At the airport, armed with a clear plastic duo tang containing our itinerary, I considered the fact that I might have gone overboard. I pictured two lovers relaxing on a pristine beach with no paperwork in sight. But this was my honeymoon and I wasn’t taking any chances: My husband was going to fall for Ireland.
To say I love Ireland is an understatement. I am obsessed with Ireland. So much so that, yes, I forced my new spouse to trade his plans for a romantic escape in the Greek islands for one spent visiting his new relatives on the Emerald Isle.
My love affair (with Ireland, not my husband) began when my mother would bring me and my young brother on an annual pilgrimage to her hometown. Every morning in Newtowncashel, we fetched pitchers of well water to drink and collected armfuls of turf to warm the house. Initially, I complained about the sparsely populated town that seemed to be set back in time. But somewhere between the manual labour and visiting endless numbers of cousins for tea and biscuits, something clicked.
Years later, I would return on my own to the country and worked for several summers in Dublin. I was even coerced into competing for a community beauty pageant by a cousin’s neighbour. He said I would bring international flavour. I was featured as a contestant in the local paper. The event itself inspired years of jokes relating to my abysmal performance during the interview portion.
But I knew a heady mix of local fame and mild humiliation wasn’t going to win my husband over. I would have to show off the best Ireland has to offer.
So, fresh from our red-eye flight, with no time to spare and a need for fuel, I found the nearest pub and ordered us two Irish breakfasts. We paired the sinfully delicious series of meat products (rashers, sausages, black and white pudding) with, of course, two pints of Guinness. We were off to an excellent start.
Halfway through the day exploring Dublin, I realized we were making excellent progress on the itinerary front. But I also noticed that my husband began to tune out during my impassioned explanations and rapid-fire delivery of historical and geographic facts. This led to lesson one in my crash course, How to Get the Guy to Get Ireland.
Lesson 1: Let the locals do the talking
When we arrived in Newtowncashel two days later, I learned quickly that when my Irish cousins took over, Brad’s eyes lit up with intrigue.
One cousin, Thomas, told how the Irish midlands are known for bog, rare nutrient-deprived earth, that when cut and dried into turf has provided a vital source of fuel for centuries. Another cousin, Patrick, made farming sexy when he described how he routinely puts female sheep next to their male counterparts a few weeks before mating season to tease them into a higher yield.
Some stories added a sad depth to what we saw, including the stone walls that don’t seem to serve a particular purpose. Famine walls, our cousins explained, were a church/landlord initiative during the Great Famine (1840s) to make poor Irish work for a meal rather than receiving one out of charity. Many would die after expending more calories making the walls than they were given in return.
Maybe it was the accent. Or the superior ability of the Irish to tell a story. Either way, as soon as I let them take over, Brad hung on to every word.
Lesson 2: Make the best of the weather
After a night of drinking Guinness with my family in a Newtowncashel pub and singalongs that carried into the wee hours, I woke to a brilliant sunny morning. Ignoring his groans of protest, I got Brad out of bed at 6 a.m. for a visit to the Cliffs of Moher. We spent several hours walking along the edge of the jagged emerald-green-topped rock faces as seagulls performed vertigo-inducing dives.
By the time we arrived at that evening’s accommodations, the Loop Head Lightkeeper’s cottage, we were exhilarated but also hungry. The lighthouse, restored by the Irish Landmark Trust to host visitors, is on the south-west tip of County Clare. The sun was about to set and I had a cliffside picnic in mind. After a careful inventory of our supplies (Guinness and chocolate-covered digestive biscuits), I wondered if Brad could be persuaded. Luckily my cousin Thomas and his fiancée showed up with a roast chicken that a kind shop owner had gifted him. We huddled together at the edge of the dramatic cliffs eating our odd dinner, sharing stories and moments of silence as the setting sun cast streaks of orange and pink across the Atlantic.
I had big plans for the next day. We were to hike the Conor Pass on County Kerry’s Dingle Peninsula. The views are said to be spectacular and I had been looking forward to it for months. But heavy rain and fog would make the journey pointless.
In attempt to defy my disappointment, we drove around the area anyway. Looking out to the barely visible Atlantic Ocean, I spotted a strand of gold. We would be the only visitors to Fermoyle Beach that morning. Rain pelted us as we ran along the waterline, the sand still warm from the previous day’s sun. Once out of breath and soaking wet, Brad led me reluctantly back to the car.
Seeking shelter and sustenance, we found a small pub in Dingle town. As the patrons watched their county’s Gaelic football team on TV, we warmed ourselves with hearty bowls of seafood chowder and, yes, more pints of Guinness. Dazzled by the speed and physicality of the game on the screens above, Brad began researching the rules.
Gaelic football is essentially the hockey of Ireland, but with no expensive gear and no hope of a massive paycheque. It is the game that unites communities across the country and pits them against each other. Brad got to experience this hype firsthand, in a pub full of cheering fans. And without the bad weather, my sport-obsessed husband may have missed out. That’s part of why I love Ireland so much: It rarely gives you what you want, but always what you need.
Lesson 3: Leave room for spontaneity ... and silence
Somewhere along the way, I realized I had set myself up for disappointment. I have been visiting Ireland for 33 years, loving and losing people, evolving into who I am because of those experiences. You can’t cram all that into one trip. But I was able to see Brad begin down that path.
I can pinpoint the moment I knew Brad began to fall in love. We had just finished a tour of one of my cousins' farms and my aunt’s homemade rhubarb pie wasn’t quite ready. We took the opportunity to jump on bikes and explore the tree-lined back roads near the River Shannon. On the other side, overgrown grass and wildflowers whipped back and forth mimicking the waves. The same breeze sent the light streaming through the canopy overhead, dancing on our path.
Brad was silent. But when our eyes met, I could tell he was overcome. And I fell a little more in love with him for opening his heart so fully to my favourite place.
The writer travelled with assistance from Tourism Ireland. It did not review or approve this article.