Haley Gregg, Lindsay Ward and Amie Hinton can thank the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce for their friendship. Haley worked there as the program development coordinator when Lindsay was hired as the director of business development. During this time, Amie was serving as one of the chamber’s volunteer ambassadors.

That was more than five years ago, and even though Haley is now living in Birmingham and Lindsay relocated back to her native Mississippi, the three women have stayed in regular contact.

“Amie and I had thrown around the idea of traveling overseas,” Haley said. “And then one day we decided to stop talking about it and make it happen.” They chose Ireland as their destination because it was on both of their bucket lists. “We knew we wanted a third person to join us, and immediately thought of Lindsay.”

Lindsay didn’t have to think twice. She had been to Ireland before and was anxious to return.

An itinerary was mapped out using a spreadsheet that Amie created. Haley scoured travel blogs and websites. “It was a lot of planning and many hours spent on research,” she said. “I now understand why people hire travel agents.”

Once the women arrived on the Emerald Isle, they embarked on a whirlwind tour of everything they wanted to see, starting with Trinity College and a look at the Long Hall, a library housing more than 200,000 books. Amie found it to be “very impressive with a sort of reverence about it,” and then added, with a laugh — “It reminded me of Harry Potter.”

They toured the Jameson distillery in Midleton and St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. In Belfast, they discovered the official “Game of Thrones” exhibit, complete with props, costumes and outdoor sets. “We could clearly make out Winterfell and King’s Landing,” Haley said. “It was a fan’s paradise.”

They were able to view Jon Snow’s sword, Jamie’s golden hand and the Stark family crypt. “There was so much detail that you can’t see on television,” Amie said. “And it was neat to hear from the exhibit employees who had been extras on the show."

A trip to Ireland wouldn’t be complete without visiting Blarney Castle and, of course, a visit to Blarney Castle wouldn’t be complete without kissing the famous Blarney Stone. “It’s at the top of a tiny staircase that is sure to trigger claustrophobia,” Lindsay said.

It is said that if one kisses the Blarney Stone, one receives the gift of eloquence and persuasiveness, but the process is tricky. An attendant holds you as you slide backwards into a gap in the castle wall, with the ground being a long way down. “I chickened out the first time,” Haley said. “But once the man told me he’s been holding people for more than 30 years and never dropped one, I decided to give it another try.” She met with success that time around.

The women traversed much of the countryside by motorcar, with Haley as chauffeur. “It was a challenge learning how to drive on the left side of the car and road,” she said. “I got the hang of it, but it was a bit of a hairy situation.”

Lindsay politely called Haley’s efforts an “interesting adjustment” but felt it was worth it. “Being able to ride through the hills and countryside of Ireland was a great part of the trip for me,” she said.

The trio also enjoyed a good deal of hiking, including to the famous Cliffs of Moher. “Some might think the cliffs are too much of a tourist attraction, but I’m telling you, when you walk up and they come into sight, it takes your breath away,” said Haley.

Lindsay considered it to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “To experience the cliffs in perfect weather was more than anything I could have imagined,” she said.

Hiking the Gap of Dunloe in Killarney also offered beautiful views. “There’s something very spiritual and refreshing about being in such a magnificent environment,” Amie said. “We were surrounded by mountains and rolling landscapes, with sheep hanging out next to us.”

Their overnight stays were at hotels and Airbnbs, one of which was located on a dairy farm. For meals, fish and chips was a favorite. Lindsay also enjoyed sampling pancakes.

“I tried them almost everywhere we went,” she said. The best batch was at a café inside a castle, where she learned the secret ingredient was coconut milk.

“Amie embraced her Irish roots and ate black pudding,” Haley said. “I sat at a distance and silently cheered her on.” (FYI, black pudding is not an actual pudding, but blood sausage combined with onions, herbs and barley.)

The women brought home plenty of souvenirs: tins of fudge and jars of jam, artwork and apparel, but most importantly, memories that they will surely cherish forever.

Donna Barton’s column appears every Sunday. Contact her at donnabarton@cableone.net.

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