KINVARA, Ireland -- The biggest mistake rookie tourists in Ireland make is trying to see too much.
They look at a map and say, ''Well, the Ring of Kerry isn't too far a drive."
Or, ''It's only 86 miles from Galway to Sligo."
Those distances are misleading. To cite Dorothy Gale, you're not in Kansas anymore. Irish roads are narrow. While there are far fewer farmers in the country than there used to be, those who still work the land seem determined to slow the rest of us down. Fair play to them. When in Ireland, you should slow down and smell, if not the roses, certainly the turf fires.
The best way to experience Ireland is to see it in chunks, and the best way to do this is to set up base in what the Irish call self-catering accommodation, a rented house, cottage, or apartment. If you've got children, and maybe even if you don't, the best way to explore a part of Ireland is to rent a house and do day trips, or just hang out locally.
The Irish Tourist Board has a 408-page self-catering guide with pictures and prices. They also have a website that lists more than 5,000 properties in 600 villages and towns. Some advice: Go, and go for the high-end premises. We settled for less once, six years ago, taking a cheaper house in Donegal, a place my kids to this day refer to as ''the cold cottage." Even the top-of-the-line properties are about half the price you would pay for a cottage on Cape Cod in summer, and in the off-season you can rent a good Irish house for less than $500 a week.
All of this can be learned at, and houses can be rented through, www.irelandselfcateringguide.com
One of the best places to set up camp is here in Kinvara, a picturesque fishing village in southern County Galway. My wife, Martha, and I have brought our children (Patrick, 10, and Brendan, 7) here several times over the years, because it's beautiful, it's got good pubs, it's a hotbed of traditional Irish music, a lot of the locals speak Irish, and the ''craic," or fun, is mighty. Brendan is quite the character and has suggested, more than once, that I like Kinvara only for the pubs.
The cheek of him.
Kinvara is just north of County Clare, an easy drive to the magnificent Cliffs of Moher and the traditional music haven of Doolin. In Doolin, you can go to Gus O'Connor's Pub, where farmers play the tin whistle, or to McGann's, owned by the same family whose relatives opened McGann's of Boston, near North Station.
Kinvara is also just south of Galway city, one of the youngest in Europe, with its burgeoning college campus and possessing, in Kennys on
Still, Kinvara has charms of its own that make it hard to leave. ''Kinvara" is the anglicized form of Cinn Mhara, which in the Irish language means Head of the Sea. The sea has always been Kinvara's lifeblood, the rising and receding tides providing a constant metaphor for its good and bad times. It prospered as a market town in the 16th century, but the famine of the mid-19th century devastated the village. Again, the village grew through the first half of the 20th century before emigration, much of it to America, brought more hard times. Tourism has contributed mightily to Kinvara's latest renaissance.
The town has two great festivals each year: the Fleadh na gCuach, or the Cuckoo Festival, held in early May, which showcases traditional music; and the Cruinniu na mBd, or the Gathering of the Boats, held in August, which celebrates Galway Hookers, the traditional wooden sailboats that brought the turf, or peat, from the bogs of Connemara to be used as fuel.
Festivals aside, Kinvara is an attractive destination year round. One time, as my Brendan inspected some of the local boats, a fisherman regarded him fondly and said, ''On yer bike."
It's one of those inane Irish phrases that mean absolutely nothing, but are kind of funny. Brendan, who was 4 at the time, thought it was the funniest thing he ever heard.
''On your bike," he said to the woman at the restaurant.
''On your bike," he said to the priest down by the quays.
''On your bike," he said to an Italian cyclist, which really confused the poor guy, because he was on his bike.
''This is your fault," my wife said, as we had sandwiches and soup at Keogh's pub, in the middle of the village. ''You put this stuff in their heads and you act like it's normal to walk around saying, 'On your bike.' "
It took about two years before Brendan stopped saying ''On your bike," at least within his mother's earshot.
One year, we rented a house just outside Kinvara, and one night, I asked my wife if it was all right if I walked down to the village for, as the Irish say, ''the one."
''You," Martha asked skeptically, her eyebrows arched as if they might jump off her forehead, ''are going to have one pint of Guinness?"
''Yeah, just the one," I said, hedging. ''Well, maybe a couple."
She nodded, resigning herself to a night of TV and minding the kids.
It was dusk, and the light was haunting, shimmering off the harbor and its inlets. I walked past Dunguaire Castle, which stands as a stern, impressive sentinel as you approach the village from the north. I walked into Tigh Ui Conghaile and got talking to the pub's owner, Cathal Connolly. As Connolly took his time pouring a pint, letting the black liquid settle before layering on some more, he talked about wanting to get more Americans to the Galway Hooker festival.
Connolly placed the pint in front of me, stepped back to regard it, like a piece of art, then put both hands on the bar, leaned forward and asked, ''So, how do I go about getting the Yanks to come here for the festival?"
''Just tell the Tourist Board to get the word out," I replied.
''Well, how much detail should I go into. I mean, the history and all?"
''History, shmistory," I said, lifting the glass. ''If you guys just say you're having a hooker festival, this place will be crawling with Americans."
At Tully's, Pat Tully stood behind the bar, pulling pints for a bunch of German backpackers. His mother was on the other side, which was a tiny, makeshift convenience store, waiting on a Dutch couple. There was no music that night, but Jackie Daly, the accordion virtuoso, had been in the other night, playing.
''Try Green's," Tully said. ''I think they have music tonight."
Inside Green's pub, there wasn't a session, per se, but a group fiddle lesson for locals. It was as good as any session, though, and the fiddlers, almost all of them young women, laughed at their mistakes and celebrated their successes.
My walk home was illuminated by the moon. Dogs barked and the bogs whispered.
The next morning, my wife asked me to run out for some laundry detergent.
''Where's my wallet?" I asked.
''How should I know?" she replied.
I went to the closet where the pants I had worn the night before were hanging and patted them down, feeling for the wallet. No luck. I asked my wife for some money and told her I had to retrace my steps from the night before. I rushed out, saying I'd be back with the detergent, and hopefully the wallet.
I raced to the village and, writing on the back of my business card, left the telephone number of our rented house at the pubs I had visited the night before, asking the proprietors to call if they found the wallet. Then I went to a phone booth and started canceling my credit cards. It took forever.
''Where in the heck is Kinvara?" the lady from
When I got back to the house, Martha was in the kitchen, her arms folded, her foot tapping.
''Someone from Keogh's called," she said. ''They said they couldn't find your wallet."
''And some guy named Connolly called, too," she said. ''He said you were at his pub last night. And so did the fellow from Flatley's, and the Pier Head, and Winkles, and the Ould Plaid Shawl, and your man Pat Tully called, too."
The Irish have a word for doghouse, and I was in it.
Later that day, as Martha got dressed to go out, muttering ''the one" to herself, I went to put on the pants I had worn the night before. Turns out the wallet was there all along. Its weight had caused the pocket to fold down when hung up, so I couldn't feel it when I patted down the pants.
That night, my wife walked down to the village and I sat at home with the kids. She said the craic at Tully's was mighty.
Kevin Cullen is the Globe's former Dublin bureau chief.