After our first work exchange experience, we were excited to do more. However, we had to leave the Schengen Zone for a while since my wife’s tourist visa wouldn’t last through December. Ireland was the natural choice, especially since vaccinations were high and covid cases were low. We ended up finding an interesting opportunity right outside of Cork and planned to explore more of the island once we were settled.

Au Pair Pair in Eire

We took an easy flight from Copenhagen to Dublin…y’all, flights within Europe are SO cheap. I was delighted that the first words I saw on our airport signs were in Irish! It was great to see the revival of Ireland’s beautiful native language. We immediately jumped on a bus ride to Cork, which took us a few hours. There, we were met by Jess and the kids, our hosts for the next few weeks! We’d basically work together as a set of au pairs, helping with household duties and taking care of the kids.

While we’ve been around kids plenty of times before, this was a completely new experience to live in the middle of a household with two young kids 24/7. It took some time to adjust, but the kids were super sweet and full of both creativity and curiosity! Jess’s parenting style was impressive to witness, especially as a single mom. She had what seemed like limitless patience and actively encouraged the kids to explore their surroundings through our many day trips, explore their own creativity with art and music, and explore knowledge through endless questions and a ton of books. We took plenty of notes!

Speaking of our day trips, we ended up exploring a ton of the county, visiting beaches while eating fish and chips, bussing into the city, touring the zoo, and visiting cultural institutions. So much of Irish history is rooted in perseverance and endurance, which has created a vibrant culture that was a pleasure to experience.

Their whiskey isn’t bad either! It took us 15 minutes to get to Jameson’s primary distillery for a tour, so I was a happy trooper. Food, on the other hand, may not be the country’s strong suit. After a bout of Irish food poisoning, I’m willing to admit I’m a bit biased.

This work exchange was definitely outside of my comfort zone but extremely rewarding, and it made us more excited about having kids. We were really thankful for the cultural experiences, though we also realized that doing back to back work exchanges took a lot of energy, so we were looking forward to trying an alternative – dogsitting! More on that in a bit.

White Knuckling the Ring of Kerry

In the middle of our work exchange, we took a few days off to tour the Ring of Kerry. It was absolutely awe-inspiring, and the natural beauty of Ireland’s coast was definitely one of best parts of our trip so far! That said, driving in Ireland was nuts! This was the most challenging driving I’ve ever - driving on the left-hand side on super narrow roads while tour buses whizzed past, dodging doltish sheep on the road.

We started our journey in Cork city, driving west to the coast then up to Kenmare to start the ring tour, hitting Killarney, and stopping by Blarney castle before returning to the city. The weather on our 3-day journey started off kind of terrible, and we ended up on a very long detour that made me pretty cranky. Fortunately, right as we were hitting one of the most remote points, Healy Pass, the sky opened up, and we witnessed one of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever seen. I legit felt like I was in Lord of the Rings.

Throughout the journey, we picked up souvenirs, including some genuine Irish wool sweaters. We stopped at plenty of old castles and ruins, with stunning seaside views. Along the way, we opted to visit the Kerry Cliffs, which were another top sight. The cities of Kenmare and Killarney were less busy than normal considering we were visiting in late fall, but everyone was extremely friendly (they love Americans!), and it was very easy to get around.

Killarney National Park was beautiful, and even though I thought Blarney Castle might be a little touristy, it delivered and then some! We ended our journey in Cork. After narrowly avoiding being run over by a Guinness delivery truck, at Sin é, one of the oldest pubs in town, listening to a local band play folks music – would highly recommend.

We Talk About Bruno

After our work exchange wrapped up, we headed to the east coast of the island for our first housesitting/dogsitting gig. Basically, we signed up to watch Bruno the dog for a few days in exchange for free lodging.

It was our first dogsitting gig, so we weren’t quite sure what to expect, but our hosts, Rob and Sarah, immediately put us at ease and welcomed us warmly. Originally from the UK, they shared about their experience in Ireland and helped us get oriented around the small but beautiful town of Wicklow (said to be the landing site of St. Patrick).

After getting to know the family for a while and staying the night, we took we took care of Bruno, and he was such a good dog! He was a pandemic rescue, a cute and fun lab, who made us laugh every morning when he strutted around with his toys every morning, throwing them around the back yard. We’d go on two walks a day to the most picturesque lighthouse I’ve ever seen, recovering from our work exchange and tuning in for a bit of gaelic football. We also took advantage of their well-equipped kitchen to make some homemade meals.

After saying goodbye to Bruno and our wonderful hosts, we left for a few days in Dublin before we’d jump on a plane to Italy!

Wrapping Up in Dublin

Dublin itself isn’t a huge city, but it’s the most important city on the island. Small but fun, we experienced a mix of old and new, from the stereotypical Temple Bar and Trinity College to new neighborhoods and tech centers. We learned about the fascinating Book of Kells, and discovered the lasting effects of the Irish famine, viking invasions (especially interesting after our Denmark trip), and of course, the oppression from the British.

We also tapped into Too Good To Go for some cheap meals!

We took a lot away from our Irish experience, from a greater appreciation of the culture and language to the beautiful nature of the island. And y’all, when they say Ireland is green, it’s like neon green! So much rain makes the plant life really pop, especially when the sun peeks out!