I just returned from a wonderful vacation, my first trip across the pond to the European Union in the form of beautiful, beautiful Ireland! The capital of Dublin to be exact.
An Daoine: The People
“Leave no Trace.” This is the statement plastered on numerous waste bins around the city. Although this statement is meant to encourage the responsible disposal of trash, it’s also indicative of the general attitude Becca, my go-to travel companion, and I encountered and embraced from the Irish people. “What’s your surname?” The question I was asked time and again when explaining that me, the brown-skinned, natural haired American girl had the Irish heritage, rather than her blonde, green-eyed counterpart, more obviously fitting the typical Irish description. This question isn’t asked to me, or anyone with skepticism or snark, but curiosity and excitement, as the Irish are eager to share their culture, heritage and history with strangers and tourists. They know where they come from and profess their names like headlines and wear their past like badges of honor- quite literally as family crests decorate many arms, backs and calves of the citizens. Dublin has been ravaged by fire and the site of battles for the war of independence; all of Eire, Gaelic for Ireland, formerly (and some parts still are) under control of the British empire, Catholics and Protestants have fought gravely all over the country and the island has suffered through devastating famine; Ireland is no stranger to hardships and the resiliency of the people is ever-present in their blood today: proud, but not arrogant. I preface all of that to say this, in a country where almost 50% of the population are still generation farmers, “leave no trace” is an acutely accurate representation of my impression of my time there and the people: Enjoy yourself, indulge in the culture, eat, drink and be merry, venture to the quiet countryside or bustle through the larger cities – and when you’re done, leave no trace. A potentially juxtaposing sentiment, yes- a people who want to share with you and yet are uninterested in changing to meet your fancy. Regardless of its long and complex history with British rule (which is beyond interesting and you should research if you don’t know it), the remnants of those severed relationships are few and far between as the customs and traditions of the Irish have remained true and strong. Ireland, its people, have proven through thick or thin, like it or not, they’re here to stay.
An Talamh: The Land
So. Much. Green! The countryside was obviously full of foliage and green hills, but don’t neglect the country’s largest city! Dublin is home to many stunning parks and green spaces. We chose to visit St. Stephen’s Green and Merrion Square. Outside the big city, the sky was endless and clear. Citizens of Ireland are largely outnumbered by cows, a fact that was repeated to us numerous times throughout our stay and very obvious as we traveled through 3 of the 4 counties of the island. Sheep were also in abundance in all of their billowy glory. At the iconic Cliffs of Moher in County Clare, standing on the edge of 700+ feet worth of silt, the sound of the ocean against the cool backdrop of deep blue waters was the ultimate definition of peace; there’s nothing like walking the line against sea, sky and land to make a girl feel small! If only these photos could do justice to the magnificent act of nature that are the Cliffs of Moher.
An Bia: The Food (and drinks and dranks)
I had low expectations for the food in Ireland on the count of the poor reviews I’ve heard of their neighbor the United Kingdom’s fare. I watched a few Travel Channel showcases of Dublin and bae Anthony Bourdain’s tour of the city and took some notes- I trusted him in saying Dublin is making strives in the culinary world. I was pleasantly surprised by the flavor profiles we encountered as well as the diversity in ethnic cuisine I for sure never associated with Ireland.
You can’t have as many pubs as Dublin and have lousy bar food! We indulged in all of my fried favorite delicacies and bar staples: wings, fries, ribs, meatballs, etc at Porterhouse. With as many cows as the country has, burgers are everywhere. The patties are coarser there, but damn good. Thrillist tipped us off to Generator, a hostel with an amazing burger bar, most definitely worth the mention on the site.
