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Friday, July 07, 2017

Irish Souvenir Ideas

Though traveling, especially on a budget, is all about the experiences you have on tour, having momentos of your travels is also a comfort and joy in itself.  So whether you’re shopping for something to help you forever remember your dream trip to Ireland or for a present to bring back for friends or family, this month I’m posting on great Irish souvenir ideas.

I’ve taken suggestions of fellow Ireland travelers and my own favorite ideas and grouped them into a few categories.  

1.       Clothing:

Easy to find, useful and generally easy to bring back … clothing is a practical and beautiful souvenir.  My personal souvenir of choice falls into this category as I have a collection of scarves from each country I’ve visited, but Ireland also has its own unique clothing items. 

The most iconic of Irish clothing souvenirs is easily the woollens of the Aran Islands.  Sweaters and caps from this very traditional corner of Ireland are greatly sought after and easily available throughout the country (though for those going on the optional Aran Islands excursion on Day 8, where better to get your woolen souvenirs!).  And there are plenty of other sources of woollens all over Ireland.  We even have a scheduled stop at Blarney Woollen Mills on Day 4 of our tour.

Handmade leather belts, bags and wallets from stores like Lee River Leather in Cork can also be nice and easy to transport souvenirs. 

Most clothing is a relatively easy souvenir to bring back in your luggage, but for bulkier woollen items like large sweaters or blankets, you may want to have them shipped home to save space.

2.       Jewelry:

Though it can be pricier than other souvenirs, jewelry is always a beautiful keepsake and Ireland has some truly unique styles to offer.  Irish jewelry can be distinctive in design and in materials. 

The most quintessential Irish jewelry design, originating from western Ireland, is the Claddagh.  The design consists of two hands holding a heart with a crown on top of it.  It is a symbol of love, loyalty and friendship.  Traditionally the Claddagh is given as a ring, but nowadays it can be find in any number of fashions.  Claddagh rings have been a product of the Galway area since the beginning of the 18th century, but the name we know them by was bestowed on the design in the 1830s.

Other traditional Irish symbols that can be easily found in the form of jewelry include Celtic crosses, harps, St. Brigid’s cross, shamrocks and the tree of life.  Celtic knots, which come in a wide variety, including the popular trinity knot, are also common in Irish jewelry.  One prevalent souvenir from the Emerald Isle are shamrocks enclosed in glass pendants.

Some jewelry is uniquely Irish thanks to the materials used to make it.  The most striking of these being Connemara marble.  The green marble is native to the west of the island and comes in a wide ranges of shades.  Connemara marble is also a great keepsake in other forms.  My favorite is the worry-stone, though you can also find Connemara marble used for coasters, vases and tiles to hang on your wall. 

3.       Glasses:

Whether you just want a Guinness glass straight from Ireland or some local crystal, glasses can be a great souvenir.  Both Waterford and Galway crystal are highly prized, though also more expensive than most souvenirs. 

For breakable and heavy souvenirs, the trick is to have them shipped home by the store rather than trying to take them along in your bags.

4.       Music:

One of the best suggestions from fellow travelers has been buying music CDs from local artists as a souvenir.  What better keepsake of the traditional Irish music you heard at your favorite pubs?  Granted not all local musicians have CDs to sell, but it’s becoming more common.

Irish musical instruments can also be a unique keepsake.  Some uniquely Irish instruments include tin whistles, bodhráns, fiddles and Uilleann pipes.  Again, for larger and more breakable items it’s best to have them shipped home vs carrying them in your luggage.

5.       Art:

Art can take many forms but when created by local artists it is certainly a truly Irish keepsake.  Watercolors and prints can be a lovely keepsake of the areas you visit.  The Cork area boasts handmade Irish potter from Dunbeacon Pottery, though there are many sources of Irish pottery and ceramics throughout the country.  Other handmade crafts, including wooden & wool sheep figurines and ceramic or wood Irish cottage likenesses, can be found in little shops in most Irish towns.

Depending on where you buy a work of art and how heavy or breakable it is, you may want to see if you can have it shipped home rather than trying to cram it into a suitcase.

6.       Religious Keepsakes:

Ireland is a Catholic country after all, so another natural choice for souvenirs is something religiously inspired.  The most widely suggested of this type of souvenir is rosary beads … and just for something uniquely Irish, why not some Connemara marble rosary beads?  Celtic crosses are also a common souvenir (in the form of jewelry or as a design on clothing and other items).  The straw St. Brigid’s cross is also an iconic Irish souvenir, whether handmade from straw as is traditional or cast in metal for jewelry.

