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Ireland - Journey to the Emerald Isle

Posted By Nicole Barton, Monday, January 1, 2007
Updated: Wednesday, October 6, 2010

While most visitors to Europe feel the need to visit numerous countries, a single trip to Ireland is sure to fulfill all your wants and needs. There is something for everyone, whether you enjoy art and museums or fishing and golfing. The beauty of Ireland is that you can do as little or as much as you’d like. It is just as easy to have an action-packed trip as it is to completely relax and rejuvenate. Whatever your passion, Ireland is sure to provide lifelong memories.

Ireland is an island separated from England by the Irish Sea. Ireland is separated in two, with Northern Ireland occupying 15% of the island and the Republic of Ireland 85%. The Republic of Ireland’s population is approximately 4.2 million. Dublin is the capital and nearly one third of the population lives here. While the North has faced instability, the Republic is indeed very safe and accommodating.

The most popular months for visiting Ireland are typically July and August, but you are not likely to feel overcrowded at any point, especially if you stick to the more rural towns with smaller populations. Most people visit during this time because it can be drier than other months, but you are never guaranteed dry weather. Try to remember that the rain is what keeps Ireland so beautiful. The mean annual temperature is 50 degrees F, so be sure to pack accordingly. Rain gear and warm clothing are a necessity to help keep you comfortable.

Saving Some Euro

Visitors are often surprised at how affordable Ireland can be. If you are willing to keep an open mind and go with the flow, you will be able to travel on a budget. Visiting during winter is a great option for the budget conscious. Ireland uses the Euro and exchange rates can be easily found on the Internet. Conveniently, most places accept traveler’s checks, debit and credit cards. Most towns also have ATM machines.

One of the best ways to save money in Ireland is to stay at small, family-run Bed & Breakfasts. You will be surprised how plentiful B&B’s are and how caring the owners can be. At some B&B’s you will be staying in the same house as the owner’s—making you feel like part of the family! This is not for everyone but some love that cozy, family feel. It also gives visitors real insight into Irish families and customs. Other B&B’s feel a lot like hotels for those who like more privacy. The younger crowd prefers the least expensive option—hostels. Because of the overabundance of B&B’s, it is usually not necessary to book your accommodations ahead of time. This makes traveling much easier because you can stay where you like rather than trying to locate a specific place, in advance.

A Wee Bit of Irish Life

Although you’re not likely to run into any leprechauns, you’ll discover that Ireland’s people are far more interesting. They are some of the friendliest people you will ever meet. Going out of their way for a stranger is a common occurrence and their selflessness is inspiring. Elders love to talk about the history of the country, while the young still embrace their culture wholeheartedly. Children participate in activities such as Irish dance, learning Gaelic, and practicing traditional musical instruments.

Music is an important part of everyday Irish life. So important that Ireland is the only country in the world to have a musical instrument, the harp, as its national emblem. Some unique instruments are the bodhran, melodeon, uillean pipes and tin whistle. The bodhran is a goatskin drum that is played with a stick. The melodeon is a version of the accordion and adds a great deal of flair. The uillean pipes are similar to the popular Scottish bagpipes. The tin whistle is very common and is often called the penny whistle. There is no set line-up and from one pub to another you will see a great variety of instruments. The music has a way of truly capturing the soul of the country.

Pubs also play a vital role in Irish culture, not solely for drinking but also for socializing. The pubs of Ireland are very different from the bars of America. The vibe is always welcoming and you are sure to enjoy the "craic” (pronounced "crack”), which is an Irish expression for fun. Adding to the overall charm is a generous sprinkling of cozy fireplaces, Guinness knick-knacks and of course, the drinks! Visitor’s favorites include whisky, Irish coffee, Baileys, and you guessed it—Guinness! Traditional music sessions are common and the music played is magnificent. Locals are very lively and you’re sure to see traditional Irish dancing. After a few pints you may be up and dancing yourself!

