Back to My Roots – Ireland

By Troy Stiles, ISA Marketing Communications Manager

If you’re from the United States, chances are that you’ve got family ancestry from someplace other than the United States. While I have ancestry from a couple places in Europe, Ireland is the country that I identify with most. Discovering family ancestry is awesome and many students decide where they want to study abroad because of their family roots.

My Irish experience started actually a few weeks before my trip with a random phone call to an unknown Irish relative.

“Hello,” said the person on the other end of the phone.

“Hi, you don’t know me, but my grandpa is your cousin. I got your phone number from an aunt of mine…”

Not a real confident way to start a conversation, but after a few minutes and a few conversations with a few distant Irish relatives I’d never known about, I was offered a place to stay and had part of my itinerary set. (Not at all what I was expecting to happen.)

With the anticipation of meeting some distant relatives, my plane touched down in Dublin after a short flight from my stay in Glasgow. (FYI: flights on Ryan Air are so cheap.) Before meeting them, however, I had a few other places to visit.  So I picked up my rental car and headed west toward an ISA excursion location….

Connemara National Park

This is an optional excursion for Galway students, but I would highly recommend it if you have the chance. The park is about an hour or so drive from Galway City and, in my opinion, is totally worth it. I entered the park on the northwestern side near the village of Letterfrack and decided to hike to the top of Diamond Hill.

I’ve been all over the world and, for me, the view from the top of Diamond Hill was one of the most beautiful views of nature I’ve seen. I could’ve stayed there all day.

After the hike down from the top, I found a tiny pub for some local seafood and then settled into my B&B for a good night’s rest, I was off to Galway City in the morning.


My first stop in the city was a visit to the National University of Ireland, Galway where ISA students study in Galway. Campus was buzzing with students just arriving to campus for the start of orientation when I arrived. The excitement was palpable and I almost wanted to signup for classes, but I decided to explore more of the actual city before the excitement took over.

After a short walk I arrived in the downtown area and was greeted by what I’d avoided for the rest of my trip to that point, rain. The downtown area is a web of small pedestrian streets filled with shops, restaurants, and historic landmarks. Whatever you like to do, you’ll find something and the people are all friendly. I dipped into a few shops to escape the rain and ended up having great conversations with the shop owners and felt like I’d known them for years.

One of the museums I visited was the Galway City Museum at the start of one of Galway’s most iconic streets, The Long Walk. The museum lays out the incredible history of the city over the years and is well worth a visit.

Cliffs of Moher

The next morning, I planned a visit to the site of another excursion, the Cliffs of Moher.

As I pulled into the parking lot, the weather was foggy and drizzling. You couldn’t see more than 100 yards or so. Even the parking attendant warned me that there was a good chance I wouldn’t be able to see much during my stop. But since I wouldn’t have another chance to visit, I decided to take a chance. The visitor’s center was open, so I spent some time learning about the area, it’s flora and fauna, and what make the some of the other reasons the cliffs are so special.

To escape the crowds, I took a walk south from the visitor’s center along the cliffs. I couldn’t see much beyond the edge of the cliffs for about an hour, but luckily the fog started to clear and, just as I was reaching the southern end of my hike, the fog cleared completely and the cliffs came into view.


From the Cliffs, I headed to Limerick, which is another location ISA students can study. I had the evening to myself, so I was able to explore the downtown area and enjoy the riverfront area of George’s Quay. It was a Sunday night, so there wasn’t much happening, but it seemed like it would be a lively area.

The next morning, Stephen, the University of Limerick’s International Education office intern, gave me a wonderful tour of the UL campus and got me excited to take classes there (Where do I sign up!?!)

Family Time

The next day I headed to meet my distant relatives for the first time. They lived outside a town that I had no idea of how to pronounce at the time, Graiguenamanagh, which is a relatively short drive from Kilkenny (an excursion location for Dublin students). After following some very country-style directions (i.e. take a left at the green mailbox and a right at the red barn…) I arrived at their doorstep and was greeted with an enthusiastic “Welcome Home!”

Over the course of the next two days I met so many new relatives and learned so much about my family history (the O’Neil’s) that I was able to piece together a few levels of my family tree. I learned about my great-grandfather who immigrated to the United States, saw his naturalization certificate to the U.S., learned about his family and how he grew up, and even was able to visit the house he grew up in (which is still in the family)!

Many people still have relatives in places all around the world. My advice would be to take advantage of that connection, if possible. It was scary to reach out to relatives I didn’t know, but the few days I was able to spend with them visiting places, hearing stories and, learning about my family’s history was an unforgettable experience. Not unlike the experience of studying abroad itself.


After two days in Graiguenamanagh, I was off to Dublin for a very short day and I was determined to see as much as I could. Like any big city, there is a ton to do, so I took a look at the ISA Dublin Culture Corner page to help give some suggestions.  I spent a little time on O’Connell Street, which is filled with fountains, sculptures, and shops. That area of the city gave me a great first impression of the bustling, liveliness the city possessed before I crossed the Ha’Penny Bridge and explored the famous Temple Bar area of the city.

After a while I decided to visit and tour the Guinness Storehouse. Whether you’re a beer drinker or not, this is well worth the time. I jumped on the tram, which was easy to figure out and a short ride and walk later, I was there.

The whole Guinness operation is incredible and Guinness as a company has such deep roots in the country. The tour not only talked about beer, but about the company’s history and impact on the country. It was really interesting to learn about and I will say, a Guinness in Ireland really does taste better than anywhere else in the world.

After exploring the city for hours, I still hadn’t seen everything I wanted, but I had to get some rest. I was off to Amsterdam, site of one of ISA’s newest programs in the morning.

Next up Amsterdam.

Would you like more information about ISA’s programs in Ireland? Fill out the form below.

Author: International Studies Abroad (ISA)

Since 1987, International Studies Abroad (ISA) has provided college students in the United States and Canada the opportunity to explore the world. ISA offers a wide variety of study abroad programs at accredited schools and universities in 73 program locations throughout the world.

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