My Year in Ireland
I always get so many questions about my time living in Ireland, so here is the entire story- with tips and recommendations for traveling this magical country! I would highly recommend getting comfortable for this post because it is dense with information & is probably the lengthiest post I’ll ever write because I’m including a year’s worth of stories and photos :)
Okay here we go! Let’s dive in.
After graduating college, I didn’t want to enter into the workforce right away. I wanted to go and explore the world and learn more about myself before settling into a job. My college roommate and I both decided we would be au pairs, and although her experience was just for a summer and mine was for a year, we both learned so much about the world and about ourselves.
I connected with a family in Ireland through the website www.aupairworld.com, and both they and I knew it was going to be a perfect match. It’s like online dating, only with a family that you’d be working for, rather than a date, ha! I hopped on a plane the summer after graduation and headed to the land of greenery (with lots of excitement, nervousness, and feelings of “I can’t believe I’m actually doing this”). I remember saying bye to my mom in the airport, and thinking I was crazy for flying to a foreign country and living with a family I had never met before. Looking back on it now, it really was a HUGE leap of faith! At the time, I was just excited about the adventure and didn’t quite think about the potential ramifications or possibilities.
Like fate, my Irish family and I clicked right away- it really was the best match. They took me in as their own, and I learned so much about the Irish lifestyle.
Below are photos of the adorable town I lived in, Clonakilty, and my incredible Irish family (minus Eanna!)
But, as perfect and picturesque as it looks, I have to be honest in saying it was a culture shock for me at first, trying to keep up with the accents (and language barriers since my Irish family spoke Irish in the house!), fashion styles, weather, driving rules, and pace of life. But, I quickly became accustomed with their ways, and I have to say it was really refreshing. Coming from a background of living in California the majority of my life, I have always been around warm weather, the ocean, a fast-paced lifestyle, “on trend” fashion, and driving automatic cars. So, as you can guess, it was a wakeup call for me trying to learn the Irish ways. I had many breakdowns feeling as though I wouldn’t ever fit in, and more importantly, that I would never be able to master driving a stick-shift car! (This was a major part of the job for me since I would be driving the kiddos to and from school, activities, etc.)
Through the challenges, I found myself really enjoying the new way of life. I started to experience a lot of freedom in the fact that no one cared about what you looked like- you could go to the grocery store wearing sweat pants with your hair in a bun and you didn’t look one bit out of place. I learned how to drive stick-shift and how to drive on the opposite side of the road. I learned the art of hospitality, where it is custom to invite anyone that comes to your door in for coffee or tea, or as the Irish say, a “cuppa.” I started to go for runs outside amidst the cows, horses, and tons of rain. I began to partake in a pastime I hadn’t ever had the chance to do before, which was pick blackberries on the side of the road. I learned the secrets of being a mother through my Irish mom, who balanced work, being a mom, staying fit, participating in church groups, etc. (Ide, if you’re reading this, THANK YOU for all that you are- you’re a leprechaun!).
I had the best time with my Irish kiddies! At the time, they were ages 3, 5, and 7, and they were so full of energy and fun (and led me to take lots of naps on the weekends to recoup!). They were just the sweetest, and I learned so much from them. I think of the song, “three year old” by Eric Church as I write this, because the lyrics talk about learning about life from a three year old. Those kids taught me so much about myself, about how to love, about patience, and about joy. My days were spent building forts, driving back and forth to swim and karate lessons, playing barbies, jumping on the trampoline, and pretending like fairies and princesses. I truly felt like I was living a fairytale life! I had no other responsibility than to care for these three little humans, and it was such a joy to be a part of.
From left to right: Luisne and Aine playing princesses; Aine and I running errands for mama; Eanna, Luisne, Aine, and I on my last day
I met the most amazing au pairs while being there. Actually, one of the draws for me in choosing Ireland as my location was that the town my Irish family lived in was a town filled with a community of other au pairs. Every Wednesday night was “au pair night” at a local pub, called “de barra.” Which, to be honest, I only ended up attending a few times. I struggled to connect with some of the other au pairs from countries that didn’t speak English, or that were much younger than I. But, I did meet some amazing au pairs that did speak English (and we still keep in touch today!), which was such a blessing. When you spend your days playing barbies and princesses, you need some adult interactions so these friendships were everything, ha! We would have sleepovers at each other’s houses, travel together on the weekends, have playdates during the week, and support each other when hard challenges arose. I think those friendships were especially bonding because of the unique situation we were in together.
