National Lampoon’s Irish Vacation

Believe it or not I am going to write something on this blog. And it will be with words!

Recently, my lovely family and I took a trip to Ireland.

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For those of you who don’t know anything about Ireland, allow me to assure you that you do. Four leaf clovers? Drinking? Fighting? Drinking?

Thought so. But our escapade around the country was more than drinking, fighting and four leaf clovers, though it did include all those things.

So, sit back and allow me to take you on a short tour of Ireland from the eyes of somebody who knew what was going on a little over half the time.

 

Dublin:

Ah, Dublin. What’s to be said about this great city that has not already been said in any number of James Joyce’s novels, short stories and poems. Apparently James Joyce liked Dublin.

Aaaaaaaa lot.

I had heard of James Joyce before but had never known any of his works. For the literary lovers out there, perhaps his most famous and celebrated work includes Ulysses, a dense and extremely hard to follow novel. I wish I could tell you more about it, but I couldn’t discern what is was about from the inside cover.

But I digress. Dublin is a city like most others. However, there are notable differences, mostly of the European variety. Despite being one of the, if not the, biggest city in Ireland, it felt rather small. Not surprising since you can apparently, according to the locals, drive around the perimeter of Ireland in a little over 24 hours. I do not believe that a bit (more on that later) but I do believe the country, and Dublin, are rather small compared to other places.

We stayed in Dublin One apartments:

Dublin 1 Apartments

Directions

Address: 50 Abbey Street Middle, Dublin 1, Ireland

 Phone: +353 1 878 3780

The apartment was very spacious and comfortable, perfect for kicking back after a long day of touring. Bed and Breakfasts are more common in Ireland and in most European countries, and I highly recommended staying in them rather than the usual chain hotels, as you will get a much better feel for the city and local atmosphere. Obviously, the price is most likely higher so keep that in mind.

Dublin one apartments also taught me two very important things about visiting Europe:

  • Whoever invented the placement of the light switches was an idiot
  • To Europeans, work is more like a hobby than actually, you know, work

First, the light switches. It was like a scavenger hunt to try to find them sometimes. You would walk into a pitch black room, bump your shins on at least three things, slam your hand against the wall frantically feeling for the switch, and then have a family member flick it on from the hallway outside and look at you like you’re an idiot. Which you feel like, of course.

Then there’s always the lovely, going-to-the-bathroom-and-having-your-brother-flick-the-light-switch-on-and-off-from-the-hallway game. What a joy.

Now, perhaps my attitude towards Europeans work ethic was a little harsh. It is true they work much less than go get ‘em Americans and receive  a lot more vacation time. This is a reflection of the culture as a whole. Generally, European life is just slower, and simpler. And I love it.

What I do not love is when your toilet is broken and the plumber says he may or may not show up because he could decide to go to the pub instead of your appointment. Not cool.

Another little tidbit I picked up about European culture: when there is an option on your breakfast menu for black and white pudding IT IS NOT PUDDING.

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Does that look like pudding?

The waitress described it as a pork and gristle and blah blah blah mixture of something else they probably found under the kitchen stove. I describe it as disgusting.

Don’t be fooled! It’s not what it seems!

The Church:

So The Church is not a church. But it is, actually, a church. What The Church used to be was a church, but then it became a restaurant and the owners were too lazy to think of another name so they named it The Church.

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Address: Jervis Street/Mary Street, Dublin 1, Ireland

 Phone:+353 1 828 0102

 Hours: Friday 11:00 am – 2:30 am  –

The Church is a slightly pricier, more upscale, restaurant somewhat hidden away in the back part of Dublin.

Food: Great

Price: I wasn’t paying. So for me, great!

Atmosphere: Amazing.

One thing you notice about The Church when you first enter is that it is still…a church. They just took out the pews and stuck tables on the side and a bar in the middle (is that blasphemous?). We were lucky enough to get a table on the second story overlooking everything. Plus, we were right next to (I kid you not) the organ on which Handel first played the Messiah.

