My First ever visit to Ireland! By Kari Johnson (Our Tour Advisor)

By JohnWwT
Tuesday, 10th December 2019
Filed under:

I suppose my love for Ireland started when I was about 16 and watched the film ‘Circle of Friends’ starring Chris O’Donnell & Minnie Driver for the first time.  The movie is based off the novel of the same title written by Maeve Binchy and it set the stage for my Irish obsession.  I’m not sure if it was the accents (the Irish accent is the sexiest let’s be honest), the cosy village life portrayed or maybe just a familiarity I suddenly felt for the country.  Who knows, I gave up trying to figure it out years ago!  Either way, my Mom and Stepdad (Chip) knew I loved all things Irish and had even planned on sending me on a trip to Ireland had I done well at school my senior year of high school… this was unknown to me and wasn’t revealed to me until after I graduated.  Thanks guys.

 So, fast forward several years, I started working full time after high school, hell bent not to return to school.  I moved from Virginia to Maryland, got my own place and lived my own life… never letting go of my love for Ireland but not pursuing my dream of visiting either.  Then in 2010 I watched ‘Circle of Friends’ again for the up-tenth time and the spark returned.  I was recently single again and looking for direction in my life and my Mom & Chip decided that a trip to Ireland for a little Mother/Daughter bonding time was in order… and so, in April 2011 at the age of 31, I came ‘home’.

I distinctly remember walking off the airplane in Dublin that April morning and having a complete feeling of coming home come over me.  I suddenly knew where I was meant to be, Ireland.  We were on a guided tour so but we were a bit early so we caught a cab to our hotel in Dublin, Ashling Hotel.  There we were too early to check in, so we waited around the lobby for an hour or so until the first leg of our tour began with a quick tour around the city.  It was a sunny cool day and the city was busy, many of the streets were lined with window boxes of gorgeous colourful flowers, people walked around with smiles on their faces, and the history was amazing!  What many Europeans don’t remember is that the US is still relatively new in comparison to Europe… we don’t have castles hundred or even thousands of years old and ‘pubs’ are only in movies, so everything holds this special light for us.

 As amazing as Dublin was; the Guinness Storehouse and my first sip ever of the ‘black stuff’, Grafton Street and the buskers (I discovered one of my favourite bands, Keywest, here), and all the historic buildings, I knew I wanted to see the little villages like the one I saw in my favourite movie.  So, our tour moved out and my eyes were wide with awe the entire time… well except when I was fighting a never-ending migraine from hell.  Our guide Pat was the best, and one of the reasons I loved the trip so much!  The stories he told, the songs he sang and the knowledge he shared will be with me forever. We travelled along the coast down from Dublin, to Cork, Kerry, Galway and Bunratty… every day the sun was shining and every day we met new people in the towns and cities we visited.  Every single person exuded ‘Irish charm’ and made the entire trip a joy.  I think my favourite bits of my first Irish experience was Killarney and the best customer service Mom and I have ever experienced and visiting a little farm called Rathbaun Farm in Galway.  

Killarney is a beautiful little village, but it is also very busy with lots of other tourists!  So, when we arrived in Killarney, we were given some options; explore the town or go on a little tour of Killarney National Park in a horse and cart.  Me being a lover of horses we opted for the cart tour.  Again, the weather was beautiful with the sun shining and a cool breeze lightly blowing the newly blossomed tulips.  We get back to town after about an hour, but unlike the US the shops all shut down around 5pm and so we quickly popped in to a little souvenir shop for a quick peak when I started to feel my eyes watering… and then start to itch, have I mentioned I’m allergic to horse hair?  Anyway, I had been careful not to pet the horse (a true test of strength for me as I love horses) but there must have been some horsehair that blew in my face during the ride and I committed the cardinal sin of rubbing my eyes when they first started itching.  Now almost blinded by tears and swollen eyes Mom and I cross the street back to our hotel to raid the bag of meds Mom packed… no Benadryl!  This isn’t a problem, I’m sure a shop close by or a pharmacy will have some.  Mom goes down to reception to ask if they had any allergy meds at the desk or can point her to a shop close by that might… remember when I said the shops started closing at 5pm?  It was past 5pm and the only other pharmacy was down the road a bit.  This is the part of the story where the customer service was above and beyond; one of the girls at the front desk offered to drive my Mom to the pharmacy so she could get me the meds!  This has left an everlasting impression on us both and reminds us how easy it is to make a lasting impression just by doing something small.  Mom got back with the meds and my night was spared any further torture, however the meds were so good that I was asleep by about 7pm!

Rathbaun Farm was my second favourite stop; here we got to see a farm in action including a little sheep shearing, feed some lambs and be treated to some freshly made scones and tea from the lady of the house!  It was delicious and Mom even purchased the scone recipe from them.  This farm held a little extra magic for me as it made me feel closer to the Ireland I envisioned from all the movies I’ve seen.  When we were inside enjoying our scones and tea you could smell the turf fire in the open fireplace, and you could just imagine a family sitting around it every evening all cosy. 

All in all, my first trip to Ireland was amazing; I met some great people (some I still talk to this day), ate some amazing food, saw some amazing places and fell in love with the country itself.  Since that trip I have returned several times with my Mom (and Chip in 2012) and several on my own.  I thought I had met a wonderful Irishman that lived in Cork, but that fell through.  And finally, in 2016 I decided I was going to make a change and move to Ireland!  So, I applied to a college in Cork (Cork Institute for Technology) to study Tourism and was accepted!  I sold off a bunch of my belongings and with Mom & Chip’s help I moved to Ireland!  I now can help guests that come to the country on tours of their own to discover the beauty and wonder of this little island and I hope to stay here after I graduate next year!

 PS – I’ve even managed to run in to our tour guide from our first trip Pat this year while I was touring my brother and his family around Ireland!!