Researching and Visiting Ireland

With my recent articles about Ireland, I’ve had lots of questions about visiting Ireland and researching Irish ancestors. Let’s talk about both!

Ireland is a wonderful place to visit. The people are genuinely friendly and outgoing, perhaps moreso than anyplace else in the world.

You can read about my adventures and share some of Ireland in the following articles:

Who Are The Irish?

The Irish are an ancient people with roots in the Neolithic hunter gatherer tribes who constructed the megalithic monuments more than 5000 years ago, followed by the Celts, Vikings, Normans and English. Today’s Irish are an amazing people with a wonderful sense of humor and unparalleled flexibility in the face of adversity. In other words, they are experts at making lemonade out of lemons. I suspect that’s what has at times made the unbearable, bearable, and ultimately insured their survival.

Let me give you an example.

I sat down on a tour bus for a short ride of about 10 minutes between two destinations.

A man traveling with a retiree’s club tour sat next to me, as all of the other seats were occupied.

Before sitting down, the man who I’d estimate to be on the far side of 4 score years, asked if he could sit beside me. I replied, “By all means, sit right down.”

He did and asked me if I was from the US. Laughing, I asked, “What was your first clue?” I obviously have a very distinct US accent.

We both laughed.

Then he looked at me, kind of sized me up, and asked, absolutely deadpan, “Will ye marry me?”

I could tell that this was just something he did and he was enjoying the shock value.

I told him that the ride was about 10 minutes and we could negotiate. He cheerfully said “OK!”

We started chatting about the location we had just visited and nothing in particular. In other words, the proposal was an ice-breaker and no serious negotiations were ensuing. (I was wearing a wedding band.)

Then, I asked him what women normally say when he proposes like that.

He looked at me and said, I his lovely Irish brogue, “Well, obviously no one has said yes yet or I wouldn’t still be askin’.”

I wish I could write in Irish brogue, which is what would be needed to truly convey this exchange.

I laughed till I cried. We parted friends. He has probably already forgotten about me, especially if someone has since taken him up on his proposal, but I’ll never quire forget him! After all, how many women get proposed to between Knowth and New Grange?

If you’re thinking he was the exception, he wasn’t – although granted, no one else proposed. However, many Irish extended themselves in the 10 days I visited and were exceptionally friendly and helpful at a level that many Americans would consider a borderline invasion of personal space.

For example, this is Edna, a lady that said hello in a pub during hurricane Ophelia and a few minutes later, we were best buddies.

This is simply consummate Ireland. In her words, “We do this all the time.”

Oh, and by the way, that’s a baby sized Guinness in my hand, just to see if I liked it.  I did, and thank you Edna! What a fun time we had in the middle of a hurricane.

Why Ireland?

Ireland has experienced significantly more migration and emigration than many other locations due to both religious conflicts and famine. When visiting the UCD Library, the curators of the Irish Folklore Project stated that there are far more Irish descendants scattered outside of Ireland than inside. In other words, the diaspora is larger than the homeland. I believe the diaspora is estimated to be about 70 million people with Irish roots, versus about 7 million current population by combining Ireland and Northern Ireland.

In my case, the Scots-Irish migrated to the US in early days, between 1717 and 1770, populating areas of Pennsylvania, Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina. The Appalachian Mountains probably felt much like home.

The Scots-Irish were only Irish for a little more than a hundred years. Before that, they were Scottish and were only transplanted to Ireland in the early 1600s, beginning about 1606 when the Protestant Scots were settled in what is now Northern Ireland, near Ulster.

Most families stayed for 4, maybe 5 generations before leaving again for better opportunities, beginning about 1717 and included an Irish famine that occurred between 1740-1741.

We know in Ireland that the Scots-Irish lived in what is now Northern Ireland, in the Ulster Plantations.

A second wave of emigration occurred during a second Irish famine that occurred between 1845-1852.

Finding Family

And now, for the bad news – many Irish genealogy records were destroyed in the bombing and subsequent fire in Dublin that destroyed almost all of the records held in the Irish Public Record Office in 1922, making research before that time challenging at best.

