The Authentic Irish Experience – What You’d Expect?


I’ve been thinking about authenticity in travel lately, since there has been much discussion of it online. What is authentic travel? And why are expectations about authentic travel skewed? One of the places that I have most been jarred by the dissonance in what I expected – and what I experienced – was in Ireland.

I’d expected a vibrant, thriving culture with lots of tourists. What I saw was a vibrant, thriving culture with lots of tourists. But thinking about it and experiencing it are two different things.  What makes for an “authentic” Irish experience? It isn’t all thatched roofs and Guinness, fiddlers and genial Irishmen. It is about that oft-present friendliness and scenery and looking beyond the traditional Ireland to the Ireland of today. For me, Authentic Ireland was found everywhere I went, and the one constant was that it defied traditional boundaries.

Challenged by Expectations

I was challenged by our expectations of Ireland from our first breakfast at a B&B in Doolin, where we talked about Ireland and past visits with a family whose grandsons play college basketball, to the walk and shopping at the Cliffs of Moher, where the only Irish people present were probably those working there.  Authenticity was in the Blind Piper Pub in Caherdaniel, where the crowd was 90% tourists (mostly wet walkers, drying out for an hour before heading out into the rain again, continuing their Ring of Kerry trek), and the other 10% were a few families and the waitresses. It was in Cork, where the crowds were multicultural and cosmopolitan – working, shopping, eating Chinese, pushing baby strollers.

Authentic Ireland was in fellow travelers, in our horse cart ride through the Gap of Dunloe. It was in the locals swimming at Derrynane Beach, despite the frigid temps. Authentic Ireland was in the cemeteries, and the visitors who found peace (or photos, or both) there.

Authentic Ireland was in the artists I found, sharing their talents and craft in person and on the web. It was in the fish market, raw and gritty (and delicious). It was in the organic farmers at the Kenmare Market, with their beautiful and tasty offerings.  It was also in Quill’s store, with Irish playing cards and Irish Sweaters and Irish linen, snatched up by tourists.

Authenticity was in B&Bs and home rentals, so picturesque – and the reality of guests in their home/business, bookings, and being an entrepreneur in an uncertain global economy.

Authenticity was in the extremely helpful man – the very first person I saw in Ireland, right out of the plane – who helped with my wheelchair at Shannon Airport. Full of jokes, and patience, he told us about the Shannon area, as well as his family’s trips to Turkey and elsewhere abroad.

Authenticity was in the busloads of tourists who rule the Ring of Kerry – and the painted sheep who took over the roads at night. It was in the farms, eking an existence among the rocks, and the hardships of the current economy. It was in the music – traditional Celtic music, as well as music from all over the world. It was a tv show in Gaelic, right after a rerun of Storm Chasers.

As I learned, authentic Ireland is in the people – both locals to visitors – all of whom help to create YOUR Irish experience. It won’t be like any others’, except for one fact – that the true authentic Irish experience lies in diversity, people, and that beautiful, beautiful place.

What surprised you about Ireland? What constitutes your authentic Irish experience?

Dr. Jessie Voigts is the Publisher of

Author: Corey

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  1. Having just returned from my 14th trip to Ireland, I have to say that, for me, authenticity means ditching the tourist sites sometimes and finding a pub to have a cup of tea or a pint in during the day, reading local news, and just doing ordinary, every day things like grocery store browsing. I am lucky that my husband grew up in Ireland, so a lot of our time there is spent with family and friends, the ultimate in authenticity 🙂

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    • You’re so right Meghan, getting off the beaten track is the only way to go- I reckon this applies no matter where you’re travelling!

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  2. Going off the beaten path so to speak to find relatives and finding people who know where our ancestors were at and the the fun ‘collection’ of events and tales….Of course trying to conquer the Gaelic we constantly ran into…joyful moments and memories~~!!

