The beautiful lady has been greeting visitors for 125 years! May she stand and greet millions more and be the place of many dream-come-true moments for years to come!
Where’s the best place to grab a pint in Dublin? Well, there are many fantastic pubs around town, but if you really want a view, you’ve got to enjoy a pint of Guinness in the Zero Gravity Bar at the Guinness Storehouse.
We visited the Guinness Storehouse late in the afternoon. We’d taken one of the touristy double decker buses to St. James’s Gate. On the way there we’d been rained on a few times, and our walk into the Storehouse was very cold with a chilly wind blowing at our backs. I remember how nice it felt to walk into the warm lobby area, and it was fun to see the gift shop on the right filled with every Guinness branded product you could imagine. Next up was to start our tour.
The self-guided tour was very interesting. First, we learned about the key ingredients in Guinness: Water, Barley, Hops and Yeast. After we learned about the ingredients, we went on to learn about the brewing process, next a bit of history about Arthur Guinness and the legendary beverage, then onto an area featuring advertisements through the years—then it was time to visit the Zero Gravity Bar.
When the elevator opened, the bar was packed with Americans sporting Notre Dame gear (they were there for the University of Notre Dame vs. Navy Football Game). To our surprise there were bits of sunlight in the bar area making for a clear view of all of Dublin! We got our complimentary pint (included with admission to the Storehouse) and worked our way around the room, taking in the views of Dublin, reading about each of the places we could see and sipping our pint of the world famous Guinness.
I really don’t think it tastes the same back home, and it’s never quite the right temperature. But just one sip of Guinness takes me back to the Zero Gravity Bar. In my mind I can see the landmarks of Dublin, the way they looked with the hints of sunshine that had made its way through breaks in the clouds and onto the buildings. It also reminds me of the rainbow we saw over the Guinness Storehouse as we drove away on the tour bus.
No trip to Dublin would be complete without seeing the Book of Kells http://www.tcd.ie/Library/bookofkells/ at Trinity College.
On our first try there was over a two hour wait to get into the exhibit, on our second try, it was an hour and a half wait…so we got in line. We were not disappointed. The first part of the exhibit, “Turning Darkness Into Light” details the process behind the making of the 9th-century manuscripts. From the paper making process to the inks that were used, along with the meaning of the icons in the manuscripts, the exhibit provided great detail on the history of the famous manuscripts.
After the exhibit, you go into a small, dark room to see some of the manuscripts. The detail is incredible–and the fact that the works of art were completed so long ago was quite fascinating. Imagine all that has happened in the world since they were created!
Also included on the tour is entrance into the Long Room in the Old Library. Filled with 200,000 of the Library’s oldest books, the gorgeous book cases and magnificent architecture are quite a sight!
When you are done with the tour, you can check out the bookstore for prints and other reproductions of the manuscripts. Which is a wonderful way to remember your visit, as photographs are not allowed in the exhibit.
After Galway, it was on to Dublin!
Prisons aren’t usually on my list of places to see when I’m on vacation. But sometimes you have to make an exception.
Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin opened in 1796. While it served as a prison for citizens that committed terrible crimes, it also served as penitentiary for leaders and participants of the Irish rebellions of 1798, 1803, 1848, 1867 and 1916. Thousands of other prisoners spent time at Kilmainham for crimes as petty as stealing a loaf of bread or not paying their rent on time. During the famine, some would actually commit crimes so they would be sent to jail and finally be able to eat.
On the day we visited, it was a chilly, overcast day. The tour began with an exhibit that chronicled the social and economic happenings in Ireland during the period of time Kilmainham Gaol was open. From the museum area we went on a guided tour of the prison itself. The tour went through different sections built in different eras,with the earliest portions of the facilities having the worst living conditions. They were dark, with just a few peeps of light. The stories we heard about the various inmates were extremely moving and helped us understand what life was like in Dublin from the 1790s through 1924 when the facility closed.
One particular story that stands out was about a young couple that was imprisoned during a rebellion. The man was sentenced to death and scheduled to be hanged. The night before his execution, the couple were married in the prison’s chapel, and he was executed in the prison yard in the morning.
While the stories were hard to hear and the living conditions were grim, I’m really glad that I visited. I gained a stronger understanding for everything the people of Ireland endured to finally gain the freedom they deserved, it’s really a testament to the strength of the Irish people.
To learn more about Kilmainham Gaol, visit http://www.heritageireland.ie/en/Dublin/KilmainhamGaol/.
From Dromoland Castle we took the train to our next stop, Galway.
While visiting Ireland (and England), I enjoyed my share of fish & chips. From beer battered to sprinkled with sea salt, spritzed with lemon or just fresh from the fryer, my award for the best version of the classic dish goes to McDonagh’s on Quay Street in Galway. http://www.mcdonaghs.net.
This place has been serving up fresh fish since 1902, and they really know how to make amazing fish & chips. We ate in the casual Fish & Chips bar, and despite the crazy long line, the service was quick and the food was excellent. The batter was the perfect crispiness, the Cod was the perfect texture and full of flavor, and the chips (peeled and cut on site) were simply superb.
Plus, the restaurant is conveniently located near Thomas Dillon’s of Galway—the oldest maker’s of the Claddaugh Ring. So you can have amazing fish & chips and then pick up a souvenir filled with history. At Thomas Dillon’s you can get sterling and gold Claddaugh rings, brooches, bracelets and more. Plus while visiting the jewelry store, you can check out the museum that explains the history of the ring and its design. http://www.claddaghring.ie
Personally, I selected a sterling silver design—and I wear it all the time as a reminder of our trip to Ireland.
