Clodagh Forde

Clodagh Forde

It’s that time of year—just past the holidays, well into winter, Fat Tuesday has come and gone, and for Christians the Lenten season is in full swing. Maybe it’s the culmination of it all, but there’s just something about mid-March that begs for a celebration. Right on time is the arrival of March 17th, the much-anticipated, Irish-inspired holiday that revels in the Emerald Isle’s most globally recognized patron saint, Saint Patrick.

So what more inspiration could you need than St. Patrick’s Day to go green and travel to the land of Éire? Here at Coca-Cola Journey, we’re there with our own trusted Irish colleagues for guides. We hope you’ll come with us as we discover how the Irish celebrate St. Patrick’s Day—and surprise, it doesn’t include corned beef (although we have a recipe for that) or green beer.

Mo Durkan

Mo Durkan

This article kicks off our new Red Planet series, where insiders will offer tips on where to travel, dine and find off-the-beaten-path adventure within the 207 countries where Coke operates. We hope you will check back with us, take us with you and share your experiences and photos from the places we uncover.

To get us started, Clodagh Forde, Coca-Cola director of strategy insights, ideas and creativity, invites us to her hometown of Salthil in Western Ireland. There, she introduces us to the less touristy part of the country, Ireland’s national sport, shares her memories of St. Patrick’s Days spent with family, and gives insight into where the term “lynch mob” originated.

Then, Mo Durkan, manager of public affairs and communications, takes us east through the streets of Dublin, not far from where she grew up and currently works at Coca-Coca Ireland’s office. From the “highest pub in Ireland” to the best places to enjoy music inside and out, and why you should never carry an umbrella, Durkan has craic (definition included below) covered and even debunks a few myths.

Beach outside of Clifden in Co. Galway

Beach outside of Clifden in Co. Galway

1. Where is the first place you go when you return to Ireland, or your favorite go-to place?

CF: I’m from Galway, which is one the most western points of Europe and the first landfall for all of the wild Atlantic storms coming in from North America. I grew up about a five-minute walk from the beach in the Salthill section of Galway, so one of the first things I always do is to hit the “prom” (promenade) for a walk. It’s a Galway tradition to kick the wall at Blackrock, which is the halfway point. I love the smell of the fresh sea air and typically windy conditions. It’s a great way to deal with the jetlag, too.

MD: I was lucky enough to grow up on the Dublin Mountains (close to the famous ‘highest pub in Ireland, Johnnie Foxes) just outside Dublin city, so I love driving back up there as  it has a really great view of Dublin Bay and surrounding counties – it is like a centre of gravity for me! I’m always ‘home’ when I do this.

2. What’s your favorite pub and why?

CF: One of my favorite pubs in Galway city is the Quays (pronounced Keys). I used to go there when I was a student studying in NUI Galway and, in many ways, the place hasn’t changed over the last 20 years! It’s a modern, multi-level pub that was built to feel like a traditional pub – with little nooks and snugs throughout. But there is a large main-stage area where you can see live music, too, so it’s really the best of both worlds. During the summer, especially during the busy Galway Races, the patrons spill out onto Quay Street. It’s the closest thing to a “carnival” atmosphere you will likely experience anywhere in Ireland.

MD: Well, Ireland has many amazing pubs! In Dublin city, it would have to be Doheny and Nesbitts Pub on Baggot Street (very close to our Coke office). It’s a nice old pub (with snugs for more private conversations or gatherings), full of bustle and great conversations, and always full of people from all walks of life – business people, politicians, lawyers, actors, visitors from all around the world and journalists hanging around for a story to break!

City of Galway in Co. Galway

City of Galway in Co. Galway

3. Where is your favorite place to hear live music?

CF: Besides the Quays, there are a host of other great live music venues in Galway. I like Monroes for a lively traditional Irish music seisiun (session) or Roisin Dubh (The Black Rose) for local bands. Galway has been called the New Orleans of Ireland, so almost anywhere you go in the city you will find live music and lots of craic (fun) to be had.

MD: Indoors: I like Whelans on Wexford Street, as they always have good bands, both emerging and established. Outdoor: The Iveagh Gardens is just magical – a little gem of a public park that hosts small concerts and bespoke festivals throughout the summer. It’s right in the center of the city, too!

4. What is Ireland’s least touristy town/area to check out?

CF: Clifden - An Clochan (which means “stepping stones”) is the largest town in the area known as Connemara. It’s one of the best-kept secrets because not many tourists make the long trek from Galway, opting instead for The Burren or The Aran Islands. The road to Clifden is quite “bendy” (as the Irish would say) and is definitely not for the faint of heart! But it’s well worth the effort to see the beautiful beaches and mountains that the West Coast are famous for.

MD: Inis Bofin (island of the white cow). It's a small island off Co. Galway on the west coast of Ireland. You travel there via ferry, which takes about 30 minutes. The phone reception is really bad. Communication is limited while on the island, which makes for a good rest from everyday life! It’s easy to walk or cycle around – it’s a very small island. There are music ‘sessions’ in the pubs (all two of them). Most of them impromptu, and there is always great craic (as in fun, not illegal substances!) to be had!