OHHHHHHHH MANNNNNNNN!

For those of you who don’t know what the Messiah is, shame on you. For those who do, congratulations!

The Church is also one of the places where John Wesley, the founder of my religion, Methodism, preached. So….this place was kind of a big deal.

Boots:

This one is for the ladies. Or men who are really desperate for that high-quality shaving product, or something like that. BOOTS is a pharmaceutical chain running throughout Ireland with stores few and far between. According to the woman who rented out the Dublin One apartment, the BOOTS chain has caused joy to humankind the likes of which have not been seen since the birth of Jesus.

I find that a little hard to believe but take it as you will.

The store was very nice and the options for every toiletry you could ever want were tremendous. The big draw for BOOTS is that every item there is supposed to be the highest quality so you know whatever you’re getting is worth it. So if you get to Ireland and realize you left any number of items (or, admit it, guys, you really want that moisturizer that smells oh-so-good) then have no fear, BOOTS will have you covered.

 

The Irish Famine(s)(you can’t have just one!):

Yes, this is something many people probably know as the ‘Great Potato Famine’. In fact, Ireland was unlucky enough to have not one, but three Famines:

1740-1741- Irish Famine

1845-1849- The Great Irish Famine

1879- The Irish Famine

Yes, the naming for each of the famines leaves something to be desired, but the times of the famine were hard on everybody. These famines played an extremely important role both in Irish culture around the world, and the original Irish language.

How could a famine in Ireland affect the Irish culture around the world, you ask? During all three famines, though most prominently during the Great Famine (go figure), flocks of Irish families packed up everything they had and struck out for a new place to live. This included parts of Europe but most especially the United States where an Irish influence remains even today. I should probably point out my name, Sean, and my brother’s, Calum, are both Irish and we are decedents of Irishmen. This probably means we have 1/45th Irish blood or something.

Anyway, this great emigration of people from Ireland also contributed to the loss of the original Irish language, Gaelic. This may or may not be such a bad thing depending on what side of the fence you’re on. Sure, I know it’s the Irish’s original language, but have you ever tried reading it? It’s harder to speak and read than Hawaiian.

Tá mé go maith, go raibh maith agat, agus tú fein? (I’m fine, and how are you?)

When Irish began moving back to Ireland they found no need to continue to speak their native language, and as such it began to vanish. Finally, Gaelic was implemented in Irish schools as a required language to graduate, and since then has received a revival of sorts.

GALWAY:

Enough of Dublin. Galway, if any of you choose to look at a map, is situated on the western edge of Ireland, just along the coast. This is very important since it is the fishing Mecca for thousands of people each year. The reason lies in the fact that every salmon that swims, jumps, flops and lives in an Irish river must first past through the channel running through Galway.

Kind of a big deal if you love fishing, as I do.

Sadly, fishing for salmon in Galway is prohibited to locals only, and I wasn’t prepared enough to fish anyway. Most fishing done now days must be through an expensive guide as there are no shops who will simply rent equipment to you.

We stayed at a nice B&B here and perused the main street of Galway, full of lively shops, colorful banners and brawling drunkards. I’m not even kidding about that last part.

Before witnessing the street brawl:

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After witnessing the street brawl, with unseen mental scarring:

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Poor me.

This is as good a place as any to say there are two very important things to remember to bring to any European country:

Outlet converter

Rain jacket

We didn’t forget either, but the looming thunderheads and brisk Atlantic breeze was enough to convince us to hang on tight to them.

As I said earlier, the main street is brimming with nice shops and mom and pop restaurants and bars. Don’t settle for any fast food here, or anywhere in Ireland for that matter. Honestly, if you can find a fast food restaurant I’d be surprised. They were almost non-existent.

Something else to mention. Perhaps you may have seen one of these:

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This ridiculous marketing ploy targeting women the world over this charming and ornate ring is called a Claddagh ring and originated in Galway. As you can see, there is a heart, a crown and two hands.

