Engaging Ireland News

Current news and information about Ireland and Irish travel

Northern Ireland – Don’t Miss Out!


We recently returned from a 3-week trip to Ulster, most of which was spent in Northern Ireland. We spent time in every county in N.I. and visited several locations in each county. We met many people who are suffering doubly right now with the downturn in the economy and recent news accounts about renewed violence in the country. Several people (from Facebook, from our website, and from our friends, family, and others) have made comments or asked us questions about how safe it is to travel in the country and about whether or not we were concerned about our personal safety while traveling.

We had no hesitation about traveling in and around N.I. and will tell anyone willing to listen that there is no reason to avoid the country. The potential of encountering crime or violence in Northern Ireland is actually less than when you travel in the United States (or other areas of the world, for that matter). Levels of crime in bigger cities are lower in Northern Ireland than they are in most larger cities of the world.

The violence that has occurred in Northern Ireland is not now (nor has it ever been) random acts of violence/terror against any persons who happen to be in the area. Most of the acts of violence/terror have been focused by one group of people against a specific other group of people (e.g. loyalist against republican or vice versa or republican
against the British forces that occupy Northern Ireland to “keep the peace”). There is not a general danger to tourists, nor has the violence occurred in mainly tourist areas like the Antrim Coast. That being said, this is not to imply that innocent people have never been hurt. If you wander into a conflict area, you may end up getting caught in the crossfire, so it is prudent to avoid areas where conflict may occur. However, it is not like some of the randomized
violence that occurs, for instance, in the United States in the form of car jackings or muggings.

We did not fear for our safety at any time in any of the places we visited (and we visited Belfast during the initial days of the recent rioting). Prudence would suggest that travelers to Northern Ireland keep an eye on news casts while traveling in the country and avoid areas that might be experiencing conflict (or where there could potentially be conflict, as with the case during scheduled marches or demonstrations), perhaps most specifically at night. We used public transportation in several places in Northern Ireland (including Derry City and Belfast) and never had any issues at all with feeling uncomfortable or out-of-place. You just need to do your research, know where you’re going and what you’re doing, and pay attention (be vigilant!). We would give this advice to people if they were traveling anywhere in the world, however. It is not just applicable to Northern Ireland.

Here is what the U.S. Department of State says on its website about dissident groups in N.I.
(http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1145.html):

”These groups have used firearms and explosives to target police and
military personnel, attacking private vehicles and homes of security
personnel, police stations, and other justice sector buildings. While
these incidents have the potential for some spillover into Ireland,
American citizens and tourists have not been targeted.”

We believe that one of the most important things people need to remember with regard to what they’re seeing about violence in Northern Ireland is that the media are in the business of making money and generally do so by sensationalizing issues. (i.e. “What should we be afraid of this week?”) So don’t let the media coverage scare you into not visiting some of the most lovely places on the island!

Posted 6 years, 3 months ago at 8:09 am.

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Packing Tips for Your Trip to Ireland (Part III)

Your most important document.

In this final installment of packing tips, we’ll take a look at some of the more dreary and tedious aspects of preparing for travel and gathering in some of the loose ends and tidbits of information that we missed in the first two parts of the series.

The first item of business may seem completely obvious, but it’s something you need to remember to do: Make copies of the confirmations for any of the reservations you have made related to this trip (flight information, accommodation confirmations, rental car, etc.). Be certain that you have contact phone numbers for all of these places, including the airline(s) you’ll be flying. If you miss a flight or a flight is cancelled, it is sometimes easier and faster to call the airline to re-book than it is to stand in line with everyone else who are trying to do the same thing. If you have purchased travel insurance and/or international medical coverage, be sure to take that information with you as well. We generally take an envelope or a folder that contains all of these copies and information.  Some people have said that they take photographs of the documents with their cell phones, and that’s fine, but we think you should have hard copies of the documents as well.

In addition to taking copies of documents with you, you should make a couple of extra color copies of your passport. Leave one at home with someone you would be able to get in touch with easily should you lose your passport. If you are traveling with other people, exchange copies with them.

We’ve seen packing lists where the author suggests you take your address book; however, this is can prove a bit cumbersome. If you’re taking a cell phone with you on your trip, you can generally add the address information to your “Contacts” list, but we’re going to suggest something a little different. If you’re planning to send postcards or packages from Ireland, make address labels with your printer at home and take those with you. We use the labels to save time when writing postcards or sending items home ahead of us. It saves precious vacation time when you’re on the road.

If you take prescription medications, leave the medications in their original pharmacy packaging/bottles with the labels on them. Be aware that some medications that are legal by prescription in the United States are illegal to possess at any time in other countries. Be sure to check consular information sheets for the countries you’re planning to visit before you attempt to get on the plane. Don’t plan to have a prescription from your personal physician filled by a pharmacy in Ireland. You would have to get one from an Irish physician, so be sure to bring enough medication for your entire stay.

