I am very lucky to have people who have supported me on this trip, even back when it was just an idea that I was throwing around. Two of these people, Kate and Nigel (who are dear family friends), were able to give me so much information on where they have traveled in Europe and even set me up with Nigel’s Aunt and Uncle who live in Charleville, Ireland. They were willing to have us come stay for a few days, so we planned the next leg of our trip around that.
Before heading to Charleville we decided to stay in Cork, the bigger city next door, for a few days. We took the bus from Galway, and booked an Airbnb with a woman named Anne who lives in a sweet, little, terraced house on a hill. After our one night with Anne, we would move our stuff over to a hostel down the road.
Remember that hill I mentioned? Well, Cork is a bit like San Francisco in the sense that everywhere you look is a bigger hill you need to climb. But once you get to the top, it is absolutely beautiful. We buckled the big, bulky straps of our packs and headed up the hill to Anne’s house. I was following an odd address provided to me by Airbnb, but we figured we would find it eventually. After walking around for a solid 20 minutes, I was sweating like I had run a marathon, and we came to the conclusion that we were lost. A man in his yard noticed that we had passed by him a few times, so he stopped us to ask if we needed help. People are so friendly and helpful in Ireland! He explained to us that he was just helping out at his mother’s house and didn’t know the area very well, but he would get her to come out and talk to us.
Out of the house walked a little old woman, probably around the age of 90. We could tell she didn’t have the best eye sight, and she held on to me as soon as she shuffled over to us. She asked where we were going, and although she didn’t quite know where to point us she pulled me closer to her and said, “When I was a girl, an old Irish lady once said to me, ‘If you have a tongue in your head, you’ll always find your way.‘” We were still lost, but I think that advice will stick with me forever.
Eventually, I was able to get in touch with Anne and we were able to find her house. It was a blue, three floored little house with a garden in the back that looked more like a jungle. She gave us a key, got us situated, and we left to explore the town.
Cork is a very bright and clean city. I was immediately in love with the contrast between the wide open center of town and the more intimate little streets that run in and out of it. There were large shops, small family owned shops, lots of cafes and restaurants, and of course lots of pubs. Emily, a friend from home who had decided to come to Ireland for a vacation, told us to meet her at Deep South, a pub right on the other side of the center. Walking up, we thought this place isn’t anything special, but we were luckily proven wrong.
The bar felt warm and inviting and was filling up quickly with people eager to watch the rugby match that was starting. We headed out to the beer garden portion of the bar which reminded me of a fancy patio in a city backyard. There were string lights hung above, a beautiful wood bar that stretched the length of a back wall, and large picnic tables filled with young people. My favorite part was that the food came from a permanent food truck parked at the edge of the patio space. We filled out our order cards, and brought them to the truck. I had the burger while Ashley and Emily both decided on the smoked brisket sandwich. For dessert, we ordered the chili chocolate mousse to share.
The food was delicious, as was the beer, and we were even offered a free pint of Guinness to celebrate the Rugby World Cup. One thing I noticed is that I haven’t been asked how I would prefer my meat cooked. I’m not sure if it is because they trust their chefs more than we do in The States, or if they have stricter guidelines for food safety, but it always comes out just right. My burger was topped with housemade pickles (if you know me, you know I love a well made pickle), a chili mayo which was perfectly spicy, and the chips (french fries for you Americans) were just the right amount of salty. I love when the skin of the potato is left on, so that won some points from me.
The mousse was light, slightly spicy, and had the perfect texture. There was a granola-ish crumble on the bottom and cherries floating throughout. YUM.
After dinner we decided to venture into town to find some live music. We ended up at a bar that is known for its music scene- Oliver Plunket’s. It was so much fun to dance and listen to the band, who had a female lead singer (girl power). We found two hilarious dance partners who must have been in their late 70s, and danced the night away.
Our two days in Cork were filled with a lot of music, and a lot of beer, but there were a few things we did that you really can’t find anywhere else. One of these was going to see the old Cork City Gaol, or the city jail. We had to hike quite the hill to get there, but it was worth it. The views were stunning and getting to walk around the jail was like a haunted history lesson. We even got to experience what sitting in the cold cells would feel like, which hopefully I’ll never have to feel again!
We were feeling quite parched after our hike to the jail, so we decided to head over to Franciscan Well Brewery for a tour and some pizza. The brewery has a large pizza oven out back, so while we waited for our tour we decided to order a couple. We got to mix and match toppings so we ended up with one goat cheese and arugula pizza, and one chorizo and mushroom. We got a little crazy ordering, and when the guy put the pizzas down in front of us he said, “good luck.” Well, if that isn’t a challenge, I don’t know what is. I’m happy to report that not a crumb went to waste.
