*In case you don’t feel reading the entire experience, you can skip down to my overall impressions/top memories and the pics below.
WHEN IRISH EYES ARE SMILING
My mom’s entire family is Irish. All 4 of her grandparents were born in Ireland. Shamrocks have been part of her life since the day she was born and I’ve no doubt that if she cut her arm it would bleed green. St Patrick’s Day, Liver and Cabbage, Claddaugh Rings, anything Irish- you name it, and it was part of my childhood (though I was never terribly fond of the liver…). The family is full of Liam’s, and Patrick’s, and Keiran’s, and Kevin’s and Sean’s and even my own name was (allegedly) inspired by a former King of Ireland, Brian Boru. ALAS, my Mom has never been to Ireland! We were supposed to go once back in like 1986 or so, the trip a gift of her Aunt. We had all gotten our first passports (I had a pretty sweet mullet in my pic if I remember correctly), but it wasn’t meant to be as Mom broke her leg in 3 places shortly before we were supposed to leave- ironically enough playing volleyball (which then of course went on to become a major part of my life). Her Aunt passed away shortly after and we never ended up making the trip. In fact, Mom never even left the country… until now.
We picked some dates, started planning, and away we were. I was going to be in London a few days ahead of time while Mom was in NY visiting friends/family to break up the trip a little bit- and we were set to meet in Dublin on the morning of Nov 22. As Mom’s flight to Ireland was an overnighter, I decided to surprise her with a business class ticket (which would also be a first for her) so she could get a good meal and then have the bed to get some sleep before the trip began. When we did finally meet in the airport, I couldn’t wait for her to tell me about the experience- and I could collect my brownie points for the surprise 😉 Mom however said she didn’t watch any movies, only ate some of the food, and didn’t even play with any of the buttons which would have reclined her seat into a bed because she said ‘it felt like an MRI’… oh well. She did enjoy the champagne though.
We both needed a little rest before taking on the city so after grabbing a quick bite, we headed to the hotel to chill out for a bit. Now, generally I don’t start a trip with a nap but given how I imagined things going with Irish music and pubs and such, I felt it was the right strategic move (that and booking a massage for first thing the following morning). When we both had a bit more energy, we set off to explore a bit. This is my MO, I just wander. I usually have a general idea as to where I’m at, but in a new city I like to just walk around, get lost, find some cool stuff to see, then figure out where I ended up and go from there. Mom and I began walking around and saw the sights: Temple Bar, the Ha’penny Bridge, Trinity College, Dublin Castle etc. The look on my Mom’s face was worth everything. She truly was in Heaven. We could’ve just been in the hotel lobby and she would have been happy- she was finally on Irish soil. But obviously we weren’t going to hang in the lobby, we had adventuring to do! And by that, I mean find the closest pub that was playing traditional music, order two pints, and get in the spirit. Which we did at The Auld Dubliner… Of course we travel all the way to Ireland and the first group we befriend is a group of ladies from Philly. Oh, did they love Mom. She was chatting them all up, out on the dance floor doing jigs with them, the whole nine. The guitar player went back and forth between traditional music as well as some popular singalongs (does everyone in the world love Country Roads or is it just me?). We ended the night by polishing off the best ribs I’ve ever had at Elephant and Castle before heading back to rest up for the next day.
The next day found us playing tourist a bit more- we walked around for a couple hours (this would come back to haunt Mom), checking out the Brazen Head Tavern and St Patrick’s (Awesome) before hopping on a double decker bus and getting shown around the rest of the city while the driver gave us fun tidbits of information AND sang us Irish songs. Night 2 in Dublin was more of the same. Music, Pubs, awesome Food. Checked out Bowes which was the ‘locals’ Whiskey Bar, met some cool people and got some great tips for the rest of our adventure. Tonight’s pub was John Gogarty’s, and once again Mom was the social butterfly and center of attention culminating in her leading the whole bar in singing and dancing when ‘Come on Eileen’ happened to come on. There may have been some square dance-type moves and an inadvertent headbutt, but all evidence of that has been deleted- what happens in Dublin and all…. (trust me it was hilarious). Once again Mom was on top of the world and I couldn’t be happier to be here with her…
In the morning we picked up the rental car and began the next part of the trip which would just be us driving around the country with a general idea of where we wanted to go and what we wanted to see, but also kinda making things up as we went along. Driving on the wrong side of the car on the wrong side of the road took some getting used to again (it had been a few years since the last time I did that for any extended period of time) but we survived. As we were on our way to Galway, it was recommended that we stop by a town called Athlone, which is known for its castle (though later on it seemed that every town had a castle). After a quick lunch, where we picked up some more recommendations for Galway we took a walk over to the castle. Was kinda cool, but as time was short and we wanted to get back on the road, we didn’t go in and explore. What we DID explore however was Sean’s Bar! It’s hard to walk past a pub in Ireland and not pop in for a pint, especially another one advertising itself as ‘Ireland’s Oldest Pub’. Turns out the folks at the Guinness Book of records agree… We got a super cool history lesson from the bartender ‘Timmy’ that has been there 35 years AND he even let us hop back behind the bar to pour a pint for a photo. I highly recommend Sean’s to anyone who road trips their way around Ireland! After Sean’s it was onto Galway.
