Traveling to Ireland is a big deal. A really big deal. I didn’t know it when I was planning my first trip. I thought I was simply going on vacation. Who knew it would be a life changing experience?
Answer: These 11 travelers…
Recently, I asked a few seasoned travelers about a special moment they experienced on their first trip to Ireland.
Many had a difficult time choosing just one. Others offered tips to help other first timers make the most of their Ireland travel experiences.
May the following stories calm your nerves, rouse your excitement, and inspire your travel to Ireland.
Emily Westbrooks of From China Village:
An American expat, Emily blogs from Dublin with Ireland travel tips, über creative and cute DIY projects, and her now not so new life in Ireland.
Looking back on my first visit to Dublin in 2007, I realize I experienced the perfect combination of what makes Ireland really wonderful. Sea, sports, and a touch of sun.
It was August, and the sun stayed out later than I was used to in Maine. My boyfriend (now husband) and I spent a few days in a family friend’s caravan north of Dublin on the seaside. It was warm and we took beach chairs down onto the sand. The tide was out – way out – and I remember walking and walking and walking to get to the edge of the water. When the tide goes out here, it goes out for what seems like miles of smooth sand.
The caravan park was deserted and quiet. We didn’t have a car, so we took the bus to the local pub. We rode up high on the top floor and looked out over the green fields to the sea. That sea is always grey-blue-turquoise and gets a little darker where it meets the horizon.
At the pub, we clamored through the crowds to watch the Dublin play a gaelic football match on television. Everyone around me was singing at the top of their lungs ‘Come on you boys in blue, come on you boys in blue,’ and raising pint glasses in celebration.
A year later I got married and moved to Dublin. Four years in, there’s still nothing better than that trifecta of a long summer day, a pub next to the sea, and cheering, chanting Dubliners.
Kathy Nelson of Engaging Ireland:
One half of the Engaging Ireland duo, Kathy Nelson creates captivating and informative Ireland travel podcasts with her husband Travis.
When asked to share one special moment from our first trip to Ireland, I found it a bit difficult to think back and separate that trip from our other trips. In order to recall the specifics of that short week, Travis and I decided to go back and look through some of the pictures we took along the way. It has turned out to be a fabulous week of reminiscing, but I think it made it more difficult to narrow down my choice to one special moment! The photos did, however, call to mind the uniqueness of that trip and the many of our Ireland “firsts” (first time driving on the other side of the road, first castle, first Guinness in Ireland, etc.)
Upon leaving the terminal at Dublin Airport to walk out to collect our rental car, I clearly remember my first impression of Ireland. You may think this a bit odd, but the first thing I remember is how Ireland smelled. I remember breathing deeply and taking in the musty aroma of a country that has age. Every place has its own distinct scent, but I had never visited anywhere in the United States, Mexico, or Canada that had this kind of a smell. It was as though I could smell the history of Ireland. (I told you this might sound odd…)
After traveling the Midlands and the southern half of the island for a week, it was time for us to depart. I recall the sinking feeling as we checked in at the airport and the tears that rolled down my cheek as our plane lifted off and took us away from that beautiful country. I remember feeling that I was leaving my true home and that I might never be able to return. (Of course, that hasn’t been the case at all, as we’ve returned to Ireland many times and will one day find a way to return for good.)
To be honest, I knew that I would really enjoy our holiday in Ireland, but I was not prepared to fall so deeply in love with the country and its people in such a short span. People often ask us why we keep going back to Ireland instead of visiting a new country, and I like to tell them that we have to keep going back, because they won’t let us stay.
Your inaugural trip to Ireland will be full of many firsts. My hope for you is that, like me, you will have experiences that will bind your heart to Ireland for all time. Slán go fóill!
Michele Erdvig of Ireland Yes:
Ireland Dream Trip author and custom travel consultant, Michele helps to plan vacations for a variety of travelers to Ireland. Check out her newest endeavor, custom Ireland merchandise, in her Zazzle shop.
When I look back over the past 39 years of visiting Ireland I find favorite scenes and experiences frozen in time like an insect preserved in amber.
I’ll never forget my first morning in Ireland. After arriving in rush hour Dublin during a thunderstorm, and not being able to find our way out of the city, I saw the sun setting behind the storm clouds and pointed my husband to the west. Out in the countryside we stopped at the Lucan Spa Hotel. It looked like a spooky haunted mansion with lightning flashing all around it through the twilight. It was an old hotel and our room had twenty-foot high ceilings, squeaky wood floors, walls three-feet thick and wooden shutters inside all the windows. The bathroom was huge with an antique claw-footed tub you needed a ladder to climb into. After all day standing by for flights we were exhausted and the huge feather bed enveloped us like a cloud. Neither the storm nor the creaky old place disturbed our sleep that night.
