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Sandy Liang Took a Normal People–Inspired Tour of Coastal Ireland

Seaside cliffs, Donegal sweaters, and Paul Mescal’s favorite chicken wings.

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photos: Sandy Liang
Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photos: Sandy Liang

Everyone knows that person who spends weeks sniffing around travel blogs, going deep into Tripadvisor rabbit holes, collecting Google docs from friends of friends, and creating A Beautiful Mind–style spreadsheets to come up with the best vacations and itineraries possible. In this recurring series, we find those people who’ve done all the work for you and have them walk us through a particularly wonderful, especially well-thought-out vacation they took that you can actually steal.

The first Irish television series that clothing designer Sandy Liang fell in love with was Derry Girls, the Netflix sitcom about five teenagers growing up during the Troubles. The second was Normal People, the Sally Rooney adaptation that — among other things — launched Paul Mescal, and the third was Bad Sisters, the macabre Apple TV+ show about a life-insurance and murder investigation. “With Derry Girls, I hadn’t laughed like that in such a long time,” Liang says. “And Normal People is such a powerful show. It was finally while watching Bad Sisters when I said to my fiancé, ‘This is all a sign that I need to go to Ireland.’” Luckily, Liang was already trading DMs with Derry Girls actress Saoirse-Monica Jackson and asked her where a first-timer should go. Armed with Jackson’s advice as well as her own extensive research spread across many, many Safari tabs, Liang mapped out a weeklong itinerary for flying in and out of Dublin and driving up the Atlantic Coast. In April, along with Dorian (her fiancé) and Rae (her friend), Liang set out to see some sheep, drink properly poured Guinness, and traverse her own ad hoc TV-location tour.

Day 1

10 a.m.: Arrive in Dublin, pick up a Volkswagen T-Roc 

We flew overnight on Delta and picked up our rental car. From all my online research, I knew we had to get a small car because of the tiny-ass, narrow roads in Ireland, and the rental agency assigned us a Volkswagen T-Roc. It was Dorian’s first time driving on the other side of the road, but there are a lot of signs at the airport — plus a sticker in the car — to remind you, which was helpful. We drove first to our hotel, the Wilder Townhouse (22 Adelaide Rd., Saint Kevin’s), which I’d found just by Googling. We were super-jet-lagged but doing that thing where you try not to rest too hard, so we walked around everywhere. It felt like London but cuter.

1:30 p.m.: Order three kinds of fish and chips

I wish I had been more alive for our lunch at Fish Shop (76 Benburb St., Smithfield), a tiny fish-and-chips restaurant with bar seats only. We ordered three types of fish, one of which was cod, then we got a dish that’s like fish tenders. It was really good.

7 p.m.: Power through jet lag, eat mussels and peas

We ate dinner at a seafood restaurant called Matt the Thresher (31–32 Pembroke St. Lower). We had mussels, a salad, fish chowder, and more fish and chips with mushy peas. Also, we must have overlapped with Joe Biden’s tour of Ireland because earlier that day, we saw the Air Force One planes when we landed; then at dinner, we were seated next to a couple of Americans who we suspected were from Washington, D.C.

Day 2

10 a.m.: Get breakfast at Brother Hubbard

I had seen Brother Hubbard (multiple locations) on that Netflix show Somebody Feed Phil. It’s about a guy who travels the world and eats, and he’s a very happy guy; he co-created Everybody Loves Raymond, or maybe he’s Ray Romano’s best friend, I don’t know. They call it an Irish breakfast, but to me — and I don’t want to get yelled at — it just seemed like an English breakfast but in Ireland.