Therefore, DNA testing is likely to help Irish families and descendants more than most. DNA has the power to help piece together the past and overcome those missing records. The Irish, at least those interested in genealogy, aren’t nearly as reticent to test as continental Europeans. But then again, continental Europeans generally haven’t lost their records at quite the same level as the Irish.

If you’re one of those people who are lucky enough to discover the location of your family homeland in Ireland – or home road or farm, you may want to visit. Even if you can’t find the exact location, Ireland isn’t a large country, and you may be able to get close.

Other researchers visit to perform the actual research in various archival facilities.

Regardless, I have a few tips and hints for you about what to expect, what to do, what not to do, and more.


JUST DON’T!!! The Irish drive on the “wrong side” of the road and the rules are different. You’ll get yourself or someone else killed. Seriously, don’t…really! Need convincing? Look at this intersection. Any idea what you’re supposed to do?

Parking is extra and in many places, you simply can’t, so you’re MUCH BETTER to take a taxi or a bus in larger cities.

Hire a driver. I hired Brian O’Reilly and I can’t say enough good things about him – not only as a driver but as a tour guide.

I would hire Brian again in a heartbeat and I now count him among my friends. Brian works with a cooperative of several other private drivers and guides, so if Brian isn’t available himself, he will help you arrange transportation and guide service for your needs. He can also respond on relatively short notice. Brian O’Reilly’s e-mail is Tell him Roberta sent you and that I said “hello.”

Brian and I had a really great time and I learned so much about the Irish culture I would never have learned on a canned tour.

Hire a taxi, not a chauffeur, when hiring a driver. Why? Because taxis can use bus lanes while chauffeurs cannot. And yes, that makes a huge difference in terms of when you arrive, often by a factor of two in Dublin.

Taxis, in general, take forever to arrive to pick you up. Plan for extra time. They are often a half hour late due to traffic.

Public busses, especially in the morning and evening peak hours are often full, meaning you may not be able to board and will have to wait for the next bus. If you take public transportation, have exact change ready.

Bus schedules are merely suggestions. Be prepared to wait for up to half an hour, standing, in whatever weather is occurring.


Ireland is not handicapped accessible like we are used to in the US. Many if not most restrooms are either upstairs or downstairs in restaurants and few have elevators, called lifts. Many public buildings don’t have public restrooms and will send you across the street or down the block for a restroom.


People that Americans would typically tip, such as servers in restaurants, are paid differently and they don’t expect a tip. Some people round up to the nearest Euro. Tipping is neither necessary or expected.

As an American, it’s very difficult for me not to tip.


Ireland uses the Euro, but Northern Ireland uses the English sterling pound. And no, they don’t take each other’s money.

Not everyplace accepts credit cards. Some taxis do, but be prepared to pay an uplift of about 4% for the privilege. And the card reader doesn’t always work. Have cash available.

Almost no businesses accept American Express.

Notify your credit card companies that you will be traveling, and when. I have also put free alerts on my cards so that I know when they are being used.

Restaurants and Food

Most restaurants won’t split bills between people. That’s your problem.

Some restaurants add a fee for large parties. Large is defined by the restaurant and they may not tell you in advance.

Service EVERYPLACE is slow. Some excruciatingly slow. Plan on dinner taking literally all evening. It’s normal and part of the Irish experience.

Pub food is better than just about anyplace else.

Water served with meals is available if you ask, but doesn’t arrive automatically. It may or may not have ice.

Furthermore, ice is a precious commodity. In the hotel, only one ice machine was available for 6 floors and no ice bucket, just plastic cups stacked beside the ice dispenser.

Many restaurants, including pubs, don’t have mixed drinks, such as margaritas. They have well drinks, such as scotch and water, wine and beer. Want Kahlua? Nope, but everyone has Baileys Irish Cream – after all – it’s Ireland.

Guinness is the national beer. Drink Guinness, or at least try it. The locals say that you can ask for a couple drops of currant to sweeten the beer, but I liked it without. It tastes a bit roasty. When in Rome…or Ireland.

Carry-out is referred to as take-away. Not everyplace offers take-away.

