“In Dublin you’ll always find a pub next to a bookmaker’s,” Denis told us as the coach swung around the roundabout, ” You place your bet, watch the horses on the telly then pop next door to get your winnings”. We’d barely left the hotel on our Wild Wicklow coach tour, driving past Georgian terraces and brightly coloured front doors, when the stories started to flow. Denis O’Reilly, our guide for the day, was like a good natured leprechaun, full of michievous energy and with a tale to tell about everything that we passed. One of the other bloggers beside me exclaimed “I don’t know what sort of coffee he had this morning, but I want some of that!” The flow of chatter and stories was so continuous that it took me an hour to realise that Denis was driving the coach as well as giving us an annecdote or joke about everything that we passed. Who says men can’t multi-task?
I was off on the Wild Wicklow tour, the day after the TBEX travel bloggers’ conference I attended in Dublin. Although I’d barely scratched the surface of Dublin, I selected this tour because it seemed to offer a taste of Ireland in one day; wild scenery in the Wicklow mountains, a stop at the Avoca handweavers known for their colourful checked throws, a bit of history at the Glendalough monastery and a good lunch in a traditional Irish pub thrown in.
As we pulled up at Sandycove, a seaside spot on the outskirts of Dublin, Denis managed to convince us that the group of Germans on the tour were keen for a bit of skinny dipping. We got off the coach to stretch our legs and admire the views across the bay where a red and white buoy marked the mouth of the Liffey to guide the ships into the port of Dublin. Tucked on the far side of the rocky point was the 40 Foot swimming club, a popular place to come and swim all year round, even on Christmas day. According to Denis “you go in a man and come out a woman”, or as James Joyce, who swam here, described it in Ulysses, “the scrotumtightening sea”. We wandered around, mingling with the wrinkly swimmers, who were all sticking to the rules with togs on. They dressed and undressed, juggling towels and clothes in the fresh air, sharing cups of steaming tea poured from thermos flasks. We could see swimming hats bobbing in the water, or perhaps they could be the seals that Denis assured us swam in these waters. You never get a cold or fall ill if you swim here all year round.
“Don’t take me too seriously”, said Denis as we got back on the coach, “it’s only that I had a group of 25 Danish students and before I knew it the lads were in for a swim, bollock naked. We were all ready to go except for the girls who were last back on the coach and they’d been skinny dipping too!”. To this day all the swimmers at the 40 Foot, most of whom seemed to be in their 60s, ask Denis, “When are you bringing back the Danes?”
Our next stop was at Avoca handweavers in Kilmacanogue where we couldn’t resist cuddling the bark of the huge tree in the car park which felt spongy and soft to touch. The centre consisted of a large and tempting shop showcasing Avoca throws and other Irish crafts, a cafe full of delicious food, and a plant nursery and garden. The property was the home of John Jameson, of Jameson whiskey fame who came to Ireland from Scotland (but we won’t hold that against him) and collected all the exotic trees which are planted in the garden.
We sat on the terrace tucking into the huge scones then ignored the railing around the weeping Monteray cypus tree and went inside the dark cavern under the branches. I could easily have spent an hour or two, not to mention a few euros, drooling over all the beautiful things in the shop, but I didn’t want to trouble the Ryanair police and needed to stay under my 10kg baggage limit.
Before long, we were driving over the Wicklow mountains, which were not so much high peaks as rolling moorland (50 shades of green according to Denis) with dots of fluffy white bog cotton and the heather staining the hillside purple. Beside the road, the rainwater ran down the hillside in streams that were coloured brown from the peat (no, it’s not Guinness). Denis pointed out how the moorland and bog was uneven in places, where families for centuries had come to cut turf, which was the main source of fuel in days gone by. The turf was cut into rich brown bricks and laid out to dry in the sun and wind to fuel the winter fires. Every so often they find treasure left by the fleeing monks and 2000 year old bodies perfectly preserved under the turf. The Irish definition of heaven in October is to sit in a country pub with the smell of turf on the fire, a pint of Guinness and a packet of cheese and onion crisps. I was quite sold on the idea of the pub and turf fire but not so much on the bog snorkelling that some people also try in these parts – yes really they hold competitions!
