“An té a bhíónn siúlach, bíonn scéalach” is an Irish saying which means “He who travels has stories to tell.” And, a visit to the enchanted island of Ireland last year, certainly gave me plenty of stories to tell.
The island we think of as “Ireland” is really a place of two countries – the Republic of Ireland, and Northern Ireland which is part of the United Kingdom. Throughout history, the two nations have had their challenges getting along. Even though some local skirmishes still happen today, passing between Ireland and Northern Ireland is easy now without any guards or checks along the border. Each country is worth a visit because each has incredible beauty that should be on everyone’s bucket list. We absolutely loved our time there and can’t wait to visit again.
This trip was our first trip to Ireland. I think it is the perfect place for Americans to make their first trip to Europe. Most people on the island speak English, so there is very little language barrier. Road signs are in both Irish (sometimes referred to as Gaelic) and English, menus are in English, restaurant checks and other signage are in English, so navigating and enjoying was made simple. A nonstop flight from the east coast of the United States to Dublin is just over 6 hours in the air, so a trip to Ireland doesn’t involve a lengthy journey with multiple layovers. Perhaps most importantly, the people of Ireland are warm, friendly, and very welcoming to American visitors.
After landing at the Dublin airport and grabbing a rental car, we headed north toward Belfast in Northern Ireland and stopped at some sights along the way. Self-driving in Ireland can be somewhat of a challenge, and we had many factors to consider before deciding if that was the right mode of transportation for us. In Ireland, the driver sits on the right side of the car, and traffic flows on the left side–everything is opposite as to how we drive in the United States. Driving this way takes some getting used to, and no doubt, a number of US drivers (including us) return rental vehicles with a ding or two of damage from getting too close to the hedges that line so many roads in Ireland.
On our way to Belfast, we made stops at Trim Castle–the largest Norman castle in Ireland which was completed on 1220 and used as a filming location in the movie Braveheart–the ruins of Bective and Old Mellifont abbeys, the ancient archeological sites of Newgrange and Knowth which are 5000 year old “passage tombs,” and the ruins of Monasterboice, which is famous for ornately carved high crosses.
In Belfast we dined at the Crown Liquor Pub and had a very interesting private tour of the areas where “the troubles” occur. This tour was such an interesting part of our trip and we appreciated the guide sharing his experience growing up in the Falls Road area of Belfast. “The Troubles,” which refers to the tension between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland, is something we have heard about in the news, but truly did not understand. We appreciated learning about the history of the tension, and signed our names to the “peace wall,” hoping that peace remains in that part of the world.
Our days in Ireland continued with drives along the beautiful coast line, a hike to see the unique geological forms at Giant’s Causeway, the city of Derry (or Londonderry depending on where you are from,) a tour of Hillsborough Castle, Queen Elizabeth’s home in Northern Ireland, a stop at a lovely manor house and more. The very green and gently rolling hills of Ireland were so beautiful.
In Galway, we wandered the lively streets at night, longing to hear music pouring out of pubs and restaurants, but disappointed that none existed because of covid restrictions. Galway is definitely on my list of places I need to return to, as there is potential for some serious fun in that city. I had heard that Guinness tastes better in Ireland, and after a couple of pints with dinner in Galway, I have to say that is true. Outside of Galway, we made a trek to the iconic Cliffs of Moher. The drive there was amazing and the cliffs were very impressive. I had hoped to see a puffin or two, and if really lucky a humpback whale, but alas, the luck of the Irish was not with me that day.
Back in Dublin, we made stops at the famous Book of Kells at Trinity College, The Temple Bar District, and wandered through the streets to visit shops and restaurants. The Book of Kells is a 1200 year old manuscript of the four gospels. It was meticulously illustrated by monks, and is one of the finest pieces of art from the Dark Ages. After glancing at the book, we climbed a set of stairs to visit Trinity College’s library, which in my opinion is just as impressive.
Without a doubt, we will return to Ireland. There is still so much to explore.
There are plenty of ways to explore Ireland. Custom touring plans can be curated for those who would like to self-drive, like we did. For travelers who would like to leave the driving to someone else, group tours on motorcoaches with expert tour guides are an affordable way to see the island. Ireland has a train and bus system that can take you through countryside journeys to reach towns and villages. There are companies that will arrange for hiking tours through Ireland, as there are plenty of paths that cross the Emerald Isle.
For a more intimate view of Ireland, private chauffeurs and guides can be arranged for the length of your visit. In my opinion, this is the best way to visit the island. With a private guide and chauffeur, your trip can be customized to your interests. Do you like nature? Your private guide will know exactly where to take you. Are you a Game of Thrones fan? Your driver will know where to find filming locations and can take you right to the spot – without you having to worry about finding a legal parking space. If you are a fan of Irish pubs, a private guide or chauffeur is the perfect way to have fun, without the worry.
But perhaps the most unique way to explore Ireland is by waterway. In the Shannon and Erne area, there is a company where you can rent a house boat for a number of days, and spend your time cruising the connected lakes and waterways, docking in small towns and villages, biking through the countryside, and seeing Ireland from a totally different perspective.
As you can tell, I thoroughly enjoyed my time and now I want others to experience the same warmth, culture, history, and fun. I often hear from people how Ireland is on their bucket list, well now is the time to experience it, and I’d love to help build your dream trip. The traditional Irish word for “farewell” is “slán,” but I hope other get to experience this gem and that one day I will be able to return to this special place.
Tamara Humphrey is the founder and CEO of The Good Life Travel Company. Her love and passion for travel led her to start the travel agency in order to help others experience The Good Life while on vacation. While Tamara focuses on European, African and Disney travel, she is truly a Travel Specialist because of her vast experience and training. Connect with Tamara at firstname.lastname@example.org.