With so much countryside, lovers of outdoor sports will find many activities to keep them busy, whether participating or viewing. Some of the most popular sports to watch are horse racing, Gaelic football and soccer. Golfing, hiking, cycling, horseback riding, surfing and sailing are all easily accessible from most towns. Actually, entire vacations can be based around these sports if you desire. Ireland has many championship golf courses, convenient hiking and cycling trails and many exhilarating water sports.

Taking a Break in Bunratty

The village of Bunratty is very small but provides attractions and lively pubs. Bunratty Castle, which was built in the 15th century, is the main attraction. The castle has been superbly restored to its original state. Medieval banquets are held in the castle and tourists enjoy the singing, dancing and cuisine. There is an adjacent Folk Park that has recreated urban life from 19th century Ireland. It includes a watermill, farmhouses and a village street. Costumed characters demonstrate baking, weaving, pottery and butter making. Bunratty is also home to the landmark pub Durty Nellys, which was established in 1620. Bunratty’s proximity to Shannon Airport (about 5 minutes) is very convenient for travelers.

Keeping Busy in Killarney

The town of Killarney is a perfect base point for visiting many of the sites in County Kerry. One special tour is a trip on a jaunting car ride. The tours are led by wisecracking "Jarveys” (as they are known), and includes visiting many sites around Killarney. Killarney offers a happening downtown, a great visitor center and impressive hotels.

Muckross House is a favorite attraction. This mansion was built in 1843 and also includes a museum, landscaped gardens and a farm. The museum displays the history of Southwest Ireland. The farm is still working today using traditional farming techniques. Children will especially enjoy the baby chicks, pigs, horses and many more farm animals. Near Muckross House are the Lakes of Killarney, which consist of 3 lakes in Killarney National Park. The views are stunning with the colors constantly changing. The more adventurous can hike up the 60 foot high Torc Waterfall.

Into the Gaeltacht

With a population of around 1,500 people, Dingle is perfect for visitors that enjoy a smaller, more laidback town. Dingle is considered to be in the Gaeltacht, which means that it is a Gaelic(Irish)-speaking area. Here you will find that many signs will be written in Gaelic only, so it doesn’t hurt to brush up on town names and basic sayings. Not to worry though because everyone also speaks English. In Dingle there are several colorfully painted shops, charming pubs and delicious seafood restaurants. Dingle is a thriving fishing port, so seafood is plentiful. Many shops carry arts and crafts made by the locals. Some favorite souvenirs include hand-knitted sweaters, linen, crystal, traditional music instruments and handmade jewelry.

From the town of Dingle you can also tour the Dingle Peninsula, which offers some of Ireland’s most picturesque scenery. The tour is 25 miles and follows a circle that leads right back to the town of Dingle. Allow for at least half a day because there are many sites to see along the peninsula. A must see is the Gallarus Oratory, a miniature church that was built between the 6th and 9th centuries. Next is Kilmalkedar, which was previously a pagan center of worship. It includes a graveyard and ruined Irish Romanesque church. Next is the village of Ballyferriter, which is home to the Louis Mulcahy pottery shop. Mulcahy’s pottery is incredibly imaginative and very well known throughout the world. The rest of the tour includes dramatic views of the Blasket Islands, beautiful beaches and a few small villages that offer a light lunch.

Just a short drive from Dingle is Inch Beach, which was originally made popular by the movies Ryan’s Daughter and The Playboy of the Western World. It sits nestled between MacGillicuddy Reeks and the Slieve Mish mountains. The beach is very romantic and offers extraordinary sunsets.

Ireland is a traveler’s dream with a little sense of mystery that cannot be defined. Maybe it’s the lush green landscape, majestic castles, fresh air or empty beaches. Whatever the reason, the Emerald Isle is truly a journey not to be missed.


Photos: Courtesy of Nicole Barton.

Nicole Barton is a freelance writer and photographer from Southern California. She enjoys traveling to remote locations throughout the world to photograph nature and wildlife. nicolebarton.com.

Tags:  Bunratty  Gaeltacht  gelenolgy  Ireland  irish music  Killarney 

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