Ireland, some say, is like a doughnut – only the outside matters and there’s nothing much to bother with in the middle.
Tourism groups and many others take issue with that comment and say there is much more to Ireland than just the seacoast, as beautiful as it is. They say the Irish Midlands are just as lovely, varied, and worthy of visits as the coast.
WILD ATLANTIC WAY
Several years ago, the tourist board, in probably the most popular Irish tourism project ever, designated the western coast as The Wild Atlantic Way. Many towns, cities, and attractions along the route from Donegal to Cork have seen huge benefit, thanks to this designation. Visitors travel the route, stop for overnight accommodation, meals, shopping, and more, and local economies have flourished.
After that, Failte Ireland (the Irish arm of the tourist board) branded the eastern side of the country as “Ireland’s Ancient East” and then came “Dublin – a Breath of Fresh Air.”
Recently announced was a new designation to brand the midlands as “Ireland’s Hidden Heartland.” The chosen area stretches from Leitrim to Limerick, and includes Longford, Roscommon, East Galway, and parts of Westmeath, Cavan, North Tipperary, and Offaly.
Some two million euro have been earmarked to develop marketing for the region that includes the River Shannon and the Beara-Breifne Way, a walking-cycling trail that stretches from Cork to the Blacklion area of Leitrim/Cavan.
The Midlands are indeed beautiful and too often overlooked, and the River Shannon is a Mecca for vacationers, especially for those who might want to rent a boat and enjoy its crystal clear waters.
As I’ve written before, Ireland has one of the most pro-active tourist organizations anywhere and this new branding effort is proof positive of that. No doubt many new offerings will become available as this project gets off the ground and the area the designation covers will see growth as have others.
Ireland has seen increased interest over the past few years in active sports such as cycling, walking, hiking, and more. As the country and its visitors have become more active, there has been a growth spurt in the development of off-road paths.
The first was the 42-kilometer (26-mile) Great Western Greenway, which is the longest off-road walking and cycling trail in the country and runs along an abandoned railroad bed from Westport to Achill Island in Co. Mayo.
The initial piece of the pathway – from Newport to Mulranny - opened eight years ago, and the newest link formally opened last month.
In addition to getting exercise, Greenway users can enjoy local artisan food along the way. An extremely successful initiative along the Greenway was been the development of the Gourmet Greenway by management of the Mulranny Park Hotel to showcase food producers along the route. Events began in April and run through September at various locations and with varied producers.
The Gourmet Greenway began this year at Rua and Café Rua in Castlebar during Wild Garlic Week (April 12-14.) The big kick-off dinner, which sells out every year, was held April 27 at the Mulranny Park Hotel (mulrannyparkhotel.ie) where longtime Chef Chamila Manawatta works his magic with local produce.
There was an April 28 meeting on Clew Bay with Padraig Gannon of Croagh Patrick Seafoods to tour his oyster farm and see what’s actually involved in oyster and mussel production.
Other events include visits to: Marlene’s Chocolate Haven (May 1-31) in Westport; the Blue Bicycle Tea Room (May to October) in Newport; Achill Sea Salt (achillislandseasalt.ie) during June. Also on the menu are: June 1-4, Beer and Seafood Weekend at the Grainne Uaile Bar in Newport (grainneuailenewport.ie); June 16 and 17, Sea Vegetable Celebration at the Beehive Café in Keel, Achill Island; June 23 and 24, Keem Bay Fish Products at the Chalet Restaurant in Keel; July 14, afternoon tea at Kelly’s Kitchen, Newport; Aug. 25-27, Taste of the Sea Weekend at Newport House (newporthouse.com) and finally, Sept. 10-16, best of Mayo lamb served at An Port Mor in Westport (anportmor.com.)
Imagine lying in a tub filled with hot water and you’re covered with seaweed. It’s not a concept that appeals to everyone but seaweed baths seem to be on the increase in Ireland in recent years.
The oldest seaweed baths that we know of are in Enniscrone, near Ballina, in Mayo, and were established in 1912. Advocates say the baths help treat arthritis and rheumatism, soothe and relax the customer while increasing circulation and moisturizing the skin.
There are also Seaweed Baths in Leenane, Co. Galway (connemaraseaweedbaths.com), and on Achill Island at Mulhollow B&B (achillseaweedbaths.com), Delphi Spa in Connemara, Seaweed Jelly Twist at the Peninsula Spa in Dingle, Collins Beach Café, Seaweed Baths in Ballybunnion, Co. Kerry, and more.
SPRING IN IRELAND
Ireland has come to life again after a winter that was nearly as long and hard as New England’s. Rain followed by frigid temperatures ruined fields, creating a desperate shortage of fodder for Irish farmers.
In April, Shannon Airport cut grass early from hundreds of acres at its 400-acre site to help farmers. Harvesting over three days of was expected to produce about 1,000 bales of silage.
Supplies ran short after one of the hardest winters in recent memory, spokesmen said. Five years ago, according to the Irish press, Shannon Airport supplied farmers with 1,600 bales of silage after what was then the most severe fodder crisis in modern memory.
Shannon has always been my favorite Irish airport, thanks to its size and friendliness. This generous and gracious act endears Shannon to me even more.
THINGS TO DO
There is so much to do in Ireland in the spring - actually at any time of year. Whatever your interests, you can almost certainly find an outlet.
Through mid-October, you could visit Dunguaire Castle in Kinvara, Co. Galway, from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The castle also offers evening banquets at 5:30 and 8:45 nightly (reservations required.) For more information, see shannonheritage.com
Medieval banquets are also offered at Knappogue Castle in Quin, and Bunratty Castle, both in Co. Clare. Bunratty offers banquets all year at 5:30 and 8:45 and Knappogue offers the evening meal from April through October at 6:30 p.m. Be sure to book in advance for these evening events at shannonheritage.com
Blarney Castle in Co. Cork and its gardens are open year round. See blarneycastle.ie for more.
Find out how Foynes and the Shannon River played a major role in transatlantic travel by visiting the Flying Boat Museum and Maritime Museum in Co. Limerick (flying boat museum.com)
How about an afternoon Connemara Pub Tour? See connemarapubtours.ie for details on a visit to five pubs - food and drink included. Tours return to Galway by 7 p.m.
If your interests are more about hiking and stargazing, contact terrafirmaireland.com for details on tours that include: dark sky safari; the Bangor Trail; fairies, forts and folklore, magic myth and moonlight.
Enjoy Ireland whenever and wherever you travel!