If you really want to make your trip to Ireland unforgettable, plan to spend at least one night in a castle. With many castles to choose from, it can be difficult to decide which castle to select. After a lot of research, we decided to stay at Dromoland–the perfect choice.
Seeing the castle in the distance made me feel as if I were living in the scene of a movie. Surrounded by rolling green hills, Dromoland was picture perfect. At check-in, we were upgraded to a suite! The bellman showed us to our room and it was amazing. There was a living room area, two dormer windows with window seats, surround sound stereo system, fluffy beds and a large bathroom complete with towel warmers. The room was absolutely lovely, and so lavishly large compared to a typical European hotel room.
After a stroll around the property through the walled garden and by the lake with the swans swimming, it was time for Afternoon Tea in the Drawing Room. Seated at a cozy corner table, the room was elegantly furnished with high ceilings, floral curtains, red-striped wallpaper and plushy overstuffed chairs. We leisurely enjoyed hot tea, finger sandwiches and dainty desserts.
Exploring the interior of the castle was an experience in itself. Around every corner there was art, or armor or some exquisite architectural element to admire.
Dinner at the Earl of Thomond restaurant was a truly wonderful experience. Exquisitely decorated in traditional high class Irish style, the dining room was fit for royalty. The food was absolutely superb in flavor and presentation, and the service was excellent. Next to our table, there was a woman playing a traditional Irish harp. The soft music added a soothing soundtrack to our already perfect dining experience.
Following our meal we went to the cocktail bar to enjoy an after dinner drink while being serenaded by a local singer/songwriter. Set in the castle’s former library, the intimate space with a roaring fire was a great place to wind down an absolutely perfect day.
Waking up the next morning, I had to pinch myself! Our stay at the castle seemed like a dream. From the moment we checked in, until it was time to check out I felt like a queen. Of all of my travels, I must say that our one-night stay at Dromoland is one of the best travel experiences I’ve ever had and a memory I shall treasure for years to come.
The next stop on our trip was the Jameson Experience in Midleton, County Cork. http://www.jamesonwhiskey.com/us/tours/jamesonexperience.
Our visit started with a video about the history of Irish Whiskey, followed by a guided tour of the old distillery grounds.
It was a lovely afternoon, with the sun casting a beautiful glow on the complex as we walked through the restored buildings learning about the whiskey making process. With some of the buildings dating as far back as 1795, it was fascinating to see the old mills and malting areas, and to hear the sound of the water wheel churning the water to power the mill as it has done for so many years.
The visual representation of the aging process was particularly memorable, as they had a wall with glass-front whiskey barrels showing the change in the color of the whiskey as it goes through the aging process.
The final stop of our tour was the Tasting Room where we participated in a whiskey tasting comparing American whiskey, Irish whisky and Scotch. It was interesting to compare Jameson with the sweetness of Jack Daniels and the smokiness of Johnnie Walker Scotch. After the comparison, we were treated to a Jameson drink of our choice. We sipped our Jameson & Ginger Ales while enjoying a fun conversation about the Aran Islands with a couple from Galway.
It was a memorable experience and I love that a sip of Jameson instantly transports me back to a wonderfully sunny day in Ireland.
On our second day in Ireland we visited the iconic Blarney Castle, www.blarneycastle.ie.
The bus ride from Cork to Blarney was filled with views of modern businesses blended with traditional Irish architecture. When we arrived at the gate we were greeted with the sounds of birds chirping, a babbling brook and live Irish music. As we made our way from the gates to the castle, the clouds started to break and rays of sunshine highlighted the picturesque stone structure.
Built in 1446, the castle that remains is a stone fortress. While its interior walls and furnishings have long withered away, its rock walls dusted with moss are fascinating to explore. Throughout the structure you get beautiful views of the surrounding area, and you can see sprawling green fields for miles.
But of course, there’s the question you want to ask…did you kiss the Blarney Stone? Well, I thought I would until I saw how high up it was, and discovered that I would have lie on my back, hold onto metal handles, and trust the nice attendant would hold my legs so I wouldn’t fall. So no. I chose to live vicariously through my boyfriend on the experience of kissing the Blarney Stone. I’m sure it’s a lovely experience, but I just didn’t have the courage to do it!
Never fear though, I did enjoy another exciting experience while in Blarney…the Blarney Woolen Mills! Filled with an array of Irish-made treasures, this is the perfect place to pick up a souvenir for yourself or get some gifts for those at home. They’ll ship your purchases home for you too. http://www.blarney.com
Personally, I selected a cream Aran sweater, throw, and lovely red plaid scarf–all of which remind me of the beautiful Irish afternoon I spent in Blarney.
My Grandfather’s Grandmother left Ireland in 1880. Despite tons of research, I’ve yet to determine the county she lived in before she left for America. Which is exactly the reason I wanted to visit the Cobh Heritage Centre http://www.cobhheritage.com.
Located in a Victorian Railway Station, the museum features fascinating exhibits about what it was like to emigrate from Ireland. Cobh, formerly known as Queenstown was one of the main exit ports for emigrants. From 1848 to 1950 over 2.5 million people waved goodbye to Ireland and sailed away to a new life in North America (and Australia). It was also the last port of call for the Titanic before it sank.
For me, it’s very likely that my great-great grandmother left from this port, so it was quite surreal to stand there, next to the statue of Annie Moore (the first immigrant processed at Ellis Island) and see the port, feel the salt air on my face and hear the seagulls. I thought about what it must’ve been like, to say goodbye to your home, knowing you’ll likely never see it again and to go to a new land promising a better life…yet with so much unknown.
It was the first stop of many on our trip, but it was a moving experience to learn more about the reasons why so many of the Irish chose to immigrate to America.