My plan of visiting Dublin and Cork for St. Patrick's Day somehow turned into a week trip across Ireland. Except for Dublin and Cork, I explored a little bit more the Cork County by visiting Cobh, a small picturesque town on the Irish sea. I sailed to Spike Island, an abandoned island where once stood a fortress that defended the Cork harbor (the second largest harbor in the world, behind the Sydney harbor!) and later on the largest prison in UK and Ireland. I even bought a day tour to western Ireland: Cliffs of Moher, Geopark Burren, and Galway city. So all in all, I traveled across the country from her eastern coast to the Atlantic ocean on the west. Here is a map of my route:
First of all, I made some observations that apply to the whole country.
1) A green vast country with sheep and cows grazing in numerous fields
If you're not concentrated in Dublin and you've taken at least one bus tour outside of the capital, certainly you'll notice that the view from the bus window looks pretty much like this:
Ireland is a country filled with vast green fields with sheep and cows grazing on them. Eventually, you'll see a small Medieval cottage (lots of them are made of natural materials with white walls and hay roofs) surrounded by a wall of rocks. The rock is used to build Irish fences because of one simple reason – you can find it anywhere! (not like wood)
Of course, there are also more modern houses, which, for some reason, look exactly the same. They are also easily spotted from the plane: lines and lines of houses and each one look like a copy-paste of the one next to it.
2) Life in the cities
One of the things that you'll notice right away in Irish cities is that the traffic lights for pedestrians don't mean anything. The green light last very shortly and it seems that everybody is used to it, so they are passing the street all the time, not paying attention to the traffic.
The second thing is typical Irish city houses, usually painted in bright colors with red/blue/green/purple doors. The colorful doors have become a landmark of Dublin and other cities.
The third thing, that you won't notice unless you're living in Ireland, are the terrible heating conditions of housing. The apartments are usually very cold with an old heating system and it's difficult to heat the whole place. It's the same thing with hot water. My friend's boyfriend lives in a flat with boiler water, which you have to turn on at least an hour before showering to heat it. My friend, on the other hand, has an electric water boiler in the shower, that looks like a box and it's buzzing all the time. She told me that it's the only way to be sure that the water will be hot in time of need. However, you have to turn it on every time you want to use it. Most of the people, unfortunately, don't have any choice if they want to rent a flat in Ireland (and the prices of rent are very high – 1200€ for a decent apartment).
3) Expensive country
Ireland is a very expensive country, and I almost bankrupted there. 😛 Just to draw an image, a beer in Dublin costs 6-7€ (8€ in the most famous pub, Temple bar) and in Cork 5-6€. A meal in a restaurant is at least 15€ without drinks (and that's a price for a simple fish and chips also), coffee is about 3€, a box of cigarettes 13-15€ and souvenirs about 4€ each. A price for a bed in a hostel dorm is around 17€, which is acceptable, but I was surprised that they charge you (in some places) for the lockers 2€ and for the luggage storage 3€ per day. So, be smart and if you're a smoker, buy your cigarettes in your home country, don't bring a lot of luggage and google the cheaper pubs. I can recommend a pretty cheap pub in Cork – The Linen Weaver, where you can get breakfast for 5,50€ and burgers, pizza or beer later during the day (the price of a pint is around 3€).
My first encounter with the Irish accent was when I entered into an Airlingus plane. I thought to myself: „Why is the woman on the speaker shouting in unrecognizable English?“ Then I could understand every fourth word, but in time I got used to the accent. On the first night in Dublin, I asked a guy in the bar something and he answered: „Aye and nay.“ „I mean, yes or no,“ he translated it to me. When I was standing at a bar, waiting to order my beer, a waitress asked me: „Are you ok?“ Why, do I look sick or what? Only later I understood that it's their way of asking you what do you want to order. Another Irish expression that other English speakers find funny is „having a crack“. It simply means „to have fun, a blast.“ 😀
Besides the Irish accent, the Irish also have their own language, Irish or Gaelic. It's the other official language of the country and all of the street signs are written in both Irish and English. The children learn Irish in schools, but they rarely use it later in life. We think that we heard a group of friends talking to each other in Irish, but we could be mistaken. Anyway, I've learned one word in Gaelic: „Sloncha“, which means „Cheers!“ So, sloncha, everybody!
5) Irish mentality
Irish people are very talkative and open. They'll chat with you on the street, on the hotel reception, on the cash register in shops, in the museums, churches, on the toilets, everywhere. They simply have an urge to comment on the situation, to share their problems with you or to find out more about you. If you go to Dublin pubs by yourself, you'll never be alone. On my first night in Dublin, I went pub crawling on my own. I was walking down the streets and entering in the pubs where I've heard live music playing. In every pub, I had company – an Irish guy who wanted to hang out, a gay couple who wanted me to sing and dance with them, a group of people who were inviting everybody to join them for drinks. If you come to Ireland, you'll have the chance to chat on every step of your journey.
6) Drinking culture
When I said to my friend that I'm going to visit her in Ireland, she started planning in which pub should we go. She was talking about her pub stories with different people and it seemed like she's there almost every night. I asked her: „So, it's like ERASMUS all over again?“ She answered: „In Ireland, everybody feels like they're on ERASMUS.“ But it's not only young students that go to pubs in Ireland. There are whole generations of people, which you can meet there – from high school kids, students, adults, businessmen to old „grannies“ and „grandpas“. A pub is a sacred place in Ireland, it's a part of Irish culture. Everything is dealt with in pubs with a pint of Guinness or a whiskey shot – from birthday celebrations to funerals, business meetings or just catching up with friends. According to WHO, Ireland came to the 6th place in a survey showing consumption of alcohol per person annually. An average Irish drinks 11,4 L of alcohol per year, which is still less than an average Czech (11,8 L). So I live in the right country.
7) Music, myths and fairy tales
So if Ireland can't measure in physical beauty and significant sights with France, Italy or other European countries, what can a small country of 6 million people offer? An extremely rich culture! Irish traditional music, great Irish writers such as James Joyce, Irish myths and tales are well-known all around the globe. Everybody knows at least one Irish traditional song (for example, „Whiskey in a jar“). Ireland has brought us some of the main names of the modern music scene: U2, The Cranberries, Sinead O'Connor, Enya, Van Morrison, and others. Irish folklore and fairy tales were passed down through generations by different storytellers. They've left us a mythical creature Leprechaun and lots of beautiful stories about fairies, banshees, changelings, ... They've opened our imagination and, above all, they gave hope in a better world to Irish mothers, who suffered losing their sons in wars.