The country of Ireland, affectionately known as The Emerald Isle, is a land of great historical and cultural significance. When you drive the narrow roads with their parallel stonewalls, you’re traveling through the same rolling hills that attracted the Iron Age Celts from Europe’s mainland hundreds of years before the birth of Christ. The isle also is a place of enchantment, where leprechauns spring from folklore and the age-old myth that kissing the Blarney stone will bestow one with the gift of eloquence lives on today.
Exploring Dublin, Ireland’s lively capital city, is necessary to appreciate and understand Irish history and culture. Stepping onto the Trinity College’s campus for the first time is an unforgettable experience and bibliophiles will marvel at The Book of Kells. It is within this great literary city where geniuses such as James Joyce, Oscar Wilde and Roddy Doyle drew inspiration.
In modern Dublin, Irish prosperity is reflected in its grand hotels, continental restaurants, bistros and vibrant pubs. One of the many draws in Dublin is the Guinness Storehouse. Built in the style of the Chicago School of Architecture in 1904, it was initially used as a fermentation house. Today, the property features a multimedia exhibition on everything from retro advertising to the craft of brewing. Another popular attraction is Dublin Castle, which was the seat of power and government for many centuries. Today the castle is used for important state receptions and presidential inaugurations. The State Apartments, Undercroft, Chapel Royal, Craft Shop and Heritage Center are open to visitors.
In Northern Ireland, visitors will find that the once war-torn city of Belfast has become a cosmopolitan hub of exceptional restaurants and hotels since undergoing a remarkable transformation in the 1990s.
Certainly, one of the best ways to get to know Belfast and hear the real story behind this city is to take a Black Taxi Tour with a local expert guide. On this tour, a guide will pick you up at your hotel or any city center location. Points of interest include the city’s famous peace wall, colorful political murals and some of Belfast’s most iconic attractions. If you have more time to spend and are so inclined, you also can take a tour of Crumlin Road Gaol, a Victorian-era prison where you will hear about grim tales of imprisonment and execution.
But perhaps the most significant tourist draw in Belfast is Titanic Belfast, the world’s largest Titanic visitor experience. Titanic Belfast extends over nine interactive galleries, bringing together special effects, dark rides, full-scale reconstructions and innovative interactive features. Berthed next to the Titanic Belfast is White Star Line’s SS Nomadic, restored to her original 1911 glory.
Beyond City Life
Beyond the major cities, travelers exploring the Ireland countryside are afforded magnificent scenery of lush landscapes punctuated by idyllic towns. Neatly kept white cottages, many with thatched roofs, are encircled by rolling hills and lush meadows bright with wildflowers. The entire land is crisscrossed by dark blue lakes and rippling streams where fly-fishermen cast their lures in quest of pike and other fish. One of the most scenic drives in Ireland is the 120-mile-long Ring of Kerry, which takes travelers past verdant mountains, lakes and a magnificent stretch of Ireland’s rugged coastline.
North of the Ring of Kerry, along the coast of County Clare, lies the famous Cliffs of Moher, a spectacular wall of sandstone that reaches almost 700 feet above the Atlantic Ocean. The history of these cliffs is brought to life at the Atlantic Edge exhibition. Then travel onward to mystical Bunratty Castle. Visitors to this 16th-century castle can join in a sumptuous feast in the castle’s grand banquet hall while enjoying the Renaissance chorale melodies of the Bunratty Castle Singers.
For a taste of royalty, stay at Dromoland Castle in County Clare. This castle is now a five-star hotel with a golf course and restaurant and it is a member of Historic Hotels Worldwide. It has been reported that many famous guests have stayed at the castle, including former U.S. President George W. Bush and business magnate Richard Branson.
A few miles outside of Cork lies the famous 66-year-old Blarney Castle, where you can kiss the famous Blarney stone. The Blarney Woollen Mills, which features quality Irish-made goods for sale, is another point of interest.
In County Waterford, situated along the coast of Ireland’s Ancient East, explore miles of stunning coastline and Ireland’s oldest city – Waterford, founded in the 9th century by the Vikings. Some of the city’s most fascinating treasures can be found at the Waterford Treasures, a trio of museums in the city center. Another visitor highlight is the Waterford Crystal factory, where you can tour the main crystal factory complex to observe skilled artisans blowing the molten crystal or browse a collection of crystal pieces.
There is much to explore and experience in beautiful Ireland, so be sure also to drop into some of its many local pubs, where Guinness ale and the playful banter of patrons flow freely. It’s here that you’ll find Ireland’s exceptional appeal – its people.
Tracing Cultural Roots
For some 40 million Americans who trace their ancestry to Ireland, a trip to the isle often takes on the aura of a pilgrimage. Each year, thousands of Americans visit in search of their roots.
The Irish presence in America began with the infamous potato famine of the 1840s that drove four million immigrants, half the island’s population, to the United States. For many American-born Irish descendants, the journey into the past begins with a record search at the Genealogical Office at the National Library in Dublin or the Public Record Office in Belfast. Some lay this task in the hands of professionals, turning to Hibernian Genealogy Research, which has many years’ experience with searches being conducted for people across Ireland, the U.K. and the U.S.
Judie Karhan is a freelance writer from California.
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Learn more about Ireland at Destination Showcase Ireland on April 23, 2020 at 6:00 p.m. at your local AAA store.