Date of Trip: April 2003
My four days in Ireland were the last part of a month-long spring break during my year studying abroad at the University of Glasgow. I spent the first two weeks of break in France, and then another week and a half in Tuscany. This trip report is the third of three describing my spring break. You can find the others on this site too, under Spring Break in France and Spring Break in Italy. Check them out if you’re interested!
Since there wasn’t much time left, I chose to spend a day in Dublin and then take a three-day Shamrocker tour to Western Ireland — basically a tour geared to backpackers. It was reasonably priced, though the two hostels we stayed at, plus all food, were extra.
I woke up early and made my way to Trinity College, a lovely green campus with all the trees in full flower. I saw the famous Book of Kells in the Old Library; it was neat, though a bit of a letdown after going through about four exhibits about it — not sure it lived up to its hype! After that I went to see Christ Church and St. Patrick, which were gorgeous but couldn’t quite compare to the churches I’d seen in France and Italy.
The highlight of my day was meeting up with a high school friend on St. Stephen’s Green, which was absolutely breathtaking at the height of spring’s blossom — lots of tulips! It was good to see my friend (she was studying that semester in Dublin); we ate lunch on the green with a few of her friends.
After lunch I visited the National Gallery, which was bigger than I expected. I spent a lot of time there — lots of artists I wasn’t familiar with, particularly from Ireland. Then I poked my head into the Writer’s Museum (a place after this English major’s heart). Too bad I’ve never actually read any James Joyce!
I finished off the day by crossing the Liffey and wandering the colorful Temple Bar area. Nearby Dublin Castle had closed by then, but I was able to walk around the grounds to get a sense of the place. It was unlike any other castle I’d ever seen, I must say — part gray stone, part brick, part blue and red modern-looking architecture — a bit bizarre, frankly.
I liked Dublin and wished I had a bit more time to spend there, but the next day I had to leave for my tour…
Shamrocker Tour of Ireland
I met up with our youthful tour group on Friday morning, hitting it off right away with a Kiwi named Sarah. We left Dublin and headed southwest, stopping first to tour a distillery and get some free samples of Guinness (BLECH!). We also made a brief visit to a monastic ruin, about which I can’t really remember anything … hmmm.
We proceeded to drive through the Burren, a region that looks nothing like the stereotypical deep green hills people picture when they think of Ireland. It’s rocky and barren, with only a few tiny little plants managing to grow through the stones — a bit otherworldly. Our last stop of the day was the Cliffs of Moher, which were steep and jagged and beautiful in the early evening haze. It reminded me a bit of the cliffs near Tantallon Castle in Scotland, but these were significantly higher.
The bus dropped us off for the night at our hostel in the microscopic town of Doolin. It was still light out, so Sarah, I and some other folks from the tour decided to wander around and see what there was to see. We found a ruined church and a graveyard, and then searched for a while for the “Doolin pier” — which ended up not being a pier at all but rather a pebble beach looking out to the sea. We sat for a while and chatted as we watched the waves come crashing in.
The next day dawned sunny for our trip around the Dingle Peninsula, made up of dramatic cliffs and a few nice beaches. Our tour guide, Patricia, told us a bunch of legends about the area, aided and abetted by our Irish bus driver, Khris. We stayed overnight in Killarney, where we went to a local pub and watched a show by this crazy storyteller/actor — funny stories and manic Guinness drinking! Then we went to a pub, but I didn’t stay long before heading back to the hostel for some shuteye.
Our final day mostly consisted of driving back to Dublin, but we made a few stops — first at Blarney Castle, where I duly kissed its famous stone. (It’s kind of crazy the way they have you do it…you basically lie on your back and lean over, supported by a guy who must have one of the most boring jobs in the world, and kiss this big rock upside down. I mashed my nose in the process.) The rest of the castle wasn’t all that big, but there were some extensive, pretty gardens.
Our other stop was at the Rock of Cashel, basically another ruined castle, before arriving back in Dublin around 5 p.m. I was sad the trip was over, but I was looking forward to getting back to my room at the University of Glasgow — and really missing Scotland! Ireland and Scotland have a lot in common: castles, sheep, beautiful craggy coastlines and cute little towns. Ireland seems to have more farmland, and the towns seem a bit more colorful — probably due to Scotland’s Calvinist heritage.
This month-long spring break was the longest trip I’d ever taken, and though I was eager to get back to Scotland, I was also already planning my next journey!