Ireland: The Most Gorgeous Place I’ve Ever Been

So, I had an original plan of writing about all the places I’ve already been in my lifetime, but I’m quickly realizing that I desperately want to research and write about my bucket list destinations! With that being said, there’s one more place I’ve been that I want to write about before I get to my bucket list: Ireland. Of all the places I’ve ever been, I can, with absolute certainty, say that Ireland is the most gorgeous place I’ve been in my entire life. I can honestly write that pictures do not do it justice. The pictures are amazing, but seeing it in person was awe-inspiring. Today, I’m going to take you through my trip to the Emerald Isle, and on Monday, I’ll start going through my bucket list 🙂 .

Me getting to go to Ireland came about completely unexpectedly. Like most Americans that haven’t been to Europe, I knew that I wanted to go some day, but there was no plan or destination I had in mind, and Rebecca and I weren’t in any financial position to plan a long trip out of country for ourselves. The way this trip came to be was full of coincidences, and I’m so glad it worked out the way it did. Enter, Brent Vernon (www.brentvernon.com). For anyone that doesn’t know him, Brent has been traveling full time for over 20 years as a musician/singer, artist, author, and ventriloquist, and he does all of those things at an extremely high level! As a little kid, my older sister and I used to listen to his CD’s in the car on road trips, to the point where we had almost every song on our favorite CD memorized. Quite a few years later, Brent came to our church to perform a Sunday morning concert, and it was amazing for us because we’d never actually met him, so it was, in some ways, like meeting a celebrity! A couple years after that (December of 2017), Brent came back to our church to do a little Christmas concert. The Sunday he was supposed to perform, our worship leader had fallen ill and would be unable to lead worship that day. Our pastor asked Brent if there would be any way he could lead a couple usual Christmas songs to help us out, and Brent agreed. He also invited the usual singers to lead with him as part of morning worship, to which I found myself overjoyed to sing with a professional recording artist!

After that service/concert, our family went out to lunch with Brent. While we were there, he graciously expressed how he’d enjoyed having me with him on the platform (at least that’s how I interpreted it…lol), and he brought up an amazing opportunity. That following summer, he would be going to Ireland with a team of singers to perform at a conference called Summerfire, and he invited me to go as a part of his team. This conference gathers a couple thousand people, making it BY FAR the biggest crowd I would have ever sung in front of! Now, I had sung most of my life, and I’d even performed in two of our high school musicals (one of which I got to play the role of Danny Zuko from Grease), but the crowd wasn’t more than a couple hundred people. This would be a completely different animal, but I was unbelievably excited! A couple weeks later in January, I accepted the offer to join Brent, and I was officially going to Ireland!

While there was never a doubt that I would go after I accepted, Rebecca and I did find out in February of 2018 that we were expecting our first child (who you all know now as Griffin). This meant that she would be about 6 months pregnant when I left for Ireland. We made sure to discuss how that would affect her if she was by herself for almost 2 weeks. However, she was so amazing, that she never even thought of asking me to stay home. I would have without hesitation, but since she’s the greatest wife that’s ever lived, she still wanted me to go. Yeah, I know, I’m a lucky guy! Anyways, back to trip preparation. We had a great host that planned everything for us from start to finish, so getting ready for the trip was very smooth. However, I will admit that I was completely negligible about researching the climate in Ireland. From what I heard while I was there, it’s usually chilly and rainy. If that were the case I would have been TREMENDOUSLY unprepared. Fortunately for me, the United Kingdom and Ireland were in the middle of what they considered a drought, meaning it was about 70-75 degrees and sunny for our entire trip! It was so amazing to me that the news stations were talking about conserving water and wearing lots of sunblock when going outside, but to us, it couldn’t have been more perfect weather!

One of the most vivid things I remember about the trip was how exhausted I was upon arrival! We woke up in Hobe Sound, FL around 8:00 a.m. EST (Ireland is 4 hours ahead of the eastern time zone). My flight went through Hartford, CT, where my connecting flight to Dublin took off around 4:00 p.m. EST. With a 6 hour flight, and the time change factored in, I arrived in Dublin at 4:00 a.m local time. I wasn’t able to sleep on the flight at all, so by the time we got to bed that night, were had all be awake for over 24 hours. When I got to Dublin, I went straight to the breakfast buffet at the airport and ordered a full Irish breakfast and a double espresso. Point #1: European coffee is WAY (and I mean WAY) stronger than the U.S., so be warned if you’re a weak coffee drinker. The full Irish breakfast was something that I had at least 3 times while we were there (bacon, black/white pudding, potatoes, grilled tomato, baked beans, toast, and scrambled eggs).

