The ubiquitous Irish sheep
|"You see things; and you say Why? But I dream things that never were; and I say Why not?"|
-George Bernard Shaw
Coral Beach, Co. Galway
19th century map of Ireland
Stones on the beach in Co. Donegal
Traffic jam on Co. Wicklow road
Full moon at dawn over Co. Clare countryside
Wild Atlantic coastline, Co. Mayo
Lunar limestone patterns in The Burren, Co. Clare
12th century romanesque doorway at Dysert O'Dea Church, Co. Clare
Misty mountainside in Co. Donegal
"I returned to Ireland, Ireland green and chaste and foolish. And when I wandered over my own hills and talked again to my own people I looked into the heart of this life and saw that it was good."
|General Tourism Information|
Discover Ireland - plan your very own Irish experience
Ireland.com - The Irish Times newspaper online
Irelandseye.com - fun facts about Ireland
The Irish Tourism Board
True Ireland - the undiscovered West of Ireland
Shannon Region Tourism
"Love is never defeated, and I could add, the history of Ireland proves it."
Pope John Paul II from a speech to the people of Galway, September 1979
Doolin, our homebase for the weekend, is a tiny, charming seaside village on the coast of County Clare. Traditionally a fishing village, it is now renowned worldwide as the traditional music capital of Ireland. Nestled among the sandy beaches and majestic cliffs of the Atlantic coast, and the breathtaking stony surroundings of the Burren, it is an ideal location for experiencing all the wonders of Ireland's West.
While there, you can explore the area through what the Automobile Association of Britain recently designated as one of the top 10 scenic drives in the world. Take in the dramatic coastline; the spectacularly eerie Burren landscape; pretty seaside villages such as Ballyvaughan and Kinvara; the striking scenery from the top of the famous and diabolically twisty Corkscrew Hill; and old market towns with traditional Irish shopfronts such as Ennis and Ennistymon. Click here for a version of a scenic driving route that will take you through many of the key sights in the area.
Many flock to Doolin to experience the excitement of rousing music sessions in the village pubs (live traditional music begins nightly at 9:30 pm in Doolin's 3 famous pubs, McGann's, O'Connor's and McDermott's). Yet, Doolin is also a place of solitude and tranquility where you can lose yourself in the peaceful countryside for a time.
"There are only two dialects of Irish, plain Irish and toothless Irish, and, lacking a proper acquaintance with the latter, I think I missed the cream of the old man's talk."
Here are some ideas for planning your stay in and around County Clare...
One of Ireland's most famous attractions is right on your doorstep. The awe-inspiring Cliffs of Moher, rising to over 700 feet, are not to be missed. A dramatic cliff-side walking trail is an option, for those brave of heart. Just hold on to your hats, because the cliffs are notoriously windy! (As of this writing, the main part of the cliffs will be closed off while construction on a new interpretive visitors' center is finalized. The new center is scheduled to open in first quarter 2007, so stay tuned...) Note - the Cliffs are one of the most visited attractions in all of Ireland and tend to be very crowded, therefore early morning or later afternoon/evening is the best time to go, to avoid all the tour buses.
Take a drive or venture for a hike through The Burren, the spectacular limestone landscape in Co. Clare that has been compared to the surface of the moon. It boasts numerous archaeological treasures, as well as diverse species of flora and fauna that are found nowhere else in Ireland. The month of May is just about the best time to see this wondrous place, when a proliferation of delicate and colorful wildflowers will be blooming in contrast to the surrounding gray stones.
At Doolin, hop a ferry for the Aran Islands, a scenic and fascinating outpost of traditional Irish culture. Better brush up on your Gaelic!
"Ireland is where strange tales begin and happy endings are possible."
-Charles Haughey, Prime Minister of Ireland 1979-1992
Book a tee time on some of the most unique and scenic golf courses in the world, such as Lahinch or Ballybunion.
