Ireland in January? What was I thinking?

Ireland in January?!

There are some lessons in travel I’ve learned the hard way. I learned a lot from my trip to Ireland.

This was one of the earliest trips I had taken, and therefore, I was new to traveling and made a lot of mistakes. I had a good time in Ireland, but you know, I could’ve had a great time in Ireland if I had known just a few things before buying the plane ticket.

Dublin at night.

A city is a city is a city.

If you want to get to know a place, be ready to get out of the big cities and into the countryside as soon as possible. A man at the Guiness Factory in Dublin had it exactly right.  He told me, “A city is a city is a city.” What he meant was that no matter where you go, big cities are all similar.  True, you may love certain cities but the true character of a country is always found in the little places.  If you are going to Ireland, two days in Dublin is probably enough. Go to Temple Street bars and the Guiness Factory, maybe another few sites, then rent a car and go see the Ring of Kerry.

Cork is delightful. It was also empty in January.

Small cities and towns are the way to get to know a country.

Spend some time in smaller cities. I personally wished I had planned on being in Cork. It’s got a great farmer’s market called the English Market with local food and cheeses and is a friendly, vibrant place, despite the dreary weather.

View from the Ring of Kerry drive. It was beautiful, but very, very quiet.

They call it the “dead of winter” for a reason.

If you want to see the Ring of Kerry, don’t go to Ireland in the dead of winter like I did. A lot of the good guesthouses and cute little bed and breakfasts were closed. The quaint restaurants were also either closed for the season or had very restricted hours. I missed out on the fabric of the country. The scenery, however, was breathtaking.

Blarney Castle

There are some positives to traveling in the off-season though…

If you want to have parks, castles, and almost all tourist sites to yourself, go in the dead of winter. I think there were a total of four people at Blarney Castle besides myself. This is a rare luxury and should be appreciated. However, I saw everything through cold, misty weather, which added to the mystery of the place. Also since it was the first time driving on the left side of the road, I will dealt with much less traffic in the off-season. Just prepare yourself for lots of roundabouts which add an extra thrill when your brain is telling you to go the opposite way traffic is going!

Exactly where do my people come from?

If you are of Irish descent, do your research first.

My mom’s side of the family is Irish, so I thought maybe I would feel a sense of kinship with the Irish. Strangely enough, I didn’t feel like I belonged. I liked Ireland, and although I definitely wasn’t disappointed, I think my trip was different than I had imagined. That was partly due to the issues of spending most of my time in Dublin. It was also due to not knowing how to have the experiences I wanted. No where is ever quite like you imagine and that’s okay. However, if you’re hoping to discover more of your heritage on a trip, do your research first. Know which areas your family is from and plan on how to get there. Look up old relatives on Facebook and connect with them before leaving. Plan to make it a big part of your experience.

All those lessons being learned, I liked Ireland. I’d go back. I’d do things a lot differently though. There is a happy balance where some research is good so you know where to go and what to do. At the time I was preparing for Ireland, I was too busy studying for the last of my college finals to get very deep into it. But you live and you learn and you rack up airline miles.

Oh, well. I guess I’ll just have to go back.

Sunset over Ireland