Cliff Walk Ireland

Cool Stuff to Do in Ireland Beyond St. Patrick’s Day

Hopefully, you’re planning to frolic with friends or family at a St. Paddy’s Day celebration this weekend. I’ll be celebrating my birthday early at the Music City Irish Fest. Bigger celebrations will be happening from Chicago where the river is green to Savannah where the holiday is a huge party to Venice, California (dang, my kids and I just left and will miss it). If you’re in Europe, hop Irish-owned RyanAir to Dublin for the weekend. The St. Patrick’s Festival is the epicenter of honoring the patron saint of the Emerald Isle. 

So if Irish culture makes you happy, why not keep the party going? Book a trip to Ireland this year.

I remember the moment I was smitten with the country. I’d never ridden a public bus. Never been anywhere abroad alone. Outside the window, I saw verdant knolls with whitewashed cottages roll by. Their chimneys were small and their front doors bold in shades of orange, red, and green. I’d volunteered for a service trip with a group of strangers. For a week we’d slept four-to-a-room in bunk beds in an inn in Greystones. The showers were icy, the egg salad sandwiches with salt and vinegar chips divine. In that fishing village twenty miles south of Dublin, I sat each balmy morning on a cliff looking down at the Irish Sea. At night we’d walk to The Beach House for fish, chips, and Guinness. At 10 PM — sunset — we’d stroll back as coral and gold streaked the sky and reflected on the water in the bay. We sang in a beautiful church, hiked around a lake in County Wicklow, and drove past U2’s studio dreaming of a chance chat with Bono. 

On our free day, I left the group to explore the next village a few miles down the road. Traveling anonymously with locals felt strangely exciting. And familiar. The rural hills reminded me of Lexington, Kentucky where I lived on a horse farm when I was a new bride. I’d been divorced four years. Life seemed simple, peaceful, safe in the countryside of Ireland. I heard a whisper: You could get a teaching job and raise the kids here. 

We didn’t move to Ireland and my children are now grown. But my son wants to visit and I just learned that his company has a branch in Cork. Who knows?

When to Visit

Weather-wise, June-August are prime months to see Ireland. Single travelers wanting to taste the West Coast should go in September for the Galway Oyster and Seafood Festival. And if you’re looking for a good time and possibly a partner, attend the month-long Matchmaking Festival in County Clare hosted by Willy Daly, a fourth-generation matchmaker. A friend attended and said it was a lot of fun! Dracula fans will be want to check out the Bram Stoker Festival.

What to Do: 10 Tips for a Trip to Dublin

1) Before you go, download the app “GPSmyCity for 11 Self-Guided Walking Tours of Dublin or tools to customize your own. Get it at the iTunes App Store or Google Play Store for your phone or tablet. Each walk comes with a detailed tour map as well as photos and background information for the featured attractions. The app navigates you from one attraction to the next and works offline so you don’t need data. Self-guided tours include a pub crawl plus you’ll find articles like A Hipster’s Guide to Dublin’s Best Coffee and Cafes

2) Book a Town or Country Stay. If you want bucolic bliss just a short bus or car ride from Dublin, Glenview Hotel and Leisure Club is a pretty place. If you want to live like a local at no cost in the Greystones area, Trusted Housesitters has sits available.  

If you’re a fan of Bono, knighted by Elizabeth II for global humanitarian work, too, and want to wake up in the city and walk to museums, book The Clarence Hotel. The hotel is in the heart of Temple Bar District, a neighborhood on the south bank of the River Liffey full of history, trendy bookshops, art galleries, and pubs. One of the latter is The Temple Bar, site of the former home of Sir William Temple, Provost of Trinity College. Here you can find live traditional bands, eat fresh oysters, and check out the Wall of Fame of Irish musicians.

3) Shop on Grafton Street, the high street of Dublin stores featuring goods by Irish and international designers. Or shop vintage boutiques and permanent stalls at George’s Street Arcade, an enclosed Victorian market.  

George Street Arcade
Find vintage records and other goodies at George Street Arcade.

4) Roam a castle. Dublin Castle offers guided tours of the State Apartments and a medieval a subterranean chamber dating to Viking times. Or wander Drimnagh Castle which has a 17th century garden and Great Hall. It’s the only  Irish castle surrounded by a flooded moat. It’s believed that Oliver Cromwell kept his horses here while punishing Irish rebellion, and some locals have claimed they’ve seen his ghost! 

5) Visit the Little Museum of Dublin with exhibits like U2: Made in Dublin.

