Ireland was a wonderful surprise of a country. I thought maybe Americans just liked it because so many of them can trace their ancestry there, or because it’s the home of great booze. But, it turned out to be so much more than that.

The Rock of Cashel
The Rock of Cashel

I spent four days in Dublin attending TBEX (thanks, Failte Ireland!), and then I rented a car with and drove around the countryside for a week. Though I enjoyed my time in Dublin, I have to say that it was the countryside that blew me away. But I’m a country girl at heart, so what can I say? Here were my favorite things about Ireland.

1. The people

Before I went to Ireland, I figured that “Irish hospitality” was just some marketing gimmick. Boy, was I wrong! The Irish people are some of the friendliest and most helpful I’ve ever encountered. They start off by telling you “You are very welcome” everywhere you go, and then they act like it.

2. The accommodations

Because of the aforementioned Irish hospitality, a few of the accommodations I stayed at really stood out. Abigail’s Hostel in Dublin was not only clean and incredibly located, but it had the nicest and most helpful employees ever. Pax House B&B in Dingle was charming, with beautiful views, delightful owners, and amazing breakfasts. And staying at Dromoland Castle was a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience. The staff were excellent, and the rooms and grounds beautiful. What more could you expect from staying in a castle?!

Dromoland Castle
Dromoland Castle

3. Dingle

You might say I have an affinity for little fishing towns (Ketchikan and Taganga are prime examples), so Dingle was right up my alley. Dingle also has an added bonus: there’s live music every single night, and it kicks ass. Every single night! I think it probably gets too crowded in the summer, but October was the perfect time to go and fall in love with this charmer of a town.

4. The history

Everywhere you go in Ireland, you’re greeted by really old shit. You’ll be driving down the road, and all of a sudden there will be a column from the year 300, or a preserved church from the 12th century. It’s pretty neat.

5. The Burren

An unexpected delight. I wasn’t planning on going here, but several locals recommended it — and you can’t say no to an Irishman! It was unlike any other part of Ireland I visited. Grey and barren, but strangely beautiful. A great change of pace that shows you beauty comes in so many different forms.

Driving through The Burren.
Driving through The Burren.

6. The Cliffs of Moher

This was a gorgeous site with a fascinating geological history. It probably helped a lot that I got a private tour from my travel buddy (who works there), but it’d be an awesome addition to any itinerary.

7. Trad music

Traditional Irish music is amazing, and going to see “trad music” was definitely a highlight of my trip. My favorite performance was at the tiny bar of O’Sullivans in Dingle. Not only did they jam, but they also sang a song especially for a newly-engaged couple. Such a unique experience!

8. Sheep

I can’t talk about favorite things in Ireland and not talk about sheep. They’re everywhere! It’s just like in the movies; we actually had to stop the car to let them cross the road.

Naw, I don’t look excited at all. Feeding sheep on the Dingle Peninsula.
Naw, I don’t look excited at all. Feeding sheep on the Dingle Peninsula.

9. The community

To an American, the sense of community in Ireland is astounding. It’s like the entire country is one small town; people really look out for one another here. One of my favorite parts of the day was listening to the radio while driving.

They’d actually announce things like, “A dog of X description has been lost. Call this number if you’ve seen it,” and “A wallet was found on Mulligan Street in North Clare. Please call with a description to claim it.” Incredible!

10. Irish dancing

I don’t remember when I first saw Irish dancing. Maybe it was on one of those PBS fundraiser shows. Whatever the case, I was young, and I was hooked. I danced “Irish step” around the house for months… okay, years. Seeing Riverdance in LA when I was 12 only cemented my obsession.

Thus, it was a dream come true when I got to see the brand-new production “Heartbeat of Home,” which was an ultra-cool and modern mix of African, Latin, and Irish dance. We also got to see the incredible (and young and sexy) Prodijig perform at TBEX opening night at the Guinness Storehouse.

11. Slea Head Drive

This was a beautiful drive around the Dingle Peninsula. Vistas, animals, and history — all in one little loop. So so worth it.

Bonus: The brown bread

Wait a second — tricked ya! This was actually my least favorite thing about Ireland. I’m sorry to say it, but “traditional Irish brown bread” sucks. Why is it EVERYWHERE? There’s enough history and culture in Ireland that they don’t need to hold on to some shitty food product just because it’s traditional.

The greatest mystery is that it’s touted as some sort of perk: “We have traditional Irish brown bread!” Anybody else agree with me on this point?

Have you been to Ireland? What were your favorite things about it?