In some parts of Europe, like the Netherlands, sharing food is frowned upon, but I didn’t notice anything like that in Ireland. Either that or they were too nice to tell me.


Europeans do not use washcloths or facecloths. I purchased a pack at the dollar store at home and left them behind as I traveled. What else are you going to do with a wet washcloth?

There are often two flush buttons on the toilet. Generally, the small one is for little flushes and the larger one is when bigger flushing is needed. Yes, I had to ask Brian because it seemed that neither worked reliably.

And then sometimes, you find something like this.

If in doubt, just push buttons until you find one that achieves the desired effect.

Those funny things on the walls are towel warmers.

We could learn from the Irish!

Your appliances may turn on with a switch at the baseboard near the plug. Why? I have no idea, but plugs often don’t work if you don’t turn them on.


Rain is a fact of life in Ireland. It’s how the Emerald Isle stays Emerald. Be prepared. It may rain and be sunny 10 minutes later, or vice versa. Every. Single. Day.

Often, umbrellas are useless due to the wind. Mine turned inside out, making me look like some sort of confused ninja parachutist.


Ireland is an island and the lower 4/5th is the country of Ireland, also known as the Republic of Ireland.

Northern Ireland, created in 1921, although historically part of Ireland, is a different country today, ruled under the British monarchy and is part of the United Kingdom. There are no longer any border checkpoints between the two, but with Brexit, that might change. If you’re planning to travel between the two, be prepared in terms of currency and a passport.


In Ireland, the official language is English, but many speak Gaelic. Because the English historically tried to exterminate the Gaelic language, when Ireland regained control of its own government, they included a clause in the constitution that everything in Ireland is offered in two languages – up to and including road and other signage.

However, their English is spoken with a very heavy Irish brogue which is both beautiful and frustrating. Like someone said, two people separated by a common language.


Medications like Dramamine and cold medicine, things we typically purchase over the counter are behind the counter at pharmacies in Europe, including Ireland. Pharmacies are typically not open past 5 PM and many not before sometime between 10 and noon.

Don’t assume you can pick up any medications at the convenience store, because you likely can’t. Not to mention, convenience stores are few and far between, so not convenient as we think of them. My hotel, even though expensive, did not have a shop – only two vending machines. Take what you might need, plus extra.


Plugs in hotels are often not located conveniently to a nightstand, so either take a European conformant (based on the country you are visiting) extension cord or plan otherwise.

My hotel in Ireland did provide shampoo, but no conditioner and no washcloths. Take your own supplies, just in case.

Hotels rooms also do not generally include microwaves or refrigerators.

Expect to pay for parking at hotels.

Many hotels offer “Afternoon tea” or “High tea” which is an afternoon event that includes tea, biscuits (cookies) and small finger sandwiches. It’s an upper class social event, people often “dress,” and sit and talk. My hotel did not offer tea, the one across the street did, for 45 Euro. Another Dublin hotel at the upscale end charged 95 Euro. I think this is a case of if you need to ask how much, don’t go. I didn’t but I was told that I should have high tea at least once in my life.  Guess I’ll have to go back!

Here’s a link to more info about tea time.

No clock or alarm in the hotel room. My cell phone was probably more reliable anyway and I had to get up to turn the alarm off, since there were no plugs bedside.

Hotels and Climate Control

Most hotels and B&Bs don’t have air conditioning. Neither do other buildings including public buildings, so you’ll need to grin and bear it. It’s seldom beastly hot, but it can be very close and humid.

My hotel room had a lovely set of French doors and a balcony, permanently sealed shut. I also had two windows, only one of which would crank out about 2 inches. That’s not much to obtain any type of air movement within the room.

Heat in hotels, especially in older buildings is generally by radiator, not by thermostat, if heated at all. You will need to turn a knob on the radiator when entering the room to turn the heat on – and if you get too hot, there is no way to cool off. So be careful.

I stayed at the Clayton Ballsbridge, which I do NOT recommend for various reasons including consistently very poor service combined with an attitude that I was being unreasonable to expect decent service, like you know, clean cups, replenished tea, etc., daily, in my room that cost over $190 per night. Not to mention it took two and a half hours to get a bowl of stew in the restaurant.

