After a very early morning start in Paris to catch my plane to Dublin (I enjoyed a chat with three friendly Americans in the queue to board), I made it to the hotel via the easy shuttle bus. I was immediately impressed with the friendly locals – who speak English!
I dumped my bags, had a Subway for lunch on a grassy patch near a church in the sunshine, then went into an internet cafe to upload photos and update this until I could check into the hotel. I had a hearty nap before meeting the Contiki tour group at 4:30pm.
After the usual trip admin we had time to get ready before dinner, which was at the hotel, and as would be usual, a three course meal! We then had even more time before meeting at 8:30 for the short walking tour around Dublin, during which we heard about the iconic men who were in statue form, saw the Bank of Ireland that was involved in a huge heist, Trinity College and more.
We ended up at the Storehouse in Temple Bar district and had a drink while listening to a traditional Irish duo. The duo catered to tourists and joked with the crowd, asking where we were all from and so on.
As many were jetlagged, having flown straight from America or Canada, a lot went back to bed quite early. I went on to the bar actually named Temple Bar but promptly could not find the others who had also gone there. Instead, I befriended a group I had seen in the previous pub also – they turned out to be American travelers.
The next morning, as usual, we got up for the delicious hot and cold buffet breakfast at the hotel (basically anything you could possibly want for breakfast!) before boarding the bus at an also very early hour. On this day the breakfast was at 7 but we did not have to board til 8:30 so I managed a quick nap in between.
We headed to Belfast, where a funny and informative guide hopped on the bus and we had a guided tour on the bus. The most interesting parts were all the murals, and the recent history of the troubles. It was really mind blowing to be there. We also drove to the place the Titanic was built and had a look at the museum (there was no time to really go in).
After the tour we had a lunch break and a fair few of us girls went into a cute and quirky restaurant called Made in Belfast, where we all had delicious food – mine was a duck wrap – but had to rush the waiter to get us all paid and out of there in time to get on the bus before it drove off without us, as was always threatened. Luckily they were nice enough everywhere to let us split the bill ourselves and then pay individual amounts on our credit cards, as we had moved out of the Eurozone and noone had any pounds.
That afternoon we headed to the Giant’s Causeway, and enjoyed the beautiful views in the stunning weather.
In the evening we made it to Derry, or Londonderry (depending on your political persuasion). A fair few of us had dinner in an Indian / Italian restaurant: I thoroughly relished the delicious Indian (I certainly wasn’t going to have Italian!). In fact, I ate so much that I became very tired and was happy to go straight to bed at 10pm when we got back to the hotel – as did most people. It didn’t help that we accidentally ordered share serves of Naan each.. but they were so delicious I had more than one person’s share…
The next morning we embarked upon a local walking tour with a very good local guide who walked us around and showed us the historical points – again, mainly to do with the still current divisions – and kept us very entertained. The sun was shining – apparently a very rare phenomenon – and would continue to shine beautifully for the next few days. Locals called it a miracle!
Our lunch stop was in Sligo, where many of us piled into a bakery. I had a steak and Guinness pie, which was quite tasty, and we ate next to the water, which was at low tide.
That afternoon we got to Galway and had a couple of hours to explore the shops. Most people bought the famous Irish ring. We then had a milkshake from a place in the mall that mixed up whatever you liked: mine was Maltesers, Oreos and Cadbury Caramel.
Some wanted to go clothes shopping but not being able to buy anything I joined a group who were heading to a pub when we ran into them in the mall. We had a beer in a pub that some of the guys had befriended previously before meeting the group at 6:15pm for dinner.
As a group we walked to Monroe’s, a popular pub, and had dinner. Mine was chicken fettucini because I didn’t feel like red meat again (so much for avoiding Italian food!). Afterwards the bus took us back to our hotel to get ready before it took us back out into Galway for our night out.
