Pluck O’ The Irish — Exploring the Emerald Isle

Circa 2009

Thanks to an invitation from the Tourist Board of Ireland, ABILITY Magazine recently explored the warm hospitality, lush landscape (and flavorful beverages) of the emerald isle, all on the eve of Lance Armstrong’s cancer summit in Dublin. What the Tourist Board didn’t know, however, is that one of our new contributing writers, Liza Flatley Callahan, is 100% Irish. What follows are the recollections and observations of ABILITY’s very own leprechaun as she reconnects with her native country.

The magic begins upon your first view from the airplane window: dozens of different green fields neatly divided. Rugged coastlines make the cliffs look like they were torn away from some other piece of land as the white foamy waves of the ocean crash against them. A large section of the Irish soil originates from drift, the icescoured waste formerly frozen to the base of ice glaciers.

Ireland was thought to be first inhabited in 6000 BC and later began the Neolithic culture, leaving behind megalithic passage tombs built around 3200 BC that can still be visited today at Newgrange and Knowth in County Meath. These impressive tombs are older than both Stonehenge in England and the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt.

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In about 441 AD, St. Patrick arrived from England to teach the Irish about Christianity. The Vikings raided Ireland in 795 before the great famine fell upon the potato crops in 1845 and lasted four years, killing over a million people while two million more emigrated.

Dublin, an ancient city that to this day has a medieval feel, is shockingly contemporary in many ways, with ultra-modern hotels, restaurants and hip clubs providing plenty of reasons for everyone to hit the pavement and get moving in this upbeat city.

If visiting, be sure to stroll down Grafton Street, Stephen’s Green, and O’Connell Street. Also check out the Liffey River as you take in the city. Give yourself a chance to soak up the European flavor of the outdoor cafes, street musicians and vendors selling fresh bouquets of flowers. Check out the National Gallery of Ireland, a famous art museum that is definitely worthy of your time. Don’t miss the amazing tour at the Guinness Brewery and don’t forget the Book of Kells at Trinity College. As reputation might suggest, there are plenty of famous pubs where you will be met by traditional Irish music and roars of laughter—just remember to bring cab fare, as you will be in no condition for walking! 

If you’re not sure about throwing back some Guinness, look around you and you’ll find loads of lads with a nearly empty pint of Guinness in front of each of them. Pull up a seat next to one, as it is always smart to consult a professional. He’ll probably recommend you chug the first pint in one big gulp and then the second one will go down more smoothly. He will prove to be precisely right! Now you will love Guinness so much that it will become all you will drink for the entire trip, outside of the tea, of course.

Look forward to the people of Ireland being friendly and full of tremendous humor. You might never laugh harder in your life. The Irish are filled with infectious energy and joy. Truly, you will feel funnier just being around them.

Be sure to see the region of Galway, even if you’ve been sampling the local brew in Dublin. Contrary to popular opinion, where beer is concerned, two heads are not better than one. Fortunately, however, the Irish people are very understanding with that sort of thing and will probably ask you if you have chosen whether to “bury it or suffer it.” When you hear this, they are asking if you would like a little hair of the dog, “a wee little suppean” as they refer to it, or you can “suffer it.” The Irish people have such a delightful way with their words.

While in Ireland, you are sure to be offered the full Irish breakfast, which consists of Irish sausages, rashers (bacon), eggs, fried tomatoes, baked beans and sometimes potatoes along with toast and home-baked brown bread and Irish soda bread and tea or coffee. As if that weren’t enough, they may also offer you cereal, fruit and yogurt. You couldn’t be treated better if you were royalty.

On one of my visits to Ireland, I was seated near a man who was in the best of moods. When restaurant staff came to take his breakfast order, he joked that he wanted a pint of Guinness. The young waitress said to him, “Are you serious?” And he said, “Sure. I can’t eat on an empty stomach.” The whole room roared with laughter and he told her he actually doesn’t drink at all—he just loves that joke!

A person could fall hopelessly in love with Ireland. The scenery changes as you travel throughout the counties, as do the dialects, and much of the cuisine is not to be missed. For dinner, don’t miss out on McDonagh’s Seafood Restaurant for the best fish and chips ever! You can smell the food and hear the laughter coming from inside as you park the car. You’ll know immediately that you are in for a great night of good food and “craic,” the Irish word for “fun.”

A day in Connemara is like spending a day on Mars. The rugged beauty of the bogs and mountains is wild and barren, and the vistas feel so remote, it seems impossible to imagine that anyone has ever walked through them before you. Magical streams and little waterfalls complete a landscape where tiny fairies might seem likely to dwell. It would be an ideal place to grow up for a small child with a giant imagination.

Be sure to drive up by the twelve pins (also called the twelve bens), a set of peaks in the hills with scenery sure to take your breath away. The locale feels so ancient, that if spirits do roam the earth, there is a very good chance that you would find them there. While in Galway, be sure to visit Clifton, an absolute gem of a town by the sea. This proverbial dream town is truly unforgettable. You can smell the ocean air and hear live Irish music coming from what seems like every pub in the area.

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While in Clifton, pop into EJ Kings in the square and have a “jar” (the word the Irish use for a “pint”). The live music is phenomenal in some of these pubs and you will not believe how fast these young locals can play their fiddles alongside older experienced musicians who wear their caps tilted sideways. These guys and gals must practice together for years, as they all seem to know the same old songs. There is enough talent there, on any given night, to keep Simon Cowell in business for ages.

When you ride your bike in Ireland, it’s not uncommon to hear a man advise you to, “Get in out of that rain before you get yourselves drownded!” If you work up a healthy Irish appetite, duck into a little “chippy,” a takeaway shop, to get in out of the pouring rain and devour some burgers and chips (called “fries”), which are piping hot and drenched with malted vinegar and salt.

Before you end your trip to Dublin, head out to the Temple Bar, in a small section of town lined with cobbled streets and live music everywhere. You might find yourself amongst a group of young ladies there for a ‘hen’ party, the Irish equivalent to our bachelorette party, or bump into the husband-to-be and his ‘stag’ party.

You might even encounter a charming older couple, like Paddy and Anne Marie, who might tell you about all of her medical problems, starting with her high blood pressure and then moving on to her open heart surgery, her knee replacement surgery and her diabetes. Just as Anne Marie might start in on her migraines, suddenly Paddy might clap his hands together and say, “Right, but other than that she’s in grand form.” When you say your goodbyes, you might feel like you are are saying farewell to relatives, even though you’ve only just met a couple of hours before.

The Irish people are angels. They cannot seem to feel like they do enough for you and they never stop smiling. They are the happiest race of people and you will certainly see why. Imagine living in a place that looks like heaven and smells like the ocean, where pillowy clouds make shadows on the beautiful fields of soft green grass. It’s a place where walls of stones stretch from mountaintop down to the seashore, where meadows are dotted with cotton-balls of sheep and beautiful mares and foals. A place where sleepy villages are spotted with smokey chimneys and dogs sleep on the doorsteps. To top it all off, of course, Ireland has the best beer on the planet, and for dinner they serve salmon fresh from the ocean! But what will always be the country’s biggest draw? The natives, of course.

As mentioned in this piece, the vibrant people of Ireland are often welcoming and accessible. The nation’s landscape and buildings, however, might present challenges for some with disabilities. ABILITY Magazine recommends that all prospective pond-jumpers research necessary accommodations and plan their trip wisely before setting off for the great green yonder. Visiting accommodation websites while developing your travel plans can often make your excursions smoother and more manageable. Airlines such as Aer Lingus are equipped with accessible restrooms for in-flight ease.

Air travel provided by Aer Lingus

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