By Judy Enright
Special to the BIR
As we’ve said many times in the past, Ireland’s tourism staff are absolutely tops at promoting their favorite country. Hats off to Tourism Ireland here – called Failte Ireland there - for consistently outstanding work to publicize and share the many wonders of their small island.
WILD ATLANTIC WAY
Several years ago, the tourist body designated a route along the west coast as the Wild Atlantic Way and pinpointed different types of attractions along the way. The route, which runs for 1,600-plus miles from the tip of Inishowen in Co. Donegal to Kinsale in Co. Cork, is reputed to be the longest defined coastal route in the world.
Included along the way are villages, ancient monuments, stunning views, islands, beaches, Gaeltachts (where Irish is spoken and preserved), accommodation and dining spots, and all kinds of other attractions. The designation has increased tourist visits to the West and boosted the economy immensely.
It’s not that wonderful sights and sites haven’t always existed along that coast, it’s that too many visitors never traveled there, heading instead for the Ring of Kerry and other better-known areas.
So with that great success under its belt, the tourist board has designated a new route to be visited and explored – this one on the other side of the country. A route along east coast has been tabbed as “Ireland’s Ancient East” and is billed as 5,000 years of history and heritage. The hope is to better acquaint visitors with that region while also boosting local economies with income and jobs.
IRELAND’S ANCIENT EAST
So many outstanding attractions are included in this latest designation, ranging from Newgrange and the Boyne Valley, through the midlands via Kilkenny’s Medieval mile to Waterford’s Viking Quarter and Cork’s numerous cultural attractions.
At the recent launch of the new designation, which was crafted to match and complement the Wild Atlantic Way, Minister of State for Tourism and Sport Michael Ring TD said Ireland’s Ancient East will focus on:
• Ancient Ireland – The Dawn of Civilization (including the prehistoric attractions of the Boyne Valley in Newgrange and sites such as the Brownshill Dolmen in Co. Carlow);
• Early Christian Ireland (including sites such as Clonmacnoise, Glendalough, Mellifont Abbey, Jerpoint Abbey, St.Canice’s Cathedral, and Holycross Abbey);
• Medieval Ireland - including Kilkenny’s Medieval Mile, the Viking Quarter in Waterford, Hook Head Lighthouse, Trim Castle, and the Rock of Cashel;
• Anglo Ireland - including Ireland’s Great Houses and Gardens as well as sites such as the Dunbrody Famine Ship and Wicklow Gaol (an interactive jail museum.)
We’ve visited many of these attractions over the years – Newgrange, Clonmacnoise, Rock of Cashel, Hook Head Lighthouse and many of Ireland’s Great Houses and gardens to name a few – and can highly recommend them. No doubt the places we haven’t been are just as brilliant.
One particularly interesting place to visit is Clonmacnoise in Co. Offaly. They say that many of the high kings of Tara and Connacht were buried there. The day we visited was rainy and foggy and, honestly, it was just right for the place as we walked amidst the high crosses and around long-deserted buildings on the grounds.
Another spectacular sight is the Rock of Cashel in Co. Tipperary, which is well worth a visit.
This “Ancient East” initiative will hopefully soon become as successful as the Wild Atlantic Way. Can’t wait to get over to the East Coast to explore every step of the trail.
In the last 10 years, with the worldwide focus on fitness, Ireland has become a destination for adventure racing and endurance events of all types. There are triathlons, cycling and foot races, and many other competitions that test strength and endurance.
Racing in Ireland can be a challenge, given the weather, roads (sometimes decorated with sheep or cows), terrain, mud and more. Last spring, we watched a bicycle race through Mayo in the pouring rain and cold. The riders looked completely miserable as they passed but then we were in Connemara a few days later and the cyclists there beamed in the warmth of the sunshine.
Speaking of Connemara, if you’re a runner, how about taking part in the 15th Annual Connemarathon on Sun., April 10? The race is billed as the biggest athletic event in the West and usually attracts more than 3,000 runners, who can opt for the half, full, or ultra (39.3-mile) course. In 2015, runners from 28 countries participated in this race. For more information, visit connemarathon.com or email email@example.com.
Then there’s the Tour de Conamara bicycle race (riders choose either 140 km or 80 km routes) on Sat., May 28, that starts and finishes in Clifden, Co. Galway. The scenery in this magnificent part of Ireland is so stunning for both of these races that they’re worth attending just to see the countryside.
This is the fourth year for Clare Island’s 24km adventure race which sounds challenging. Only a few places were available as of this writing. For information, visit clareislandadventures.ie. Novices are welcome.
There are a number of other races taking place across Ireland in May, including: The third round of the Emerald Enduro World Series international mountain biking challenge will be in the Wicklow Hills from May 13-15, (biking.ie); Coast to Coast Multisport Race Across Ireland, May 14-15, a cross-border adventure that begins in Enniscrone, Co. Sligo, with participants cycling, paddling, and running, to Newcastle, Co. Down, (26extreme.com) and the Clare Burren Marathon Challenge on May 28, (clareburrenmarathonchallenge.com
Many more adventures and sporting events are listed on the internet, on Tourism Ireland’s website (Ireland.com), and through the Failte Ireland tourist offices in Ireland.
Do you use Ireland’s exceptional train service when you’re there? And, if so, did you know that in the 1966 commemoration of the Easter Rising of 1916, Irish Rail renamed 15 of its stations for the executed leaders?
Included were: Pearse Station (after Padraig and William Pearse, formerly Westland Row); Connolly Station (James Connolly, formerly Amiens Street); Heuston Station (Seán Heuston, formerly Kingsbridge); Cork Kent Station (Thomas Kent); Limerick Colbert Station (Con Colbert); Dun Laoghaire Mallin Station (Michael Mallin); Waterford Plunkett Station (Joseph Plunkett); Galway Ceannt Station (Eamonn Ceannt); Dundalk Clarke Station (Thomas Clarke); Drogheda MacBride Station (John MacBride); Sligo MacDiarmada Station (Seán MacDiarmada); Bray Daly Station (Edward Daly); Wexford O’Hanrahan Station (Michael O’Hanrahan); Kilkenny MacDonagh Station (Thomas MacDonagh) and Tralee Casement Station (Roger Casement.)
Irish Rail has also partnered with the Royal Irish Academy to enable commuters, tourists, and visitors to learn more about those who are memorialized in their stations. Sixteen display panels have been unveiled at Pearse, each of which will also go on display at the station named after each leader around the network.
The displays feature artist David Rooney’s portraits of leaders and information about their lives, taken from the Royal Irish Academy’s “1916 - Portraits and Lives” publication. A code is included in each display so customers can download for free the book chapter dealing with that person. For more information: irishrail.ie
Spring has arrived in Ireland: lambs have been born, flowers have bloomed. In short, this is the most wonderful time of year to visit. Enjoy your stay whenever and wherever you go.