Denis pointed out the patch of woodland where one of the battles was filmed in Braveheart (Mel Gibson in a skirt). Apparently the tax breaks for filming in Ireland are more generous than those in Scotland, so a lot of films are made here. The film was watched in Ireland more times per capita than any other country, since half the locals took part as extras in the battle scenes and had to see the film at least 3 times to make sure they could spot themselves. According to Denis you’d go to the cinema with your friends – but couldn’t hear anything except people saying “Did’ya see me? Did’ya see me?” Next we stopped to photograph the bridge where PS I Love You was filmed (it’s a chick flick) and the house by Lough Tay where all the pop stars stay. The lake was fringed with a bit of extra sand where they’d been filming Vikings and was also the setting for Excalibur where the sword is flung into the lake.
While we all stood on the hillside admiring the lake, and wondering whether Bono or Enya might be staying at the Guinness family home, Denis popped out a bottle of Jameson whiskey and we all had a warming nip and a toast – Sláinte! To continued peace in Ireland – see the video here
As we drove on to Laragh, Denis treated us to tales of his childhood when his parents would leave him and his brothers to make Irish coffees for their guests. If any went wrong and the cream got mixed with the coffee then of course Denis and his brothers would have to hide their mistake by drinking them. Here’s the recipe for a true Irish coffee;
How to make an Irish Coffee
Take out your best Waterford crystal goblets and put a teaspoon in the glass then heat the glass by pouring the boiling water over it, the spoon is there to prevent the glass from cracking. Pour freshly made coffee in to halfway up the glass then add 3 teaspoons of brown sugar and stir like crazy until the sugar melts. Add a good dollop of Irish Whiskey and a bit more for luck, then take your fresh cream from the fridge – not whipped cream but thick pouring cream as you would eat with strawberries. Rest the teaspoon against the inside of the glass then pour the cream slowly over the back of the spoon so that it sits on top of the coffee. When you drink it you have to get a creamy moustache.
At Laragh, we stopped at the Lynham’s Hotel, where a good roast lunch was being served washed down by a pint of Guinness if you were inclined to have a doze on the coach in the afternoon. The bare brick walls were covered with old pictures and prints and a young girl was playing on the Irish harp. It seems that no self-respecting traditional pub would be without a musician or two to entertain the guests.
After our late lunch we were off to nearby Glendalough, the ruins of a monastic settlement, built on the gently rising ground where the glacier had deposited its moraine at the end of the valley millions of years ago. The settlement was founded in the 6th century by St Kevin who lived as a hermit a bit further up the valley beside the lake in an inaccessible spot that could only be reached by boat. The tall tower set among the gravestones might easily have featured in Rapunzel, but was used as a bell tower to call the monks to prayer as well as a look-out for pilgrims or less welcome visitors who might be planning to attack. We wandered up the valley through the woodland and passed the first lake, up to the second lake which filled most of the valley. It was a lovely setting and in the car park I treated myself to a Teddy’s 99 ice cream before we were back on the coach for the drive back to Dublin, listening to some haunting Irish pipe music from Pat Connery who we had passed at the stone archway as we came in. You can see my short video of the singing here.
Thanks to Denis we had a great day out and a true taste of the Irish Blarney. I’m not so sure which of your stories was true, but after the Wild Wicklow tour, I’m ready to believe anything told me by an Irishman!
The Wild Wicklow Tour - book through the website or through your hotel, costs €28 per adult, €25 for child/student/seniors.
