Feature

This week’s travel dream: Ireland without a map

Getting off the beaten path is the best way to discover emerald-colored hills and valleys and villages with delightful names like Ballygriffin.

I had come to Ireland, “a country I knew nothing about,” to lose myself in its misty, craggy hills, said Matt Gross in The New York Times. Ireland hadn’t been a blank slate to me; in fact, Irish cultural exports are so omnipresent in America that their spawning ground can come to seem “wholly imaginary,” a magical land where Guinness runneth over, the children recite Yeats, and U2 songs resound in the streets. I figured I should steer hard away from the beaten path to get past the reputation. So I decided to rent a Fiat and explore the Irish countryside without a map, GPS, or, “really, any sense of Irish geography.”

Pulling out of the parking lot in Dublin, I turned onto what felt like the wrong side of the road and my “heart raced with every careful shifting of gears.” But as I used the sun to navigate a southwestern path toward County Kerry, the rewards for my initial anxiety were “immediate and unending.” The Irish countryside was “remarkable, a constant flow of the expected green hills and greener valleys.” As I drove from glen to glen, I relaxed enough to enjoy the scenery and such “delightfully odd” village names as Kilgobnet and Ballygriffin. Sometimes, “a name would intrigue me enough to pursue it.” Other times, I let the road lead me, which is how I stumbled upon Powerscourt Waterfall, “about as classic an Irish image as you could imagine, all rocks and woods and fern-furred fields and white rushing streams.”

After a couple of days filled with “needless, if gorgeous,” detours, a bit of “travel loneliness” crept in. I craved company—and a pint. Approaching the “lovely seaside town” of Bantry, I noticed a pub’s poster advertising a local band called the Calvinists, “a fantastic name, especially in Catholic Ireland.” I stepped inside and soon learned the Calvinists were not only cleverly named, they were “awesome”—a rock band that made smart use of a banjo. Glasses clanked and “the room hummed with pride” over this potential “next U2.” Maybe it was the three pints of Murphy’s stout that deserved the credit, but I felt I’d “found what I’d been looking for.” Beauty, human warmth, music—this was Ireland.

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