If Wildlife’s Your Thing, Fota Island in Cty Cork is for You

Could there really be wildlife in Ireland? You bet and it’s not just confined to the pubs or city nightclubs.
If you are anywhere near Co. Cork in your Irish travels, visiting the Fota Wildlife Park and nearby attractions on Fota Island is highly recommended.

The 100-acre wildlife park, in Carrigtwohill, near Cobh, is well sign-posted and easy to find, has lots of parking, and is a great place to spend some time. Just 15-minutes from the center of Cork City, the park is home to some 30 mammal and 50 bird species representing every continent and ecosytem.
Once home to the Smith-Barry family, which arrived in Ireland in the 12th Century, the once-extensive holdings dwindled over time until confined to just Fota Island. The property was sold to University College Cork (UCC) in 1975 along with the Smith-Barry’s residence, Fota House. The house, gardens, and arboretum are also open to the public. The house and café are open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 11 to 5. The arboretum and gardens are open daily from 9 to 5.
In addition to the House and Wildlife Park, the island is home to the famed Fota Island Golf Club’s three championship courses in a 780-acre estate that includes a luxury hotel, spa and more. For details, visit fotaisland.ie.
The Wildlife Park has undergone a 4-million euro revamp that was officially dedicated by Irish President Mary McAleese last month. Despite Ireland’s challenging economy, the Park enjoyed a healthy 2010 by welcoming 377,000 visitors, an 8 percent increase over 2009. The improved and expanded facilities are expected to draw even more visitors this year.
So, what is there to see at the Park? Although there are many animals living there, our favorites were the funny little Maras (more formally known as Dolichotis patagonum) that wander freely all over the park. These Argentinean guinea pigs look like large rabbits but without the long ears. They feed on grass, herbs, and shrubs and, while you can’t actually get close enough to pat them, they are not terribly timid around visitors.
We also enjoyed watching the stately Baringo giraffes and the Grant’s zebras, all of which commingle and thrive in the Irish climate along with Oryx, Ostrich, Emu, and others.
We tried to photograph the cheetah – Fota has Ireland’s only cheetah family – but the big cats were having none of that foolishness. And, the red panda, which we had really hoped to see, slept soundly despite our pleas to wake up.
Fota has many fun activities planned for the spring and summer season and you can find out more at their website: fotawildlife.ie. The park is open all year, Monday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sundays, from 11 to 6.
The non-profit organization’s mission is, “to be a leading contributor to the conservation of wildlife through conservation education, the breeding of endangered species and the promotion of conservation worldwide.” Fota is a great place to spend a day with the kids or with anyone who appreciates animals.
Have you kissed the Blarney Stone and been blessed by the gift of eloquence and gab? If not, the castle is only 8 km from Cork City and well worth a visit. The word Blarney, for the uninitiated, was introduced into the English language by Queen Elizabeth I and is described as pleasant talk that is intended to deceive without offending.
The castle’s Rock Close Gardens are a great place to stretch your legs and amble along the many walks through the arboretum and woodlands. There are several souvenir shops at Blarney, as well as refreshments, a restored stable, and old farm machinery.
The castle and gardens open at 9 a.m. year-round. For details, visit: blarneycastle.ie
Isn’t the tiny town of Moneygall in Co. Offaly so very lucky that Barack Obama’s roots are there? The town is buzzing with activity already in anticipation of the president’s visit this month and his security forces have made their presence known as they scouted out the area.
Now the fast food chain Supermac’s has announced plans for a 7-million euro motorway services plaza on a 12-acre site along the M7 in Moneygall, which is between Dublin and Limerick. The proposal would include fuel pumps, a Supermac’s, of course, as well as a Papa John’s pizza, a food court, and a convenience shop.
I’m not sure anyone had ever heard of Moneygall before the last US election.
The All-Ireland and International Sheep Shearing and Wool Handling Championships will be held June 4 and 5 at the Cillin Hill exhibition center near Kilkenny City.
Included among the competitors will be sheep shearers from across Europe, Australia, and New Zealand and some 2,000 sheep will be sheared during the two-day event. There will be crafts and food and anyone interested in more details should visit sheepshearing2011.ie. Sounds like fun.
Memorabilia from Ballymena-born actor Liam Neeson’s amateur boxing career are included in a new exhibition that recently opened at the University of Limerick Arena and will be on display there until Sept. 30. The “Fighting Irishmen” celebrates Irish prizefighters based in the US from 1820 to the present and features the mummified right arm of the Irish fighter Dan Donnelly as well as an assortment of robes, gloves, boxing bags, prints, photographs, paintings, and film footage.
The exhibit is open Monday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Objects on display include pieces from such sporting greats as John L. Sullivan, Jack Dempsey, Gene Tunney, Barry McGuigan, Freddie Gilroy, Bobby Cassidy, Gerry Cooney, Billy Graham, Billy Conn, John Duddy, Maureen Shea, and more.
The exhibit first opened in 2006 at the Irish Arts Center in New York and was later featured at the South Street Seaport Museum in lower Manhattan (2007), the Burns Library at Boston College (2008), the Ulster American Folk Park in Omagh, Northern Ireland (2009), and Croke Park at the GAA Museum in Dublin (2010). Following the Limerick exhibition, the exhibit organizers plans to continue touring Europe and the US.
Shannon Development is marketing Limerick’s status as an EU City of Sport and is showcasing Limerick internationally as a top quality location for sports-related events and conferences. Four high profile events have already been planned for the city, including: the European Duathlon Championships (held in mid-April); the EPC European Powerlifting Championship (June 2-5); the Single Speed World Championships cycling event (August 26-28) and the World Powerlifting Championships (Nov. 11-19).
It’s nearly high season (summer) and there are so many activities to enjoy in Ireland as the country comes alive after a long, very cold and snowy winter.
Tourism Ireland’s website – discoverireland.com – is constantly updated and has the latest activities going on around the country. Deals on flights and ground transportation are offered on the Aer Lingus website and the sites of other airlines that fly in and out of Ireland.
When you’re in Ireland, be sure to stop by the Failte Ireland tourist board offices (marked with a big green shamrock) around the country for details about area activities, to secure accommodation, and to learn about the county in which you’re traveling.
And, enjoy your trip to Ireland whenever and wherever you go.