For years now, I’ve been told by the Spanish that Ireland was an incredible place, amazingly green with friendly people. On a recent trip, I somehow missed this Ireland that had been advertised, but I don’t regret my journey there.
Part of the problem was a lack of time to truly get to know the island, and trying to cram in too much in a short visit. I started off by taking the bus from the Dublin airport to Cork to begin my trip. Big mistake. My precious first hours on the island were spent on a bus watching the grey skies over the ugliest part of the green isle. It was dark by the time I arrived in Cork. My first day was shot.
The next morning, I took advantage of having my internal alarm clock still on Spanish time and waking up too early (Ireland is an hour behind Spain) to go to Blarney, the reason for my sojourn to Cork. My mom’s side of the family is part Irish, and my entire life I’ve heard stories about how she wanted to kiss the Blarney Stone that is supposedly said to give the “gift of gab” but more likely gives the gift of herpes. After paying my 12€ (highway robbery), I raced ahead to get ahead of that bus of annoying tourists being guided through Ireland at breakneck speed. Nothing against tourists (since I was one too), but I feel a tour bus is not a good way to experience the ways of the land.
I kissed the stone. Do I feel like I can talk any better? I’m still as reticent as ever three weeks later. I’m grateful for the experience, though, so if I ever have grandchildren, I’ll be able to tell them about climbing the stairs to the top, and in the drizzle, lying on my back, being held by my feet and kissing the stone. I will admit that the grounds of the Blarney Castle are incredible. However, I’m sure the Irish can suggest other castles that are more beautiful and off-the-beaten-path for those wanting to avoid a tourist trap.
I also went to Cobh during my Cork visit. It was a small, quaint village near the sea, and for history buffs, it’s the spot where the Titanic set off on its ill-fated journey. This was more Ireland, I think. Laid back, green and quaint.
Cork City was a disappointment. The River Lee was nice, but it was a bit too quiet and peaceful for being Ireland’s second largest city. Shopping was fun, and the bookstores were fantastic. Nevertheless, I left the city disappointed. Also of note, being born in the States, I found the Cork dialect of English nearly as difficult to understand as the Irish language itself (which I saw a lot of but never heard actually spoken).
On day three I left Cork for Dublin, this time by train. The train takes a more scenic route than the bus with stops in Limerick and a few other towns. It was a quick three hours compared to the eternal three bus hours, and after taking a taxi to my hostel in a residential part of town, I set off exploring.
Dublin reminded me a lot of Boston. They had a ton of American restaurants (Subway is quite popular), and Trinity College could easily have been located in Cambridge, Massachusetts and not Dublin. The St. Patrick Cathedral and Christchurch Cathedrals were spectacular, and Temple Bar is like none other for aficionados of Guinness. I’m not a fan of beer, ever, under any circumstance, but I had to take part in the tradition of having a pint. I much preferred the Starbucks, though.
Speaking of food, I think my cholesterol had to have risen during my short stay. I had eggs and sausage for breakfast every morning. Ireland is not a place for eating healthy, nor is it a place to go for those wanting to save money. I found the prices to be double or triple what they were in Spain for the same thing. That pint of Guinness set me back 5€, and their white coffee was 2.50-3€. Spain’s café con leche is, on average, 1.30€.
The highlight of Dublin for me was walking along the river. It has a bridge designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, but I preferred the Ha’Penny Bridge.
I took advantage of being in the Irish capital and went out to explore the gay nightlife. The George is the most famous gay club of Dublin, and with reason. It was packed with people of all ages on Friday night. The music was good, and before 10 there is no cover. The drinks were also cheap, and it’s quite close to Temple Bar, the main tourist square.
While I appreciate what I saw, I feel I missed a lot of what I would have loved. The Ring of Kerry, the Dingle Peninsula, the Cliffs of Moher, a trip to Northern Ireland to see Belfast and the Giant’s Causeway … I did what I could with the four days I had, but I was left with a bad taste in my mouth. Perhaps I should give Ireland a second chance to see these places, among others, in the future.
However, from this short trip, I learned less is more. If you see fewer places instead of trying to see everything, you get more out of those places. My first time to Italy, I saw five cities in ten days and felt rushed. Since then, I have returned to Rome and Milan on two different occasions and had a better time focusing on these trips. It’s not always feasible, unfortunately, as you never know if you’re going to get the chance to go back.
At least the weather cooperated for once. Ireland is typically rainy? Could have fooled me. I only experienced drizzle at the Blarney Castle.
If I ever find myself in Ireland again, after a night at The George, of course, I plan on hitting the more natural areas and leaving the cities behind to experience what I presume is the authentic Ireland.
PAUL ALLEN HAKER, Pablo to his friends, is a thirtysomething English teacher and writer who lives in Bilbao in the Basque Country in northern Spain. Constantly searching for deeper meaning in life, Pablo spends most of money on travelling and learning language (he speaks English, Spanish, Catalan, Italian and is currently trying his hand at Basque). When he’s not teaching, at the gym, travelling or watching films, he can be found working on his novel or reading at a café. Keep up with his current writing at his blog, Señor Brightside.