During my European trip from September 2013 – January 2014, I consistently looked forward to my last month: the month I would be in Ireland.
Back in Seattle, when I sat down to daydream and make a list of potential destinations for the trip, I honestly didn’t even consider Ireland. But my travel buddy was insistent that we make it over there at some point.
As we wandered around the continent, I quickly warmed up to the prospect of experiencing Ireland. So many travelers had great things to say about it, and I was intrigued by the idea of meeting what many deemed to be the friendliest people on Earth.
By the time we wandered over to the Emerald Isle, it was mid-winter. We stayed there the entire month of January, and I have to say…it couldn’t have been a better way to end the trip!
The countryside was glorious. Even in January, the famous green, rolling fields went on for miles as I bounced along in buses and friends’ cars. The craggy limestone of the ancient Burren, and the romantic western coastline…nothing tops some of the amazing natural beauty I was lucky enough to see in Ireland.
The cliffs of Moher left me with the most paralyzing feeling – natural, deadly beauty strikes a certain awe in the human heart. The lethal steepness, plummeting straight down into choppy waters, combined with the imagery of long grass, softly winding and dancing in the wind makes you feel at once inspired and terrified.
The country itself isn’t huge, but there is so much to see and do. I would absolutely love to go back in summertime – when camping is easy. We mostly stuck to city life, spending a magical New Year’s Eve in Dublin, and some great weekend nights out in Galway and Cork.
Luckily, I did manage to capture a couple of adventures in nature. I ended up working on a farm for a week in county Clare, another charming area of the country. I got to walk around a bog, planting trees for the farmer, while the wind and rain swirled around my head. The farmer had grown acres and acres of his own woodland over the years, so walking through the mist and trees to trim branches was a fantastic way to be alone in someone’s personally constructed nature– a very touching experience.
The highlight of our Ireland trip was a serendipitous accident. We stumbled into an awesome opportunity to do work-trade for a woman in Kilkenny.
Kilkenny is a small, medieval town in Ireland with a lovely castle and and a surprisingly funky night scene. The old, downtown area has a coffee shop street (an absolute delight for a homesick Seattle girl!) and fun little shops and boutiques for the avid windowshopper. It’s smack in the middle of the romantic countryside, so you basically feel like you’ve wandered into another world. It was a soothing feeling for a city-traveler like myself!
Frances, the owner of a vegan (you heard that right!) bed and breakfast just outside of Kilkenny, invited us into her home three times over the course of our trip. We had the amazing opportunity to watch over her rescued animals while she took a well-deserved vacation.
Frances’s B&B, aptly named“Harmony Hall,” is just a short drive outside of the town. Harmony Hall overlooks beautiful neighboring fields, and sits alongside a bubbling creek, complete with a natural waterfall.
She also has rescued several animals over the course of the last few years. She’s had a retired racehorse, Windy, for many years. Apparently Windy only raced once, and was so bad at it that they retired him immediately. Frances took him into her care, and they have been best buds ever since.
A couple of years ago, Frances stumbled upon what seemed to be a wild pony in a neighboring field. She was able to contact the people that could most claim to be his owners (loosely, since they were wandering people themselves and couldn’t care for a pony on a regular basis), and they offered for her to take ownership of him. Frances took it upon herself to fence in the sweet animal, so she could feed and care for him. His new name is “Magic,” which is very well-suited; Magic loves to come galloping towards his human friends from far off in the field, swinging his mane back in forth in the most elegant and fantastic way!
Frances also has two rescued chihuaha mix dogs. They were two brothers, found stray and starving in the area, so Frances made the cuties a permanent fixture at Harmony Hall. Don Juan and Cupid run the place, giving doggie kisses to anyone who needs a little extra love!
Harmony Hall is meant to be a healing place for rest and relaxation. Frances is an energy healer, working with her own clients to clear negative energies and promote the influx of positive energy. Because of this, Harmony Hall has a clearly positive vibe! Frances also offers vegan retreats, since she is vegan herself. Her friend, Jani, an experienced and fantastic chef, cooks for B&B guests, making healthy and creative meals.
Overall, the experience with Frances was full of enlightening conversations, lots of laughter, and plenty of animal fun. The next time I’m in Ireland, I’m definitely calling her – at least to go out for a vegan-friendly bottle of Guinness (because the stuff that’s bottled in Ireland is fit for vegans!)
If you’d be interested in staying with Frances during a trip to Kilkenny, you can find her on AirBNB. (Here’s a link!) Being vegan in Ireland can be a bit difficult, since it’s a lot of bacon and sausage dishes.
And if you were curious, Ireland really does have the friendliest people. I was not disappointed! Everyone we met was absolutely lovely.
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Photo: Abbie Zulock