Many of my fellow undergraduate classmates have studied abroad at least once in their time in college. This largely comes from the unprecedented ease at which we can travel, gain new cultural experiences, and explore different parts of the world. When it comes to our European travelers, however, I would recommend taking a closer look at a country that often simply gets brushed over: Ireland. Whenever students discuss visiting the Emerald Isle they usually say either that they did not have time or that they went to Dublin for a day. While this exposure to Ireland’s capital city is great, it is miniscule in comparison to the experiences that the rest of the country has to offer just a few hours west.
I will be the first to admit I am biased because I was never able to study abroad while in college. Most of the programs either ran at in opportune times or I could not support the trip financially. Despite this, my family did manage to save up for a ten day long trip to Ireland in August of my senior year. We still have family in Ireland and we wanted to meet them before they passed away. The five of us started in Dublin and drove across the country in a large circle visiting a multitude of cities and cites that normally go unvisited by students. There were so many fascinating places that I had never heard of from my fellow classmates. Since my visit, I have complied a list of “must see” places in Ireland that I would highly recommend to anyone visiting the country for the first time.
The first on the list would have to be the famous Cliffs of Moher on the western shores of county Clare. While these cliffs may be reached after an over three-hour long drive from Dublin, the view is definitely worth the wait. Visitors hike across the trails atop the cliffs looking out into the seemingly endless ocean far below them. On one point stands an ancient structure named “O’Brien tower”, which served as a lookout point for my ancestors who were natives of the area. The view from its base was unmatched by anything I had ever seen. It felt like I was looking off of the edge of the world.
Another fantastic place to lose oneself for a few days is the little town of Kilarney in County Kerry. The city is located in the southwestern tip of Ireland in a valley surrounded by mountains. The landscape does not only serve as great scenery but also creates an atmosphere that the city is more peaceful and welcoming, being isolated from the rest of the world. Despite serving as a seemingly hidden gem, Kilarney has many old streets lined with historic little window shops, pubs and restaurant. The district was filled with these places that seemed to be much better preserved than the stores that lined the streets of Dublin. As a result of seeing fewer tourists, the local pubs seemed undeserved and carried an almost homely sort of feel that was not as present in any of the pubs I had visited previously. Kilarney’s preservation was a great representation of Irish culture.
Finally, the last place, that I would have to recommend to any future visitors of Ireland, is the city of Galway. For some reason the inter-coastal city is often over looked by visitors. It serves as a bay city on about the same latitude of Dublin but about a two hours car ride west. Galway’s district area resembles one similar to Kilarney’s save for the fact that it was much more crowded and the streets were much narrower. People gathered in the streets and seemed to be walking from pub to pub to watch the Galway hurling team play. The energy seemed to almost literally flow through the streets. Not only were the pubs a great atmosphere to be a part of but the seafood was probably the best I have ever had. The bay itself was covered in a variety of anchored watercraft ranging from large fishing boats to small sailboats. It painted a great picture of the town itself and supplied a wonderful view for a sunset.
As much as I wish that I could have studied abroad and experienced more than simply one country, I did truly enjoy the very detailed view of Ireland I received in the experience. By going beyond the city limits of Dublin I was able to get a better understanding of Irish culture, far away from normal overwhelming tourist hotspots. It was truly a unique experience and I would challenge anyone studying abroad to look beyond the city of Dublin and lose himself or herself in the majesty that is the Irish countryside.