Why Ireland Should be Taken off Your Bucket List…

Ireland is one of those places people dream about visiting “someday,” especially after five pints of Guinness and four green Bud Lights. The lush landscape and pub culture appeal to the masses, but this destination seems to get pushed farther down the list to make room for all-inclusive beach vacations and trips to mouse-themed amusement parks. I get it. The sun and the sand and that squeaky little rodent are pretty sweet, too.

Most of us believe such a trip to be out of our grasp and focus our sights closer to home; however, the perception that anything European is wrought with exorbitant expense and difficulty – it’s wrong. Could you break the bank on a trip overseas? Of course. Do you have to? Not at all. Allow me to assuage these fears and explain why Ireland should be next up on your list of places to visit:

1. Because the Irish people are phenomenal

Unlike other European countries where the natives seem annoyed at your very presence (I am American which increases this reaction by like 1,000%), the Irish greet their visitors with a warm smile and a cold-ish beer. I’ve never felt so at home away from home, partly on account of the unrelenting hospitality and partly on account of the obscenities falling from their mouths – my favorite being the white-haired Irishman who drunkenly whispered into my hair, “You’re feckin’ gorgeous.” Why, thank you, kind sir. Blush.

Even better than the warm welcomes and foul language are the stories. The Irish can tell a tale. It is an inherent craft somehow, and I found myself envious and enraptured with every conversation. Every conversation. A receptionist’s account of the history of a hotel, the taxi driver’s rambling soccer banter, the gas station clerk’s commentary on the weather. I could have listened for hours.

My biggest takeaway, the thing I go back to when trying to explain what I found so intriguing about the Irish, is their overall essence. It’s as if the rain-soaked weather and hardships of the land have implanted themselves into the bloodline. A little worn, hardened maybe, a rough exterior to shelter a soft soul. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but everyone, young and old, looks like they’ve seen some things and are living in pure spite of those experiences. There is a look of resilience. I think about it still, clicking at my keyboard, thousands of miles away, hoping I can do it justice because it felt so significant.

2. Because the scenery is better than you imagine

 

It seems too obvious to even state, but I have to. Aside from the Irish people themselves, the landscape of Ireland is by far the biggest attraction. When researching my trip, I was given numerous “must sees” which left me feeling overwhelmed and short on time. No matter how I worked the itinerary, I found myself about 27 days shy of seeing it all. I gave up trying.

 

While I can attest to the fact that the Cliffs of Moher, the coastal charm of Kinsale, the Ring of Kerry and the Aran Islands are magnificent, I’m fairly certain the rest of the Emerald Isle is, as well. These “big draws” were amazing, but I would argue that the drives in between these places were just as memorable. Fields carpeted in green and with white fluffs of sheep, their black heads dotting the horizon. Walls of ancient stone crawling across layers of hills, palm trees oddly mingled with oaks and hawthorns, creeping vines covering the bones of broken, crumbled homes standing in defiance along the roadside, harkening back to forgotten owners. Menacing cliffs dropping straight to the hungry waves of the sea, the waves lapping at stretches of sand beach nestled between walls of shale and sandstone. See? That Caribbean all-inclusive isn’t the only place with a beach.

alt="beach along west coast of Ireland"

3. Because it is relatively affordable

Well, it isn’t free, and it isn’t somewhere that you plan on a whim, but if you have room in your checkbook for Disney or a week in the Bahamas, you have money for this. It might even cost you a little less depending on how adventurous you feel (and how far you are willing to drive to an airport). Chicago and NYC run super cheap flights, especially in the off-season.

I ventured to Ireland this past fall for 8 days, and the damage set me back less than $2,000. This includes everything:  flights, hotels, food, drinks, souvenirs, car rental, gas, trip insurance, airport parking, everything. We stayed at revamped castles, historic estates, and ocean-front bed and breakfasts, dining on tasty morsels everywhere. If I was still in my backpacking phase, I could have floated this trip on a whole lot less; however, I have moved past subsisting on a loaf of bread, and no longer find the ruckus of a hostel inviting. Thank God.

alt="view of Bantry House in Bantry, Ireland"
The Bantry House was a solid step up from a hostel and had an amazing view of Bantry Bay.
alt="woman drinking tea in brown chair"
Hostels never served me complimentary tea in comfy chairs

There are countless pre-arranged trips that handle the details for you, but this comes at a cost. I do not use agencies or tours – basically because I’m too cheap. I’d rather enjoy a couple stellar meals or stay at nicer hotels than throw cash to a travel agent. I have been doing this a while and enjoy the planning part as much as the trip itself. If this makes you nervous, enroll the help of a professional and relax. (I will publish my complete itinerary in an upcoming post for anyone wanting to give it a go on their own).

4. Because you can drive it

Like I said, I am a self-guided tour kind of gal. I love a road trip more than pretty much anything. There is a freedom that comes with a car that you miss on the train journeys throughout the rest of Europe. Ireland allows for this because its transportation infrastructure pales in comparison to the maze of railways on the continent. If you want to check out the countryside, not many trains will get you there.

Keep in mind that the Irish do drive on the left-hand side of the road. If you are not used to this, drive around the rental car lot until you get it right. Seriously. The results are catastrophic if you cannot switch your brain to the inverted Irish roads.

 

alt="two women driving a car in Dublin"
Note the look of fear in the rearview and the veins popping out of my hands…

Secondly, the roadways in Ireland are probably not what you are used to. Most are the width of one lane with no shoulder, just stone walls covered in ivy that will take out your crappy little rental car if you drift too close. Oh, and there are hoards of tour buses playing chicken with you atop the coastal cliffs. If you aren’t bringing extra undies, just hop on one of those comfy coaches and leave the rental cars for folks with panties to spare.

5. Because there is something for everyone

My mother-in-law and I happened to each visit Ireland about a month apart from one another last year, and ever since, I feel like we share this special Celtic secret. Our trips could not have looked more different, and the two of us aren’t exactly twins, so our expectations, preferences, and personalities can be dissimilar, too. I took off with two girlfriends, an itinerary I created in one hectic morning, and a rental car. My mother-in-law joined a tour group with about 40 other travelers, sat back and relaxed. We saw entirely different things, visiting completely different towns. She had a real-life, talking Encyclopedia for a tour guide. I had my friend reading cliffs notes from Rick Steve’s latest travel book. We both walked away in awe of the place.

Not only did my mother-in-law and I, almost thirty years apart in age, both fall in love with this charming island, but I am convinced my kids would, too. Yes, it will take more money and more work which means it might be a minute, but for Ireland, it’s worth it. It’s worth it to share the love of this place with the loves of my life, to see my boys sail into the cloudy sea in search of whales, watch clumsy puffins skip across the water, settle into the crystal sand beaches, spend the night in a real castle – not a make-believe Cinderella castle, a real one.

alt="Clontarf Castle Hotel in Dublin"
The Clontarf Castle Hotel in Dublin. Great food, great drinks, great stay!

Is a laid-back beachy getaway on my list of things to do? For sure. I like a margarita and suntan (err…burn) as much as the next chick, but if you’ve had your fill of tropical locales and pricey theme parks, maybe it’s time to take another look at that bucket list. That dream trip to Ireland might not be as out of reach as you think.

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