Gentlemen, if you ever come across a lady wearing one of these, here’s a cheat sheet to interpret it, courtesy of Wikipedia:

  1. On the right hand with the point of the heart toward the fingertips, the wearer is single and may be looking for love. (This is most commonly the case when a young woman has first received the ring from a relative, unless she is already engaged.)
  2. On the right hand with the point of the heart toward the wrist, the wearer is in a relationship. (This suggests that the wearer’s heart has been “captured”.)
  3. On the left hand with the point of the heart toward the fingertips, the wearer is engaged.
  4. On the left hand with the point of the heart toward the wrist, the wearer is married.

As you can see, three out of the four reasons she’s wearing the ring is because she’s taken. But heck, don’t let that stop you! Whoever listened to a stupid ring anyway?

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Shut up, Frodo.

It was also here in Galway that we found out a lot of my personal cultural heritage. I come from the Lynch family, one of the most, if not the most, powerful tribes of Ireland. There is a castle called Lynch castle in Galway. It’s what we are standing in front of in the picture above where the fight happened.

Somebody may have already put the name Lynch and the term lynching together. Yes, lynching does come from the name Lynch. Go figure. The story goes that a mayor invited a young Spaniard to stay in his house for a night. For whatever reason the Mayor’s son disagreed with the young Spaniard and killed him. The only protocol at the time for such a crime was death by hanging and since nobody in the town would dare hang the mayor’s son, the mayor himself did it. Gutsy.

Despite this, Lynch was, and I think still is, the most powerful of the fourteen tribes around and in Galway. Sadly, the peasants here seemed to have fallen out of practice around royalty and we received no bowing or groveling while we were here.

CLIFFS OF MOHER:

Before anyone asks, yes, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince does have a scene with the Cliffs of Moher in it:

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For those of you who didn’t know that, congratulations, I just gave you a probable Jeopardy answer.

The Cliffs of Moher are as the name describes: cliffs. They are very big, windy, awe-inspiring, makes-you-more-scared-of-heights, overly priced cliffs, but they are cliffs. In my honest opinion, it was good to go just to say I went. The Cliffs of Moher are impressive and something to cross off your bucket list, but don’t plan on making it a day there. Not much more to say on that…

The Case of the Vanishing Traditional Irish Pub:

Fact: I like pubs. No, I had never been in a ‘real’ pub until I went to Ireland and NO I don’t drink that much. It’s a miracle if I can find any alcohol I can stomach.

But I’ve seen and read about plenty of quaint, warm, friendly, plot driving pubs in books and movies. Eragon, The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, my own stories. All of these feature pubs and all of them seem inviting places to drink and be merry.

I had no idea the traditional Irish pub was disappearing. After a little asking around in Ireland, we came to the realization that none of the pubs we visited were ‘true’ Irish pubs.

What does ‘true’ mean? Music, apparently; traditional Irish music served with traditional Irish food in a traditional Irish establishment.

For those thinking of traveling the Ireland I cannot stress this enough: eat at pubs. The food is not nearly as bad or badly priced as you think. In fact, I didn’t have a single bad meal in any of the pubs we went to and none of them were ‘traditional’.

What does this mean for those who wish to partake in the original Irish drink in a traditional Irish pub? I’m not sure. The traditional pub is, according to locals, fast disappearing from their midst and it’s only a matter of time before the imposter pubs take over and we’re left with…pubs that looks like ordinary pubs?

I don’t know. Must be an Irish thing.

Castlemaine:

Next on our merry Irish tour is the town of Castlemaine. There are no castles here and it’s nowhere near Maine so I have no idea why they decided to name it that.

We stayed at Tom and Eileen’s farm, a bed and breakfast that outdid itself on location and service.

the-farm-after-a-warm

Address: Conovola, Castlemaine, Co. Kerry, Ireland

Phone:+353 66 976 7373

I cannot stress enough how kind and accommodating the hosts were. This was truly the epitome of how a B&B should be.

