By Judy Enright
Special to the BIR
Healthy and active vacations are very much the focus for visitors to Ireland these days.
Walking/cycling trails abound for those energetic souls who want to get out and go, but there are also options for the traveler who just wants to take a slow amble through the countryside or a gentle bike ride. Of course, there are many other forms of exercise for visitors and residents such as the more than 300 golf courses in the North and in the Republic as well as almost any sport and adventure on land and sea that you can imagine.
Failte Ireland, the Irish arm of our Irish Tourist Board, says more than 775,000 overseas visitors come to Ireland each year to hike, walk cross-country and hill walk. About a third of those queried by Failte Ireland said that walking was an important factor when they were choosing a holiday destination.
Up in Mayo, the Great Western Greenway, which opened in 2010, reportedly drew 200,000 walkers and cyclists last year alone and has been a huge boon to the area. Bike rental and other businesses have opened and pubs, hotels and restaurants have flourished along the route that runs from Westport to Achill Island.
In Clare, a newly completed Cliffs of Moher Coastal Walk from Hags Head near Liscannor to Doolin was opened this spring to become part of the 70-plus mile Burren Way walking trail. Some 400,000-euro was spent developing the Coastal Walk, a collaborative effort between Clare County Council, Clare Local Development Company, The National Trails Office, Failte Ireland, the local community, and some 40 landowners along the route.
The Coastal Walk is geared to more experienced walkers because of the challenging, remote, and exposed cliff top trail that requires fitness and an ability to adapt to changing and extreme weather conditions. Cliffs of Moher Coastal Walk trail maps are available to download free from discoverireland.ie and irishtrails.ie
The Burren Way extends from Lahinch to Ballyvaughan and Corofin and winds through Lisdoonvarna and scenic, small villages along unused and seldom used roads and paths. The Burren is one of the largest karst limestone landscapes in Europe and the walk, if done end to end, reportedly takes five days and introduces walkers to the area’s spectacular scenery.
BURREN IN BLOOM
If you happen to be in Co. Clare through May 18, be sure to check the Burrenbeo Trust or local tourist offices for information on the Burren in Bloom Festival, which includes a series of illustrated talks on Tuesdays and Thursdays and organized walks on Wednesdays and Sundays.
The festival is designed to promote an understanding and appreciation of the Burren, its formation, and why it is a source of botanical, archaeological, and cultural wealth with its unique wild flowers and ancient sites.
There is a fee of 10 euro to join a walk and of 5 euro for the talks unless otherwise stated, but they are free for Burrenbeo Trust members. You can join the Trust online and support its efforts to protect and promote the mystical Burren. See burrenbeo.com for more.
And, if you’re in the area, another great take is the Burren Slow Food Festival, which runs from May 16 to May 24. The theme this year is Land and Sea and every kind of food provided by both. Events have been organized by the Burren Food Trail, food producers, chefs and restaurants. Three Michelin-starred chefs – Derry Clarke from L’Ecrivain and Ross Lewis from Chapter One, both in Dublin, and JP McMahon from Aniar in Galway - will participate in the festival and share their expertise with demonstrations and talks. The Food Festival will be launched on Sat., May 16, at the Ballyvaughan Farmers’ Market.
Further south in Clare, the Loop Head Walking, Biking
Heading north, walkers will enjoy the 7th Annual Leenane Mountain Walking Festival for May 1 to May 3. The festival is designed to suit all levels of walkers and each day there is a choice of at least three walks. This year the program includes Mweelrea as well as Devil’s Mother and the Sheeffry Hills. Michael Gibbons, one of Ireland’s leading field archaeologists, will be featured as the leader of an archeological walk. The full program can be seen on the village’s website: leenanevillage.com.
In Mayo, there’s the Great Western Greenway and, not to be outdone by their seacoast cousins, a Blueway has now been created to bring attention - and visitors - to Ireland’s many waterways and adjoining trails.
