Although some Irish attractions may not reopen until around St. Patrick’s Day, you will have no trouble finding numerous fun and interesting things to do there in February.
As you might expect, cities like Dublin, Galway, Belfast, and Cork, are alive and buzzing day and night all year with multiple museums, music venues, theatre, and other attractions as well as accommodations that never close.
But winter visitors are not always plentiful out in the countryside so when you leave the hubs, you might find some of the smaller hotels, museums, and local attractions closed. Your best bet is to check ahead to be sure your chosen destination is open.
Of course, there’s no seasonal restriction on driving around this beautiful country to enjoy stunning vistas everywhere. Brilliant yellow gorse colors the landscape and you might even be lucky enough to see some newborn lambs enter the world at this time of year.
TAKE A RIDE
Want to do something a little different? If so, drive down to Waterford and experience the golden age of railroading at the Waterford & Suir Valley Railroad in Kilmeadan, Co. Waterford. The heritage, narrow-gauge railway follows the track of the abandoned Waterford to Dungarvan route.
Winter does curtail opening times for the railroad, but there will be trips from Feb. 15-18 during the Irish mid-term break.
The train passes Mount Congreve’s famed gardens as well as the Durrow seven-arch and Kilmacthomas eight-arch stone viaducts and The Ballyvoyle brick-lined tunnel and travels alongside the Waterford Greenway. Check out this Greenway at The Deise Greenway Group (deisegreenway.com), which was instrumental in getting the 45m Greenway up and running. The Deise Group now offers an app and bike rental for those interested.
For more information on the train, visit wsvrailway.ie.
Is there ever a bad time of year for playing golf or enjoying other outdoor activities? If you’re in a city, you might look for a walking tour. If you’re outside the cities, how about cycling, walking, hiking, or hill walking? Hardier souls may also take advantage of superb swells and surf along the coast and enjoy other coastal and inland water sports. Don’t forget that Ireland’s weather is about six weeks ahead of ours on the East Coast so temperatures can be pretty mild even in February.
If you get into the countryside, do take advantage of some of the Greenways developed by local county councils along abandoned railroad tracks thanks to the cooperation of many landowners across whose properties visitors walk or cycle. Bicycle rentals are usually available along these routes if you’d rather ride than walk.
The first Greenway (the Great Western Greenway) opened eight years ago in Co. Mayo and kicked off a trend that has spread to other parts of the country. At 42km, the Great Western Greenway is said to be the longest off-road walking and cycling trail in the country. The section from Newport to Mulranny opened in 2010 with the bits at either end – Westport to Newport and Mulranny to Achill Island – opening a year later. This Greenway attracts thousands of families and visitors of all ages to the area every year and it not only benefits existing businesses but it also inspires the creation of new business along the route.
In addition to Mayo’s Great Western Greenway, Ireland now boasts numerous others, including the Old Rail Trail Greenway from Mullingar to Athlone, the Great Eastern Greenway along Carlingford Lough, and a Greenway from Waterford City to Dungarvan. And, work is progressing on a Connemara Greenway that is expected to eventually connect Galway to Clifden along an unused railroad track.
THE HUNT MUSEUM
Those familiar with Limerick rave about the Hunt Museum’s many programs and exhibits, and I highly recommend a visit there.
The Hunt Collection includes some 2,000 objects ranging from the Stone Age to the 20th century collected by John and Gertrude Hunt over many years and presented to the people of Ireland. Highlights include a Bronze Age cauldron and shield; a coin reputed to be one of the thirty pieces of silver; a gold cross owned by Mary, Queen of Scots; paintings by Jack B. Yeats; and a menu card by Pablo Picasso.
Among programs this winter is The Segment & Apple Drawings, an exhibition by Samuel Walsh, winner of The Savills Art Prize at VUE Contemporary Art Fair in 2017, that officially opens on Feb. 2.
The Hunt Museum is in the 18th Century (former) Custom House and is open Monday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays and bank holidays from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday entry is free and on Mondays, two visitors enter for the price of one. There is a gift shop and restaurant on site. For more information, see huntmuseum.com
Limerick is a lively city with many other attractions so you’ll find lots to do and experience there. At certain times of year, walking tours of Limerick are available and would be fun to combine with a visit to the Hunt and some of Limerick’s many other attractions.
You probably wouldn’t think of visiting Ireland to see giraffes, monkeys, lions, wallabies, eagles, and cheetahs. But you can see all of those and many more species at the Fota Wildife Park in Co. Cork, near Cork City. The park is open all year – 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sundays. It’s a fun place to walk around and visit the animals.
Cafes at either end of the park serve hot and cold food. Snacks and drinks are available in the gift shop and there are children’s play and activity areas on site. For more information, visit fotawildlife.ie
Another fun day out with some exotic animals would be at the Kiltimagh Pet Farm in Co. Mayo. There are farm animals like horses, donkeys, goats, geese, cats, and chickens, but there are also civets, coatimundi, and a very interesting and strange looking “raccoon dog,” which is apparently neither a raccoon nor a dog, but is known as a mangut.
For more information, see kiltimaghpetfarm.com
There are other open farms around the country where you can stop for a petting zoo or to see exotic animals. Check online or visit a tourist office in the area. And don’t forget the Birds of Prey exhibits in Ireland at several hotels – Ashford and Dromoland – as well as at tourist sites including Ailwee Cave in Co. Clare.
The Russell Memorial Weekend 2018 will be held in various locations around Doolin, Co. Clare, from Wed., Feb. 21, to Mon., Feb. 26. This is a fun, annual music festival but accommodations fill up fast so be sure to book something if you’d like to attend.
Speaking of Co. Clare, a friend brought over a side of smoked salmon for Christmas this year from Lisdoonvarna’s Burren Smokehouse. Could there be a better gift?
But when I have smoked salmon, I have to put it on McCambridge’s whole wheat soda bread. I happily found McCambridge’s online at Food Ireland in Mt. Vernon, NY, which shipped three loaves right out to make sure it was a perfect holiday. Food Ireland also offers many other Irish favorites. See foodireland.com and burrensmokehouse.com for more.
Enjoy Ireland whenever and wherever you go.