By Judy Enright
Special to the BIR
You’re having fun planning your first trip to Ireland and you wonder whether you should take an organized tour? Yes, absolutely. That’s a great idea, especially if you’ve never been before.
Generally speaking, countrywide tours acquaint you with various cities, counties, and assorted attractions. You can then return on your own later to spend more time in the places that especially appeal to you. There are also specialized tours that focus on special interests like golf, hiking, etc.
Bus tours make sense in larger cities where there are many interesting attractions that you might miss otherwise. City driving is not fun and, if you’re on a tour, you have the benefit of not only an experienced driver but also a guide’s extensive knowledge about places you’re going to. And you are usually dropped off at the door of the attraction and your hotel or B&B.
Many tour companies focus on Irish holidays for particular interests, such as golf, equestrian, fishing, cycling, and more.
Information on equestrian holidays, offered all over the country, is available from ehi.ie. Pony trekking and trail rides are available from some locations and, at Killarney Riding Stables in Ballydowney, Co. Kerry, you can sign on for a two-day or a five-day Ring of Kerry trail ride. What fun!
If you’re a horse fancier, be sure to visit Dartfield in Loughrea, Co. Galway, to see the horse museum. Also stop by the Station House Connemara Pony Museum in Clifden, also Co. Galway, and if you happen to be in Clifden in mid-August, the Connemara Pony Festival Show is a fun event for all ages.
One tour company, Hidden Ireland Tours, offers a series of interesting options online, including a Wild Atlantic walking/hiking tour with Con Moriarty. The company also has special interest, day tours, pilgrimage, adventure and chauffeured tours. For details, visit hiddenirelandtours.com
If you are not sure which tour is for you, be sure to visit your favorite travel agent or hop online where extensive information is posted by numerous tour companies.
Driving on the left can be a challenge for most of us not accustomed to it, but renting a car and going where and when you want is a great way to see Ireland.
My favorite car in Ireland is a Skoda 4-door sedan, which is bigger than many rental cars but not so big that parking is a problem. The trunk (or boot) is spacious for luggage and the Skoda is a comfortable car for cruising the highways and byways looking for comfortable places to stay and fun attractions.
For at least the past 10 years, and maybe more, I have rented Skodas on every visit from Dooley (dooleycarrentals.com or dan-dooley.ie) and find the cars clean and well maintained and the staff extremely accommodating. My husband and I once rented from a different company. Previous renters had been sick in the car but the seats had not been cleaned. Needless to say, it was pretty appalling. Thankfully, there has never been any kind of problem with Dooley cars.
What I like best about renting a car is that I am free to go anywhere and everywhere on my schedule and not someone else’s. Being free, I can see places off the beaten track that I might miss otherwise.
While I am a devoted Dooley fan, I appreciate that there are other good car rental companies in Ireland. The best advice is to go online and do some research or talk with others who have rented cars in Ireland.
History is an important element of the Irish tourist business and it’s interesting to see companies evolving today that reflect the way things were once done.
One such company is in Lahardane, Co. Mayo, where Paul and Jude Davis are restoring buildings along and behind the main street where they will distill Nephin Irish Whiskey. They hope to create 18 fulltime jobs in the distillery that will use local heather and gorse to brew its own blend of peated, single malt whiskey.
The website, nephinwhiskey.com, says: “In an era where Irish whiskey is dominated by bland, blended whiskey made by giant foreign-owned multinational corporations, Nephin Whiskey is creating authentically made, peated single malts made in a small village in the West of Ireland using locally grown barley, locally cut turf and triple distilled in traditional copper pot stills, then matured in unique casks handcrafted in Nephin Cooperage.”
Paul is quoted in The Mayo News saying, “We’re sourcing locally, using turf smoke to dry the barley and running our own cooperage on site. All of that is unique today, but centuries ago would have been common in this part of the country.” The area was a center of spirit production for centuries and was renowned for quality produce - even after the Licensing Act of 1556 made distilleries illegal.
Eventually, the owners hope the distillery will be a highlight on the North Mayo tourist trail, along with Lahardane’s Addergoole Titanic Memorial Park. (Addergoole parish lost eleven people – more than any other place in Ireland - when the Titanic sank. Fourteen boarded the ship for the maiden voyage in 1912 but only three survived. At 2:22 a.m. every April 15, the community gathers at the Roman Catholic church, where bells are rung to mourn the 11 that died and the three survivors.)
The new whiskey business is expected to boost the local economy and provide opportunities for the young, who typically move away from the village. When you’re in Ireland, be sure to look for Nephin Whiskey.
Another new company is Francis M., which is reviving luxury linen in Ireland. Says founder and CEO Sean Moran: “The Francis M. work ethos is key: the simpler the design, the more exacting the craft. Restrained and elegant simplicity replaces unnecessary swirls and flourishes.”
A hundred years ago, he adds, Ireland was the center of linen production worldwide. In an average year, enough linen was woven in Ireland to wrap a nine-foot belt of cloth around the earth’s equator. During WWI and WWII, many combat planes - including the famed Spitfires, Lancaster Bombers, and Wellingtons - were covered in lightweight, unbleached Irish linen because of its exceptional strength.
The Irish linen industry today “is a shadow of its former self,” Moran says. “Most of the weaving houses have closed… and the output is defined by prim handkerchiefs, wedding ring cushions and christening gowns, all adorned with lace, shamrocks, and Celtic flourishes. The market is also littered with imported products touted under the guise of Irish linen.
“I do believe we can put this remarkable fabric into well-heeled homes worldwide. It will involve working with the few remaining weaving sheds, going back to basics and doing the important things well. There is always a market for utmost quality that lasts,” says Moran.
Although linen is manufactured in other countries, Irish weavers and spinners have the benefit of skills handed down for generations. Linen bedding, Moran says, is tensile and increases in strength when wet, allowing it to stand up to repeated laundering even at boiling temperatures. It becomes softer and silkier with each laundering.
Two seasonal linen weights are offered. Francis M. linens are sold only through the website francis-m.com and shipped globally. Custom services are also available. For more information, contact Moran at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Enjoy Ireland whenever and wherever you go. Be sure to check online for special air and land travel deals or stop by your favorite travel agent for more information. Fares are cheaper in this “shoulder season” and there are lots of good deals to be had.