The Irish Way
Green surrounds the Irish and non-Irish this week as most people unite, grab their mugs and head to a pub. However, whether your Irish or not, a trip to Ireland is definitely warranted. Boasting about 40 shades of green, Ireland’s landscape is a gem to be explored. Known as “Emerald Isle” this country is rich in culture and history, which can be integrated in an unparalleled travel experience.
Visit the stunning Lakelands
The quiet beauty of the Lakelands allows for a tranquil and refreshing breath of the outdoors. With the twinkle of the lakes and a stunning green pasture as a backdrop, cycling, fishing and walking trips become an adventure.
Furthermore, a manicured parkland course offers a chance for golf enthusiasts to test their skills. Adrenaline junkies can catch their thrill with wakeboarding, waterskiing and windsurfing.
For a more laid-back experience, travel over to the Shannon-Eme waterway to chat with friendly locals and get lost in the pristine depths and rolling terrain. Intermix in Ireland’s history by dropping in on a 600- year-old castle, the Enniskillen Castle. Constructed by Gaelic Maguires, this towering structure is strategically placed on the Ulster pass.
Other rich-historical places to breeze into are the Birr Castle Demesne where travelers dig into the 400-year-old ancestry of the Parson’s family in this antiquated wonder, the beautiful Lough Ennell shore-side oasis of the Belevdere House and a trip to Clonmacnoise, an early heritage site founded by St. Ciaran in the mid- 6th century, a true time-travel experience.
Sightseers can also view the wonders of the naturally formed Marble Arch Caves of the European Geo-park in Fermanagh, a true marvel of the natural underworld of rivers, waterfalls and winding passages.
Other adventures winding down either past or present waterways can be found strolling through the charming villages and ancient monuments of the Carrick-on-Shannon to Tarmonbarry route or grazing through Ireland’s many loughs (Lough Key, Lough Allen and in the Mid-Shannon region, Lough Erne), all of which boast fascinating little islands, perfect for exploring. Add a little history to your Lough visiting by exploring Lough Derg, which is known as one of the oldest pilgrimage sites in the world.
Gilding over to an Irish pub, the most authentic being The Sheelin in Bellanaleck in Upper Lough Erne, visitors join together for a strong sense of culture and heritage in the traditional music and dance. Also, intermingle with locals at the Dun na SI Heritage Centre at Lough Ree, where a genealogy, music, song, dance and story-telling atmosphere permeate.
Look to the North
Heading north to the craggy coastline, with sweeping mountain views and the rolling glens of Northern Ireland, travelers can take advantage of the big city experience and its calm outskirts. The all-natural setting of Raithlin Island in County Antrim offers a great sightseeing experience for bird-watcher enthusiasts with the grebes, shearwaters and petrels soaring through the air. For more active experience, Northern Ireland’s coastline offers opportunities to scuba dive, rock climb and surf.
Add some culture by making a trip down to Belleek Pottery in County Fermanagh to delve into the history of porcelain. Then, trek down to Ballycastle in County Antrim on a pony for a break and to join in on the town fairs at the Old Lammas fair. Finally, finish the culture and history quest by visiting the oldest legal whiskey distillery in the world at Bushmills and by viewing the place where St. Patrick is reputed to be buried, the cathedral at Downpatrick, where visitors can learn about Ireland’s past in the St. Patrick’s Centre.
Head to the West
As an inspiration to many writers, artists and poets, the calming aura of the West Coast is the perfect spot for relaxation. If the whale watching, horse riding and island hopping doesn’t catch your attention the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Skelligs will, with its spectacular rugged pinnacles that rise from the ocean and the historical past of housing monks in the Early Christian period.
The West Coast is also home to numerous yoga courses and retreats and is well known over Europe for its high-grade destination spas set in the wild and exceptionally beautiful atmosphere.
Combine your relaxing experience with some knowledge of the Irish culture through summer schools. Courses are offered on everything from tin-whistle playing to turf cutting to the traditional bodhran-beating.
Move on over to the East
Home to Ireland’s capital, Dublin, The East Coast offers a variety of landscapes and activities. Gorgeous beaches stretch the Southeast, which contrast with the lush greens, rolling hills and meandering streams and waterfalls of Wicklow National Park located on the other side of the East.
