A long time ago, in a galaxy (aka lifetime) far far away, my 11 year old self had a dream… That dream was to explore the Emerald Isle, on my own, in my own time, with no rules, conditions or influences. I have no idea where this dream came from, or why it embedded itself in the core of my being, but it created a path for what was to be my 42 year journey of immersing myself in the music and culture of this magic country and a yearning to get there… one day, sometime, somehow.
It’s funny because I procrastinated for years to make it happen. There was always somewhere else to go, a lack of finances or something else to do and I found myself often saying to people “I want to go to Ireland one day” but in retrospect, I believe that the universe had plans for me. Big plans… and I didn’t really understand it. Until now. I’ve even procrastinated with this travel blog as I’ve taken the past couple of months to process the experience of visiting Ireland for the very first time in my 50s. But now, as I sit here and write this, it’s all becoming clear. It was supposed to happen when it happened, and not a day sooner. I was ready to do it on my own.
So, on September 11, 2017 I found myself on a flight from Santiago in Spain to its capital, Madrid, after leading a fundraising trek along the El Camino for the Hunter Breast Cancer Foundation. My first ever trip to Europe and one that culminated in over 7 years of fundraising and trekking for the Westpac Rescue Helicopter as a participant. This time though I was leading, and this also meant that I was already so close to my dream. How could I leave Europe without at least a ‘taste’…
Anyway, back to the story… after arriving in Madrid, my bags took forever to come off the plane and I only had 40 minutes before my next flight departed… Needless to say, I had to run almost a kilometre to the gate after checking the bag in on the next leg. I scrambled onto the British Airways flight and was slightly amused by all the British accents. After the past ten days spent refining my Spanish, I had to consciously stop myself from saying Hola!
It was a short trip to Heathrow and after a whirlwind 4 hours on the ground seeing the sights in London I scrambled onto a train to Gatwick (there’s a whole other story about that…) and checked in on my final flight to Ireland. I still couldn’t believe I was actually sitting in the departure lounge, booked on a flight to Dublin. I had the boarding pass to prove it. Funnily enough, I nearly missed the flight as I couldn’t make out the crazy arrivals and departures board at Gatwick. I wandered around thinking I had plenty of time but it turned out I was looking at the wrong flight… yet another mad dash to the gate. It was becoming routine.
We were finally given the go-ahead to board and I made my way to my seat. As I buckled my seatbelt the Irish air stewards were fussing about the cabin with their Irish accents. I was smiling on the inside… and probably stupidly on the outside too. As exhausted as I was after what was to be my third flight, third country and fifth airport in the one day, I was beside myself with excitement and perhaps a little delirious too. Nothing was going to dent my mood or energy levels. This was it. This little eagle was finally going to land.
As we took off from Gatwick my thoughts turned to home and the years of dreaming. How do you process all of that in a moment in time, surrounded by strangers on a plane. My fellow passengers in the seats next to me made it fairly clear they weren’t up for conversation so I sat there and thought about what I was about to do. Not just “land in Dublin”, but to REALISE THAT FECKING DREAM.
It was an uneventful landing, everyone seemed a bit underwhelmed, but hey, here’s me doing cartwheels on the inside! I’m on the ground! I made it! It was a solitary insular moment with myself. Just as I’d planned. First tick off the Irish bucket list.
It was late, and after what felt like a never ending walk to the baggage carousel and the outside world, I was met at the exit by Brian, my jovial, typically Irish in character – friendly and affable – Blacklane limo driver. I was just a little besotted. The ultimate gentleman, he took my bag and ushered me to his black Mercedes and the journey began with his non-stop cheery personality and chatter about the best things to experience in Ireland. What more could a long lost Aussie girl want?
He dropped me at the doorstep of my gorgeous old hotel on Dame Street. The Dublin Citi Hotel is located in a pretty central spot, very close to Temple Bar, Grafton Street and the banks of the might Liffey River. It also had a great little bar attached to it, the Trinity Bar Venue. The trad music was pumping out of there as I checked myself in for the night. It was 9.30pm and I’d had a huge day but there was no way I was going to bed… the bag was dumped and I was off to explore!
