Taking Time Out
During my travels around Australia and New Zealand, my friends and I decided we’d pursue careers that would allow us to travel the world in uniforms of sarongs and flip-flops. My preference was to be a travel writer. I thought wistfully of all the cities I would visit, oceans I would swim and mountains I would climb. Not to mention five star hotels, fancy restaurants and romantic getaways.
It’s funny how, when travelling, away from everyday life, wonderful and almost absurdly impossible things suddenly seem possible. You can be and do anything you want. So why on returning home does normality push our dreams away, resulting in our chiding ourselves for being so foolish?
I don’t believe our dreams truly disappear, they simply linger somewhere in the recesses of our minds, awaiting their rediscovery.
Admittedly, my dreams lingered for a good many years and it feels more like they rediscovered me, than I rediscovered them. Either way, we were reunited and here I am today with a printed copy of the guidebook on Ireland I spent the last eight months writing. When I was commissioned by Time Out to write the guide about this lovely Emerald Isle I didn’t really understand the magnitude of writing such a book from scratch. My enthusiasm and excitement veiled the reality of the hard work that lay ahead. My eyes glistened at the thought of discovering my own country and then joy of joy, writing about it.
It was only when I started putting together my first road trip itinerary I realised how much there was to see and do. Destination Donegal. I knew people from there, had been there before, but once I started researching and writing down what I’d need to include in the book I felt myself sinking fast. This was only one county. I would need ten days to travel it and that was racing from one sight to the next, with brief interludes to sample the culinary delights of the county. How many counties were there in Ireland anyway?
But it’s like anything new – the excitement and thrill at the start is followed swiftly by a sense of overwhelming upon realisation of the task before you. The only way to stay above ground is to take it step by step. And thus began my tour of Ireland accompanied by my boyfriend, the designated driver, Failte Ireland my new best friend and our boot stocked with wellies and rain coats, guided by a trusty GPS.
Having worked in the hospitality industry for years through college and then organised events in some of the worlds’ best hotels, restaurants and resorts, I have enough experience to decipher between a good, bad and indifferent hotel, guesthouse, restaurant or cafe. I’ve travelled around Europe, Asia, some of Africa and South America, so I appreciate beautiful scenery, good walks, interesting attractions and here in Ireland we have scenery that rivals most countries.
What I was not prepared for however, was the passion and commitment of the people who own and run such places, and the amount of hard work they put into their ventures to make it a success. It became easy to see who took their business seriously and who didn’t. I realised how it really is the small things that count. A smile on arrival. A warm cup of tea after a long drive through the rain before check in. Staff remembering your name and making suggestions of what we should do that day. From county to county, we were surprised and thrilled by the amount of positive energy people were putting into their restaurants, cafes, guesthouses and even villages. Communities have been drawn together by hard times to come up with innovative ideas to make their town or area attractive to visitors.
This has given rise to an endless array of festivals – ‘something for everyone’ I believe I say in the book. Walking, jazz, music, theatre, art, cooking, food and drink festivals. You name it, Ireland has it. Restaurants are working together, realising there is safety in numbers and so local suppliers work hard to provide high quality produce to ensure high standards are maintained. Fresh and local generally means tasty and wholesome. Let’s face it, if you are staying in a town you’re not going to eat and drink in the same place every night. So, if a town has three good restaurants and just as many good bars, then it makes for a great place to visit for a long weekend or a week during the summer.
Sitting here with a glossy guide on Ireland written by myself is pretty exciting, but it’s also really scary. I hope I have done justice to this wonderful island and all those working so hard to make it a great place to visit. We’ve got it all, beaches, surf, towering mountains, cascading waterfalls, scintillating lakes, vibrant towns, great restaurants, hotels and country houses. I just think I need another 340 pages to tell the full story, but hopefully there’s enough in the book to get people into their cars and off on adventures. In the meantime, I think I’ll start a new adventure myself.