My mother and I embarked on a journey last month across the pond to the Emerald Isle… the country where “Game of Thrones” landscape meets Guinness for breakfast, the land of thousands of pubs (no, really, the city of Dublin alone has over 800 pubs, and the island of Ireland has over 7,000). It was my mom’s dream trip and my gift to her for her 60th birthday (I know, I’m basically daughter of the year). I was thrilled to research this magical place and map out a journey that would allow us to see breathtaking sights, partake in the local culture and history and, of course, maintain a steady buzz while at it (which is, really, a huge part of Irish culture and history, am I right?). Mum and I had some incredible boozy adventures and learned what it’s like to take part in the “craic” (pronounced “crack”), which is a Gaelic term for good times, camaraderie, lively conversation, and what locals explained to me as the true essence of Ireland. Great craic, if I do say so myself — craic agus ceol!
While on the surface it’s seemingly a bit touristy, one of my most cherished activities in the lively city of Dublin was visiting the Guinness Storehouse, or brewery, which has been housed at the same location since the founding of Guinness in 1759. I’m not speaking of your average brewery, as you can probably imagine; I’m talking about an Irish empire that takes up several city blocks called St. James Gate, and sprawls over a distance greater than our own NuLu neighborhood. The Guinness Storehouse tour was truly magical and incredibly aesthetically pleasing, unlike any brewery tour I’ve ever been on. It’s a journey through seven floors of various interactive activities that include stories of deeply entrenched Irish history, through its foundation by Arthur Guinness, the ingredients, tasting rooms and monstrous equipment. And, finally my favorite, the opportunity to go behind the bar and learn how to pour your very own Guinness and then drink it in a 360-degree panoramic observatory bar on the seventh floor, high above beautiful Dublin and the Wicklow Mountains. Absolute creamy, delicious perfection.
My favorite pub in all the places I visited in Ireland had to be Kyteler’s Inn, hidden in a cobblestone alleyway in the medieval town of Kilkenny. Originally it was owned by Dame Alice Kyteler, said to be born in this very house in 1263. Under her ownership, Dame Alice was known to operate “a place of merriment and good cheer,” establishing quite a fortune for herself, and going through four husbands. As history would have it, she was running a brothel and an inn, and was quite the powerhouse in her community, which brought great disdain from the church and the prominent male leaders (after all, this lady cannot succeed on her own, can she?). Thus, the town decided to accuse her of witchcraft and she fled to England in 1324 to escape being burned at the stake. As I was sitting in this pub, I couldn’t help but feel her feminist presence seeping through the stone walls — isn’t this how sex workers have been treated time and time again throughout history? Don’t we, as women, continue to threaten men when we work hard and taste just a bit of success? “Dame Alice, this one’s for you,” I said, and my mom and I toasted with a whiskey.
From pub stool to pub stool across the country, as we road tripped from Dublin to the countryside to the Wild Atlantic Way and all her west coast villages, I found it so curious (and funny) how many Irish folks thought it strange that I wanted to sample local whiskies everywhere we went. In Ireland’s oldest pub, The Brazen Head (opened circa 1198), I asked our server for a whiskey recommendation. “Ye just want whiskey, without ice?” he asked, seemingly shocked that a young woman simply wanted a neat whiskey. In Doolin, a coastal town next to the iconic Cliffs of Moher, in a pub called Gus O’Connor’s that boasts traditional Gaelic music every night, my mom and I met some friends, and one offered to buy us a round, “I’ll have a local whiskey, whatever you suggest,” I said. My new friend, Declan, was completely shocked. “You drinkin’ whiskey?!” He asked, unable to hold back his surprise, seemingly drenched in unintentional misogyny. When I replied yes, he laughed a bit and asked the barkeep for a double of Writer’s Tears (a delightful copper pot still Irish whiskey with a name that I couldn’t help but love). I threw the double back immediately, determined to show these Irish blokes a thing or two. “Next question?” I smiled.
The Irish have Guinness and whiskey in their DNA, no doubt, but many of them have yet to meet a Kentucky girl. I guess that’s just my duty, y’all, breaking down stereotypes about women and pounding whiskey along the way.