During the summer of 2015, I spent three months running a bed and breakfast outside of Dingle, Ireland, an opportunity I found through the website HelpEx.
Before my arrival in Dingle, there were many questions left unasked and unanswered by both myself and my host, Aisling – Where would I be living? Was I going to be alone? Who was I going to be working for? What was a ‘Full Irish breakfast’ and how does one make such a thing? – but we both made it up as we went along and had a great time growing together in the process.
As I sat on the cross country train ride in early September leaving my summer home in West Kerry towards my next adventure in Australia, I was overwhelmed as I sifted through my incredible experiences from my three months.
This list is a brief account of the highlights and lessons I experienced while living in Ireland for that summer.
A is for Accordions
When I visited Aisling’s mother’s home, she played her accordion for me because she heard about my accordion fascination that was borne from listening in the country pubs all summer.
It was so much fun to have my own private concert from Joan. A few weeks after this, I bought a children’s accordion in Dingle and had fun learning how to play and even picked up a few tunes.
B is for Barry’s Tea & Ballymaloe Relish
I know I’ve pledged my undying love to coffee as my morning go-to beverage, but this summer gave me a love and appreciation of Irish Breakfast tea I had not previously experienced. With fresh County Kerry full cream milk and access to endless pots of Barry’s Tea, coffee took a backseat for my summer fling with tea.
Another Irish treat I discovered this summer is Ballymaloe Country Relish. On toast or sandwiches (or anything really!), this savoury-sweet tomato relish is a condiment that will always find a home on my shelves, as long as I can find it in the shops. If you get a chance, give it a taste!
C is for Craic!
Craic is the Irish word for fun, and let it be known – the Irish are a craic-loving people. Initially it sounded jarring to my American ears; at home in the US, it is rare that a story about someone’s craic from last night is met with applause, but in no time I was using ‘craic’ and having ‘great craic’ with the locals!
D is for Dingle Races
The Dingle peninsula hosts two famous horse races each summer: the Dingle Races and the races at Bean Ban beach on Smerwick Harbour, which was very close to my B&B. Watching and betting on jockeys who were children (yes, children 14 & Under are racing these horses) was odd, but was always entertaining and exciting. It was fun to make new friends and enjoy endless local and national beverages with familiar faces during the racing festivals, too.
E is for Exploring the Motherland
Before I arrived in Dingle, I was able to visit Northern Ireland and learn a bit about the deep history of Ireland. During my months in Ballyferriter, I took long weekends to explore Cork with my cousin Patrick and Crosshaven for the Irish Redhead Convention. Other fun excursions were to Skellig Michael and an attempt at hiking the local Mount Brandon, the highest mountain on the Dingle peninsula.
F is for Full Irish Breakfast
The Full Irish Breakfast, also known as a ‘fry’, might go down in my history as one of the best ways to start the day and immediately quash any attempts at good health, but – damn – it’s delicious!
The meal is comprised of two rashers (thick cut bacon), two sausages, a fried egg, black and white pudding (think blood sausage with a more intense, distinct flavor), baked beans, grilled tomatoes, and brown Irish bread topped with tons of Kerry Gold butter.
My heart has slowed noticeably in this short period of time, and I don’t care at all.
G is for Guinness
I love Guinness. If you’re just putting that together after reading this, you’re slow. Very, very slow. This summer I had fun learning to pour my own pint of this famous Irish stout, thanks to some connections my host’s family had with the famous Murphy’s B&B and Pub in Dingle.Two or three times a week I would walk 40-plus minutes down our country road into our village for a pint of this elixir at one of the three village pubs. Yes, you read all of that correctly. I had a lot of time to think and potter this summer.
H is for Hurling
GAA, or Gaelic Athletic Association, is a big deal here. Irish football and hurling are two GAA sports that have captivated, and simultaneously, confused me. Hurling fun fact: it’s the sport with the fastest speed of play in the world. Irish football fun fact: read this post. If you’re really interested, check out this YouTube on Irish Football Rules: Explained.
I is for Imileá
My B&B is in the country. So country that our houses don’t even have numbers on them. Imileá was the name of my street, and this was the street sign. The post master knew everyone who lived there so numbers weren’t necessary at all. Small world, literally.
J is for James Joyce
This summer I read Ulysses, the lengthy and popularly unpopular novel by Irish novelist James Joyce. The main plot revolves around two characters, Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus, and a single day in their lives set in Dublin many years ago. The entire work is a collection of their usually mundane and slightly unsightly observations about life and their surroundings. If it sounds boring and strange, then – Congrats! – you’re part of the 99%.
Unfortunately, I fortunately had endless silence and Irish rain to keep my attention from wandering to absolutely anything else and – shockingly – I really enjoyed the process of reading this mammoth of a novel, as well as Joyce’s short stories collection Dubliners.