Next morning my husband Barry was up bright and early making cheerful whistling noises and folding back the shutters from the big windows that had old wavy glass. I’d had too much traveling and burrowed into the feather bed for more sleep.
“Get up, get up! You’ve got to see this!”
After a week in Norway I was sure nothing else could impress me. How wrong I was.
The storm clouds were gone and brilliant sunshine poured over the emerald landscape like melted honey. Cows grazed on gentle hills and the wet grass sparkled with diamond dewdrops. For as far as we could see the Irish countryside spread out with hills and hedgerows, stone walls and sheep. The air was cool, crisp and sweet, tinged with a faint hint of peat smoke.
Ireland captured our hearts on our very first morning…and hasn’t let go since.
Jessie Voigts of Wandering Educators:
Dr. Jessie Voigts is a true travel enthusiast. Her website, Wandering Educators is a helpful hub for those interested in travel and education. Jessie has also just launched a fun Scotland travel site, Journey to Scotland.
One of the things I wanted to avoid on our first visit to Ireland was acting like a tourist. However, some rules are meant to be broken. We took a pony cart ride through the Gap of Dunloe, which a local friend said was a must-see. It was incredible — the beauty of Macgillycuddy’s Reeks on one side, and on the other side, the Purple Mountain. We passed several lakes, took a very narrow winding road, saw few houses, learned about a very small school for the locals, got rained on, wished on a romantic bridge, and ended up at Lord Brandon’s Cottage. We rested there for a bit, and then took a boat back through MORE lakes to Killarney. Despite the rain (heavy at times, which is a bit much on the boat), it was one of the best experiences we had in Ireland. To truly see the beauty of Ireland, you need to be immersed in it. The Gap of Dunloe does just that.
The thing I wanted to be sure to do in Ireland was to meet locals. Not just in the pub, or ordering at a restaurant, but real conversations. While the Irish are indubitably the friendliest people in the world, it can be hard to break in while you’re there for only a short period of time. We met many excellent new friends (artists, people living next to us), but I suggest making friends beforehand, with online groups or through a social hospitality network like Tripping. We met with new friends (who also homeschool) a few times while we were in Ireland, and the 2 hour drive each way was well worth it – there’s nothing like learning about a culture through sharing meals, in homes, and having your kids play together. We learned a new card game, where the eels were located in our oceanside backyard, shared recipes, brushed their horses, and felt like we were home. Now, while any time you’re in Ireland you’ll feel at home…I know this. It’s such a welcoming and friendly place. But to be welcomed, and hugged, and fed family recipes, and to laugh together – well, to me, this is the essence of Ireland…the people.
Jody Halsted of Ireland with Kids:
Jody is a family travel authority living the dream in Iowa while dreaming of living in Ireland. Her website is chock full of great tips for those considering travel to Ireland with their children.
My first trip to Ireland was also my first solo trip– anywhere. It was excitement and nervousness, rolled together and tightly bound inside me.
I was too excited to sleep on that overnight flight into Shannon, but any tiredness disappeared as soon as the wheels touched down and I was in Ireland. Immediately I felt at home. Driving a car on the wrong side of the road was no problem and I may have squealed excitedly at my first sight of a ruin.
And my second.
I drove through the “Sunny Southwest” of Ireland for 8 days; following interesting signs, beginning on paved roads that became gravelled roads, that became car paths, that became barely a bend in the grass, to find treasures available to those who would take the time to seek them.
My first B&B I chose from a B&B guide book. From there I had the help of the B&B owners. What to see, where to stay–they guided me through Ireland and gave me my first real taste of Irish hospitality. It was during my first trip that I learned the Irish people truly keep the magic of the Emerald Isle alive.
Though I have returned to Ireland- and now take my children along- nothing can compare to that first trip. The discovery, the wonder and the welcome. That’s what Ireland is about for me, and what I strive to share at Ireland with Kids.
Felicity Hayes-McCoy of The House on an Irish Hillside:
Spending half of her time in London and the other half on Ireland’s Dingle Peninsula, Felicity Hayes-McCoy is a full-time writer. Her new book, The House on an Irish Hillside, is about rediscovering the things that truly matter, and is getting spectacular reviews. You can keep up to date on Felicity’s whereabouts on her blog.
