Our young American friend, Sarah McNaughton, shares some tales from her three-day trip around Ireland’s southwest on the famous Paddywagon.
When you hear the word ‘Paddywagon,’ what image pops into your head? For me, it was a teetery wooden wagon spray-painted green, pulled by a wobbly old donkey carrying a red-haired man with freckles perched on a pile of potatoes. Oh, the power of stereotypes.
The Paddywagon, it turns out, is a bright green bus with a pipe-smoking leprechaun printed on it. It was indeed carrying a red-headed man with freckles, although he was the tour guide and sitting in the driver’s seat (no starchy vegetables in sight).
Mark, our guide, and his wonderful wagon took me and about 20 other tourists for a three-day trip around the southwest coast of Ireland. The transportation, accommodation, breakfasts, entry to sites, and local knowledge was all included for a price that would blow the mind of any cheap college student. We were off to a very good start.
Being Irish American, family and friends had given me mighty expectations of the west. They never let up about the beautiful Cliffs of Moher or the Burren or the people or the pub life or the architecture… so it’s fair to say I was expecting A LOT.
And Ireland delivered, even to my absurdly high standards. Blessed with gorgeous weather, I finally experienced what people call “breathtaking views” at the Cliffs of Moher: 214 meters of striped rock rising straight up out of the wild waves of the Atlantic. My hair danced a jig in the wind and I just stood there, staring in awe.
The tour also included little surprises along the way, like the little Christmas Market we discovered across the street from our hostel in Galway. It was here that yours truly had her first (and probably last, because it’s difficult to think of eating a character from Winnie the Pooh) kangaroo burger, much to the amusement of the Australians in the group.
Then came the pubs.
I’d been told that Galway and Killarney are two of the biggest party towns in Ireland, and they didn’t disappoint. If anything, I was still unprepared for what happened next: six pubs in two days and more fascinating people than I’m able to count. Dancing to traditional Irish music was the common thread between the nights in Galway and Killarney, and having Irish step-danced in the States for many years, I was feeling quite at home. But I was worried about one little thing: understanding the locals.
The farther west you go, the thicker the accent gets. Other than the fact that I am now counting down the days until I turn “tirty-tree-and-a-tird,” I understood nearly everything – even when, as one man in Galway put it, “Ar’t’ur Guinness is talkin’.”
I’m not sure why, but nearly every sightseeing opportunity I’ve had in Ireland so far has required going to great heights. From the Gravity Bar at the Guinness Storehouse to the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge to kissing the Blarney Stone, me and my little buddy acrophobia have had a stressful trip.
Seeing as I’m a writer, kissing the Blarney Stone and receiving the ‘gift of gab’ was almost more of a career goal than a tourist destination, and I’m considering adding it to my resumé because it took a lot more effort than I thought it would.
To kiss the stone, we had to climb up one of the narrowest, steepest spiral staircases I’ve ever seen, built for the world’s tiniest feet, until we reached the top of the castle. You may say this is nothing. I urge you then, you daredevil, you, to skip on over to the lovely middle-aged Irish man who holds you down as you lie on your back, scoot to the edge of the castle wall, and then dangle headfirst through a hole in the castle floor with nothing but the grass 90 feet below to catch you. That’s what I thought – not so brave now, are we?
Facing my fear of heights left me with a strange calm that followed me all the way back to Dublin that night and still hasn’t left me. Either that or after seeing the biggest cliffs, the most pubs, the prettiest landscapes and the nicest people in my life, I’m left with a numbness that needs remedying. The southwest may be seeing me again soon.
Fancy hopping on a coach and touring around Ireland?