Ireland By Van

I stood inside the open door of a wool shop in Galway’s Latin Quarter just after a brief rain shower had passed over, the narrow street outside a crossfire of pedestrians on a late Friday morning. I waited for my girlfriend to buy expensive hand-crafted things that reminded her of people she loved, and found myself quite content doing just that because a) I hadn’t turned on my phone service in Ireland and thusly couldn’t pull it out of my pocket to glance at cortisol-inducing social media feeds and email and b) we didn’t have to be anywhere for three more days.

It was this moment that I realized we were taking a vacation. A real one, like normal people. In 10 days, there had been no slogs up talus fields while wearing 40-pound backpacks, no stuck ropes, no flat bike tires, no shivering. We had each showered three times already, and there I was, standing in a store just looking around at things and letting life pass me by. It was unsettling to think of. Was I finally sliding into middle age? Who am I? I shouldn’t be doing this. I should be hanging my dinner in a tree to prevent bears from eating it, or digging a hole in the ground to poop in, shouldn’t I?

I had a moment of crisis. Just a moment. Then, I heard a busker with an electric guitar out on the busy street outside the shop playing AC/DC’s “TNT.” By himself. With an amp! On a Friday morning, in Ireland! Oy! Oy! My navel-gazing turned to sheer joy at the Galway street music scene, where on a single 20-minute walk through the Latin Quarter, you can walk through four or five different songs played by four or five different musicians, playing guitars, harmonicas, accordions, or singing a capella with a hat tossed on the ground in front of their feet for tips. But the guy playing TNT won me over first.

My family’s from Ireland originally, but I managed to go 37 years and half a dozen trips to Europe before I finally made it to the island. I was fully aware that most people go to Ireland in months other than January, but somehow, after all those years, it was time.

We rented a camper van for 12 days, landing in Dublin at 7 a.m. local time/midnight our time. We hopped into the van and I learned to drive on the left-hand side of the road while sitting on the right-hand side of the van and holding the stick shift in my left hand, in city traffic on narrow streets just as jet lag started to drag my eyelids and shoulders down. It was terrifying and wonderful and it took us forever to find a decent spot to park the van for the night, but when we did we slept for 13 hours.

We drove around the Irish coast for the better part of two weeks, finding out how huge the van actually was—Sprinter-sized, which is great on wide American highways, and quite a bit more engaging on the narrow windy roads of the Irish countryside. We wandered, we found too many things to photograph, too many places we wanted to stay for an extra day, and apparently just like everyone who visits Ireland (according to one taxi driver), that we underestimated how much time we’d need to fully experience it.


Hilary at Curracloe Beach, exhibiting much more joy than in the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan, which was filmed here.
Hilary at Curracloe Beach, exhibiting much more joy than in the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan, which was filmed here.

We found the roads on the Ring of Kerry to be rather engaging. I believe the speed limit here was 70 mph.

We found the roads on the Ring of Kerry to be rather engaging. I believe the speed limit here was 70 mph.

abbey island

Derrynane Abbey, Abbey Island, County Clare.

The cemetery has spilled over into the interior of the ruins of Derrynane Abbey, County Kerry.

People continue to bury their loved ones in the cemetery on Abbey Island, which has spilled over into the interior of the ruins of Derrynane Abbey.

Hilary stops for a photo of the coast on the Ring of Kerry.

Hilary stops for a photo on the Ring of Kerry, not far from where the final scene in Star Wars: The Force Awakens was filmed.

carrigaholt castle

Carrigaholt Castle, built in 1480, County Clare

girl + coffee + van + scenic backdrop = Instagram gold on Loop Head, County Clare

girl + coffee + van + scenic backdrop = Instagram gold? Loop Head, County Clare

bishop island

Bishop Island, County Clare. The structures on top were built in the sixth century, when the sea stack was presumed to be connected to the mainland.

gus oconnors

I mean, naan is good and all, but in a lot of Irish pubs (including Gus O’Connor’s in Doolin), they serve curry with fried potatoes.

cliffs of moher hike

Hilary on the Cliffs of Moher Coastal Walk, a trail from Doolin to the famous Cliffs of Moher.