Perhaps this is the down side to tipping being included in the price of the meal – little motivation for good service.

People staying in B&Bs were generally happier than people who stayed in hotels.


You will need items that will plug in to 230 volt, 50 Hz power which have a different plug than in the US.

This is not necessarily just a converter issue, but a voltage compatibility issue. Check the voltage on your device.  In my case, a heating pad did not work using a converter, so I had to purchase one that would. Then I needed an extension cord, which I didn’t have. Plan accordingly.

You will need multiple converters so that you can charge your phone, etc. Here’s a page that discusses converters and sockets.

Plugs are often not placed conveniently.


OMG, the bane of my existence. Phones hate me, truly, and always have.

I can call Ireland from the US, but I cannot seem to call anyone in Ireland on my US cell phone while in Ireland, and I tried every combination I could think of and that anyone suggested. I suspect, but don’t know, that it had to do with a US phone being in Ireland, so it was confused by which type of country access code it needed. I could, however, message one person, thankfully. I never could manage to communicate with another.

Here’s my suggestion. Find someone in Ireland, maybe at the hotel front desk, that you can practice with. Once you figure out what you need to do on your phone to call them, it should work when dialing others in country too.

Beware of cell phone roaming and data charges. Understand how to turn off roaming by putting your phone in airplane mode. Before traveling, call or visit your phone carrier and understand what you can and cannot do with what kind of data without being charged. It’s extremely easy to run up a cell bill over $1000 and never realize what is happening. Case in point, your phone is always roaming to update Facebook and similar apps.

Mind you, I couldn’t make a bloody call, but the phone found ways to connect so that I’d be charged!


Unless you arrange for a private tour, which I did with Brian, tours generally leave from the downtown area at the beginning of the day, which means you’re going to encounter heavy rush hour traffic getting to the tour site. Allow adequate time, more than you think you’ll ever need, because the tour will leave without you otherwise.

Private tours cost more, especially for one person, but by the time you have 3 or 4 people or so, depending on the tour, the cumulative cost won’t be more and you’ll be much MUCH happier. Plus, a private tour can cater to your desires – like a coffee break, bathroom stop, a quilt shop along the way, or anything else of interest.

Seasons and Stores

Some businesses are seasonal – including restaurants. If you are not visiting in the high tourist season of June-August, I would strongly suggest calling ahead if you are planning on visiting a particular location.

Small businesses may or may not be open on a whim. Seriously. Always call.

Genealogy and Research Assistance

I asked these fine folks, shown here on a day trip in front of Carrickfergus Castle in Belfast, about their recommendations for Irish genealogical research:

  • Michelle Leonard, professional genealogist at Genes & Genealogy, out of Glasgow, Scotland (red hair, above)
  • Martin McDowell, professional genealogist ( as well as Development and Education Director with The North of Ireland Family History Society (right, above)
  • Dr. Maurice Gleeson, coordinator of Genetic Genealogy Ireland (left, above)

These people work with Irish records, as well as genetic genealogy every day, and they know what they are doing.

Martin recommends where both church and civil records can be found free of charge. He suggests that of the best pay sites for Irish records is, though its accuracy depends on the quality of the transcription.

The North of Ireland Family History Society where Martin serves as the Education & Development Officer provides a website detailing their holdings:, including a full PDF of everything in the library:

Maurice mentions that the PRONI and GRONI sites are specifically Northern Ireland:

Michelle points out that has all of the Northern Ireland BMDs prior to January 1, 1922. She points out that if you’re searching for a marriage that took place in 1906, search for it on where you will get the image for free as opposed to on GRONI where it will cost you £2.50 for the same image.  On the other hand if you’re searching for a marriage that took place prior to 1882 in Northern Ireland you will find it on but there will be no image so it’s best to go to GRONI and pay the £2.50.

My personal experience is more limited, being only a consumer of Irish research, not a professional researcher. Having said that, I DON’T recommend the Ulster Historical Foundation. I completed their form and requested an initial assessment for 35 pounds sterling on July 4th, and I’m still waiting to hear back, today, many months later, after my trip to Ireland is complete. They could at least have told me they were too busy to accommodate my needs.