Kirsty, our guide, led us to Monroe’s again, where the band was playing upbeat and fun Irish music – as well as a lot of Johnny Cash! We all went wild when ‘Whisky in the Jar’ came on: every day Kirsty would play us a different Irish song so we could learn it and sing along in the pubs. However, it was a weird slow version, because Bon Jovi has apparently done a weird slow cover, so you can’t really clap along!
Afterwards we went out into the main street to move somewhere else. Kirsty, who had previously lived near Galway, was astounded by how busy it was. Evidently all the locals were out due to the warm weather that day – many were drinking on the grass by the river.
Being too many to get into the Quays, Kirsty led us to A Kings Head, where we spent a few hours dancing to the absolutely excellent cover band on its huge stage, playing a combination of pop and retro hits everybody knew and loved and some traditional Irish songs. In Ireland, they really know how to do Irish pubs: many bars and bartenders so you always get served straight away, absolutely excellent cover bands in every one, and a great, down-to-earth atmosphere.
At about 1:30am the others from my tour were heading back to the hotel but I had befriended a group of travelers – from Australia, America and Germany – and we went on to the Front Door, another pub w Kirsty had recommended. Although there was no cover band at that time, it too was excellent: many rooms and floors that you wouldn’t expect from the outside, including a cool outdoor roof area with friendly locals.
The group was with a Traveler, or an Irish person who, in order to progress in her trade of carpentry, had to leave her home for 3.5 years and travel around. She only had a few weeks to go! We all danced to the retro music in the crowded (but not too crowded) pub before somebody wanted to go outside.
We went outside and joined some others who were dancing in the street to a couple of excellent buskers playing the same sort of party favourites, such as Brown Eyed Girl. I requested Whisky in a Jar – but it was the weird slow version again! Eventually it was 3am and absolutely everywhere closed so we had to sadly call it a night and I took a taxi back to my hotel. My taxi driver was very very friendly and we had a great conversation on the way.
The next morning a hired coach took the majority of us to Aran Island, enjoying the beautiful scenery views on the way. Everyone except myself and Elisa were hiring bicycles to cycle around the island. Aware that the last time I attempted to ride a bike I was about 15 and struggled (you absolutely do forget how to ride a bike), I had no intention of doing this. Elisa was the same, so we paired up. I was contemplating walking the island, but we were informed this would take too long, so we hired a pony and trap to take us to the fort instead!
Our pony driver, Joe, was really nice and entertaining. He drove us 25 minutes to the fort, pointing out sights along the way and stopping our pony, Bob Marley, so we could take photos. He spoke Gaelic to the other drivers, and told us about the island. The weather was beautiful – hot but not too hot, and sunny – so everything was absolutely stunning.
We got to the fort and had an hour and half while Joe would wait for us. We leisurely grabbed some food – I got a slice and a coffee – at the cafe. We then walked the 15 minutes up to the fort and enjoyed the fabulous views before coming back to find Joe (it took us a while to find him as we were confused about which was our horse).
Joe pointed out the ruins of a medieval church he said we should go in and see and waited while we did so. We then took the coast road back to the harbour – again about 25 minutes. We passed goats, seals, horses, ponies, and always one or two cows or a random chicken in somebody’s yard. We also passed our sweating tour mates who were biking!
The land segments were all divided up by ancient walls – it was still the way it had been striped by the planters, and the segments were quite small to our eyes. The houses were quaint and beautiful, and amongst them, medieval ruins of houses that had been left and never repopulated.
Back at the dock we tipped Joe and then had 2.5 hours to fill before the ferry back. We had some food at a cafe – I made the mistake of ordering an Irish coffee, which I thought had Baileys or similar in it, but evidently it has whisky in it. We then wandered around for a little bit.
By this time the sun was very hot and we needed sunscreen (although too late). However, the supermarket had plum sold out of it in this freak weather! Plenty of people were on the beach, but of course we didn’t have our bathers with us.
Needing shade, we ran into Camille and all three of us went to a nearby bar and tried the local Guinness at a shaded outdoor table overlooking the water. Elisa was not at all a fan, so Camille enjoyed hers!