As it was Thanksgiving today, much of the conversation was around what we were grateful for both today and also throughout our lives- while of course listening to my Irish Music playlist I created the night before for the drive. Although it’s winter, Ireland was still incredibly green. I kept looking over at Mom and would catch her just gazing out the window with the happiest look on her face. I’ll keep those little moments with me forever… We pull into Galway just as it was getting dark so there wasn’t a ton of exploring we could do, BUT there was a big Christmas fair in the town square to check out (plus all the music pubs that were recommended)… I had done a little research and found an ‘American’ restaurant that was going to be serving a proper Thanksgiving dinner, complete with Turkey, Ham, Stuffing, Brussels Sprouts, and Potatoes. So after walking around the Christmas fair a bit we made our way over to Creole Restaurant for our feast. Holy crap. Wasn’t expecting the food to be as good as it was, but wow. Well done Creole! Though it was a little odd when the food came out and there was just a softball-sized sphere of turkey. Cutting it open revealed baked-in layers of ham, stuffing, and a bit of cranberry! The staff there was super cool, Mylene and Nathan told us about a bar a little ways out of town, but said it was the place to go. Not touristy, awesome band there that night, and they’d even come meet up with us for a drink! O’Connor’s delivered on everything promised- such a fun night. After heading back into Galway for one last drink with our new friends- we called it a night…
Here’s where things take a slightly unfortunate turn. Mom’s legs weren’t used to (nor ready for) all the walking on cobblestone streets or all the dancing that had already transpired – so they started to get quite sore and she started having a little difficulty walking. So for the rest of the trip we had to take it a bit easier, walk a little slower, dance a little less enthusiastically- but we made do.
The next day we did a full day bus tour of Connemara region. Was a great way to see the country and I was happy to not be driving. We were treated to ancient friaries, cool small towns, amazing countryside (tons of sheep!), faerie trees, and a beautiful old abbey/manor house. All the while getting a very informative narrative by our driver. Again, it was pretty green for it being winter, can only imagine what this looks like mid spring/summer!
Mom’s legs were getting a bit worse so after ordering up some dinner, I ended up grabbing her a cane! Ha. She was a little upset with her body, but she rocked it with class. After several fun days of exploring, we decided to take it easy this night knowing we had another full day of driving ahead of us the next day…
THE CLIFFS OF MOHER
One of the highlights of this trip for me would be our journey out to the coast to see the Cliffs of Moher. A. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage landmark, B. (and more importantly) These are ‘Cliffs of Insanity’ from The Princess Bride! Plus, I had a special conversation planned for the Cliffs. The day was a little bit cold and as we drove west a pretty heavy fog rolled in- making driving a little more stressful on all the super small back roads which might allow 2 Prius’ to pass without having to have one of the cars pull all the way off the road into the bushes to allow the other to continue. And SHIT, would this fog persist all day and ruin the view of the cliffs??? As it turns out, it would. It was almost comical how little we could see when we finally got there. Now, were weren’t meant to do much in the way of exploring the cliffs as Mom’s legs weren’t in top shape, but figured we’d at least be able to walk (slowly) up to the first vantage point and take in the view… Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. BUT, the important thing is we DID made it and we were there together. It was here when I had the conversation with Mom that I’d been thinking about for over 2 months at this point. Even though the scenery didn’t exactly match the vision I had in my head, it was still an amazing moment. On top of that we were greeted by a little Robin bird, though it seemed a little out of place on this cold foggy day (don’t they signal the coming of Spring?). Mom then told me that Robins were her Mom’s favorite birds and that she actually felt that her Mom was there as well, sharing in this experience with us. It made things all the more special.