The web site says they are extremely busy and to expect a delay of 4-6 weeks, but never contacting the person requesting the research is unacceptable.  It’s a good thing I was able to find a private researcher (Martin McDowell) who was willing to take an “emergency” case at a late date. Unfortunately, my situation because “an emergency” because I waited for the Ulster Historical Foundation, expecting they would be able to assist my research. Thank you Martin McDowell for being my hero and Maurice Gleeson for helping me find Martin!

I do recommend the Irish Folklore Center as well as John Grenham’s blog and website.  To find where surnames are clustered in Ireland, a surname map which combines information from 1848 through the 1911 census is available here.

For genetic genealogy, I strongly suggest the videos produced at Genetic Genealogy Ireland which now form a library on the GGI YouTube channel, all for free. Also, the ISOGG Ireland page provides an extensive list of Ireland specific resources.

By the way, a big thank you to all of the volunteers, including the speakers, who work together to produce Genetic Genealogy Ireland. GGI is an all-volunteer effort, and without these people, and Maurice Gleeson coordinating the entire event, it wouldn’t happen!

You might want to attend the Belfast Genetic Genealogy Ireland Conference on February 17-18 sponsored by Family Tree DNA. You can read more here including the great lineup of 13 free sessions and speakers focused on genetic genealogy!


As big cities go, I felt safe in Dublin and Belfast, or as safe as I feel in any large city, although I was never in the Belfast city center. I felt a lot better having Brian with me, directing me and explaining what I should and should not do and where I shouldn’t go, and why.


I intended to visit six locations:

  • Dublin
  • The Cliffs of Moher
  • Giant’s Causeway
  • Wicklow Mountains
  • Boyne Valley – Knowth, New Grange and Tara
  • Belfast

Partly due to the hurricane, and partly due to fatigue, I scrapped the Cliffs and Giant’s Causeway trips.

Those two trips are long, meaning 12 hour days and that doesn’t include dinner. They are difficult in the rain and when it stays dark later in the morning and gets dark early in the evening. Those trips, in addition to the 8 hour days for the other trips, were just too much, on back to back days.

If I had planned for an additional 3 or 4 days in Ireland, it would have given me the opportunity to rest between tours or see a few additional sights in Dublin on the down days.

Even with that consideration, the late fall is not the best time of year for visits to either the Giant’s Causeway or the Cliffs of Moher from Dublin.

Ireland is Wonderful



Eat pub food.

Drink Guinness.

Connect with your roots!

If you need to test your DNA before you go, I recommend Family Tree DNA for Y (patrilineal for men) and mitochondrial (matrilineal for both genders) DNA testing, as well as Family Finder autosomal for cousin matching across all of your genealogy. If you would like to know more about these various types of tests, please read 4 Kinds of DNA for Genetic Genealogy.

In my case, I could not personally test for the Y DNA of my McDowell ancestor – so I found a McDowell male from my line to take that test. Were it not for his results that included a match to a man who knew exactly where the McDowell’s lived in Ireland, I would never have known where my McDowell line originated and been able to visit and traverse the road where they lived. So think in terms of testing appropriate relatives to unlock secrets about your ancestors!



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35 thoughts on “Researching and Visiting Ireland

  1. You will like New Zealand – but be warned, it is an intriguing mixture of all you mention in Ireland but with the entire UK plus a bit of Australia and parts of Polynesia etc. We kind of know what the Americans expect, but we are very different! (We have Face flannels, but sometimes these are not supplied because people steal them).

    On 18 January 2018 at 17:42, DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy wrote:

    > Roberta Estes posted: “With my recent articles about Ireland, I’ve had > lots of questions about visiting Ireland and researching Irish ancestors. > Let’s talk about both! Ireland is a wonderful place to visit. The people > are genuinely friendly and outgoing, perhaps moreso than ” >

    • I have family in New Zealand and have visited a few times. There are differences but nothing exactly alien, IMO. The biggest difference is the driving on the “wrong” side of the road vs. the US!
      Whenever I travel I watch other people to see what they do: what they order, how they order, how they phrase things, for example. I observe people, read signs and instructions, and try to follow what seems “normal”. And if I’m still confused, I can always ask politely for clarification. This way, things generally go smoothly and I avoid offending anyone. It’s not hard to do.