Burritos were wildly popular, like lines outside of the door and around the block popular- there was even a burrito pub crawl our first night we arrived. But, I get enough of that in Texas and highly doubted Dublin’s ability to match my favorite places in Houston. Mediterranean and Halal eateries dotted the streets; again I felt skeptical of trying, but the reviews of Brother Hubbard in particular were phenomenal and that many people can’t be wrong, right? At a vegetarian friendly restaurant I ordered a pulled pork hash like brunch, complete with fried egg, topped with seeds and sprouts; the single most unique and perplexing combination of flavors and textures I’ve ever had in my life. It was spicy and subtle, crunchy and doughy, somehow light and fresh yet dense and full-bodied. Brother Hubbard was easily one of the most interesting and delicious meals of my life.
We had breakfast 3 or 4 times at Art Cafe, right next door to our hostel where they served Texas sized, whole skillet omelets- all the protein we needed as we averaged 10 miles walking daily according to Becca’s Fitbit.
A less healthy but oh so wonderful breakfast came from the quirky shop of Offbeat Donut Company. The creme brulee and cinnamon sugar and nutella! Donuts are my biggest vice and these ladies were serving them RIGHT.
Our most decadent meal was had at Cafe en Seine after an awe-inspiring performance of Othello; a champagne tasting was in preparation when we arrived, need I say more? They were known for their gin and tonic, and though I prefer to drink brown (as you’ll read below), I gave the house specialty a try. Peppercorns and big slices of citrus added heat and depth to an otherwise boring drink to me. I ordered one to pair with my duck confit on a bed of bacon and mixed pepper lentils. I wish I could insert a heart-eyed emoji into this review! All of it, SO GOOD! The gin too, and it wasn’t just the actor’s high of seeing highly renowned actors in their prime at the national Abbey Theatre of Eire either.
I ate my weight, and then some, in meat and potatoes with soda bread, it was inescapable- when in Rome [Ireland] right? Unfortunately, I didn’t photograph many dishes as they were plates of brown with a spot of green thanks to English peas and very blah in appeal; but the taste! Potatoes were buttery and salty and the beef/chicken/pork to accompany it were tender and delicious, every time, at every restaurant. The same was true of the seafood, all over the entire country. We had stews and chowders handmade from scratch, simple, filling. I was highly impressed by the quality of ingredients and ingenious of dish inventions of Dublin.
Fun fact: The Irish drink more tea than the British! I consumed more tea and coffee in 7 days than I have in my 26 years of life. Dublin has more bars, restaurants, pubs, tea houses and coffee shops than any other city I’ve ever seen; we stopped for coffee or tea to fight the cool rainy weather in more places than I could ever begin to name, but trust, all were better than the last. While on a day trip to Cork, a quizzical little town with a brash, amusing history where the locals consider themselves the TRUE capitol of Ireland, Barry tea is the default choice in leaves and unique to the town. Insomnia was the Starbucks of Ireland- fast, reliable and everywhere. The six-hour time difference and jet lag made coffee a hot commodity needed for me to have the energy to enjoy Dublin Town.
Some stereotypes ring true, and boy can the Irish drink! Whiskey/Whisky is almost exclusively my poison of choice, and Jameson is one of my all time favorite pours, so a tour at the Old Jameson Distillery was a must! The tour was fascinating, chock full of really interesting information regarding the process and history of the wicked liquid; the tasting made me reevaluate every bar order I’ve ever made: after a side by side taste test of Jameson, Jack Daniels and Jim Bean, Jameson for me rang far superior than the rest. Best research project I’ve ever participated in- even got a certificate with my name on it to prove I’m a real expert on the matter!
Guinness is just as heavily associated with Ireland, arguably more so than their whiskey. The Guinness Storehouse was an incredibly extensive, self-guided tour in a giant factory with 7 stories worth of information, an opportunity to practice your pour, and at the top a sky bar overlooking all of Dublin. The windows were stenciled with information regarding the buildings in the city directly outside of the factory windows. My favorite fun fact regarding Guinness: Nigeria is home to the largest Guinness brewery and Guinness consumers in the world! Guinness is king, but Dublin hosts plenty of other great Irish beers and ciders, I fell in love with Smithwicks which was lighter and crisp.
An Ealaín agus Cultúr: The Art and Culture
Like most emerging cities we see today, street art is very visible- some with a message and purpose, some just for kicks- Dublin is no different.