This night found us in the town of Bunratty. Home to the Bunratty Castle, and more importantly Durty Nelly’s Pub. Apparently my Mom’s Aunts and Uncles etc used to love this place so we had to make it a stop on our Irish World Tour. The hotel we booked was PACKED with people when we checked in- apparently there was a wedding taking place there and the guests were enjoying the cocktail hour before the dinner/reception. After the long foggy drive, I needed a moment to decompress/chill/shower so Mom headed down to the bar, giving me a little space. By the time I met her 30 min or so later, she of course had met half the wedding guests and gotten invited to join them at the afterparty… I was just along for the ride at this point. So, we made our way over to Durty Nelly’s for some food and music (and more beer/whiskey). Had a great time there, music was fun, met some cool new people, everything was awesome! But… It had come time to head back over to the hotel. As Mom’s legs were still pretty sore we were going to be walking slowly (but whatever, we had nowhere to be). She didn’t want me to have to walk her back though so she asked about a cab. A minute later, a police officer was tapping her on the shoulder asking if she’d like a ride home- um… what? Turned out there was a cop at the bar and he overheard someone asking about a cab, and not having any crimes to solve offered up a ride. Mom was a little confused as to why a cop would be escorting her out of the bar, but all confusion got cleared up and she accepted the ride- in fact after mentioning that her brother was also a police officer, he even gave her his police tie clip! Back at the hotel, the reception was in full swing… Will spare all the crazy details, but suffice to say we had a blast. The evening ended with Mom and I eating butter and potato chip sandwiches (apparently an Irish wedding treat?) while sitting in massage chairs at 430am. Yes. We officially crashed a wedding in Ireland.
We were a little slow the next morning as you can imagine, but eventually we hit the road- bound for Dingle. Years back a friend of mine shot a movie there and I always loved the look/feel of the town so wanted to check it out. Along the way many others had also said Dingle was a great spot and not to be missed if time permitted- so we figured we were on the right track. Beautiful day driving around the countryside, stopping at various beautiful roadside churches, Inch Beach, and the South Pole Bar (opened by famous Antarctic explorer Tom Crean. We arrived in Dingle just in time for Sunset, which today was beautiful (no more fog!). Our B&B was charming, relaxing, and exactly what we needed as tonight was going to be a rest night. So after a nice meal in town, we hit the hay pretty early- no pubs! Feeling much better the next morning, I went for a run (true story!) while Mom ate breakfast. I noted a couple cool places around town I thought she’d like to see later on. When I got back, Mom had gotten a recommendation to explore the Slea Head drive around the peninsula as it was supposed to be quite scenic… sounded good to us! After caffeinating, we hit the road and explored the area. It was as billed… simply beautiful. There were a couple places off the road that required a hike up to the vantage point- unfortunately Mom couldn’t climb hills/rocks so I ran around a bit taking photos while she chilled, enjoying the Irish countryside. Of course during one of these mini excursions, I met a guy from NYC (small world) who was taking photos as well. Chatted a bit with him before walking back down to our cars together, where after introducing him to Mom, he showed us the pics of The Cliffs of Moher he had taken the day before (the day after we were there), a day which for him was perfectly sunny and blue skied- face palm…
As we drove around we both just felt like we wanted to stay in the area. Dingle was such a cool, quaint, fun little town with a very special energy. AND as we had opted not to hit the pubs the night before, could we really leave Dingle without at least one night out on the town? No. So we booked another hotel 🙂 We made our way (slowly) around the town taking in some of the shops/sights before getting ready for yet another evening of music and merriment. There was a bar called Dick Mack’s down the street which had won #1 Whiskey Bar in Ireland for 3 years running. I of course wanted to run down to check it out, Mom opted to stay in the hotel for a bit. I knew she’d be fine by herself and have 20 new friends by the time I returned… Which totally turned out to be the case. At Dick Mack’s I ended up chatting with a bunch of super cool locals: A Screenwriter, A Kayak Guide, A B&B owner, A wonderful blind lady who ran the music shop next door, and of course the Bartender. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming to me, but what struck me most is how much everyone seemed to like/support each other. It’s a pretty small town and most have been there for a long time (and most will probably still be there for a long time…). As I mentioned, when I rejoined Mom she was again surrounded by new friends. She of course always mentioned that I was taking her on this trip and how good of a son I was- Mom is a good wingman. 😉
