Spending summer weeks in Ireland, I was able to experience the food, music and customs in depth. Each day brought a new cultural discovery.
A Vibrant Landscape
Everything is bursting with life in Ireland. Green hills dotted with grazing sheep glisten with morning dew. Shamrocks sway in the breeze, their gentle stems twisting and turning. Stretches of untouched land show no signs of human life. Delicate butterflies flutter in the reeds, their painted wings carrying them from flower to flower. The rolling landscape breathes tranquility and astounds all who pass through.
Plan Your Itinerary
Organizing an itinerary can be overwhelming, but it helps to have all the information before you start. Ireland has some fabulous places to see. But to begin? Take these suggestions as a jumping-off point:
Dublin: Ireland's bustling capital is situated on the East coast of the country. If you want a night out, try the Temple Bar. This establishment is a bit pricey, but there is live music and the staff are very friendly.
While you're there, look for food-truck festivals. I stumbled across one when I visited and was able to try authentic Venezuelan, Colombian and South Korean food.
Sligo: This quiet town in Northern Ireland is a perfect place to recharge your batteries. There are some fantastic restaurants, and the Sligo Abbey is breathtaking.
Tralee: Filled with parks, this charming village in County Kerry is popular among tourists.
Galway: Some of the best oysters in the world come from Galway. The pub and music scene is phenomenal. Stop into Kings Head and listen to traditional Irish music.
Adare: Close to Limerick, this small hamlet is known for its natural beauty.
Killarney: Architecture from the 19th century lines the streets of this town. Explore Muckrose House and kayak the lakes of Kilarney. The Ring of Kerry is a must see.
Breathtaking Irish Castles
History is preserved within the turrets and moats of ancient Irish castles. Ghosts of courtiers and queens roam the cavernous halls. Step into a world of royalty and wealth as you tour these legendary fortified structures.
Ross Castle: The Ross clan built this castle in County Kerry in the 15th century.
The Cliffs of Moher: One of my favorite places in Ireland, these ridges run 14 km along the coast of County Clare. The drop is impressive and the blue of the ocean plays well against the green of the land.
Blarney Castle: Built in 1446 in County Cork, this castle is a window into the past.
Buratty Castle: You can indulge in a medieval feast in this 15th-century castle in County Clare.
Traditional Irish Food
The cuisine of Ireland is varied. Meats such a beef and lamb are common in dishes, and potatoes and grains are also staple ingredients. Soda bread, the iconic brown loaf, is served with soups, stews and most lunchtime meals. Buttermilk gives soda bread a slightly tangy taste that goes well with jam, butter or jellies.
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Irish stew: a stew with lamb, mutton or goat
Boxty: potato pancake
Coddle: potato, bacon and sausage dish
Tayto sambo: white-bread sandwich with butter, cheese and onion chips.
Enjoy the Music of Ireland
There is nothing like the sound of a fiddle, accordion and flute coming together to create harmonized perfection. Lively and upbeat, traditional Irish music will have you out of your seat and dancing in no time. Try listening to The High Kings. I like their songs, "The Rocky Road to Dublin" and "The Wild Red Rover."
Most pubs start live music around 8 pm and finish around midnight. As you wander the streets of Dublin in search of traditional Irish music, don't forget to bring an umbrella!
Hit the Pubs
Irish pubs truly are unique. Apart from having live music, the atmosphere is always charged with energy and anticipation. Galway is the ideal spot for grabbing a cold Guinness and letting the sounds of talented musicians wash over you. Here are some ideas for your night out in Ireland:
O'Loclainn's (in Ballyvaughan): Whiskey is a specialty at this pub, and bottles from all over the world rest on its weathered wooden shelves.
The Hatch Bar (in Kildare): Friendly staff and reasonably priced drinks are what makes this place so attractive to most.
The Brazen Head (in Dublin): Built in 1198, this is Ireland's oldest pub. The best part? If you get hungry while sipping a drink, there is a menu to pick from. Live music and storytelling are also offered to guests.
The Stag's Head (in Dublin): This pub is an architectural wonder. This establishment has ceiling-high mirrors, wrought-iron chandeliers and polished granite counter tops. Live music can also be heard from this pub.
Hi - B (in Cork): Located on Oliver Plunkett Street, this pub has a strict no mobile phone policy. So get off your screens and grab a drink.
St. Patrick's Day parade
around March 17th
Fleadh traditional Irish music festival
Kilkenny art festival
Galway oyster festival
August 10th, 11th and 12th
Buy Something Exclusively Irish
Before returning home, don't forget to pick up a souvenir. Aran sweaters are 100 percent Irish and come in many colors, styles and designs. Originating from the Aran Islands, these sweaters were initially worn by fishermen. The stitching is specific to the sweater and takes years to perfect. Look for them in clothing shops and souvenir stores.
Helpful English Slang
While Gaelic can be heard whispered among friends and shouted from street corners, English is widely used in Ireland. However, phrases can sound a bit different than your American English. Here are some examples:
- Rashers: brined pork loin
- The press: a cupboard where food is stored
- Minerals: soda
- Knackered: tired
- Craic: a good time
- Stook: a fool
- Scundered: embarrassed
- Acting the maggot: being a jerk