Back in Galway – or Orenmore, where our hotel was, about 20 minutes out of Galway – we had another three course dinner. Having had such a good time in Galway city the night before, and knowing it would be just as busy in town after another beautiful day, I was determined to go back in. No one else was keen so I got myself a taxi and went in.
I returned to Monroe’s for a quiet drink while listening to the traditional band – more mellow than the previous night. Here, an older Irish gentleman asked me if I’d ever been 21. When I replied ‘yes’, he simply told me to have a wonderful life.
I then enjoyed the busy atmosphere of a couple more pubs – the Spanish Archway and the Quays – and listened to the great cover bands. In the street (where crowds were standing and socialising in between pubs) I ran into Tiffany and Courtney from my tour. They had left at dinner and come into town when they found the pubs in Orenmore none too exciting.
They had met a local who took us to meet his friends at Buskers, which is apparently where the locals all go on a Saturday night. It too, had quite the atmosphere, but being tired from the night before I decided to head back to the hotel at 1:30am.
The next day we headed to the beautiful Cliffs of Moher. Very annoyingly, I had left my camera in my handbag in my suitcase under the bus, inaccessible for the day. I took some dodgy photos on my phone, but will pilfer other people’s Facebook photos and add them to this when they are uploaded.
Next was the Blarney Castle. Again, the day was beautiful and the scenery and gardens, complete with waterfall, were stunning. Nearly everyone kissed the Blarney stone, but I had no desire to dangle my head backwards off the top of a tall building while a man held and sort of pushed you out! Alas I did not do this, which is apparently in the top 99 things to do before you die: however I hopefully have enough gab to sustain me.
We grabbed a very late lunch before getting back on the bus to head to Cork. In Cork we had dinner organised at a nearby pub, but about an hour to kill first. Cindy, Betsy, Tiffany and Courtney and I went to a pub that had Wifi and had a drink in the beer garden before the short walk to dinner.
While here, a hilarious incident occurred. Two Irishmen came up to us, standing just outside the fence. One asked Courtney where she was from. When she quizzed him as to why, he explained that he knew she couldn’t be from a round there because he had never seen such a pair of legs on a local. He proceeded to thoroughly and hilariously compliment her big and beautiful legs, using such gems as ‘everything is big as beautiful that’s made in America’ and ‘twin towers’, while we laughed hysterically. He invited her to dinner and a nightclub the following night, but naturally we were leaving by then, so he graciously left, saying he would never forget those legs. Courtney said she would never forget that interaction!
Another three course meal later – the creamy vegetable soup that is always to start is very delicious! – we went upstairs to our private bar room for our Irish dancing lesson. This was not an inclusion in the tour but Kirsty knew some people and organised it for us. We had an absolute riot doing the group dance. Although when sped up to normal tempo we couldn’t really get all the steps, we knew enough to keep it going! At the end, the male and female teachers did a short dance for us, which was of course amazing.
In a party mood after all the dancing we asked a bartender if there was anywhere good to head out. She said Sunday was a very good night out in Cork because it was when all the staff go out. She told us they all go to a place called the Slate, so we all went there. Annoyingly they only let people over 23 into the upstairs area where a band was playing a contemporary sort of gig (which is funny because they didn’t even check my ID, but others who were under 23 got refused).
Some of us oldies stayed up there for a bit before joining the others downstairs, at which point a group of us who were left decided to go to the Catwalk, a nightclub that had been next to our first pub. We had a great time dancing!
The next morning our first stop was Cobh (formerly Queenstown and prior to that, Cove) where the Titanic docked. We went into the museum that discussed emigration from Ireland, as well as the Titanic and other vessels. The section on emigration and transportation was quite interesting, particularly as it pertained to Australia.
Lunch was in Cachel, where we had a quick and tasty meal and a cosy pub full of locals. I realised that unlike the rest of Europe in which I had been, Ireland is not at all touristy! You go into a pub or restaurant and you eat among locals, and the food is probably good.
