Ireland Part I: land of good, strong crack (Laura)
Irish man to Mike: where are you from?
Mike: San Francisco
Irish man: ah brilliant. How’s the crack there?
Mike: ummmm strong?
Ireland is just teeming with great craic, a gaelic word that refers to the quality of conversation/atmosphere/drinks at a bar, somewhat like our word “vibe.” Pronounced “crack,” we were initially a bit confused/worried when locals would point us in the direction of their favorite pub and say “dat bar dare has great crack.” But now that we know what the word means, we agree that Ireland has great craic.
Our two week trip to Ireland was too jam-packed to fit in one post so I’m going to split it into two parts. Part I is our first week driving the southern loop of Ireland just the two of us. Part II is the week spent in Dublin and Galway with friends for Becky and Niall’s wedding. But first let me say that this country has quickly jumped to the top of our list of favorite places to visit. It has a reputation for gorgeous countryside, atmospheric fishing villages, great music, and the most friendly people in the world, and I assure you that this reputation is well-deserved. If I close my eyes and let all the fun times and beautiful moments of the past two weeks rise to the surface in a blur, it feels somewhat like sipping a creamy Guinness in a cozy pub next to your chums with a sweet tune playing on a fiddle.
With Mike having the convenient excuse of not being able to drive a stick-shift, our trip began with me driving Irish-style for the first time in the worst conditions: pouring rain, no GPS , stick-shift in left hand, sitting on right side of the car, driving on left side of the road, and a dozen roundabouts in the first five minutes. Fortunately, it was easier to catch on than I expected and by day two I was already getting cheeky behind the wheel. Our first stop, Kilkenny, is a beautiful inland town with quaint streets, a lazy river, and historic buildings and churches including a narrow tower you can climb for a great view. It also has a ton of pubs with live music every night. This was enough to make us love Ireland, and little did we know it would just keep getting better.
We then continued south to the beautiful harbor town of Kinsale in County Cork. If you picture Sausalito but then replace all the stuffy yuppies with friendly down-to-earth folks and add thousand-year-old history and Irish folk music, you’ll get Kinsale. Here’s where we learned that the Irish’s reputation for being friendly is an understatement. Just by sitting in a bar and making absolutely no effort to meet people, we enjoyed a revolving door of jovial, welcoming locals who all wanted to introduce themselves, wish us a grand time in their country, and buy us a drink. One group of rough-looking Irish lads thought they recognized Mike from the hurling* team that had defeated them that day, but then bought us two rounds of drinks even though he wasn’t who they thought he was. (They particularly enjoyed when I confused hurling with the Olympic sport of curling…not quite as tough as hurling). Without a doubt, every bartender, toll collector, bus driver, elevator repair man, waiter, and gas station clerk wanted to know where we were headed, how we liked Ireland, and if we needed any help. Truly unreal.
Another cliche that turned out to be true is that Irish people really do bust out in drinking songs and whoever is around joins in the chorus– this happens in bars, on the street, or on public transit at the end of the night. Even the bar musicians seemed to welcome interludes by non-professionals who feel the urge to sing, and they also welcome wandering musicians to whip out their instrument and join in. It’s all very jolly and welcoming as you’d probably imagine. I got caught up in it all and made the questionable decision of buying my own Irish flute (called a”tin whistle”). While Mike had to endure me practicing the titanic theme at traffic lights,I think it was a fair price to pay for the forty hours of driving I had to do by myself.
After Kinsale we headed over to the south western part of Ireland to the famous Dingle peninsula for four glorious days. This atmospheric fishing village infused with Gaelic culture, language, and music is cool enough on its own, but then plop it down on a peninsula with thirty solid miles of spectacular scenery and ancient monuments and you have yourself a big honfleur**.
Highlights from the dingle loop include hiking on the cliffs on the western-most point of Europe, visiting a beehive-looking chapel built in 800 b.c. still in perfect condition, and hiking to a stunning glacial lake on Connor Pass. After hiking all day we enjoyed delicious food and live music by night in dingle. One night we bought tickets to a private 20-person concert held at a musical instrument shop and were pleasantly surprised to catch the world famous musicians from the Irish group Solas– check them out on iTunes. As a side note I’d like to point out that when you draw a map of Dingle for friends, it looks remarkably like a man’s “dingle,” perhaps explaining how the peninsula got its name.
After dingle we drove to Dublin where we pick up with part II in the next post. Now, explaining the footnotes…
* Hurling is a native Irish sport played with a wooden spoon looking stick and ball and a lot of Irish roughness.
** See previous post from May 18th for colloquial meaning of Honfleur.