We were shown the farm by their son who, at sixteen, was making himself a fine career in the horse breaking business. Like, for riding, not actually breaking them; though they are fragile.

Castlemaine is a relatively small town but it does have one big draw: The

Puck Festival.

If you like goats and gypsies then this is the place to be. The Puck Festival has been going on for over 400+ years. The big part of the festival is when they crown King Puck.

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He’s a goat, by the way. They crown a goat. Didn’t see that coming.

Yes, goat-crowning seems to be the other lesser known pastime of Ireland right behind drinking and fighting.

The strangeness of this event aside, the festival was lively and fun, though for those who choose to go whenever it is held in August, it is advised by the locals to be very protective of your valuables. I’m not pointing fingers but this isn’t a gathering of good Samaritans.

There’s good food, cheap knock off toys and all the useless knick-knacks you’ll ever need to fill space in your attic. The Puck festival: We Crown Goats.

Dingle:

Ha ha, yes the town’s name is Dingle. It’s better than Dinkle, which is what I though it was when I first heard. Our guidebook from 2006 states that Dingle is a ‘quaint, pleasant town so far removed from modern day that electricity has not reached it yet. A perfect place to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life’.

Well hustle and bustle finally found it. Dingle is nothing like what the guidebook said. When we first drove into town it was difficult to simply drive on the street due to the packed roads and volume of people crossing the street. After managing to find a place to park we then looked for something to do. Unfortunately, Ireland’s version of Sea World, Six Flags and Disneyland seemed to have staked claims throughout the whole town so practically nothing remained of the ‘quaint little village’ except for the small shops flattened between bigger stores and choked by exhaust pipes.

Needless to say, we didn’t stay too long. It was simply too crowded and there was nothing of any interest to do.

That being said, if you have small children who are interested in said Irish Six Flags, Water world and whatever other amusement park, they will love it here.

Glendenlauch:

The polar opposite of Dingle. This town hadn’t been modernized to the point where it was hard to find a restaurant to eat at. The main attraction here is Ireland’s version of a national park. And boy does it deliver!

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This really was the best, I thought, that Ireland had to offer the whole trip. Simply the mix of natural beauty and perfect weather along with a great town atmosphere made this one of the best spots in Ireland.

There were a few stops I think we hit on the way here though…

 

Mini-Stonehenge and the Rest:

This attraction, as my parents accurately described, is the Stonehenge starter kit. I’ll say it for you: it’s not very impressive. Historical, yes, but that doesn’t mean it’s amazing.

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This picture just screams ‘fun’ doesn’t it?

I got all excited to see something really impressive, especially since the nerve grinding, hairpin drive out here nearly killed us. Nope, nothing there. Oh wait! That pile of rocks in a circle looks interesting!

Yeah…

Unless you really need to check off tiny, easy-to-miss stone circles off your list of Unimpressive Artifacts Scavenger Hunt, then I would recommend skipping this. I’ll admit the scenery was spectacular, but you can see the whole circle in this picture and there is scenery just as good all around this region.

What did not disappoint was the lake in the national park at Glendenlauch, and the short hike to the mine. Despite having TONS of people (it is the Summer so I don’t know why I was surprised) it was big enough to still feel secluded. There are multiple hikes to choose from crisscrossing around the lake and up on the rim surrounding the valley. You can go anywhere from one mile, to fourteen, all the way up to the top, around and back.

On this last leg of our journey the ominous thunderclouds floating above our heads for most of the trip finally dumped on us. Despite this the weather in Ireland held out very nicely. As I said before, if you’re expecting warm, sunny weather, don’t. It’s as simple as that. Though it’s not quite as bad as Seattle…

I hope you enjoyed my little escapade of words. Though I doubt there will be anyone who does this, do not base your travel plans to Ireland around, off of, from, or in the general vicinity of this post. You will regret it.

I also realized I left a lot of things out about our trip. The Book of Kells, Trinity College, …..that’s all I can think of right now. I will convene with my trip advisors and get back to you.

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