As I wandered the laneways of Temple Bar, the place was full of life and I took a few deep breaths and reminded myself that I was responsible for how my adventure would unravel. I wasn’t about to let the fact that I was a woman alone in a foreign country affect my experience. I made a pact with myself right there and then that there would be no hesitation to get amongst it, no sitting back and watching from afar… It was a dive straight in kinda moment so I walked right over to Oliver St. John Gogarty’s pub and bought myself a Guinness. There was an awesome trad band playing and the bar was full. Lots of tourists no doubt and I chatted with a few, but deep down I was yearning to get out into the countryside, where the locals would be a-plenty. That was my dream…
Day 1 on the Road
I was early to rise after relatively early night and not too many pints. I was keen to be in tip top shape for my journey to the south west coast and I thanked myself for behaving as I packed my bag once again and set out to explore Dublin on foot before picking up my hire car.
Dublin put on some spectacular weather on this particular morning and I think I walked another 5km in the few spare hours I had, just to add to the 140 odd km done over the past week in Spain. I headed up to Grafton St but it was a bit early for the buskers, so I walked along the banks of the Liffey, checked out Trinity College, had another look around the Temple Bar district and went on a little tour of St Michan’s Church where we climbed down into the dark and musty vaults underneath the church to see 900 year old mummies in coffins!
With only a week in Ireland, I didn’t have much time to spend in any one place, so I picked up my sporty BMW hire car around lunch time and hit the road out of Dublin city, taking the M7 down to Limerick. I had a certain route in mind after studying my beloved map for months and I managed to cross the counties of Dublin, Tallaght, Kildare, Laois, Tipperary, Limerick, Cork and Kerry. I kept pinching myself as I drove through this beautiful country. It was everything I had imagined it to be, and more. So many quaint little towns, rolling green hills, pastures full of cows and sheep, but hadn’t really seen anything yet… as I got to County Kerry, the countryside changed dramatically. It was truly spectacular.
Once I hit the Wild Atlantic Way, there was some wild Atlantic weather to go with it. Apparently the tail end of a recent cyclone to hit the USA was whipping its way along the west coast and I happened to arrive at about the same time she was causing a bit of havoc. The rain was almost horizontal as I drove along the coastal road to Dingle but I didn’t care. Having lived with cyclones for many years in the Northern Territory and Far North Queensland, I wasn’t about to let a bit of wind stop me in my tracks. I was blown away by the beauty (literally). Native flowers by the roadside, green pastures for miles and the Atlantic Ocean making her first appearance as I made my way along the Dingle Peninsula. I pretty much died and went to heaven right there.
All up, it took me about 5 and a half hours to get to Dingle from Dublin and when I finally arrived, the rain had stopped but the wind was still fairly cyclonic as I checked into Boland’s, my gorgeous little B&B. In what was to become my routine for the week, I dumped my bag and hit the streets exploring.
I needed to buy a coat before I braved the weather as I had to travel light through Spain, so I stopped in on a little shop on the way to the waterfront and made a hasty but economical purchase at $25 Euro. It wasn’t pretty but it would do me for the week. I headed on down to the pier and I must have looked ridiculous as I struggled to stay upright… truly a Mary Poppins moment… me in my newly purchased green Irish coat leaning into the wind trying to get a few photos! The sun was setting and it was still very beautiful despite the inclement conditions. After a poke around the town it was time for a Guinness.. or two.. or three.
I came across a rather unusual place in the main street. It was a hardware store/pub called Foxy John’s. I could hear the traditional Irish music coming from the inside, so I went in to check it out. It was absolutely packed and it was warm. A great place to start the night! I had to have a bit of a giggle about the concept of the hardware store/pub though. Every man’s dream eh? In my head I imagined all the Aussie husbands saying… “I’m just popping out to Bunnings love“. 😜
Inside I met a lovely woman by the name of Maree. She was from the south of France and has lived in Dingle for 20 years. She told me that she worked in a literary cafe around the corner which also sells books of Irish history and so much more. She invited me to for a cup of tea the following day. I accepted her kind invitation! I also met Robert, whose father first owned the Fungie the dolphin business 25 years ago and then the jewel in the crown….92 year old Timothy who has lived in this tiny little coastal town for all of his life. This… is what I came for. This town. These people. My heart was about to burst. Ireland you are well and truly delivering.