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  3. One of my very first experiences of the warmth and friendliness that defines the Irish people…Getting off a bus on a damp and windy day in Cahir, with a bag in each hand and my scarf flapping in the breeze. An older women walking along the street stopped, came up to me and grabbed at my scarf. Being a New Yorker, I was about to use one of my bags to ward off the “mugger”, when she wrapped the scarf around my neck, tied and tucked it into my coat and said, “It’s cold out today, Love.”
    That is one of my favourite authentic Irish experiences. 🙂

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  4. I love this and couldn’t agree more. Who gets to decide what is authentic? I figure if it happened, it’s authentic. 🙂 I loved the people I met in Ireland. I stayed with a dear Irish friend in an old drafty house in Killala, met up with friends for tea in their local pub, visited with a friend as he served up the towns most popular burgers and chips, and sat in an elderly woman’s parlor near her peat fire place chatting while we looked at old photos. 🙂 I loved all of it.

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  5. you’re so right, and i love all of these comments. i also thought that whatever happened when we were there, was authentic. but it took me a little bit to figure that out – of all the countries i’ve been to, i had somehow expected the most traditional to be ireland. i am glad that my views were challenged so.

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  6. Remember, you are never lost until you are out of petrol.

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  7. Authentic Ireland to me is enjoying a glass of wine with the owner of my most favorite B&B in the evening, talking to her about her upcoming holiday, her family, our lives at home, as well as current events in Ireland. It is popping into a grocery store, large or small, and having a sandwich made to order to enjoy for lunch or supper when we just don’t feel like dining out. It is asking to use the toilet at the little shop on N67 near the Killimer ferry and the gentleman allows you in his home to do so. Authentic Ireland is walking the cliffs at Kilkee with Buster (the resident dog) along for company. It is carrying a box of Bonios to give to the many dogs we encounter during the day. It is me sharing the driving with my husband and feeling at ease doing so. It is watching the news on RTE and reading local newspapers. Authentic Ireland is just feeling at home, so far away from home.

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    • “Authentic Ireland is just feeling at home, so far away from home.”

      Nobody can say it better than that. That is the perfect and absolute truth.

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    • I agree Diane, “feeling at home, so far away from home” is the perfect description.

      That is why we are going back..

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  8. Ireland sounds like the place to visit. I like that you mention the people as what makes Ireland what it is. I think this is true for any destination. The people make all the difference.

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  9. I stumbled upon this blog as i am a post grad heritage student at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia. I am researching an assignment on the concept of ‘Authenticity’ as it relates to heritage tourism. I have also been to Ireland 5 times. It seems to me that really authenticity is a fluid concept, its about how an experience makes you feel. Authentic Ireland for me was listening to the Tinker women calling out as they plied passers by with cheap fags in the streets of Dublin, or the kids with grubby knees and runny noses near the Fatima estate, it was sitting in a pub in Doolin for my first magical experience of a traditional Irish session, it was sitting at O’Brians castle on Inis Oirr on a perfect sunny day, it was climbing the Bunglass cliffs and sitting at the top, the wind nearly ripping my head off, it was hitchhiking in the trucks of several old farmers on Beara and west Cork who would cheerfully throw their wellies in the back seat so i could sit down and then regale me with entertaining stories, it was falling in love with an Irishman in Galway one summer and it was the sublime peace of sitting in Gallarus Oratory and appreciating the prayerful and perfect state those people had been in to build such a perfect dry stone structure and honour God. It was feeling so at home that i cried everytime i had to leave.

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  10. You get to experience the authenticity of Ireland when you allow it to come to you. If you are a pain in the behind or pushy, You’ll see great scenery but miss out on some of the most interesting chats. The out of the way spots are among my favorites. A pint in the harbor bar in Bray at noon with my cousin, his 3 year old, and an ex- pat returning to his home town after 30 years. That conversation was priceless.
    The rules change a little depending if your in a touristy spot or not, but practice proper pub etiquette, be polite, and enjoy one of the nicest places to be in the world.
    Cheers, Brian

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  11. disappointing B&B experience this easter trip to Ireland, our voucher which was always acceptable for our room needed an upgrade of £10.00– so BEWARE the vocuhers DO NOT cover your room rate this year very disappointing… its £6.00 if you use a 3 star but our regular B&B is a 4star and the lady of the house has always looked after us so well its the voucher companies that have reduced the payments to the B&Bs so the B&Bs have to get the balance from the user.

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