Thursday 30 Aug, 2012

My Ireland Travel Guide – What To See, Hear and Eat

One of my favorite songs by American folk singer Judy Collins is “Who Knows Where the Time Goes,” and I can’t help but think about the lyrics now that school is in session for another year. I’m back for my 33nd year as a high school history teacher and I’m in the same windowless room where I began my teaching career in 1980. I don’t think I realized as a first-year teacher that I would still be here in 2012 and I certainly did not know back then how much I would be able to travel around the world with my students, thanks to EF Educational Tours. Maybe that’s why I’m still here. On days when I feel as if the walls are closing in on me, I save my sanity by conjuring up memories of a past tour. During the hectic first week of school, I wished more than once that I could be back in Ireland, where I spent ten memorable days this summer.

Tea and SconesEven though I bring a thermos of tea to school with me, it is just not the same as enjoying tea poured in a fine china cup. You can get a decent cup of tea and scones just about anywhere in Ireland. You and your students can find so many tea rooms and tea shops during your lunch breaks or free time. It is indeed the national non-alcoholic drink in Ireland and take it from me, it’s the cup that cheers. Check out my April 12, 2012 post, “Appreciation of Fine Tea in England.” I love tea from all over the world. However, if you’re going to eat a delicious scone, you need to drink a cup of blended black tea with milk and sugar.

King's Head Pub in Ireland

King’s Head Pub

My usual school lunch in the workroom is a can of tuna (or peanut butter sandwich), yogurt, and a piece of fruit. Not anything to write home about, but I could wax eloquently about the pub lunches I enjoyed in Ireland. Located in Galway’s Latin Quarter, the King’s Head Pub and Restaurant has an 800-year history and its name has connections to the execution of King Charles I in 1649. In his Ireland 2012 guidebook, Rick Steves recounts a legend about this pub which was given to the man who took off the king’s head. Being a pub owner in Galway back then was probably like being in the witness protection program.

Irish pubs are excellent places to eat lunch with your high school students. I advise my students not to go into any establishment in large groups for lunch. If everyone is interested in having a pub lunch, go to different places in smaller groups with at least one adult included. According to Irish law, if your students are under the age of 15, they cannot enter a pub without a parent or guardian. Students between the ages of 15 and 18 can enter the pubs for lunch unaccompanied by an adult, but I would certainly recommend someone to be with them.

Waterfall in Ireland

Waterfall with Rua and Richard C.

I give some credit to my longevity as a teacher to the fact that I walk about 25 miles each week. Due to my schedule, I walk between 5:00 and 6:00 in the morning during the week (but later and longer on Saturdays) and it’s dark in the park at that time. I wish I could start my day with a walk in Killarney National Park. Richard C. and his beautiful Irish red setter, Rua, were my guides for an invigorating two-hour hike to see some spectacular waterfalls. Rua is even featured in a fashion magazine posing with a two-legged model who can’t even hold a candle to the four-legged model. You should look into tour itineraries that will allow you and your students to see the natural beauty of the countries you visit on foot. That’s the cure for too much time on a tour bus.

EF Tour Director Mike J

Tour Director Mike J

Even though I have enjoyed seeing my school colleagues again after the summer break, I miss the new friends I made in Ireland, especially my tour director, Mike J. As a group leader, you know you’ve had a successful tour if you become friends with your tour director. I have heard countless stories from other group leaders about the lasting friendships with their tour directors. Mike is the consummate professional and he spends a great deal of time preparing for his tours. It was a privilege to have him as my tour director in Ireland and I hope our paths will cross again in the future.

Like many small towns, the night life where I live leaves a lot to be desired. With the school year in full swing, I really don’t have the energy to enjoy the night life of any place. On your tours, your tour director should have some ideas about evening activities for you and your students. That’s why your pre-tour contacts with your tour director are so important. Be sure to read Paul Mattasini’s February 14, 2012 post, “Conquering Initial ‘Pre-Tour Contact.’” Some tour directors will offer “tour director optionals” and you can find out about them before you depart.

Kate Kearney's Cottage

Lisa on stage at Kate Kearney’s Cottage

Mike’s “tour director optional” was a traditional evening of Irish music and dinner at Kate Kearney’s Cottage, located in County Kerry. An Irish band called Tuatha (made up of Mike Dowd, Donal Moroney, and Barry Lynch) provided the evening’s entertainment. They asked for volunteers from the audience to come up and sing a song or two. Lisa B., a member of our tour group, volunteered. Little did the audience and the band know that back home, she is an Ohio Arts Council Fee Supported Artist known as the “Belle of the Blues.” Performing “Peach Pickin’ Mama,” a song by EG Kight, Lisa Biales brought down the house (or I should say the cottage!) The band proclaimed her to be the most talented audience volunteer to ever grace their stage. Even with no leprechauns in sight, it was a magical evening for all of us.

Readers, what are your best travel memories?

(Editor’s note: Add Gail on Google+ If you have a question about for EF Group Leader Gail Ingram, or an idea for a blog post topic, you can email Gail here, and she will answer readers’ questions in future blog posts.)