Speaking of medications, if you have any issues with motion sickness, you should bring something to help with that. There are over-the-counter products available in Ireland, but we generally suggest that people bring ginger pills (which are much less expensive and don’t make you tired), which you should take about 30 minutes ahead of any activity which might potentially cause you problems (flights, boat trips, etc.).  In the United States, you can generally purchase ginger pills at stores that sell dietary supplements. Travis has had some fairly severe problems with motion sickness in the past, but he does really well with the ginger, even on a boat in open seas when the weather is a bit dicey.

Make photocopies of any credit cards that you are taking with you as well. You can leave those and your passport copy with your trusted person at home. If you should lose a card or have your cards stolen, you will have all the contact information and card numbers in one place, so you can quickly notify all of the appropriate people. You can keep those numbers stored in your cell phone, but if your phone is stolen along with your cards – say your day pack is stolen, you won’t be able to easily get the information from overseas.

If you are planning to take your cell phone with you to Ireland, you will want to do a few things in preparation. First, check to make sure your cell phone is unlocked for use in Ireland.  We realize that most people are already savvy to this, but we just want to remind you! Second, if you have a smartphone, you will want to check with your provider about getting an international data plan. Unless you leave the phone in “Airplane” mode (in which case you can’t make or receive phone calls) or keep it turned off, your phone will be continuously hitting the satellite or nearest wireless and an exchange of data will be made. You could find yourself with a hefty phone bill  (to the tune of several hundreds of dollars) after you get home! If you need a phone while you’re in Ireland, but you don’t need to be available at your normal phone number for people at home to contact you, you can purchase a relatively cheap pay-as-you-go phone once you get to Ireland. Some people prefer this method to taking their own phone, but some people don’t want to have a different phone number while they’re traveling.

A note about travelers’ checks: You can take them with you to Ireland, but you will need to cash them at a bank, and you will be charged a fee for that service. Many places in Ireland no longer accept travelers’ checks. And, as there are ATMs all over the country, there really isn’t any need to have the checks, in our opinion. You can get cash as needed via a debit card, and many of your costs related to lodging, eating, and entertainment may be paid for with credit or debit cards (generally accepted are Visa, MasterCard, and American Express). When asked if you want your charge done in euros or dollars, do not let them charge in dollars, as you will get a very poor exchange rate on top of the fee that you’re assessed for the privilege!

The last item we will mention in our packing tips is guide books. This is a very personal decision, we feel, so we won’t tell you which one you should take. Go to a bookstore or look at an online bookstore and select the travel guide that you feel will provide you with the information that is most applicable to your personal tastes and that provides good information about the places you want to travel. Even at that, you don’t necessarily have to drag the whole book with you to Ireland. If you want to you, you can buy the books you like and then photocopy or tear out the pages that pertain to your itinerary.

Good planning ahead of time will make for a more enjoyable and relaxing trip. Until next time, we leave you with this well-known Irish blessing. Slán abhaile!

May the road rise to meet you...

May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon your fields and,
Until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Posted 7 years, 1 month ago at 4:19 pm.

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Packing Tips for Your Trip to Ireland (Part II)

Don't skimp: Get a good-quality electrical adaptor with surge protection.

In our previous article, we discussed what kind of and how much luggage you should bring, what types of clothing and footwear you might want to pack, and how to be a bit prepared for the weather in Ireland. In this article, we continue our discussion of what to pack for Ireland with a look at some things you might not think about when making your packing list (and you should use a packing list).

Most people know that they’ll need an adapter for the electrical outlets. Don’t buy the cheapest one you can find. You will be sorry when your blowdryer, curling iron, rechargeable batteries, or (worst case scenario) laptop are fried! Spend the extra $10-15 and get a good-quality adapter with hi/lo settings and surge protection.

You will probably want to bring extra memory cards for your digital camera as well. Unless you have a laptop or other storage device available to which you can upload your photos, it’s a good idea to have extra storage available. To hold your memory cards in one place, you might consider purchasing a case that can hold several cards. For around $10, we purchased (from one of the office store chains) a hard-sided case that can hold up to a dozen SD memory cards.

Whether you are driving in Ireland or using public transport, you should purchase a good map. Our favorites are the Michelin Ireland map – not the one with Ireland and Britain; the one with just Ireland – or the Ordinance Survey Ireland (OSI) maps. We have found that these maps, along with a GPS with a current map (for those of you who will be driving), have saved us from being hopelessly lost many times. On the other hand, they also have helped us be more brave about driving off on those smaller, unmarked roads that look like they may lead to a wonderful adventure, because we are assured that we will be able to get back to where we need to be…eventually! If you’re exploring Ireland on a tour or only plan to stick to major roadways, almost any map of Ireland will suffice.

Small LED flashlight.

Pack a small torch (flashlight) for you trip. You might not see why you would need one, but we can tell you from experience that there are many times this will come in handy. If you get a flat tire late in the day or at night, if you end up out walking/hiking/exploring later than you had planned to, if you lose an earring under the bed, if you come across a rarely-explored cave or castle, you will be very happy to have a flashlight. It may sound ridiculous to say, but Ireland becomes black as pitch after the sun sets, if you’re not in area that has streetlights (which is most of Ireland). You can get a very small LED version for just a few bucks. If you don’t want to bother with carrying batteries, you can purchase a wind-up model for a few dollars more.

