'The troubles' are no longer an impediment to Northern Ireland
tourists. The streets are safe and civil unrest is not a major
problem for the tourist. More importantly, Northern Irish
people love tourists. Local people, previously starved of
visitors during the tourist boom, want to show outsiders the
good side of the country and they are extraordinarily hospitable.
The scenery of Northern Ireland is its primary attraction
and most tourism is concentrated in a few clearly defined
rural areas such as the Glens of Antrim, the Causeway
Coast, Lough Neagh and the Wild Sperrin Mountains.
There is also the 'Ulster Way' trek, and the Mourne
Mountains around the historic border counties, where along
with amazing scenery there is the tiny road at Spelga Dam where your car rolls uphill. Explain that! The cities of the
North, especially Belfast and Derry, give a unique picture
of the country, and they cannot be ignored if you want to
see more than the surface prettiness of the area.
Northern Ireland's landscapes are similar to the Republic's,
but the North is more intensively industrialised. The North
has certainly not yet had a successful conversion into a well-run
tourist attraction. On the plus side, that means the people
are genuine, the experience raw and authentic. On the downside,
there is possibly a lack of realisation by the locals on just
what they have to offer, with some of the more interesting
towns such as historic Armagh, and areas along the
border failing to capitalise on a genuinely fascinating heritage.
Without a change of heart these towns could become soulless
satellite towns to Belfast.
Belfast City, like Dublin is a mine of discoveries to those
who know their history. On one hand you have the old British
Empire style buildings and broad avenues which were largely
spared in the bombings of WW II. On the other you have the
run down 60s housing estates, with flying flags, murals on
walls, painted kerbs, and graffiti on walls, that are a feature
of a sectarian landscape. It is possible to visit the 'peace
wall' which divides the city, and to venture into the
estates, admiring the colourful murals, in tours that have
been arranged by black taxi firms. It may seem a little morbid,
but it's an unusual, fascinating organised trip concentrating
on the murals, the people, and the history of the area. It
is a good source of rare income for the locals, and a good
way to learn more about the much talked about, but less apparent
side of Belfast.
Outside of that there is the beautifully preserved heritage
bar, The Crown, completely covered in mosaics and mirrors,
with mahogany snugs for private drinking. The Titanic ship
was built at Belfast docks. Wander through the old docks of
Belfast where the ship was made, and watch the sunrise over
the impressive giant Harland and Wolf cranes,
'Sampson' and 'Goliath'. The new docks and the River Lagan are evidence that Belfast is booming with foreign investment,
and the city is revelling in it. Apart from having a good
mix of restaurants and entertainment, Belfast has a massive
student area, so clubbing, dancing and drinking are all very
well catered for with a host of cheap joints in the student
end of town.
Republic of Ireland
North West: Donegal
Donegal's spectacular scenery is often considered the best
in Ireland. Despite this, its location fortunately keeps it
remote, and unspoilt. It is a particular favourite for the
Irish themselves, and is seen as an ideal location for many
Northerners to escape to, around July 12th, when the Orange
Order parades reach their crescendo.
All through the year clouds blow in from the Atlantic, carrying
lashings of horizontal rain or damp sea mists. Just as suddenly
as they start clouds are often followed by breaking shafts
of sunlight, and vivid rainbows which grace the cliffs, mountains,
and beaches into the picture perfect scenes for which Ireland
is renowned. It is in the wind beaten remoteness of Donegal
that you will be able to touch the world's view of Ireland.
For fishing consider Killybegs and a few other small
towns. Further south, Leitrim has even less tourists
than Donegal. Lough Allen, the first lake on the Shannon
River, provides a good venue for boating and fishing. Sligo on the other hand is rich in history. The distinctive
shapes of the mountains Benbulben and Knocknarea loom above the town, and are a beautiful back drop to
an interesting area. The writer John B. Yeats had strong connections
with the county, and his famous son W.B. Yates is buried
Out of season (October-April) most of the West is quiet,
with many attractions closed, so do check before you turn
up. It is highly recommended to have a car to get around.
It is by far the best way to tour the area in depth.
The Atlantic Islands of Aran and Achill are
definitely worth the trip to experience the remoteness and
consequent closeness of island life. Tourism, low-key at first,
has boomed and become much more commercialised since the opening
of Shannon Airport, near Limerick. Improved roads funded
by the European Union have also opened the area to business
and further tourism.
The best base to explore county Galway is Galway City,
which has plenty to do all year round and opportunities for
nearby excursions. With its narrow streets and bustling pubs,
Galway City, is a delight. It is by far the west coast's liveliest
town and, perhaps, one of the liveliest towns in Ireland.
Its university attracts young, artistic, vibrant students,
and the resulting nightlife is excellent. Pubs are full of
mixed friendly crowds of both old and young, foreign and local.
