It seems now more than ever, with the advent of excruciatingly annoying terms like YOLO and 'bucket list', people are focusing more on their personal goals while they still have time. Despite the intolerable ridiculousness of aforementioned clichéd sayings, the message is a good one. Get out there and experience the things you've always wanted to while you have the chance.
One thing that is undeniably a must-do for everyone is go to Ireland. Preferably in the summer, unless you love unending downpours. If you've never had the urge to go, you'll feel differently after you've been there. There's a certain unidentifiable mysticism to it; you'll feel like you've been there before, somehow. Like it was home and you never knew it.
And while you're there, get off the worn tracks and see the less known parts of the island. Go to a hurling game, (it's crazy, youtube it) try the food the locals eat, get lost somewhere and make some drinking buddies when you stroll into a tavern. Dublin is wonderful and all, but the real experiences lay hidden in the countryside. And the great part is, you can see so much even in a short time-- after all, it's about the size of Indiana.
So skip over the big puddle and check out this captivating place where the people are friendly and know how to party. Oh, and it's worth repeating-- go in the summer.
10 Castles, Castles Everywhere
There's hardly a thing that inspires more wistfulness or historical nostalgia than a castle. Ireland has enough castles that they could probably export them to countries sadly devoid of them. You'll be heading down some tiny road in a tiny town, and beside the local Inn and general store will sit a castle just hanging out, being all castley. Jokes aside, there are more than 340 castles in Ireland. That's an incredible amount. Because of its tumultuous history, castles were built by the Irish, the British, and the Scottish all during different eras of conflict. Some must-see castles include Cahir Castle in county Tipperary, Blarney Castle in county Cork, and Kilkenny Castle above the River Nore, which is one of the most visited historical sites in all of Ireland. If you have any heart in you for the childhood wonder associated with castles, this is reason enough to go. You could spend an entire trip just on the magnificent castles of Ireland.
9 The History and The Culture
Ireland is a country that just oozes its cultural background and history in every corner of the island. Given that the island has long been isolated from almost everyone other than its island neighbor in Britain, and some Viking raids in early history, the cultural identity of the country is fairly untouched by external influences. From early druidic culture, to the fringe influence of Roman civilization (the Roman conquests never made it to the island itself), the people of Ireland today are very much the descendants of a purely Celtic culture. Trinity College in Dublin still holds the Book Of Kells, an incredible piece of Irish heritage that was written by Celtic monks in the 9th century. Non-written nodes of Celtic history can also be found all across the island from burial mounds to ancient monasteries. As for modern day culture, the great part is most of the traditions involve celebrations, and the music and dance is downright infectious!
8 The Pubs and the Local Breweries
One can easily say that the largest part of Irish culture today is pub culture. This is where everyone goes to kick back, drink some delicious local beverages, and cut loose with old friends and complete strangers. Given the popularity of Ireland as a place to visit, most everyone in Ireland from small town pubs to the city bars are warm and welcoming to visitors. They're happy to shoot the breeze with you (though be warned, the more everyone drinks the harder they are to understand), whether it be about their country or anything else in the world (Ireland has become pretty forward thinking in recent years), and thank you for visiting before heading off into the proverbial sunset. There's hardly a place in the world more supportive of getting festively drunk with strangers just for the sake of having a good time.
Galway is one of the biggest vacation spots during the summer for much of northern Europe. There's a reason for that. This gem of a city nestled in western Ireland, in county Connacht overlooking Galway Bay might just be the best city in the country. The food is great, the people are friendly, the nightlife is absolutely bustling not just with Irish but with people visiting from all over Europe and the Mediterranean. The King's Head pub, which is 800 years old, and named after the execution of King Charles I of England who lived there after Cromwell's takeover of Ireland, is an example of one of the many different vibrant locations in this city. It's also home to a large young crowd, being a college town, home to the National University of Ireland. It's also a great jumping-off point to get to locations like Cliffs of Moher or the Aran Islands. Western Ireland is absolutely bursting with cultural locations and breathtaking sights, and Galway is the hub from which you can see it all.
6 The Festivals
Speaking of Galway, they have the Galway International Oyster Festival every year in September. Don't like oysters? How about the Dublin Writer's festival? or dance festival? Or the Battle for the Bay, or the Gourmet Food Festival in Kinsale. There are more festivals than you can shake a stick at, covering nearly everything you could want to go see in a festival. And then there's the Puck Fair, a festival that's over 400 years old, in Killogrlin. It's decidedly Irish-- a few days in August where people fill the streets with live music playing, plenty of drinking, domesticated animals for a cattle fair, and the rest of the fanfare you might expect. And of course, as you might also expect, the St. Patrick's day festivals in Ireland are jubilant occasions that occur in many towns across the country. There's just too many great festivals to miss out while you're there.
