The Ireland of Your Dreams

In fishing villages, on storm-tossed islands, and in cozy pubs, the Ireland of Guinness, Gaelic, and jigs lives on

James Ashe's Pub (tel. +353-(0)66/713-0133) was exactly what this jetlagged and hungry traveler had hoped to find halfway through his first day in Ireland.

It was low and dark inside, and the sweet smell of peat wafted from a glowing turf fire. Just before noon, the only other patrons were two creased-face regulars in a corner, sipping their pints in silent camaraderie.

A boy barely in his teens appeared behind the bar to pull me a perfect pint of Guinness, stopping the tap at the three-quarters mark and waiting for the porter's creamy head to settle before topping it off. 

I asked for some food, and he said. "We only have toasteds." This turned out to be a pre-made ham-and-cheese sandwich toasted in its plastic sleeve—an odd, slightly carcinogenic, custom repeated across Ireland.

Outside the pub, there were voices murmuring oddly around the side of the building. I peeked, and saw the publican, leaning against a tractor and chatting with a neighbor in Gaelic—an odd, sing-song language that has changed little in 2,500 years.

Ashe's Pub lies in the village of Camp, just off the Dingle coast road in County Kerry. Kerry is one of the last true Gaeltacht, a region where the Irish language survived centuries of English domination.

While Gaelic is now taught in all Irish schools, in pockets of Western Ireland it never really died out. Even the road signs, which were in both English and Irish as we left Shannon Airport, began dropping the English translations soon after we passed through Limerick.

Frances and I hadn't stopped in Limerick—though I recited a bawdy rhyme under my breath as I drove, just to keep in the spirit of things—because we didn't come to Ireland for cities.

We came to Ireland for brilliant green fields embroidered with low stone walls and littered by Celtic ruins overgrown with grasses and gentle neglect.

We came for cozy B&Bs and afternoon teas.

We came for pubs where tables snuggle around a turf fire, local musicians jam Celtic-style in a corner, and we could share some good craic (conversation) with the craggy locals planted at the bar, jawing in Gaelic and gulping their Guinness, while I surreptitiously picked bits of charred plastic out of the grill grooves in my sandwich.

We came with all sorts of plans.

As usual, few of them worked out.

» On to: A Tale of Two Peninsulas (Part 1: Dingle)

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This article was by Reid Bramblett and last updated in 2011, based on an feature that appeared in 2004 in Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel magazine.
All information was accurate at the time.

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Copyright © 1998–2013 by Reid Bramblett. Author: Reid Bramblett.