Nathan Overlock is an official CAPA blogger for spring 2017, sharing his story in weekly posts on CAPA World. A professional writing and information design major at Cedarville University, he is studying abroad in Dublin this semester.
In this week's post, Nathan takes us along on his Irish adventure to explore Galway, Cork and Killarney.
Ireland is a country full of sprawling green countryside, charming villages, breathtaking seaside, and dozens of interesting towns and cities to explore. Yet, after nearly six weeks in Ireland, I hadn’t stepped a single foot outside of Dublin. This weekend, though, I had the opportunity to drive across the country to the west of Ireland, and down around the country’s southern coast with the Griffith College’s Student Union.
Our trip spanned three full days and included stops in 12 different cities and villages including Galway, Killarney, and Cork, three of Ireland’s most iconic cities. So, after six blog posts focused on Dublin, this one is dedicated to Ireland’s other cities and the smaller towns and villages we stopped at along the way.
After a brief stop in the historic village of Cong, the original resting place of Ireland’s last High King, and a scenic drive through the Connemara countryside, we spent the bulk of our first day in Galway. My expectations of Galway were totally mixed, hearing it called “The Tribal City,” and “Ireland’s Wild West,” yet knowing it's also been deemed the friendliest city in the world. Mixing in the cities heavy Spanish influence (See: Galway girl), I assumed Galway would feel like stepping into an entirely different country. Apart from a slightly different aesthetic, though, and its proximity to the coast, most of the things that distinguished Galway from other Irish cities seemed to me to be below the surface. The big sights, like the Spanish arch or the salt hill promenade don’t look like much at first glance. However, the history behind these places and the festivals that flood the city throughout the year are what give the city its charm and reputation. While I spent the last few hours of daylight exploring shop street, Galway’s pedestrian shopping center, finding street musicians playing banjos, washboards and fiddles, the highlight of my stop was walking out after dark to the famous Long Walk past the Spanish Arch, and enjoying the nighttime ocean breeze while I could still hear the music in the distance.
Photo: Long walk in Galway
We spent the next day making the long trek down the west coast of Ireland to the town of Killarney. While the bulk of our stops were brief, the drive itself took us across along the Wild Atlantic Way, a winding route along the ocean cliffs, and across the Burren, a 150-mile limestone plane unlike any landscape I’ve seen in the US. If I had a car in Ireland, I’d make this drive again just for the unbeatable views along the coast.
Despite being the middle of winter, Ireland’s tourist Mecca was thriving with visitors and the bus full of 60+ students only added to the small city's energy. We arrived late in the evening, so I rushed to see as much of the city as I could. Despite its relatively small size and population, the city center seemed to sprawl across Killarney. Instead of shops and pubs clustered around a single street, like in Galway, it felt like there were places to see and things to do throughout the whole city. Opting to skip the Ireland v. France rugby match that drew away most of my tour group, I ventured into The Shire, Ireland’s only Lord of The Ring’s themed pub. With the facade of a hobbit hole, and a bar called the prancing pony, the only thing that stopped it from feeling like stepping into middle earth was the blaring 80s music and the hen party in the corner.
Killarney’s biggest draw for me though, and one of the locations that convinced me to come on the Discovery trip was the Killarney National Park. While I’d hoped to spend a few hours hiking around, we’d arrived after dark and I knew there was hardly enough time in the morning to get deep into 25,000 acre park before we left for our next stop. So instead, I bought a trip on one of Killarney’s famous Jaunting Carts, horse drawn carriages that take riders on a loop through the park, slowing down for views of the lake, castle, mountain ranges, and herds of deer that all populate the stunning parklands.
Photo: Killarney National Park
Our final day outside of Dublin consisted of a stop in the famous town of Blarney, before we continued on to Cork, Ireland’s second city. The stop in Blarney wasn’t quite a “city” stay, but it's an iconic enough spot to deserve mention. Instead of exploring the village, I spent my entire stop in Blarney among the castle grounds, home of the (in)famous Blarney Stone. While the tourist capitalization was obvious from the ticketed reception, and gift shops and cafe built into the grounds, that didn’t stop the castle from being the most whimsical place I’ve ever visited. The Poison Garden, filled with deadly plants, Rock Close, guiding you through different druid rituals, and tranquil fern gardens made me feel like a child in a fairytale. I could have spent hours wandering through the woods and across the grounds, or meandering through all the castles passageways and tunnels, and could probably dedicate an entire blog post to this one stop.
Photo: Blarney Castle
From Blarney, we moved on to Cork, the Republic of Ireland’s second largest city. In many ways, Cork mirrors Dublin with an extra dose of cultural authenticity. The similarities between Cork’s central Patrick Street and Dublin’s O'Connell Street seemed intentional, with a statue overlooking a bridge across the canal, and a cobblestoned, shop-filled street stretching into the distance. However, once you venture off the road, you’ll start to notice all the little differences that make people prefer Cork to Dublin, even calling it “the REAL capital.” No matter where you venture in the city--although I didn’t have very long to explore--its hard to pick out “good” or “bad” areas. It’s all just Cork. While the streets were busy, traffic was actually moving, and there wasn’t a single honking horn to be heard. But neighborhoods and traffic are why you choose to live in a city, not visit it for the day. Instead, it’s the way that history, culture, entertainment, and daily life fuse into one area, instead of being separated into districts across the city that make the visit worthwhile. Theatres, pubs, shopping centers, apartment buildings and historical sites are all side-by-side.
Photo: Fin Barre's Cathedral in Cork
Traveling across the country to each of these cities, while stopping along the way gave me a taste of the Ireland that I’d expected and imagined. At the same time though, each city had its own unique feel, with different quirks, attitudes, and subcultures. While I wish I’d had more time to spend at each stop, I have a long list of places to visit if I have a long weekend free, or come back to Ireland in the future!
Nathan's journey continues every Friday so stay tuned.