Back to stories

What to pack for Ireland

Our favourite guest blogger Gerry Britt educates us on the deliberations and subtleties of packing for a trip to Ireland.

I've been fortunate enough to visit the Emerald Isle three times in the last four years. Im returning in August to spend time with American ex-pat old friends, new Irish cousins, and the remaining 17 people on the island that I haven't yet met. I wont call myself an expert on Irish travel (well, not out loud anyway), but I have learned a thing or two about how to keep the luggage down to no more than two bags and a carry-on, and have all the lot weigh less than a cruise ship.

When packing for Ireland, there are two important things to remember: 

1. Its going to rain today.
2. Its going to rain tomorrow.

Now, don't let this put a damper (har!) on your plans or your packing. Trust me, once the rain stops (and it will, very soon) and the sun comes out you'll be in awe of the scenery before you can shake the drops off your jacket. The Irish sky after a soft rain is breathtaking. You can see for miles and miles, and the legendary shades of green for which Ireland is justly famous will total a lot more than just 40.

That said, there is an Irish expression, There is no bad weather, only inappropriate clothing. Herewith, my expert (whoops, did I say that out loud?) advice on how to pack, in two simple steps: 

1. Loosely pack one bag for the rain, and the sun that will follow.
2. Loosely pack another bag for the sun, and the rain that will follow. 

There now, wasn't that easy? Okay, allow me to elaborate. Packing for Irish weather can be summed up in one word: layers. T-shirts, light sweaters, a good waterproof that can be washed with a garden hose jacket, a waterproof hat, and good walking/hiking shoes. Thinner is better. Sweaters and jackets should be thin enough to tie around the waist or stuff in a backpack. Undergarments made of moisture-wicking material are excellent: thin, lightweight, and comfortable, and no worries of rashes. I highly suggest hiking boots, rather than shoes, because once you leave the paved streets of Dublin you'll be wandering far and wide over tall grass, short grass, newly-mown grass, bogs, streams, and country lanes. Slip into good, cushioned-sole wool socks and off you go. 

The advantages of packing this way will be evident as soon as you arrive at the rental car lot and discover exactly how compact a compact car is. You will find that your bags will actually fit into the space that those eternal optimists at Avis claim will hold 4-5 pieces of luggage. 

Packing tip #1: when you check into your room that first day, transfer your clothes to one bag and leave the other for purchases and well-bagged dirty laundry. This way, you're not rummaging through both bags looking for dry socks while destroying turf Christmas ornaments (which are very practical: you can burn them for warmth if times get really tough back home and you cant pay the electric bill due to throwing around those Euro bills like the Monopoly money they so closely resemble), Belleek vases, and Waterford crystal. Aran sweaters are better than Styrofoam for cushioning. 

Packing tip #2: while hard-case luggage is practical for reducing breakage, its impractical for stuffing into a hatchback when full. Just cushion the fragile stuff. Better yet, have it shipped. It will arrive in a week or so, like a gift to yourself from Ireland. 

Now lets look closely at loosely. This is very important, and will save you time, energy, and money, both while you're in Ireland and at the airport departure counter while you cry over having to leave Ireland. You have to leave room in your bags for all the clothes you are going to purchase, to wit: 

- the Trinity College hoodie from the souvenir shop in Grafton St (and by the way: that t-shirt that proclaims how drunk you got in Temple Bar? Put it back. It’s embarrassing. You’ll understand why after a few days 

- that beautiful Donegal tweed cap

- the absolutely gorgeous shawl from the Avoca shop near the entrance to Killarney National Park

- the pink Wellies with the cute little sheep and shamrocks that you buy in Clare when the Skechers I told you not to pack get soaked in Doolin 

- the Aran sweater for your brother-in-law, and the half-dozen other ‘ohmyGodIjusthavetogetthis’ items that will fill your bag quicker than you can say ‘bodhran’, which you’ll have to check at the gate despite your strenuous objections. It will be fine. You think you’re the first?

My family and I learned these lessons through trial and error, and when I leave for Ireland this summer I will go with one half-filled, soft-sided suitcase filled with a few shirts, a jacket, one sweater, my Donegal tweed cap (told ya!), and my big green Wellies (stuffed with lycra/spandex undergarments) that I got in County Tipperary after I stepped in well, you know and ruined my Skechers. 

I will leave at home my dressy clothes, since Ireland is, as a rule, a very informal and relaxed place. Plus, theres this great little shop in Dingle Town that has the coolest European-cut dress shirts. I will also leave my I Got ShFaced in Shamrock Land shirt in the bottom of my bureau drawer, where it belongs. It still has the tags on it. I will take my passport, copies of my itinerary and contact info, wall plug adapters, extra memory cards, prescription meds, phone chargers (get an International Traveller Plan or buy an Eircom card upon arrival and save yourself some money), camera, batteries, and cigarettes, which are frightfully expensive. 

Hopefully you don't smoke, but a great way to meet the locals is to stand outside with the smokers. Excellent craic to be found there and its great for smirting, a combo of smoking and flirting. An offered Marlboro is a good icebreaker. It will make you instantly popular, and will lead to great conversations about America, your Irish roots, and exactly how many smokes you've got left in that pack. 

Finally, when I get to the airport to go home I will not have to pay for an extra, overweight, or oversized bag; my fragile items will be either well-packed or in the capable hands of FedEx, and I will have no worries except how to keep the teardrops from ruining my boarding pass. I wish you happy and safe travels, and if you're in Ireland this August, the first round is on me.

About the author

Gerard Britt was assembled in America from Irish parts. He grew up in New York, and now lives in Manassas, Virgina with his wife and son. An Irish and family history nut, his trips “back” in 2007 and 2008 are among his happiest memories. He’s managed to see 28 of 32 Irish counties so far, and his last visit was August 2011.