It was an interesting conversation with Timothy. I struggled for a while to understand his very thick accent, but as the Guinness went down, the language barrier came down too. I’m not quite sure how all that worked and I didn’t really care. It just got easier. I showed him photos of my 99 year old Pop and he decided that was a good enough reason to buy me another Guinness. It was at this point I think my accent was starting to resemble his.
After a few drinks there Timmy (as they call him) and Robert moved on and I went in search of food, only to discover everything had closed. So what does one do? Find another pub and have another Guinness. Well isn’t is supposed to be a meal in a glass? Anyway as Irish luck would have it, in my pursuit of the Dingle Pub I stumbled (yes probably literally) upon a famous world champion Irish dancer practicing in the street before his scheduled performance in the very pub I was aiming for. His name was David Geaney. A lovely local did tell me that David had been on Britain’s Got Talent, so I Googled and sure enough, there he was. His father owns another pub in the street called Paul Geaneys Bar (yes I did stop in there too!). I came across a bunch of Aussies from Canberra at the bar while the trad music hilt full tilt. We waited for David to arrive at 9.00pm and boy was he worth waiting for! I was totally blown away… Who would have thought this would all happen in the sleepy town of Dingle? I guess that’s Ireland…
After five pints of Guinness and no food I finally I headed on back to my B&B and and found a half eaten cheesecake I had bought in Dublin before I left. That was dinner and I hit the sack with a happy heart, excited about the days ahead.
Day 2 on the Road
The morning after the night before wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated. I felt surprisingly fresh and ready to take on the world. I woke early yet again, this time to beat the weather as rain was forecast for late morning. After the previous day’s wild winds I wanted to capture the serenity of this sleepy village in the still of the morning light. Mind you it might be a ‘sleepy’ village but it has a population of 1500 and 52 pubs! Tells you a bit of a story doesn’t it?
I headed out for a drive around the peninsula with a beautiful rainbow to start the day. This area has had a significant impact on me. I had researched it extensively for months and thought I knew what to expect but nothing prepared me for the absolutely stunning surrounds. I kept having this overwhelming sense of familiarity though, like I had been here before…this wouldn’t be the last time I’d feel this way. It was to become a common theme for the entire week and it only got more intense.
After an hour or so of exploration, I went back to the B&B as rain started to show up again, thankfully not much wind though. I packed my bags and bundled them in the car and went to find some breakfast and my new friend Marie at the literary cafe. I found it in a cute little back street, it was called An Cafe Litearta. I was warmly welcomed by Marie and as promised, she poured me a cuppa, on the house! The cafe had wall to wall books, mostly dedicated to Irish history, language, and culture, and Marie knows her inventory well. I bought a few books including a couple on various walking trails in Ireland of course. A delightful way to end my time in Dingle.
As I said goodbye to Marie, and on her recommendation, I headed up Connor Pass over the mountain on the first leg of my journey to Doolin. By this stage the sun had shown up again as I made my way along the tiny winding roads. You have to stop to let other cars squeeze past, sometimes it gets a bit hairy but everyone is so polite and considerate on the roads here. I’m also amazed at the excellent condition of the roads given the amount of rain they get. Not a pot hole to be seen.
Marie had stressed that I should take this route today and oh my goodness I could now see why. It would have to be the most amazing country I’ve ever seen bar Peru and the Andes. Unbelievable. None of the photos I took do it any justice. The weather was perfect and I found myself becoming quite emotional at all this incredible beauty. It really does literally blow your mind.
After tearing myself away from the top of the mountain, I headed on north through many little towns still in County Kerry until I reached Tarbert right on the coast and met the ferry there which took me across the Atlantic to County Clare. I kept travelling north through Killwee, Ennistimon and Lahinch and by by this stage it was pouring again. I held little hope of seeing the Cliffs of Moher at this rate.. but then the weather gods must have had a chat because as I reached the cliffs, the clouds parted and brought an afternoon of beautiful sunshine down on this piece of heaven! I could hardly believe it and raced up the mountain in case it all changed again. I needn’t have worried. That was the last lot of rain I’d see for the rest of my trip.