K is for Co. Kerry
There are 32 counties in Ireland, Kerry being the one where Dingle is located. It is located on the southwest coast of the Emerald Isle and is a mainly agricultural county. It is also home to hugely popular natural tourist attractions, such as the Ring of Kerry and Skellig Michael.
L is for Lock-Ins
Whenever your local pub closes, the owner or barman has the option to lock everyone in for a few hours to avoid getting fined for staying open past the licensed hours. To me, being invited to remain after hours was the pinnacle for being accepted as a local in my village. It made for long nights and great chats after I was invited into this exclusive “club”.
M is for Music
The Irish do a few things really well and one of those things is live music. Every Sunday the local pub in Baile an Fheirtéaraigh (the village where I lived, meaning “Ferriter’s townland”) hosted live music. The locals would come and play and anyone in the audience or musical group could pick the next song, most of which were traditional Irish songs.
Watching the camaraderie and respect between generations, varying talent levels, heritage or nationality always filled my heart. These incredible nights were undoubtedly one of my favorite parts of this summer.
N is for NOM!
Ireland doesn’t usually top the list for culinary junkies, but this summer opened my eyes and tastebuds to some delicious snacks and meals – almost exclusively unhealthy. A few favorites? Previously mentioned Ballymaloe Relish, Tayto’s (read on), Full Irish Breakfasts, fresh Co. Kerry ice cream, Guiness, just to name a few.
I failed miserably at getting fit this summer, but I certainly didn’t walk – or more accurately waddle – away with any regrets about that.
O is for O’Hara beers
This summer I loved getting to taste a few Irish craft beers, and I must say that a new Irish favorite is O’Hara’s Red Ale. It helped that I needed libations while cheering on the US Women’s National Soccer team in the World Cup and happened to be particularly cheering for Kelley O’Hara!
P is for Puffins
If you want to see something adorable, check out my post about my day with Atlantic puffins on Skellig Michael. ALL THE CUTENESS!
Seeing puffin birds was one of my Irish Bucket List items when I set my sights on Ireland, and this day on Puffin Rock did not disappoint.
Q is for Quality R&R
After being on the move for quite awhile, this summer was the perfect time for quality R&R. I got around to reading books I’ve been meaning to read (and so many others I didn’t mean to – I’m looking at you, Ulysses…), getting quality sleep, having quality conversations, and soaking up quality scenery. I left Dingle feeling refreshed and excited for my next chapter.
R is for Redheads
Ginger Festivals. Enough said.
S is for Slea Head Scenery
Living on the iconic Slea Head Drive, it’s hard to imagine ever tiring of such stunning surroundings. One of my favourite days of the summer was when I biked the famous Slea Head Drive.
T is for Tayto
One day Aisling made me a Tayto (VERY famous Irish crisps, or potato chips) sandwich and it changed my life*.
Instructions for making your Tayto sandwich:
- Take two pieces of white bread and slather them with Kerry Gold butter.
- Dump an entire bag of Tayto’s (Cheese and Onion, preferably) onto buttered bread.
- Squash together said pieces of crisp-covered bread.
- Eat your freshly made Tayto sandwich.
*For best results, be hungover when consuming your Tayto sandwich.
U is for Ulysses
Like I mentioned, it was certainly an undertaking, but in my infinite time listening to the Irish rain fall, I ticked this colossal, arguably unnecessary title off my reading list. Cover closed and now residing on the B&B bookshelf, I can honestly say I enjoyed it. That will certainly shock any of my past Lit professors…
V is for Village Life
I’ve never considered myself a “country girl”, and I don’t know that I would now, but living in a very secluded, very picturesque setting in the country is something I would recommend to anyone with the opportunity. I loved getting to know my neighbors and neighborhood and enjoying the serenity that comes along with country living. At one point, I literally walked to Aisling’s house to ask for a cup of sugar…
W is for Wildflowers
Everyday, whether I ventured far or not, I saw the most beautiful array of wildflowers. Spoiling me with their vibrancy and waving to me in the wind, they always made me smile. I love this part of the gorgeous County Kerry landscape, and will never forget those beautiful flowers.
X is for (e)X-Pats
I loved seeing familiar faces in Ireland this summer. From spending a long weekend in Cork with my cousin Patrick to playing tour guide for friends in Dingle, catching up and sharing my Irish experience with friends from home was definitely a highlight for me!
Y is for ‘Yer man’
At first, this Irish term baffled me. Aisling said “yer man over there” when referring to our incident with the asinine Irishman, Eddie O’Grady, and I immediately found myself on the defensive – I didn’t know him at all! What what she talking about?!
Used as a replacement for “that guy”, the term eventually sounded normal to me, but I’ll never forget hearing it, and experiencing severe confusion, that first time!
Z is for Zillions of memories!
Kerry, I don’t know when I’ll see you again, but you will always be my Irish home!
For more posts about my summer in Ireland, check out my ‘90 Irish Nights‘ page.