I returned home from Ireland in June with 742 new pictures. Some of them will become part of future blog posts, some will end up on Facebook or in my online gallery. Most of them will never leave my computer. One of the challenges I have after each trip is to decide what photo to edit first. This was especially difficult this time as there weren’t any once-in-a-lifetime-photos, nothing that will probably ever grace the pages of a magazine. But, as a complete unit, the pictures tell the story of my trip. Altogether, they capture Ireland. Here is a sample of some of the photos I’ve managed to edit so far. There are still many more to come. Enjoy!
I have had my fair share of car troubles over the years in Ireland. During my first trip, someone hit my rental car in a Kilkenny car park and drove away, leaving me to sort things out with Hertz. After driving over Ballaghbeama Gap last summer in County Kerry, I stalled at the intersection of Lost and The Middle of Nowhere and waited over an hour for a mechanic. And then there was the time I drove off a County Wicklow road and shredded a tire on the teeth of an old wall. Each incident, while unfortunate and inconvenient, showed me the true hospitality of the Irish people.
Hertz didn’t bill me for the damage caused by the hit and run driver in Kilkenny—and they could have. I hadn’t purchased the rental insurance, and they had placed a $3,000 hold on my credit card to cover accidents.
South of Ballaghbeama Gap, several drivers stopped to make sure I was okay. Even after saying a mechanic was on his way, one couple promised to come back and check on me. The mechanic, who couldn’t have been a day younger than 70 but still as spry as a man half his age, quickly fixed my car and said that if he were 30 years younger he’d continue on with me. Wink, wink. Be still my heart!
But, the time that really sticks out in my mind, the winner of Jolene’s Irish hospitality award, goes to the people of County Wicklow following the shredded tire incident.
It happened in October 2014, hours after renting the car. The first few hours behind the wheel are always nerve-wracking for me as I adjust to being on the “wrong side” of narrow roads and the arbitrary insanity of Irish speed limits. I’d just left the Glendalough monastic ruins and was heading to Archways Bed and Breakfast, a restful oasis in County Wexford known for some culinary magic I was eager to experience.
Because I liked the tactile sensation of holding a map and wanted to save money on GPS, I was trying to look at the map and drive at the same time. Big mistake. A car shot around the corner from the opposite direction and—startled—I swerved, leaving the road. A giant’s teeth snagged my tire and ground it into a meal of rubber and metal before I escaped its gnarled jaw. Back on the asphalt my car limped forward, an amputee.
What on earth did I drive over? The jagged edges of some old wall, concealed in the tall grasses? Dollar signs flashed across my mind and then the panic of, once again, being in the middle of nowhere. My phone didn’t work without wifi, so how would I call anyone for help? How long would it be before the next car drove by?
Fortunately, I looked up and spotted the An Garda Síochána sign. An Irish police station was literally less than 100 yards from where I’d driven off the road! What luck!
Unfortunately, no one was there.
I walked to the house next to the Garda station and knocked on the door. A middle-aged, slightly skeptical woman answered it. After a brief explanation of my predicament, she relaxed and offered to call for help. Why not? She was friends with a mechanic at a shop only a few kilometers away! Being that it was 5 o’clock on a Friday night, she advised me not to get my hopes up—he was likely gone for the day—but less than five minutes later he pulled into the parking lot of the unoccupied Garda station.
“You’re lucky,” he said to me. “I was just locking up the shop when I got the call.”
He didn’t have the correct tire for the car, but he put on the spare—a donut that couldn’t be driven more than 50 miles per hour. I kept trying to pay him for his time, but he refused to accept any money. I wasn’t sure if this was an Irish thing—like, they keep saying no and you keep saying yes until someone finally acquiesces. In the end, he wouldn’t hear of it.
In the meantime, the Guard returned to the station and asked me where I was heading for the evening. He called around Wexford and found a shop that carried the tire I needed and then wrote down the directions and shop hours for me.
I couldn’t thank them enough! One thing I regret is not getting their names and addresses, because I would have loved to have mailed them thank you notes or given them some sort of shout out on my blog. I blame jet-lag and hunger for the oversight, but what I can do is pay it forward to someone else one day.
Driving less than 50 miles per hour all the way to Wexford on the spare wasn’t ideal, but I was treated with the most amazing sunset as I drove through villages along the way and felt pretty good about how things had turned out that day. When I finally reached Archways B&B the owner had another surprise for me. The Guard had called her too, informing her that I’d had a flat tire and that I’d be late to check in. And because she felt so bad about my luck, she and her husband cooked me dinner and served me wine along with the other guests.
