This semester has been life changing and each city I’ve traveled to has been amazing in its own way, but I definitely saved the best for last! Ireland has always been a place that I’ve dreamed about going, who knew it would actually become a reality?
On Thursday, April 30th, we started our journey bright and early and went to the train station around 6:30am. We had good intentions and planned on taking a 7am train right to the Pisa airport to arrive early with time to go through security and everything, but it turns out we looked up the train times incorrectly. It all ended up working out anyways; we took a bus and got to the airport with more than enough time to catch our flight.
Thursday was a day full of traveling. After our hour long bus ride, we were on the plane to Dublin for three hours, then we took a taxi from the airport to the train station downtown. Our taxi driver was super friendly—he gave us suggestions on things to do and places to eat. Also, we were a little caught off guard at first because we didn’t realize the Irish drive on the opposite side of the road! We then had some lunch and got on a train to a town called Cork, which was about another two hours. After arriving in Cork, we took ANOTHER taxi to a castle, called the Blarney Castle.
The Blarney Castle is in the middle of a huge park with a creek, waterfalls, and all kinds of different paths—it was beautiful. We climbed the castle to the top where we reached the Blarney Stone. The Blarney Stone is a famous stone of the castle that is said to give those who kiss it “mystical eloquence.” So we had to kiss it, of course! A man was there to help us from falling, because it was very high up and we had to lay back and bend far to kiss it.
After we kissed the stone, we walked around the park a little more and then headed back to Cork for dinner. We took yet another form of transportation—a bus—to downtown. We didn’t have a whole lot of time, so we wandered for a little to find a place where we could get a quick meal before our train ride back to Dublin. We found a pub that had amazing barbeque! I got a sandwich with pork belly, coleslaw, pickles, and BBQ mayo. It was extremely messy but one of the best BBQ sandwiches I’ve ever had.
Then, back to Dublin we went! Our train left just after 8pm and we arrived in Dublin around 11pm. Needless to say, we slept the majority of the trip. Traveling really tires you out!
The next morning, we met in the lobby around 9:30am for a walking tour of Dublin. I’m not much of a city person, but I absolutely loved Dublin! It was such an adorable and beautiful city, with pubs on every corner, a river, castles, and churches. Plus, the people are the nicest I’ve met while traveling!
Our tour guide, Carl, filled us in about the culture and history of Dublin. The first thing he told us was that Irish people like to talk, and he was certainly right! He talked and talked about Dublin for probably a solid fifteen minutes, but it was all very interesting. As we had already noticed, the Irish are very sociable and friendly. In addition, they like to do things in excessive amounts. For example, they are one of the top three consumers in the world of tea, chocolate, potato chips, and beer. Even when speaking, they are excessive. If someone asks a question and they want to reply with yes, they’ll say something along the lines of “yeah, yeah, yeah…” When saying welcome, too, they say “céad míle fáilte,” meaning a hundred thousand welcomes.
Carl taught us some Irish words, but then told us that only about 3% of the population still speak the Irish language regularly. He shared with us a lot of history related to the English being in control of the Irish, and apparently at one point it was made illegal to speak Irish.
He started telling us history starting in 600 BC, when people from France visited and brought many Celtic traditions. Then, around 385 AD, Romans came to Ireland. They disliked the wet and cold weather, so decided not to stay and conquer the Irish, but they did bring Christianity, roads, and aqueducts with them. He went on to tell us the story of St. Patrick, as well as the reasoning for the symbol of the shamrock—the leaves were used to explain Christianity and God in three persons (father, son, and holy spirit).
Then we learned about Vikings coming and taking over, and then the constant fighting between the Irish and English. A little later—in the 1800s—there was the Great Famine, also known as the Potato Famine. Potatoes were one of the Irish’s main sources of food, so when a crop failure occurred the country really suffered. Carl told us SO much more, but enough history, more about our walking tour!
We started at the Dublin Castle, which was built in 1204 and then rebuilt after a fire in 1684. The new part of the castle is definitely a lot more modern, but there’s still a tower from the original building. The castle is often used for ceremonial purposes, in which John F. Kennedy, Obama, and Queen Elizabeth II have all been there. He told us a story about Queen Elizabeth coming and how it was a huge deal because it was the first time someone from the British Monarchy had come to Ireland since it had gotten its independence from England. Apparently the Queen started her speech by speaking Irish, and it really meant a lot to the Irish.