Connemara National Park in Co. Galway

Connemara National Park in Co. Galway

5. How do you celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day?

CF: Growing up as a child, St. Patrick’s Day was a day off from school and a break from Lent. It was the one day between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday that kids were allowed to eat sweets (candy), so it was something we all looked forward to. I remember going to mass in the morning with my family (which is said in Irish on St. Patrick's Day), then playing in a Camogie match (the female version of Hurling, our national sport) and finally a traditional Irish dinner of bacon (ham) and cabbage (no corned beef or green beer – they are both Irish-American traditions).  So, a day spent with friends and family. This year I’ll be spending it in Tokyo, so I hope to drum up some interest in the office and get a few colleagues to come with me for a beer or two to celebrate.

MD: St Patrick’s Day is normally a good time to catch up with family and friends, both home and abroad.

6. What is your favorite Irish meal?

CF: I love potato pancakes (or boxty as it’s called in some parts of Ireland), and I still make them the way my mother did. The secret is using left-over mashed potatoes instead of fresh made ones. In a family of nine, we usually didn’t have a lot of leftovers, so my mother would make extra just for the pancakes the next day – usually after a holiday like Christmas or Easter.

MD: My mother’s porter cake – basically a cake made with lots of flour, sugar, butter, eggs, spices and fruit and, of course, Guinness! A slice of that with a mug of coffee is a real treat.

Kylemore Abbey in Co. Galway

Kylemore Abbey in Co. Galway

7. Of all the castles, which one is a must see?

CF: There are so many, but I’m going to stick with the west of Ireland theme and recommend Ballynahinch Castle in Connemara. It is a hidden gem and is located close to all of the amazing things Connemara has to offer (Kylemore Abbey, The Twelve Bens, Cong – where the Quiet Man was filmed). There is also another castle that I like to recommend to people while in Galway City – Lynch’s Castle. It actually houses a bank now (AIB) but it has an interesting history and the term “Lynch Mob” actually originated from it.

MD: Ballyseede Castle in Tralee Co. Kerry. It is the only castle in Co. Kerry and is actually now a hotel so you can stay overnight to experience the real thing. Legend has it they even have their very own ghost.

8. If someone had time to see only one attraction in Dublin, what would you recommend?

CF: I would tell them to explore the rest of Ireland first, but if they had time for only one site in Dublin, I would have to say it would be the “Long Room” in Trinity College. The Book of Kells are housed there, but very few tourists take the time to go upstairs to the library and it’s definitely worth it.

MD: Trinity College: It’s worth a visit just to see the beautiful "Long Room" where the Book of Kells is held. 

Kilarney National Park in Co. Kerry

Kilarney National Park in Co. Kerry

9. What is your favorite park/area and why?

CF: I think you can guess what I’d say here, but it has to be Connemara. While there are many beautiful and scenic places to see in Ireland, there is something about the wild and unruly west coast that I love. You can explore both the mountains and the beaches all in one day. And if it’s a sunny day, there is literally no place on earth that is more breathtaking. And of course, the people are part of the attraction – not because they are friendly (all Irish people are friendly), but they are quirky and unique just like the landscape!

MD: Despite coming from the west of Ireland, I love Co. Kerry in the south of Ireland. It’s known as "The Kingdom" to its inhabitantsIt has stunning scenery from dramatic coastlines, startlingly beautiful mountains, craggy beaches, rivers and lakes. The many beaches are not only brilliant for long walks but also surfing. There are the Blaskets islands and Skellig islands to visit if you fancy taking a boat trip. The Skellig Islands date back to 600 A.D., and Skellig Michael was home to one of the earliest monastic settlements in Ireland, so if it’s history you’re looking for….

But it’s the people who really make it a memorable visit. Kerry people are unique, curious, quick-witted, great storytellers and full of character. You’ll get a great welcome in Kerry.

10. Any tourist traps to avoid?

CF: I wouldn’t say there are any places or sites that are “tourist traps,” but I would advise people to explore for themselves verses paying for a tour or tour-guide.

MD: Watch out for bad copies of the Riverdance show….

Connemara National Park in Co. Galway

Connemara National Park in Co. Galway

11. Do you have any recommendations for accommodations when traveling through Ireland?

CF: I grew up in a seaside tourist “resort” called Salthill. During the summer, while my older brothers and sisters were backpacking around Europe, my parents ran a B&B. So I have many fond memories of helping out by being a “server” at breakfast time. The B&Bs are much more modern now, but the key attraction for me remains the same. You get the opportunity to stay in somebody’s home and experience some genuine Irish hospitality. Many B&Bs offer tea and scones in the afternoon as well as a full Irish breakfast in the morning. And the hosts are the best people to give advice on local tourist attractions.

MD: We are really lucky to have very good hotels with reasonable prices all over Ireland. There are always good deals on offer, so shop around. If you are on a limited budget and want a more personal experience, then B&B’s are a good option – look out for the shamrock symbol, which means they have been inspected and approved by our tourist board. Be warned though: staying in a B&B can mean the obligatory friendly interrogation from the hostess at breakfast!

12. What’s the biggest stereotype/myth you’ve heard about Ireland/Irish?

CF: That we eat corned beef and that nobody can pronounce the word “three” (both completely untrue).

MD: There’s a crock of gold under the rainbow!

13. What’s the biggest traveling mistake you see tourists make?

CF: Not being prepared for the weather. The Irish are obsessed with the weather and for good reason! It can (and does) change within minutes. You can experience four seasons in one day! So bring a raincoat and layers of clothing no matter what time of the year it is.

MD: Not packing a raincoat and actually packing an umbrella. It rains sideways in Ireland.

Dog Trial in Co. Kerry

Dog Trial in Co. Kerry