I know I keep saying this, but just when you think you’ve seen it all, you come across another spectacular feast for the eyes. Truly and utterly spectacular. I wandered around up there for about an hour with the hundreds of tourists that kept arriving in buses but somehow I didn’t really notice them. I was entranced with the place and in a world of my own. I walked past the barriers that kept most of the tourists in the safe areas and headed out to the northern most tip of the cliffs. It’s not recommended apparently but the rebel in me surfaces from time to time and I just had to get out there. I’m not sure why, I was just compelled to do so. Perhaps it’s just the trekker in the adventure loving me. Either way, I was rewarded and my spirit somehow felt… connected. There was a definite shift in energy, and I was comfortable with that.
I finally headed back to the car and I was on my way to Doolin for the night. I arrived at my beautiful B&B called Twin Peaks and was once again warmly welcomed by the owners Sinead and Pascal. I was yet to meet a local who wasn’t warm and friendly. Anyway, apparently there was some mix up with my room (unbeknown to me) and they had to give me a smaller one but the one they gave me was absolutely perfect and more than enough space for one, with a view to die for. I wasn’t complaining.
So as per usual, I dumped the bag and headed off to the Gus O’Connor’s pub for dinner and a bit more trad music. The pubs in this town are fairly spread out and there are only 4, so I took the closest option. I ordered a lovely meal of Atlantic salmon, bearing in mind that this little fish didn’t have to travel too far from the sea to my plate on this occasion. The trad session was full of oldies tonight and I didn’t feel the urge to settle in, so I went for a walk around town and met Noelene who works in the Doolin Chocolate Shop. I noticed she was playing Bruce Springsteen in the background as I browsed the huge array of chocolates… and I had to mention it. Turns out she’s a huge fan so of course we had a good old yarn about the Boss!
I then wandered off up the road and came across some horses frolicking around a velvet green paddock. It was a beautiful moment in time. I just stood there in the afternoon light, in the middle of this town I had only just met and watched these majestic animals run about, having the time of their lives. How did I get to be here? Right place, right time I guess. I was mesmerised.
My last port of call for the day was off to the pier to watch the sun set over the Atlantic Ocean. Something I don’t get to do very often. Seen plenty of sunrises over the Pacific, but this was another bucket list item. I took off my shoes and briefly dipped my toes into the sea. I couldn’t come all this way and not actually feel it. As cold and wild as it was, I have no regrets. That box is ticked for now, until I return one day and actually jump in!
As the sun set, I watched a couple just married have their photographs taken on the shore. It was time for a selfie with my wind-swept look. The Wild Atlantic woman I had become.
Day 3 on the Road
I woke to another beautiful sunrise and sunny day in Doolin. My B&B hosts were busy cooking up a storm downstairs as I packed my bags and loaded them in the car. Smoked salmon and scrambled eggs and OJ. The perfect start to another day on the road.
I set off at 9.30am with plans to check out the Doolin cave with the second largest stalactite in the world but I was too early… this would have to wait until next time. It was a castles, forts and stones kinda day as I drove through the Burren. A very different landscape to the past few days, almost lunar like.
It was only an hour and a half to Galway so the road trip was short but no less interesting. As I arrived in Galway, the traffic was a bit crazy and pedestrians everywhere as I reached the centre of the city. I managed to find the parking station next to my hotel and checked in easily enough. A fantastic hotel by the river! The view from my room was a little different, with the river rushing on by the window. Quite beautiful really.
Yep, you got it, I dropped my bags and hit the streets. I wandered over to Salt Hill for a look and then explored the city’s laneways, bars and restaurants. I found myself a top little place for lunch and enjoyed my first seafood chowder of the trip with the famous Irish brown bread. That stuff is to die for… certainly warrants another trip back just to consume it again.