    • Face flannels are in heavy use in the UK – but not always provided in hotels.
      In our family that was something my grandmother’s generation did lots, when they had only washstands and tin baths. And they were used not just for faces either.
      Went out with modern plumbing in Australia – certainly with the baby boomers.
      Caution – many words common in one Anglophone country are completely incomprehensible in another. That occurs even within countries sometimes, although TV has tended to homogenise language, within countries at least.
      If you can’t find something ask, and don’t be afraid to mime what you need (as long as that is not too personal).

  2. Thank you. Ireland has always been on this Scots-Irish boy’s bucket list. More so, now. Loved the history of the Scots-Irish in the Colonies. Mine came from Ulster to Philadelphia (exiled, you see after the rebellion of 1716), then west to the mountains and south into the Shenandoah Valley.

  3. Roberta – As an English man researching my UK ancestors and my wife’s UK and Irish ancestors can I just say how much I enjoyed reading your USA view on the way Irish and British live. It has been most enlightening.
    When I started researching in the late 1980’s in the UK we were told forget it if you have Irish ancestors, It has got a bit easier but DNA can provide answers.

    Thanks for this posting

    Mike Fisher Droitwich Spa UK

  4. One thing about the public bus in Ireland that differs from the US (in some instances at least) is that you have to hail the bus by sticking out your arm at the bus stop. They do not stop if no one wants to get on the bus. Have seen many unfortunate tourists looking at the Airport bus fly past them, having expected the bus to stop at every stop.

  5. Wonderful information here. I have Irish/Scots ancestors that I have not been able to locate and have these sites to visit may be a help. I am such a novice even though I have been searching for a long time.
    Your articles are such a help. Thank you so much.

      • Roberta, I just finished reading this wonderful article about your trip to Ireland. I only have one problem, my Sullivan ancestors were traced back to southern counties of Ireland, County Cork and nearby, who emigrated to King George County Virginia in 1696, while that area was still a British colony. I do have proof from Ancestry that the original emigrant was named Darby Sullivan (Sullivant) I would love to hear from you about researching in the southern part of Ireland. Do you have any words of advice? Thank you,, Eleanore Sullivan Kilpatrick

  6. About afternoon tea, I gave a quick look, you can have one for between $12 and $20 per person in Houston TX (since I know you go there once a year). You can also have one for $55 per person if you chose a more fancy restaurant. At the higher end, expect to start the meal with a champagne glass. It’s about the same price as in Canada.

    It’s a nice formula to catch up chat with friends. ^__^

    I don’t remember exactly where you live, but you could expect afternoon tea or high tea to be served somewhere in any city over 500,000 inhabitants.

  7. I definitely want to visit Ireland, along with Wales and Scotland. I have lineages from all three. We do have several studies that suggest the Irish Genome was reset in the Bronze Age, which followed the Mesolithic and Neolithic ages. The Neolithic or New Stone Ages is when farming came in. Apparently the Northwest Bell Beakers from Central Europe replaced a large portion of the population on Ireland starting from the Bronze Age.
    “The Beaker Phenomenon And The Genomic Transformation Of Northwest Europe” by Olalde, et al., 2017
    “Neolithic and Bronze Age migration to Ireland and establishment of the insular Atlantic genome” by Cassidy, et al., 2016

  8. I’ve been wanting to go to Ireland to research both my and my husband’s families. My husband is very concerned about driving on the “wrong” side of the road, which you warned about. I understand that would be scary in cities, but what about the countryside? I do not know how we would get to some obscure places via public transportation. Would it be unreasonable to rent a car in the outskirts of a city and drive it in the countryside and small towns?

    • I am probably not the person you want to match since my husband has 3 minor accidents in 8 miles after renting a car in Dover, England. It’s extremely foreign and the roads are very small.

