Last weekend was my first international trip of the semester—I spent an amazing four days in Ireland! After an uneventful week of class, homework, and gym sessions, I packed my backpack and was off by Friday afternoon. Ireland has been a place that I’ve wanted to visit my entire life. My dad’s side of the family is Irish, and I have relatives living there. (More on them later!) I grew up hearing stories about my grandparents’ visits to Ireland, and I still remember the time my grandpa came back with Irish china dolls for all of his granddaughters. I was definitely excited to see Ireland for myself.
Because of some technical difficulties when my friends and I booked our cheap RyanAir tickets, I ended up having to fly alone. I took the Tube to central London, then an hour long bus ride to London Luton Airport (which, contrary to its name, is definitely not in London), and then a fifty minute flight to Dublin. I met a group of other study abroad students at the Luton airport, and it turned out that they all went to UPenn. Small world! I ended up talking to them while we waited at our gate, and sitting by them on our tiny plane. The flight was so short—it still boggles my mind how easy it is to travel around Europe! I could see out the window the whole time, and it was cool to look down on the English fields, the ocean, and then the green expanse of Ireland. Once we landed in Dublin, I got my green Ireland stamp in my passport, and got on a bus to the hostel. We booked rooms at Isaacs Hostel, which was only a 15 minute walk away from Dublin’s big touristy attractions and pub scene. I would definitely recommend it to any fellow students thinking about visiting Dublin! The rooms were safe and clean, the staff was friendly, and we had a great time meeting other travelers. My friends got to the hostel about an hour after I did, so I sat down in the cozy common area with a pint from the hostel’s bar and a book. (Confession: my first beer in Ireland was a Heineken. Fail?)
The outside of the hostel. Cute, right?
It wasn’t long before my friends arrived, with new friends in tow! I was with a group from Queen Mary that included my friends Eliza, Kristen, Zoe, Luke, Ryann, and Kerry, and we met a group of American guys in our hostel who were studying abroad in England and visiting Dublin for the weekend as well. On Friday night, we signed up for the hostel-organized pub crawl, which was a LOT of fun. We got a free Guinness at the first pub, and then a free shot at each pub afterwards, as well as certain drink specials. We also got to see a diverse mix of pubs around Dublin’s Temple Bar area. The first one was a typical small pub, the second had a cool basement with beer pong tables, the third had AWESOME live Irish music, the fourth had a big dance floor, and the fifth was more of an upscale club. The club was definitely the worst. Drinks were too expensive, and you weren’t allowed to bring a drink onto the dance floor, for some horrible reason. Plus, who goes to Dublin to go clubbing? But the other places were all great. My favorite thing about Dublin was the Irish pub atmosphere—warm, casual, inviting, and with a huge emphasis on live Irish music. The most popular Irish song we heard at every pub was “The Wild Rover,” and by the third time we heard it, we were all singing along with everybody. If you haven’t heard if before, check it out here!
One more note about the pub crawl: Ireland had way more American beers than England, but it completely boggled my mind to find out that a Coors Light cost a whopping 8 euro, while a Guinness only cost 3 euro! I guess it makes sense, but still. Mind blown.
The inside of our favorite pub, The Old Storehouse.
Kristen, Zoe, and me!
On Saturday, we set off to explore Dublin on one of the tour buses that takes you around the city. I think that the best way to explore any city is on foot, but it you have a limited amount of time, it’s best to spring for the sightseeing bus, even if it feels like a tourist trap. We saw Trinity College, the homes of some famous Irish authors (James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker), and then hit up the highlight of the day—the Guinness Storehouse! You basically walk up a seven story building, which is all an exhibit to show you everything you ever wanted to know about Guinness. Its history, advertising, how it’s made, etc. The whole thing was really well designed and was really interesting, even if it was just one giant ad for Guinness. When you get to the top, you reach the Gravity Bar, where you can enjoy your complimentary pint of Guinness and look out over an amazing birds eye view of Dublin! And I have to say, I tried Guinness at home in the US a few times and never liked it. But in Dublin, and especially at the Guinness Factory, it tastes absolutely delicious. Filling, but good!
Some part of the exhibit.
Waiting for it to settle and turn black!
After drinking our Guinnesses, we ended up at a pub downtown for dinner. I got a delicious lamb stew, as well as an Irish coffee to warm me up after a cold day of touring.
One half of our group.
And the other half.
