Thursday, July 28, 2011

6 Lessons Learned from 6 Visits to Ireland in 6 Years

I realize that I am incredibly lucky to say that I’ve been to another country on six separate visits.  The fact that it’s the prettiest country on earth (well, when it’s not gray and rainy in the winter…) makes it all the more amazing.  Would I have visited Ireland six times if my husband wasn’t from there? Yes, if I had the cash.  But it’s more likely that I would have traveled to places I haven’t been to yet.  However, by becoming familiar with a country from recurrent and, initially, prolonged visits, I have a unique perspective versus a one time only trip.

I did my study abroad at University College Dublin in the fall of 2004, then I returned for a future sister-in-law’s wedding in the summer 2006, then returned at Christmas 2007 (when we got engaged), then we had a double stop over on both sides of our honeymoon to Rome in the spring of 2009, returned for another sister-in-law’s wedding in the summer of 2010 (with my parents this time around), and finally another Christmas this past December.  So I have managed to see Ireland in all four seasons, and I have seen it during the boom, the beginnings of the bust, and the after effects of their economic crisis.

All of these different events have combined to teach me several things:

You Can Get Sunburned in Ireland.

Blissfully unaware of my impending sunburn on Inis Mor.  Yes, this is 20 year old Erin, check it.

Yes, you read that right.  And I’ve done it not once, but twice.  I have actually managed to visit during two heat waves.  75-78 F is my ideal temperature, but in a country used to 62 and a bit of drizzle and no AC, it can become a toasty. I think I managed to be there for a rare 80 degree day, too.  But the 2 occasions I got sunburned were actually in the 60s.  The first time was a trip to Inis Mor in September 2004.  It was mostly sunny, and we were walking all over the island exploring.  I guess the sunlight was bouncing off the sea and the rocks, because you could see a clear outline of my shirt neckline after the visit.  I only turned pink, but it was definitely a noticeable pink.

If you enlarge this, you’ll see lobster versus pink by Dingle Bay.

The second time was a biking trip from Dingle to Ventry in July of 2006. I’m still confused by this because it was maybe 62 degrees, and it drizzled for half our ride.  I came out with more of a burn on my nose and cheeks, but my husband…well, just see for yourself.

I’m Possibly, Most Likely Allergic to Peat.

Pile of turf bricks in the garage. My allergy nightmare.


Not something that you would immediately think of as something to be allergic to, but my in-laws use turf to burn in their fireplace.  I can guarantee a sneezing attack will occur at some point while I’m by the fire in the sitting room.  Now I come prepared with tissues, and next time, I’ll pack some antihistamines.  Even though I sneeze my brains out, I love the smell of peat briquettes burning.  It’s different from wood, more like an organic, just slightly mossy scent. Not something you notice when you walk into the room, but you do notice how clean the smoke is compared to wood based fires.

What is peat? Basically, it is the decaying organic material in bogs (that would eventually turn into coal after 1000s of years) that is cut into logs and dried in the summertime to be burned as fuel.  Ireland doesn’t exactly have a zillion trees to use for fuel, so they looked for alternative fuels, and this is it.

Everyone Knows Someone.

Ireland has a population of about 4.5 million.  That’s not a huge population, and factor in that until recently, many families were large.  So someone is probably related to somebody or went to school with somebody who knows whoever you know.  Or they know someone from the same town who went to the same school.  Remember when Facebook did the infographic of your friends and how they’re connected? Ireland is the IRL version of that infographic.  Why does this matter? Because if you meet someone who is super helpful or friendly or whatnot at a B&B or hostel or on your travels elsewhere, they can hook you up with an acquaintance in nearly any town you want to visit in Ireland.  So if you want to experience “the real Ireland”, this seemingly endless network of friends and acquaintances can ensure a great visit.  Especially if you are a solo traveller or in the mood for some great craic at a pub with a new friend.