We then walked to the Rock of Cashel, and past the ruins of a Town Hall thing, but did not pay the 6 euro to go into the Rock of Cashel. Also, the weather had finally turned into more normal for Ireland (the equivalent of an Australian winter, with nary a ray of sun!). I bought a winter hat at a Cashel Wool store – it really helped me feel warmer (Kiernan bought the same one!).
At about 3:30pm we arrived in Kilkenny and had an hour or so before the walking tour at 4:45pm, so I showered and got ready. The funny guide then showed us around the streets of Kilkenny, pointing out famous pubs, alleyways, and a convict prison.
We went into a church. I think it was called St Patrick’s, as they mostly are all called that. It reminded me a lot more of the Australian churches I know than the European ones. It had two impressive stain glass windows. Outside, larrikin Australian Rob, lay down in one of the old stone coffins that had been dug up and placed out the front. The tour finished up at the Kyteler Inn, where we heard a related story about the first lady to be burned as a witch.
Dinner was at the hotel but in the adjoining restaurant which was interestingly and cosily decorated. Some people then wanted to go back to that so-called witch’s tavern, so we went back to the Klyneter Inn and listened to the traditional band in a mellow atmosphere. They played Galway Girl (one of our songs), and Black Velvet Band. I was apparently the only Australian in the bar, when the band asked because they were going play a song from Australia.
We decided to move onto somewhere more lively and headed toward Tynan’s, apparently top rated and famous. On the way we ran into more of our tour group. We went into Tynan’s but the band wasn’t playing yet and it was a similarly mellow atmosphere so most of us went straight onto Matt the Miller’s, across the bridge. More of us arrived later.
We had an incredibly entertaining night dancing as a group to the excellent cover band. The band was a four piece, and each had their own microphone and sang different songs depending on what suited their voice. They sang Bohemian Rhapsody with spot-on four part harmonies and I swear it could have been Queen. I was in awe. And they knew we were a big group and some people had expressed they wanted to leave and go back to the hotel, so they kept trying to make us stay by playing our requests. Before long the bar was crowded and the atmosphere rocking, so nobody thought of leaving!
The next morning we headed back to Dublin and went straight into the Guinness Storehouse museum. Although lavish, this was the least interesting museum I’ve been to, because how interesting can you make an entire museum about brewing beer. There were also many amusing trying-to-be-serious quotes on walls about Arthur Guinness’ vision, and how the magic ingredient is Arthur Guinness. We took a ‘class’ on pouring our own pints of Guinness and got a cheesy certificate, then went up to the 7th floor for a very good view of Dublin. I bought a green Guinness / Ireland hoody in a rash moment of decadence.
Back in Dublin we had free time until dinner. Everyone rushed off to sight see, but with only a few days left of my trip I had a leisurely and delicious leek and chives sausage roll with delicious tomato relish at a bakery near the same internet cafe I had been to when first in Dublin. It was delicious, and I was still hungry, so I also had some duck compote quiche. I could have had the subway next door, but there’s only a few more days before I’m back on the healthy road (I actually can’t wait). I then spent an hour and a half writing this before checking into my hotel at 2:30pm for a nap.
We met at 6:45 for the bus to the Merry Ploughboy – pub apparently owned by traditional musicians – for the optional 3 course dinner, Irish traditional band, and Irish dancing performance. The band played all of ‘our’ songs: we think Kirsty tipped them off! By the final requested reprise of Galway Girl we were dancing and clapping.
After the bus took us back to the hotel some who had early flights – few as early as my ferry! – said goodbye to everyone outside. Then many of us walked into the Temple Bar area again and went to actual Temple Bar, which was again busy. As we walked in, they were playing Galway Girl!
We stayed until it closed then went to another place until that closed at 3am. I made it back to the hotel in time to catch about 2.5 hours sleep before my shuttle bus to the ferry to Holyhead!