Travels of a Thirsty Scholar
Ireland is famous for its art, natural beauty, and creation of what many consider the finest whiskey and beer in all the world– so grab a drink, a great book, and check out these amazing places that have inspired some of the greatest literature in the modern age.
5. Guinness Brewery – Dublin
Dublin is difficult to narrow down to one excursion. Ireland’s biggest city has a long list of amazing sites and experiences to seek out on foot between pubs, many of which you can fit in over a weekend break from your studies, but after all the Guinness I drank while getting through essays and exams, there was one thing that became top priority in Dublin. I wanted to learn how the national treasure is created. The Guinness Brewery seems to encapsulate the Irish experience in a single tour. To hear some of the locals explain the process, you might expect Willy Wonka to be waiting behind the black gate with the golden harp at the brewery entrance. It really is quite magical to wander through the narrow streets between the old, brick buildings lining the way.
For all the glorious black brew I consumed over my time in Ireland, I had yet to experience the ‘perfect pour’, which takes 119.5 seconds at a 45-degree angle according to our host. You can get a fresh pint of Guinness just about anywhere in Dublin, but enjoying one in the Gravity Bar on the seventh story, with a panoramic view of the entire city you are about to explore, is something you don’t want to miss. And while you enjoy the delicious beverage and the beautiful vista, consider the short walk to the Jameson Distillery, Oscar Wilde’s House, the statue of James Joyce, St.Patrick’s Cathedral, or Trinity College and the Book of Kells– but that’s for another article!
4. Galway Arts Festival
If you’re fortunate enough to be in Ireland during the tail-end of July, make sure to find your way to Galway for the annual arts festival. Situated on a deep inlet on Ireland’s West Coast, Galway is a beautiful town to visit regardless of the dramatic celebration. Boats of various size and color can be seen entering the bay as you enjoy fresh seafood and a view of Mutton Island in the distance, but if you’re on the hunt to experience something more lively, the festival will provide sights and sounds that you will not see anywhere else in the world.
Described as ‘a creative collision of artists, musicians, actors, writers, performers, friends and fans at the edge of Europe’ the festival is also a collision of people. The cobblestone streets designed solely for foot traffic transform into a spectacle of fireworks and interactive performance for all to enjoy. With all the spectators out and about, riding the highs of the exhibition, there is a certain energy in the air that encourages social interaction. In my experience, it is not difficult to strike up a friendly conversation with locals just about anywhere in Ireland, but after such a magnificent display of homegrown culture, there will be no shortage of things to talk about on whichever bar stool you find yourself sitting. Whether you are a creative person yourself, or just in search of a one of a kind experience, add the Galway Arts Festival to your itinerary.
3. Mitchelstown Caves – Tipperary
The previous two locations on this list speak to the ingenuity of the Irish people; however, do not be foolish enough to forget about the natural treasures the country has to offer. Just 45 minutes north of County Cork, the Mitchelstown Caves in County Tipperary are a sight to behold. The entrance to the cave looks simple enough– a solid door below a rock formation and lush trees, but it truly feels like you are entering an entirely different world when you descend the stone steps into the belly of the earth. Strange and beautiful stalagmites rise from the cave floor as a result of calcium salt deposits dripping from the limestone stalactite formations reaching down from the cave ceiling. When the mineral deposits connect, they form columns that look like a primeval palace as if it were a set for a mystical Guillermo del Toro film. At the time of my visit, photography was discouraged to preserve the mystique of the cave and entice more visitors. There is no gift shop for souvenirs either, so you’ll have to check out these enchanting caves yourself!
2. Blarney Castle
Less than 20 minutes North West of University College Cork you can step back in time by visiting the historic Blarney Castle. Construction of the original stone structure dates back to the early 13th century. The current building was completed around 1446, but whether you are studying history, architecture, or are simply interested in the amazing feats of human beings, this site is sure to impress. The castle grounds evoke thoughts of fantasy and magic with gardens said to contain the likes of Mandrake, ricin, wolfsbane, cannabis, and even opium.
Perhaps the most legendary aspect of the castle is the fabled ‘Stone of Eloquence’ which is more commonly referred to as the ‘Blarney Stone’. Origins of the tall tale are up for debate, but as the story goes, those who kiss the stone are rewarded with the ‘gift of the gab’. Many believe that the people of Ireland are all blessed with this sharp tongue and quick wit. Hang around in any pub long enough and you’ll have plenty of evidence to support that theory.
1. Cliffs of Moher
Although it doesn’t crack the list of 7 Natural Wonders of the World, the Cliffs of Moher are as awe-inspiring as any sight to be seen on planet Earth. Their beauty is no secret as these cliffs attract over 1.4 million visitors each year. Located at the southwestern edge of the Burren region in County Clare, the seaside rock formation extends 14 kilometers across, and 214 meters above the Atlantic Ocean at its highest point. Standing on the edge of the island of Ireland really puts into perspective how small we really are in the grand scheme of things. The marvelous seascape is difficult to put into words, but I can say with confidence that it fuels a travelers desire to go out in search of equally amazing experiences. Make sure not to slip too deep into a trance looking out over the water, the winds can be strong and it’s a long way down!