(Before we start, I’m forcing myself to do some PR. I’ve made a Facebook page for this here blog, so feel free to “Like” it if you prefer to get your updates through that medium for whatever reason: LitLib on Facebook! I also have a Twitter profile that I thoroughly neglect @OliverJGray)
Ireland is like a small East Coast fishing town. Paint peels from wood from overexposure to salt air, there is a subtle quaintness to the tininess of the houses, and every business in the entire place shuts down around 9:00 PM.
Well, the pubs stay open, but those don’t count.
Due to a slight logistics explosion, our first day in Ireland was set back roughly six hours. We had planned to pick up our rental car and careen into Kilkenny around 1:00 PM Irish time, but a delayed train and missed flight had us pulling into the hotel around 7:45 instead.
We checked in, dropped off our gear, and sat around for a few minutes, trying to shake the travel dust from our shoulders. It’s pretty hard to keep up the international kickassery after 36 hours of being awake, in a completely different time zone, after hurtling through the air at 505 MPH next to a demented clown-woman, but we tried anyway.
We got back into the car and drove to the heart of Kilkenny; an awesome Irish town with brightly colored row houses, a decidedly European bridge smack in the center of town, and a nearly 900 year old castle looming on a nearby bluff. After fighting with some locals for a place to park, we got out and sauntered around like tourists will do; giggling at the accents, remarking on the obvious cultural differences, and pining after pints of Guinness and Bulmers.
We were in no rush. Drunk on wanderlust, we were happy to finally be together on our honeymoon, and happy to just enjoy the lively Sunday evening. Kilkenny had beaten long standing rivals Tipperary in the All Ireland Senior Hurling semi-finals match earlier that day, and the town was awash in mirth and merriment. Every pub we passed was overflowing with music and loud patrons, despite it getting later and later on a work night.
Tiff and I wandered down a side street that had Chinese-style stringed flags hanging over head, each one decorated with a carp or a flower. All I could smell was beer and cigarette smoke, which was oddly welcoming. When we finally decided our stomachs were too hungry to ignore, we popped into one of the less rowdy pubs, Kyteler’s Inn, that had a delicious sounding menu scribbled in mutli-colored chalk just outside the door.
But as we sat down, the waitress informed us that the kitchen was closed. We were free to get drinks and take a seat wherever, but food wasn’t going to happen. We thanked her and tried another place.
After five restaurants, we began to realize that kitchens close early in Ireland. By 10:00, we had resigned ourselves to eating Lion Bars and Tatyo brand Cheese and Onion crisps in our hotel room for dinner.
Fortunately, on the way home, we found a Turkish Kebab restaurant that was still open, and was more than happy to serve us massive portions of doner, salad, and pita bread. I’m not sure if it was the hunger or just really good kebab…but it was the best meal I’ve had in a long time. We even had to pull the typical American move and take some home with us.
This night set the tone for the rest of our trip. We spent most of the day out having grand adventures, only to be rushing to any place we could find, praying their kitchens were still open.
If you decide to eat while you’re vacationing in Ireland, be aware of the following:
1. There are pubs and bars, but they aren’t always the same thing. Pubs sell food, but only until about 10:00 PM, and that’s on the extreme end. Bars typically only sell alcohol (you may find a bowl of nuts if you’re lucky).
2. Most normal restaurants serve meals between certain hours (like dinner between 6:00 PM and 9:00 PM); there are no Applebees or 24 hour fast food restaurants like the ones that kept you alive during your college binge-drinking years.
3. There are no hostesses. Do not go into a restaurant and assume that someone will lead you to your seat like an elementary school teacher leading a recess line. Seat yourself. A bar back or other employee will notice you, so don’t worry.
4. Menu items are not always available all day. You may find that a pub only serves sandwiches at lunch time. Deal with it. Nothing is worse than a confused, whiny American asking for Bangers and Mash at 8:43 PM after drinking four pints of Beamish.
5. Fast food is almost non-existent. You may stumble upon a Subway or a McDonald’s, but who wants to eat that garbage anyway? Ireland doesn’t have fast food, because there is no slow food. Menus will inform you and apologize if a certain dish will take 15 minutes to get to you. You’ll get your food fast, wherever you eat.
6. Tipping is not required. It’s kind of the way tipping should be, if the American restaurant industry hadn’t ruined the whole thing by paying their servers slave wages and making them rely on tips for sustenance. You can tip if you thought the service was especially good, quick, or friendly. Otherwise, there would be no harm in paying what you owe and saying thank you.
The good news is that almost all of the food we had was excellent. We may have been lucky in choosing our places to eat, but I liked everything I ordered, and only felt it was overpriced on one or two occasions.
So, eat, drink, be merry. Also remember pulling a real pint of Guinness takes about ~5 minutes, so make sure to order your second before you’re done with your first.