You may also enjoy my article: The best of TBEX, The best of Dublin
What other bloggers made of the Wild Wicklow tour;
Wicklow, the garden of Ireland: Finding the Gypsy in me
Day Trip from Dublin – The Wild Wicklow Tour is a must: Solo Travel Girl
The best pubs and restaurants in Dublin
As we reached Dublin, Denis gave us his personal recommendations for some great Irish Dublin pubs for a pint of Guinness and perhaps some traditional Irish music. If you’re looking for a good craic you might try;
Toner’s at 139 Lower Baggott St, O’Donahuhes at 15 Merrion Row where you’ll find traditional music every night, The Long Hall at 51 South St George’s St, Dohenny and Nesbitt at 5 Lower Baggott St, The Merchant at 12 Lower Bridge St, Stag’s Head at 1 Dame Court, The Brazen Head at 20 Lower Bridge St
For restaurants in Dublin, Denis suggests that you try;
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey
I’m just back from Dublin where I was attending the TBEX Travel Bloggers’ conference for a few days. Having got up early to hop on the Ryanair flight, my brain is still whirring a little, fuelled only by a packet of Guinness crisps for breakfast, so I’ll get straight to the point and give you my reflections on the conference and of Dublin, which are;
That the Irish know how to throw a good party
The TBEX opening night party hosted by Failte Ireland (Failte means welcome in Gaeilge) at the Guinness Storehouse was stunning. Making my way past the stilt-walkers, flame throwers and music makers at the entrance, I wound my way up through the brick, glass and steel building, past all the brewery tour audio visuals, up all the escalators, wondering what a girl has to do to find a drink around here. On the top floor the party unfolded; I homed in on the oysters, downed a glass or two of black velvet and tested some artizan cheeses. Irish dancers dressed in black with serious faces, drummed their feet in complex patterns and the atmosphere was electric when local heros, Seo Linn gave up their gaelic version of Avvici’s Wake me up, with choir, drummers and an Irish dancing trio. The night was a complete celebration of the best of Ireland and launched the conference off on a high. Here’s the video that will have your foot tapping;
And my Vine as I made my way up through the Guinness Storehouse to finally find a pint of the black stuff;
That Jameson whiskey beats any Scotch and Bourbon you could mention
As a speaker I was lucky to be invited to a bonus tour of the Old Jameson distillery before the opening party, with fabulous cocktails like the Whiskey Sour which hit the spot. Naturally we got the whole story of how the whiskey is distilled and how the distillery cats got stuffed, although what stuck in my head was that the angels get their share as the amber liquid ages and evaporates in oak barrels. Lucky Angels. At the end we sat down to a whiskey tasting where the smooth, triple distilled Jameson was pitched against the Scotch and American whiskey and were left in no doubt which was our favourite.
That the Irish are super friendly and love a good story
I lost count of the number of times I was wished Céad míle fáilte, A Hundred Thousand Welcomes, with that delicious Irish lilt. The Dubliners love to stop and chat, share the craic over a pint of Guinness and they seem to have all the time in the world to find out what you’re doing, where you’re going and what you think of Dublin. On the Wild Wicklow tour, our guide Denis managed to drive the coach along narrow roads, avoiding Irish traffic jams ( a flock of sheep on the road) while throwing out a constant stream of entertaining stories. Did people really come to Bog Snorkel in the Wicklow mountains or find the monks’ buried treasure under the turf or go skinny dipping at Sandy Cove (you go in a man and come out a woman)? Who knows, but I’m happy to believe any tale told to me by an Irishman.
That being a speaker can be stressful but it’s worth it
I suppose that many speakers put themselves forward as I did, partly because they want to raise their profile and partly because they have some useful insights that they want to share. Although I was a speaker at the first European TBEX conference in Copenhagen, time had somewhat dimmed the memory of how much time it takes to prepare, write and practice a presentation, if it’s not something you do every day. Not being one of those people who like to wing it, much of my spare time in the weeks before the conference went into my presentation and the accompanying article, on How to create quick and easy videos for your blog. Of course once I’d delivered the talk, I felt a glow of achievement and could relax and enjoy the rest of the conference.
