By Judy Enright
Special to the BIR
My Dad used to say, “If it was supposed to be fun, it wouldn’t be called work.” I know he didn’t invent the saying, but it’s something I often repeat now to my adult children and watch them roll their eyes as I probably did when my Dad said it to me.
I think of that saying when writing this column for the Boston Irish Reporter because this is fun rather than work and lets me share favorite places and attractions.
THE WILD ATLANTIC WAY
My first favorite for 2015 is the Wild Atlantic Way and the many attractions in seven counties along the western seaboard from the Inishowen Peninsula up in Co. Donegal all the way down to the lively harbor town of Kinsale in Co. Cork.
Irish tourism branded the 2,500-kilometer driving route the Wild Atlantic Way and reportedly invested some 10 million euro for signage to mark the route, development of discovery points, and more. The promotion has been a huge success, probably exceeding everyone’s wildest dreams. More tourists (resulting in more revenue) have visited the western coast since the project began and it’s been a win-win for all.
Recently, according to The Irish Times newspaper, the Wild Atlantic Way won “Best Tourist Attraction” at the third annual InBusiness magazine’s award ceremony in Dublin. The magazine’s annual awards honor outstanding achievement in the Irish business community.
Sadly, too many travelers head south from the airports and miss the extraordinary beauty of this western coast. Hopefully, the branding will attract more travelers to the wild West.
As you travel the Wild Atlantic Way, a night or more at The Sandhouse Hotel in Rossnowlagh, Co. Donegal, is highly recommended. The hotel was purchased in 2012 by its then manager, Paul Diver, who has since undertaken numerous upgrades and enhanced an already wonderful property. Sandhouse is a comfortable and welcoming hotel, and there’s a spa, too.
An Illinois reviewer on TripAdvisor writes, “The hotel was great. We ate at the restaurant and the seafood was fantastic. Our rooms were overlooking the beach, the rooms was very spacious and very clean. The hotel had an old time charm and the staff was very helpful and friendly.” We couldn’t agree more!
W. B. YEATS
Another of my favorites along the Wild Atlantic Way is the beautiful area around Sligo where William Butler Yeats lived and worked.
This year marks the 150th anniversary of Yeats’s birth into an incredibly gifted family. His father, John, and brother, Jack, were artists, and his sisters, Susan (Lily) and Elizabeth (Lolly), were also artistically gifted and established a printing press and an all-female embroidery workshop.
A playwright and poet, Yeats founded the Irish Theatre (later to become the Abbey Theatre) with Lady Gregory and was its chief playwright until John Synge came on the scene. Yeats also served in the Irish Senate.
In 1923, he won a Nobel Prize “for his always inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation.” Yeats, who died in 1939, lies in the shadow of Ben Bulben in the graveyard at Drumcliff Church, where his great-great-grandfather was once rector.
Drumcliff and Yeats’s grave are worth a visit. There is a charming shop and tearoom on the grounds and a magnificent Celtic high cross in the graveyard.
While you’re in the area, be sure to visit Yeats’s exhibits at another favorite, Lissadell House in Ballinfull, Co. Sligo.
Lissadell was the childhood home of Constance Markievicz, her sister, Eva Gore Booth, and brother Josslyn Gore Booth. Markievicz was a leader of the 1916 uprising and the first woman to be elected to Dail Eireann, where she served as Labor Minister. She was also the first woman elected to the House of Commons at Westminster in London, but declined to take the seat. Eva was a poetess and Josslyn made Lissadell one of Europe’s premier horticultural estates. Yeats was friendly with the sisters and stayed at Lissadell in 1893 and 1894.
“Re-opened in 2014 following a five-year closure,” notes the writer Georgina Campbell, “Lissadell is the brightest historical and cultural gem of the northwest and a must-see destination for anyone visiting Sligo or planning a trip along the Wild Atlantic Way.”
Lissadell is home to Edward Walsh, Constance Cassidy, and their seven children, so visitors are asked to respect their privacy. Be sure to check the website (lissadell.com) for opening times.
