THE EMERALD ISLE – A Glimpse into our Ten Day Journey around Galway
“The Irish: be they kings, or poets, or farmers, they’re a people of great worth. They keep company with the angels and bring a bit of heaven here to earth.”
We often hear the phrase, “travel moves you,” and while I have seen my fair share of the world, there has been no place that has touched my heart the way Ireland has.
It’s a land of legend, culture, tribulation, faith and pristine beauty, where the Atlantic Ocean batters rocky cliffs and brisk winds howl through the countryside. The emerald grass and rock walls that paint the landscape tell stories of a time gone, but not forgotten. The simple spirit of the warm-hearted, fun-loving people set my soul alive. Gentle songs that have been passed down through generations drift down the cobblestone alleyways and linger in the salty, sea air. Smiles abound, laughs are frequent, and a good pint of Guinness is never far out of reach.
Ah, yes. Ireland has most definitely moved me, every part of me.
I have just returned to America after a life-altering ten-day-journey of the Emerald Isle. Ireland is the place of my ancestors. My late grandfather, an O’Brien and descendant of the O’Briens of County Cork, never had a lack of tales of his family’s homeland. My siblings and I grew up with stories of quaint villages, numerous Irish tunes and Celtic Legends. It was the one place my late sister always wanted to see. We had actually planned to visit when she “got better.” Alas, she passed before we were able to fulfill her wish of visiting Ireland.
Witnessing the passing of both of these dear family members is what finally persuaded me to take a leap of faith. No more “I don’t have time,” or “I can’t afford it.” We have this one life, and what is the point of this life if we don’t do the things we want to do while we can still do them. So, my surviving sister and I, along with five of our dear friends, made the trip in honor of both my late sister and grandfather. The emotions were high and varied, but the love we now have for this country is deep, and inexplicable.
Ireland should truly be on everyone’s bucket list. Not just because of the beauty that abounds, but because we can all learn from the Irish people on what “living the good life” truly means. These folks have endured centuries of oppression, incomprehensible hardships, and have still managed to come out on top and enjoy life to the fullest.
We began our journey in Dublin, traveled by train cross country to the ocean-side city of Galway, and ventured to castles, landmarks, small villages, and, of course, frequented multiple pubs. This blog will highlight some of our favorite places and will also offer some tips for travel.
Enjoy, and be awed.
After speaking with numerous travelers who had ventured to Ireland previously, and listening to information provided by countless travel podcasts, our group made the decision to fly in and out of Dublin Airport. Many folks recommended Shannon Airport as well. Our determining factor, however, was simple; funds. We found it cheaper to use Dublin Airport, but I’ve heard many good things about Shannon, so don’t discredit it based on our choice.
With that being said, we found Dublin Airport to be highly efficient. The staff are wonderfully friendly, the process of security and customs were quite simple and very quick, and there are multiple options for food and drink.
As Americans, the thought of driving on the opposite side of the car, the road, and witnessing how incredibly small the roads in Ireland are (I’m not joking, the roads seem more like trails to the American eye), we opted to take public transportation the entire time we were there, and are so glad we did! You can call a taxi from pretty much anywhere. They also have Uber and similar services, although we found taxis and buses to be a more inexpensive option.
From the airport, we were able to hop on a bus which dropped us right in front of the Heuston Train Station in downtown Dublin. The train ride was comfortable and only about 38 US dollars for a round trip ticket to Galway (*note: do NOT lose your ticket during your trip or you must pay for a whole new one). By choosing to ride the train, we were able to save ourselves some heart-attacks, sit back, relax, enjoy an Irish Coffee and relish in the stunning views of the famous Irish landscape.
Once we arrived in Galway, we chose to walk, as the weather was pleasant that day, and it was only a fifteen minute jaunt through the city to reach our destination. This allowed us the chance to take in the sights up close and personal.
While many folks who travel to Ireland use their time to drive around the country and lodge at multiple hotels, bed-and-breakfasts or hostels along the way, we decided that we wanted a “home base.” AirBNB was the way to go, especially for a group of seven.
