Ireland was always on my bucket list. It’s strange to consider that such a tiny island has done so much for the world. Its traditions are infectious, its landscapes are idyllic, its stories are epic. Ireland is celebrated for these traditions and the progress its people continue to make. I witnessed it all in a week-long journey through Ireland. From the foggy fields of rural Cork to the thumping beat of modern Dublin. Ireland is a truly special place, and there’s no better time to travel Ireland than during the St. Patrick’s celebration.
In the early hours of the morning, I arrived at the Castlemartyr Resort near Midleton, Ireland. It features three generations of architecture — an old castle ruin, a 19th century hotel and a new modern wing. Its grounds stretch acres and acres into the county, with greenery and wildlife in every direction.
An old ruin arches over a picturesque view of the Castlemartyr estate. Horses graze in the distance. Trees fight the fog to push out the first buds of spring. There’s a calm in the air that is nearly palpable.
A pair of Irish Setter dogs live on Castlemartyr’s grounds, guiding guests through the pathways and gardens. Here, Countess and her brother Earl stopped on a bridge to survey the land while I snapped a photo.
As a photographer, I felt a certain… desaturation about Ireland. The colors are soft and muted, the air has a gentle fog to it that feels relaxing and subdued. It’s peaceful, especially when experienced at such a quiet, grand and well-kept estate.
The first night at Castlemartyr featured a fog thicker than the natives had seen in years. The grand tree in the pasture across from Castlemartyr was barely visible in the fog. With a whiskey in one hand and a tripod in the other, I walked out into the fog for a midnight photograph of that ghostly tree.
From Castlemartyr to Midleton: Exploring the Jameson Story at the Midleton Distillery
A main event in my travel to County Cork was to experience Jameson’s Midleton Distillery firsthand. This is one of the largest distilleries in the world, a facility that has been in operation since the 1600s. Outside, one of the original copper stills welcomes guests to the facility. The materials and craft of Whiskey making hasn’t changed much, but the technology has developed rapidly.
Jameson Irish Whiskey’s International Whiskey Ambassador David McCabe led myself and a handful of other media guests far beyond the tour given to visitors. It started in the Old Midleton Distillery, then led to the Irish Whiskey Academy where new employees are trained in the craft.
Here, McCabe leads a group through the tasting of different whiskeys produced on site. Beyond the venerable Jameson Original, McCabe served the Special Reserve, Limited Reserve, Gold Reserve and a handful of whiskeys that are branded with their own label. The Gold Reserve has been a long-standing favorite of mine, a smooth and rich whiskey that is best served neat.
After the beer is brewed and triple-distilled, it is aged in barrels to impart new flavors. For a whiskey to be legally considered “Irish Whiskey”, it must be aged for at least three years in wooden casks on Irish soil. The barrels at the Midleton Distillery are maintained and built by Ger Buckley, a 5th generation cooper. Buckley uses ancient hand tools to craft and maintain these barrels by hand. He’s responsible for hundreds of thousands of barrels that rest on site in Midleton, a job that has been in his family for over a hundred years.
The aging barrels in Midleton are too numerous to count. This single cross-section represents a small fraction of just one aging warehouse. Even the warehouses themselves are hard to count. Acres of land here in Midleton are devoted to barrel storage. When asked about total barrel count, the off-the-record answer was “over a million”.
Our private group of writers and photographers was given a taste of the spirit right out of the aging barrel. This is not a part of the public tour. The smell of aging whiskey hung in the air like a fog of its own, and over the years, it had darkened the skin of trees and paint of the warehouses. The spirit McCabe pulled from the barrels is neither blended nor cut, just pure (and very strong) Irish Whiskey.
The morning after my visit to the New Midleton Distillery, I enjoyed a final breakfast at Castlemartyr before hopping the train to Dublin.
Experiencing St. Patrick’s Day in Young, Modern Dublin
Before visiting Dublin, I wouldn’t have thought to characterize it as either “young” or “modern”. The iconographic Dublin is old, traditional and rich in both story and spirit. This is still very true of Dublin, but the people I met were young, progressive and modern.
On St. Patrick’s Day, the streets were full of revelers both native and international. It was a friendly affair, celebrated proudly as if it were Independence Day back home in the United States.
Many of Dublin’s neighborhoods have blended their old-world charm with new and modern establishments. Trendy restaurants and bars are about as numerous as the traditional pubs Dublin is known for.
On the eve of St. Patrick’s Day, I once again joined Jameson for a concert in the heart of Dublin. A few Dublin originals took the stage to perform for a packed crowd for St. Patrick’s Live. This included the White Lies, an act that had just completed a tour supporting a record that had become popular in the United States.
Both the bands and the audience included a young, global group of Dubliners. There was a story to be seen on both sides of the press pit below the bands.
Dublin’s global movement has taken in cultural influences from around the world. The Vintage Cocktail is a prohibition-era American speakeasy with plenty of Irish spirit. Guests enter through a nondescript stairwell, then turn a corner, then descend two stairwells into a basement lounge.
The servers brought punch to each table while taking drink orders. In essence, my group and I were served drinks while we decided what we wanted to drink next. It was intoxicating.
Nearly every cocktail available was inspired by the American prohibition, but served with Irish spirits. If there was a dark liquor in anything, rest-assured it’s Irish Whiskey. I ordered an old-fashioned with Jameson. I think I ordered a second. I was accompanied by Jameson ambassadors throughout most of this trip, and I was happy to follow their lead in the drink department.
My first night in Dublin ended at The Marker Hotel. This incredible work of modern design features a faceted architectural interior. The walls became the ceilings through sharp geometric shapes, presenting a feeling of futurism in a very old city.
Art and design takes place throughout Dublin, sometimes right in the street. Even on a national holiday.
Later on during the St. Patrick’s festivities, the crowd appeared to grow younger and younger. This duke’d Dubliner found a creative way of showing off her Irish pride.
The cuisine of Dublin is both traditional and contemporary. There are many restaurants with global influences, many pubs with traditional fare, and some that skirt the trends to do things their own way. Mulligan’s Grocer serves traditional Irish fare with contemporary inspiration. Like this Boxty Burger that took the edge off of the morning’s hangover.
The restaurants and bars in Dublin had an ever-present offering of Jameson. I was here in Ireland to get to know the Jameson story, and had seen it manufactured and served throughout the country. I had known before visiting that products like Jameson were a big part of the country’s identity, and seeing it firsthand was refreshing. Here, a set of glasses of Jameson Gold blur under a warm light.
Just from a walk through its streets and a few meals in its restaurants, the global identity of Dublin was apparent. It felt as if I was walking through London or New York at times. It resonates with a young, progressive mindset, and there was no shortage of that wherever I went.
While the celebration in Dublin was intense, I felt a pull back toward the rural reaches of Ireland. The cuisine, the culture and the cocktails in Dublin were fresh and exciting. Yet the draw to Ireland is as much about the green hills, rocky coasts and rural hamlets as it is about this modern city. After a few days of whiskey and merriment, I was in the mood for relaxation. And maybe more whiskey.
To read more about the travel to Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day and the trip as it happened, check out our full coverage here. We’ll be sharing a few of our favorite scenes from Ireland this week on Instagram, check us out @instacoolist. If you’ve journeyed to Ireland and want to share your experiences of Cork, Dublin and beyond, hit us up below or share with us on social media.