As is our custom, when we visit a country we like to make a list of the things we liked best. So here’s our Top 10 Things We Liked About Ireland.
1. The People. Yeah, this is often on our list and I guess it’s just evidence that there’s more good in this nutty world than bad, but the people here are all so friendly. Quick to take up a chat, quick to give aid, quick to make you feel welcome. Quick to help get you “sorted out” (one of my new favorite expressions). From Finn the bartender at Moran’s, to Jack the Belfast walking tour guide to Pat the taxi driver in Donegal to Patricia at Granny’s Bottom Drawer in Kinsale and everyone in between, they love their country are happy to share it and enhance your experience with their tips on how to see it better. Top of the morning to ya (not something we believe the Irish actually say) Irish lads and lasses. Slainte.
2. The Dairy Products. What is with the butter here? It just tastes so much better. I’m not ordinarily a huge butter on bread person. Maybe just a small spread to add a little taste but I found myself lumping huge dabs of it on my bread just to soak it all in. And while I’m on the topic of the bread… brown bread, Irish soda bread… the Portuguese make a good fresh bread but these were next level. Back to dairy, there’s a reason Irish cheddar is sold in the USA and elsewhere. It’s just that good.
3. Pork Products. A kosher country Ireland is not. The pork sausage and bacon were out of this world. At our hotel in Donegal my favorite part of the breakfast was those little sausages. I limited myself to two each day and dreamt of them at night. Ok, I didn’t, but you get the picture. The bacon looks like it’s all fat but it’s not. Sorry vegan friends, it was delicious.
4. Food. Yup. That’s right. We didn’t expect to, but we liked the food, mostly. In fact we loved it. Perhaps that is because of Melissa’s extensive research into dining options. But we had many delicious meals here. Our favorite restaurants were Land to Sea in Dingle, Moran’s Oyster Cottage south of Galway, Indian food from Chandpur in Donegal town, the Supper Club in Kinsale and Shed Bistro in Belfast.
The one odd thing was how early everyone eats. We found ourselves to be the late arrivals at 7:30 or 8pm. I guess most are getting the eating out of the way early for a night in the pub. And one other thing… the sandwiches here weren’t very good. Not much on them, weird grated cheese instead of slices. We must not have gone to the right places or frugality from the famine days still reigned but we were disappointed in the quality. A good purveyor of sandwiches would make a killing here.
Footnote: since the original writing of this Top 10, we stopped off on our final day enroute to Dublin and had two amazing sandwiches from Glasrai and Goodies in Gowran. An appropriately delicious mouthful from a mouthful of a tongue twister of a name.
5. Non alcoholic beers. While we are on the topic of food and beverage, being a recent regular quaffer of non alc brews and beverages, I loved Ireland. Most NA beers taste kind of like a bland Michelob Ultra. Heineken Zero is one of the better ones (I think it tastes better than regular Heineken, actually). But here, in Ireland, non alcohol beers are getting more and more popular. Guinness Zero is in nearly every bar, prominently advertised and displayed. I was also quite fond of the non/low alcohol pale ales I found (Kinnegar’s Low Tide and Brew Dog’s NA Punk IPA). Perhaps it’s because it’s a beer drinking culture but the taste and prevalence was, well… refreshing.
6. You Can Sit at the Bar. In Portugal, no one sits at the bar. There are stools at bars, but they seem to be entirely decorative. When we first moved there, we would stroll up and sit down and it was as though we passed gas loudly in church, no one could make heads or tails of what these two (clearly) foreigners were up to. Here, the bar is a meeting place, a conversation starter. We felt at home. We felt normal, if not local.
7. The Music. And while we are on the topic of bars, we can’t get enough of the live Irish music. Fellow UVMers from the 1980s will likely recall waiting in frigid lines for a seat in the dark, hot, smelly Last Chance Saloon for Irish Happy Hour with nothing to warm us but a few cans of Meister Brau or Old Milwaukee swilled on the way downtown. And while the tunes of “Bootless and Unhorsed” or the many bands at The Black Rose or Purple Shamrock in Boston still swirl in my head from time to time, true authentic Irish music is incomparably better. Whether it’s in a bar, on the street or on the radio those lilting vocals, floating winds and singing strings take you to a magical and beautiful place.
8. Landscapes Along the Wild Atlantic Way. And while we are talking about beautiful places, we explored much of the coastline road, the Wild Atlantic Way, from north to south as we rode our circuitous route around the Emerald Isle. I’d see that wavy blue sign and think, here we go, another beautiful drive. Every bend, curve and hill promises another stunning view of coastline, sea or land beyond. Seek it out. You won’t be disappointed whether you go a few miles or the length.
9. Beaches. If I’m being honest, I had no idea that Ireland has so many beautiful beaches. Long, flat stretches of pristine beach with green algae strewn along their rocks left by the last high tide. Eventually, we got smart enough to seek them out on our drives to get a break from the gear shift and clutch and to stretch our legs. Our favorites were Maghera in Donegal and Inch in Kerry but we hit so few and there are so many which we left unexplored.
10. Practicing our English. OK, maybe not practicing. We absolutely love Portugal and living there and our Portuguese is getting better every day, but… it was nice to speak our native tongue for a while. After 8 months in European countries where English is a second language (if that): Italy, France and Portugal, it was nice to understand everything (ok, most everything – Irish is a confusing jumble of unfamiliarity to us) for a while.
We’d only been to Dublin before and while Dublin is Ireland, Ireland is definitely not Dublin. Ireland is so much more. Lush green hills, bright green meadows and pastures. Craggy shores, pristine long and flat beaches. Sheep, cows and goats around nearly every bend. Friendly locals sharing their favorite gift: the gab. So much to see and do we still feel after nearly three weeks we’ve only scratched the surface.
Good Resources: We used the Lonely Planet Ireland Guidebook and found it quite good. The Irish Roadtrip website was referenced in several of our Airbnbs and it is a good site to use for planning. If you’re headed to Kinsale, check out the Food Circle website. And, of course, Rick Steves has a lot of resources on his site. We did much of his three week roadtrip in reverse, without any time in Dublin, because we’d previously visited.