My bucket list is a combination of things I’ve compiled from lucid dreams, wild flashbacks, vagabonding friends, other travelers, family and friends. And, maybe a thing or two from cool television shows, like “climbing a redwood tree.” So, how did we end up in Ireland? Well, semi-long story, semi-short: While in Nepal we dined with some Finnish friends, Ville and Anniina, recapping our spectacular hike around the Annapurna circuit when seemingly out of nowhere, Ville inquired, “Do Americans do heavy drinking?” A bit unsure how to answer that question, I probed deeper to find that in Finland, they “do heavy drinking.” This means when they go out with friends, they get wild, drink waaay too much, take shots, dance, shout, scream, sing, wake up with raging hangovers, wear dark sunglasses (unless it’s winter) and get together with the same friends for breakfast to find out what the hell actually happened the previous night. I smiled, laughed and answered him, “Yes, Ville, Americans do heavy drinking.” Immediately, I pulled out my handy-dandy iPhone, opened my notes app, and added “#35: Do some heavy drinking in Finland.” But before my phone could find its way back into my pocket, I quickly added,
#36: Do some heavy drinking in an Irish Pub (in Ireland)
After a long train-bus-train-bus-ferry ride from London to Dublin followed by an easy bus ride from Dublin to Galway, we were greeted with open
arms by our friend Sally. Sally moved to Galway in 2009 when an opportunity to work in a growing chiropractic office presented itself and she was ready for a move. “Go and never look back” and “Even if you go and don’t like it, it’s only a 1-year commitment,” we had bellowed back then, when she was unsure whether to take the leap across the Atlantic. This conversation took place ironically after a race on St. Patty’s Day and as things tend to come full circle, we were now ready to see where the heck we were imploring her to move!
Galway, the quaintest of all quaint towns is quintessential Ireland. Colorful, cloudy, slightly wet, chilly, breezy, artsy and full of pubs and smiling people. The mission clearly stated, we started with an Irish Fry to get a “base.” Eggs, Bacon Rashers, Sausages, Black and White Pudding, Grilled Tomatoes, Potatoes, Beans, and Toast were all washed down with Coffee, of course. The meal was massive, fatty, hearty and my all-time favorite breakfast. But just like tomatoes from your summer garden “just taste better,” an Irish Fry in Ireland does just the same. Plus, we ate it at the famous Riordan’s on Shop St., the heart of the city, before crossing the street to Neactain’s (pronounced Knock-tins), Sally’s (and now our) favorite Irish pub. Dark, small, and cozy with a strong smell of many a whiskey-and-pints-past, we saddled into a corner booth and began the fun. Guinness and Whiskey are the staple drinks of Ireland, and as anyone that knows me knows, my favorite beer is Stout and my favorite spirit is Whiskey. This was going to be good. Erin, only adding to her beauty, arrived with two perfectly poured Guinness’ and a big smile, and my-oh-my did it taste good! Slightly burnt, perfectly creamy and delicious. The pace was slow. After all, Irish people are renowned for making a day out of the pub, and never seemed to be overtly drunk or in a rush to leave. They were just having fun and catching up with their friends and neighbors, maybe escaping the chill. This wasn’t like in the stereotypical US Irish Pub, where hip-hop is playing at the local O’Paddy’s and a bunch of barely-legals are chugging Miller Lite and shooting Jager-bombs, aching to get drunk enough to have the 5 across the bar to look like a 10. This was classy. This was authentic. There was history. It was 2:30 in the afternoon on a Sunday and the place was full when we arrived and packed by the time we left. Locals sauntered in, and greeted just about everyone there and woefully threw us a wink, knowing we certainly weren’t here yesterday. Before long, we were joined by Sally’s friends and the whiskey began to be poured. Red Breast was suggested and boy, was I glad it was. From a single pot, aged a minimum of 12 years and triple-distilled, it was the perfect accompaniment to my Guinness, and amongst the robust chatter and laughter, instantly became my favorite Irish Whiskey. Before long, an older gentlemen sidled next to us, introduced himself as Jerry, had the bar laughing with his Gaelic jokes, opened the harpsichord and began a whirlwind of hits, including our favorite,
The night wound on and we got wild, drank waaay too much, didn’ttake shots, danced, shouted, screamed, and sang. We didn’t wake up with
raging hangovers, and wearing dark sunglasses (even in winter) was entirely unnecessary. Sally worked, and we breakfasted, enjoying the pictures and tunes to reminisce on what the heck actually happened the previous night.
N. Ireland Roadtrippin’, Castle Hotels, Giants Causeway, Carrick-a-Rede, Bushmills and a Daytrip to Cork
A few days later, we hopped in a rental car and jammed north to Sligo to stay in a Castle Hotel. Our final destination was Bushmills distillery the following day but staying in a castle seemed like a good enough halfway point. We day-tripped further north to Giants Causeway, a natural wonder of basalt columns, on the northernmost coast. Scenic and spectacular with gorgeous views and a good hike down, we were getting geared up for the distillery tour. But first, a bigger hike beckoned over to Carrick-a-Rede, an oddly-placed picturesque rope bridge used in times past for local fishermen, for some photo opps and weather battling. Cold and thirsty, we hurried along to Bushmills to enjoy the tour of the world-famous Irish Whiskey and were pleased to learn that they buy old Bourbon barrels from Kentucky to finish off their triple-distilled wonder. We enjoyed three styles,
12-year neat, black neat, and hot toddy. All were good and not in so much of an abundance that I couldn’t drive. No roadtrip would be complete without a pit-stop for some grub and passing through a small town, we noticed Salley’s and knew it was surely a sign. Bidding farewell to Sally and agreeing to meetup 2 days later in Dublin for the Van Morrison concert, we hopped a bus down to Cork for the day. Cork is noticeably bigger but has its own feel and flow, much evidenced by their choice of Stout beers, Beamish and Murphy’s, as if in protest to Dublin and its “lesser” Guinness. After some touring around, we drank the local brews to avoid controversy in three local pubs: Mutton Lane, The Oval and Sin-E. On a cold day, The Oval was the perfect stop as they have a coal-burning fireplace in the rear and plenty of friendly locals to chat with for an afternoon.
Dublin, Guinness, Van Morrison and Friends
Thanks to Facebook and my bragging post about being in Ireland, we learned that our friend Ryan would also be in town for the Van Morrison show Saturday night and agreed to meet-up for the festivities. Sally had purchased her tickets already and we scored some from a local craigslist-style site, DoneDeal, for face value. Heading over to the Temple Bar, we fraternized and reunion-ized with Ryan and his friends and started another pub-crawl. It’s kinda what you do in Ireland, I guess.
No trip to Dublin would be complete without a tour at St. James Gate, the Guinness Storehouse, to see how the legendary brew came to be. From learning how to pour your own “Perfect Pint,” enjoying Guinness’ funny and quirky advertising, to sipping a pint at the Gravity Bar, where a 360-degree view of Dublin awaits, the museum is legendary. We capped off our Irish tour by seeing Van the Man himself perform in his home country and loved every second of this whirlwind trip. From reuniting with friends to making new ones, crossing off items from the bucket list to seeing some of its natural beauty, it was short and sweet, but full of fun memories. Special thanks to Sally for her generosity and hospitality, warm hugs and joyous, contagious spirit. Maybe it’s an Irish thing?