After visiting Ireland for the first time I instantly fell in love. In addition to the beautiful country I met the most wonderful people who made me feel part of their Irish family.
In honor of St. Patrick’s Day here are just some of my favorite experiences in Ireland in four categories: Nature, Food, Culture, and Drink.
The Cliffs of Moher
For the majority of my time in Ireland I stayed with a friend’s family. On one of the days my friend’s parents, Liam and Marian, drove me up and down the Wild Atlantic Way, the stretch of coast along western Ireland with truly stunning scenery.
One of the top things I wanted to do while in Ireland was visit the Cliffs of Moher.
On our drive along the coast we headed to the Cliffs, but the rain was so heavy and the fog so dense that we could hardly see across the road. Liam modestly called it “a heavy Atlantic mist,” but to me it just looked like windy sideways rain.
We continued up the coast to make some other stops, and when we returned we had clearer weather.
When I walked along the path from the entryway and finally saw the Cliffs I had an intense, visceral reaction. I physically felt a pull in my chest stirred by the power of the amazing landscape.
The Cliffs are so magnificent and awe-inspiring that I could feel the whole force of nature just being in their presence.
The clearing in the weather was short-lived as the rain started again. Such is life in Ireland.
I still had an amazing time and would highly recommend it.
Giant’s Causeway was the other top place I wanted to see if I ever had the chance to visit Ireland. I’d seen pictures of this place that seemed like more of a work of fiction than reality. I was excited to finally have a chance to see it for myself.
While in Dublin I took a day trip with Wild Rover Tours to Northern Ireland. Among the stops on the tour was Giant’s Causeway.
I was once again in awe of the power of the earth. The perfection of the hexagonal columns that occur naturally is mesmerizing.
Standing between the green peaks and the columns that flow out to the sea I felt completely dwarfed by the power of nature.
The scientific explanation for the formation of Giant’s Causeway has to do with volcanic eruptions, basalt deposits, and erosions.
The alternate, and my favorite, explanation is that it was the result of a fight between two giants, Finn McCool from Ireland and Benandonner across the water in Scotland. I’ll stick with that one.
I enjoyed the Wild Rover tour because it also stopped in Belfast and at the Carrick-a-Rede Bridge, but I would probably do Giant’s Causeway on my own in the future to allow more time there.
Perhaps my biggest surprise in Ireland was the food. I thought it was going to be all meat an potatoes, of which I’m not a fan, but Eire has so much more to offer.
When I first arrived in Ireland at about 5:30 in the morning my new friends Niamh and Martin treated me to a homemade Full Irish breakfast, or Irish Fry.
The components of a Full Irish vary slightly depending on where you go, but mine consisted of sausage, rashers, eggs, blood pudding, and soda bread. It was so good!
Rashers is bacon, so clearly that was my favorite part. I’d heard of blood pudding, but I thought it was just a folksy name. In reality it’s sausage that is actually made with pigs’ blood. And I liked it! It’s also called black pudding.
My favorite Full Irish is served in the Corbett household, but you can find it in pretty much any restaurant that serves breakfast.
Before I went to Ireland it didn’t dawn on me that since the country is an island there would be seafood. Lots and lots of seafood!
During our drive along the Wild Atlantic Way we stopped at Vaughans in Liscannor for dinner. It had been recommended by Lonely Planet and the Irish guy next to me on my Aer Lingus flight, so I was very excited to try it.
I ordered the seafood platter. When I realized it was a cold dish I was a little hesitant, but boy was I amazed! It was the most seafood I’ve ever had in one sitting.
The seafood platter is piled high with seemingly almost every kind of seafood you can find in Ireland: salmon multiple ways, crab multiple ways, prawns, mussels, oysters, mackerel, and periwinkle.
Talk about a seafood feast. In spite of my best efforts and desires I couldn’t finish it, but I had a heck of a great time trying.
Italian food probably doesn’t come to mind when you think of your Irish dining experience. Another welcome surprise!
I had some truly tasty food at Il Vicoletto in Dublin. It’s a small restaurant with big flavor.
I had the seafood pasta, Chitarra ai Frutti di Mare, which was phenomenal. Good pasta, good wine, and copious amounts of bread all in the middle of Dublin. I will MOST DEFINITELY be back again.
While staying with Marian and Liam I had the great pleasure of joining them for some parts of the Willie Clancy Festival.
Willie Clancy is a festival of traditional Irish music and dance. I had never heard of it before, and it’s one of those things I think I never would’ve experienced if I wasn’t with this family.
There are music and dance lessons throughout the week and nightly céilithe.
It was a lot of fun just hanging out in the pub because people from all over Ireland, and other parts of the world actually, just show up with their instruments and start playing traditional Irish music together.
The céilithe were really cool because it was fun to watch people doing Irish set dancing. I felt like I was in a movie.
My favorite pub in Ireland is O’Neills in Newmarket-on-Fergus. When you think of a quintessential, cozy, small town pub this is exactly it.
The space is almost like walking into someone’s living room. We sat down at a little table and a round of Irish Flag shots (whiskey, creme de menthe, and Bailey’s) was brought out to us.
I thought Martin ordered them, but that wasn’t the case. At O’Neills they’ll bring you a shot if you’re new there or you just haven’t been around in a while. Sláinte!
We were also given a free plate of chips (fries) and sausage provided by Tony Chips, who runs the chip shop down the street.
The highlight of the evening though was when they actually let me pour a pint of Guinness.
All I wanted was a picture of the bar and then I was let behind the bar to pour the sacred pint. In that moment I felt I officially became Irish.
When you’re in Dublin make sure you visit the Guinness Storehouse, the home of Guinness and interactive experience.
I was in a rush so I only gave myself an hour there, which was a mistake. Allow yourself a few hours when you go.
There are multiple floors of interactive features, and admission includes a free pint of Guinness.
There are many places in the Storehouse to redeem your pint, with one of the most popular being the Gravity Bar on the top floor. It has 360-degree glass walls, which give you a panoramic view of Dublin. As you’re looking out onto the city the glass offers descriptions of what you’re seeing.
There is so, so much to see and do in Ireland, and I only scratched the surface here. If you ever have the opportunity don’t pass up the chance to explore the Emerald Isle.