11:30 a.m.: Peruse the jewelry at an old-school pawn shop

The night before, we found this Instagram account called Secret Dublin, and one of the posts was about a pawn shop called Kearns Pawnbrokers & Jewellers (69 Queen St., Smithfield). I love jewelry, I love little hair accessories, and I was like, We have to go. It was very old-school and so not American because the salespeople seemed eager to help anyone regardless of intention to buy. Although my friend Rae wanted to try on a bunch of rings, the salesperson said, “No, they look too much like engagement rings. It’ll put the lads off.” It was amazing — he literally wouldn’t let us shop because he was worried we wouldn’t get married. Rae did get a ring in the end and some charms.

2 p.m.: Stop for pastries on the way to the Emigration Museum

At Fish Shop the day before, our server suggested a bunch of places, one of which was a bakery called Bread 41 (41 Pearse St.). We got there late in the day when most things were sold out, so we just got a croissant and a chocolate-chip cookie — both of which were excellent — and sat at a communal table where we chatted up a very nice stranger. After that, we went to EPIC, the Irish Emigration Museum (CHQ Building, Custom House Quay, North Dock), where you learn about Ireland’s history, diaspora, and events like the Great Famine. They give you this little fake passport you take around to each exhibit and get stamped. The Irish pride here is amazing. Basically, anybody who has even an ounce of Irish in them thinks they’re Irish. Person who talked about a shamrock once: “They’re Irish.” Rihanna: “Irish.”

5:45 p.m.: Fall in love with cheeseburger spring rolls and cider

Our friend at Fish Shop also suggested we eat dinner at a Chinese place called Hang Dai (20 Camden St. Lower, Saint Kevin’s), so that’s where we ended up on Saturday night. My body craves Asian food all the time; however, my favorite thing here were the cheeseburger spring rolls. It’s ground beef and cheese inside a spring-roll wrapper. It’s like a Hot Pocket but fresh. Our dinner at Hang Dai was also where my love of ciders began after I ordered a Stonewell Craft Cider.

8 p.m.: Drink a proper pint of Guinness

After dinner, we went to Toners Pub (139 Baggot Street Lower), an old pub where I had my first real Irish Guinness. The bartenders do that cool thing where they let each pint sit for a second and then top it off. It felt like a rowdy typical night. There was this group of Irish lads, and one of them was so obviously drunk he couldn’t keep his eyes open — I even saw him talking on his phone, but you could see it was just his home screen — yet he still wasn’t spilling his Guinness. After that, we migrated over to Abrakebabra (multiple locations), this kebab chain they talk about on Bad Sisters, for a late-night falafel.

Day 3

9:30 a.m.: Visit Trinity College, pay homage to an ancient text

We bought tickets for our tour of the Old Library at Trinity College (College Green) the day before because they were already sold out for Saturday. We wanted to see the Book of Kells, a famous illuminated manuscript in the library, and it’s a fully gated thing. But as the tour guide is talking about this important book, I’m just thinking, Where were Marianne and Connell? After that, we went back to Bread 41 so we could try more things. We bought like eight pastries, and I had a sausage roll, which is my favorite thing ever.

Noon: Drive to County Donegal

Donegal is one of the coastal areas that Saoirse from Derry Girls recommended. It was a little under three hours of driving, hugging the coast and passing by small towns, tons of fields, sheep, and farms, farms, and more farms. This is where the roads get real narrow, but the people there are so used to it they don’t slow down. We were such American scaredy-cats. We drove to Harvey’s Point (Lough Eske Rd., Tawnyvorgal), a lakeside resort, and I’ve never seen a bigger hotel room. We didn’t book a suite or anything, but this room was three times the size of my New York apartment.

6 p.m.: Shop for sweaters on the way to an Indian dinner

We drove ten minutes into town and saw this sweater store, Triona (the Diamond, Milltown). Donegal is the yarn capital of the world, so obviously we had to go to the sweater store before dinner. These are just classic, well-made sweaters, and we all bought lighter, transitional ones since we wanted to wear them. Plus, we got a 10 percent discount because we were staying at Harvey’s Point. After that, we ate dinner at Chandpur (Unit 4, Main St. Car Park). The receptionist at the hotel recommended it and told us, “Oh, this Indian food is amazing. It got voted Ireland’s best Indian restaurant.” Chandpur is decorated in all this red with hearts and gold and a stuffed tiger and lion. There are all these awards and plaques and photos on the wall, and the woman who’s in all the photos is working the register. It was very cute.