Alright, enough about all the excitement leading up to the trip; let’s get into the details!

First: Shanagarry.

The drive from Dublin to Shanagarry was about 3 hours, but it was the most beautiful car ride I’ve ever taken. As I get more experienced as a blogger, I promise you I will have more pictures for you going forward! The rolling hills look like they’re literally drawn onto the skyline. Shanagarry was a tiny little village with a few stoplights and a population of about 540 people as of 2016. We arrived to a quaint little bed and breakfast that was just outside of the middle of town. Our hosts cooked an amazing meal for us and took us to the Kilkenny Shop, which is dubbed the “largest collection of Irish design” (kilkennyshop.com). The next morning, after my full Irish breakfast at the b n b, we drove about 10 minutes to the coastal town of Ballycotton. While in Ballycotton, we did the most European thing I could have ever thought of: We had tea and biscuits while overlooking Ballycotton Bay! I’m such a nerd, I know. After we were done at Ballycotton, we packed up went to the Trabolgan Holiday Village, the site of the Summerfire Conference. I had such an amazing experience singing at the conference, making new friendships with the conference worship team, and bonding with our group that Brent had invited over.

Next: Blarney Castle.

We had a nice routine going while we were at the conference. During the day, we would do breakfast at our little lodges at Trabolgan, meet for rehearsal, go to lunch somewhere off the village property, find a cool experience to do (detailed later), and then head back for some rest before that evening’s service. One of these experiences included going to see the world famous Blarney Castle. We got to tour the castle (originally built in the 1200s!) and read about all the history on the plaques located around the property. I was so astonished at the history of this place. As much as I love the U.S. and am a huge patriot, It was amazing to see the depth of history and culture in a country that’s been around for so long. Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t include the part about the Blarney Stone (or properly known as the Stone of Eloquence). The following quote is taken from Wikipedia (don’t judge me, I’m not in school anymore), “Tourists visiting Blarney Castle may hang upside-down over a sheer drop to kiss the stone, which is said to give the gift of eloquence. There are many versions of the origin of the stone, including a claim that it was the Lia Fáil — a numinous stone upon which Irish kings were crowned.” And that’s exactly what we did! Again, I’ll make sure to have pictures for you going forward, since I was a dumb head and didn’t take a picture of me hanging upside down to kiss the stone!

Last: Cobh.

There are so many more things I could go into detail about, but that would require a much, much longer post, so I’ll just give you the tidbits! One day, we took a 30 minute drive to Cobh (pronounced “Cove”), where we explored the St. Colman’s Cathedral that towered over the city, overlooking Cobh Harbour. Most notably, this was the location that the Titanic last docked before it went down. Looking back, I would have gone to the little museum they had in memory of the Titanic, but that wasn’t included in our trip, so I would have had to pay extra for that. Next time though, this will be a must! Towards the end of our stay, we drove into downtown Cork, where we explored the shopping, coffee bars, restaurants, and visited Cork Church, where most of the musicians from the Summerfire Conference called their home church. Honestly, my favorite part of Cork was the hole-in-the-wall Indian restaurant that my new friend, Herbert, took me to one night after service had ended. This was the best Indian food I’ve ever had, and it’s really not even close!

Of all the great experience we had while we were there, my favorite part of the trip comes in two parts. 1) The beauty of Ireland opened my eyes to what the world has to offer. I love the U.S. as much as anyone, but I want to see everything I can see before I pass. This trip gave me so much hope for what’s out there to explore, and I, along with my family, full intend to take advantage! 2) The bond I formed with the group over there is still alive and well almost 2 years later. We have a group chat going on Facebook Messenger, that, although we don’t use it as much as we did right when we got home, we still tell each other that we miss everyone often and that we can’t wait to see each other again, whenever that may be. I loved the Emerald Isle so much, and to end this post, I’m excited to say that Brent has invited me back again this summer! Now, the conference is unfortunately up the air to do said illness we spoke about a couple days ago, but I’m hopeful that the trip can go on as planned! Even if it doesn’t, Brent has assured us that this trip is open indefinitely, and that the conference will continue to have us as long as we have a group to bring. Rest assured, you all will be kept up to date on this situation, and if I end up getting to go, I will take LOTS of pictures, I promise!

Starting on Monday, I’ll be writing about my bucket list destinations. If any of you have been to them already, make sure to leave a comment about your experience!

Blessings,
Madison

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