We found an amazing 1930’s townhouse within walking distance of EVERYTHING in Galway; Shop Street, the Salt Hill Promenade, historic sights, restaurants, pubs, bus stops and the ocean. The cost was just over two grand for a six night stay. Divide that by seven and it was about 350 US dollars per person. Mind you, this price included all of the essential amenities; full kitchen, washer and dryer, back yard, plenty of beds, a wood burning stove, undivided support from our hosts, etc… It was so lovely and convenient!
TOP 5 MUST SEE/ DO in and around GALWAY
Afternoon Tea at Ashford Castle – Wow! Just, wow! As any little girl growing up in the states, I had frequent dreams of being a princess in a castle, but the only castle I ever saw was Sleeping Beauty’s at Disneyland. Ashford Castle was a fantasy come true, and while I’m nothing more than a commoner, they treated me, and all of my companions, as royalty.
For just over 60 US dollars, we were able to enjoy an array of delicious sandwiches, pastries, teas, champagnes, and unmatched Irish hospitality while enjoying the historic beauty of the grand estate. Unfortunately, there was a hurricane happening the day we were there, so we weren’t able to explore the vast and picturesque grounds, but I could think of worse places to spend a stormy day.
*Note – If you are without a vehicle, the castle was able to send a shuttle directly to our AirBNB for round trip transportation, for a fee. It was about forty-five minutes there, and the same back. Well worth it.
The Cliffs of Moher Tour – Attention all Princess Bride fans! Do you remember “The Cliffs of Insanity?” Well, you can see the real thing in Ireland! Indeed, this is the very place where they filmed that portion of the beloved cult classic.
We joined a day tour through The Galway Tour Company. At only around 30 US dollars, they will pick you up in downtown Galway, and you will spend the day (from 10am – 6pm) learning the history of the area en route. On the way to the cliffs, which are located in County Clare, you will enjoy visiting Dunguaire Castle, The Burren, The Gleninsheen Wedge Tombs, and a stop for lunch in the small, traditional village of Doolin. Once at The Cliffs of Moher, you are allotted about two hours to explore at your leisure. Once time is up, the bus travels back to Galway along the coast road, perhaps one of the most beautiful drives in all the world.
The one thing I will say about the Cliffs of Moher; GO. No matter how you get there. We frequently see pictures of awesome places in books, online and in magazines, but nothing can compare to the grandeur of actually witnessing these places in person. The Cliffs of Moher have no words that can measure up to actually being there. To see something so gigantic, so beautiful, so majestic, truly makes one realize the power of the natural world.
Self-guided -or- guided history walk through Galway City – Anywhere you visit in Ireland will be full of historic sites, so you can’t really go wrong wherever you are. Galway, in particular, has a cluster of these ancient places all within walking distance; the Galway Cathedral, the Spanish Arch, the Galway City Museum, Eyre Square, Lynch Castle, and Atlantaquaria, just to name a few. And all of these sights can be reached on foot! On the weekends, be sure to check out the Galway Street Market, where Galway’s bohemian spirit comes alive.
Take a stroll on the Salthill Promenade – This 2km walk along the shores of Galway Bay is a favorite pastime for both locals and visitors. Enjoy views of the Aran Islands, pass locals playing music, witness young and old alike taking a dip in the frigid ocean, or stop into one of the many local restaurants or pubs.
The Aran Islands – Speaking of the Aran Islands, take a ferry across the bay and spend a day frolicking on these ancient islands. There are a total of three islands that are located at the mouth of Galway Bay, and offer visitors a chance to see breathtaking scenery and glimpses into an ancient time that has long since disappeared from the country. You can either purchase tickets before your adventure or can simply stop into one of the tour offices when you arrive. Something to note, if the ocean is angry, the ferries will not run.
Ireland has stolen my heart. The Irish people have shown me what it means to be genuine, to find hope and humor in any circumstance, to learn from, and cherish the past, while living fully in the present. From the country’s modern cities, dotted with ancient remnants on every corner, to its thatched countryside cottages, to its grandiose castles, Ireland has captivated me, mind, body and soul.
In conclusion, I shall leave you with an old Irish blessing:
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.