A woman from Louisiana is taking her niece to Ireland in search of James Joyce's Dublin, Frank McCourt's Limerick, Irish-speaking areas, and a good punk rock show.
Interested in getting coached? E-mail us your questions--seriously, the more the better--to Letters@BudgetTravel.com.
Want advice? Log on for our weekly Online Trip Coach chats, Tuesdays at noon (ET), and let our experts answer your questions. Click here to submit questions and browse our archived chat transcripts.
Dear Trip Coach...
When I told my niece Brittani that I'd take her anywhere for her 21st birthday, she chose Ireland. She's a big reader, so we'll definitely be checking out James Joyce's Dublin and Frank McCourt's Limerick. I'd also like to allow some time for unplanned adventures and mingling with locals. Catherine Credeur, Shreveport, La.
"There's so much to see: Limerick, Dublin, Belfast, Cork, Blarney Castle, Galway's Gaeltacht [Irish-speaking region], and County Kerry. Can you help us prioritize?" Covering all this in a week would zap any chance of downtime. Cork is cool, but since you're going to the bigger cities of Dublin and Belfast, save it for another trip. That means missing Blarney Castle, but you'll be able to see other castles (with fewer crowds). Visiting the Gaeltacht and Kerry could feel redundant. Do the Gaeltacht this time, Kerry another.
"We'll be renting a car for the trip. How can we figure out driving times?"AA Ireland is a valuable resource for planning a road trip (aaireland.ie).
"Will we have trouble booking our lodgings while we're in Ireland?" Finding last-minute accommodations is only really tricky during summer. If you want to stay in B&Bs--which are definitely the way to go in Ireland--you should consider the voucher system from Dooley Vacations. You buy vouchers for however many nights you need, the company sends you a guide with listings for more than 1,500 B&Bs, and you book directly with the owners (877/331-9301, dooleyvacations.com, vouchers from $100 per night).
"Of all the James Joyce-related activities in Dublin, which are the most worthwhile?" There are two attractions every Joyce fan should visit. The James Joyce Centre, a few steps from where he went to school north of the city center, has exhibitions, a library, and lectures (35 N. Great George's St., 011-353/1-878-8547, jamesjoyce.ie, $7.25). For atmosphere, however, you can't beat The James Joyce Museum in Sandycove, eight miles southeast of Dublin. The museum is in a 19th-century tower that serves as the setting for the opening chapter of Ulysses (011-353/1-280-9265, for directions search for "joyce museum" at visitdublin.com, $10.50). To get a feel for Joyce's Dublin, take one of the walking tours led by The James Joyce Centre ($14.50), or pick up The Ulysses Guide: Tours Through Joyce's Dublin by Robert Nicholson. It's a fun little book that re-creates some of the walks that Joyce's characters took around the city.
"Brittani is intrigued by the Limerick that Frank McCourt described in Angela's Ashes, but I've heard the city doesn't offer much for tourists." Although Limerick has improved a great deal since McCourt's self-described "miserable childhood," it's still one of Ireland's poorest and most blighted cities and doesn't hold much appeal for the average visitor. McCourt fans, however, will enjoy the Angela's Ashes Walking Tour (St. Mary's Action Centre, 44 Nicholas St., 011-353/6-131-8106, $14.50).
"I'd love to see the Blasket Islands. Are they accessible year-round?" The nearly uninhabited Blasket Islands are one of Ireland's most striking sights, but ferries only run April to October and even then can be canceled if the waters are rough. You'd probably be better off going to the Irish-speaking Aran Islands, or Oileáin Árainn. Located off Galway, they're a great option in the off-season. Inis Mór is the most populated and most commercialized island, but it has one of the more spectacular prehistoric forts in Europe--Dún Aengus, on the edge of a 300-foot-tall cliff. The other two islands, Inis Meáin and Inis Oírr, have fewer than 350 people each and give a more authentic sense of island life. Both can easily be covered on foot in a few hours. The views (of the Connemara coast, the Burren, and the Cliffs of Moher) are among the best in Europe. Irish is the main language, but most locals are fluent in English.
"Where will Brittani and I find the best opportunities to mingle with the locals?" Cliché or not, the pub is still the center of Irish social life. The most authentic pubs have no music unless it's live and a fantastic pint of Guinness that takes the bartender at least two minutes to pour. You'll have no problem finding pubs full of Irish characters as you travel throughout the country's smaller towns. In Dublin, Grogan's (15 S. William St., 011-353/1-677-9320) and The Stag's Head (1 Dame Ct., 011-353/1-679-3687) are classics. The Temple Bar Pub, in the heart of Dublin's Temple Bar quarter, is touristy but consistently lively (47/48 Temple Bar, 011-353/1-672-5286).
"We're from the South, where religion is one of the first things you talk about when you meet someone. Is it OK to broach the subject?" In the Republic of Ireland, where about 87 percent of the population is Catholic, it's unusual to talk religion on a personal level. A good pub conversation might touch on religion, but only in a general sense. In Northern Ireland, the Catholic-Protestant divide played a significant role in the Troubles. It's best to stick to less sensitive subjects there.
"Brittani's been getting into punk music and would love to see a show in Dublin." Most of the up-and-coming groups are booked by Aiken Promotions (aikenpromotions.com) and MCD Productions (mcd.ie); their websites list upcoming shows. The Village (thevillagevenue.com), POD (pod.ie), and The Button Factory (buttonfactory.ie) host bands regularly. Just like in the States, college campuses are great places to catch a gig. The Trinity College Dublin Students' Union website has a calendar of events (tcdents.com).
"Brittani's grandmother gave me $200 toward a special birthday splurge. Any suggestions?" A play at Dublin's Abbey Theatre will appeal to a literary buff like Brittani (011-353/1-878-7222, abbeytheatre.ie, from $20). Treat her to a pretheater dinner at Chapter One (18/19 Parnell Square, 011-353/1-873-2266, $51 for three courses), and go for a nightcap in the elegant Horseshoe Bar at The Shelbourne hotel (27 St. Stephen's Green, 011-353/1-663-4500).
Belfast's Black Taxi Tours pass sites linked to the city's tumultuous past. The driver-guides give commentary along the way (belfasttours.com, $52 for up to three passengers).