"Just pretend they’re all leprechauns, and I bet it’ll start to get much better."
That’s what we temporarily agreed on after our first few cold, terse encounters with Dubliners, as the light rain poured down on our hoods, just enough to keep our jackets and the sidewalks perpetually wet.
We were walking in the center of Dublin, and I was just beginning to feel like I was in Ireland. The airport hotel where I stayed the first night could’ve been any rainy place in the U.S. – Portland, Memphis, Indianapolis. The bar there looked about as Irish as a TGI Friday’s. So it felt good to finally be on the streets of Dublin, no matter how cloudy and wet it was.
When John, my good friend of 30 years (which sounds mathematically impossible to me), suggested taking a trip to Ireland, it seemed like a fine idea. I had never been. And it sounded more interesting than, say, Iceland.
John has a strong Irish heritage. I have a little Irish ancestry as well. But neither of us was on a search for long-lost relatives or the family crest. Nor were we looking for pots of gold or to retrieve the stolen Lucky Charms – though I confess that some ignorant strain of American media-filled memory brought this to mind as soon as I hit Irish soil. For some reason, I couldn’t stop this reaction – an internal flood of old commercial references (Irish Spring!) and my own urge to utter crappy imitations of an Eye-rrrish accent.
Once in Dublin, the basic travel questions re-emerged: What should we do in Ireland? What is there to see? Where should we go? A week before we were set to fly out, I realized that I had no idea what to do there. Neither did John, so I searched online for “Top 10 things to do in Ireland.”
I found mostly cluttered, ad-infested websites, or various top ten lists that usually contradicted each other. In Dublin, among other things, I gathered from a few blogs that we should walk around the area between St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Trinity College, and maybe get a tour of the Guinness brewery and the Jameson distillery. How did that advice translate to me? Walk around and drink a lot and take pictures.
So that’s what we did. And I found out that Guinness is really, really good in Ireland – even though I never made it to the brewery. But it didn’t matter because Guinness was everywhere, in every bar, along with many other great beers. The food was heavy, yet surprisingly tasty: beef stew, chicken wings, french fries.
But at the end of our first self-guided, self-indulgent pub crawl, I began to think – having spent my last two months in Italy – that Dublin seemed very much like any big city in America, only a bit more expensive.
“Goo to the Foggy Jew.” That’s what the front desk guy at the hostel said to us when we asked him to recommend a good Dublin pub. It sounded a bit odd and a little offensive, so we asked for confirmation:
“The Foggy Jew, you said?”
“Yes, it’s a brilliant pub, really.”
Gorgeous? The Foggy Jew?
Well, it was a different country, so who was I to question the word choice, level of anti-Semitism or, perhaps, a Jewish pub owner’s strange choice of names.
We set out into the damp cold and walked around Temple Bar, which is both the name of a bar and the name of a section of downtown Dublin. It was packed with people dressed in Halloween costumes, most of whom didn’t sound very Irish. I heard many slurring Spanish, Italian and American voices.
But the Americans were the most serious about drinking. They were the ones connecting to their Irish heritage through beer, whiskey, unsolicited sharing of their Irish lineage, and their never-ending search for castles.
"Where’s the Foggy Jew?" we asked a local passerby.
"Just ah-round the coroner, lads."
The English language connection was a bit hit-or-miss, depending on the use of slang and strength of the accent.
When we stumbled across a popular pub called “The Foggy Dew,” we laughed shamefully at our reluctant-yet-easy acceptance of the name “Foggy Jew,” while reminded of the slight language barrier that divided us.
And that language gap seemed to grow as the bars got louder, the people got drunker, and the bartenders needed to shout above U2, Lady Gaga and Journey blasting through the sound system. Again, I felt like I was in downtown San Diego, minus the attractive females.
When two friendly Romanians in the Foggy Dew asked us our travel itinerary, we said one word: "GALWAY." I’d emailed a friend who had lived in Northern Ireland and she suggested heading to Galway – a city that was on most top ten lists – and was close to the Cliffs of Moher, which was on every top ten list.
She said that it was a very Irish city in a very Irish region. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but rather than piling on the destinations in a whirlwind, marathon bus tour of seven cities in six days, we decided to keep it simple and stay in Galway. We figured if the main thing to do was walk around and take pictures and drink a lot, then we might as well do that in a relaxed, leisurely way in and around one great city.
And we did. Galway has a small-town feel with an attractive old section, river and ocean views, and great restaurants and pubs. And it offers multiple day trips into the countryside.
If you ever go, I highly recommend the tours to the Cliffs of Moher. They are a spectacular sight, and the scenic stops along the way will definitely satisfy any hunger you may have for green grass fields, ancient-looking stone walls and Irish farm animals.
Now that I think about it, I’m not sure if it was that the Irish beer was so good as much as it was the only enjoyable, consistent activity in Ireland. With the rain and the weather often discouraging much outdoor life, I suppose the pubs offer a wonderfully warm, dry place to drink until the drizzling stops. Or maybe it’s just an excuse to drink more?