Day 4

9:30 a.m.: Wake up to Ireland’s best breakfast

Everywhere in Ireland are signs saying “Voted the best in Ireland,” “Ireland’s No. 1 sushi,” or “Ireland’s best Indian restaurant.” When we got to the hotel, they asked us, “What time do you guys want to do breakfast? Because we’ve been voted Ireland’s best breakfast.” And we really did hit the jackpot. This full Irish-breakfast buffet was one of my top meals of the trip. There were pancakes like McDonald’s pancakes, the way they just look so perfect. I had beans, two sausages, two tomatoes, and some mushrooms. Just the fact that I could have unlimited beans for breakfast was so exciting to me.

Noon: Take an impromptu tour of a yarn factory

We drove to the tiny town of Kilcar and went first to Studio Donegal (the Glebe Mill, Lower Main St., New Church Glebe), which has a little shop on the ground floor and people upstairs making blankets and sorting yarn. Rae was already buying half the store, but I was feeling unsure since I didn’t leave a lot of room in my suitcase. Then I saw this poncho and was like, Game changer. As soon as I put it on, we all agreed it belonged to me. Then we went over to Donegal Yarns (Main St., New Church Glebe), the actual yarn factory. This lady named Marie came out, so we asked for a tour. She was like, “I don’t normally do this, but I can give you the gist of it.” We thought it would be a five-minute walk-through and then she came back with these neon safety jackets and we were like, Let’s go. It was amazing, like Willy Wonka’s factory but for yarn. There’s one room where you’re waist-deep in wool and it’s coming down from a ceiling fan. After the tour, I was like, I actually need to go back to the other store and buy everything.

1 p.m.: Get pleasantly lost in the Irish countryside

We decided to go see the Slieve League cliffs, a lookout point that’s supposed to have a beautiful view, but we got kind of lost. We couldn’t find an address for it, so we just drove around between all these farmers’ houses, skirted the cliffs, and looked at sheep. It was totally magnificent. We started listening to Jurassic Park on audiobook, which is the best audiobook for a weeklong trip; they need to remake the first movie because it did not do the book justice. By the time we got to Dunfanaghy, it was 4 p.m. and everything was closed, so we took a nice long walk on Dunfanaghy Beach, which is on the bay, at low tide.

8 p.m.: Indulge in a rare Normal People viewing session

Normal People made me feel so deeply sad that I don’t let myself casually rewatch it, but after dinner, we put on Jurassic Park and the movie was so bad that I went back to my room, put my headphones in, and turned on Normal People. I was like, You know what? I need to do it while I’m here to get the full emotional effect — but in a positive way. And it was amazing. Before, the show was more of the general inspiration for the trip. But then I started looking up all the places where they filmed, and the plan changed.

Day 5

11 a.m.: Drive to County Sligo

After eating more beans from Ireland’s best breakfast buffet and checking out, we headed for Sligo, about an hour and a half from the hotel. This is where Marianne and Connell are from. We stopped along the way at Benbulben, this huge rock formation in Sligo, and decided to walk along the Benbulben Forest Walk. I got very worried about ticks because apparently there are ticks in Ireland, but we didn’t go deep into the forest so it was fine.

3 p.m.: Snap sneaky selfies at the Tubbercurry Centra

Tubbercurry is the real place where they shot Marianne and Connell’s fictional hometown, and we got to stop by the Centra gas station on N17 where Paul Mescal works in the show. I’m a psycho because while there are regular people in line just buying stuff, I’ve got my phone whipped out so I can align screenshots of Paul working behind the counter and take sneaky selfies. I needed souvenirs, so I bought a bunch of candy. The guy working there told us he trained Paul Mescal on how to work behind the counter, so I obviously asked if I could take a photo with him. He didn’t want to do it, but he was very nice and he did.