It got a little muddy near the cattle pen on the Cliffs of Moher Coastal Walk, a 5-mile trail from the town of Doolin to the famous cliffs.

Which is a bit muddy near the cattle pens if it’s been raining a lot recently.

cliffs of moher

The Cliffs of Moher, where Mickey Smith filmed some of Dark Side of the Lens.

cliffs of moher obriens tower

The Cliffs of Moher and O’Brien’s Tower.

cozy cartel 1

I was in the bookstore across the street when I heard these young lads start playing Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Wagon Wheel,” so I came out to shoot photos of them. In a matter of seconds, they had 50 people gathered around them.

cozy cartel 2

They’re called The Cozy Cartel , and they sound like this.

galway bay at dusk

Galway City at dusk.
The famous Long Room at the Trinity College Library, Dublin.

The famous Long Room at the Trinity College Library in Dublin, which certainly brings to mind the Jorge Luis Borges quote, “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”

ireland gear

Some stuff we used: Vasque Skywalk boots, Outdoor Research Axiom Jacket (on top), Outdoor Research Cathode Hoody (underneath), Outdoor Research Maelstrom Dry Bag, Marco Polo Map of Ireland, Irish author Kevin Barry’s There Are Little Kingdoms, Definitive Pub Songs by The Dubliners (not pictured), If I Should Fall From Grace With God by The Pogues (not pictured), Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Bialetti Moka Express pot.


Tags from the story
16 replies on “Ireland By Van”
  1. says: Pete

    Wow, what an awesome trip! I hope to someday do a similar trip to Norway where I have relatives I’ve never met. Nice to know you guys are capable of doing a more “normal” vacation without imploding. Don’t worry, you’ll always be Semi Rad… And thanks for the reminder about Dark Side of the Lens, I had kind of forgotten that one!

  2. says: Tiffany

    Damn. I was in Ireland in October 2015 but in different parts. Doing the van thing is the way to go. Want to go back NOW. Great trip report, thanks for sharing!

    1. says: Chris

      What company did you use for the van? I’m trying to go in 2017, I would rather save money and dirt bag it around.

  3. says: Michelle

    Your photos, as always, are beautiful. I spent a week in Ireland 5 years ago and drove the country but I think next time I’ll do the campervan thing. Thank you for sharing your adventure.

  4. LOVE the photos! I went to Ireland in February once, and it snowed, and it was chaotic, but man what a beautiful country. Love that you did it in a van, too, great idea if I ever get to go back!

  5. says: josh

    so dang good. i was going to road trip around ireland with my family november 2014, but sick kids derailed that trip. moving it up to the top of the trip list after seeing this. thanks for sharing.

  6. says: Aaron

    Good call on the Pogues! We went to Scotland earlier this year and it was similarly beautiful. I thought the coast was kinda like a dripping green Big Sur with ancient stuff sprinkled in for good measure.

  7. says: Jason

    Don’t worry – I lived there for over 4 months, and still didn’t feel like I experienced nearly enough. And I certainly didn’t do the van thing back then, which seems like such a better way to see the countryside. Stoked for you guys! Cheers!

  8. says: harry

    I went to the incomparable Counties Clare and Connemara about 12 years ago with my then-girlfriend, but, after we broke up, she wouldn’t give me the photos we took. Thanks for making up for that.

  9. says: Justin G

    My wife and I sweated out some of those narrow Irish roads in a manual sedan. I tip my cap to you for squeezing around the country in a van! Fanastic stuff!

  10. says: Ali

    I’ve lived in Iteland twice. This brought back lovely memories. Thank you.
    Ps I’ve also climbed the only 2 bolted routes on the whole island, and one had a dead goat at the bottom of it. 🙂

Comments are closed.