy to Get Around
Ok, apart from driving on the opposite side of the road for us Americans, we found Ireland to be pretty easy to navigate. Sure, we didn’t really know where we were going, but the number of times we actually got “lost” were few. BUT - If you're driving, you do need to be aware that (1) some roads are toll roads, even though you don’t see a toll booth anywhere and (2) how to pay those tolls. Luckily, I had done a bit of research to find out about driving in Ireland which is how I found out about the tolls and where to pay. We were able to pay at what are called Payzone outlets, usually service stations and some convenience stores. You can pay before or after you pass through the toll area - just remember to keep your toll receipts after you pay. Here are a couple of websites that I found helpful for figuring out the toll situation: the eFlow website and the website for Transport Infrastructure Ireland.
There’s A Lot to Do for a Small Country
I was surprised at how much there is to do in Ireland. Just getting to the “must do” list alone was a challenge! The “must do’s” for us were Dublin and Galway generally, the Cliffs of Moher, and of course, the Guinness Tour! Dublin was awesome, Galway had a hipster kind of vibe, the Cliffs were spectacular and the view from the top of the Guinness Storehouse was incredible (not to mention the pint of Guinness included in your tour!)! But there was so much to do in between! For example, on the way to Galway, we stopped on the road to get some coffee in a town called Mullingar. It was adorable and we wouldn’t have otherwise stopped there except we needed caffeine. The server at Tiffin, where we got coffee, noticing our “clearly not Irish” accents, asked where we were heading. She gave us some great suggestions about places to visit along the way to Galway. I thought, “We’re gonna need another week!” Some of the places we really enjoyed were Limerick (it was easy to get around and the food was great!), Adare (thatched roofed homes adorned with overflowing flower boxes), and surprisingly, Blarney Castle (not for the castle, but for the fantastically beautiful grounds!).
For those of us living on the east coast of the U.S., Ireland is relatively close. It’s about a six and a half hour flight and there are plenty of non-stops from lots of different cities. For largely monolingual Americans, there is no language barrier, so it makes for a great introduction into European travelling. And like I mentioned before, once you’re there, it’s easy to get around. If you're not driving, public transportation is readily available and convenient, as there are bus and rail routes all over!