    • I would definitely encourage you to drive yourself in the countryside. You’ll be able to go many more places and at your own pace. As long as you are okay with narrow roads, you should be fine. We spend a few weeks nearly every year in the UK and find that once you get your brain turned around, it is no problem. Just make sure you follow the roundabout in a clockwise direction! Curiously, the most difficult thing is to switch back to the right side of the road again, since your brain has suppressed that and you have to “unlock” it again. (It is the same thing with languages – you can switch from your native language to a second language more easily than to switch back again after you have been conversing in a second language for an extended time.) When we take the ferry back to France, my husband drives on to the boat and I drive off, since he finds it much more difficult than I do to switch back to the right.

      • Sarah, you said you ” would definitely encourage you to drive yourself in the countryside. You’ll be able to go many more places and at your own pace. As long as you are okay with narrow roads, you should be fine.”

        Does your advice vary depending on time of year? What if the driving in Ireland is in February? I wonder about freezing rain and fog as well as weather conditions that might come up without prior warning, recognizing this is an island in the Atlantic gulf stream. I will be in Northern Ireland Feb 11-24 and also will visit some of the more northern areas of Republic of Ireland (Sligo in the west, Westmeath which is between Belfast and Dublin). I am omitting lovely Dublin this time simply because I have been there twice, and time does not permit me to do all I want to do in Republic of Ireland on this trip. I will need to return! Not in February!

        At present I have a rental car reserved for pickup at the Belfast airport. I have extensive experience driving on the left, including a week in Scotland in 2008 and a week in various Yorkshire small towns in 2012. And last year I was in the UK twice for a total of five weeks, driving the entire time except four days in London at the end of the first trip. The first 2017 trip was in April, using Heathrow and going as far north as Birmingham (for Who Do You Think You Are) and as far south as the shores of Cornwall– then dropping off rental car at Heathrow and taxi into London for last four days of trip there. Second trip was in and out of Manchester airport: didn’t visit Manchester but spent three weeks in region: west Yorkshire ancestral sites, York, Edinburgh, Liverpool, and Chester.

        Through an email friend, who is administrator of a surname project that includes the Big Y kit of a cousin whom this admin matches, I am communicating with a genealogy-oriented Northern Ireland-based tour guide/driver (with the same Scots Irish surname!). I am likely to hire this guide for at least part of the time when touring outside Belfast. He is visiting cemeteries in ancestral towns looking for my ancestors’ graves! He can drive me from Belfast to my cousin’s YDNA match in Sligo–and lives near there so he won’t care if I stay overnight in Sligo after that get-together!

        Should I cancel the rental car, and give up the idea of driving to various ancestor-related places in N.I., and hire this guide to get around??? I have asked what he charges per day but don’t yet have a quote.

        Thanks in advance,

        Linda at

  9. It’s interesting to see how someone views Ireland from overseas and in a country where (to our way of thinking!) you drive on the wrong side of the road! It is in fact normal to tip the waiter or waitress in a restaurant in the UK and Ireland. The tip is normally about 10%. I was very surprised when in America to find that tips were expected regardless of service and that you were supposed to pay between 15% and 20%.

    I believe that what you call a washcloth is what we call a flannel. We do use them in Europe but they are rarely provided in hotels.

  10. Thank you for all of the helpful hints Roberta, they are invaluable. I shall make heavy use of the websites listed and look forward to the day (soon I hope) that my husband and I can experience Ireland for ourselves.

  11. I couldn’t have said it better myself Roberta. I spent two years living in London, England sharing an old house with a bunch of Irishmen from Dublin. That meant many fantastic visits to Ireland and lots of Guinness. Years later when my parents decided to tour Eire, they couldn’t get a bus tour, so ended up hiring a driver. Everywhere they went, they were given the ‘royal treatment’ and experienced things the usual tourist seldom see. It is great to hear that very little has changed since I was there in the 1960’s. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

  12. Roberta, what a great primer for travelling to Ireland!

    Sent from Mail for Windows 10


  13. Hi Roberta,

    Europeans, the British and Irish people do use what we call washcloths to bathe with. In the UK and Ireland most people would call these flannels. But they are considered to be fairly personal, like underwear, so travelers bring their own. They are carried in waterproof containers called sponge bags. (Don’t ask me why these aren’t called flannel bags!) While flannels used to be made of cotton flannel, most of them these days are made of what we call terrycloth, just like what we call a washcloth.

