by Judy Enright
Planning to book a tour of Ireland? As you probably know already, tours are a really great way to see the country through the eyes and dialogue of trained guides in the many all-around tour companies. There are so many things to see across the Irish countryside from churches and monuments to castles and thatched roof houses and so much more. It’s always fun to get the guides’ take on it all.
There are many tour operators that work in Ireland and many – like CIE and Brian Moore International Tours and more – that offer options for those who want an overall or focused experience. Clearly, we cannot mention them all but there are many very reputable companies that can take you on a general tour around the country’s many tourist attractions.
Then there are super-specialized tour companies - such as Crafted Ireland (craftedireland.com.) Crafted Ireland offers a range of specific tours including whiskey, culinary, pubs, craft beer, golf, gluten-free, genealogy, Christian and others. The company has also designed a special package for the Georgia Tech-Boston College Aer Lingus College Football Classic on Sept. 3, 2016, in Dublin’s Aviva Stadium. Hotels are filling fast, they say, so those interested are advised to contact Rebecca@customireland.com,and soon. The company promises “rather cushy packages of luxurious city-center hotels, game tickets, meals, transportation, visits to the best sites and pubs and, of course, all the craic.”
But if football is not your thing, there are many, many other possibilities with many other companies that serve the Emerald Isle.
Want a truly unique travel experience in Ireland? How about joining a few other travelers (minimum two/maximum five) for a customized 10-to-14-day B&B stay at Knockahopple Cottage in Co. Tipperary?
We met owner and host Liam Hughes at Milwaukee’s Irish Fest this summer and know that a visit to Ireland with him would be great fun and also extremely interesting and that you’d see bits and pieces of the country that you’d never see on your own or probably with anyone else.
Seems that in 1989 Liam was visiting extended family in Tipperary and asked a cousin if there were homes for sale in the area. As they drove around checking out the available inventory, he looked up on a hill, saw a derelict cottage, and said, “It’s mine.” That was it – Liam was hooked and returning to the land of his great grandfather, who hailed from Knockahopple.
Liam bought the cottage and says on his website (knockahopple.com), “I have lovingly restored Knockahopple Cottage. I have tried to be mindful of the feel of a traditional Irish cottage, but with all the modern comforts.”
So, how does an American who buys an Irish cottage come up with the idea to offer tours? Well, that was not Liam’s original plan but a 75-year-old friend of his mother’s asked in 1999 if he could drive her and her friend around Ireland because she couldn’t drive. He planned a 14-day itinerary with her by telephone, she and her friend stayed at the cottage, savored tea, homemade scones and Irish bread, and sat by the turf fire late into the evening talking about events of the day and planning the next day’s itinerary.
On her last day at Knockahopple, she sat down by the fire with Liam and told him how special it was to experience the Ireland that most tourists miss. She insisted, he says, that he put his passion for “the real Ireland” to work, “And on that day, Knockahopple Cottage and Tours began. In just a few short years, my business has grown,” Liam says, “but remains small and personalized, which is exactly the way I intend to keep it.
“For Irish-Americans like myself, there is a strong bond with Ireland that calls us back to the place of our ancestors. There is something about the Irish countryside and turf burning in an open fire that makes one think of how difficult it must have been for our forefathers to leave a place as beautiful as this.”
Liam has enjoyed numerous repeat customers over the years for his tours and already has bookings into 2018. Tours are designed according to the interests of the participants and include B&B, a light evening meal, and cocktail.
When he isn’t touring, the talented Liam makes lovely jewelry (LiamShardJewelry.com) from shards of old pottery, much of which he finds in Ireland. We saw his work in Milwaukee and it is not only different but also very nice.
For more information about joining one of Liam’s tours, visit the website or email Liam@IrishFireside.com.
BOYNE VALLEY TOURS
If you’re staying primarily around Dublin, you might look into Mary Gibbons’ Tours, which offer a ramble through the Boyne Valley as well as fascinating visits to Newgrange and the Hill of Tara. At Newgrange, a listed heritage site, you’ll see a Neolithic ritual center and passage tomb with architectural links to prehistoric maritime peoples of Portugal, Northern Spain, Brittany, Denmark, and the Western Isles, according to the website.
The Newgrange building is 1,000 years older than the pyramids and the oldest astronomical observatory in the world, completely intact since the Stone Age. The entrance stone and corbelled inner chamber display amazing examples of Stone Age art from early farming communities in Western Europe.
The Hill of Tara, the ancient royal site of the High Kings of Ireland, was a political and religious center from early Celtic times and the site where 142 kings were crowned.
For more information about these tours, visit newgrangetours.com. Pickup can be arranged at various hotels and other locations around Dublin.
Before we leave the subject of tours, here is an upcoming tour that might pique your interest: A well-known international tour company – Belmond Limited – which operates the Venice Simplon Orient Express and Royal Scotsman, plans to start luxury train service in Ireland next August.
The Grand Hibernian will offer 5-star accommodations for up to 40 in private, en-suite cabins. Belmond bought 11 carriages from Irish Rail and spent $10 million (9.3 million euro) refitting them to luxury standards. The company plans to spend another $1 million marketing the service to wealthy Europeans and Americans.
Vacations by Belmond rail will be two nights (Realm of Giants to Northern Ireland), four nights (Legends and Loughs, Cork, Killarney, Blarney Castle, Connemara National Park and Galway) or six nights (Grand Tour of Ireland incorporating the other two tours plus a tour of Dublin.)
All tours will depart from Dublin. Visit Belmond.com for more information.
Speaking of Dublin, we saw in a recent Irish Times online article that the Guinness Storehouse there was recently named Europe’s leading tourist attraction by judges in the World Travel Awards. The storehouse topped the Eiffel Tower, La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, the Acropolis in Athens, the Colosseum, Buckingham Palace in London and Ribeira do Porto in Portugal.
The award was presented to the Storehouse during a ceremony in Sardinia. Paul Carty, Storehouse managing director, claimed the award “as a victory for Irish tourism. One in every two holidaymakers to Dublin visits the Guinness Storehouse,” he said.
The Storehouse tells the Guinness story and has welcomed 13 million people since it opened in 2006. About 92 percent of the visitors are not Irish. In 2014, the top five visitor nationalities were American, British, French, German, and Italian.
It’s October so be sure to be on the lookout for the wonderful fall country fairs and Halloween events in nearly every county.
Enjoy Ireland whenever, however and wherever you go. The summer season has ended so watch for flight and ground deals too.