Great people, beautiful surroundings in Ireland

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 4, 2016

By Darrell Blackwelder

For the Salisbury Post

While you may have read a column a few weeks ago about gardens and plants of Ireland, there is still much to learn from the tiny nation of individuals who have DNA in common with more than 40 percent of the world’s population.

Visiting the Emerald Isle is fun, historically intriguing and truly easy. Friends and Master Gardeners from Rowan and Davidson counties had the opportunity of a lifetime to see almost unbelievable gardens and plant life. However, there was much more to this trip.

The most obvious question asked by friends is generally, “What was Ireland like?” The answer, nothing like you’ve experienced in North Carolina. Ireland is very unique not only with its beautiful flowers and exotic foliage, but also large, scenic emerald hills and valleys that literally go as far as the eyes can see.

There were very few trees in most of the areas the group visited, especially along the coastal region. The Irish are extremely protective of their byways with very little if any signage along our routes. Most of the highways are very narrow, allowing only single vehicles on some roads.

Ireland is about the size of Kentucky, so it’s a “soft drive” to go to both sides of the country in one day. Rich in history, iconic castles from rock ruins to exorbitant refurbished hotels seem to be as common as athletic fields around our state.

The Irish are extremely hospitable people as tourism is a major industry for the country. The hotels our group experienced were very accommodating, immaculate, amply adorned and well stocked with food and beverage.

If you have ever seen North Carolina cloggers dance at festivals, you have enjoyed a taste of Irish traditional dancing. Or, if you have experienced mountain music, you recognize the deep love for singing that Irish settlers brought to America. These forms of music are brought to life again in Ireland among young people through many traditional shows that are prominently touring Ireland and America.

The second comment from friends is, “Ireland is on my bucket list; never been there, what do I need to do?”  If you’ve always had a yearning to visit the Emerald Isle, here are some suggestions for first time visitors gleaned from our group:

  • Take a guided tour. Less planning and logistics give you more time to enjoy the trip. Let the tour company do all the work. Use a dependable travel agent.
  • Pack light. Take only what you need to be comfortable.
  • Take clothes that are lightweight and can be layered, including a rain jacket.
  • Exchange funds here before you leave.
  • Check hotel Wi-Fi to best use your phone (airplane mode, Wi-Fi, etc.) in order to communicate with family at home but not run up expensive phone, text or data bills.
  • Read up on topics that interest you: history, gardening, culture, geography, etc.
  • Don’t over-plan. If you have a guided tour, the guide will provide you with constant information.

Lastly, if you plan to go with family members or a group of people, make sure they are good travelers. I have traveled all over the United States and abroad and I can honestly say, without question, this is one of the best, if not the best group I’ve ever experienced. Being with friends and family truly enriches your travel experience.