For those who mourn the loss of the rock and indie club, Galway
is the place to be, although fans of dance, R&B, and trance
are catered for also. Galway's town centre lies on both sides
of the River Corrib, and its shops are sufficient for all
the basics and gifts. More attractive to visitors is the cracking
daily market which features some of the finest jewellery,
breads, meats and cheeses in Ireland. The city also attracts
many musicians, artists, spiritualists, and those involved
in complimentary medicine, creating a nice edge to a city
that seems almost too cool to be true, considering its location.
There are many great festivals in Galway so make sure to check
out what is on before you go.
Golf, riding and fishing are all well provided for in the
West. The ideal time to visit the Burren is in May
or June when its fantastic variety of flowers are at their
Ireland's Southwestern corner is rightly one of the top destinations
in the world. The counties of Cork and Kerry arguably represent much of the best Ireland has to offer in
the way of villages, scenery, climate, and places of interest.
The people are also very friendly, and have an accent that
is beautiful to listen to, if not difficult to understand.
If you want a cosy stay, the region has a fine collection
of country house hotels, stately homes, and a number of excellent
restaurants. Events such as Kinsale's Annual Gourmet Festival raise both standards of cuisine and the region's popularity
with continental visitors. Shannon Airport welcomes
transatlantic visitors, who converge on Limerick, Cork and Killarney, the latter of which has become a
great alternative destination for the young outside Dublin.
The Southwest has two of Ireland's largest cities, Cork and Limerick. Cork, in particular, is well worth seeing,
but the rural areas are far more appealing. Both the coastline
and generally lush inland scenery are beautiful. Few would
argue that the islet strewn peninsulas that trail westwards
along the Ring of Kerry to the Atlantic are the places
to visit for the best scenery. It is here that the contrast
of sea and mountain, green fields and blue seas come to the
fore, complimenting each other perfectly. The influence of
the Gulf Stream keeps frost permanently at bay.
Kerry has the largest mountain range in Ireland, the strangely
named The Magillacuddy Reeks, around which many good
cycles and hikes revolve. The area is very well known for
sporting excellence in sailing, rugby, hurling and Gaelic
with many of Ireland's best known sportsmen and women originating
South and Midlands
The counties immediately around Dublin constitute 'the
Pale', the area most strongly influenced by English rule.
The pull of the capital ensures these eastern counties continue
to receive a steady flow of visitors. There are, however,
enough reasons to spend time here, regardless of Dublin's
proximity. The area is enormously rich in history, from prehistoric
to recent times. The famous passage graves at Newgrange are
Ireland's best known Neolithic site, and is excellently preserved
and explained. There are Celtic High Crosses, the monastic
settlement of Glendalough, waterfalls, abbeys and churches,
castles, and several of Ireland's grandest houses and gardens.
Horse racing fans and those who fancy a flutter, may want
to visit the Curragh at Kildare and the nearby National
Stud. For walkers, the heather moors and wooded glens
of the Wicklow Mountains, which although not
as spectacular as areas further afield certainly offer a decent
opportunity to stetch the legs.
County Louth is the smallest of the 32 counties of
Ireland. County Meath, is a tapestry of prehistoric and Celtic
sites, great abbeys and castles. The Hills of Slane and Tara are here, and are probably the most important
site of legends and national symbolism. The Irish High King,
was said to have held power here, and perhaps only Navan
Fort in Co. Armagh approaches Tara's level of importance.
The River Boyne is a place of pilgrimage for many
tracing the progress of the famous 1690 Battle of the Boyne between James II's Jacobite and William of Orange's troops
in the crucial battle for Ireland. It has not been unknown
for marching Orange Order members to pour the water from the
Boyne over the streets for commemorative marches in Northern
East and South East
In contrast to the West's wildness, the Southeast is mostly
flat, fertile land. Pastureland watered, by an abundance of
rivers extends gently to a quiet coastline of long sandy beaches,
estuarial mudflats, and low cliffs lining deep, dark bays.
A beautiful approach to this region is on the ferry coming
into Dun Laoighre, and from there, on the train up
to Dublin. Ireland's most fertile farmland lies in the Golden
Vale, making Tipperary one of the most prosperous
There is a lot to see and do if you have access to a car.
The sunny, drier climate of the South East attracts both Irish
and foreign visitors for summer holidays, and there is an
excellent choice of beaches. Wexford's long sandy beaches
were chosen as the filming location for the Normandy landings
in Saving Private Ryan, and on a good day, they come
into their own. Kilkenny is an unashamed upmarket tourist
town with plenty of attractions and enough luxury to be a
good starting point for travellers.
Development here remains refreshingly low-key, and it's difficult
to find a built up area. Most resorts are small villages.
Waterford is the only place that is obviously a 'town' in
the Southeast. It has a thriving port and commercial centre
with a hum of cranes working on the docks. Most famous is
the crystal factory a couple of miles out of town. Waterford
Crystal is the largest of its kind in the world. It is
more ornate than its main Irish competitor Tyrone Crystal,
but both make a great alternative gift.
By Colin Jennings