6) At The Dublin Writer’s Museum see first editions and artifacts of Ireland’s greatest native sons– Jonathan Swift, George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, William Butler Yeats, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, and Bram Stoker. Design your own self-guided writers’ tour

7) Tour Trinity College.

Long Room Trinity College
Check out the Long Room at Trinity College.

8) In Dublin, eat at The Brazen Head. Established in 1198, it’s the oldest pub on the island with  traditional Irish storytelling evenings, great food and Irish music nightly. Their menu includes Irish favorites, like Beef and Guinness Stew or Steamed Mussels, as well as Vegetarian Pie. 

Great food choices in Greystones are The Happy Pear and La Creperie Pierre. Seafood lovers can walk the Harbor walls at Howth and see seals at The Oar House

9) Make Your Own Souvenir. Design a Celtic ring with a jeweler.

Excursions are my favorite part of any trip. If you’re staying in Dublin but want to hike along the water, take a bus or train to Bray. From there, do the two-hour Cliff Walk along the Irish Sea.

One choice for longer trips is to book a Wild Rover Tour. They can make dreams come true for Harry Potter and Princess Bride fans (both filmed at Cliffs of Moher).

Cliffs of Moher
Wild Rover Tours offer a Cliffs of Moher Day Tour. Photo from

They also have a Game of Thrones tour that takes you through the Dark Hedges.

Dark Hedges Game of Thrones Wild Rover Tour

If you want to navigate your own Jedi-jaunt, take a train or car to UNESCO World Heritage site, Skellig Michael, home of a five-hundred-year-old monastery and Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The commute is 3 hours to Ring of Kerry, a group of colorful fishing villages dotting the Wild Atlantic Way. From Portmagee, you will see Skelling Michael. Tours to the island run from May-October, and hiking it is only possible if the sea is calm. Visitors allowed on the island at one time are limited. If you stay at The Moorings Guesthouse, you can arrange a tour there. Eco-Tours (sailing around the island without disembarking) are recommended and available on shorter notice. For more on booking a tour, go here

When you visit Ireland, may the road rise up to meet you and the Force be with you.

Fall Weather Back Home

Fall Weather Back Home

girl by wall-lake

This week in Nashville we had our first snow flurries.  It was even colder than a month ago when I stepped off the plane in The Netherlands to a twenty degree temperature drop. On my fall break trip to Europe I was forced for the first time since May to exchange flip flops for close-toed shoes. I also broke out the scarves, a fleece and my oversized Blarney Woolen Mills sweater.

I bought the classic, the color and comfort of oatmeal, in Dublin in 2000.  It was the first trip of several where I would learn to depend on the kindness of strangers.  I’d met eleven church members once at a meeting before we left; two years later my roomie, Amy, would ask me to be in her wedding. We stayed in an inn— four-to-a-room in bunk beds—where the showers were icy but the egg salad sandwiches with salt and vinegar chips divine.

In that Greystones fishing village I met each morning with God, prayer journal in hand, on a cliff over the Irish sea.  Each night I saw the sunset at 10 as we walked home to the inn from the pub.  During my stay I saw U2’s studio, sang in beautiful churches, and hiked by the lake in the greenest of parks. On our free day I left the group and hopped on a bus alone to explore the next town down the road. Traveling with locals, anonymous, felt strangely exciting –something I’d do on future trips every chance I’d get like in London in October when I went to the British Library and finally saw the oldest transcript of Beowulf. Looking out the bus window I believed for the first time I could by happy teaching in a foreign land because it didn’t seem foreign at all. I could see my kids playing in the rural, rolling hills of Ireland, much like I had in the small Kentucky town where I was raised. The Emerald Isle also reminded me of Lexington where I was a college bride on a horse farm.

Since returning to my life I’ve been self-soothing with comfort food– Irish beef stew.  I’ve missed that balmy June of 2000…felt restless with the change of seasons… simply wanted more …and savored the simple pleasures of enough. I’ve made three visits to McNamara’s– one with friends, one with my son, one alone. I might not be a Galway Girl, but in cold weather it feels like Ireland…and like home.

Irish Beef Stew recipe–I roast in the oven potatoes, carrots, onion, garlic and herbs, then add to the stock.  I also use 1/2 can of fire-roasted tomatoes rather than tomato paste and red pepper for heat.

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Beach House

Girl on Rock, Lake

house by Ocean

Casa Rustica

Girls line dancing

Patrick O'Kelly

Group Men in front

Group on a log


Mountain Lake


stone Silo



Lake Sunset