That Networking is a goldmine
Conferences like TBEX are great for a number of things. You get to learn from people who have in depth knowledge in a specific aspect of blogging, but you could probably learn this from reading articles. You get to see a new place where the conference is being held during the pre and post-conference trips but you could always come back another time. In my view the golden opportunity at a conference like TBEX is the chance to network and find out what other bloggers are up to, what’s working for them, what trends are developing in blogging and how you can be part of them. The thing that stuck out for me from these conversations was how quickly the travel blogging community is professionalising itself and how travel bloggers are now being paid by brands to participate in their marketing campaigns. The concept of the paid trip is one that I don’t being remember being mentioned much at TBEX Girona, but was on everyone’s lips at TBEX Dublin.
That I want to see more of Dublin and Ireland
I hadn’t been to Dublin before, and now I’m wondering why, as it’s only a 45 minute flight from Bristol. Perhaps I had in my mind that in Ireland it always rains. As our Wild Wicklow guide Denis said “If you can see the mountains, it’s going to rain and if you can’t see the mountains it’s already raining”. But who cares about a soft day when everyone you meet chats to you like an old friend and the music and the Guinness is flowing and the countryside has 40 shades of green. After TBEX I feel it’s not If but When I’ll come back to Dublin to explore it properly and I’ve been already been watching the video of the waves crashing along the Wild Atlantic Way and planning which route we’ll take and whether it’ll be by campervan, bike, kayak or all three.
The Wild Wicklow Mountains
The Doubletree by Hilton, Dublin
As a speaker my room in the hotel was covered for the 3 days of the conference and I booked an additional night on my own account. I found that the Doubletree Dublin was a great conference venue with plenty of space for our Doubletree sponsored coffee breaks with the signature warm Doubletree cookies. The meeting and presentation spaces were excellent as was the buffet lunch in the B bar. The hotel is currently undergoing a renovation programme which meant all the public areas were stylish and modern and I was fortunate to have a spacious room that had been completely renovated, although other bloggers were not quite so lucky and told me their pre-renovation rooms were looking tired and dated.
While I loved my room and the stylish pubic areas, I had a couple of reservations about the hotel, one of which was that the hotel wifi in my room (as opposed to the TBEX wifi which was fine) was grindingly slow, to the point that I could barely do any work except check a few e-mails. As our keynote speaker Chip Conley, founder of the boutique hotel group Joie de Vivre, said in his keynote, wifi is like the plumbing these days – if it doesn’t work you’re failing to meet the most basic expectations of your guests. I also found that the service in the hotel was friendly, in that warm Irish way, but not especially attentive or fast. It’s lovely to delight your customers with a warm cookie, but get the basics right first. The video of my room is below.
The keynote speakers were outstanding
It was touching to hear Chip Conley, who’s had so much business success, talk of the loneliness of being a new blogger. We all know that feeling that you’re putting your heart and soul into writing something you care passionately about, only to experience the deafening silence of Zero comments. The trick is to have a mate like best-selling author Tim Ferris, who invites you to write a guest post that brings you hundreds of comments, to keep your spirits up.
Photographer John Minihan was in conversation with Alistair MacKenzie (move over Michael Parkinson) with a few of his black and white photos as prompts. I loved his story about how he got the famous photo of Lady Diana Spencer at the kindergarten where she worked with the light filtering through her skirt to show off her legs. Later, when she was being hounded by the photographers, he felt sorry for her and turned up at her flat with a bunch of flowers, which she opened the door to accept. There’s a reason Bono can live just outside Dublin and still go to the pub without everyone asking for his autograph. The Irish (or John at least) feel there’s a line that you just don’t cross even if there’s money in it.
Dan and Audrey from Uncornered Market told us about the time they were in Burma when the politics had killed the tourist trade and all the local businesses and the families behind them were suffering. It reminded me that tourism is the main livelihood for many small businesses and as bloggers we should put aside any sense of entitlement and do what we can to leave the world a better place.