I wandered the streets of Galway and came across this amazing band busking in the middle of town. There was a pretty big crowd around them so I made my way to the front for a look. I have to say, this little band called Keywest was the best I’ve heard in a very long time. I stood there pretty much with my mouth open like a tourist, getting all emotional in the moment. This is what I had come to experience. Discovering new music. Something I could take away with me. And so I did. I bought 2 of their CDs and I haven’t stopped playing them since coming back home. The now make me homesick for Ireland, Go figure. Here’s a little snippet of my new favourite Irish band.
I did a spot of shopping, dumped it back at the hotel and set out to find a fabulous little bar with some trad music. I had researched the pubs in Galway before I left Australia and this little establishment was at the top of my list of places to visit. It goes by the name of Tig Choili and is renowned as the best trad music pub in Galway. As I ordered a drink at the bar I came across an American guy asking the barman if he had heard of a certain kind of Guinness poured a specific way. I think he called it black and tan. The barman looked perplexed… I said to them both.. “Well that’s not very Irish is it?” That was the beginning of a fabulous night with Doug and Cindy from Delaware. Doug was a dead ringer for Owen Wilson (in looks and accent!) so from this moment on, Doug was to be known as Owen.
After a while, a local sidled up to us and began chatting. he told us he was a bank robber by the name of John McDonagh. He was rather convincing and we weren’t really sure if it was legend or myth but he certainly entertained us for a while. He didn’t like his photo being taken but of course I snuck one in while he wasn’t looking!
It became evident that we needed to eat so I led Doug, Cindy to a great little restaurant where I was keen to try the Irish beef stew. Pretty happy I managed some food this time as something told me it was going to be a big night…
After dinner, the next session was at The Front Bar, with live music until 2.00am. I’d done some research earlier in the afternoon on the best places to go for music. Doug couldn’t quite work out how this Aussie girl who had never been to Ireland before, knew all the best spots in town… Situation normal really. It was here we made ourselves comfortable at the bar right next to the stage for the remainder of the night and met the lovely Danielle from Orlando. Many drinks were had, many requests were played by the acoustic duo (including a Springsteen number) and many laughs were had. A top night in a fabulous city but I was to pay heavily for it the next day…
Day 4 on the Road
As I had anticipated, I woke a little dusty after the previous night’s efforts. All I could thinks was, thank heavens for 12.00pm checkouts!
I took it easy with a bit of a sleep in and a last wander around Galway before hitting the freeway back to Dublin. It was a fairly uneventful drive and I gradually felt a little more human as the day went on thanks to some naughty snacks from the local SPAR convenience store .I had fallen in love with these shops as I travelled over the past week. They had everything you could possibly need in them! Today it was carbs and fried, and maybe some lemonade…
I arrived in Dublin around 2.30pm and the traffic was mental in the city. I was pretty happy I didn’t leave it until peak hour. I finally found my way back to the hire car place and felt quite sad to say goodbye to my little BMW. I had some lovely conversations with the GPS lady over the past week as we traversed the country. She had been very kind to me getting me to all the right places without an ounce of trouble!
I headed back to the Dublin Citi Hotel to store my luggage while I had my last wander around the town. A spot of lunch, albeit late, and Irish coffee and a good old look down Grafton St for the last time. 😥
My Blacklane limo picked me up at 6.00pm and delivered me to my last destination, out in the suburbs in Glengeary, just south of the city to stay with lovely friends of lovely friends. Ian and Emma were such beautiful hosts. I’m so grateful for their hospitality and thank you so much Candice and Graeme for organising. At this stage I felt disappointed that I hadn’t arranged a longer trip. There was so much more to see and do, but this would have to wait until next time…
The early flight from Dublin saw me being collected in the dark by yet another fabulous Blacklane driver. This one was an actor and had been in a movie with.. wait for it.. Owen Wilson and Jennifer Anniston in Marley and Me. I had to laugh… what’s with all this Owen Wilson stuff?
I was miserable as I arrived at the airport. I had never before felt this way about leaving a country. My heart was actually hurting as I sat there waiting to board the plane. I made another pact with myself… this time it was to return. This wouldn’t be the last time Ireland would be seeing the likes of me. The love affair has just begun.