Hello from Ireland, where the hills were green and rolling and the beer was brown and flowing! We spent ten glorious days there with our best friends from Chicago, Ed and Cindy, plus his parents and her parents. There were four nights in Dublin, two in Athlone and one each in Bunratty, Kilarney and Kinsale.
We saw a lot for just ten days. St. Patrick’s, Dublinia, the Dublin Writers’ Museum (guess whose idea that was!) the Guinness brewery, the Jameson distillery, the Cliffs of Moher, All Wee Cave, the beach on the Dingle penninsula, Bunratty Castle, the Bram Stoker tour, the Gravedigger’s Pub, The Locke Distillery, Bunratty Castle, Fork Park, Trallee Rose Garden, Conmacnoise and The Burren. And I’m sure I’m forgetting something.
So, as you can see, Ed kept us on a tight but fun-filled schedule. He’s the alpha wolf of this travel pack and always plans where we’ll go and what we’ll see. And since he has yet to have a bad idea, we’d follow him anywhere. Clever Ed rented a mini-bus with a driver to take us all over the country, avoiding the need to have a designated driver and providing us the opportunity to watch the countryside roll by while drinking beer and playing cards. He tried to incorporate a penalty shot of whiskey into our Euchre game, but it turned out that alcohol just improved my and Cindy’s card-playing abilities. Cindy, let’s Irish-up our card games from now on.
We heard some traditional Irish music, though it was harder to find than we thought it would be. The first pub advertising authentic Irish music was playing The Eagles. The second, Billy Joel. I can’t remember what the music was at the third pub, but it wasn’t traditional or Irish, and at this point I would have given them credit if it had been U2. We drank pints in Dublin’s oldest pub, Ireland’s oldest pub and Ireland’s smallest pub. We also drank pints in several pubs that I thought should be nominated for Ireland’s hottest pub (the Irish clearly prefer an all-in-one pub/sauna experience), but I don’t know if that’s a category they track. All and all, before the first weekend was out, the trip had turned into such a pub crawl that Ed Sr. quipped, “So far, we’ve seen more pubs than sunshine!” Ed Jr. replied, “You sound shocked and disappointed. I’m neither.”
Ed’s mother, Bunny, tracked down some Irish relatives and we spent a day visiting with them (including the museum her cousin owns and runs!), even getting our whole group invited for tea, which featured homemade scones and an apple pie that Ed didn’t stop raving about the whole rest of the trip. We then spent what probably seemed like a greater part of the afternoon than it actually was trying to track down a woman who is supposedly the best friend of one of Bunny’s friends in the States. I say “supposedly” because she was reputed to work at the post office in a town that turned out not to have a post office when we got there. Also, her name was Joan Cunningham. Joanie Cunningham? “Who’s your friend, mom, the Fonz?” Ed asked. We never found her. Must have been some of that famous blarney we kept hearing about.
Other notable stops included the stunning Bunratty Castle and the sublime Kilarney Lake, which is hands-down the most beautiful place I’ve ever been in my life. And naturally, we visited the Guinness brewery. The tour is very cleverly arranged, taking you up floor by floor, each one encircling the pint-glass shaped space in the center of the building. The tour ends with a glass-windowed bar on the top floor that features 360 degree views of Dublin, but knowing their customer base, the Guinness people don’t make you wait until the seventh floor for a beer. There’s a tasting room on the third floor, which is brilliant, because you can only absorb
about three floors’ worth of information about Guinness before wanting to drink one pretty badly.
Johann installed me at a table in the corner of the tasting room and went to get us some free samples. Then he went back for seconds, but this time on the far left side of the bar. “Are these different than the ones at the other end?” He asked the bartender. “No,” she replied. “I better verify that,” he said, helping himself to two more glasses. When those were gone, he tried his original source again, but got a strange look as he grabbed two more. I tell you, there’s nothing worse than judgmental free-sample bartenders.
We took a tour of the Jameson distillery, too, which I highly recommend. Ed was one of the lucky few chosen to do a taste-test with Jameson vs. Scotch and American whiskey, after which he received a diploma certifying him as a graduate of the Jameson whiskey-tasting school. When we went back to the distillery the second weekend, we enjoyed an evening featuring a four-course dinner and traditional Irish music and dancing. Ed took the tour again. I think he has a master’s degree in whiskey tasting now.
There’s so much more to say about Ireland, but I’m already packing our suitcases again. We’re going to a family wedding in France’s Champagne region and will be back next week with more stories and photos. Slainte!