Our readers share tales of their ramblings around the world.
Who: Kathleen Hupfeld of Columbia, Md.
Where, when, why: I am a PhD student at the University of Michigan. A few weeks ago, I headed to Ireland to present my research at a conference in Dublin. And although the capital was great, I always prefer getting out of the city, and everyone in Dublin — Irish and tourist — told me that the “real” Ireland was on the West Coast. So, after spending five days in the city, I set out on my own to the small seaside town of Doolin and stayed for three adventure-packed days.
Highlights and high points: While the main attraction of Doolin is its proximity to the famous Cliffs of Moher, I encountered so much more — incredible hospitality, passionate people with strong ties to the land, great pubs with live bands each night and breathtaking views in every direction. The absolute highlight of my trip was a three-hour hike from Doolin to the Cliffs of Moher Visitor Center with Pat Sweeney, a passionate local farmer who conceived the idea of building a trail along the edge of the cliffs after Ireland’s economic depression in 2009. Instead of taking the common option of stopping off at the top of the cliffs for 45 minutes as part of a tour bus, Pat believes that the “real” way to see the them is to hike up them with a local guide while listening to the history and lore of the region, so I did just that, along with about 10 other tourists.
The other major highlight of my trip was kayaking with Patrick O’Regan, who owns North Clare Sea Kayaking. After launching from the sleepy little town of Ballyvaughan, our group of six spent about three hours kayaking the Galway Bay. We could even see Gleninagh Castle in the distance for most of the paddle. Although I think that castles are more common in Ireland than I had previously realized, I could not say that I have ever kayaked near a castle before this trip!
Cultural connection or disconnect: Interesting connections and conversation always arise when an unlikely group of folks comes together with a common interest, like fuel-free touring of a beautiful Irish waterway. My kayaking trip along the Galway Bay included two recent PhD graduates from Britain, an adventure tourism guide working in Scandinavia, a Taiwanese MBA student, an Irish expat working at a park in New York state and a part-time construction worker.
Biggest laugh or cry: While hiking to the Cliffs, Pat pointed out a beautiful, perfectly intact castle tower just on the edge of his farm. While, at first glance, I would have dated this tower as hundreds of years old, he told us that an American family had actually come to Ireland in the 1970s, saw this tower in ruins and decided to rebuild it as a “vacation home.” At hearing this, I could not help but laugh at the ridiculousness of some Americans not only needing a vacation home in one of the most beautiful places on Earth, but insisting that this home be a castle.
However, instead of being annoyed, to my surprise, Pat expressed his gratitude that someone had taken interest in preserving their local history and his wishes that other castle ruins would be similarly rebuilt by private parties.
How unexpected: I was so pleasantly surprised by the incredible hospitality of everyone I met. Everyone was welcoming to tourists — not just surface-level welcoming in that they accepted tourists as vital to the town’s economy, but the down-to-Earth, “I’m happy you’re here, let me share my country and my stories with you” type of welcoming.
Favorite memento or memory: The greatest gift was that I didn’t need to come back with any tangible gifts. While I often buy postcards as mementos of my travels, thanks to Sweeney, I felt that my pictures of the Cliffs of Moher were indeed better than any postcard picture. Not only will Pat’s passion for sharing the cliffs with others benefit Doolin in the present, but his trail will be treasured for generations to come and is something that anyone who visits Ireland should not miss.
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