Hi Maev, I am visiting Ireland in September, can you please recommend any must-sees? Big fan of your writing!
I’ll try to help, though…it’s always a bit strange to give tourist advice about a place you live in. The top piece of advice of course is BRING AN UMBRELLA. And if you’re going out west, bring a proper raincoat – no umbrella can stand up to those winds.
The handy thing about visiting Ireland is, because it’s a small country, it’s relatively easy to get around – though it helps if you’re able to drive, especially if you want to get out to the more remote areas.
A quick note, anon – obviously I don’t know where you’re from (or anything about you), but I wanted to flag really quickly… Ireland has changed a lot in the last twenty years. It’s still a very monochrome country – especially when you get outside the big cities – but you’re unlikely to encounter any overt racism. If you go ‘down the country’ and you are visibly different – black or South Asian, for instance – the worst that’s likely to happen is you’ll get kids staring at you as being ‘exotic.’ (Their parents will be mortified by this).
What you will get – especially if you’re British or American – is endless questions about “Where are you from?” My understanding is that this can be seen as a loaded question for people of colour – but I promise you, nine times out of ten, the reason they’re asking is to discover if you know their sister’s best friend’s boyfriend’s brother who lives in Chicago, or whatever. Ireland is a very small country – if the world exists in six degrees of separation, in Ireland there are, maybe, one and a half. (There are distinct downsides to this).
I’m a Dub, and very fond of the city so I may be biased… but one of the nice things about it, is the city centre is relatively small – you can walk around it and see the big sights in only a few hours.
If you’re a history buff, I’d recommend visiting Kilmainham Gaol (which you will probably recognise from films – it showed up most recently in Paddington 2); the Glasnevin Cemetery museum, which Obama visited when he came to Ireland ( because Daniel O’Connell, who is memorialised in the cemetery, had been an abolitionist and was friendly with Fredrick Douglass – something of which, I promise you, most Irish people were entirely unaware); and the GAA museum in Croke Park.
Regarding the Gaelic Athletics Association, I have no idea if you’re sporty anon, but if you want to see something that is genuinely unique to Ireland, I would strongly recommend getting to either a Gaelic Football or Hurling match. Now, you’re visiting in September, when the All-Ireland finals in both sports take place (2 September for hurling – in my opinion the superior sport – and 17 September for football), so you will be able to catch the games being broadcast in almost every pub in the country. The All-Ireland is the Irish equivalent of the Superbowl, so you won’t have much chance of getting a ticket, but club matches of both sports take place almost every weekend all over the country. You’ll be more than welcome – Irish people are always interested in people who are interested in them! – and you could tweet the official GAA account to find out what matches are happening near where you are staying.
I’d also recommend going to see the Book of Kells (the single most valuable object in the whole country) in Trinity College – my alma mater – again, it’s something that is completely unique to Ireland, and the exhibition itself is fairly short, taking no more than an hour to pass. There’s also the Chester Beatty library in Dublin Castle, a collection of manuscripts and prints from across Asia and the Middle East – a world-class collection of Asian art ending up in Ireland is a little odd (I think Chester Beatty was one of the American robber-barons – as a result of donating the collection, he was made the first honorary citizen of the Irish state), but the collections are stunning.
While I wouldn’t prioritise any of these over the other ones I’ve listed, It’s also worth dipping into the National Museum – you can view the bog bodies, excavated victims of human sacrifice, and celtic gold collections. If that’s too macabre for you, you could visit the Natural History Museum – it doesn’t compare to the museums in London or New York (not even close), but there’s something wonderfully…Harry Potter about it. There’s also the National Gallery, which has a respectable collection, including a beautiful Vermeer painting (the second most valuable object in the country) and portraits by Goya.
There’s also the Jameson Distillery and the Guinness Storehouse, if you’re interested in those whiskey or Guinness – though I’d recommend sampling them in proper Irish pubs (Grogan’s or The Stag’s Head or Mulligans would be my suggestions – don’t waste your time going to Temple Bar). Also try to get a Butler’s hot chocolate if you can – their coffee/chocolate shops are all over the city, and walking around Stephen’s Green and Merrion Square is a pleasant way to spend an hour or so. If you’re into literature, there’s also the Dublin Writer’s Museum (I haven’t been in it in more than a decade, so I have no idea if it’s any good).
Two daytrips from Dublin that are worth considering are Glendalough up in the Dublin mountains (it’s the site of an ancient monastery, and very beautiful – one of my favourite places to go for a walk) or to visit Newgrange in County Meath, a neolithic monument that’s older than Stonehenge (just not nearly as well known). It’s also possible to go on a Game of Thrones tour – they drive you up to Belfast, and some of the locations from the show. Belfast is also the home of the Titanic Museum, which I would implore you not to visit, as its mere existence irritates me (they built ships in Belfast for hundreds of years, and they open a museum to the one that sank. FFS)
If you can go further afield, I highly recommend going out West. I am firmly of the belief that the West coast of Ireland has some of the most beautiful landscape on the planet (when it’s not raining). The most get-at-able way to go is probably to take a bus to Galway (it’s only two hours from Dublin), and drive out to Connemara and the Burren, but there are stunning landscapes in Kerry, Sligo, Donegal… really anywhere along the Wild Atlantic Way. If you do go to Donegal, it’s worth stopping off to take a peek at the Grianán of Ailleach.
I’ll reserve a particular recommendation for Inis Mór, an island off the coast of Galway. It’s relatively easy to reach (there are three ferry sailings a day), and while you’re there you can visit Dun Aengus (another ancient ruin, but an incredibly impressive one, right on the edge of a cliff). Inis Mór is within the Gaeltacht, the part of Ireland where people still primarily speak in Irish, but everyone is bi-lingual, so it won’t cause you any problems.
The beaches out West are stunning, and at that time of year (supposedly) the water is at it’s warmest for swimming, after months of summer and with the Gulf Stream arriving from the Caribbean – though I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t want to risk it!