By Patricia Canole
With its lush green countryside, charming villages, and quaint B&Bs, the Emerald Isle is an idyllic getaway that blends history with rugged outdoor pursuits. Since Ireland is the size of West Virginia, it’s easy to navigate and experience all there is to see by car.
To start your trip on a leisurely note, fly into Shannon Airport in Co. Clare on the west coast. It’s quieter pace makes customs a breeze. Also, if you depart from Shannon, you’ll experience one of the best duty-free shops (in fact, duty-free originated here). From Shannon, it’s a quick drive north to one of Ireland’s most breathtaking sights, the famed Cliffs of Moher. The Cliffs rise in places to over 700 feet, straight out of the Atlantic, and extend for nearly five miles. There’s a walking trail along the top that’s a must-do for hikers.
Just off the Atlantic Coast in Co. Galway, are the spectacular Aran Islands, one of the last outposts of Gaelic civilization. Ruins cover the islands, making them perfect for exploration. Irish is still the language of its inhabitants, and traditional Irish food is served at its numerous pubs. A ferry runs several times daily from the town of Doolin, four miles south of the Cliffs of Moher. And if the seas aren’t to your liking, relax in the village of Doolin where the pubs are renowned for their foot-tapping Irish music. Kick back with a Guinness and enjoy the rocky scenery outside the pub doors.
If you’re a history buff, however, don’t miss the town of Bunratty, also located in Co. Clare. It resembles our Williamsburg, Virginia; part of the town has been preserved and restored to give visitors a picture of life in days gone by. See old Irish homes at the Bunratty Folk Park, celebrate at a medieval banquet, held twice nightly in Bunratty Castle, and stop by Durty Nellie’s, which claims to be the oldest bar in all Ireland.
Where To Stay
Dromoland Castle This majestic five-star property is the ancestral home of the O’Briens, whose lineage goes back one thousand years to High King of Ireland, Brian Boru. Its sumptuous décor and excellent food are reasons to stay indoors but are rivaled by the top-class golf course and 400 acres to explore. Info: dromoland.ie.
Adare Manor Hotel Guests at the posh estate will find every possible comfort, including fishing, horseback riding, golf, and swimming. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more beautiful place. Info: adaremanor.com.
IT’S NOT ALL BLARNEY
Traveling toward the center of Ireland, you’ll find its most famous tourist destination—Blarney Castle in Co. Cork. Yes, you really can kiss the Blarney Stone, which is believed to be half of the Scottish Stone of Scone. Just be prepared to hand off your camera, purse, and glasses before you bend over from the top of the ancient castle to kiss the stone, which is guaranteed to give you the gift of eloquence (otherwise known as the gift of the gab). After seeing Blarney Castle, be sure to stop at the Blarney Woolen Mills, the ultimate shopping destination for all things Irish.
A short drive east from Blarney Castle, you’ll find the Rock of Cashel, an imposing stronghold that overlooks the town of Cashel. The medieval castle and monastery are open to visitors year-round, and afterward, it’s a quick walk to the town’s many restaurants and pubs.
The town of Waterford, south and east of Cashel, is famed for its exquisite crystal. The factory offers daily tours, and you’ll get the opportunity to see just how much work goes into creating those lovely crystal pieces.
Where To Stay
Faithlegg Manor Entering Faithlegg sweeps you back in time to a more elegant and graceful period, with fine gourmet dining, crystal chandeliers, and grand fireplaces. Treat yourself to an aromatherapy massage or European facial in their Estuary Club, take a swim in their pool, or enjoy some quiet time in the Jacuzzi or sauna. Or, perhaps, hit the links on the fabulous par 72 championship golf course. Faithlegg is a dream. Info: faithlegg.com
DUBLIN’S FAIR CITY
If you are a city dweller at heart, then you’ll love Dublin and its hustle and bustle environment. Hotels surround the main pedestrian thoroughfare, Grafton Street, where you’ll find shopping galore and the best people-watching in all Ireland. If there’s a football (soccer) match note that Grafton Street is where the revelers will come should Ireland win big. At one end of Grafton Street, Trinity College is open for tours, and you can see the famous Book of Kells. Many cathedrals are also open for tours, including St. Patrick’s. If you’re not sure what to see first, take a quick bus tour of the city—you’ll see it’s easy to navigate, and you’ll be sure to discover something interesting.
For a real taste of Ireland, take a tour of Guinness Brewery and sample the wares at their bar afterward. Or, if you prefer whiskey Jamison Distillery on the River Liffey offers frequent tours and tastings. Also on the River Liffey, you’ll find O’Shea’s Merchant, a pub offering traditional Irish music and dancing nightly. If you haven’t had enough nightlife, be sure to visit the Temple Bar area, off Dame Street. Here, in the middle of Dublin, you’ll meet a global crowd from dozens of countries over drinks and dinner, and you’re sure to leave the Emerald Isle having made a few new friends.
Where To Stay
The Merrion Hotel has it all: period charm, an unbeatable location in the heart of the city, and genuinely excellent levels of service. Behind an impressive Georgian façade, interiors feature open turf fires and antique furniture. Don’t miss the hotel’s impressive collection of Irish art; you could spend hours admiring the pieces on display. Service is highly efficient and courteous, with a welcome note of Irish informality. There’s a beautiful courtyard garden—a rarity in a central Dublin hotel—and a tranquil spa with a blue-tiled pool. Info: merrionhotel.com
For more information Ireland’s attractions and road trips, visit ireland.com.