*Side note here: Everyone always talks about that one annoying friend who makes everyone freeze before they take a bite of their food so they can photograph it… well I am trying so hard to be that friend, but I am usually too busy being that person that dives right in. Soon I will get the hang of remembering to take pictures before I ruin my plate, I promise.*
I can say that the pizza was delightfully crispy, with a perfectly thin crust. I love when the bottom gets a little charred from the stone of the oven, so this pizza was perfect. The toppings were fresh, and had the perfect balance of salt to sweet on top of the acidity of the tomatoes. Obviously, I liked it. If you’ve never put fresh greens on top of your pizza, try it! It’s like a salad on top of your pizza which means it’s healthy.
Feeling extremely full but too proud to admit it, we joined the tour group and were shown the small brewing facility (where there was a super cute and really distracting cat hanging around), and were taken to a tasting room where we were taught the art of beer snobbery. We examined the aroma, the appearance, the sweetness, the bitterness, you get the point. It was fun to watch how excited our tour guide was about the beer and to see and taste he differences the beers had. My favorite was the weisse beer, which he called the “gateway beer” into getting hooked on the others.
Another great place we uncovered in Cork was the Quay Co-op. I still say it like “kway” in my head even though I know it’s wrong. I can’t help it. Anyway, the co-op is a series of storefronts that provide healthy organic foods to the community. We were lucky enough to find their restaurant, where they serve delicious and fresh vegetarian food. I was definitley feeling like I needed some veggies in my life, so I ordered the lentil and tomato patties, a raw veggie salad, and parsley crusted potato wedges. It was delicious. Ashley and Emily tried the tagine, which also looked phenominal. We were pretty happy.
After our weekend in Cork, we headed to Charleville- a tiny little town centered around one main road. We were going to stay with Mike and Alice, Nigel’s aunt and uncle (as I mentioned before), but whom I had never met. When we got off the bus, Ashley looked at me and said, “so how do we know it’s her?”
I had no answer… Sometimes I forget to plan things fully.
“I figured she’ll notice the two lost girls with huge backpacks.”
Luckily, she saw us right away and was quick to run over and give us big hugs. She and Mike took us back to their cute little house and made us at home right away. We each had our own room and there was tea and sandwiches waiting for us on the table. Spoiled doesn’t even begin to cover it. They already had an afternoon planned for us, so we had our snack and then headed to the car.
The four of us spent the day walking around a little village called Adare. Adare is a little tourist town with thatched roof cottages and a beautiful park. Thatched rooves are hard to come by now, so it was great to be able to walk in and out of the cottages. We walked through the quaint town center and got back into the car to go to Lough Gur, a beautiful lake near by. We walked along the lake, seeing more and more natural beauty come into view as we rounded the bend. I have never seen a place so green, so natural. There were cows grazing on the side of the hill, and people fishing by the shore. It was the perfect way to be welcomed to small town Ireland.
When we got home, Alice told us to go “chill out” and made us comfortable in their living room. We watched Friends while she made us the most delicious dinner of roast chicken, potatoes, and vegetables. When we thought it couldn’t get any better, she pulled an apple pie out of no where and cut us all a big piece. Now I am usually not a big fan of baked fruit, but this apple pie was perfect, with a thin pastry crust and crunchy apples.
We sat down in the living room once again, and Mike handed each of us a cup of tea. Alice then pulled a bucket out from behind her and said, “chocolate bar??” We looked at eachother and laughed, thinking we couldn’t possibly eat another thing. Next thing I knew, I was unwrapping a twirl bar and watching Irish soap operas. Needless to say, day one in Charleville was a success.
The next day, Alice and Mike wanted to take us to Blarney Castle and then to Cobh (the town where the Titanic picked up its final passengers). We got up, ate some muesli, which I predict is going to be the new granola, and got in the car. The weather was unreasonably beautiful. When I told people I was spending three weeks in Ireland, everyone warned me that I would be so sick of the rainy and grey skies that I wouldn’t want to stay for the full time. Well, after almost the full three weeks, I haven’t seen more than a drop of rain. Every day has had some blocks of sunshine, and the morning fog has been beautiful, burning off by noon. I’m spoiled, I know.
Blarney Castle, a must do in Ireland, was as gorgeous as the tourist flyers has promised. Walking onto the grounds you are surrounded by green, and I couldn’t help but be surprised by the structure that stood in front of me. The castle jutted up into the sky, and I imagine it must have been terrifying to come upon back in its day. Today, it is just a beautiful ode to what once was. The grounds around the castle are just as gorgeous, with gardens and what feels like an organized jungle all around. There is also the Blarney House, which instantly made me jealous of the characters I imagined living there in the past.
One thing you must do at Blarney Castle is kiss the Blarney Stone. How this came about, I am still unsure, but the jist of it is that kissing the stone gives you the gift of eternal eloquence (or as we say in America, the ability to bullshit). I’m sure this tourist trap is just a load of blarney, but just in case there is some sort of bad luck omen involved, we hiked up the stairs and planted a big kiss on a wall.