If you enjoy caving, check out Aillwee Cave near Ballyvaughan, where you can see underground waterfalls and hibernation pits of the long-extinct Irish brown bear. Or, don a hardhat and flashlight to explore the underground in Doolin Cave, home of the largest stalactite in Europe.
Surfing lessons in Ireland? Believe it or not, you can find them in Fanore and Lahinch on the Co. Clare coast. The Doolin area also boasts some of the best scuba-diving on the West Coast of Ireland, including a network of underwater caves to explore. Or, take to the sea in a kayak in Ballyvaughan Bay.
Stroll along one of Ireland's many scenic Blue Flag beaches (an international award granted for cleanliness, water quality and safety). There are locations in Co. Clare at Miltown Malbay, Lahinch, Fanore, Kilkee and Doonbeg.
Giorraíonn beirt bóthar.
Two people shorten a road.
Indulge in a medieval style banquet at Knappogue Castle, Bunratty Castle or Dunguaire Castle.
Step back in time to the Iron Age at the Craggaunowen Project, with reconstructions of prehistoric dwellings and other exhibitions of life among the ancient Celts. Or if you don't want to time-travel quite that far, Bunratty Folk Park recreates rural Irish life from the 19th century, in the shadow of 15th century Bunratty Castle.
Rent a bike locally at the Bike Shop in Doolin, or venture to Ennis to begin a self-guided cycle tour of the nearby Burren region with Irish Cycle Hire.
Local historical and archaeological treasures are too numerous to do justice to here. But, among the highlights are: 12th century Kilfenora Cathedral and High Crosses; the exquisite ruins of Corcomroe Abbey (built 1194); Poulnabrone Dolmen (a 5,000 year old burial site); Cahercommaun Cliff Fort (an ancient ring fort, circa 900AD); Leamanagh Castle (home of the fearsome and legendary Máire Rua, or Red-haired Mary); and Kilmacduagh Monastery and Round Tower (one of Ireland's few remaining completely intact round towers, with a curious lean).
"They are a people of robust bodies and great agility, of a brave and exalted mind, of a penetrating and warlike genius; prodigal of life, patient of labour, cold and hunger; of an amorous inclination; most hospitable to strangers. Constant in love, implacable in enmity, unsuspecting, passionate for glory, and impatient of reproach or injury."
-From the journal of a British soldier in Ireland, 1566
For literature fans, three unique attractions near the town of Gort may be of interest. Coole Park, home of playwright Lady Augusta Gregory, was frequent host to gatherings of her literary friends, among them W.B. Yeats and George Bernard Shaw. A tree on the grounds contains their initials etched in the bark, and the delightful woods and lake (known for its wild swans) are great for a stroll. Nearby Thoor Ballylee was owned by Yeats himself, and the Kiltartan Museum, in a converted old schoolhouse, documents the literary history of Coole.
Take a breathtaking sail beneath the Cliffs of Moher or go in search of a family of dolphins in the Shannon River.
"An Irishman can be worried by the consciousness that there is nothing to worry about."
Try angling along the coast at Fanore, Doolin, Liscannor or Lahinch, or arrange a deep sea fishing adventure.
Experience the Irish love for the horse. The Burren Riding Centre in Fanore offers options for all ages and abilities - you can even go for a ride along the beach. There are many other equestrian options available locally, including trails through the countryside and along the coast. Day-long and week-long adventures are available.
"Ah, Ireland...That damnable, delightful country, where everything that is right is the opposite of what it ought to be"
-Benjamin Disraeli, British Prime Minister 1868-1880
History and Heritage
Ireland has a rich and storied history, full of fantasy, glory and heartbreak. In the 'land of saints and scholars', this heritage is palpable everywhere you go. Ireland has archaeological sites that pre-date the pyramids of Egypt. Yet, these incredible treasures are such a part of every-day life there, you will often find yourself visiting them in the middle of a private farm with cattle grazing all around you. Imagine having a neolithic stone fort in your backyard! From ancient Celtic kings and warriors, to St. Patrick and the spread of Christianity, to the invasions of the Vikings, to Ireland's epic struggle with Britain over the last millennium, this inescapable and surprisingly accessible historic legacy is part of what makes a visit to Ireland so fascinating and rewarding.
