My roommate, Miriam, spent the fall semester abroad studying in Carlow, Ireland and I have always wanted to visit the country that most of my ancestors came from. Over my fall break, I took the opportunity to visit this beautiful country without having to pay for a hotel and eat every meal at a restaurant. I am so thankful to have spent a large part of my time in this small town, instead of making a large city my home base. Carlow embodied all of the things I was looking forward to in Ireland: castle ruins, churches, a river park, coffee shops and pubs on the narrow main street. I didn’t add an international phone plan so I relied on bus and restaurant wi-fi to keep my friends and family updated on my travels. This really helped me appreciate what was around me without being tied to my phone, which can happen to me, despite my best intentions. The weather during my trip was amazing; while it snowed at home, Ireland experienced a week of sunny, mild fall days.
I arrived in Ireland on Thursday morning after an overnight flight from New York. While waiting for my bus from Dublin to Ireland, not one, but two, bus drivers asked if I was okay. This became a theme throughout the trip; everyone is so kind, even after they discover you’re an American tourist, which happens as soon as you open your mouth. The drive to Carlow was stunning. The sun was shining as we drove through Dublin and into the green, green countryside.
Miriam met me at the bus stop between her classes and we headed back to her apartment for a shower. I was really fighting the jet lag that comes with losing 5 hours so I headed to Carlow Coffee Co. for the first of many lattes in Ireland. There is surprisingly good coffee in Ireland, and not just Irish coffee. After my dose of caffeine, I wandered around the charming streets of Carlow and visited the County Carlow Museum and visitor center, which was incredibly helpful in planning the rest of my trip. In my wanderings I saw the ruins of a castle poking up over the rows of houses, and you cannot not walk towards a castle when you see it. When Miriam finished classes for the day we make a quick trip to Aldi, made dinner and caught up. Then we laid out the map of Dublin and circled each place we wanted to visit the next day. Student discounts are great in Ireland, especially the bus fares, which really helped us get to everywhere we wanted to go. We went to bed very early to be ready for the next day.
We caught the bus from Carlow to Dublin without a hitch, but didn’t get off at the right stop, so we ended up at the airport. The bus driver pointed us in the right direction to take the city bus back into Dublin. We started our day in the Temple Bar neighborhood at the farmers’ market. We bought farm-fresh quiches to eat later in the day and wandered to the artisan market. I fell in love with the leather bracelets at ThunderSolas and decided that everyone I know needed them for Christmas. We wandered towards Trinity College, where we had lunch on the square among both students and tourists, passing by the Dublin Castle and Christ Church Cathedral on our way. After getting a little lost on Grafton Street, we crossed the river to get to the Jameson Old Distillery. The building is so cool, and our tour guide was hysterical.
After a whiskey taste test between Jameson, Johnny Walker and Jack Daniels, which confirmed my dislike for whiskey, we headed to the Guinness Storehouse. I am proud to say that, after attending The Guinness Academy, I can now pour a beautiful pint. The Gravity Bar’s view of the city and surrounding mountains was the best part of the tour. We had lamb stew at The Porterhouse for dinner and slowly made our way back to the bus station through Temple Bar. The street musicians all day, and especially that night outside the pubs, were so talented and I loved every single one.
On Sunday, we went back to Dublin and caught a city bus out to Howth, about a 45 minute ride. This little fishing village was my favorite part of my trip. We walked the east pier, marveling at the colorful boats and cliffs. The Grind provided our caffeine fix for the day, and the friendly staff pointed us towards The Abbey Tavern, where we had the most delicious lunch of our trip. I had a beef and Guinness pie, and Miriam had a huge piece of salmon that even I thought was delicious. Ireland was playing in the Rugby World Cup on every TV in the pub.
After visiting the little food and craft market in town, we walked down the west pier, which is where I found the West Pier Art Studio and met Alan McLeod. I am blown away by the way Alan captures the village he lives and works in, as well as how kind he is. We got to know each other while he tried to get enough of a wi-fi signal through the foot-thick stone walls of his ancient building to process my credit card information. And when I left the print I bought from Alan for my dad’s Christmas present on a Dublin city bus that night, he was kind enough to replace not only that print, but also the smaller version he had already given me for free for myself. This experience cemented my love for the beautiful country and people of Ireland.
Miriam and I walked around the peninsula of Howth and encountered some of the most stunning landscapes I have ever seen. Horses grazing next to the path only added to how much I enjoyed the view; from above, we watched cliff jumpers in wet suits flip into the water. We left Howth in the late afternoon to get back to Carlow with enough time to visit Miriam’s favorite pub, Tully’s. We drank Kopparberg Cider and listened to some lovely live music.
On Monday I was on my own, so I headed to Killkenny on the bus. It amazed me how safe I felt traveling alone here; everyone was willing to help me find my way and point out the best places to visit. During my short trip to this small city I walked the Medieval Mile, stopping at St. Canice’s Cathedral, Black Abbey and The Butterslip. I toured the Kilkenny Castle, which is an amazing combination of medieval and romantic. It practically screams history at you. The butler garden was beautiful and I loved that the outbuildings have been re-purposed into artists’ studios. After heading back to Carlow, I walked towards the river. Here, there was a man walking his raccoon, Sampson, which was definitely the strangest thing I saw during my trip. I had dinner with Miriam and then we had the amazing dessert that is soft serve over a chocolate muffin from Supermac’s.
My last day I spent in Carlow. I went for a foggy morning run along the River Barrow and met Miriam for lunch at Dinn Ri, which was delicious. After lunch, Miriam showed me the IT Carlow campus and I caught up on homework and emails during her afternoon classes. We had a low-key night, because I had to be up at 2 am to catch my bus back to the airport.
Although short, my trip to Ireland was truly an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I am so thankful for Miriam for hosting me and pointing me in the right direction, even when she wasn’t able to join me. I am already dreaming of going back to the beautiful country that surpassed every expectation I had for it.