And, if you can believe it, the hospitality did not end there! The next morning, Chris, the chef and also one of the owners of the B&B, informed me that he’d called into Wexford and negotiated a re-purposed tire for half the price of the Guard’s tire.
Friends often ask why I keep returning to Ireland when there are so many other places to explore. The answer isn’t found in a pint glass. The answer isn’t in the landscape or anything I can carry home on a memory card (although that’s a big part of it for me). After all that I’ve experienced, the answer is really quite simple: I love Ireland for the people.
Thanks to Bellingham-based Southside Living for publishing my first article about travel photography!
If you were in a position to sell your home, car, and other possessions to finance a dream, where would you go? Last year, I quit my corporate job and booked a one-way ticket to Ireland. My dream was to rent a cottage by the sea and explore the rugged Wild Atlantic Way with my camera, building a portfolio that could one day lead to freelance opportunities. Giving up a steady paycheck to take pictures may seem foolish, but I contend that travel is an investment in the soul, gold in your life’s vault of experience.
Seeing the world through a viewfinder also taught me valuable lessons about travel photography. There is an art to it, and whether you’re a seasoned photographer trying to catch the eye of a National Geographic editor or a casual tourist with a selfie stick, there are several ways to make your travel photos more memorable.
First of all, you are not at a disadvantage without an expensive DSLR and a bag full of lenses. A friend of mine used to say, “The best camera is the one you have on you.” I wouldn’t trade the quality and clarity of the photos produced on my DSLR for landscapes, but I could go without the inconvenience of lugging that beast through the streets of big cities. Not only did it attract attention, it was heavy and I got tired of carrying it around. A good point-and-shoot or cellphone camera would have been a viable alternative, something I could have easily slipped in and out of a purse to snap stealthy pictures of buskers and Dublin street scenes.
Whatever your camera choice, I recommend taking a walk through your destination before the first shutter actuation. Explore, gather a sense of the local ethos. What emotion do you want to evoke with a photograph?
I lived in Sneem last summer, a village in southwest Ireland along the popular Ring of Kerry. Say it out loud: Sneem. It sounds like a fictitious place, a hobbit stop on the way to Mordor. Pastel buildings line what passes for a main street, the corner store sells duck eggs that bulge out of repurposed cartons, and tourists wander in and out of ice cream shops in a trance. A river thunders down from Macgillycuddy’s Reeks, bisecting the village with waters the color of a freshly poured Guinness. I could have taken pictures of everything! But, I wanted to photograph the right subjects at the right time.
This meant getting up early and staying up late. For example, a castle I was particularly fond of filled with tourists during the day, and the sun cast harsh shadows on it—elements unfavorable for a good travel photograph. Instead, I woke up early before the tourists and caught the gentle morning light. The same castle was far more dramatic with fog rolling through its hollow shells, peaceful in a sleepy meadow.
For serious photographers, I recommend taking a tripod and capturing the same scene in the evening. The magic begins when the sun drops, bathing the earth in gold. The sky following a storm is also quite dramatic as rainbows push back the darkness.
Understandably, there are times when you will be taking pictures during the harsh light of day. In this case, use your flash. This will fill out the shadows in the faces of your families and friends, capturing a far more flattering image.
Consider the composition of your photograph. Don’t just stand there—move! Try out different angles or put an object in the foreground to show scale.
Get off the beaten path! When going to Ireland, everyone wants to visit the Cliffs of Moher, Blarney Castle, and the Guinness Storehouse. The Ring of Kerry is often so clogged with tour busses you can hardly make your way through Killarney during the daytime. And while there is value in going to those places, ask the locals for advice. One of the best pieces of advice I got was to visit the Beara Peninsula. It’s one of the well-guarded secrets in southwest Ireland. Between megalithic sites, sandy beaches, and passes, it’s heaven on earth for the budding travel photographer…and none of the tourists seem to have discovered it yet!
Above all, don’t be afraid to put the camera down and savor the moment. Talk to the locals and listen to the lilt of an accent. Enjoy the fragrance of a peat fire lacing the air with its earthy sweetness. Feel the way your nose tingles after a few sips of Guinness. There’s so much that can’t be captured on camera.
Of all the lessons I learned in Ireland, the most important was this: dare to dream beyond the borders of your hometown. Travel, if you can. Have adventures, big and small. Fall in love with the world and your one precious life. That’s the real ticket we should all purchase.