When I got to Ireland a little over two weeks ago, I was confronted with two options to consider: Spend all of my time in Dublin, or drop $50+ on a day trip to several locations across the country. For a college student, $50 is quite a bit of money to drop on something that you’re not even sure you’re going to enjoy; in this case, I was glad I took the risk.
The trip I chose was through Wild Rover Tours (10/10 would recommend!) and was a tour featuring the Cliffs of Moher and Galway, on the west side of the country.
Although, of course, I knew I was getting a tour of the two, I didn’t expect a full tour of the countryside on the way there, along with four hours worth of culture, history, and Irish music. This was my journey.
Our morning started out with a breakfast stop at the Barack Obama Visitor’s Centre a little outside of Limerick. In Ireland, when a president of another country visits, they name a gas station or a visitor’s centre after them as tradition in one of the towns they visited.
Our drive was accompanied by sights of many ruins of castles, the one below of Bunratty Castle, left over from the Norman Invasion into Ireland.
Our drive took us through “Rocky Road Roundabout”, where the Statue of Ennis stands tall in the center. The story goes that the people around the time the statue was sculpted were jealous of how big Ennis’, shall I say, man parts were, so they ended up leaving them off of his statue.
After a little drive through the town of Ennis (where the creator of RyanAir lived!), we ended up in the town next door of Ennistimon, with it’s Irish-standard rectangular buildings and colors that match the landscape.
Just outside of Ennistimon is the An Gorta Mór, or Famine Memorial. Although the Great Potato Famine was several hundred years ago, it is still a topic that weighs heavily on the hearts of Irish folk.
A (not so) fun fact I learned from this trip was the story behind the stone walls that exist everywhere in Ireland, and can be seen behind this memorial. Because the terrain in Ireland is so rocky, it was impossible to do any kind of farming until the rocks were moved away from the crops. Most of the walls that are still around to this day are the same walls that were put together by victims of the famine. The rock walls served no real purpose in farming, but were an efficient and savvy way to get rid of the rocks. The victims would spend their entire days moving these rocks, hoping to earn enough money or be able to bring home a little bit of food to ease the famine’s effects on their families. They stand as a solemn reminder through Ireland today of the repercussions of having an economy based solely on a few exported products.
About 15 minutes later, a rainbow appeared to my right, and stayed with us for much of the journey.
After a few more turns, we finally made it to the Cliffs of Moher! This is a sight best seen in person and not by pictures, and is truly breathtaking to see. If you are visiting in the winter or early spring months, I would HIGHLY suggest bringing a heavy coat, scarf, and gloves. It wasn’t so cold in Dublin, or in Galway, but the wind came off the coast so strongly and frigid while I was here! We were able to hike up the side of the cliffs, but I do caution you to be careful as you quite literally hike up the side, and there are no walls or railings to block you from falling over the cliff. The wind is actually strong enough to blow you over too, so it adds more risk to climbing. Since it was a little rainy outside at the time, I didn’t hike far for fear of falling.
The castle at the top of the hill is O’Brien’s Castle, which is fashioned more into an observatory you can climb up for an extra fee, to get a better view of the Cliffs. Instead, I just got a (very cold) touristy picture in front of it.
After some time in the Cliffs’ Learning Centre, and some time filing up on gifts, food, and coffee, we were back on the road to Galway!
We made a short stop along the way at The Burren, a rock formation created by lava long before the area was settled. We stopped in a more densely-formed area, but The Burren stretches along the coast for several miles on both sides.
A little while further into the drive, and we stopped to view a life-sized leprechaun’s castle that was built alongside the road. Irish people do not let anything come between their superstitious ways.
About a half an hour later, we finally made it into Galway!
Galway is a much smaller, but very welcoming town on the western end of Ireland, and I’m glad I got to experience it myself. Along my short walking tour, I learned about the culture of the major families that essentially “ran” Galway in the Medieval times, the biggest being the Lynch family. If you have time, read up on their backstory! They’re quite a twisted-fairytale kind of family, and their son was (literally) saved from a burning building by their pet monkey.
Unfortunately, the same son committed crimes in early adulthood, and had to be executed by his own father, since nobody wanted to be the one to kill the son of the most powerful family; hence the term “being lynched” came into existence. This is a picture of the window his son was hung from.
After some time walking around and exploring Galway, I stopped in a Butler’s Chocolate & Coffee Shop for none other than chocolate and coffee. I was told online that if I were to go to any shops in Ireland at all, this was the place to be, and they were not mistaken.
The white chocolate was a latte flavor, and was delicious. If you want the full Irish experience, go for the Bailey’s cream-filled chocolate I have there as well. It might possibly have been one of the most delicious chocolates in my life.
My coffee was a white chocolate mocha, which WAS inarguably the best latte I’ve had in my entire life. It’s nothing like the super-bland espresso versions that Starbucks has. It was sweet, but not too sweet where it was undrinkable. When I was leaving Dublin, I picked up a final (*sniff*) cup of Butler’s and that’s when I found out why they were so good; instead of using coffee syrups like Starbucks, they LITERALLY take a scoopful of Nutella-consistency white chocolate and mix it into the espresso.
After boarding the bus (and sleeping the whole way home), I made my way back to my hostel where I met up with one of my roommates for pizza and Guinness in the bar. The pizza wasn’t the greatest (I’m a spoiled Chicagoan) but I’m not a beer drinker, so I needed something to go with the Guinness. It would’ve been a sin to leave without trying it in the homeland, and the story goes “Guinness is better in Ireland!” so I did have some, but I do like my Irish Coffee much better. I have more of a sweet tooth, what can I say?
The point is, if you find yourself questioning if you should shell out that extra money for a guided trip, do it. It was one of the best decisions I made, and it opened my eyes to the possibility of doing many more of these in the future. Besides, $50 to go on a 12-hour journey across a country? You’re coming out on the other end with a bargain, really.