Another fun fact! The colors of the Irish flag actually has a significant meaning. The green represents the Catholic religion, the orange Protestant, and the white is the peace between them. When the English controlled the Irish, King Henry VIII had created the Protestant religion and the countries suffered over 500 years of religious wars.
Anyways, after the castle we walked around the side of it to gardens. There’s a little brick path running through the grass of the garden that really looked like nothing, but from a bird’s eye view it shows a Celtic knot. From here we could see a side view of the Dublin castle, which showed a transgression of different styles of architecture from the left to the right.
As we were standing in the gardens, our talkative tour guide shared some more fun information with us. He explained an interesting Irish word to us—“craic”—which means fun or good times and is pronounced the same as “crack”. He told us a story about how he was once standing outside a pub with friends and they were talking with a few girls. Apparently the conversation was going well and he wanted to invite them to come inside and hang out some more and he said to them, “want to come inside? The craic here is great.” But the girls were American and didn’t understand what he was trying to say, they thought he meant drugs and they immediately left—ha ha! There’s also another saying that “the craic is 90” which is referring to the year 1990 when they went to the World Cup. Apparently one time some tourists thought this meant a percentage, so when asked one night what the craic is they said “eh.. I think it’s about 72,” and now this is another joke that the Irish laugh about.
We continued to walk throughout the city of Dublin for a while longer. We stopped at a set of stairs where apparently the main character in the movie P.S. I Love You ran down, so that was cool. Then we went to the Christ Church of Dublin. This church was once a Catholic cathedral, then got changed to a Protestant church. It was used as a meeting and market place, but then like everything else, the Irish got a little excessive with it. Like any other area of the city, they thought that the church needed a pub, so that’s what they did! They put a pub inside, then a whiskey distillery in the basement, then it all went downhill from there. Apparently at one point they felt bad because there were prostitutes outside in the cold, so they even let them inside the church! After all the crime and craziness, the people eventually cleaned up the church and rebuilt many parts of it.
It was chilly outside, so we stopped at a cute little café and got some hot drinks—I got tea! Apparently U2 got their first record deal in a theatre right by the café. The singer, Bono, was once turned away by a hotel on the same road because he didn’t fit the appearance they wanted as a customer, and he told them that he’d make it big someday and buy their hotel. Funny thing is, they laughed in his face, but he actually ended up doing what he said he would! He also owns a pub in Dublin and occasionally visits, but we didn’t see him.
From there, we headed across town to Trinity College, which is the oldest in the country and can be compared to Harvard or Yale. This university was ranked 61 out of the top 100 in the world and has about 16,000 students. It’s very famous for its literature program and many known writers and poets have studied there, such as Jonathan Swift who wrote Gulliver’s Travels, Oscar Wilde, and the author of Dracula. There’s even a room so amazing there that the director of Star Wars Episode 2 wanted to film a scene in it, but they denied him and he ended up just recreating it. It was really such a beautiful campus!
Afterwards we headed towards the restaurant where we ate lunch, but we first stopped at a statue and Carl talked just a little more. The statue was of a woman named Molly Malone who was a fishmonger and would walk through the streets selling her seafood. She died young with a fever but her ghost would still haunt the streets of Dublin. There’s an entire song about her that Carl taught us and we all linked arms, swayed, and sang it together. Also, it is said that she was a prostitute by night, which was made obvious by how low her shirt hung. Apparently by grabbing her left breast, you’ll receive good luck or something like that. Being us, we just had to go along with it and do it—it was pretty funny!
Then, lunch! We went to a place called O’Neill’s. It wasn’t like most restaurants where a waiter brings you your food—we had to go up to a counter and tell them what we want and workers stood at a little buffet and assembled our plates for us. I got the Irish stew, which came with lamb, carrots, potatoes… and even more potatoes. We had the option to get as many other sides we wanted, so I topped it with some cabbage and green beans too! So delicious and filling!
You’d think we’d be done with our day by now, but nope, we still had an entire tour of the Guinness storehouse! This was definitely my favorite part of the day. The building was extraordinary—it was huge and the whole thing is actually shaped like a Guinness glass. There were seven floors and each was a little different. The first floor was the lobby and gift shop, then the second floor was all about the ingredients of Guinness beer. There were signs and writing throughout the walk teaching us about the four natural ingredients: barley, hops, yeast, and water. There was a big sandbox-type thing filled with barley; lining the walls were glass cases with vines of hops; and there was a massive waterfall in the middle of the room.
