I've drunk a fair load of Guinness over the years, watched Father Ted repeatedly (possibly THE FINEST comedy of all time ) and Mrs Brown’s Boys, went to the cinema to see The Commitments, had many a drink with Irish friends, and have even got Irish roots. That, for me, was 'Ireland' up until recently.
So the plan was to visit Ireland with my half-Irish girlfriend, visit the countryside, then head to Dublin and stay in a nearby town with one of her aunts. The countryside sounded amazing, food and drink sounded expensive, and I was getting a bit apprehensive about visiting 'local' Irish bars with an English accent.
Travelling from Bristol was cheap, really cheap! Fifteen pounds sterling to touch down in Dublin was a fine price. I liked to think was all down to our organisation, booking months in advance. But more likely is Ryanair lowering their prices to fight off attempts by Easyjet to get a slice of the Irish white pudding.
So Bristol flyer -> flight -> ohh beautiful aerial views of seaside towns -> Dublin airport -> shuttle bus to Dublin Heuston train station.
I expected Dublin to look more like Edinburgh's old city and every pub to be playing 'diddly' music with locals that spoke in riddles… alright that is a bit much but it was definitely at the back of my mind, influenced by rumour and fairy tales of old.
But maybe I had been influenced a little too much by silly folklore and romantic vision of Irish folk on film. In one respect Ireland was way more normal than I expected; popping into a Spar to grab some cigs before nipping back into the pub next door where everyone in the town seemed to be; no one speaking in riddles and definitely no diddly music.
We had time to kill until our train to Killarney at 9, our final destination for the day, so we popped into a nearby O'Sheas pub for breakfast.
An Irish breakfast is a thing of beauty. It is much like the English breakfast, with fried toast, bacon, fried egg, sausages, and black pudding. What makes it Irish, apart from the quality (sadly, better) and subtle difference in flavour that you'd get travelling anywhere, you'll also find white pudding.
Made from fat, meat, and oats, it is a lovely addition to a porky breakfast. The quality of the breakfast in Ireland is sadly better than much of the ones on offer in England. The sausages were more melt-in-the-mouth, and the eggs and toast were good. I think the quality has a fair amount to do with the Irish being far more likely to complain when food is poor. And then there was the Guinness; my first pint in Ireland RIGHT by the Guinness brewery. Taking my first swig through that creamy foam was... well, not quite the illuminating glow hitting me from above, it was just a heck of a lot better; tasting as it should.
Yeah it tastes pretty much the same, but without the harshness we have in England. It is way more bitter back home and definitely not as creamy.
Breakfast finished and it was back to the train. The walk seemed to take that little bit longer with a full belly but the porter had lubricated the joints.
One thing I didn't really expect was the amount of Gaelic spoken. Every train announcement was in Gaelic first then after a pause repeated in English.
The train journey was three hours long as we headed down into the south west of the country; the countryside going from familiar pastures to beautiful huge mountains that looked a little unreal due, in no small part, to my total unfamiliarity with these Martian-like rocks.
Although the passing scenery was beautiful, after three hours it was nice to walk off that train, leave the station, and find ourselves in the very beautiful town of Killarney. It was different to what I had expected. I think I expected something less touristy but you'd be far stretched not to find a hotel or B&B within throwing distance.
As we walked down the road, stopping frequently to consult Google Maps and bicker as lost couples do, we had locals stop and ask us where we were headed and immediately offering us directions, but not grumpily either; there were beaming smiles on their faces, which was remarkable considering two tourists would definitely not be a rare sight in such a popular destination.
Our accommodation was lovely, a nice big modern building, spacious rooms and a friendly host who sat us down in the front room on first meet to quickly etch out on a tourist map places to see and places to eat and drink. He then went to play ball with his young son out in his front garden.
It was around 4pm once we plonked bags on the floor and ourselves on the bed and had a think about what next. We didn't have a great amount of the day left, but we thought we'd go for a stroll, maybe go find the waterfall we'd just heard about from the B&B owner.
Apparently the waterfall was only a twenty-minute walk, but upon actually visiting it the next day i reckon that was pretty optimistic!
We followed signs and walked along the N71, a huge lake and the distant mountains to our right, to the left lots of hotels and B&Bs. We strolled down a private road leading to a lakeside hotel, stumbled down a the rickety embankment by a river and babbling brook (I got spooked when we passed a makeshift shelter that I thought might contain a grumpy tramp so we headed back to the main road) then as the light was dropping we thought we'd try to get to McRoss castle , but alas after walking through quite a large parkland then onto a road that offered up beautiful homes with ancient bricked wells outside, we were seeing no indication of the castle and as the street lights were now the main source of light we bailed and went to get something to eat.
We'd remembered a few of the recommendations and after lots of window stalling we visited a local fish place; it was a family-run business cooking up locally caught aquatic creatures and making them that bit more beautiful in batter, chips, thick doorstep sandwiches and all at a reasonable price.
We finished off our day with a couple of Guinness in a bar hotel a stone’s throw from our temporary holiday abode. At the bar sat loud, confident elderly Irish folk laughing, joking, swearing poetically ( ahh u's fucker! ) while people kept coming in to sit at the bar and have their drink handed to them with not a word spoken. Bar men in Ireland are total pros, handling multiple orders at once; not often do you see that in England.
After a few bevies we returned to our room and crashed out on the bed scanning the TV channels. I loved that RTE2 was actually playing an episode of Father Ted (the Eurovision song contest one). The main channel RTE1 was broadcasting the news of some unfortunate coast guards who had themselves been lost at sea. It was major news and there were some really heartfelt interviews from colleagues, one man in particular managing the interview for a few minutes before the expression on his face crumpled involuntarily, the emotion hitting him hard.
We hoped they'd be finding the remaining crew from the downed helicopter.
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