An Honest Review

Picture the scene.  I'm looking for an inexpensive two week destination between Spain and Iceland.  Maybe London?  Nah, overdone.  Ireland?  Hey, that sounds lovely.  Green everywhere.  Friendly people.  Bathtubs filled with Guinness.  Let's check ticket prices … tap tap tap … wow, Aer Lingus is really cheap!  Dublin, here I come!

And then moments later … (after I purchased non-refundable tickets to The Emerald Isle!) … now let's check Expedia for hotels.  What the?  AirBnb then … Holy Mother of Mary!  Is there anything under $200 a night? 

And with that my journey into bankruptcy began.  So let's discuss the pros and cons of Ireland.  Because there are many on both sides.

(Coastline in Northern Ireland)


You cannot discuss Ireland without starting with the people.  99.9% of them are the most friendly, outgoing, and seemingly happiest people on the planet.  As I walk around town with my camera dozens of people will stop me to ask questions, or to simply make a funny comment.  One older lady said "be sure an get me better side!" in her deep Irish brogue.  It makes you laugh and smile back.

But there is also a sense of things being not quite right.  When they are not gleefully interacting with you … and you can see their resting, private faces … their expressions are almost universally downcast and almost bitter.  No one looks happy walking down the street.  Only when they are chatting with people do they light up.

The stereotype of drinking is also (sadly) true.  There is even a live-music bar here with a sign that reads "A Drinking Pub With A Music Problem".  The Irish take their whisky and beer very seriously.  And for the most part everyone seems to be a happy drunk.  Just part of the culture and heritage, right?  But there is a flip side.

On my first evening in Dublin I was sitting in a pub having some dinner when a fight broke out.  (Yes, the stereotype of a fighting Irishman also rings true).  Just some drunken guy who turned from happy to angry after his seventh pint.  That edge seems to be constantly hovering around.  Someone made a comment that he simply couldn't let stand and he started throwing things and swinging.  The bartender even made a joke "Dinner and a Show!" after they ushered him out because this was not an unusual occurrence.  

I get the feeling that drinking here isn't just cultural, it's medicinal.  Everything in Ireland is outrageously expensive.  $20 for a basic hamburger kind of expensive.  Housing prices are stupidly high and the laws here governing everything from insurance to who can drive only make things worse.  The Irish basically are struggling to live in Ireland.  So I guess they can't be blamed for looking sour in private, drinking away their troubles by day, and forcing happiness in their conversations.  (Or at least that's the way I see it).

There is also a certain level of danger here.  Meaning, the feeling of danger.  While most of the people interact with you in a very friendly way, there are a certain number that are almost overly aggressive.  Standing nose to nose with you and waving their arms around, even while talking about the most mundane of topics.  (Then suddenly running outside to yell at/to someone and hyperly returning to continue their almost intrusive discussion with you).  These are generally men who even while telling you a tale of Irish humor somehow manage to look like they haven't slept in weeks because they just recently got out of jail.  I always feel like I should be on the defensive because of the perceived attitudes of some of the Irish men.

I know I'm painting a picture that isn't warm and pretty.  Maybe it's the weather, but I see a real duality here in Ireland.  Genuinely friendly people who will chat your ears off all while staring at you like you're a possible enemy.  I love the warmth of the Irish, but somehow I'm also a bit put off by it.  


Hotel prices throughout Ireland are expensive.  Between 210 and 240 euros a night on average.  AirBnbs are just as high and even hostels charge nightly prices that you could rent an entire two bedroom apartment for in other European countries.  

But transportation isn't.  At least not planes and trains.  The Irish rail system is indeed affordable, and Aer Lingus will gladly bring you onto the island for cheap.  But that's the deception.  The only other semi-inexpensive item in Ireland is the beer.  (And even then, you need to be careful where you drink!).  Food prices are high by anyone's standards, except perhaps for New Yorkers.  Ireland is simply not a cheap place to visit.


What Ireland does have however is natural beauty.  Incredible beauty!  That whole Deep Green Emerald Isle experience is so true.  It's not a warm beauty however, as the weather is usually against you.  The Irish tend to rejoice when the sun pops out, just as if Jesus returned for a brief moment.  But despite drizzle and gray skies the land is wonderful to experience.

The coastline, especially in the north, is rugged and wonderful.  You don't have to venture far outside of a city to see endless fields of green, sheep everywhere (with painted butts!), and of course a local pub.  LOL!  This is probably the absolute best aspect of Ireland, wandering the countryside looking for ruins of castles and farms that could easily have been standing there for a thousand years.

There are dozens of tour buses leaving Dublin each and every day to show you the sights, and for once I highly recommend them.  Your guide will undoubtedly talk until your ears bleed, but that's also part of the experience.

A lot of these tours will take you up into Northern Ireland and you would be hard pressed to tell where the border is, but it's there.  Divisions between the countries, and divisions between the religions, is still a thing here.  In Belfast they still have 60+ foot walls dividing the city that get locked up each night.  Do not, under any circumstances, engage in an opinion of which side is better or how they just need to be more "peace loving".  This is something deeply personal to the Irish and when they use words like "The Troubles" it's a complete understatement.

Now having said that, the tours in Belfast are immensely informative.  And also deeply troubling.  I highly suggest the "Black Cab" tour.  You will ride around the city getting the history from both sides.  You will have both a catholic driver/cab and also a prodestant driver/cab, so you will get both perspectives of the history and also of current events.


This is going to be a short section.  Because the food is … not good.  Local cuisine, fancy restaurants, doesn't matter.  For the most part you are going to be paying a lot for mediocre grub.  I've tried to defend Irish food to the naysayers, but I have to side with them.  You don't come to Ireland to eat.


OK, here's the thing.  Ireland isn't the only place that feels like Ireland.  Yes, I love the Irish people and the nature is simply wonderful.  But I also can't afford Ireland.

Before I came here I was in Galicia Spain.  The upper northwest corner of the country.  They also have wonderful green fields, rugged coastlines, drizzly weather, lots of beer drinkers, and their music involves a lot of bagpipes.  In Galicia, they are just as celtic as the Irish.  And I CAN afford to be there.

I really hate to write a post on Ireland by telling you to go to Spain instead, but there are reasons for my doing so.  Irish people are more talkative, but Galician people are less aggressive.  Spain is exponentially cheaper.  Both have absolutely gorgeous scenery.  And in each place you will be offered a beer for breakfast.  The choice is yours.


And with that, Ireland is just about over for me.  More next week!