The westernmost point in mainland Europe is Ireland’s Dingle Peninsula. The Atlantic waves are white where they curl against its cliffs. Farther out they’re turquoise, shimmering emerald and pale jade, their colors constantly changed by the shadows of drifting clouds. At night the sky curves above it like a dark bowl, studded with stars.
The end of the peninsula’s nine miles long, six miles across at its widest and three where it’s narrowest. These last miles, beyond the fishing port of Dingle, are known to local people as ‘back west’.
I remember driving back west through the starlit dusk the first time I ever came here. It was the start of my lifelong love-affair with the place, its traditions and its soft, musical language. Today, everyone in Ireland speaks English. Tourists come and go without taking in the fact that an Irish language exists.
But it does. Here in Ireland it’s called Irish, never Gaelic. And back west of Dingle it’s the language of everyday life.
One story leads to another here. Each tune leads to the next. It’s a place where music and stories have been handed down through generations in an oral tradition that stretches right back to the time of the ancient Celts. And things here happen at their own pace here. You’ll need to slow down and tune in to a different rhythm of life.
Cate Brubaker of Small Planet Studio:
Cate Brubaker is a world traveler and a world changer. Her expertise in studying and traveling abroad helps professionals learn how to market their intercultural skills. She is also a big fan of Ireland.You can check out some Ireland photos that pop up from time to time on her 365 Photo Project at Small Planet Studio.
“Don’t let the “off-season” keep you from visiting Ireland. A few years ago my husband and I spent three weeks traveling around Ireland in December. Highlights: learning to drive on the left side of the (very narrow) road in snowy/icy conditions, getting the best room at every B & B for bargain prices, and watching the Christmas specials on TV while eating Christmas pudding in our Dublin flat. That’s memory-making travel!”
A quirky blog about Ireland tourism–which unfortunately is no longer published– offered the latest Irish events, and generally fun things to do in the Emerald Isle. Written by a Ireland native who has lived and traveled abroad, Emeralds82 offers a unique perspective of her home country.
When I was approached by Infinite Ireland to write a piece for their new website about my thoughts on what made Ireland so special to me… I thought this would be an easy question to answer but as it has turned out it is not.
I decided to write a good and bad list to try to clear the fog from my mind and I couldn’t believe it when I started writing furiously. There were so many things I could write about that seriously annoyed me about my country…… the recession, the cowboy politicians, the potholes, the never-ending rain, the traffic jams, the poor public transport, the over-pricing of just about everything….. It seemed to me that maybe I didn’t think Ireland was so special at all….
…. But it is ….
You see it is only after travelling away from home have I been really able to see the difference in Ireland and other countries. I have lived abroad for many years and there’s something missing for me in all those countries….
The tea is never strong enough and never on the boil, the weather talk is kept to a minimum, no one seems to like laughing at their misfortune as much as the Irish, the spuds taste different, there’s no equivalent to Joe Duffy, Gay Byrne, or George Hook, chip vans after a night out are hard to find….if they even exist…. No one understands that when everything has gone belly up…. Saying “it will be grand” will sort it all out…..
Once I opened the flood gates of all that was good about Ireland, the list went on and on….… the smell of turf fires, the sound of the angelus to announce dinnertime in homes all across Ireland, the ever changing colours of the countryside as the clouds roll over them, walking on the beach with only the sound of the crashing waves for company… the smell of fresh fish in our sea ports, the clinking of glasses as people cheer to good friends on a Sunday night, the sound of a laughter at the alley of the pub where all the smokers have congregated together to keep warm, the crackling of the fire as you put your feet up after a long day, the stories of times gone by, our musical legends like Luke Kelly and the Clancy brothers, the madness of our comedies and the subversive kick we get from beating someone else in tragic stories….
The list… goes on….
It is all those reasons I listed above that makes Ireland special but most of all it is where I was born, it is where my family lives and it is home.
Liam O’Connell of Got Ireland:
An Irish man, now living in California, Liam is the creator of Got Ireland, an everything you need to know Ireland resource. Liam is especially good at finding and exposing new Irish music with fantastic interviews, great giveaways, and free downloads.