Dublin is home to some of my favorites in the world of theatre, including George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde and many others. Dublin has long been a hub of solid theatre and I had to take advantage of seeing a performance- any performance – at the well established Abbey Theatre. Shakespeare’s Othello was superbly acted and just invigorating! We were on the edge of our seats as if we didn’t know the how the story ended. The play was thrilling! Dublin is home to numerous art galleries, performance spaces, theatre houses. I hate we only had time to see one live show on our itinerary, but if you ever find yourself in Dublin, know your options are unlimited.
An Ceol: The Music
Tradition is king in Eire. We watched a local band, The Address, who played REALLY fantastic covers and were easy on the eyes. The band is recording their album at the moment in Westland Studio’s in Dublin and expects a website and new music to be up in about a month’s time, direct from the band leader James himself! Until then, you can find links to their music on their Facebook and Instagram page. Of course we heard current American hits and classic throwbacks at the younger, packed, Temple Bar District (think the Houston midtown of Dublin to give you an idea), but we were most interested in hearing the sounds of traditional Irish folk music, fiddles and all. After numerous online reviews and countless local recommendations, we knew we couldn’t leave Dublin without visiting Cobblestone Inn Bar where locals played Celtic “Irish trad” nightly, bringing their own instruments and singing the songs no doubt passed down through multiple generations. Nestled in the corner of the crowded bar, multiple musicians played – no frills, no mics; some locals even joined in with traditional Irish dancing, heavy steps, clogs tapping and all. A sweet moment, we felt like flies on the wall.
Spóirt: The Sports
Becca and I may not have been in Paris for Euro 2016, but we still had a once in a lifetime experience of watching a football match between Sweden and Ireland along with the country’s ever-loving and devoted fans at a lively bar called The Living Room. Although hurling is a great Irish national sport, football – better known as soccer for us pigskin throwing Americans- still reigns king. We watched the match with a table full of locals splitting pitchers of cider throughout the match as they taught us their national anthem and favorite chants and cheers to root on the national team- the table of 10+ men even indulged (and teased) us, gossiping about who the cutest players were. Dancing ensued after the 7th or 8th or whatever lost count of cider. Truly a night to remember!
Na Attractions: The Attractions
Trinity College was absolutely magnificent! The campus grounds were regal and pristine and the iconic Trinity College Library looked as if it were torn from the pages of a storybook. The smell of old books made my heart soar. The Book of Kells exhibit gave an extensive look into Ireland’s relationship with Catholicism and a glance at the holy text itself. A river splits the city of Dublin almost perfectly in two and several beautiful bridges provide access for the locals on foot, bike, train and car. The Samuel Beckett Bridge, named after yet another famous playwright, was easily my favorite. Besides my bias for the theatrical significance, the bridge resembles a harp, the instrument so commonly associated with Ireland, and is beautiful! More imagery related to the Irish, leprechauns! We visited the National Leprechaun Museum where we took a fanciful tour full of folklore and tales passed on since the beginning of time, full of fairies, giants and of course leprechauns. Although spending most of his time in Paris, Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin, and Dublin town is very proud of this fact. We stood on the stoop of the playwright’s first home and I for one wished to usurp some of his writing talent through the steps outside his door.
My favorite castle we visited was the Blarney Castle, and I didn’t even kiss the stone! Unlike other castles and cemeteries we went to, Blarney sat on beautiful floral acreages with tons of walking trails.The best part of the castle was a poison garden featuring herbs, flowers, fruits, vegetables and shrubs that were considered dangerous and/or poisonous such as white oleander, rhubarb (the leaves can kill!) and even a caged cannabis plant. We were advised several times not to get too close to, touch or smell any of the garden and they didn’t have to tell me twice!
Dublin reminds me very much of Austin, Texas- very hipster, friendly tattooed drunks, amazing art.
Luscious landscapes and lively locals, Ireland is one true gem. I could go on and on about my short trip there but don’t take my word – Hive Éire, go see it!