"I am Patrick, yes a sinner and indeed untaught; yet I am established here in Ireland where I profess myself bishop. I am certain in my heart that "all that I am," I have received from God. So I live among barbarous tribes, a stranger and exile for the love of God. If I have any worth, it is to live my life for God so as to teach these peoples; even though some of them still look down on me."
-Ireland's beloved patron Saint Patrick, cir. 450 AD
The realms of Irish legend are nearly impossible to separate from historic fact - then again, to do so would take much of the fun out of it! Stories abound of fantastical creatures such as leprechauns, fairies and banshees, mighty giants such as Finn MacCool, star-crossed lovers such as Dermot and Gráinne, and other-worldly places such as Tír na nÓg, the land of eternal youth. Are these just myths? An American scholar once asked an old Irish woman if she believed in fairies. She replied, "I do not! But they're there..." As modernity continues to intrude on the fabric of Irish life, it is not necessarily 'progress' that has the upper hand. Entire highways have been re-routed to avoid disturbing earthen mounds or enchanted trees that are believed to be inhabited by the wee fairy folk. Spend some time in the romantic Irish countryside, and they just might have you believing, too...
Heritage Towns of Ireland - towns designated by their unique historical and architectural characteristics
Heritage Island - the best of Ireland's culture and heritage
Dúchas - national monuments, houses, parks and gardens that are in the care of the Irish State
"People will not look forward to posterity who never look backward to their ancestors." -Edmund Burke
Food and Drink
Irish food these days is so much more than potatoes and cabbage. While the cuisine is fairly simple and unpretentious, the ingredients used are always fresh and of the highest quality. The recent resurgence of interest in quality fare has spawned such famous institutions as the Ballymaloe Cookery School in County Cork. Irish beef, lamb and salmon are among the best in the world, and the largely agricultural economy still produces a wide variety of delicious, fresh vegetables year round. Irish dairy products, particularly cheeses and butters, as well as their hearty traditional breads, are especially wonderful. Whether it's a humble Irish stew in a village pub, or an ultra-modern meal in an upscale city restaurant, you will certainly be well fed in Ireland! Explore some traditional Irish recipes on your own, or check out this restaurant guide to help you plan your culinary experience in Ireland.
"The English language brings out the best in the Irish. They court it like a beautiful woman. They make it bray with donkey laughter. They hurl it at the sky like a paint pot full of rainbows, and then make it chant a dirge for man’s fate and man’s follies that is as mournful as misty spring rain crying over the fallow earth."
-T. E. Kalem
It goes without saying that the Irish are famous for the love of drink! Their 'national drink' is of course, the hearty black Guinness Stout. While it is definitely an acquired taste (believe me, it took even me a long time to achieve that!), a perfectly poured pint of Guinness in Ireland (or better yet, if you can manage it, in Dublin where it's brewed) is an experience that should not be missed. If you're a connoisseur of that other Irish favorite, whiskey, then while you're in Clare don't miss O'Lochlainn's in Ballyvaughan, which stocks over 75 varieties (and has barely changed in 100 years)! The word whiskey comes from the Gaelic "uisce beatha", meaning "water of life". I think that speaks for itself! Don't forget to toast your fellow revelers with the word "Sláinte" (pronounced 'slawn-cha'), meaning "To your health"!
"On some island I long to be, a rocky promontory,
looking on the coiling surface of the sea.
To see the waves, crest on crest of the great shining ocean,
composing a hymn to the creator, without rest.
To hear the whisper of small waves against the rocks,
that endless sea-sound, like keening over graves.