Nothing gets my heart beating faster than the sight of the Irish shoreline as I fly back home for a visit. From the USA I usually have to fly into London first, and then on to Cork from there. I always try to grab the window seat, for the short hop across the Irish Sea, so I can start spotting familiar places as we make our descent. If I’m lucky enough to be flying in on a nice clear day, then more often than not the Wexford/Waterford coastline is the first landmark I can identify. If the clouds are hanging low in the sky, then the cows and farmhouses around Cork airport give me my first feeling of being home.
No matter how I get there, or what the weather is like, when I land in Ireland it is like I have never been away. Granted there may be some changes – new buildings, a fresh lick of paint here and there, even a new set of traffic lights gets my attention. But for me Ireland will always be about the people, the warm welcomes and friendly smiles, the jovial atmosphere in the pubs, the waves and hello’s from complete strangers as you pass them in the street, and about the unmistakable warm personalities of the Irish.
Those things never seem to change. And for that reason, whether you’ve never been to Ireland, or you go every year, or even if you’re returning from your new home in a far off place, you will always fit in, and you will always feel the céad míle fáilte that the Irish do better than anyone else in the world.
Cindy Thomson of Celtic Voices:
Cindy is a magnificent story teller. With interests in genealogy, historical fiction, and the classic American past time, baseball, you can be sure you will be informed and entertained when you read her work.
It began when I looked out the airplane window. While we were still flying high above Ireland I noticed the colors. You can actually see stone-lined fields full of sheep as you descend to the airport.
Yes, the grass is really THAT green. Yes, the sheep are really THAT white (although upon closer inspection most bear a bit of paint to help the farmers claim their own free-range animals.) I was fortunate when I was in Ireland to be treated to several bright, sunny days, and yes, the sky is a gorgeous blue. But even the misty days (the Irish called it mizzle) reveal wonderful muted tones and rainbows. There is no shortage of photo opportunities, that’s for sure, whether you are inside or outside. Maybe my daily world was tainted just a bit gray, and when Ireland revealed true color it amazed me. And maybe this is the reward the Irish are entitled to for enduring so many rainy days. From Giant’s Causeway to flower vendors on Dublin streets, I’ll always have images to recall whenever I think of Ireland.
Travis Nelson of Engaging Ireland:
The other half of the Engaging Ireland duo, Travis creates captivating and informative Ireland travel podcasts with his wife Kathy.
I’ve spent the past week reminiscing with my lovely wife about our first trip to Ireland, trying to come up with one singular experience that made it so special, such an amazing trip. However, Instead of one unique perception of Ireland, I’ve come up with dozens, like scattered experiential snapshots, giving me connection after connection with this country that has taken up such a large place in my heart. But, out of all of those special experiences from our first trip to Ireland, I finally narrowed it down and selected just one, in the hope that I can share at least a bit of my love for this place and so you’ll understand how truly magical your first trip to Ireland can be.
On most of our trips, we’ve stayed in some self catering accommodation on a farm in the lush green rolling farmland of county Tipperary. Fairymount Farm, a sprawling 450 acres, where John and Linda Kenny raise thoroughbred racehorses, has miles of walking paths which wind throughout pastures, bogland and forest. One of the highlights of any walk at Fairymount is a hike up to the top of Knockshegowna hill for a 360 degree view of the glorious green of the Irish countryside.
We’d had a long day of travel, my wife, Kathy and I along with another couple, to see the Rock of Cashel and then much further south and east to Waterford. By the time we returned to our cottage at the farm, everyone was exhausted. But, since we hadn’t yet made the climb to the top of the hill and I didn’t know when we might have the time to do it later in the trip, I grabbed my camera and forced myself out the door and onto the trail. The rest of the group stayed behind. I was on my own.
I remember the vibrant colors and the vivid light as I walked through the trees, taking the longer track through the woods, up to the ridge leading to the the pastures atop the hill. The sheep scattered as I crossed the fields, although a few of the bolder ones stood and stared me down, all from a safe distance, of course. The path led over a fence here and there, then straight up the side of Knockshegowna, a steep, wheeze inducing climb for someone coming from a sedentary desk job.
The view from the hilltop was amazing. The fanned gold of the setting sun bathed the thick green of the surrounding countryside in a halo of radiance. As the sun dropped lower, a faint blued haze of peat smoke gathered below, its dark scent occasionally wafting up to me on the breeze. I sat on the hilltop bench and drank it in, content to just sit and be. It was an amazing experience, one that has drawn me back to that place again and again.
Someday you should ask me about the walk back to the cottage after sunset…without a flashlight…through the forest in the dark…and my wrong turn on the trail, ending up on a narrow, but highly traveled country road. But, that’s a story for another time…