Come to Ireland for your holidays
In all my years living and working in Ireland I have never known anybody not to have a great time on a holiday in Ireland. Why is that? It can’t be the weather, so what is it?
It’s that legendary Irish hospitality and the “craic” in the pubs and bars.
And the stunning scenery, quiet roads, great food, easy access, friendly locals and everything else that you want when you are relaxing on holiday.
But where to go in Ireland? Most visitors come to Dublin on a short break and it is a wonderful city with plenty to see and do and a great nightlife. But unfortunately, with multi-national shops and cafes, it is now quite like many other major European cities. That’s not a bad thing; it’s just that it has lost some of its identity.
I used to go into Dublin from school in the 1970’s and would fight tooth and nail with the bus driver to get a child fare on the bus – then get off the bus and walk into the pub! The look on the bus-driver’s face was priceless. That just wouldn’t happen today. And, of course, a lot of Ireland’s new-found wealth was concentrated around Dublin making it seriously expensive (fortunately for you, the visitor, this has now reversed and prices are much more realistic).
Other major cities are fascinating and well worth a visit. Belfast, Cork, Galway, Londonderry, to name a few, will give you an insight into Irish city life as they are much more Irish than Dublin.
But for me the real Ireland is out in the country. You will have heard of Tipperary (it isn’t actually that long a way there), Waterford, Kerry and maybe Donegal.
From Antrim in the North East with the spectacular coast and Giants Causeway to Kerry in the South West with its warmer climate and the Lakes of Killarney, the scenery changes all the way from mountains to bogland and back to mountains. Ireland is a bowl with all the hills around the edge and the middle is low lying bog and fields.
And of course, there’s the water. Ireland is very green for a reason – it rains quite a lot and if you plan for some rain on your holiday you will be well prepared (somebody once said to me there is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing). But this means there are hundreds of lakes and rivers just waiting to be explored, either on foot or by boat.
The River Shannon is the longest river in the British Isles and runs down the middle of Ireland through flat farmland towards the sea at Limerick. And as the land is so flat, the river only falls 65 feet on the navigable section, so it is a wide, slow river. The Shannon was once a semi-commercial waterway with Guinness barges heading up from Dublin on the Grand Canal and then along the Shannon. But there is no commercial traffic now; only pleasure boaters enjoying the wide open spaces. And even the land is quiet – County Leitrim at the north end of the Shannon has a population density of less than 20 people per square kilometre.
The River Erne flows north from Belturbet to Belleek, so the Upper Lough is the Lower Lough and the Lower Lough is the Upper Lough (on a map!). Very, very quiet and remote, so if you are on a boat you could be all alone on an island jetty in the middle of nowhere.
Then there is the River Liffey in Dublin, the Boyne (home of the famous battle), the Barrow heading south, the Bann, the Foyle, many Blackwaters and the lakes (fishermen seem to like Ireland for this reason).
The Irish Counties
There are 32 Irish counties, all different in their own way, but with that same charm and craic:
Cork, the biggest county and home to the second city and with a fabulous natural harbour, great seafood and agriculture.
Galway, on the west coast and with parts of the Gaelteacht where Irish is still the main language.
Mayo, another coastal county on the Atlantic but with a few lovely towns including Ballina (I once knew a girl whose telephone number was Ballina 9).
Donegal – the most northerly part of Ireland, ironically in Southern Ireland.
Kerry is probably the most touristy county with the Lakes of Killarney and a warmer, dryer climate thanks to the Gulfstream.
Tipperary, a long county split into North and South Riding in the old days. Now mainly agriculture.
Clare – a lovely county stretching from the banks of the Shannon to the Atlantic Ocean.
Tyrone – one of the “Six Counties” of Northern Ireland with some agriculture and a wetter climate (though probably not as wet as Fermanagh).
Antrim – another northerner, Antrim includes the Giants Causeway, the Carrick-a-Rede ropebridge and the Bushmills Distillery (and Belfast!).
Limerick – sort of south west, this is where the Shannon River gets to the sea. Good maritime history.
Roscommon – in the middle of nowhere and lying on the west side of the Shannon. Very rural but with friendly people and some great pubs.
Down – famous northern county running down to the border at Newry. Includes the Mountains of Mourne, which do indeed run down to the sea.
Wexford – bottom right on a map with easy connections to Wales from Rosslare. Popular holiday spot with good beaches.
Meath – an inland county with good land and popular with the horse set. Home to the town of Kells (as in “The Book Of” – but the book is actually in Dublin!).
Londonderry – home of Northern Ireland’s second city, named as Stroke City by a well-known local DJ. This is because the Unionists call it Londonderry and the Nationalists call it Derry, so it became known as Derry / Londonderry (i.e. Derry stroke Londonderry) – or Stroke City.
Kilkenny – on the eastern side but again landlocked. Mainly farming, but Kilkenny town is interesting.
Wicklow – just south of Dublin and easy enough to go in for the day. Good beaches and lots of holidaymakers.
Offaly – small inland county on the shores of the Shannon. Also home to Birr with its very famous telescope.
Cavan – small county in the north west bordering with Northern Ireland. If you say “cyavan” they’ll have a good idea what you mean.
Waterford – home to the finest crystal in the world (OK, so we’re biased) and a fascinating waterside city.
Westmeath – inland county on the shores of the Shannon includes the city of Athlone.
Sligo – in the north west with some interesting hills and walks.
Laois – pronounced Leesh and home to Portlaois which is so far from the sea it is hard to believe it was ever a port.
Kildare – horse country with many of the world’s leading studs.
Fermanagh – home to Lough Erne. They say that in the summer Lough Erne is in County Fermanagh and in winter, County Fermanagh is in Lough Erne. Coming in the summer is definitely a better option.
Leitrim – tiny county in the north west, but home to Carrick-on-Shannon, where there a wide range of interesting things to do. The home of inland boating in Ireland (also home to MBNA credit cards, so say hi from me if you’re ringing them).
Monaghan – small border county in the north of the south. Thriving border town of the same name does very well or very badly depending on the value of sterling vs Euro.
Armagh – ecclesiastical capital of the north with two cathedrals.
Longford – another small north west county – there are a few of them.
Dublin – home to, well, Dublin
Carlow – small county between Wicklow and Kilkenny.
If you really want to get a feel for travelling round Ireland, my recommendation would be McCarthy’s Bar by the late Pete McCarthy. So many of his insights may appear to be fantasy to outsiders, but having travelled round Ireland and stayed in many hotels and B&Bs, he is spot on. A very enjoyable read.
Check out our blog post for more facts on the River Shannon.