4 p.m.: Arrive at the bed-and-breakfast in time for tea

Coopershill House in Riverstown is this old estate house the owners converted into a fancy bed and breakfast. We checked in right before tea time, which is from 4 to 6 p.m. so we had tea, scones, and some lemon cake.

6 p.m.: Say hello to some sheep before a fish-and-soup dinner

Rae was really into the idea of meeting some sheep because we hadn’t petted any yet. The owner of Coopershill told us his cousin down the road has a sheep farm and we could just stop by for a tour. Mark, the sheep farmer, let us into a pen and fed the sheep so they would come over and meet us. He told us they’re shy and won’t come up to you naturally, which made them even more adorable. He also told us the wool business isn’t great because it costs more money to shear them than you can make from the wool, which made me sad. By 8 p.m., we were back at the hotel, where the owner’s wife cooks dinner. I had celery soup, fish, and a rhubarb dessert. It was all served in this very grand, immaculate dining room filled with portraits of the house’s past owners and lots of silver and flowers. You can tell the people who used to live here were very wealthy.

Day 6

9 a.m.: Eat kipper for breakfast

We ate breakfast at the hotel before hitting the road. I always gravitate to what I normally don’t get at home, and I love fish, so I had some kipper, along with mushrooms, roasted tomatoes, coffee, and local apple juice. The owner’s wife at Coopershill told us her sister lives in Tubbercurry, and she had heard about a gift store in town, Gillespies, that sells Normal People merchandise.

11 a.m.: Head back to Tubbercurry for the real Normal People tour

This is when the Normal People tour truly begins. The Centra station was just the tip of the iceberg. Our first stop was Gillespies (Teeling St.), where there was only a single Normal People mug on display. I asked the owner about it and told her I came all the way from New York, and she was like, “Oh my God, you’re so funny. Nobody even cares about Normal People anymore.” But then she was like, “You know what? If you’re such a big fan, I’ll bring you to Nora’s Bar,” where they filmed a bunch of scenes, including a notable one on New Year’s Eve. Nora is very sweet and lets us in, and I’m examining all the artifacts, asking things like, “Which stool exactly did they sit on?” Then we went to the SuperValu (Teeling St.). There’s a scene where Marianne’s shopping in a supermarket and runs into Connell, so I take a little red shopping cart, go down the same aisle, and make Rae and Dorian take photos of me from the same angle the scene was shot in. After that, we go to St. Brigid’s Hall, a rec-center-looking place on R294 where there’s a high-school party and Marianne goes outside to cry. Connell stands up for Marianne and tries to comfort her in front of his friends, which he has never done before. It’s the most heart-wrenching thing.

3 p.m.: Get to Galway, order Paul Mescal’s favorite chicken wings

As we drove to Galway, we gradually saw fewer sheep. We checked in to our hotel, the Dean (80 Prospect Hill, Centre), then walked around the Latin Quarter, where it’s kind of touristy. We got a drink at Elephant & Castle, which is downstairs at the Dean and super-important because, according to something I read online, it serves Paul Mescal’s favorite chicken wings. Technically, his favorite chicken wings are at the Elephant & Castle in Dublin, but these were still really good buffalo chicken wings. I highly recommend them.

9 p.m.: Read James Joyce’s love letters

As I was heading to bed, I started thinking about James Joyce because I had seen signs in town for the house where his wife, Nora Barnacle, grew up. I Googled him, and that’s when I learned about his love letters to Nora. Obviously, those letters are meant to be private and no one’s supposed to read them, but the next morning, the first thing I said to Rae was “You have to read these letters. They are the dirtiest things I’ve ever read in my entire life.”