Add a little history to your journey by visiting The Boyney Valley where you will find Kells, Loughcrew Historic Gardens, castles and Celtic crosses. The Liffey Valley also showcases history through evidence of very early settlers and its feature of Celtic churches, holy wells, abbeys and castles. This valley is also a great spot for cruisers, boaters, golfers, canoeists and for a stroll along the river. Lastly, head over to the Nore Valley for some history and remnants of the water-powered industries built in the years before the Great Famine in the 19thCentury.
Additionally, the breathtaking and beautiful valley of Glendalough in County Wicklow is a great spot to relax. Here the sixth century hermit, St. Kevin, spent his days in quiet contemplation. With two lakes this destination is a popular spot to walk along and for a quiet relaxing moment.
Don’t miss the fascinating exhibits on the East. The Kilkenny Design Centre, which features glass works at Waterford Crystal, and the Irish National stud, which displays the birthplace of racing champions, are one-of-a-kind and a sight not to miss.
When is a great time to visit?
As summer rolls around the corner, Ireland lights up with many renowned festivals.
In Lakelands, the Mid-shannon area is a bustling center of events like the Ballinasloe River and Arts Festival in July, the Ballinasloe Horse Fair in August and the Tullamore Phoenix Festival in July.In addition, music lovers unite in The World Fleadh in July and August in Portlaoise, a festival that is notorious as Ireland’s biggest Irish and Celtic music festival. Moving over to Lough Derg in August, arts and culture connoisseurs enjoy the Terryglass Arts festival, a delightful family affair. Finally, in September residents and visitors in County Laois join in the festival fun at the Electric Picnic.
With the Ulster-Scots culture that weaves through Northern Ireland’s six counties, music and dance is no stranger. Dazzle your ears through the areas spectacle of festivals in July with the Fiddler’s Green Folk festival in Rostrevor, which is known for hosting the biggest crossroads ceili in the world. Also featured in this festival will be enthralling tales and magical folk plays. If you are looking for more of a culinary delight then the Hillsborough Oyster Festival is a perfect chance to view World Oyster Eating Championships in September.
The West side also notes various festivals. Participants of the South Sligo Spring Walking Festival in April will partake in three walks each day, short, medium and long. Relax in O’Donnell’s Bar afterwards, en-route from Glengesh Pass to the Sliabh Liag Cliffs, for a pint or a fresh cup of tea or coffee and the sound of traditional music. Also in April, the Cork International Choral Festival, a world class festival in its 57th year, sports gala concerts with world renowned composer/conductor Karl Jenkins. April ends in a bang with the Limerick City festival of Riverfest, which hosts a major barbeque competition, art exhibitions, music and a large outdoor international market. In June, visitors and residents alike join together in a 3-day festival, the Celtic Fringe Festival. This celebration commemorates the story and plight of Spanish Armada and adventures of Captain Francesco de Cuellar in Grange. It includes a program of drama, heritage, dance, gourmet and maritime events along with a performance by harpist and composer Michael Roony.
The bohemian flavor of the East side also joins in on Irelands love for festivals. The Waterford Festival of Food, held in April, combines cookery demonstrations, food art exhibitions, family picnics in the park, and children’s workshops for a fun-filled day. In late April to early May, the Smithwicks Kilkenny Rhythm and Roots Festival brings American, folk, blues, bluegrass, rockabilly, Cajun and anything roots music to the Kilkenny area. The medieval streets provide a sampling of the huge range of music in 30 plus venues. Now entering its 14th year, this festival is the perfect celebration to enjoy music. Enjoy the Punchestown National Racing Festival in May. The horse racing extravanganza brings together a world-class sport, entertainment, glamour, food, family and fun into the Punchestown area. It is an ideal festival day for groups, families and friends. Travel in June to Kilkenny for the Cat Laughs Comedy Festival. As a small event this festival showcases a handful of shows in the very best of Irish and international comedy acts.
Whether your traveling experience is to learn the history of different areas, to be immersed in a different culture or just for some rest, relaxation and a few fun activities, Ireland offers plenty of options. So head out for a pint and some unparalleled green fun amongst Ireland’s rich rolling hills and glistening lakes and rivers.