Whether it’s deserted beaches, fabulous Victorian architecture, quaint fishing villages, art, theatre or spectacular scenery, Ireland has it all.
Castles, historic houses, cliff walks, lakes – there is just so much to experience on this small island.
Northern Ireland and its capital Belfast is a good place to start one’s discovery of its not only rugged, beautiful coastline, but museums, art galleries and quaint pubs. There is something for everyone. Just an hour from Belfast is a grand, 19th century house with beautiful gardens and a National Trust treasure which is well worth a visit. Mount Stewart was built in 1785 and home to Lord Castlereagh from 1812 and is an example of neo-classical architecture. Belfast is an easy city to walk, or join a bus tour from City Hall to Botanical Gardens, the Ulster Museum and Queens University.
The Hop-On-Hop-Off tour is well worth it. It’s informative and covers a lot of the old Belfast and explains the ‘troubles’ of Northern Ireland near Shankill and Catholic Falls Road – the area where vivid murals decorate and define political affiliations.
The Titanic Quarter, with its redeveloped waterfront brims with restaurants, shops and pubs. Opened in 2012, the museum with its 9 galleries and exhibits is a perfect way to explore and understand the Titanic’s construction and voyage as well as the importance of the ship building industry to Ireland.
Leaving Belfast, and discovering the coast is best with a car as there are so many beautiful villages en route to Giants Causeway which, with its dramatic coastline and ruins is also a natural phenomenon. The well-preserved Dunluce Castle from the 13th century can be seen just before approaching Giants Causeway, but Ireland’s Northern Coast is famous for Ballycastle (a pretty resort harbour town) Cushendall (also known as Capital of the Glens) and Bushmills (a small town famous for the world’s oldest distillery.
A 2 hour train trip from Belfast to Dublin is a great way to see the countryside. Dublin is divided into 3 areas and is compact and easy to explore. There are abundant parks and green areas to rest, but Dublin is so lively and attractive that the many shops, galleries, museums and attractions are hard to resist.
Trinity College was a highlight for me. Originally a Protestant College, built in 1592, its lawns and grounds have seen famous playwrights such as Burke, Beckett and Goldsmith, but it’s the Chapel and Long Room (a spectacular library of 64 metres long) which houses over 200,000 texts, books and scripts, the most famous being the Book of Kells.
Chester Beatty Library next to Dublin Castle is another gem and one of the best museums in Ireland displaying Beatty’s personal collection of 300 copies of the Koran.
Dublin Zoo is a great way to pass an afternoon, as is taking the DART Train to Howth and having a walk along the cliffs with fabulous views of Dublin Bay.
Malahide is a 12th century National Trust set in magnificent gardens and is a short distance from the National Botanical Gardens. If one is interested in shopping, there are numerous malls in Dublin, but the main shopping areas and streets are Grafton, George’s Street Arcade and O’Connell Street. From antique shops, tiny art galleries, impressive department stores or clothing outlets, Dublin has something for every shopaholic.
After a thirty minute train ride out of Dublin, you will find yourself in the charming village of Skerries. From here I travelled west through Kildare Galway and Limerick to the wild and scenic Atlantic Coast. It is rural, traditional and the countryside is speckled with sheep, peat bogs and cobbled villages. It is here that Gaelic traditions have survived and where Irish is spoken as a first language. An early morning start on a 40 foot sailing boat around the Aran Islands, and towards Clare Island and Croagh Patrick was memorable. Croagh Patrick named after the national Saint is Ireland’s holy mountain. The weekend I was there was Reek Sunday where a pilgrimage barefoot to the summit (2,510 feet) is made by those wishing to continue the traditions of Pagan rituals.
An evening at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre with its high standard of drama and theatre, or a classical; concert in one of the many concert halls, is a must for the culture seeker. Film fests, book festivals, annual dance, comedy, stage events – there is something for everyone.
Ireland is a beautiful country with open, warm and welcoming people. The food is delicious, hotels and accommodation are of a high standard and the transport system is easy to navigate. There is so much to do, see and experience that a once off trip will never be enough. A world in one country.