By Judy Enright
Special to the BIR
January, the window into 2017, invites a review of some of our favorite places, accommodations, and attractions in Ireland for travelers who might visit this year.
The island offers every kind of activity an active traveler might want from golf to hill-walking to adventure sports on land, lake, and sea. But it also boasts a huge array of non-sporting options for all ages and interests from libraries, museums, theatre, historical attractions, art and music to gardens, zoos, wildlife parks, city walks, pub crawls, and much, much more.
Irish cities – such as Dublin, Cork City, and Galway - offer many city-type activities for the visitor (pub crawls and walking tours for instance and even a rock and roll music walking tour in Dublin) and have tourist offices and informative online sites to guide you. While the cities can be busy and exciting, we prefer the relative quiet of the countryside and know many others who feel the same.
One of my favorite Irish attractions is The Donkey Sanctuary in Liscarroll, Mallow, Co. Cork. This year, the Sanctuary celebrates 30 years of providing direct help and support to owners and their donkeys across Ireland. The Sanctuary’s vision is “a world where donkeys and mules live free from suffering and their contribution to humanity is fully valued.” Thanks to the dedicated and knowledgeable staff, more than 5,000 donkeys have been rescued since the facility opened.
I’ve visited the Sanctuary a number of times and it’s always a fun day out for animal lovers of all ages, as well as a reminder that hard working donkeys cannot just be turned out to pasture and left unattended when their working days are done. They need vet care, shelter, and food.
For more information on opening times, see thedonkeysanctuary.ie.
FOTA WILDLIFE PARK
Another fun place to take visitors of any age is the Fota Wildlife Park in Co. Cork. The park was developed on 100 acres at Fota Island, east of Cork City, and is now adding another 27 acres that focuses on Asian animals and plants.
There is a vast assortment of animals at the park, some of which I had never even heard of – including a capybara, black and white colobus, a mangabey, and more.
The park, which aims to inspire understanding and conservation of the natural world’s biodiversity, has annual attendances of 440,000 visitors and claims to be the second largest visitor attraction in the country.
For more details, visit fotawildlife.ie.
JAMESON IRISH WHISKEY
While you’re in that Co. Cork neighborhood, the older set (of drinking age, that is) might enjoy the Jameson Experience in Midleton and a tour to learn how their whiskey is brewed.
Many tour options are available – short to long (four hours) – and there’s also an excellent gift shop and restaurant on site. After the tour, visitors can taste test various liquors and compare them to Jameson. For more details about the tours, see jamesonwhiskey.com
If you’d rather go into town for lunch after your tour, be sure to stop at the outstanding Farmgate Restaurant in Midleton. We’ve eaten there several times and its reputation is well deserved. It’s excellent. See farmgate.ie for more.
What is more Irish than sheep and sheep farms with sheep dog demonstrations? A couple of my favorites are Kissane Sheep Farm, in Co. Kerry, between Kenmare and Killarney National Park (kissanesheepfarm.com), and Killary Sheep Farm, overlooking the Killary Fjord in Co. Galway, (killarysheepfarm.com) near Leenane.
While you’re in that area, stop in at the Sheep and Wool Museum in Leenane for an excellent home-cooked lunch, visit the gift shop and tour of the museum. See sheepandwoolcentre.com for more.
There are other sheep farms in Ireland that offer sheep dog demonstrations. The dogs are so well trained and they are absolutely amazing to watch.
Also nearby is the Killary Adventure Centre, which specializes in adventure activities from kayaking on Killary Fjord to climbing, abseiling, and more. Day activities are offered as are residential stays in a 98-bed purpose-built accommodation with 20 adventure activities on site. See killaryadventure.com.
What visitor to Ireland doesn’t tour the famed Ring of Kerry? There are so many activities and attractions in that part of the country – in addition to just driving the Ring.
Some favorite spots of mine in Co. Kerry are the Dingle peninsula and the town of Dingle where I’ve stayed at Heaton’s Guesthouse several times and savored excellent meals and spotlessly clean rooms.
We especially enjoyed the Global Village Restaurant in town, many fun pubs, The Dingle Bookshop, and John Weldon’s lovely jewelry shop. Be sure to visit the Great Blasket Centre in Dunquin and drive the Connor Pass.
Killarney and Tralee are buzzing, lively towns where you can find good food, good shops, and more. There’s much to do in Co. Kerry for sure.
And, what visitor to Ireland hasn’t visited the Cliffs of Moher in Co. Clare? Like Kerry, there are many activities in Co. Clare for visitors and probably topping the list is listening to traditional music in Doolin, the trad music center of the country. Music is on tap at various places in Doolin such as Fitzpatrick’s Bar, McDermott’s, McGann’s, or O’Connor’s pubs. Favorite places there for excellent meals are Roadford House, McDermott’s Pub and Ballinalacken Castle. See doolin-tourism.com for more places to visit.
My favorite accommodation in Doolin is Riverfield House, where owner Caittriona Garrahy offers a gracious welcome. Riverfield is well located so you can walk across the street for a delicious meal at Fitzpatrick’s or walk down the road for an evening at McDermott’s or McGann’s Pubs. Doolin has fun shops and it’s a great town to visit. It’s also a popular place for booking a boat to the Aran Islands.
While you’re in that area, be sure to do the Cliffs of Moher Coastal Walk (see doolincliffwalk.com), visit the magical Burren (many local guides offer walks including heartofburrenwalks.com and burrenguidedwalks.com) and visit the Burren Centre in Kilfenora. Also be sure to stop at Gregan’s Castle, at the foot of Corkscrew Hill. It’s a lovely hotel and the food is superb.
You’re interested in fabulous gardens, you say? Well, there are many in Ireland and most counties have organized Garden Trails you can follow when those gardens are in bloom.
When you’re in Dublin, be sure to visit the National Botanic Gardens just outside the city in Glasnevin. (Then-Curator David Moore was the first to identify the country’s potato blight as a fungus on Aug. 20, 1845, and predicted it would lead to famine.)
In season, stop by Powerscourt in Co. Wicklow, take a boat out to magnificent Garinish (also called Ilnacullin) Island in Glengarriff Harbor, Co. Cork, and when you’re in the West, visit Co. Galway’s Kylemore Abbey in Connemara and enjoy the beautifully restored gardens and unique plantings.
There is a lot to do at Kylemore in addition to the gardens – the property, buildings, and history are fascinating. Kylemore’s cafeteria serves excellent food and there’s an outstanding gift shop in the visitor center. Kylemore is deservedly the biggest tourist attraction in the West and absolutely worth a visit.
While you’re in Connemara, be sure to visit Clifden and enjoy the shopping, the freshest seafood lunch/dinner at Mitchell’s (mitchellsrestaurantclifden.com), spend a night at beautiful Lough Inagh Lodge (loughinaghlodgehotel.ie) in the nearby Inagh Valley, and enjoy tea at Ballynahinch Castle (ballynahinch-castle.com) in Recess.
THERE’S MUCH MORE
These are, of course, just suggestions for places and accommodations that I have enjoyed over the years. Most visitors to Ireland return with a list of great places to see/eat and stay, and you’ll no doubt have your own list after your trip.
There are many more attractions and accommodations that deserve mention but space did not allow. I will mention them in future editions.
Enjoy the holidays and, if you are planning a trip to Ireland in the New Year, you are a lucky person indeed.