“Your husband told me, to tell you, that you only get one suitcase,” my friend Pennie Terrell texted. “One.”
“My husband is now relaying messages through you?”
“He’s afraid of possible childish outbursts.”
“How am I supposed to fit three pairs of boots – including Wellies – in one suitcase?”
“It might be the only thing you’re wearing.”
She hash tagged the whole conversation, #pairitdowngirlfriend.
I was going to Ireland. It seemed preposterous, amazing, liberating and a bit scary. My husband David was a late addition to the trip, not promising anything, so Pennie went ahead and cashed in her frequent-flyer miles to book three tickets. It seemed almost irresponsible to put the whole thing in motion, to try to put my husband in motion during football season.
But we were going to Ireland. I almost wept for joy.
The mileage tickets would also mean that we would fly low season, with possible black-out dates, at a time when Ireland would possibly be rainy and a bit cold, just like our own fall. Upon hearing this, my husband actually suggested we take a car ride to the country where we would slog across a mucky field, take a picture in front of a dilapidated barn and toast it with a six-pack of Guinness to save money. I disagreed. Bring me green fields, a bit of rain, Guinness and an umbrella, and I would travel.
But if you want to travel Ireland in low season, I’ve got the skinny on what awaits you. Be forewarned, I’ve never been one for organization or schedules. So, with some hesitation, both of my traveling companions agreed that we would rent a car for seven days, follow no schedule and keep our wanderings to south Ireland. As we all agreed to this, my husband crossed himself several times.
Our pre-trip organization included nothing but looking at a map and drawing a circle, which started and ended in Dublin. We secured a car rental for the week, which including the gas cost us about $500. Since it was low season, we found hotel rooms for $100 a night. But what we didn’t pay in extra hotel charges, we managed to make up in garage fees. It seemed that every parking lot charge was 10 euro or more.
We took advantage of the bountiful breakfasts included with hotel stays (if offered), then skipped lunch and ate nice dinners. Spurned by my husband, I tried the white pudding, but refused to try the black pudding. (I choke just saying the words blood sausage.) Famished one night, I ate an entire can of Pringles with my Guinness (yes, an entire can), and I was told by the bartender that I was having a “true Irish dinner.” I told him it wasn’t my first.
Our Ireland adventure started in Dublin. The Guinness tour was a must, as well as drinking a pint in the Gravity Bar to see the panoramic city views. We visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where Jonathon Swift was laid to rest (as well as his scandalous companion Stella), and we tried and failed to complete a literary tour of ancient pubs where famous writers drank pints. (Too many, not enough time.)
I’ll be honest; the Ireland I was looking for was in the country. Taking our lives in our hands, my husband agreed to drive us to our destinations on the left-sided roads, shifting and yelling the entire way. Did we have some tense moments as my husband cruised roads that sometimes were the width of cow paths and had no shoulders? Absolutely. But it allowed us the freedom to scour the countryside on our own schedule.
We drove to Galway, expecting to spend a couple of hours, but enjoyed its intimate shopping and pub experience so much, we got waylaid for the rest of the day. (The Front Door Pub might have had something to do with it.) The next day, as we traversed our way to the Cliffs of Moher, it became apparent that our 10-year-old map and 1999 Frommer’s Guide might be hindering our progress. We spent an extra hour driving unmarked farm roads, but the effort was worth it to see the rugged coastal views of the Cliffs, where possibly every Bronte and Austen character I have ever loved came alive.
From the Cliffs we drove to Killarney, where we shopped and visited one too many pubs, and had one of our best overnight stays at the International Hotel. I ran a morning sunrise path through a mountain-surrounded park to the enchanted Ross Castle. I stood alone at the placid lake, listening to the water lap at the castle footings, and enjoyed the moment’s solitude, pretending to be the princess of the grounds. (My fleece and sneakers ruined the effect.)
From Killarney, we traversed the very narrow but stunning drive to the Dingle Peninsula, on the Slea Head road, which gave rise to green pasture, idyllic homes and unforgettable coastal views.
We got lost in Cork, but rambled on to Blarney, where the dark, curvy roads caused my husband to nearly drown his head in beer after reaching our hotel. We stayed at the Blarney Castle Hotel, which appeared to be straight out of BBC’s version of “Pride and Prejudice.” Fatigued and road weary, we asked where the Blarney Castle was, and was surprised when our kindly proprietor said, “It’s right next door, love.” We arose the next day, free of woe, wandered the immense castle grounds, kissed the Blarney Stone and hoped for good luck. It was back to Dublin for the last day of vacation.
The vacation was fast and heady. Our ratio of pubs to tourist attractions was probably 5:1. I’m not going to make excuses for it; we were there to drink as well as see the sights. The Irish we encountered were lovely people, always quick with a smile or a suggestion to the nearest pub or best hotel.
The only roadblock to the entire experience was on our second-to-last night in Dublin. I turned my back and had my iPad and keyboard stolen right from my bag. As the police left, my husband referred to the fact that I was “leaving a trail across the country.” I couldn’t disagree.
Undaunted, the next day I rose and ran in the Mo November 10K race in Phoenix Park, in the heart of Dublin. It was the last day of our vacation. It was an overcast but crisp morning, and all the trees in the park were the brilliant colors of fall. It was a fitting end for what had been a great vacation. A passerby watching the race waved at me and said, “You’re looking grand, love.” And I couldn’t have agreed more.