Exploring Ireland

An adventure—and a friendship—for a lifetime

I’ve always been a bit Ireland-obsessed. I soak up every movie or book I can find that’s placed there, engross myself in Celtic mythology and always seem to be adding new Irish artists to my playlists. When I was 17, I bought my first Ireland calendar and reveled in the pictures of the cliffs and countryside. Each year after that, I bought a new version, saying I would stop once I finally booked my trip. 

After almost 20 years of dreaming and watching flight costs, I decided last fall that 2017 was the year to make that dream happen. As a single mom, that wasn’t the easiest call to make. Work and child schedules had to be negotiated; money had to be tucked away. But I was determined. I even picked up a second job solely to make sure money would be earmarked for the trip.


I was finally going! Now the big decision: Did I have the guts to go alone? Sure, why not? Solo travel can be a blast, and some tour groups cater specifically to those going it alone. Bringing the kids along just wasn’t in the budget at this point. 


Cut to me, at Christmas, wrapping a guide to Ireland and an invitation for a guy friend of mine who I knew had the same trip at the top of his own wish list. (And let’s be honest, I may have had a little crush on the guy at the time.) Looking back on this it probably wasn’t normal person behavior, but not once did I think he would actually take me up on the offer. So imagine my surprise, a few months later, when he dropped a “let’s go” on me.

A package bought through a tour agency gave us flights, a rental car and vouchers for bed and breakfasts (close quarters—bonus!) throughout the country. In the months leading up to the trip, we roughed out an itinerary that put us in a different city or village every night. Other than knowing where we’d rest our heads, we decided to leave plans open and just explore.


My friend and I spent nine amazing days in Ireland in August—not nearly enough time, but we covered a ton of ground. We arrived in Dublin and spent two days roaming the city. We dove into our first authentic Irish stew, learned how to pour the perfect pint at the Guinness Storehouse and sang along to countless renditions of “Galway Girl” with Temple Bar buskers. I don’t know how many times we turned to one another and said, “We’re really here!” in disbelief those first days.

After Dublin, we headed clockwise in a big loop—around castles and through coastal villages with charm for days. The B&Bs were all cozy and comfortable, some set on horse pastures or sheep farms, others in quiet villages or bustling cities. The food was consistently good, with stews and shanks and the best smoked salmon I’ve ever had from a smokehouse at the edge of a village in the Burren. From Cork to Dingle to Limerick to Galway—and finally back to Dublin—we hit every highlight we could.


The smell of the wind blowing in from the sea as we stood at the edge of the Cliffs of Mohr. The green of the foliage we plowed our poor Mini Cooper rental into to avoid getting sideswiped by tour buses on narrow country roads. The feast at Bunratty Castle, in all its Renaissance-festival tourist trap glory, that left us laughing until our sides ached. 

The tears of joy when my friend unexpectedly met a native relative of his and that sweet elderly man dropped everything to sweep us up into a whirlwind trek to where the family homestead stood generations ago. 

Back in Dublin the last evening we tried to soak up all of the energy we could—so much so that we slept with the windows open to the courtyard pub below so we wouldn’t miss a sound. We took turns hanging out at the window that night, looking over the city and not wanting it to end.


Did we fall in love while exploring the castles or getting drenched in an Irish rain? No, that rom-com plot is not for us—more like a buddy caper, as we’re probably too alike for our own good. But what we did fall into was a tight friendship that I wouldn’t trade for the world. And I can’t think of anyone I would have rather shared the laughter, the many pints of Guinness and all the incredible sights and memories with. Now we just need to figure out where we’re going next.

Someday, Ireland, I’ll be back. Yes, there are many places in the world to be explored (and I’ll get to those too). But you still call me.

Jen Jacobson is an editor, baker and passport stamp enthusiast.