    Great advice about bringing an extension cord! They are also useful in older hotels and B&Bs in the US and Canada.

    Now, if only the Church of Ireland would follow the RC and Presbyterian churches’ lead and digitize its parish records . . .

  14. This is from our Constitution:

    “ARTICLE 8

    1 The Irish language as the national language is the first official language.

    2 The English language is recognised as a second official language.

    3 Provision may, however, be made by law for the exclusive use of either of the said languages for any one or more official purposes, either throughout the State or in any part thereof.”

  15. Some of us feel a need to experience the land of our ancestors by actually going there to be immersed in their cultural ways, and some of us don’t. Some of us have seen enough of our cultural heritage such that like a sponge, we know it, having been been satiated by it, and we don’t need to absorb more of it by visiting a foreign land. Funny how that goes. Not everyone is the same. We all come from different cultures and ethnic roots, with some being more intense or prevalent than others. It depends upon our admixture and our parental upbringing, and also our life experience and our desires. It amounts to that of ‘different strokes for different folks’. 😉

  16. Roberta, thank you for the insight and useful tips. I hope to travel to Ireland some day. Here is a link to another site that might prove useful, “The Down Survey”. I am a GIS research analyst in my paying job and this web site seems like it could be useful for tracing family history.

  17. Roberta. Just came across old notebook with logon instructions I used with my first home computer (Commodore 64) to logon to Prodigy. Back in 93 when we lived in Iowa. Do you remember when? Howard Estes Huntsville, Al

    Sent from XFINITY Connect Mobile App

  18. Hi Roberta, ,
    I would like to put the link to o this article and then use the” Why Ireland’? And the 2 paragraphs of the next section about the destruction of historic records and the Irish acceptance of DNA testing in a document I will be posting on a new FB page called O’Hara DNA/Genealogy. A DNA cousin and I decided a FB group maybe a good way to attract other O ‘Hara s and descendnts into our search to discover our connections and expand our understanding of our heiritage. And hopefully fill out the details of some family stories! It is join by request group , otherwise closed to prevent spamming and phishing.

  19. I’m a bit late here but hope this will help. My sister lives in Ireland and we’ve learned a few things from her. The country roads in Ireland are very narrow – not much more than single lane in some places. If there’s a large truck coming, traffic may back up for a while. So plan accordingly even in the rural areas! Also, WhatsApp is a lifesaver to keep in touch with people. It is free to send texts and phone calls through the app, even between the US and Ireland, and it can be used with WiFi. Taxes – Ireland automatically collects them on sales. BUT, if you are a tourist you can have those taxes refunded or not charged to you. You can request a special card to help you avoid these taxes before you leave home. Those taxes are steep and can add up so do look into it before leaving. They are called VAT taxes. Also, instant coffee is generally the way that coffee is served in Ireland. Good coffee shops are beginning to exist but may be hard to find. Addicts may want to gently withdraw before arriving there;) When Roberta says it rains Every. Day. she is NOT exaggerating! Plan your shoes and coats accordingly. Hope these tips can help you out too!

    • Thank you, Andrew, very useful. I just downloaded the WhatsApp app on my Android phone. My carrier, ATT, is now offering a good plan for international travelers, and I will add it just before my trip.

      Regarding driving, I will drive only two of my 14 days in Ireland. I had a rental car for the entire visit and was feeling very burdened not only by fears of country-road driving on rainy days turning dark at 5 PM but also car park fees in Belfast and elsewhere when I didn’t really need the car. So I have cancelled the two week reservation and made a new one for two days only that will entail mostly driving on the M1 south of Belfast. And I have engaged a tour guide–genealogy focused and actually my distant cousin as he is a YDNA match to my 1st cousin here in USA–for three or four days–after the Back to Our Past and genetic genealogy conference–that include the country roads.

      And I will look into the special card to avoid VAT charges. I thought that was only for big purchases. Come to think of it, where is my refund for purchases in York last year?!?!

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