It’s said that the best way to get to know a country is through its food. Some say you get the best perspective by studying its culture. There are many ways, depending on your personal tastes. The way I enjoy absorbing the essence of a country is to get to know locals, do local things, and experience typical days in a destination. The beauty of doing so varies from city to city, place to place, and that’s what excites me. In Ireland, I found the richness of its people in the soul of the island.
Adventures usually kick off from a main city, and most of the stories I’d heard before arriving centered around the country’s capital, which not surprisingly is its largest city… ah, Dubs! Dublin is “grand” – a term you’ll come to know as a quick response to many questions in Ireland. Ask someone how they’re doing, how their day’s been, and sometimes – in place of a thank you, you’ll hear “grand…” Such a lovely way to express a positive sentiment, and the Emerald Isle is an overall positive place.
Like any big city, Dublin in a melting pot and the seat of government, historical sites, hub of trade and a blending of people. It’s a great place to dine, shop, chat and see! The south side of the city has an upscale urban feel, yet cross the Ha’penny Bridge to enter the city’s north side and the difference is immediately striking. Northern part of Dublin city is a bit more modest with an edgy feel. It’s wonderful to have access to both options in such a pedestrian-friendly city. I could spend days people-watching and pub-hopping. A coffee at KilKenny Shop gave me a bird’s-eye view of the streets below as I mapped out the day ahead. So many choices lay ahead…which pub to pop into, and whether or not I should venture into Temple Bar for a dinner at Chameleon’s. From my window seat at the shop, I gained the needed inspiration to get out and tackle that to-do list and get to know Dublin, as best I could.
An Irish friend told me, however, that to see the “real Irish” spirit, I should get out around some of the other bits of the country. For that I turned to Geraldine Murtagh, the owner of Elegant Ireland. Geraldine curates some of the most sought-after villas, castles and luxury homes all around Ireland. For over 35 years, she has hand-picked specific rental options for her clients and I knew that if I wanted an authentic experience, she would create an itinerary that fit the bill… so onward I ventured from my initial home base-Dalkey.
Given everything I had heard about her expertise, it came as no surprise that I was in Villa Ravello, just down the street from Bono. You guessed it, the U2 front-man and I were within striking distance. Every morning, as I soaked in the view of the sea that lay before me, Dalkey Island to my left and the ruins of an ancient castle in the very near distance, I got a taste of the rock star life. Even though I had Finnegan’s pub a five-minute walk away – that’s Bono’s local and the very one he took Michelle Obama to for lunch – I felt the desire to whip up my own dinners in the villa. The kitchen was immense and as I chopped up a salad and popped on some music, I was living the dream of being at home in Ireland. The fireplaces were glowing and the sunset had painted the sky a perfect winter orange. From the kitchen, surrounded by windows on almost every side, I had the best views, but the formal dining room awaited, with its crystal stemware and freshly cut flowers: I couldn’t simply stand in awe and dine in the kitchen. Elegant Ireland had me perfectly perched among the stars, in more ways than one. After days in this suburb of Dublin, it was time to explore some more. Geraldine was very keen on me seeing one of her gems in Northern Ireland.
We met in the city center and after only three hours in the car, we arrived at Crom Castle in County Fermanagh. The drive wended through quaint towns and fields of cattle and sheep. Signs cautioned to be on the lookout for deer crossing. It was a rural escape, and at the end of the drive was a fairytale castle… with an Earl waiting to receive us.
The Earl of Erne, whose family has held the land and building for over 300 years was an unexpected treat. No matter male or female, we all have castle fantasies of being the lord or lady in one. It’s ok, you can admit it, especially with Downton Abbey having been such a hit. Well, here I was, in the middle of everything, surrounded by 2,000 acres of land and lakes. The winter air was making its presence felt and the castle walls were no match for keeping it at bay. Roaring fireplaces and heaters in full effect, bottles of wine were opened and I was regaled with warm tales from the Earl’s childhood, when he was only a Viscount.