By Judy Enright
Special to the BIR
There are so many fun and interesting ways to travel to and around the Emerald Isle. Depending on your interests, you can book a regular coach tour and visit many fascinating sites across the land, participate in assorted golfing, bicycling, surfing, and other sports or adventure trips, sail down the Shannon or along the coast, or do a photographic or literary visit. There are many other special interest options available, too.
Looking for a unique travel opportunity? Join Irish native Ann V. Quinlan on her specially crafted Spiral Journey in September. The 11-day journey is small (12 max) and travelers unpack only once – at lovely and comfortable Ashley Park House in Co. Tipperary, an 18th century, 76-acre bird sanctuary with en suite bedrooms, a gourmet chef, wooded walks, gardens, a mystical lake, Neolithic remains and a Fairy Fort. We stayed there some years ago and encountered several brilliant peacocks strutting across the lawn – great photo opportunities there and a wonderful place to stay and savor all the elegance of a grand manor home.
Ann grew up in the Boyne Valley of Co. Meath and, from an early age, was drawn to Neolithic Newgrange with its many triple spiral carvings. So she chose that spiral symbol for her Irish travel business, Spiral Journeys. A mixture of men and women, singles and couples have signed on for this fall’s Spiral Journey and since Ann’s journeys are so well known and popular, it’s no surprise that there are only a few places left. If you want to participate, don’t delay.
Ann has designed and led trips to Ireland for about 30 years and because she has lived here and there, she has a special vision and feeling for both cultures. She is passionate about literature, poetry, folklore, and music and she engages a small (16-seat) van with a seasoned and eloquent driver to handle transportation around the countryside.
The cost of the journey includes bed and breakfast, a minimum of six dinners and several boxed lunches, as well as entertainment by local storytellers and some park entrance fees. While the itinerary often varies according to participants' interests, the weather, etc., past Spiral Journeys have made day trips to the Lower Shannon River region, the counties of Clare, Galway, Limerick, and Kerry, visited castles, walked the limestone rocks of the Burren, visited the Cliffs of Moher and more. Visits to Newgrange or the Beara Peninsula are on the board as possibilities for this year.
A woman from Arizona who took one of Ann’s trips wrote, “I was looking for beauty, culture, and a sense of my roots when I planned my trip to Ireland. I got much more. I got warm, skilled leadership from a woman (Ann is native Irish) who is most knowledgeable of the land and folklore of Ireland.” Another participant added, “A trip to Ireland with Ann could not be more perfect! She is steeped in the country's history and spirit. She finds charm, music, great fun, and organic food everywhere she goes.”
I participated with one of my sons in a week-long photo workshop in Donegal some years ago and can testify that such focused trips are so much fun. There are many interesting people from all over the globe who join these specialized tours and it’s great getting to know them and spending time together with them, not to mention seeing Ireland in a whole new way through different eyes.
As I said, Ann’s journey is nearly full for this year, so don’t hesitate to take a look at spiraljourneys.com or contact Ann at email@example.com.
There are many small and focused tours available in Ireland, and we can’t mention them all, so we’ve chosen just a few that we think sound exceptional.
One such interesting tour is with a Wisconsin company called Inroads Ireland, which offers “tours off the beaten path.” Many of the company’s dates for this year are already sold out so if you visit their website (inroadsireland.com) and have an interest, it would be wise to get in touch soon.Tours are available from May through September. Inroads Ireland also utilizes a small van (14 people per tour max) and personalized service.
The owners of the company (Phil Ryan from Dublin and Carolyn Janette from Milwaukee) are well traveled and have fascinating and varied backgrounds. They met in Ireland, married in Hawaii, and now combine their love of travel and Ireland to run the company they founded together. For more information, visit their website.
When you visit Lough Bishop House B&B in Derrynagarra, Co. Westmeath, and meet Helen and Christopher Kelly, you can’t help but admire their pioneering spirit with the land, the animals, and their lovely home.
