Dublin, Ireland, fifteen years ago. While aboard an airy double-decker bus, my friend Erin and I meet Fintan. We are fresh college graduates on the first day of our Backpack Around Europe Trip. We’ll join another schoolmate, Trina. Meanwhile we’ve apparently just met Dublin’s unofficial welcome ambassador.
Fintan eyes our bulky packs and water bottles, and starts a typical (I’ll learn) inquisitive and friendly conversation. Among suggestions of what to do in the Viking City, he notes the popular Brogan’s pub is close to the cheap hostel where we plan to stay. Our stop comes, so we say our thanks and goodbyes.
Later I realize I’ve lost my water bottle—no good when on foot and weighted down like a Sherpa. By evening, we’ve dumped our packs and found Brogan’s, because there isn’t any good app yet to lure us elsewhere. Fintan happens to be M.C. for tonight’s competitive poetry slam, as well as a playwright who pens scripts for Ireland’s most-watched soap opera. “I figured you two would show up,” he says, handing me my forgotten bottle. The Irish are frank. I like this.
And I like Brogan’s. It’s noisy with chatter, and dark despite several large windows. I order my favorite beer, Guinness, which apparently takes at least five minutes and three intervals to pour here. But the first sip reveals any other method to be, well, indecent. I’ll be ordering another.
Later, we join a caravan to another spot for late-night bites, then to Fintan’s flat to sprawl onto furniture and floors. We hear more poetry and sip somebody’s room-temperature whiskey sans mixers or ice (there are none) while an impressive blues record collection plays in the background, or sometimes the foreground. Around 3 a.m. we call a cab back to the hostel.
A decade and a half later I’m back in Ireland, but a random romp with strangers seems unwise. I have a family back home, and I’ll have to get up and work remotely most days. Instead, I spend a week with Trina, now a permanent expat. But even she has abandoned the cities for a Southeastern country house some 90 minutes outside Dublin to raise two preschoolers with her husband. I see why: it’s midwinter, yet temperate and impossibly green wherever I look.
We drive into Enniscorthy, where one can only walk up- or downhill. Such is the rolling southeastern landscape. The antique town center houses tightly packed shops selling stylish European shoes for a fraction of the cost at home, and everything else life demands. The Wilds stands out, a café and local artisan shop with handmade jewelry, pottery, clothing, and visual art. Surely, I need an abstract painting, herbal lotion, and a gorgeous hand-carved spatula from here.
We spend the next afternoon in nearby Castlebridge, an even smaller village. It’s home to Lowney’s Treasure Trove, a three-story collection of handsome antiques, memorabilia, and charming randomness. Lowney’s is packed but clearly organized so that searching isn’t a chore: it’s a hunt. I leave with a framed technicolor embroidered armadillo tapestry tucked under my arm.
Across the street at The Porter House, I’m reacquainted with the joy of Irish bread and butter and the miracle of a proper seafood chowder at a neighborhood pub. Juicy prawns, various fish, and tasty sea creatures I can’t identify float or sink in a tiny sea of butter, cream, salt, and pepper. I’d like another, but it’s time to dash off and pick up Trina’s children from crèche, or daycare.
We head to Dublin for the weekend. On the way, we stop at Curracloe Beach. Today, a strong wind blows the fine sand into an undulating wave pattern that mirrors the gray seas and makes little lizards stop and brace themselves. The narrow seven-mile stretch of shoreline invites a contemplative walk.
This time our Dublin ambassador is Trina’s friend Niamh (sounds like “neev”), quick to give and receive a clever joke. Niamh is a creative, too, only her current project is an app for children with learning disabilities. She suggests dinner at a Yamamoto Japanese restaurant in the historic and lively George’s Street Arcade area, where the average passerby seems flawlessly hip. When I try to pace myself and skip a digestif, Niamh says frankly, “Jennifer, it’s what you do.” Okay, coffee and Bailey’s it is.
Soon we cross the street to Chelsea Drugstore cocktail bar. It’s not a corner pub or a bohemian flat, yet the narrow loft full of intimate clusters of dimly lit faces feels a bit like both at once. Now preferring one gin to multiple Guinnesses, I’m drawn to the menu of about 20 gin options.
We chat at the bar, above which a low-slung blackboard is covered with quotes. I realize they’re attributed to people like Ernest Hemingway and Tom Waits, poets of one sort or another. Back at Niamh’s, it’s well-chilled drinks, checking out her app, and too much talk about kids. It’s a little different from my last visit, but the best parts are just the same. True for Ireland, and hopefully for me, too.
Clontarf Castle Hotel This quaint establishment’s well-appointed comfort is the standard among an eclectic collection of rooms in this twelfth-century castle, 15 minutes from Dublin’s city center.
Monart Spa At Monart you’ll find a place to recharge and set the pace for a slower trip through southeast Ireland. No need to change out of the spa robe while wandering 100 secluded acres of enchanting gardens.
Firehouse Bakery The brief café menu features creative fare sandwiched between house-made breads. For those inspired to get their hands doughy, a one-day bread-baking course includes hands-on learning, lunch with wine, and “as much freshly baked bread as you can carry.”
The Porter House Drink like a local at this village pub. The menu offers typical fare, unadorned yet made with care. The atmosphere is unhurried, with friendly service. The chowder is rich and heavenly.
Brogan’s Bar This lively pub is touted by many as serving the best Guinness in town—no small feat given the location in the heart of Dublin. It’s also said to have the largest collection of Guinness memorabilia outside of the brewery itself.
Lowney’s Treasure Trove Set aside a couple of hours to explore this aptly named three-story shop. Antique, modern, stylish, kitschy, fun, practical: it’s all here.
Wexford Strawberry Festival County Wexford is known for its strawberries, available year-round in the form of gin, and celebrated each summer during the festival. Enjoy a week of family-friendly music and entertainment.