In case you've questioned whether you should visit Ireland this summer, be aware the country is alive and well despite the current economic crisis gripping most of the world. True, the economy isn't great in Ireland and there are layoffs and businesses closing there, too, but the upside is that there are also some excellent price breaks everywhere you look - in accommodation, flights (Aer Lingus, for instance, has been offering many good deals lately) and other areas. And, as always, Ireland offers so many varied activities to suit every age group and any and every interest that you're absolutely certain to find something you'd like to do.
Everyone knows Ireland is famed for outstanding golf courses, horse racing, and breathtaking coastal scenery, but there's so much more to be enjoyed in this island country. And, the trend today is toward the active tourist who wants to get off the tour bus and go hill walking or kayaking or indulge in other forms of outdoor activities and eco-tourism and adventure travel (ecotourdirectory.com.)
So, what activities can you enjoy in Ireland when you visit? It's June, so water sports and other outdoor activities always top the list. If you want to go to the beach, scuba dive or sail, water ski, wind surf or fish, Ireland has it all and more.
There are seven beaches in Northern Ireland and 75 beaches in the Republic that have satisfied the exacting criteria to earn EU Blue Flag designation, so you'll have no trouble finding somewhere to relax and chill by the sea. Beaches are designated Blue Flags for water quality and safety and services, among many other criteria.
You can find fun, water-based activities all over the country. Here are a few suggestions: how about a cruise to the Aran Islands on the Jack B (mohercruises.com), Tranquillity or Queen of Aran (doolinferry.com) - all from the pier in Doolin - or a tour of the Cliffs of Moher or sea tour from the Ocean and Country Museum in Letterfrack, Connemara. Another fascinating boat trip would be viewing Clonmacnoise from the Shannon River aboard the Silverline Cruise River Queen out of Banagher, Co. Offaly, or taking a sightseeing cruise on an all-weather catamaran to visit working mussel and salmon farms in Killary Harbor, Ireland's only fjord. Or how about a barge cruise or cruise-golf holiday on the Shannon or signing on for one of many other cruises offered by the Erne Leisure Development Company Limited at their website? There are many other places to rent boats and sign up for cruising holidays too.
Would the kids love to dress up like Vikings for an Adventure Viking Cruise up the Shannon from Athlone in Co. Westmeath? Viking Splash Tours aboard WWII amphibious vehicles are also offered in Dublin.
Or, how about going deep-sea angling, dolphin-spotting, birdwatching or whale and seal watching on the Skellig Dawn from Inishbofin?
Keep your feet on terra firma at many other famed fishing spots, too, like Lough Inagh and Derryclare Lough in Connemara and Delphi Fishery in Mayo and many other lovely spots around the country. Go to the Central Fishery Board's website to learn more.
Wouldn't you and your fellow travelers have fun doing something different? Why not sign up for a craft workshop while you visit Mayo in the Westport area? Here are some options from Derryaun Crafts in Drummin: Thurs., June 11, rag rug making; June 13 and 14, precious metal clay with Maura Dickerson; July 9 and 10, basket weaving with Joe Hogan. E-mail Suzie@derryauncrafts.com for more details.
PONY CAMPS AND MORE
Horseback riding and a pony adventure camp are offered at Markree Castle Riding Stables in Collooney, Co. Sligo. For other horseback tours, contact Equitours, Worldwide Horseback Riding Adventures, P.O. Box 807, Dubois, Wyoming 82513, or ridingtours.com, or any of the many companies that offer such tours, including killary.com, hiddentrails.com, authenticireland.com, and many, many more.
Visit the Station House museum in Clifden, Co. Galway, and learn about the Connemara pony, the Marconi Wireless Station at Derrygimla and the development of Clifden by John D'Arcy, or spend a day at Dartfield, Ireland's Horseworld, Museum and Equestrian Park in Kilreekill, Loughrea, Co. Galway, and while you're in Co. Galway, visit William Butler Yeats's Tower home (Thoor Ballylee) and the nearby Coole Park, now a nature preserve but once the home of Yeats's longtime friend, Lady Augusta Gregory.
How about a day at the zoo? Irish President Mary McAleese recently opened a new African savannah exhibit at the fabulous Dublin Zoo that will house giraffes, zebra, ostriches, and an endangered oryx. And, down in Co. Cork, there's the Fota Wildlife Park where you and other visitors can see animals specifically chosen to thrive in the Irish climate.
Are you interested in the history of aviation and the famous Flying Boats (seaplanes)? If so, visit Foyne's Flying Boat Museum in Foynes, Co. Limerick, and try out the flight simulator.
Here's an interesting concept that I read about recently in The Irish Times's weekly travel section. Two Irish women â€“ Liz Gill and Breda Walsh â€“ have set up a website called tripmi.ie which aims to lessen the environmental impact of traffic by organizing carpooling not just into cities but all over the country and abroad. By going to the website, internet users can log on and find tripmates for wherever they want to travel and can designate whether they want to be drivers or passengers.
Sandra O'Connell, who wrote the piece, quotes Gill as saying, "I would love it if tourists would use it when coming to Ireland, especially since many of them like to travel the west coast, where there aren't rail links, such as from West Cork to Mayo. And, they might get to meet some real, live Irish folk, which would add to their cultural experience far better than renting a car and stressing out about road signs and which side of the road they're on."
Dr. Tim Campbell, director of the Saint Patrick Centre in Downpatrick, Co. Down, Northern Ireland, reports that there is a new video presentation on their website that gives many details about the center. He adds, "We are grateful to the generosity of the Milwaukee Irish Fest Foundation, which has made this possible." If you can't make the trip to Ireland, the Milwaukee Festival every August is huge and, reportedly, the largest Irish festival in the world.
If you're a dedicated diner, there are many good places to stop for lunch and dinner in towns and cities all across Ireland. Some travelers opt for soup and sandwich lunches with a pint of their favorite brew in local pubs, while others prefer finer dining. We've had delicious meals at Cullinan's and the Doolin CafÃ©, both in Doolin, Gallaghers of Bunratty (and the recently-opened J.P. Clarke's Pub alongside), all in Co. Clare; Cabots Source at The Linenmill (lunch and dinner) and Nicola's Emporium (lunch and take-out food), both in Westport; the Beehive (lunch only) in Keel on Achill Island and the Granuaille Pub (lunch and dinner) in Newport, all in Co. Mayo; at Lough Inagh Lodge Hotel in Recess and at Eldon's Hotel in Roundstone, both in Connemara.
Those are just a few of my personal favorites that I make a point to visit every time I'm in that area of Ireland but there are many, many other excellent restaurants and pubs elsewhere and you'll find fresh, locally-sourced food in every county â€“ and while you're traveling, be sure to visit Kinsale, the gourmet capital of the country, if excellent food is your focus.
Enjoy your trip to Ireland whenever and wherever you go and don't forget to check the internet for the latest travel specials. When you're in Ireland, be sure to stop by the Failte Ireland tourist board offices (marked with a big green shamrock) for details about festivals and other activities, to secure accommodation, and to learn about the area in which you're traveling.