Potatoes and Pasta Are Meant to Be Served Together.
My sister-in-law loves to cook and makes the *only* lasagna I’ll eat.  I only like her version because of the lack of gobs of cheese/random veggies, and she serves it up with freshly fried chips.  It is perfectly normal to serve lasagna with french fries, go to an Italian restaurant in Dublin to test this theory.  Hell, most chippers (places where you can get chips and other fried goodies while intoxicated) have Italian names like Macari’s.  It is a match made in heaven.  Think I’m full of crap? Have you tried pierogies? They’re basically ravioli stuffed with mashed potatoes.  Apology accepted.
I Fell in Love with Guinness (and Beer in General).

If you are ever in Ireland for St. Stephen’s Day (December 26), go out to the pubs!! Everyone is out socializing.

I arrived in Ireland in 2004 disliking most beer. I left with an obsession for a very distinctive beer that people either love or hate. And I tried a handful of other beers that I loved such as Kilkenny, Smithwick’s, Harp, and Carlsberg. Ones that I tried but hated? Murphy’s and Beamish which are wannabe Guinness beers that just taste off compared to the original, Stella Artois, and the whole concept of hard cider like Bulmer’s. Also, Bud Light and Corona are considered the “cool” import beers in Ireland. God only knows why you would choose slightly alcoholic water over a historic, flavorful brew.

Seasonal Affective Disorder Sucks.

Definitely not what I saw when I got in my funk. I would have traded for bitterly cold by sunny in an instant.

Now for a serious lesson: I didn’t realize how far north Ireland is until it was still dark when I woke up and got dark again before 4 in the afternoon.  Having lived in Pittsburgh, Aiken, Augusta, and Atlanta, I was always on the western edge of the Eastern time zone so it never got dark as early as other places in my time zone.  Dark at 5 in December maybe, but it was still AFTER class.  So the concept of it being dark in the afternoon was completely foreign to me, and I was completely unprepared for it.  Add to the mix that you really don’t ever see the sun starting in October through probably April unless you get a freak super cold snap, the darkness and gloominess took a toll on me.  I was already lonely from being on my own for the first time ever, and I was trying to stretch a quickly dwindling budget which kept me from joining in on every pub crawl or weekend trip to another town.  So it was the perfect storm of not so great things to kill my mood.  I slept a lot, wasn’t very hungry, and I returned home sick.  I eventually got sorted out, but I have learned to be aware and cognizant of my environment in the winter to avoid the tailspin again.

Ireland has taught me many lessons in my 6 visits, and I’m sure it still has plenty more in store for my future trips.  Some of them are funny, a few are profound, but they are lessons that I am thankful for learning.

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7 Responses to “6 Lessons Learned from 6 Visits to Ireland in 6 Years”

  1. 1

    Sceal Susan Byron — July 28, 2011 @ 1:33 pm

    Hi Erin, well written I have never heard of a peat allergy (are you sure you didnt mean a heat or a dust allergy?) and with a name like Erin how are you surprised you visited Irelands 6 times in 6 years? Susan Byron author of

  2. 2

    ehalvey — July 28, 2011 @ 9:27 pm

    Thank you! I think it's truly the peat because campfires and other wood-burning fires don't make me sneeze. But who knows. Makes for an interesting post 🙂

  3. 3

    Wicklow Cottage — August 1, 2011 @ 5:21 pm

    Lovely blog – its always good to hear that people enjoyed themselves – despite the short winter days!
    We think we make up for it though with the long summer days!

  4. 4

    ehalvey — August 1, 2011 @ 5:37 pm


    YES!! The ridiculously long days in the summer are wonderful. Still bright after 9 pm was such an amazing thing to experience.

  5. 5

    MySkinConcierge Ava — September 3, 2011 @ 1:02 pm

    Yes traveling can sometimes be not so glamorous! I visited Ireland last fall and fell in love with the Ring of Kerry!

    Ava Roxanne

  6. 6

    ehalvey — September 3, 2011 @ 2:28 pm

    Still haven't made it to the Ring of Kerry. Glad to hear others have had non-glamorous moments on the road.

  7. 7

    Best of 2011 from the Irish Fireside | Irish Fireside — January 1, 2012 @ 3:31 pm

    […] made the cut. Confession #2, I don’t have a garden, but I still listen to The SodShow. 6 Lessons Learned from 6 Visits to Ireland in 6 Years by Erin Halvey Being married to an Irish man means Erin Halvey has gotten to know Ireland from both […]

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