5 The Cliffs of Moher
Possibly the most iconic site in Ireland aside from perhaps the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland, the Cliffs of Moher are a sight to behold; going to Ireland without seeing them is an offense to humanity. You might think, sure, big cliffs, nice view, what's the big deal? Rest assured, you will hardly feel more in awe of the size and scope of the earth than when you stare down the sheer face of the Cliffs of Moher. With the vast expanse of the Atlantic Ocean only a few feet away horizontally, but hundreds of feet away vertically, you'll feel like you're standing on the edge of the world; for all purposes, you are. The rough landscape, coupled with a gorgeous view of rolling hills of Irish countryside behind you, you won't know where to look, but you won't be able to look away.
4 The Ring of Kerry/Kerry Way
The Ring of Kerry is often described as kind of a big deal, to quote Ron Burgundy. It's not a single location or sight, but rather a circular drive in Kerry county that's roughly 111 miles (179 km) long. Located in the southwest corner of Ireland, spanning the Iveragh peninsula, the drive boasts incredible views from start to finish, with hundreds of things to see and do along the way. If you'd like to shed the vehicle and experience Ireland firsthand with some hiking boots, there's also a "Kerry Way" which is a walking path similar to the Ring of Kerry, though slightly longer in size. The Ring of Kerry/Kerry Way boast sights from castles to standing stones, historic mansions, forts, cathedrals, abbeys, and more scenic landscapes than there is room to describe in this paragraph. If you have the time and the capability to do this; you have to. It's breathtaking countryside from start to finish.
3 Irish Music
One could argue that this isn't for everyone. That person would be wrong. Irish music is positively energizing, melodic, and sometimes slow and haunting. Probably one of the best parts of going to Ireland is pub crawling in major cities, just to listen to all the amazing live music performed in every dimly lit, beer-soaked corner of drinking establishments around the country. More than just traditional Irish music, the well travelled, multicultural musical stylings of plenty of Irish artists may surprise you as well-- whether it be a steel string guitarist singing the down-country American blues, or a rock-indy hybrid local band tearing it up. Music is alive and thriving in Ireland, and it's worth poking your head in a few different doors as you go along just to see what is out there. Oh yeah, and there's festivals and plenty of street performers as well. Just don't expect a lot of bucket drummers like in the subways of NYC.
2 The People
The people of Ireland (for the most part) are just a joy to be around. Especially out in the countryside. You'd be hard pressed to find friendlier reception from strangers anywhere in the world than you would in Ireland. They'll buy you a drink if you promise to buy one for the next traveler that comes to your hometown. They'll ask where you're from and how you like it on their island. They'll laugh as you try to pronounce the Gaelic words written everywhere, then teach you how to say them (don't even try to get it right on your own, you won't). They'll drink with you, laugh with you, tell you their life story, (usually in pub settings after a few drinks), did I mention they'll drink with you? But seriously, there's plenty of stories of people coming to Ireland to trace their lineage, finding a family related to them, and those people welcoming them with open arms, proclaiming them as family. If you're an Irish-American/Canadian, chances are you will share a last name with plenty of folks over there somewhere down the family tree. If you find them, they'll clink glasses with you, offer up a slàinte (their version of cheers, it means health) and tell you about your collective family.
1 The Aran Islands
Yup, sorry people of Ireland, you come in second to the island chain just outside Galway Bay. What the Aran Islands (or Oileain Arann for the Gaelic) have to offer is nothing less than time travel. The islands of Inishmore, Inishmaan, and Inisheer are an incredible spectacle-- miles of gorgeous, sheer cliffs overlooking the Atlantic, beautiful hills and valleys with ruined castles and ancient forts, large expanses of ancient slate walls and hidden trails through the island. Hop on a ferry from Galway, rent a few bikes, and take it all in-- it's just awesome in the truest sense of the word. Hardly touched by modern civilization save for the basics, the islands are a life-altering experience. It's hard not to be romantic about sitting on miles of cliffs in some remote, unadulterated island surrounded by the vast power of the Atlantic. The feeling is that of discovering some hidden corner of the world rife with history and heritage. And there's no velvet ropes, no do not enters, no park rangers breathing down your neck. It's yours to explore. If you want to hang off the edge of the cliffs, go for it. It's so enthralling you'll wonder if the world is joking with you somehow.