Blarney Castle was amazing, but Alice and Mike had more in store for us. We jumped back in the car and headed to Cobh, a seaside port town famous for being the final stop of the Titanic before her first and final voyage. At the time, 1912, Cobh was calledd Queenstown to pay homage to a queen who had visited, but was later switched back to its original Irish name.
As we pulled up in Cobh, I felt almost like we were in New England with the boardwalks and view over the water making me feel at home. We walked down the edge of the water and decided to buy tickets to The Titanic Experience, an interactive museum experience detailing the Titanic and its tragic end. Upon entering the exhibition, we were each given a boarding card that resembled those that the Titanic passengers would have received. Each card had the name of a real passenger that boarded in Cobh, and which class they would be staying in. I was given the card of a 25 year old passenger who was staying in the third class.
The exhibition was small, but exciting. It took us through the make up of the ship, a model of how the third and first class rooms looked, and even had menus on display of what the passengers were offered on a daily basis. To say the ship was luxurious is an understatement. After walking through the model of the ship, we were taken into a room where we experienced the crash and sinking of the ship. The video that played before us explained what went wrong, and gave the chilling fact that only 700 people survived, while around 1500 were lost.
Walking through a more museum-like room, we were able to read about the Titanic, the final moments, and the recovery efforts of artifacts. We were able to read about passengers, and find out if the passenger we were assigned before boarding survived the sinking. I was lucky enough to survive.
Following The Titanic Experience, we headed up the hill to see the Catherdral that overlooks the city of Cobh. It’s size and location were equally impressive, as was the massive organ inside. It always amazes me how haunting and beautiful churches can be at the same time.
The next day, Ashley and I set out in Charleville to pick up some groceries so we could cook dinner for Alice and Mike. We wanted to make something delicious and honestly American. We ended up shopping in a store called Dunnes, which is half a clothing store and half a grocery store. Thankfully we don’t have these at home or I would be in trouble.
After our shopping excursion, Alice told us she wanted to take us to Doneraile Park, a beautiful wildlife park near by. We headed there, lucky to have another cloudless day. It was a beautiful afternoon spent wandering through fields and through dense wooded areas. We walked over small streams, and up to Doneraile Court, a large estate within the park. I’m not sure why houses like this are no longer a thing, but I think they should make a comeback. We enjoyed tea outside the house, as well as a piece of chocolate Bailey’s cake and a piece of lemon cheesecake. We like dessert, ok? The sugar was just what we needed to wake us up to explore the gardens behind the house.
Back at Alice and Mike’s, Ashley and I cooked our good old American meal, homemade macaroni and cheese and roasted veggies. We were shocked when they said neither of them have ever tried it, and we were very happy when they liked it. For dessert, we made banana splits. We were stuffed.
I woke up on our final day with Mike and Alice feeling like I was about to say goodbye to family. Luckily, they had one more day of activites planned for us before driving us to Killarney for our next stop. They took us to Bunratty Castle, a renovated castle and a model village built to give visiters an idea of what life would have been like at various points of Irish history. The morning was foggy, but the rain held off.
The Castle was gorgeous, filled with tiny rooms and even tinier winding staircases. People must not have been very tall back in the day, because I always felt myself ducking into stairways and through doors, and I’m only 5’4. It was impressive to see how well they have kept the castle, and how they have been able to maintain the historical accuracy without making the castle a museum.
We then walked Bunratty Folk Village, trying to put ourselves in the shoes of those who would have lived in the real version of the model cottages and buildings. The cottages ranged from small, crowded rooms where both the farmer and cow would come in to sleep, to beautiful homes with large hearths and floral wallpaper. In the richer farmers home, the lady of the house demonstrated how she would make apple pie and griddle bread for her family. It was so much fun to watch.
The only way to recoop after a day of walking is to grab a pint, so Alice and Mike treated us to a Guinness at the famous Durty Nelly’s Pub. Durty Nelly’s in one of the oldest pubs in the area, and is always a stop for Bunratty visitors. We enjoyed a pint there, then crossed the street to The Creamery, where we had dinner. The Creamery is a bar and restaurant built inside an old creamery building, and I had an amazing plate of fish and chips (Alice and Mike both ordered the same, so I knew it would be a good choice).
Mike then manned the car as the three ladies went in and out of Guinness induced naps. We arrived in Killarney, and said our goodbyes. I can’t thank Alice and Mike enough for all they did for us. We had expected a room, and maybe a few suggestions of things to do in the area, but what we got was four days of fun, food, and the warmest hospitality. It is safe to say I now have Irish family! Hugs to Alice and Mike, we miss you already!!
We only have a few days left in Ireland before we jet off to Italy, so look out for my recap of Killarney and Fenit next!