Is Ireland on your travel bucket list?
1.) My favourite thing about Ireland is the literary tradition. I loved visiting the writers’ museum in Dublin, the Yeats house in Sligo, retracing the footsteps of Millington Synge in the Aran Islands. A trip to Ireland is greatly enriched by reading some of the amazing work by its diverse authors before you travel. There is so much more to Ireland than scenery and pubs and, for a fan the arts you will feel right at home. A trip to a writer’s centre or even an independent bookstore is an essential part of an Irish tour.
Writer and playwright John Millington Synge is a favourite of mine. I love his role in the Gaelic Revival, the time he spent connecting to history and tradition in the Aran Islands. During my first visit to Dublin, just days after visiting the Islands, I was able to take in an anniversary performance of Millington Synge’s seminal work, Playboy of the Western World, atthe Abbey Theatre. The Abbey Theatre was an integral part of the Gaelic Revival and Playboy of the Western World, it’s first major production, was seen as so controversial is caused riots. Despite this rocky start, the Abbey, founded by Yeats and Lady Gregory, went on to become the National Theatre of Ireland and the first state subsidized theatre in the English speaking world. Today, they offer a wide range of material, from traditional to modern, and it’s well worth a visit.
3.) While most of my studies concentrated on modern themes – from the Gaelic revival, to the civil war, to the more recent knowledge-based economy – when I traveled I really enjoyed seeing the much more ancient sites. Ireland’s very early Celtic history is fascinating, and among the best preserved and documented in the world. For instance, Newgrange passage tomb is older than the pyramids, the Hill of Tara has archaeological evidence dating to 2500 BC, and Jerpoint Abbey in county Kilkenny, dates to the 12th century.
4.) A trip to any ancient site in Ireland is well worth a visit and, as a bonus, you are guaranteed beautiful scenery as you travel. There are many day trips from key cities, especially Dublin, that are geared towards budget travelers and take in key nearby sites. As someone who was staying in hostels and travelling by bus, I found these to be a tremendous deal. While first very hesitant about the financial value and quality, I was pleased to find I was wrong. They cost little more than the cost of admission, and include visits to several small, free sites (like crumbling castle ruins), which are a wonderful brief detour that you would never likely venture off and find for yourself.
And 3 That I Didn't...
There were, however, a couple of things I wasn't such a big fan of in Ireland. This might sound sacrilegious, but I wasn't overwhelmed by the scenery. Yes, it was beautiful. But it didn't look all that new, exciting, or unusual for me. I grew up in the Canadian Maritimes and had recently started doing graduate school in Newfoundland. I had previously lived and traveled in rural East Sussex, England, and, overall, was very accustomed to rolling green hills, twisty lanes, rugged beaches and the rolling waves of the Atlantic. Hopefully the Irish scenery will have a greater impact on you than me!
The second tour consisted of a short bus ride, a horseback ride or wagon ride through the Gap of Dunloe, then a boat ride across the lake. The riding organization clearly took their standards from the same people who ran the restaurant roadhouse (and, for all I know, helped supply the meat!) I was expecting an idyllic mountain ride and was a naïve new rider. I was told that beginners were welcome, but I was given no instruction whatsoever and my poor horse, clearly unhappy with his lot in life and not accustomed to receiving top care, was only interested in finishing his route as quickly as possible. Miserable and terrifying – I was a wreck at the end.
I learned a key lesson here: Bus tours take many different forms. Those operating small ventures from a hostel might be much better than a ‘brand name” operating from the tourist office - no matter what the country.
3.) Finally, the thing I hated the absolute most is something that you’ll like never experience. Ireland is now almost entirely smoke free in public places, but when I was there it was still a smoker’s paradise. I avoided pubs almost entirely as a result and it really limited my interactions with different people and places. It would be great to go back and try Ireland again as a smoke free destination!
Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone!
As always, I welcome and encourage your comments. Do you have Irish roots?
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