And the other speakers I loved
I didn’t get to see too many speakers on Thursday, as the time before and after my own talk was occupied with doing a dry run in front of my hotel room mirror and unwinding by chatting to some of the bloggers who came up to me afterwards. I was sorry to miss Gary Bembridge on how to Write your Blog Positioning statement, as I’ve found his articles on this topic really helpful in refining what my blog is about and who I am writing for ( a stylish women enjoying life in her fabulous 40s and 50s who is always up for a bit of adventure as she travels with friends and family – in case you hadn’t guessed).
Then there was Ian Cleary from Razor Social who kept it lighthearted with leprechauns and Irish humour while educating us on 21 Powerful Social Media and Technology Tips. The message I took away from Ted Murphy of Izea from all the research and stats he produced was that brands in the US are prepared to pay good money to bloggers to access their audiences. Companies in the UK, however, are a few years behind and still think that bloggers are enthusiastic amateurs who are jolly lucky if they’re given a free flight or hotel stay. Katja Presnal was evangelical about Instagram, a niche that she has really made her own and she came up with beautiful presentation, although she was preaching to the converted as far as I’m concerned as I love Instagram – you can get Katja’s free Instagram e-book on her Skimbaco Lifestyle blog.
So that’s it folks, I can normally find a bit of constructive chriticism, but this time it was all good as far as I’m concerned. Top conference in TBEX, top destination in Dublin. I’ll be back to both.
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey
If you are thinking of spending St Patrick’s Day in Ireland you will not be disappointed. There are festivals and parades galore across the Emerald Isle and there is a great sense of Irish pride. Even if you are not from Ireland , on St Patrick’s Day everyone is Irish!!
St Patrick is commonly recognised as the Patron Saint of Ireland and in helping to introduce Ireland to Christianity. Ever wondered what the Shamrock symbolises? Well, according to legend St Patrick used the Shamrock because of its three leaf formation to explain the Holy Trinity to the pre-Christian Irish people.
St Patrick died on the 17th March and so parades and festivals take place in cities, towns and villages throughout Ireland on this date to commemorate his life. Although St Patrick’s Day is a religious feast day, in later times it has become a day to celebrate and commemorate Irish culture. Therefore, St Patrick’s Day is celebrated throughout the world and reflects the talents and achievement of Irish people everywhere. It is probably the most widely celebrated saint’s day in the world!
Dublin holds a three day St Patrick’s Festival from the 16th – 19th March and is enjoyed by over 1.2 million people. It ranks amongst the greatest celebration in the world, is massively creative, professional and most importantly fun for all the family! Cork’s St Patrick’s Day festival also runs for 3 days, Sunday 18th – Monday 19th March with fantastic floats, street entertainment and live music and free family entertainment from 10am – 6pm daily. Galway City is holding their 109th parade and will feature marching bands, floats, pipe bands and dancing groups. The city will be full of life and a riot of colour and sound. No matter where you decide to celebrate St Patrick’s Day in Ireland you are guaranteed a fun-filled memorable day.
It is important that you plan your accommodation well in advance as people travel from all over the world to celebrate St Patrick’s Day in Ireland . You don’t want to be disappointed when your preferred accommodation is booked out. Family-run B & Bs are great places to stay in as they are in great locations across Ireland and your hosts will provide you with up to date information on what is happening and where. It is also a great way of immersing yourself in the local celebrations and carnival atmosphere. Remember to leave your inhibitions at home as you will be expected to wear funny hats, don the green and maybe even sup a pint of green Guinness! It really is an experience not to be missed and is truly fun for all the family.
If you need some more information on accommodation or Ireland in general, then visit the B&B Ireland Website and Blog. They are also running a 3 night B&B competition, so you will be in with a chance to enjoy all the celebrations knowing your B&B accommodation is sorted! Their Facebook page is a great source of information, you can read visitors holiday experiences and tips on places to visit and things to do and see.
Photo credits: St Patrick’s day in Dublin by LenDog64 other photos by B&B Ireland
More things to enjoy in Ireland
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey