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Few cultures hold as much counterfeit sentimentality to Australians as the Irish, we tend to romanticise their entire landmass to a degree of misty-eyed embarrassment. However there’s a very handy side to having a thing for Ireland, and that’s the possibility of possessing it completely. You can see the whole thing in a handful of weeks, and the best bits in less than one. Come for a land of rolling green populated mostly by goats whose bellies heave like accordions while they stand around looking Irish or stormy black coastlines and you won’t be disappointed. But 2016 Ireland has become so much more than a postcard ideation. Fashion, music, surf culture and amazing food have found a place here too. Here we’ll show you where to find the best of new Ireland in one road trip.
One thing you’ll quickly learn when planning your trip is that everything is so much closer than you expect. Maps here are quarter size: your antipodean brain will look at the distance from one place to another and surmise epic Australian distances.
With a map spread across a table at a café in Dublin, I asked the barista how long it would take to drive from Galway to Belfast through Sligo. Cartographically it seemed to be ages, a wonky diagonal crossing of the landmass. With a quick suck of air he confirmed, “Ah yeah, dat’s a long trip if you don’t want to come back through Dublin.” How long? “Four, maybe even five, hours.” I didn’t bother explaining that I come from a place where five hours in the car won’t get you across the better part of one state. It was time to hit the road.
Micro brew and breakfast in Dublin
While there are still plenty of “Irish” pubs in Dublin, why would you go halfway around the world to parody the country you’re in? The crowned pavements of the Temple Bar tourist warren is not the only place to find a drink, and this capital city is punching well above its weight in the micro brew stakes. We suggest:
57 The Headline: This pub is all about Irish produce. They have 24 taps dedicated to mostly Irish brews and an impressive range of Irish gin and Whiskey. It’s one of those places with lots of little snugs to hide in and they extend their provincialism to serving lots of locally sourced meals, like the Irish prime beef burger.
The Brew Dock is owned by the Galway Bay brewery, is known for the friendliness of their staff and their prolific Indian pale ale. The best bit is that it’s literally on the platform of the Busaras Luas stop, right beside Busaras, across the road from Connolly Station.
Mulligan Grocer have serious gourmet grub, and they’re big into beer and food pairings. All the main courses are matched with beer or cider and the deserts all partner with an Irish whiskey.
Take time before your drive the next morning with a new-Irish breakfast at The Fumbally. A bright and airy affair of communal tables and salvaged furniture, they serve locally sourced produce across a menu that includes such wonderments as the Fumbally eggs which are scrambled in the pan with Gubeen cheese and garlic, served on brioche with fresh tomatoes.
Knockanstockan Festival, County Wicklow
It’s probably best to just write this one down on a piece of paper and pin it to your jacket than try and pronounce it. This music festival carries the same lovely sense of community as Golden Plains or Secret Garden here in Australia. Set beside a lake, and supporting plenty of folksy indie bands from all around Europe, it’s definitely worth planning your drive around the July long weekend the festival falls on. Imagine falling asleep smelling woodsmoke in the air, listening to Irish accents murmuring into the small hours and you’re half there.
Even though this is a trip around new-Ireland, you’re still going to want to see castles and green things and Waterford – your proper stop between Dublin and Cork – is very good at both those things. Mud-rutted driveways lead up to medieval monuments, like the Lismore castle (you can’t play in the castle but the gardens are open) and St Declan’s Monastery, and the whole place has been claimed by a fairytale mossy green. Eat at the centuries old Marine Bar, or the refurbished Tannery.
The art of Cork
If you like Melbourne, you’ll love Cork. Hedged on the river Lee, it has the same sort of tangled alleyways and artistic sensibility. It’s a small town city and it feels a little forgotten, but there’s plenty of life here if you know where to look. The real magic of Cork is the art galleries. From The Crawford gallery in Emmet place, which is bursting with 19th century Irish art, to the modern collections housed in the beautiful looking Glucksman Gallery through to the progressive exhibition space of the Triskel Arts Centre. Also take some time to see the Cork Vision Centre, which is a brilliant multipurpose gallery space of changing exhibitions and one 1:500 scale model of the city that lives there full time. Honestly, it’s worth stopping there just to hear the beautiful Corkonian accent massage the word ‘culture’.
Surfing in county Clare
Surfing. In Ireland. Yep, the jagged stretch of coastline that dominates your roadtrip from Cork to Galway is one of the most famous surf traps in Europe. While being named one of the most famous surf spots in Europe is kind of like being called one of the smartest Kardashians, that doesn’t detract from the sheer beauty of the beaches and the experience of surfing the Irish Atlantic. Tiny beach towns like Fanore and Lahinch even have surf schools in residence, where you can hire the requisite four-inch-thick wet suits. The juxtaposition of whimsical Irish landscape against the groups of people doing all manner of extreme sports – sailing, surfing, windsurfing, rock-climbing, power boating, coasteering, kayaking, canoeing and stand up paddle boarding just to kick off – is kind of magnificent.
And even though surfing in County Clare is no new thing, having been around since the late ’70s, it does have the feel of a new-fitting trend. I saw two signs that promoted the rental of ‘surfing boards’.
Going out in Galway
It’s a uni town with its own Latin Quarter, so I suppose you wouldn’t be too shocked to find out Galway knows how to have a good time. But there is something about a place that looks like it belongs on your grandma’s tea-towel having a thriving small bar scene that still gives you a bit of a thrill. For trad-Irish pubs (which all serve micro-brew and local produce anyway) get yourself to Tigh Neachtain or Tig Choili. Line your belly with a pub meal at The Front Door, or for something a little more sophisticated a locavore-focused feast at Anair (prepared with local ingredients like gooseberries, ramson buds, sheep’s yogurt and seaweed).
Galway is a town full of amazing tiny bars that you’ll never be able to find the next day, but we suggest you make sure to get to places like Roisin Dubh for live music, The Shed (a 4,000-square-foot industrial warehouse set on a pier jutting into the harbour) and The Bier Haus.
Belfast in fashion
You’ll be happy to learn the drive from Galway to Belfast (via Sligo) took me a very lazy three hours. It was pleasantly spent wondering how those low stone fences keep anything out or in, and listening to local radio.
And so to Belfast, which (as a surprise to many) has a thriving fashion scene complete with its own fashion week showing established players like stylist/designer Sara O’Neill, who’s known for her playful and modern re-imagines of traditional looks, and Lisa McCabe’s ‘Nor Lisa’. BFW also showcases some impressive up-and-coming labels too, most notably Chloe Dougan, whose last year’s show was an amazing tumble of silk trousers and dramatic boleros in Mongolian fur.
Belfast Fashion Week founder Cathy Martin says of this surprising sartorial rise, “I love our style, for the most part, people really make an effort and wear it well. In Northern Ireland, we spend more per capita on fashion than anywhere else in the UK.”
Boutique ‘Envoy’ is the best place to shop local designers, like the fine leather goods of Father’s Father, or the Belfast denim darlings orSlow.
(Lead image: Markéta Veselá/Flickr)
Ireland is truly a magical destination for all whether you fancy sightseeing or feel like road trippin’ your way down the rugged Causeway coastal – there’s something for you to discover in the world’s greatest Emerald Isle. Contiki trips to Ireland are on sale now. Find out more here.