Exploring the Irish Countryside

Kelsey O'Donnell and two other girls pose in front of Killarney National Park in Kerry.

Ladies' view in Killarney National Park - Kerry, Ireland.

By Kelsey O'Donnell*

The majority of tourists heading to Ireland make the huge mistake of only going to Dublin. I have heard people say that they have “truly experienced” Ireland when they never even set foot out of the capital city. While Dublin is a great cosmopolitan city to visit, with wonderful museums and the Guinness Storehouse, those that only spend time in Dublin are missing out on the true Irish culture and landscape. If you visit Ireland (and you most definitely should!), it’s important to drive away from the traffic and city lights and get out into the countryside, which makes up the vast majority of the island. In fact, my favorite places that I’ve visited in Ireland have all been on the west coast. From the rolling green hills dotted with sheep, the wild land snaking through the mountains, the sheer drops of the cliffs lining the Atlantic seacoast, and seals resting on rocks off a beach, there is a surprising variety of landscapes and a whole world of nature to discover.

The green countryside of West Cork.

The countryside in West Cork.

Most importantly, the countryside is where you can learn about Irish history, tradition, and language. It’s where you will find friendly locals and home cooked dishes. And the Irish traditional songs that you hear in pubs around Dublin? They are mainly from small villages on the west coast, where the Irish language still prevails, albeit only on a small-scale.

In Gaeltacht areas, officially recognized places where native Irish is spoken, you can get a feel for traditional culture and hospitality. Additionally, many locations on the west coast originate in and are scared to traditional folklore. I have taken two Irish folklore courses in my time here and they have turned out to be my favorite classes! I have gained a deeper insight into traditional Irish culture and learned that leprechauns are just a tourist invention. Traditional folklore belief is centered on the otherworld and its host of fairies. Not the magical, winged creatures we see in Disney movies, but a creature parallel to reality. Irish fairies are small human-looking creatures (this is where the similarity to the leprechaun ends) that get married, have children, and play music and games just like humans do. They can either cause harm or be of help to their human counterparts. In the past, these otherworldly creature were often used to explain away the unexplained such as depression or premature deaths.

Inch Beach in Dingle Peninsula

Inch Beach in Dingle Peninsula.

My year is now coming to an end with only around 3 weeks left until I fly back to the United States after almost 9 months away, but I have been incredibly lucky to experience the rich culture and tradition here. I have had the chance to travel to the Aran Islands, a Gaeltacht area with traditional farming and craft set on a beautiful island landscape. I have traveled to the Cliffs of Moher in county Clare, where I stood 390 feet above the Atlantic Ocean with stunning views of the waves clashing against the rocks. I have driven around the Dingle Peninsula twice with the chance to taste homemade sea salt ice cream in Dingle and walk along Inch Beach. I have been up north to Donegal, which is known for its forests and cliffs, and watched the snow falling on the pine trees. I went on a hike with other students through the mountainous landscape in Kerry. On one particularly sunny day, I went on a walk that led me straight out of Cork City and into the countryside to see the bright green fields with grazing sheep. Each of these experiences has shown me an equally enchanting, yet different perspective of Ireland.

I hope this encourages everyone to think of Ireland as more than just Dublin. Dublin is a wonderful city to visit, but it is important to remember that it is not a complete representation of Ireland. In my opinion, outside of Dublin is where you find the true beauty and magic of Ireland. 

*Kelsey O’Donnell is a junior majoring in international studies and anthropology at the University of Iowa. The Sergeant Bluff, Iowa, native is spending the academic year abroad on the Iowa Regents Semester in Ireland program in Cork, Ireland.

Student blog entries posted to this International Accents page may not reflect the opinions and recommendations of UI Study Abroad and International Programs.  The blog is intended to give students a forum for free expression of thoughts and experiences abroad in a respectful space.

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