Day 7

11 a.m.: Set out for the Cliffs of Moher

We got up, skipped breakfast, and drove straight to the Cliffs of Moher, which are an hour and a half south of Galway. It was super-windy and there was only one narrow path along the cliff, so it was hard not to wish we were the only people there. Because of all the Jurassic Park audiobooking, I was also wondering what it had looked like back when the dinosaurs were alive.

Noon: Stumble upon an idyllic Ina Garten–worthy tearoom

We drove to an area called the Burren, which is like this landscape of cracked limestone rocks. We didn’t stop to walk around the Burren, which you can do, because we saw signs for something called the Burren Perfumery (Fahee North, Carran) and just decided to go there. I’m thinking, It’s a perfumery. I’m probably just going to smell a bunch of that stuff and be underwhelmed and then go home. But there was this little tearoomlike restaurant that’s part of it, and they serve some of the best food I’ve ever had. If Ina Garten had a café, this would be it. I had the mackerel plate, fresh greens and quinoa, a tomato-and-aubergine soup, pistachio-rosewater cake, and a pot of black tea. And that’s just what I ordered — Rae and Dorian ordered their own things.

6 p.m.: Enjoy dinner (and poetry) at a Michelin-star restaurant

We had a dinner reservation at Aniar (53 Dominick St. Lower), which has a Michelin star. We walked over to the West End a little early and sat down for some cider at the bar. The wine was excellent, and during certain courses, they give you a poem on a piece of paper. There’s this one poem about bread that was the coolest.

Day 8

11 a.m.: Return to Dublin

On our way back to Dublin, we first stopped by this place called Powerscourt House, which is a palatial-looking building with a really big garden. It’s kind of like a botanical garden where you can walk around, and it wasn’t crowded. Then we happened to drive by the area where Marianne’s childhood home is. We didn’t go to see the actual house, but it was a very posh area of Dublin. Once we made it into the city, we checked in again at the Dean but the Dublin location (33 Harcourt St., Saint Kevin’s).

7:30 p.m.: Drink Guinness with some local lads

Dorian found a pub called the Bleeding Horse (24–25 Camden St. Upper, Saint Kevin’s), which was supposed to be a solid place where local people go. It was crowded and so much fun. I had more cider. We ate dinner there, and since it was our last night, we ordered the most Irish-seeming pub things: chicken curry, a beef taco bowl, and steak-and-Guinness pie. Then we started chatting with these two guys next to us who were born and raised in Dublin. They were so funny, and we learned so much. I was asking them about words like feck and shite and the proper way to say things. They were the ones who taught me it’s pronounced Paul “Mes-cull,” not Paul “Mes-cal,” like mezcal. They bought us little surprise shots of something mixed with stout in shot glasses and taught us the proper way to drink Guinness: You take the first sip all the way down to the middle of the G on the glass, so we all tried to do that. The next day, I was feeling so in love with Ireland and very sad to leave. We just were like, Shit, we don’t want to be back in New York.

Sandy’s coastal-Ireland packing list


I love these for walking around all day. They hug my feet and make them so happy. There aren’t laces, so I pop them off in the car and shove my loaves back in when it’s time to walk.

I don’t like going anywhere (even in New York) without at least one lipstick on my person. This is my current shade for when I feel like I need a little tweak to my outfit. It’s perfect for dinners, and if I’m already out, I like to just pat some on with my fingers for a more worn-in look. The tube makes me feel like I’m in Totally Spies!

It’s perfect for a hands-free day trip, and it works as a belt if I need to cinch in a baggy dress. It fits my phone, lip balm, lipstick, and credit card and lies completely flat in my luggage.

Hello! What a treasure. We listened to half of the Harry Potter series while we were driving in Italy last spring, and my friend Rae suggested this as our next listen. It’s such a fascinating book that really has no lulls and is much better than the movie. There wasn’t even one car ride that wasn’t a great time, which is such a weird thing to say.

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Sandy Liang’s Normal People–Inspired Tour of Ireland