Just read a list of mistakes not to make on your trip to Ireland. Most of them were stupid, so I thought I’d create my own.
When I was in college, we read a book called The Ugly American. There are reasons why Americans are not universally loved in other countries. My high school Spanish teacher once told us he was glad he could speak Spanish without an American accent so he wouldn’t be associated with the other Americans he encountered in Spain. We Americans have many endearing qualities. We also do stupid obnoxious things when traveling. Forewarned is forearmed, so here are ten things you should never do when traveling, especially to Ireland.
1. Don’t come unprepared.
Good websites are essential. The Dingle Region Website is probably the best http://www.dingle-region.com .
Do your research before you come, check and verify it with as many sources as possible, and carry the information you need as you travel for constant reference. That way, you’ll be ready for anything, expected or not.
2. Travel as a local as much as possible, rather than as a tourist.
I call this traveling through the “back door.” Where I grew up, in the hinterlands of eastern Colorado, only strangers knocked or rang at the front door. Friends come through the back door. That’s so true in Ireland. A big tour company will show you great scenery through the window of the coach, as you follow all the other coaches to attractions and shopping areas that give the driver a commission on sales. Get away from those, find the locals, and learn how they live and what they value. Your trip will be so much better. The next suggestion is an excellent way to make this happen.
3. Don’t neglect the pubs.
The two most important social centers in Ireland are the pub and the church, in that order. While the church is essential to Irish culture, the pub is where it is really experienced. That’s confusing and contradictory to Americans, who often don’t know the difference between a pub and a bar. A pub may HAVE a bar, but it’s far more a place to socialize, meet people (not in the “pick up” sense of many American bars) and truly experience the life of a local.
4. Don’t travel in the peak season.
OK, so this one may not be avoidable, depending on when you have your time off. But if you can, visit Ireland during what is called the “shoulder” season. High season in Ireland is the summer, from June through August. Mid-September through October, and April through mid-May are times when far fewer people travel, so you’ll avoid crowds, find the locals less stressed, and even save money on airfares. You can travel the low season (winter) if you want, but the weather is not as friendly and many attractions are closed. Not bad if you spend much of your time in pubs (see above) and stay away from the tourist traps. This can be especially good if you like walking in the rain, but bring a good woolly jumper and a plastic mack.
6. Don’t miss out on the music.
Irish traditional music (or TRAD, as aficionados call it) reaches the soul more thoroughly and effectively than almost any other type of music, whether you’re Irish or not. I have played, sung, listened to, and experienced TRAD music in many different venues, and I never cease to marvel at the emotional impact it has on those who experience it. I have played and sung with Germans, Scandanavians, Europeans, Americans, and those of many different backgrounds; all of whom have chosen this style of music because of the way it attracts. It’s astounding.
7. Don’t limit yourself to the bigger towns.
As above, remember that bigger places, such as Dublin, see a lot more tourists, so they become jaded and offer what they think you might like, more than something you really should experience. Find time to get out into the country side, the small communities that are the heart of Ireland. Stay in a local B&B (instead of a hotel) and ask the landlady some probing questions about her favorite ways to spend some quality time. I know of a couple who own a B&B in Dingle who also do archaeological tours of the peninsula. That kind of discovery can make an already enjoyable trip into the experience of a lifetime.
In the UK and Ireland, every neighborhood in the big cities has its own local pub, where neighbors and friends gather regularly. That’s even more true of smaller towns, where the controversies of the day may be forgotten for the moment over a few pints. That’s when you start to experience the music and the stories that make the Irish people famous.
8. Learn about the history of the country.
The Irish are said to have a long memory. The famine of 1845 is a recent event. This past April we commemorated the anniversary of Brian Boru rising to become High King of Ireland in 1014 AD. The ONE THOUSANDTH ANNIVERSARY. I mentioned archaeological tours above. There are passage tombs a Bru Na Boinne that are older than the oldest pyramids of Egypt. The story of Ireland goes back ten thousand years or more. Don’t miss that when you go.
When we took the loop road around the Dingle penninsula, we saw clochan (stone huts) that are still tight against the rain hundreds of years after they were built, and the Gallarus Oratory, built along similar lines and just as solid as it ever has been. We saw standing stones so old that nobody knows why they were set up, and pillar incised with Ogham, one of the oldest forms of writing known to man.
I have a friend who says that every stone next to every road and field in Ireland has a story. You’ll find that the locals know those stories and will be glad to tell them to you, especially if you buy them a pint. Speaking of which, don’t forget that in Ireland, the custom is that you buy a round for you and your friends, and they return the favor, unlike America, where everyone is responsible for his own drink. So if someone buys you a pint, don’t neglect to return the favor.
9. Don’t miss out on local sporting events.
Hurling is the national sport of Ireland, and its cousin GAA football is played in every county and townland you’re likely to visit. You may not be able to find an event in Croke Park, but you’ll certainly see somebody playing one of those sports, or perhaps soccer, rugby or Australian rules football in any local community. I spent some of the most enjoyable hours in Kilronan (the only town in the Aran Islands) with some locals, watching a football (soccer) match between Dublin and Westmeath. It’s a great way to really get to know people.
10. Don’t try out your Irish accent.
There are many other possible mistakes you could make on your trip, but I saved this until last because so many Americans just don’t understand how stupid it sounds when you great them with “Top O’ The Morning” or some other cliché you learned from the Lucky Charms leprechaun. If an Irish man or woman came to America and talked like a cowboy from a 1930’s western movie, you would look on them the same way as the Irish look on an American who comes to Ireland and says, “Sure and begorrah, ‘tis a grand country you have here.”