To see the shift from ebbtide to flood and tell my secret name:
'He who set his back on Ireland.'
I have loved the land of Ireland almost without speech."
-St. Columcille (Columba), exiled from Ireland, 6th century A.D.
No, it's not what you think! Craic, pronounced 'crack', is the Gaelic word for fun or good times. You're likely to hear 'What's the craic?' used as a casual greeting, or 'The craic was mighty' to describe a good night out at the local pub. The Irish are famous for their friendliness and conviviality, and have an insatiable love of good conversations with friends and strangers alike. A night spent in one of Ireland's ubiquitous pubs, with the combination of good pints, good friends, and good craic is powerful indeed.
"I have nothing to declare except my genius."
-Oscar Wilde at New York customs
Music and Dance
Another big part of the social scene in Ireland is traditional Irish music - such a big part, that you'll see many a pub sign that promises the old phrase "ól, ceol agus craic" (drink, music and fun)! Musicians often gather together informally to play in unrehearsed "sessions" in the pubs. Traditional music is also frequently showcased in a popular type of festival called a "fleadh" (pronounced "fla"). Typical instruments associated with Irish music include the fiddle, banjo, accordian, tin whistle, bodhrán (pronounced "bow-rawn", a drum traditionally made with goatskin), and the uilleann pipes (an Irish version of bagpipes played with the elbow).
"God made the grass, the air and the rain; and the grass, the air and the rain made the Irish; and the Irish turned the grass, the air and the rain back into God."
Where there's music, the dancing won't be far behind. Everyone knows of the traditional Irish jig, as well as the step-dancing that was made popular by shows such as Riverdance. But much more common, and more accessible to the average person, is set dancing, which is very similar to American square dancing. Set dancing is typically performed at céilís, traditional gatherings of music and dance.
English is spoken widely in Ireland - and the way the Irish use it is as unique and colorful as the people themselves. Said literature critic T.E. Kalem, "Rarely has a people paid the lavish compliment and taken the subtle revenge of turning its oppressor’s speech into sorcery." To say that the Irish have made English their own is an understatement of mythic proportions. Officially known in linguistic terminology as the dialect of Hiberno-English, it is heavily influenced by the native Irish language (the main language of the majority of the Irish population until well into the 19th century), as well as the mischievous and playful character of the Irish people who speak it. Click here to familiarize yourself with some common Irish slang words.
Is fearr Gaeilge bhriste ná Béarla cliste.
Broken Irish is better than clever English.
The second language of the country is Irish Gaelic, or simply, Irish. Irish is an ancient and complex language, and boasts the oldest vernacular poetry in Europe, with examples dating back to the 6th century. Both languages are used in official government and civil matters, and you will notice this most visibly on the road signage. In areas called 'gaeltachts', chiefly along the remote northern and western coasts, it is still used as a primary language, and it can also be heard on dedicated stations on the radio and TV. See if you can pick up "cúpla focal" (a couple of words) before you arrive!
"Other people have a nationality. The Irish have a psychosis."
Regardless of which language they are using to express themselves, the Irish are known for their love of words, literature and poetry. They have inherited from their Celtic ancestors an ancient oral tradition of bards and story-tellers (known as shanachies). Ireland has produced more world-famous authors, poets and playwrights for a country of its size than anywhere else in the world, including 4 Nobel Prize winners. The likes of James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Jonathan Swift, George Bernard Shaw, Patrick Kavanagh, Sean O'Casey, Seamus Heaney, Brendan Behan, Oscar Wilde, and W. B. Yeats, to name but a few, have left a profound and lasting legacy on the culture. Irish wit, wisdom and whimsy are also quite well-known in the form of the many proverbs, blessings and toasts that are to be heard. May you be in heaven half an hour before the devil knows you're dead!
Trí caindle forosnat cach ndorcha: fír, aicned, ecna.
Three candles that illumine every darkness: truth, nature, knowledge.
-ancient Irish 'triad'