Melbourne has nothing on Ireland's fickle weather.
From a Guinness pour to pouring rain, a quick stop in Ireland gave me an early taste of European winter and the hearty food and culture that comes with it.
Halfway into five months of travel through Europe, Ireland wasn’t a drawcard for me – I was happy with the hustle of London and the tastes of Italy and France. But it was one of those beautiful surprises that only come from travelling with a partner – when someone else encourages you and once you see it, you realise you wouldn’t have done without it.
We only had a short stay, but five nights was enough to see the spirit of the locals, the free-flowing beer and the four seasons in one day (Melbourne has nothing on Galway).
We flew into Dublin for our first night, a quick stay in a hostel, before catching a coach to Galway the following day and spending our remaining time in the country with my partner Jason’s family.
How can you not associate Ireland with pubs – the evening we arrived was Arthur’s Day, celebrating the memory of Arthur Guinness by raising a glass at 5.59pm (interpreted from 1759, the year Guinness brewery began).
Many of the pubs offered a glass for free on the minute, so everywhere was packed and we had to trek through town just to find two seats so we could order a meal. And expected – the beginning of meat and potatoes, me having a crispy chicken kiev with chips, while Jason tucked into the beef and Guinness pie.
A quick walk around Dublin that night saw the locals at their flaming best – think street parties with guitars, sing-alongs and U2 impersonators, bagpipes and dancing in the narrow side streets.
All this was followed by a liquid breakfast for us the next morning, visiting arguably the most popular tourist attractions in the city, Jameson Old Distillery and the Guinness Storehouse, which are definitely worth attending.
We took the 10am tour for Jameson, the first available of the day, and learned of the eight-stage process used to create the golden whiskey. Of course, it was topped off with a tasting offering the choice of a mix served around the world – Jameson with lemonade, ginger ale (our selection), cranberry juice or ‘on the rocks’.
From there we walked 1km to Guinness Storehouse – for those planning on going, pre-book to get in quickly.
The seven-floor ‘Home of Guinness’ is impressive, with a self-guided tour running visitors through the history and making of the iconic brew, ending at Gravity Bar with a free pint to sip while admiring the 360-degree views over the city to the Wicklow Mountains.
For those interested in brewing you could spend the day at the Storehouse – we were tempted by the opportunity to learn how to pour a pint, but there was quite a queue and we needed to be on our way to the coach to Galway.
The journey was around two and a half hours and we were collected from the station by Jason’s cousin Jen, who whisked us home and to a beautiful homemade dinner.
While there are tourist buses around Galway, having a car is the best way to see the sights (and get the most out of the drizzly days). We spent a day being driven from Galway through Connemara to Clifden and back around the coast, admiring the beauty of the countryside.
The drive took us to The Quiet Man Bridge (made famous by John Wayne); the Twelve Pins, beautiful hills topped with clouds; Kylemore Abbey and Victoria Walled Garden, grounds with a quaint castle on the edge of a mountain constructed in 1867; and Sky Road, with stunning views of cliff-side islands to the north-west of Galway.
It was a pleasant day road-tripping and watching the weather change and affect the scenery.
We swung through the Promenade, headed into town for dinner – Jason had the traditional bacon and cabbage – and a walk through main strip The Quay, a wind tunnel lined with shops and cafes.
The town came alive the following day for a Grand Final rematch of local sport Hurling, in which the Galway team eventually went down to Kilkenny. Like AFL, if a grand final match results in a draw, the match is played a second time.
The game, tagged the fastest in the world, sees sides of 15 try to score in a soccer-like goal (protected by a goalie) and between posts that extend above the goal. Players are allowed to kick and catch the sliotar (the baseball-like ball) but they have long sticks called hurleys, which look like a cross between a hockey stick and wooden spoon, to whack the ball with. It is astonishing to watch.
Bar The Quay was packed with loud, cheering locals, similarly enthusiastic as I imagined the Aussies were during the AFL Grand Final.
It was a big night, ending, as every good night drinking should – at a takeaway burger joint. But here it was Supermac’s, the local version of McDonald’s, which offered curry fries (one of the orders I won’t recommend!).
Weather threatened to keep us cosied inside on our last day, but we rugged up in winter gear and walked up the coast near the Promenade, feeling the spray of the Atlantic from the strong winds. And the pub we stumbled into for lunch provided my favourite meal in Ireland – The Front Door’s Fish of the Day, pan-friend fillet of sea trout served with champ mash, rocket salad and lemon caper butter at 10.95 Euro was to die for.
While we didn’t have the time to see all of Ireland – which could have easily have been done by car – it certainly whet my appetite to further travel through Ireland and the United Kingdom.
Spending time mostly with family was a great way to experience a cosy but beautiful place, where people are united with pints, pub meals and the national ball game. Sounds a bit like home to me.
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