What seems to be like a ga-jillion years ago, my friend Mindy asked me to answer the question "When did your love affair with Ireland begin?"
And so I have, been telling a few stories here and there. I think I am not even half way through my first trip to Ireland. Here is the short version followed by my top 20 list of reasons and things of what to do and what I love about Ireland. Here goes.
When last we were on vacay in the story, Tim and I had just kissed the Blarney stone, and were now headed for Doolin, a small town on the west coast of Ireland, known for its traditional music in pubs (like the amazing Gus O'Connors) and being just a stones throw from the Cliffs of Moher. As I have mentioned, we did not have reservations anywhere we travelled, so each town we rolled into we would start with a pint at a local joint, and typically ask our server or bartender where to go. When we rolled into Doolin/Lisdoonvarna we happened to stay at the BEST B&B in all of the west of Ireland: The Fernhill Farmhouse. Old, yes. Cold, ummmm… freezing. But, the best food, a warm space heater, and the best host I have ever to run across. Best. We pulled in rather late, and our lovely keeper Suzanne, had us snuggled in, in no time. She got our preferred breakfast time and off to bed we went. Through the night we heard noises, clangs and wind. When we got up, our hostess asked if we slept OK, and sorry about the noise–her best girl kept her up all night–calving. Yes, a baby calf was born and the breakfast was still right on time and the best eggs I think I ever had. From farm to table, her hospitality was second to none–I can still taste the ham. So good.
That day Tim and I would head up to the Cliffs. And he proposed marriage. And I said yes. With love and breathtaking views, a new baby calf, and my heart having come home–I think I was caught up in it all. I loved Tim so, I really did. He was sweet and kind, and it was a beautiful proposal. (As we all know now, it was not to be, but that does not diminish it in my mind at all.)
So from there I could go on and on and on. But I think I am ready to end the story. I am ready to tell you what my top 20 things I love about Ireland, its people, and my travels are. I hope this is ok, and if you want more story-telling, please let me know. I am sure I have one or two more to share up my sleeve–I did go back two more times, and the last was on honeymoon. Sooooo…. perhaps you will talk me into it. But until my next stories I give you my top 20 / top 10.
If you are going to Ireland:
- Do the bus tour in Dublin. Its cheap, cheeky and really quite good. And follow it up with a visit to Trinity College and the Book of Kells exhibit.
- Go to Midleton, or if you are in the north, Bushmills. And when they ask for "volunteers" raise your hand. Really. It will come at the end, and be quick and enthusiastic. Trust me.
- Fish and Chips in Galway? In all of Ireland? Mc Donaghs. I still dream about it, 5 years later. Mushy peas, curry chips, smoked whatever they have. The. Best.
- If you do stay in the west, choose somewhere around Lisdoonvarna and Doolin. Its only 40 minutes from Galway and so many things to see and do and drink. Stay with Suzanne at Fernhill Farmhouse. She has the biggest hands, and heart of anyone you will meet.
- Andy's Pub in Monahan County, Monahan. Paddy, the bar-tender is the best bar-keeper anywhere and let us stay and get more drunk than I think I may have ever been in my whole life. He kept us up, filled us with a taste of every kind of whiskey they had in the joint, and let us even tend a little bar for ourselves. Like a dream come true, one I will hardly forget–or rememeber.
- Ballyvaughan. The Burren College of Art, and nestled right behind it is the best Italian restaurant anywhere. I swear. I stayed in this little town for one week, and ate there 4 times. I wish I knew the name of the place, but its seriously right behind the college. And so worth driving across the country for–the art and the food.
- You won my heart Ardara. I will be back, again and again if I can. The shops, the coast, the driving and nearly taking my life each time coming in and out of your little slice of heaven. I love you Ardara.
- Giants Causeway. Tourist-y, yes. Breathtaking, absolutlely. A fave and not to miss in the north.
- The "secret pub" in Sligo, Ireland. The only way I know to get to it is to meet a nice man whos
name is Sean at the pub with the peat fire right in town (McGarrigles, 11 O'Connell Street), get your drink on whilst playing cribbage. Invite nice Irish guy over and buy a few rounds, laugh and be open to whevever the wind takes you. Turn and ring the buzzer, wait for the wink and nod and you are in.
- Derry, or Londonderry. A facinating history, this walled city has a great hostel, some lovely groceries, and my favorite place–the Holy and Fancy Goods shop. When I go back, I am not going to pass up the best holy kitch that you can find anywhere in the world. Nope. I have not yet found this lovely item, and don't think I will. I will be back Holy and Fancy Goods shop, I will.
The next 10 items are just random whatnot that I love:
- The book, Trinity, by Leon Uris. Love it, read it, have a few copies. Found at any second had shop. A great story with history, intrigue and love–in Ireland.
- My friends at IKON collective, in Belfast. Jonny, Kellie, Pete, Willow. Love them.
- Ken Edge and the rest of the Riverdance folks from the mid to late 90's. In its time, it was specatular. Truly and really.
- Irish Fair, the first weekend in August each year here in St. Paul. So much fun. So huge. Great music.
- Fish Pie. Done right–with rich cream sauce, in puffy pastry, with fresh fish and potatoes and a few veggies. Mmmmm. Brown bread and rich cream butter with a hot cup of soup–perhaps a guinness stew or fish stew.
- Music. From traditional reels to U2, from new age-y Altan and Clannad to Glen Hansard and The Swell Season. I seem to love it all.
- A pint of Guinness, and a nip. My favorite is Powers.
- St. Brigid of Kildare. Her feast day is February 1. I feel like she is my personal Patron Saint. A great post about her--I love this one. This is my tattoo image of her. And a good web resource. I feel drawn to her in some beyond words way. It started by visiting her bizzare well, and has continued to this day.
- The accent. Really. I mean, really, is that not on your top 10 list? I can own it, admit it. Love me some Irish accent.
- Planning for the next trip. Next up, Belfast. After that, the Ring of Kerry. Perhaps getting over to the Rock of Cashel that I missed out on the first time.
Thanks for staying with me friends. And thank you Mindy, this has been great fun.