7.       Other Irish Souvenirs:

Irish lace, linens, soaps and perfumes are among the other items most suggested by fellow travelers to Ireland.  One Irish perfumery is even inspired by the Burren, which we’ll visit on Day 7 of our tour. 

Beautifully painted Irish Christmas ornaments are also a popular souvenir, and books of Irish poetry can be a nice keepsake.

8.       Photographs:

On any of my travels photographs play a huge role in commemorating my journeys.  With its lush green landscape and breathtaking sea sides, Ireland offers much to photograph.  Even the cities with beautiful Georgian architecture, quaint pubs and peaceful parks have much to remember in pictures.  And, of course, medieval castles and ancient religious ruins abound all over Ireland. 

No other souvenir is more telling of your personal journeys than the pictures you take yourself.  Whether you have grand plans to frame them or have them turned into keepsake canvas prints or photobooks, or if you prefer to share them online or in basic prints; your photographs are something you and everyone back home will enjoy.  In fact, on my first tour of Ireland I desperately wanted something to bring back to my grandmother who was not well enough to visit Ireland herself, and one of her greatest treasures was the frame holding pictures I had taken while visiting the Quiet Man cottage and bridge near Cong (which also has a museum dedicated to the movie).

I’ve seen stunning pictures taken by amateur and professional photographers alike in Ireland, and with phone cameras, digital and 35 mm “relics” like my own.  So my best advice is just to make sure you have plenty of memory cards or film to store as many breathtaking images as possible.  

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Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Live Irish Music

A golden harp is blazoned on the Irish coat of arms, and for good reason, as music is an integral part of the Irish culture.  Not only would no trip to Ireland be complete without enjoying some traditional Irish music sessions, it would be a near impossibility to spend any length of time on the island without finding yourself surrounded by Irish melodies.  So our June topic is Irish music.

Music is a key element of Irish society and nightlife, so unsurprisingly live music (both modern and traditional) can be found in any number of pubs across Ireland.   For tips on where to go for some authentic Irish music, I’ve tried to offer a wide selection of venues including city streets known for great busking performances, pubs, music halls and theaters.

If you’ve heard about great street performances (busking) in Ireland, you’ve likely heard the name Grafton Street.  This Dublin pedestrian street is also known for its shopping venues and attracts a lot of street performers offering tourists and locals a taste of traditional Irish music while they shop.  On the other side of the island in Galway, Shop Street takes on this role.  Again a pedestrian street lined with shops and pubs, Shop Street is brimming with traditional Irish music.

Music Halls and Theaters
The Gaiety Theatre in Dublin offers great performances from plays to Irish music and dance.  The University Concert Hall in Limerick is also host to some amazing entertainment including some great music.

Pubs are the most likely place to find some traditional Irish music sessions all over Ireland.  Whether paid performers or informal music sessions by local musicians, many Irish pubs host frequent traditional Irish music on a regular basis.  Some are even popular for bringing in both traditional Irish music and dancing acts.

In Dublin, check out The Cobblestone on the northside, O’Shea’s Merchant on the southside, O’Sullivan’s near Trinity College, O’Neill’s not far from the Temple Bar district and O’Donoghue’s near St Stephen’s Green for starters.  The Irish capital also offers a musical pub crawl which runs every night from April through October.

For traditional Irish music in Killarney try Murphy’s Bar on College Street, Jarvey’s Rest Traditional Irish Pub within walking distance of the main part of town, Courtney’s Bar, or O’Connor’s for a wide range of entertainment including music, comedy and readings.  The Grand also offers a club open every night with music and dancing.

Dolan’s is a popular venue for live music in Limerick.  Though you can also find frequent live music performances at The Locke or The Hurlers Bar.  Galway pubs for traditional Irish music include Róisín Dubh (or dark rose), The King’s Head, Monroe’s Live and The Crane.

You can also do some research ahead of time to find locations for traditional Irish music.  A Dublin Sessions site tracks a wide variety of performances across the city, similar to which has pages tracking upcoming concerts in cities like Galway.  Another Galway site for finding live music venues and entertainment is  And sites like and list popular music venues across Ireland.  There are even Facebook pages, like Music for Galway, to keep up on upcoming events.