Then, on to the third floor, which was all about the brewing process! There was a ton of information about how the ingredients are processed to make the final product. It’s a long process that I’m not going to write all about, but it really was interesting to learn about because I had no clue how beer was made.
Up the escalator we went to the fourth floor—the tasting experience! On this floor we were taught how to fully appreciate a Guinness when drinking it. We went into a room that had these pillar things with steam coming out, each with a scent of a different beer. Then we went into a different room where a very entertaining man instructed us on how to properly enjoy the beer. We were supposed to use all our senses and really get the full effect.
After the tasting room, we headed to the next floor. This floor caught my interest because it was all about the advertising of Guinness. I’m a Communications/Marketing/PR student, so I really do enjoy this type of stuff. They had different advertisements, a photo booth where we could put our head onto a person in an ad, and a huge screen showing commercials.
Then we headed to the sixth floor—which was the best so far! This floor hosted the Guinness Academy. When first coming to the Guinness Storehouse, we were given a ticket for one free pint of Guinness. We could either use this ticket at the Guinness Academy and pour our own or wait for the top floor which was a bar. We chose to pour our own of course! The Guinness Academy room was very cool. There were four small bar areas and we were taken in a small group to one of them, where we learned the method for pouring the beer. We each took our turn, got a group picture together, then got to take our beer with us along with a certificate that said we had successfully crafted the perfect pint of Guinness.
The last floor we went to was the Gravity Bar, which was on the very top floor. It was a huge bar with a 360 degree view of the city of Dublin and we went up there and enjoyed our pints.
The tour of the Guinness Storehouse exceeded my expectations! And who knew I actually really liked Guinness. Before leaving, we spent a little while in the gift shop, then headed back to the hostel.
That night we went out on a pub crawl. We went to three different pubs around Dublin which were definitely what I would expect from an Irish pub. Then we headed back to the hostel because we had to be up VERY early the next morning for a trip across the country.
Although I loved Dublin, Saturday was probably my favorite day—we traveled to the Cliffs of Moher. We left Dublin by bus before 7am and headed for the cliffs, which are on the left coast of Ireland. We were up so early that the hostel was nice enough to pack us a little breakfast to have on the bus! The bus ride was a little over three hours and between the movie on the bus and the sheep and cows in the fields we drove by, I was pretty content.
When we got there we walked just a little up the hill and all of a sudden the cliffs were right in front of us. I was kind of speechless—it was even more beautiful that I had expected. Just cliffs as far as you could see, with green grass and stone and water. I really can’t even describe it… it was just so beautiful! We walked along the coast one way for a long time and enjoyed the view, then walked back and went the other way. It was a little chilly and super windy, but that wasn’t stopping us from enjoying the cliffs the whole time. After about an hour or so, we headed inside the little gift shop and café they had, got a tea, then headed out to the bus again.
Next, we went to a town called Galway. We got lunch at a place called McDonagh’s, which is known for its fish and chips. I got a seafood chowder with a side of chips (fries). It was so delicious!
Then we spent the rest of the time walking around and doing some shopping. Galway really is such a cute little town! I could have spent a lot more time there.
Ireland is known for a piece of jewelry called the Claddagh ring, which is a heart in the middle of two hands with a crown on top representing love, loyalty, and friendship. We went to a little jewelry store and each of us got ourselves one! The way you wear the ring tells what your relationship status is. If you wear it on the right hand with the heart facing out, it means you’re single and looking for love; on the right hand with the heart facing in, you’re in a relationship; on the left hand with the heart facing out, you’re engaged; and on the left hand with the heart facing in, you’re married. There were some really fancy and extravagant rings, but I just got a simple one!
After a few hours we got back on the bus and headed for our hostel in Dublin. That night a big group of us went out to a bar called Whelan—it was actually a pub where they filmed the movie P.S. I Love You! There was live music and it was a good way to end our trip to Ireland.
The next morning we got up, had some breakfast, and then headed to the airport to go back to Florence. Ireland is definitely one of my favorite cities, and I hope to be able to visit again someday!