Cork, Killarney and Dublin
I started my one week tour of Ireland in the town of Cork. It is the second largest town in the Republic of Ireland, even though it really doesn't feel very big. The port and the river are its lifeline. It was a nice town, but felt a little down on its luck. All of Ireland feels like that. The worldwide recession has hit Ireland harder than most countries, and I could really tell. Many storefronts and restaurants are closed, and there seems to be lots of young people just hanging around without work. I have seen people in their early twenties begging on the streets. According to the papers, they are not seeing any "signs of recovery" like the US and other parts of Europe are. Despite all of this, I have found Ireland to be one of the most expensive places I have visited. I can't believe the food prices -- double the prices in London. Even in the supermarkets. And same with the clothes and goods. The locals blame it on the "Celtic Tiger" -- the boom in the economy that took place in the 80s and 90s. Numerous industries came into Ireland and for the first time since the Great Potato Famine, the population was actually on the rise. There are new houses and buildings everywhere. Unfortunately, many of those building projects are now incomplete. When Ireland changed to the Euro, prices increased again. Since the economy has tanked, wages are down, more people are unemployed, but prices have not decreased.
I took a day trip to the town of Kinsale, a very picturesque fishing village on the south coast. It was a great little town with lots of history. I visited the Charles Fort, an old British army fort at the mouth of the harbor. I also enjoyed just walking around the town and the shoreline.
From Cork, I took a bus to Killarney. In Ireland, train travel is not as easy as in the rest of Europe. The train lines are very limited and the tickets are fairly expensive. Thankfully there is good long distance public bus service. Not as comfortable as the train, but the island is pretty small so you never have to go too long.
Killarney is a tourist town, without a doubt. Tourism is one of the biggest moneymakers in Ireland, and the tourist industry is taking a hard hit from the recession. However, you couldn't really tell from the shops in Killarney. Lots of tourist shops selling all kinds of junk -- and they all seemed busy. The main reason I went to Killarney is that it is an easy place from which to organize day trips into the countryside. I spent one day taking a tour of the Dingle Peninsula and another day on the Ring of Kerry. The landscape is really beautiful and exactly how I pictured it. Green rolling hills falling down to sharp cliffs that meet the blue sea -- stunning. Unfortunately it rained both days, so the views weren't as good as they could have been. But it was still really beautiful.
While staying in a hostel in Killarney, I was surprised to find out that my roommates were from Corpus Christi! I couldn't believe it when they said they were from Corpus. It was a group from the Cathedral of the Palms doing a mission trip. So funny to be in the middle of Ireland and talking to people who are living in my old town.
I spent two days in Dublin, and despite the (continuing) rain, they were great. Dublin is a fairly big city, with 1.6 million people. There is action everywhere. I enjoyed seeing the Book of Kells, a 9th century illuminated manuscript of the four gospels. It was really beautiful and amazing to think about the work that it took to make such a book. I also toured the Guinness factory, which was a real highlight for me. The brewery tour is really interesting, and to top it all off they give you a free pint of Guinness! I browsed through the National Gallery, a great collection of paintings and wandered around St. Stephen's Green, a beautiful green space in the middle of the city. I also had a great time people watching along Grafton Street.
As much as I have enjoyed Ireland, I think that I would do it differently if I were to come here again. I would love to rent a car and spend more time exploring the countryside. Without a car, it is difficult to reach some of the coastline and the villages that are the heart of Ireland. I also think that Ireland would be a really fun trip to take with friends or my family. It seems that people here don't really understand why a woman would be travelling on her own. For the first time since Italy, I have had men approaching me on the street and asking all kinds of questions about what I am doing. They are all nice enough, but very forward, which is a little uncomfortable for me. Thankfully I have done several group tours and met some nice people from the hostels to hang out with. I haven't really hit up the pub scene, since I think that would just be attracting trouble (plus it is probably a good thing to have a little detox after Scotland and England with my friends!).