Our last day was spent in the car for most of the time driving around for quick glimpses of famous landmarks and beautiful country on our way back to Dublin. Saw the Blarney Castle- home of the famous Blarney Stone- but didn’t go in as it was a bit of a walk to get up to it AND the Blarney Stone is up on the top floor, which just wasn’t going to work for Mom’s legs. Lunch in Blarney would have to be good enough… Next it was a race to get to Kilkenny before the sun went down as the castle there was meant to be amazing and we wanted to catch it in the light. Knowing that again we probably wouldn’t be able to do much in the way of exploring, we did still want to see it before finally ending up in Dublin for our final night. We just made it… Kilkenny is a beautiful town, one I’m definitely coming back to. Had an old/haunted feel to it with its almost Transylvanian architecture, huge cathedral, and of course the castle. Back on the road… At this point I was pretty ready to be out of the car. But knowing this was our last night together I tried to push the stress of driving at night aside and enjoy the last few hours hanging with Mom. We kept on talking about her life, family etc as well as mine. We chatted about the last week, our favorite memories, and things we were grateful for. Finally we arrived in Dublin and we got checked into our hotel. As I had to be up and out at 430 I told Mom I didn’t have another night of Temple Bar in me, she smiled and asked I’d like to join her for a drink in the lobby bar and that that would be good enough for her. As we enjoyed our last drink together (and ate more of the ribs from Castle and Elephant I had run over to pick up!) we again chatted about life and the trip. It was yet another just truly special moment/memory I won’t soon forget.
As I drifted off to sleep, I realized that I was exhausted. It had been a packed week- packed with activities, packed with conversation, packed with life, packed with love… a week I’ll never forget.
FINAL IMPRESSIONS/ TOP 5 Memories
If you opted to skip all the actual detail and just skip down to here, I don’t blame you. When I start writing I have hard time being succinct- which can lead to rather long blog posts!
The week was a very special one for both of us. Individually as well as in our relationship as mother/son- and more importantly as two friends. As people are continually changing throughout their lives I think it’s important to take time to make sure you’re keeping your relationship ‘up to date’. What I mean by that is that I’m no longer a little boy and my Mom is no longer just a mother figure. Yet it had been so long since we had actually talked – not just about the details of our lives or what certain family members are doing- but about our hopes, fears, dreams, worries, happiness, sadness, etc. And maybe I’ve always had a bit of a harder time communicating some of this to her, but it’s going to be much easier going forward. On top of that, I feel like I know my Mom much better as a person now, as someone that has lived a life, that has a story to share, that has had success and also made mistakes along the way- both of which I can learn from… She’ll always be my Mom, but now we’re much closer friends as well. Sláinte Mom!
- A special conversation at the Cliffs of Moher.
- Crashing a wedding with Mom.
- St Nicholas’ Cathedral in Galway. We were the only 2 in there AND the choir was practicing their Christmas carols. Amazing.
- The happiest look I’ve ever seen on my Mom’s face the very first night in Dublin as she danced all night to Irish music.
- Pouring a pint with Mom at Sean’s Bar.
Mom’s First Ireland Picture
Dublin- Ha’Penny Bridge at night
Dublin- Mom and the Ha’Penny Bridge
Dublin- Mom At the Brazen Head
Dublin- St Patricks Cathedral
Dublin- St Patrick’s Cathedral (inside)
Athlone- Sean’s Bar
Athlone- Sean’s Bar with Timmy the Bartender
Galway- Winter Wonderland
Galway- Thanksgiving dinner at Creole Surprise!
Galway- O’Connors Pub
Galway- Ross Errilly Friary
Cong- Statue of John Wayne from ‘The Quiet Man’
Connemara- Famine Cottage
Connemara- Kylemore Abbey
Connemara- Kylemore Abbey
Burren- Poulnabrone Dolmen (4500 year old burial site!)
Cliffs of Moher (generally)
Cliffs of Moher (our experience) …comical
Bunratty- Durty Nelly’s and Bunratty Castle
Bunratty- Durty Nelly’s and Wedding Crashing (with the Bride and Groom)
Dingle Peninsula- Cool Church
Annascaul- South Pole Bar
Dingle- Sunset and Town Shots
Dingle- New Friends
Kilkenny- Kilkenny Castle
Dublin- One Last Cheers
Thanks for reading, Happy Holidays!
Just a guy on a hero's journey...