On breaks and on weekends, I had the opportunity to travel all over Ireland and to other European countries. As I look back on my travels and my time abroad I think it’s actually pretty crazy that I traveled to all of these places with other au pairs who I had just met, and that we navigated these countries on our own. It was such a stretching season for me, and I know that when I came back to the United States after my time there I came back a very different person. To this day, I still keep in touch with my Irish family (and miss them terribly!) and hope to go back someday to visit them again.
I’m so thankful that my journey led me to Ireland for a year. I think that God used that time to sew into myself and to gain a broader understanding of the world around me. That time was so valuable to me I wouldn’t change it for anything!
Okay, now let’s get into the nitty gritties of the magical land that is Ireland!
Ireland travel tips, recommendations, and ideas:
If traveling to Dublin:
I would recommend spending time walking around the main city because there is just so much to see and do. While you’re walking around, make a stop at Temple Bar because this is a pub you won’t want to pass up. It’s very iconic “Ireland” and is just a lot of fun. I was there during Christmas time, and they had lots of decorations up and live music! I would also stop by the Guinness factory (I haven’t been, but I’ve heard it’s a great experience). Next, make a stop at Trinity College and go inside the Book of Kells if you have time/want to spend an extra few euro. The college campus is very beautiful and the Book of Kells is a library that looks like it could be out of a movie! It has very old and historical books.
If traveling to Galway:
My absolute favorite memory I have of being in Ireland was the day tour I went on that went from Dublin to Galway. My friend and I went on this day tour with Paddywagon Tours (I highly recommend this company if you want a very stereotypical Irish experience!!). The tour took us along the Wild Atlantic Way, through the rocky Burren landscape, into the Doolin village, to the Cliffs of Moher, and past many castle ruins. My friend and I ended up bonding with a couple people on our tour, and we still keep in touch with them today! If you don’t want to do a day tour, I would recommend exploring Connemara and looking at the beautiful castle there. Also, you have to walk through the main town in Galway because it is absolutely adorable and quaint (be sure to stop by The King’s Head pub while you’re there!).
If traveling in Killarney:
The national park in Killarney is really very pretty. When I was there, it was flooded in certain parts from the rain but it was worth going to. If I could do this again I would pack a lunch and have a picnic at the park. At night, check out the pubs and sing along with all of the live music (actually, do this at all your stops throughout the country)! Also, while I was in Killarney I did a half-day tour to Dingle, which is an amazing peninsula, with the company Paddywagon. This tour took us through Inch beach, Slea-Head, and the Dingle village. The sights were stunning, and it was so fun to learn about Fungi the dolphin, who is Dingle’s main attraction, ha!
If traveling in Kerry:
Do the Ring of Kerry! It will take you ALL day to do the whole thing (many people break it up into two days so that it isn’t as daunting to do in one day). This will be some serious family road trip time because you’ll be driving through the ring, and making pit stops along the way to see various landscapes, castle ruins, etc. You can look at all of the fun stops along the way here if you’re interested.
Below are photos taken on our road trip around the Ring of Kerry!
If traveling to Belfast:
Go to the Titanic Studios, where you can see where the Titanic was built and learn more about the ship. Also, definitely check out Giant’s Causeway because it is a fascinating spot, with natural “steps” that people have once said to be steps of giants many years ago. If you choose to do this, when you get there parking is very confusing- park off site and walk in. There will be tours happening, which you can pay to be a part of and hear all the history tidbits. But, when I went I just went in with my au pair friends and we checked it out on our own, without a tour guide. Also, keep in mind that this is a very walking/hiking heavy location so be sure to wear the appropriate shoes. While you’re in Northern Ireland you should also make a stop to Carrick-a-Rede to see/walk across the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge! This was one of my favorite things to do while being in this area of Ireland because of how large the bridge is and how beautiful the views are from the other side!
The photos below are all from Giant’s Causeway
The photos below are all from the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge
If traveling to Cork:
Don’t spend too much time in the main city, there really isn’t much happening there besides a couple fun pubs. But, if you do find yourself here, you won’t want to miss shopping at Penny’s! It was my favorite place to shop while living in Ireland, and would drive to the city just to spend time in this store J Also, if you’re in Cork you have to go see the Blarney castle. There will be a huge line to go kiss the blarney stone (which is said to give you the gift of gab), but if you’re there wait in line and enjoy looking through the castle as you make your way up to the top. Here is a photo of myself kissing the stone…which now I’m thinking is entirely gross since everyone else kisses it too….ha!
Whew! If you made it this far then you deserve a glass of wine :)
I hope you enjoyed reading through my au pair experiences and that you found the traveling tips helpful! Let me know in the comments if you have been to Ireland yourself, or are planning on going- I’d love to chat about it!