Ask anyone who has traveled to the Emerald Isle; it is a magical place, from Bantry Bay to Derry Quay, from Galway to Dublin town. Besides the scenery, the history and the culture, there are the Irish people, perhaps the most hospitable folk in the entire world.
What is it about Ireland? Every year around St. Patrick’s Day, many think about this island of great beauty — raw and rugged scenery wrapped in a mist-covered aura — and those who travel there are seldom disappointed. With the Gulf Stream bringing warm water across the Atlantic, Ireland’s climate is never too cold or warm, with plenty of soft falling rains cultivating those famed 40 shades of green.
Ireland is small enough that the entire island could easily fit within the borders of Missouri. From County Donegal in the north to County Cork in the south, Ireland is less than 400 miles long. East to west, from Dublin along the Irish Sea to Galway on the rugged Atlantic coast, it is less than 200 miles.
For a small island with a sparse population of only 6.3 million, the Irish have greatly influenced the world. Since 1800 more than 5 million Irish have immigrated to the United States, bringing with them their culture, stories and songs. Ireland’s blood flows through America; 33 million Americans can trace an ancestor to Ireland, almost 11 percent of the population (only German decedents have a larger group with 16 percent).
Ireland is a country of great variety. There are the thatched cottages, cozy pubs and monolithic castles; bustling cities, seaside villages and sleepy midland towns; melodious haunting ballads and tunes that fill the streets and flow over the hills. There is something for all. Ask anyone who has traveled to the Emerald Isle; it is a magical place, from Bantry Bay to Derry Quay, from Galway to Dublin town. Besides the scenery, the history and the culture, there are the Irish people, perhaps the most hospitable folk in the entire world. The Irish have an expression, “cead mílle fáilte,” which means “a hundred thousand welcomes” in Gaelic. It is more than a saying; it is their way of life.
With the U.S. dollar at its strongest against the Euro in more than a decade, now is the time to visit. On your own or as part of a group, you will want to plan ahead. It’s best to decide on two or three places and spend a few days at each to get a true feel for and become a part of this magical land. Here are a few suggestions.
Dublin: Ireland’s capital has all the amenities of an international metropolis but retains the hospitality and intimacy of a provincial county town. Easy daytrips can be taken to the beautifully scenic Wicklow Mountains, the ancient treasures of Newgrange and the Hill of Tara in the Boyne Valley.
Cork City: The second-largest city in the Republic, Cork is the cultural capital of Munster province and thought by some to be the “true” capital of Ireland. Easy day tours to the coastal town of Kinsale, the deepwater port of Cobh, Bantry Bay and the most famous Blarney Castle are in store.
Dingle: The furthest western point of the island, Dingle is rich in history and culture, where Irish Gaelic is the first language. Anyone who has been there will tell you they want to go back. The town and surrounding country’s beauty transcends all, and the rocky headlands seem to dissolve into the sea. Only an hour and a half from Killarney yet not nearly as crowded, visit Killarney, but stay in Dingle.
Galway: In Ireland’s main city in the west, wander the medieval streets to find great restaurants, fabulous music pubs and shops. Daytrips to the Cliffs of Moher, the hills of Connemara and the ancient Aran Islands are easily available.
Donegal: The very northwestern county, Donegal is a hidden jewel off the beaten path with few of the “cattle car” tour companies calling it a destination. Donegal town is a great base from which to visit the highest sea cliffs in Europe at Slieve League, the stark beauty of the Inishowen Peninsula and the savagely stunning Glenveagh National Park.
Belfast: The tragic beauty that is Northern Ireland’s capital, Belfast is best known for the troubles between the Irish Republican Army and BWW British Unionists. With peace since the Good Friday Agreements of 1998, the Victorian charm of this jewel of the British crown is a must-see. The city has fantastic hotels, restaurants, pubs and museums, with daytrips to Giant’s Causeway and Bushmills Distillery being easy enough.
Allen Tatman, along with his wife, Marilee, owns Paddy Malone’s Irish Pub and is also president and CEO of Wylde Irish Tours, specializing in custom group tours of Ireland. For information on this year’s tours or to plan your own tour, call 573-338-5990, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.