What possessed us to pick up in the middle of moving into a new place, renting out our old apartment, and maintaining a frenetic working schedule, while just about seven months pregnant, to embark on a two-week road trip in Ireland? I’d actually wanted to go to Ecuador but a prudent doctor friend suggested we opt for somewhere with somewhat more reliable infrastructure – you know, healthcare, water. I’m sure Ecuador is more than equipped but we scrapped the plan anyway. We didn’t want to go someplace we could easily drive to once the baby comes – like anywhere in North America, or mainland Europe (since we’d like to spend some time hanging out in Italy next spring). Flights to Dublin on points were cheap, probably because few would choose to leave summer in Montreal to get rained on in Ireland – truth be told, we didn’t really think about that. We just wanted to get away and relax in an interesting setting.
We were both woefully unfamiliar with Irish culture… in fact, our prior knowledge had been limited to Irish car bombs, Irish pajamas, and Irish goodbyes. (Note: Irish people do not appear to be familiar with any of these common expressions.) I suspected people in Ireland didn’t even drink green beer on St. Paddy’s Day, or get Celtic crosses tattooed on their shoulder blades like our Irish people. So, we thought we’d go and find out what we could about the modern Irish psyche.
Landing in Dublin at 7:00 am, the last thing we wanted to do was deal with a bustling city. We didn’t even bother to look around; instead, we picked up our car at the airport and decided we’d head straight for that Irish countryside we’d seen in travel posters. A slight panic permeated the car rental process when we learned we needed to provide an official letter (by fax, not email) confirming that we are insured in the Republic of Ireland – failure to provide such a letter meant approximately quadrupling the cost of the rental to a prohibitively astronomical sum. But it was two in the morning in Montreal and there was no one on the other end of the line to assist…
Eventually the matter was sorted with the help of a kindly supervisor (always say the s-word) and we were on our way. We should have been kind of exhausted, what with the sleepless overnight flight that had followed a hectic week in Montreal, but we were pretty excited to be in Ireland and anyway, it was time for breakfast. Southbound we went, no particular destination in mind. Presently we came to a charming roadside restaurant in Ballon, County Carlow called The Forge, and it was as if we had conjured it up from our own imaginations. It was everything one wants out of one’s first hour in Ireland: lush green gardens, a quaint dining room decorated with rustic mismatched furniture, tables laden with freshly baked scones and pies stuffed with local berries, and a friendly young lady with a pleasingly lilting accent wanting to know if we’d like soda bread with our Irish breakfast? It was during this meal that we had our first taste of Irish butter. It is… spectacular.
The southeastern-most tip of Ireland seemed as good a destination as any, and we knew that some good pals from home would be in that area too, visiting family. The route down took us through a pretty medieval town called Enniscorthy where we got some coffee and a pair of shoes (I felt like getting some high-top sneakers). The smooth EU-funded roads provided ample opportunity for Riccardo to get acquainted with driving on the wrong side of the road, but their alarming narrowness made for some frightening situations involving wayward lorries. All part of the adventure, I suppose. After Enniscorthy we stopped in Rosslare, which is pretty much the southeastern tip of Ireland, and in the evening, we checked out New Ross and Waterford.
Now, Irish weather is typically pretty shit, from what I understand. But the sun shone brightly throughout our first day in the country, and didn’t let up until nearly eleven o’clock! I hadn’t realized Ireland was so far north, or that our trip coincided with the summer solstice, as we were told several times. This also means the sun rises around half four (that’s four thirty in regular speak). Another thing you should know is that palm trees are indigenous to southeast Ireland. We saw palm trees before we ever saw a shamrock.
New Ross didn’t thrill us. The only things open appeared to be a few sleepy pubs and a chipper (fast food joint), and the town seemed oddly obsessed with commemorating the fact that JFK’s great-great-grandfather or something came from there. JFK himself visited a few months before his death, and his inspiring words are immortalized on a plaque: “To the Kennedys who went away, and to the Kennedys who stayed behind.” We later learned New Ross is home to a life-sized replica of a famine ship, as well as a memorial of the Battle of the Boyne cheekily flanked by tributes to various Irish rebels (if you know your history, you know why that’s funny) – but we didn’t spot either of these popular attractions during our brief foray.
Waterford was much cooler – it was first settled by Vikings one thousand years ago, and today’s Waterfordians acknowledge this fact by naming their city-wide marathon after it. We found a pleasant rooftop terrasse in the shadows of a 700-year-old tower (no big deal) and had an incredible chowder and some mussels. Waterford is famous for crystal, and indeed we passed the impressive showroom, but I doubt they’re still making it there, so who cares.
Eventually it was time to find a place to sleep –we decided to AirBNB it and really lucked out! We found a spot outside town in the village of Passage East overlooking a lake (well, large pond) surrounded by sleepily grazing cows and sheep. If you’ve been paying attention you’ll notice we haven’t yet slept at this point – we feel the best way to ward off jet lag is to pretend it doesn’t exist.
A few more snaps: