Known as the Emerald Isle for the copious rains that have allowed to be coated in greenery year round, Ireland is home to a jovial people that have constantly made the best of life through good times and bad.
Tightly knit traditional communities and modern cities can be found here existing in tandem, and facing the unpredictable whims of the open Atlantic on its western flank, it contains natural attractions that are only enhanced by the constantly changing environment that encompasses it.
Whether you bounce from one castle to the next, hit up every happy hour with the locals, or snake along the Wild Atlantic Way, you’ll be sure to be swept away by the spirit of the Irish. Just be sure to bring an umbrella/raincoat … they are not kidding about the weather in these parts!
Languages: Irish, English
What To Do
Throughout the Irish countryside, there are countless castles to explore, so feel free to poke around the ones you do find (so long as they are open to the public, of course!) If you only have a limited amount of time though, begin your crawl at Blarney Castle, which is world famous for the mystical stone found on its property.
Legend has it that those that kiss the stone while leaning upside down will be granted the gift of having a silver tongue (that is, being suddenly able to use speech in a persuasive manner); even if you don’t wish to take part in a somewhat touristy tradition, the castle itself is impressive enough on its own, as its keep and towers are mighty, and the gardens surrounding them are well-tended (including the poison garden, which contains toxic plants like wolfsbane and ricin).
Next, make your way to King John’s Castle, which is located in Limerick. Built at the turn of the 13th century, it is the best surviving example of a Norman Castle in all of Ireland. The ramparts, walls and courtyard will leave you in awe, but if that wasn’t enough, the grounds surrounding the castle was also home to a Viking settlement that dated back to the 9th century, as ongoing archaeological work has revealed.
Finally, be sure to check out Bunratty Castle, which can be found in the pastoral and ocean facing countryside of County Clare. A great example of a tower house that once served as the residence of local noblepeople throughout the country, it still stands today in most of the glory it had in its heyday.
Paired with Bunratty Folk Park and hosting medieval-style banquets on a regular basis, it is a great way to take yourself back to the time of knights, nobility and peasants during your trip to Ireland.
While there are many charming towns throughout rural Ireland that you can embed yourself in to discover the true spirit of this country, those that are tight on time should definitely dedicate a portion of their itinerary to Kilkenny, as its mix of beautiful buildings and homes, classic Irish pubs, whiskey and berewery tours, and other attractions act as a great compliment to Kilkenny Castle, whose imposing facade makes it easily the most impressive sight in the entire city.
Those into natural attractions will enjoy Ireland, but they will particularly dig the vistas that can be had along its Atlantic coast. The most dramatic of these are the Cliffs of Moher, which rise as much as 700 feet above the ocean at their loftiest point.
The visitor’s centre allows guests to see the mightiness of their rise from a vantage point just before they begin, but those that want the ultimate experience should take the boast cruise, as they pass beneath these giants from the sea below.
Those that want to soak up the beauty of Ireland as a whole would do well to rent a car and tour one of several scenic drives that crisscross the Emerald Isle. Of them, the Ring of Kerry and The Wild Atlantic Way are the best of the lot.
The former is a 179 kilometre circle route that takes you through old forts and houses, mountains, and lakes in County Kerry, while The Wild Atlantic Way is an epic 2,500 kilometre journey through nine counties that front the Atlantic Ocean.
Along the latter route, mountains, cliffs, and windswept beaches await you and your travel companions. For those on a long trip, this voyage is strongly recommended.
What To Eat
Many travel to Ireland during the summer, but even then, the weather can be wet and notoriously unpredictable. After a raw day of exploring outdoors, there are few better dishes that will set you right than a big bowl of Irish Stew.
Consisting of lamb or mutton, potatoes, carrots and onions, a good pot will simmer for hours on end, allowing the flavors of its ingredients and seasonings to diffuse through the broth to create a meal that will not be consumed quickly, but with a deliberate slowness that can best enable the eater to best appreciate its brilliance.
Another Irish pub standard is Cottage Pie (also known as Shepard’s Pie). While the main meat used had traditionally been mutton, beef is commonly used to fill a crust formed by mashed potatoes, which is then topped by them as well. Topped with a variety of seasonings, it is well beloved by locals and visitors alike.
A bread/dessert that one should try while in Ireland is Barmbrack, as it is a sweet, raisin-studded bread that becomes more common as Halloween approaches. An old tradition around that holiday involved baking various objects, such as pieces of cloth and coins into a loaf. Cloth symbolized poverty in a recipient’s near future, while the coin portended wealth in the days ahead.