As you might expect, some of my favorites never change. I try different places but my favorites often prevail. It’s hard to know where to begin with the rest of the list because there is so much to love about Ireland but perhaps it’s best to start at the beginning with the airport.
I love Shannon Airport! It’s small, comfortable, welcoming, convenient, and a straight shot from Boston on my favorite carrier, Aer Lingus.
I learned a travel lesson the last time I flew Aer Lingus because, for the first time ever, I pre-ordered the three-course salmon dinner with complimentary red or white wine. (Steak and chicken are also available.) The meal was hot, delicious, fresh, and well worth the extra $22 in my opinion. I will definitely do that on future travels.
My favorite Irish car rental firm is Dan Dooley (dan-dooley.ie). A friend suggested that Dooley was more expensive than their company and then turned up in a tin can on wheels. Dooley might be more but I have used the company for years and definitely feel it’s worth having a solid car that is top notch, safe, and well maintained. The company is also extremely responsive if you have any issue with your car.
Last spring, I spent a night at a “family run luxury country house B&B” – Temple House in Ballymote, Co. Sligo - and heartily recommend a stay there for a taste of the elegance of days gone by. Owners Roderick and Helena Perceval interact with visitors and work together to prepare delicious meals that are served to guests around the large dining room table. You’ll feel like family in this historic, comfortable home that is part of the Hidden Ireland group (hiddenireland.com), another favorite. Hidden Ireland’s properties are excellent and you can find them all over the north and south.
A bit further south - in Co. Mayo - we enjoy delicious fresh lunches and baked goods at the Beehive in Keel on Achill Island. The Beehive is also an outstanding craft shop. For more good meals, try Newport House in Newport, lunch and dinner at Café Rua in Castlebar and the Granuaille Pub in Newport. Nearby, Westport has many excellent pubs and restaurants as well as one of our favorite Irish craft shops, O’Reilly & Turpin.
We head south again, to Clifden, Co. Galway, called the capital of Connemara. It may be a capital but Clifden is still a small town with small town charm and it’s home to my favorite seafood restaurant – Mitchell’s (mitchellsrestaurantclifden.com) – on the one-way circuit around town. Clifden also boasts an outstanding independent bookstore - the Clifden Bookshop (clifdenbookshop.com) - as well as many other small and very good shops.
And Clifden is near Lough Inagh Lodge Hotel, my perennial favorite, and just down the road from Kylemore Abbey, where the gift shop, run by Linda Spitzer, can’t be beat. A tour of the magnificent buildings and grounds at Kylemore is highly recommended.
Cruising down the coast to Doolin in Co. Clare, you’ll find Roadford House, McDermott’s Pub, and Fitzpatrick’s Bar, all offering a range of prices for excellent food. Try Gregan’s Castle Hotel in Co. Clare for luxurious accommodation and outstanding meals.
Riverfield House B&B is where I stay in Doolin and enjoy the wit and camaraderie of owner Caitriona Garrahy. Riverfield is centrally located, reasonable, clean, and comfortable. We also enjoy Heaton’s Guesthouse on the Dingle Peninsula (for meals and accommodation.) Heaton’s won a 2014 Certificate of Excellence from Trip Advisor.
Castle hotels Ashford and Dromoland are fun places to stay and you might also want to try the Merrion, Gibson, Westbury, or Shelbourne in Dublin, Rathaspeck Manor in Wexford, and Granville Hotel in Waterford. Cities like Belfast, Derry, Wexford, Galway, and Cork offer a wide selection of excellent accommodations as well as dining options to suit every taste.
Before flying home - or after landing at Shannon - try the Inn at Dromoland, handy to the airport, or Cahergal Farm in Newmarket-on-Fergus, also close by Shannon. Cahergal won a 2014 Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor and is a great place to unwind in beautiful surroundings. This farmhouse B&B is on my favorite list year after year.
We hope our readers enjoyed the holiday season and will have a healthy and happy 2015. And we hope a trip to Ireland is on the agenda for this year.