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.
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.
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 Brian.firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 (email@example.com) 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 https://www.irishgenealogy.ie/en/ where both church and civil records can be found free of charge. He suggests that of the best pay sites for Irish records is http://www.rootsireland.ie/, 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: http://www.nifhs.org/, including a full PDF of everything in the library: http://www.nifhs.org/library-list/
Maurice mentions that the PRONI and GRONI sites are specifically Northern Ireland:
Michelle points out that irishgenealogy.ie 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 irishgenealogy.ie 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 irishgenealogy.ie 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:
- The Cliffs of Moher
- Giant’s Causeway
- Wicklow Mountains
- Boyne Valley – Knowth, New Grange and Tara
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.
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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