BY JUDY ENRIGHT
SPECIAL TO THE BIR
Most of us visit the Emerald Isle when fields and hillsides are sparkling with brilliant shades of green. So a snowy mantle across the land may seem a bit out of place. But, this is winter and, yes, it does snow in Ireland.
In “Dubliners,” as James Joyce noted, “Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves.”
Snow in Ireland doesn’t come with the intensity or frequency that we experience in New England. Sometimes there is just enough precipitation – coupled with falling temperatures – to make Irish roads and sidewalks icy and dangerous. But snow also blankets the land in flakes that glitter like diamonds in the sun, so it is not entirely unwelcome. Ireland is no less beautiful in winter months than it is in the other seasons and a trip in the winter can be just as enjoyable.
The New Year brings with it several bits of good news – especially for Ireland’s seals and wilderness lovers in Co. Mayo.
The Mayo News reports that last year a number of seals were stranded on Achill Island. Recently, a group of island residents tried to save a seal pup that had washed up on rocks at Keel Beach. Despite their best efforts, the pup died but, as a result of those efforts, representatives from the Seal Rescue Center in Courtown, Co. Wexford, plan to visit Achill this month to train local residents in measures designed to help stranded seals survive.
Seal Rescue Ireland is dedicated to rescuing orphaned, sick, and injured Common and Grey seal pups from around the coast of the Republic. For more information, see sealirelandrescue.org
BALLYCROY NATIONAL PARK
The other bit of good news for Mayo and visitors involves the magnificent wilderness known as Ballycroy National Park, which has already won Dark Sky status from the International Dark Sky Association.
If you’ve visited North Mayo but haven’t seen this Irish treasure, you’ve missed a great place to take a walk or hike, enjoy a homemade lunch, or a delicious dessert at Ginger & Wild Cafe in the Visitors’ Center. Be sure to look for fascinating displays there detailing Mayo’s history and its whaling and shark-fishing past.
With the transfer of Coillte land in the Nephin Mountains – known as “Wild Nephin” - Ballycroy will grow from 11,000 hectares (almost 28,000 acres) to more than 15,000 hectares (37,065 acres) and become the third largest of the six national parks.
Ballycroy National Park and visitor center has been open since 2010 and it’s well worth a visit.
From Jan. 24-28, Dublin will host TradFest 2018, a five-day music festival that offers some 200 free events in various locations around the city to showcase traditional and folk music. Some of the locations include Temple Bar, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, St. Michan’s Church, Dublin City Hall, St. Werburgh’s Church, founded in 1178 and seldom open to the public, Rathfarnham Castle, and more. There will be pub sessions and special screenings, too.
Trad superstar band Teada will perform at Tradfest Gala Night. Chris Newman and Maire Ni Chathasaigh will bring their show to the City Hall. And Big Country, having recently completed a 30-year anniversary tour, will star in St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Ireland’s traditional music as we know it has been around since the 18th century and its distinct instruments, such as the uilleann pipes, and dances are recognized worldwide.
TradFest attracts more than 25,000 visitors, with a third of those coming from America, the UK, and Europe. For more information, see tradfest.ie
Is there a better time of year than the beginning to share my favorite Irish accommodations, shops, tourist attractions, towns, car rental companies, restaurants, and pubs? Of course, as our readers know, they will find their own favorites as they travel around the country and make scheduled and unscheduled stops here and there.
As a photographer, I love the West of Ireland for its ever-changing light and rugged landscape. And, since I am a great fan of Irish sheep, I especially enjoy the West where there are so many sheep, most of whom don’t realize they are supposed to stay in their enclosures. There are escape artists in other parts of the country too, but in the West it seems to be a given and I love that. Animals are not in the roads now as often as they once were but you do still need to be very aware when driving.
The best hotel accommodation I’ve experienced in Ireland is Lough Inagh Lodge in Recess, Connemara. Every single person there is welcoming, goes above and beyond routine duties to makes you feel like you’ve finally come home. Food is sourced locally when possible and is very well prepared. Rooms are spotless and beds are very comfortable. We give them high fives for everything!
We have also really enjoyed staying at The Sandhouse Hotel in Donegal as well as at some of the historic properties listed in Hidden Ireland (hiddenireland.com.)
When you travel the Causeway Coast in Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland, be sure you don’t miss Bushmills Inn for fine dining and outstanding accommodation.
Favorite B&Bs – and we do travel around and try new places – continue to be Cahergal Farm in Newmarket-on-Fergus (very handy to Shannon and expertly run by the McInerney family) and Riverfield House in Doolin where the witty Caitriona Garrahy is in charge.
I have had cars from Dooley Car Rentals for many years and always request a four-door Skoda. Dooley’s cars are clean, in excellent condition, and the staff is responsive and gracious, so my experience has always been extremely positive. Enterprise bought the company last year, so we hope Dooley’s high standards and excellent customer service will continue.
As our readers know, Irish food has improved hugely over the past 25 years or so. Back in the day, pub lunches were often not much more than dry ham and cheese sandwiches. Many pubs now serve full meals that are very well prepared.
We’ve had delicious meals at McDermott’s Pub in Doolin, Co. Clare; The Grainne Uaile in Newport, and Nevin’s Newfield Inn in Mulranny, both Co. Mayo. We’ve also enjoyed Sunday brunch many times at The Mulranny Park Hotel and lunch and homemade pastries at The Beehive in Keel on Achill Island. You’ll surely find your own favorites as you travel around the country.
There are so many outstanding tourist attractions all over Ireland that it’s easy to find some that match your interests. Among my favorites are the Giant’s Causeway and the Causeway Coast in Northern Ireland, Fota Wildlife Park in Co. Cork, Cliffs of Moher in Co. Clare, and Kylemore Abbey in Connemara. All are very different but offer visitors an assortment of things to see and do.
Be sure to take time to visit the Burren Center in Kilfenora and The Burren Perfumery in Clare, as well as the outstanding museums, historic sites, theatres, music venues, adventure companies all over the country. Of course, Dublin and other Irish cities have numerous attractions that welcome visitors. Be sure to check opening times in the off-season as many are closed.
And, don’t forget to take time to enjoy Ireland’s stunning landscape, especially along the Wild Atlantic Way, as well as attractions on Ireland’s Ancient East route.
We hope some of our Irish favorites will become some of yours when you visit this beautiful country. Enjoy the trip whenever you go and have a healthy and happy New Year.