I began researching Ireland the minute it was decided that it was definitely going to be my next adventure. Some, of what I read was helpful some not so much. So I am going to share with your a few of the things I learned about Ireland.
Check in times especially at B&Bs are absolute. a lot of articles we read recommended you stay locally the first day after your flight. Though that may be a good idea you might want to think that one through a little more. Our check in time was at 11 AM our flight arrived an hour early and we landed in Shannon a little after 5AM. Being early in the morning we got through customs with no problem and in our rental car by 6:30. Bunratty where we were staying was less than 30 minutes away. Hence the prior post about sleeping in the car in the Bunratty car park waiting for our check in time. Next trip, we will either plan a later flight or drive to our first destination if it is only a few hours away.
Driving in Ireland- I think this was what freaked us out the most, there were a lot of videos and stories. All in all driving in Ireland isn't that bad. Yes when first getting behind the wheel you need to remember what side of the road to drive on but you just follow the traffic and in no time it becomes second nature. If you are going with someone it may take the both of you to make sure when turning that you check both ways and make sure you turn into the right lane but again, it doesn't take long to acclimate to driving. The nice thing about Ireland is they have "calming zones" these are really just speed reduced areas through towns but they allow you to take a calming breath and let your nerves settle.
Roundabouts are not as scary as they seemed they would be. There are a hell of a lot of round about in Ireland, these really take the place of traffic lights and 4 way stops. We used a GPS to navigate us through Ireland which notified us a head of time which exit we were going to take off the roundabout so we knew which lane to be in. We only did a Benny HIll around the roundabout once. It would have been so much more fun if the GPS talked to us In Irish and gave us shite when we missed a turn.
Back roads or what we referred to as Oh Shit roads. you will come upon some narrow back roads where you will see oncoming cars and go "OH Shit". There are a few things to remember, one of you will need to pull to the side of the road. You will just assess the situation to see who has a place to pull over to the side. We did a lot of the pulling over as we were not sure but it worked out.
Remember the one finger wave, when you come across another car on a back road or you yield for a car people will lift their index finger from the wheel in a wave. Make sure to return the wave.
Walking in Ireland- in populated areas there are signs painted in the road that tell you to either look right or left depending on the side of the street. Other wise I just made sure I double and tripled checked both ways. Make sure you have really good walking shoes or boots as that is what you will be doing in Ireland, walking, walking, walking. Make sure you smile and nod to people who pass by you would be surprised at how many smiles you will get back.
Lodgings- when planning the trip we had an idea of things we wanted to see and towns we wanted to stay in so that is where we started. We then decided how many nights we wanted to stay in each location. Next step was to search for lodgings in those areas. Once we find a place we liked we booked it and moved on to the next. We wanted to stay in a variety of places, a beach house, a B&B, above a pub, an apartment and a hotel. Every place except for the beach house was within walking distance of the restaurants and pubs. Note- a double room in Ireland is one double bed. If you want two beds you need to book a twin room or a family room which is one double and a twin. Yeah a few times we needed to change our room. I love my friend Sheila but, yeah, not sleeping with her. Oh make sure you read the lodgings description carefully, in one location the hotel was on the third floor and no elevator. Yep two full flights of stairs and two suitcases each.
Note- everyplace we stayed were sans face clothes. We did not find one face cloth anywhere, we even checked the stores and nope nada. I would recommend you pack a few face clothes if you like using them
Pubs- at first we made the mistake of going out for dinner then hitting the pubs. First drinking after eating a heavy meal does not make for a long night at the pub. Second pubs don't get jumping until between 9:30 and 10:00 as most of the music doesn't start until 10. We scoped out the pubs every time we hit a new location, we looked for the little out of the way places and looked for places that advertised music. Everyone is so friendly in the pubs and you will meet people from all over the world as well as locals. Every pub in Ireland has what is called a beer garden, it is a sheltered outdoor space for smokers and others who want to drink but don't want to sit inside the pub. Loved the beer gardens I met some of the nicest people while sitting out there. I found hotel bars to be very boring so try and find
the locals pub. You definitely need to make sure you take in the various types of music.
Note- you do not talk politics or religion in pubs, don't get drawn into that.
Adventures- Besides a few must see things, Clonmany for Sheila to research her heritage, Cliffs of Moher for me we really didn't have any plans except where we needed to be. We spent the first night in Bunratty, then 3 nights in Clonamany at the beach house, 2 nights in Donegal City, 2 nights in Lahinch, 3 nights in Dingle, and 2 nights in Shannon ( there is nothing in Shannon except the airport so I would say if you have an early morning flight one night in Shannon is more than enough). Our plan was to explore our surroundings on the way to each location and to find out from the locals great things to do in the area. We found castles and Abbeys and coves oh my! We climbed Sleive League and Cliffs of Moher. We really didn't plan a lot but found so much to do. Locals are the best resources for exciting things to do in Ireland.
Tipping, no matter what you read, tipping is greatly appreciated in Ireland. We tipped bartenders, waitresses and hotel staff. The really appreciated it and regaled us with stories of large dinner parties who did not tip and were overheard saying that they could drink more with the money they were saving on tips. Yet the poor waitress who ran her tail off for them was not recognized for her hard work. What a lot of people don't understand is during the high season everyone is working, however, when tourist season is done, people struggle as business is extremely slow. So tipping is a way for them to save up for the off season.
Shopping - we chose to try and shop the smaller local retailers to help the small businesses. Though I did shop for some of the larger items at the bigger stores as they offered free shipping to the U.S. if you purchased a certain amount. Remember to ask for your tax documents when shopping, this allows you to get the tax back you paid. I had 36 dollars refunded to my credit card at the end of the trip, and shipping items home, the tax was automatically wiped out. I really did get some good deals on wool products, there is still bargain shopping in Ireland.
Tours- we only went on one tour and that was to see Fungie the Dingle Dolphin. We opted to use a smaller tour company Dingle Ahoy tours, and we were so glad we did, we had the boat to our selves where the large tour company they were really packed in there. Laurance our captain was the nicest guy and was a great tour guide.
Weather- research the weather before you go and be prepared for it to change in a nano second. we were there the last 2 weeks of September, We layered, and had rain gear. A good pair of waterproof hiking boots kept my feet dry. One minute it would be raining, the next the sun was out. Up on the cliffs the wind was fierce at times, so a hat and warm coat was a must. Other times, a sweater or light jacket was sufficient. Most of our day wear was jeans, sneakers or hiking boots, flannels or sweaters, For me Pub wear was again jeans, some comfortable dress boots, and a nice top. Nothing fancy as we chose not to go to fancy places.
Enjoy- don't over plan, just go with the flow and enjoy. Try anything and everything. Take in the beauty of the country, the warmth of the people and the magic that is Ireland.