One Hundred Thousand Welcomes
By, Patricia Cotti
The magic begins as soon as the plane penetrates the deep cloud cover and the green patchwork of the landscape is revealed. It is now easy to understand why Ireland is called “The Emerald Isle” and why you expect to meet a leprechaun as you criss- cross the beautiful land.
I spent a week in Ireland exploring the rugged West Coastal Road known as the Wild Atlantic Way with its stunningly beautiful landscape and rich cultural heritage. Ireland boasts a world class cuisine and accommodations, as well, as a rich musical reputation. Just add the delightful, friendly spirit of the people and you have the makings of a wonderful opportunity to experience Ireland. All of this, as the Irish would say while having some good craic (fun)!
On my short stay in Ireland, I had an opportunity to visit some of the sights. Upon arrival in Shannon, it is a short drive to both the picturesque village of Adare with its thatched cottages and the majestic Cliffs of Moher. Next, go to the vibrant university town of Galway. It is situated on Galway Bay and has remnants of its original fortification walls within which are the pubs, restaurants and shops. This was the first opportunity to experience the sounds of Ireland as the live Irish music spills out of the pubs onto the street and beyond. Connemarra was the next destination. The rugged landscape is beautiful. Here, we encountered the 1,000 acre Kylemore Abbey Estate, a lovingly restored Benedictine Abbey, Victorian walled garden and Gothic Church. It is a picturesque location within a woodland alongside a lake. Next, head off to Killarney. The town center is within easy walking distance of the national park, where it is possible to take jaunting carts to explore Killarney National Park and Muckross House. En route to Kilkenny stop for a guided visit to Cahir Castle, dating back to Norman times and one of Ireland’s largest and best preserved castles. Kilkenny has its own castle, cathedral and museum. For horse lovers, the Irish National Stud is about a 2 hour drive from Kilkenny. Here you will learn about breeding and nurturing Irish race horses and meet the animals. Dublin was the final destination. Dublin is a lovely walkable city with Georgian Townhomes and green spaces. At Trinity College, you can view the Book of Kells, the illuminated manuscripts dating back to medieval times.
As much as this is an opportunity to see the sights, it is also an opportunity to experience world class accommodations and food. Come to Ireland if you want to sleep in a castle or country estate house. Adare Manor has just completed a 2 year restoration of the house and property. It is stunningly beautiful with surprise touches around every corner. Perhaps, you would like to stay at the former home of the Guinness family. Then, 800 year old Ashford Castle would be your destination. Ballyfin, just 80 minutes from Dublin, is the ultimate traditional Irish hospitality experience. The house is lavishly furnished with antiques and each room brings one back to a grander time. There are 614 acres where traditional activities like falconry, archery and horse riding are available. Perhaps, a nature walk, fishing or just relaxing are your goals. Note that there are many family owned properties that have been lovingly restored and offer the warmth of staying in a private home as well as the experience of staying in a boutique, restored property. I particularly enjoyed Limerick’s No. I Pery Square. It is 2 restored Georgian Townhomes with 20 bedrooms. The Killarney Park Hotel is a larger family owned property but still provides the ultimate Irish experience-the pride of place that the owners share with the guests.
And now for the food….Along the Wild Atlantic Way because of the proximity to the sea, you can count on the very freshest fish. I visited an oyster farm in Connemara. I toured the farm to learn how the oysters are grown from seed to table over a 3 year period. Galway is famous for its annual oyster festival. You will enjoy the ceremony associated with delicious high tea served with clotted crème and warm scones at some elegant manor houses or castles. Expect to encounter Michelin restaurants and fine cooking schools preparing farm to table meals. There are sheep everywhere grazing on the lush green grasses. There is, of course, the finest lamb prepared for your table. Ireland has become a culinary destination.
The sightseeing, accommodations and food do not disappoint. However, the people of Ireland are the best reason to visit. You are greeted with Cead mile failte(A hundred thousand welcomes). You can sense the warmth of the greeting. Irish music and dance are part of the scene. There are live groups of musicians playing in the pubs. Everyone seems to join in the fun. If you have an instrument, you are welcome to join the group. The music emanating from the pubs draws you in. You simply cannot pass by. I cannot explain the warmth and fun of it all.
If you are looking to spend a vacation enjoying yourself, meeting the locals, indulging in good food and accommodations and sights, then go to Ireland. It is an easy direct flight and an unforgettable experience!