Ireland had never been on my must-visit list, until now. Perhaps the lack of mention on my social networks had made it an easy place to ignore, including the fact that it’s tucked away in a little corner of the UK and has no direct flights from Singapore and Hong Kong, where I am based.
One ‘redeeming’ factor it had, though: my husband Davis had friends living there. We gradually got excited by the prospect of meeting up with pals and, at the same time, exploring a place that hardly anyone we knew had ever visited. So off we went, with minimal expectations and patience aplenty, since our layover would first take us to the Middle East!
For the next nine days, we became incredibly mesmerised by everything we would encounter in this beautiful country. From the vibrant capital city of Dublin to the ever-enchanting Cliffs of Moher, our Irish escapade just kept getting more exciting with every step.
As our friends live about 20 minutes from Dublin’s city centre, we started discovering this urban oasis differently, by simply walking through the streets coated with auburn and golden leaves and enjoying the cool breeze of autumn.
Our first day took us around the walkable city, where we made the magical Trinity College our first stop. The most captivating part of Ireland’s oldest university is that the library holds a staggering 4.5 million printed manuscripts including the Book of Kells. The library itself is a masterpiece as it doesn’t only boast a lavish décor but the way books are managed is simply astonishing.
Experts handle books with so much care, sorting the leather-bound books from smallest to biggest; the biggest would be placed at the bottom while the smallest are on top — in alphabetical order. We learned from our guide that every librarian who works here needs to have special training in handling these precious old manuscripts. As you walk past the umber shelves and marble busts of famous writers and philosophers, you couldn’t help but imagine cloaked students walking through the same hall, looking for answers to their year-end papers. It was truly a Harry Potter moment!
Later that night, our friends introduced us to an authentic Irish experience called Celtic Nights, which is a traditional Irish music and dance performance. We were seated, squished between travellers from all over the world such as Germany, Australia and USA, and were immediately treated to a merry night of Irish song and dance, including the famous brush dance or tap dancing with a broom. The musicians and dancers put up an entertaining show for us, exhilarating the crowd with their boundless energy throughout the night and leaving many of us tapping our toes to the songs even after the night had ended.
The city outback
The next day, our friends drove us to visit the Glasnevin Cemetery. Our tour took us on a one-and-a-half hour walk through 124 acres of graves — the irony is that there are more dead people buried in Glasniven than there are people walking around the streets of Dublin! Our guide very animatedly filled us with intriguing stories of famous freedom fighters and Irish men and women who were buried in Glasniven and even shared stories of his own family ancestry. We left feeling inspired by the spirit of these important figures in history.
To lighten the sombre mood from the cemetery visit, we took a drive to Phoenix Park. Firstly, having lived in compact cities such as Singapore and Hong Kong, we were absolutely blown away by the expanse of land that we drove through. The roads took us through verdant grasslands home to wild deer roaming freely; some corners of the park even house small patches of forest filled with autumn-coloured trees. There, we spent a few rewarding hours just observing the deer in close proximity and enjoying the serene surroundings.
The land of surreal-looking landscapes
After spending two days exploring the city, we took off on our road trip to the Ring of Kerry, Kilarney National Park, Dingle town, Cliffs of Moher and The Burren. While the weather didn’t hold up for most of the way, we were treated to ever-changing landscapes that we had never experienced before. We enjoyed this fantastic transition of low-lying lands surrounded by water bodies and beautifully-manicured basins shrouded by rain clouds. The best part was driving along mostly-deserted coastal roads, with the windows rolled down and the wind in our faces. But, by far, our favourite place was The Burren.
The Burren or “Great Rock” is the smallest of the six national parks in Ireland and boasts more than 90 megalithic tombs in the area. Aside from housing many historical sites, The Burren is also home to many rare species of Irish plants. As we walked through this otherworldly karst landscape, we couldn’t help but feel we were walking on the moon. The landscape was unique, apocalyptic and seemingly infinite. In moments like these, we really felt like the tiniest of creatures in this great, great world.
As our trip drew to a close, we did feel sad to leave this wonderful area of natural wonders and diverse history and culture. I hope Ireland will remain untouched, and I’ll have the opportunity to explore more of its rugged lands very soon.