On Saturday night, we ended up back at The Old Storehouse, our favorite pub from Friday. The night before, they had had a traditional Irish band, but this time they had one Irish guy who sang a mixture of traditional songs and some current pop covers. He took a bunch of requests, and we had a lot of fun singing along to his Irish acoustic versions of Rihanna, Bruno Mars, Jay-Z, and Adele! I’m going to try to upload a video on here after this post.
On Sunday, I said goodbye to my friends and got on a bus to Donegal, Ireland to meet some of my relatives! My great grandmother, Mary Lafferty, was born in Donegal, and she came to America through Ellis Island when she was young. There are still quite a few members of the Lafferty family living in the same town, and my grandparents have kept in touch with them and visited them in the past. My awesome grandpa helped me plan the trip to head up north and meet them for the first time. The bus ride was four hours long—they live just about as far north in Ireland as you can go! It was a really relaxing ride though—I enjoyed the scenery and took a few much-needed naps after a crazy few days. Even from just looking out the bus window, I was amazed at how incredibly beautiful and green Ireland is. It was absolutely breathtaking—all green fields and hills, sheep and cows grazing, clouds, sun, and rainbows. I actually didn’t realize that rainbows were so common in Ireland—I thought that they were just part of Lucky Charms commercials. But they happen all the time!
At the bus stop, I met my relative John Lafferty, who drove me to Dunfanghy, the town where my family lives. It was my first time sitting in the passenger’s seat on the LEFT side of the car. It was so weird not having a steering wheel in front of me! The scenery during the car ride was beautiful—a lot of small gravel roads, cliffs, and farms. John was so nice and welcoming, and he drove me to my relatives Bernard and Linda’s house, where I was staying the night. I had been a little nervous about staying with people I had never met before, but I immediately felt right at home with everyone. Bernard is a chef, and he had a whole delicious dinner prepared—the first homecooked meal of my study abroad trip! Afterwards, I looked at pictures of their grown-up children, and I showed them pictures of my family. I got to meet John’s kids, Shaun and Sarah, who are both close to my age. Then John and Shaun took me on the grand tour of Dunfanghy and Creeslough. I got to see all of the amazing scenery, the town, the beach, and my relatives graves at the town graveyard. I also got to see their house and farm, and the original house that my great grandmother lived in. It was really amazing to get in touch with my roots.
Me and Shaun in front of the house where my great-grandmother was born.
I feel like my pictures can’t even show how gorgeous everything was in real life, but I think that this one came the closest.
Clouds over a mountain/hill in the distance. This is the view from Bernard and Linda’s front yard!
After the grand tour of the town, John and Shaun took me back to their house, which is just down the street from Bernard and Linda’s. I met John’s wife, Mary, who cooked a delicious dinner. (I was very well-fed on this trip!) Again, it was really easy to feel at home, and my relatives couldn’t have been nicer or more hospitable. After a month living on my own in a foreign country, it felt so nice to be in a cozy, home-y setting. We also got to skype with my family at home, including my grandparents. That was really cool. After dinner, my cousins Sarah and Shaun took me out on the town to the local pub. It wasn’t too busy since it was a Sunday night, but I got to get a feel for the local town, and get to know my Irish cousins. We had a good time talking about what young people do for fun in our respective towns, and Sarah agreed with my opinion that Irish people seem to be much friendlier and warmer than the reserved and polite British. I also learned that when you order a whiskey and coke in Ireland, they fill half the glass with whiskey, and then put in “just a dash” of coke. Oof.
On Sunday, after sleeping like a baby in a comfy double bed and showering in a luxuriously normal-sized shower, I went with Bernard to meet another relative, Bridget, from another side of the family. She lives in a row house right on the main street of the little town, which was really neat. Afterwards, I went back to Bernard and Linda’s for a delicious Irish breakfast, and we snapped a few pictures of us all together. Then John and Sarah drove me back to the bus station, and I was on my way back to Dublin after an unforgettably lovely day and night with family.
Bernard, me, John, and Sarah.
Linda, Bernard, & me. (And Darwin, the adorable Irish Setter/Black Lab mix!)
If I were a dog, I think I’d want to be Darwin. He has a pretty great life running around the Irish countryside. He also reminded me of my dog Buster, because he would NOT let go of that tennis ball.
So that was Ireland! I had a wonderful weekend, and know that I’ll definitely have to go back one of these days.