If you wear contact lenses, be sure to take extra lenses with you and/or back-up glasses. If you have worn corrective lenses for any length of time, you probably already realize you should do this, but sometimes the most obvious items get left behind!

First-time visitors to Ireland should be aware that many lodging accommodations do not provide a facecloth/washcloth. If you can’t live without one, be sure to pack one in your carry-on. We have noticed that department stores and stores that sell towels generally have them available for sale (in case you forget one), and some hotels and spas that cater more to foreign visitors may have them, but you might just have to ask for one.

Something else you’ll want to think about while you’re traveling: How will you keep your dirty clothes separate from your clean ones? Unless you’re planning to wash clothes every day (and are sure that they’ll be dry by morning, if you’re moving from one accommodation to the next each day), you’ll want to keep them separate. What we’ve learned to do is to pack a few gallon-sized zipper-top plastic bags to take along until we find a place to wash the clothes. If you’re staying in self-catering that has washing facilities in the unit, you don’t have to worry about this so much, but you might want to take some long in case you get wet socks or clothing and don’t want them to get anything else wet! (Take an extra pair of socks and change of clothing along in the car or your daypack if you’re going out walking or hiking…just in case it rains unexpectedly.)

Carry a journal or sketchbook...

We also suggest that any traveler to any destination carry a journal/sketchbook and a glue stick, so you can document your impressions and memories of your travel as they occur. If you aren’t journaling several times a day as you go, take a few minutes out of each morning or evening to write in your journal. While we are artists, we don’t generally consider ourselves to be artists who draw or paint especially well, but we have taken to stopping at places we visit to try to sketch what we see: people, animals, plants, buildings, whatever… Doing so provides us a different perspective on places that we may have visited many times. Give it a try!

In our third, and final, part of this series about packing for your trip to Ireland, we’ll take a look at some other things you’ll want to think about with regard to paperwork and traveling with medications. Until we meet again, slán abhaile!

Posted 7 years, 1 month ago at 11:38 am.

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Packing Tips for Your Trip to Ireland (Part I)

Only bring minimal luggage, especially if you're using public transportation.

Ireland doesn’t tend to be a dressy, fussy place where you’ll need lots of clothes and accessories and extra shoes to have a great time. Jeans and casual shirt or khakis and a sweater will do you just fine in most instances. We like that about Ireland!

Bring as little luggage as you possibly can. We generally only travel with a carry-on convertible bag (as we showed you in our last blog post) and a smaller messenger bag or tote. If you’re planning to use public transportation at any time when you’ll have all of your luggage with you – even if it’s only for the train ride from the airport to your hotel in Dublin – you will want to have a little baggage as possible. Plus, if you follow our tip to get the smallest vehicle you can fit in, you won’t have a whole lot of room for luggage in the boot, and you’ll want to put your bags in the boot. If you’re traveling from town to town with all of your belongings each day (or every few days), you may be stopping to have lunch or visit a site on the way, and you don’t want your luggage in the back seat announcing the fact that you are a tourist with all of your stuff. There may not be as much crime in Ireland as there is where you’re from, but it does happen. Don’t help thieves target you; it’ll ruin your holiday.

But let’s just take a moment right now to talk about the elephant in the room: it rains in Ireland, sometimes a lot. You need to be prepared for everything from light drizzle to torrential downpours with mighty winds. Though thunderstorms are rare in Ireland, they are not completely unheard of. To prepare for the rain, we have purchased good quality rain coats that work as windbreakers as well. We also have rain hats that have fairly wide brims to keep the dripping water off our faces and necks.

For several reasons, we generally do not travel with an umbrella. We like to have our hands free to use our cameras and video equipment (or to hang on to a railing). There’s no point in taking a cheap umbrella to Ireland, and a good quality umbrella takes up more room in our luggage than we are willing to sacrifice. The wind can render your umbrella useless anyway. To sum up, if it’s only a soft day (not raining hard), we wouldn’t really need an umbrella, and if it’s raining and blowing too hard, the umbrella is useless at best and broken at worst.

There were several times on our first couple of trips to Ireland that I was wishing I had a pair of gloves to keep my hands warmer. I now take along a pair of those little stretchy gloves that don’t cost much and don’t take up much room in the suitcase. Even if they get wet, my hands are warmer!

So, what should you wear? Even during the summer months, the weather can fluctuate a great deal, including the temperature. Days will generally start out cool and can get quite warm by the afternoon. Dress in layers that you can peel off and put on as the weather dictates. Due to the fact that the ground is quite uneven in many places, you should not plan to wear to high heels or shoes with narrow heels. Wear good walking shoes, hiking boots, or supportive sandals as appropriate. And, when wearing walking shoes or hiking boots, be sure to have good socks made for walking. It does make a difference to your poor, tired feet at the end of the day! Also, if you can waterproof your shoes or boots, do so before you travel. In the United States, you can purchase spray-on products that do a good job of helping keep water out of your shoes (unless you’re walking through deep puddles or it’s raining buckets).

Next time, we’ll give you some more tips for packing for your trip. Until then, slán go fóill!

Posted 7 years, 1 month ago at 9:26 am.

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