The couple bought a derelict wreck of a house and worked endlessly, night and day, restoring every inch to its former glory. No detail was overlooked and no project was too large or too small. When we arrived at Lough Bishop, Helen shared a scrapbook of the most amazing photos showing what the house looked like when they purchased it. Suffice it to say, they had huge vision, grit, and endless determination. Had you not seen the scrapbook, you could never appreciate how much painstaking work they did and you probably would not appreciate their incredible efforts.
Helen took us up to the fields to see a pair of twin Moiled Cattle calves and to meet their mom. Helen and her husband are working hard to save this old strain of cattle that has been designated a rare Irish breed. The family’s Jack Russell terriers followed us every step of the way, of course, and ran back and forth entertaining us and the cattle. Lough Bishop also has horses and sheep as well as a beautiful setting in which they all live.
The Irish Moiled cattle are said to be the rarest of surviving indigenous breeds of Irish cattle and the only surviving domestic livestock native to Northern Ireland. Their coats are patched red and white and they have no horns. They are the most interesting looking cows, even though I’m not a great fan of cows in general.
When you wake in the morning, you’re sure to enjoy Helen’s delicious home cooking. Lough Bishop is a wonderful place to stay.
Another great farm B&B experience – across the country in Co. Clare – is Cahergal Farm, owned by Michael and Noreen McInerney. We have stayed there many times because it’s just minutes from Shannon Airport and we’ve witnessed all the changes that added more en suite bedrooms and a second story as well as the addition of glorious flower gardens, outside seating, and herb gardens where Noreen plucks just the right ingredients for her outstanding meals. Michael’s family has owned the property for generations and it’s clear how much the McInerneys and their children value their heritage.
For more farmhouse vacations (fun places to stay, especially if you’re traveling with kids), visit irishfarmholidays.com
Another of our favorite accommodation groups is called Hidden Ireland. Several of the historic homes included in Hidden Ireland’s list are the subject of a story about Ireland accommodation in an interesting article in the April issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine. The homes are absolutely fabulous places to stay.
WILD ATLANTIC WAY
In a Feb. 27 Irish Times article, writer Tim O’Brien describes the latest Irish tourism initiative called “The Wild Atlantic Way,” which stretches all the way along the West Coast from the Inishowen Peninsula, up in Co. Donegal, down to Kinsale, Co. Cork. Michael Ring, Minister for Tourism, launched the 2,500-km route recently and it was described as “the world’s longest way-marked-trail.”
O’Brien writes that Fáilte Ireland (the Irish arm of Tourism Ireland here) plans to invest 10 million euro in 2014 to highlight some 500 attractions along the route, more than 1,500 activities, 580 festivals and events as well as some 17 trails and 50 looped walks. The scenic route also passes spectacular 53 blue flag beaches and 120 golf courses.
Activities along the Wild Atlantic Way will be grouped into varied customized offerings, O’Brien wrote, to encourage tourism. The groupings include:
• Exploring on the Edge: Showcasing unique landscapes and micro-climates of the west of Ireland including flora, fauna, caves, mines, and activities such as whale and dolphin watching, exploring by boat and experiencing local food;
• Culture at the Edge: Ireland’s unique language, music and dance cultures, Gaelic sports, traditional crafts, festivals, island life (‘island hopping’), legends, and folklore;
• Active on the edge: Focusing on surfing locations, links golf courses, coastal walks, sea and game angling and horseback riding.
O’Brien quoted Fiona Monaghan, Fáilte Ireland’s head of the Wild Atlantic Way, as saying, “The enthusiasm out there for this project is impressive, not only amongst tourism businesses but also in the wider community. The key to success for this initiative will be its authenticity – not just the places but also the people of the Wild Atlantic Way.”
Spring is reportedly here at long last, so do check online or visit your favorite travel agent for summer travel bargains. There are many direct flights offered to Shannon and Dublin, and lots of good options for ground travel.