Q: Dear Peter, I am a 43-year-old single female interested in visiting Ireland at the end of the summer or in early fall (and other parts of the world eventually). I am interested in learning how the locals live, and hope to become a part of their life for the time I am in the country. Should I perhaps stay on farms or bed-and-breakfasts, or get a local guide to show me around? I am open to suggestions.
West Hartford, Conn.
A: Early fall is a great time to go to Ireland. September is a magical month there, and the weather is pretty good. It's not hard to get to know the locals when you're in Ireland; the Irish are some of the friendliest and most garrulous people in the world. And they love socializing in pubs. Wherever you go in Ireland, a pub is a great place to meet people. Head straight for the bar, order a pint for the person sitting next to you, and ask him or her about the weather or the local football team. In a matter of minutes, you'll have a friend for life. Avoid talking about the north vs. south political situation, however; that's still a bit of a hot-button topic.
If you're too shy to strike up a conversation with a stranger in a pub, staying at a bed-and-breakfast or on a farm is another good way to integrate with locals. Even though Ireland has undergone a financial and technological revolution over the last 20 years, much of the country is still rural. Irish Farmhouse Holidays can connect you with hundreds of places around the Emerald Isle where you can stay on a working farm. Some even let you help tend the sheep or milk the cows, while others offer live performances of Irish music and horse-trekking in the famed Irish countryside.
Taking group or individual guided tours is also a good way to get the lay of the land from the perspective of a local, but the caution here is that it will cost you more than traveling independently. Country House Tours offers a range of tours and trips that cover a variety of interests and activities and local driver-guides who can show you around for a day or a week.
One way you can really immerse yourself in authentic Irish culture is to travel in the Gaeltacht areas, the regions where Irish (also known as "Gaelic") is still spoken as a primary language. In several small pockets of counties Cork, Mayo, Donegal, Kerry, and Galway, not only is everyday business is conducted in this ancient tongue, but Irish traditions and culture are very much alive. Be careful, though—all the street signs are in Irish. Try to get a map that has both English and Irish, so you don't get lost. GaelSaoire is a good resource to help you narrow down the regions and sights you'd like to see.
If you're really ambitious, spend a few days or weeks learning the language (either in a school or with a private tutor). This step is sure to help integrate—and ingratiate—you with the locals. Colaiste Chonnacht school in Spiddal (County Galway) is a popular one.