The Shannon Blueway is the first of its kind in Ireland and is billed as “an innovative, safe and easy-to-use series of on-water and land-based trails.” There is guided and unguided paddling and walking along the Lough Allen Canal and River Shannon from Drumshanbo to Leitrim Village, as well as paddling on a looped trail on the Camlin and Shannon Rivers, starting from Richmond Harbor. See bluewaysireland.org for more.
Visit waterwaysireland.org for information on the Shannon Blueway Adventure Festival, from May 1 to May 3 with music, live entertainment, a carnival and more.
Festivals, as you can see, are the order of the day in Ireland during May and there are many in every county.
The Wicklow Gardens Festival runs from May 1 through July 31 and features more than 20 private new and ancient gardens. Wicklow is known as the “Garden of Ireland” thanks to a climate that is so conducive to gardening. More information is available from wicklow.ie
And, while you’re in Wicklow, make a note that the 12th Wicklow Arts Festival is in Wicklow town from May 22 to May 24. There will be an assortment of workshops and events, including a yarn bomb and art installations. Explore Wicklow’s heritage as part of the festival as an interactive medieval village is recreated on the site of ruins of a 13th century Franciscan friary. For more details, visit wicklowartsfestival.ie
Other festivals around the country include:
• Cork International Choral Festival, through May 3, see corkchoral.ie for details;
• Drogheda Arts Festival, through May 4, see droghedaartsfestival.ie for details;
• Barrow River Arts Festival, in Borris House, Co. Carlow, May 15-17, barrowriverartsfestival.com for more;
• Galway Early Music Festival, May 14-17, galwayearlymusic.com for information;
• Dublin Writers’ Festival, May 16-24, visit dublinwritersfestival.com for details on authors and events.
• 44th Listowel Writers’ Week, Co. Kerry, May 27-31. See writersweek.ie for details.
• 12th annual Heinrich Boll Weekend, May 1 to 3, on Achill Island with walks, talks and exhibitions. See heinrichbollcottage.com for more.
• Connacht Spring Show, Ballinrobe, Co. Mayo, exhibitions, demonstrations, trade stands, competitions and all aspects of farming life. See connachtspringshow.com.
• Rory Gallagher Tribute Festival, May 28-31, will draw devotees of the guitarist’s life and work to Ballyshannon in Co. Donegal. See rorygallagherfestival.com for more information.
• 30th annual Conamara Bog Week Festival, May 22-June 1, concerts at Kylemore Abbey and in Letterfrack Church, guided walks, bog paintings and more. See ceecc.org for details.
Lovely Ashford Castle in Cong, Co. Mayo, is even more lovely now that new owners (the South African Company Red Carnation Hotels) have spent the past two years completing a 50 million euro renovation that included more than 800 new windows, new wiring, a new lead roof, and repointed stonework. Grounds have been done over, according to a report in The Irish Times, and additions to the property have included a spa, billiards room, swimming pool, 32-seat cinema and cigar terrace. Some 500,000 euro have been spent on the nine-hole golf course
Red Carnation purchased the 350-acre Ashford property in 2013 for a reported 25 million euro before dropping another 50 million into the upgrade. The company also bought the 50-bedroom Lodge nearby for 1.8-million euro in 2014. Taoiseach Enda Kenny, himself a Mayo man, was slated to be on hand for the official reopening on April 17.
Room rates have increased (high season from 495 euro per night for B&B in a Corrib room) to reflect the investment costs, the newspaper reported. If you’re feeling like royalty some day soon, you can book the split-level Reagan Presidential Suite – in high season – for a mere 2,500 euro per night.
About 85 percent of the high season guests at Ashford are from the US. The five-star resort is best known for its link to the 1952 film, “The Quiet Man,” with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara.
Enjoy your trip to Ireland whenever and wherever you go. Spring and summer days ahead are bursting with all kinds of activities and fun things to do, so jump right in.