Top Ten Reasons Why Tourists Love Ireland

I count amongst the millions of people worldwide, who simply love Ireland.  My deep feelings of connection are understandable, since I was born in Dublin.

However, after living in America for over twenty years, I have come to realize, many who have never even set foot on Irish soil, feel the same affinity for our little island.

Irish Scenery Collage

Many reasons explain why we love Ireland.  I suppose every tourist holds in their heart a very personal and special reason why they make the journey across the miles to visit the Emerald Isle.

And I am quite certain some visitors leave Ireland perplexed, unable to figure out what all this Irish, nostalgic hoopla is all about.

And so, in today’s post I thought I would explore the great big WHY.

 

Why do so many hold Ireland dear to their hearts?

 

I have browsed through numerous posts on the internet where reasons to love Ireland are eloquently listed.  I found some focused too much, on what I consider superficial reasons, such as the pubs and the Guinness.

Now don’t get me wrong, Guinness is a fine Irish product and its invention is plenty reason to admire Ireland and the Irish, but in my book, Ireland’s magic springs from a deeper, more spiritual place.

And so, without further ado, here are my top ten reasons, why I think tourists love Ireland.

Irish Animals Collage

 

1. Our Own Unique Music

 

I must confess Irish music makes my heart swell with joy.  Every time I hear the rhythmic beat of a reel or a jig, I take a deep breath, my insides do a little somersault, and my foot inevitably begins to tap.  I don’t know if this is a reflexive expression of my Irish genes, or just sheer appreciation for the vitality of this passionate music form. I truly believe Irish music is a deeply resonant and beautiful expression of our unique culture.

For a country as small as Ireland, it’s amazing how far and wide our music has reached.  Irish dancing classes are taught as far afield as China, which for me is evidence of the uplifting qualities of our tunes.

Most tourists to Ireland take time to enjoy at least one traditional Irish music session at some point on their itinerary.  The moment a listener makes the vital decision to join in, magic happens.

By clapping those hands and tapping those toes, visitors experience the rich and intricate combinations of notes and rhythms, at a spiritual level. Irish music can simply stir the soul.

 

2. Festivals:

 

Ireland is a land of festivals especially during the summer months. With a little planning tourists are sure to find a festival of interest celebrating everything from the arts, architecture, fashion, film, food, literature, music, theatre, and much, much more.

I know you think I’ve lost my marbles by including festivals in this list. At first glance these festivals may appear to be tourist traps. But that is far from the case.

Festivals are part of who we are as a people, part of the tapestry of our wonderful, cultural history. Our Celtic forefathers celebrated the seasons with four distinct festivals. Their social lives revolved around fairs and markets held during these carnivals.

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries fairs and marts were held at regular intervals throughout the year, and were highly anticipated by native Irish people. Dancing, drinking and revelry accompanied the more mundane tasks of paying the rent and selling farm animals and produce.  Coming together to connect and to celebrate is part of who we are as a people.

Irish festivals are all about interaction, where the depth and uniqueness of individual Irish characters are waiting to be discovered. Irish people seldom strive for commonality, but revel in the diversity of their individuality. At an Irish festival you meet a cohort of characters unmatched anywhere in the world. Festival goers possess a love of stories, talk and music, a deep-seated wildness, and above all else, an affinity for fun, or what we Irish call ‘divilment’.

http://www.irishamericanmom.com/2013/01/11/why-are-irish-americans-so-captivated-by-ireland/

 

3. A Hundred Thousand Welcomes:

 

“Céad míle fáilte” is one of the most loved Irish expressions worldwide, and it literally means a hundred thousand welcomes. Irish people are very proud of the welcome they extend to visitors.  Now I hope I’m not painting a picture of smiling leprechauns greeting you with a canned “Top of the Morning” salutation at the airport.

No!  Ireland’s welcome is more subtle.  It revolves around a chat, a friendly nod, a reserved inquisitiveness. A lady I met on a plane when I was returning to America once told me:

 

“Ireland feels like a dear old friend.”

 

 

I love this description, and I truly hope visitors feel welcomed home by their dear friend, Ireland.

 

4. Peace and Tranquility:

 

The moment I set foot on Irish soil, an overwhelming sense of calm and peace, overcomes me. I always think of Yeats’ poem The Lake Isle of Inishfree.

 

“And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a-glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.”

 

 

Ireland offers true quietness for those who seek tranquility. I believe it is one of the best countries in the world to relax and unwind. Remote and romantic, Ireland offers a laid-back charm, with a unique sense of place.

The sound of silence in rural Ireland is unparalleled. For me, it is a hymn to the surrounding landscape and magnificent scenery.

Even when the rain falls in bucketfuls, as is so apt to happen, it simply takes an evening sitting by an open fire for real warmth and peace to transform the soul. The scent of a turf fire, appreciated from the comfort of a welcoming chair, is simply magic.

History All Around in Ireland

 

5. History All Around:

 

In Ireland, the old and the new co-mingle with grace. Our ancient past is evident nearly everywhere through our history, music, art, and architecture.

In America 100 years is considered “old”. But in Ireland one hundred year old buildings are considered modern additions.  In every small town and village visitors encounter sites much older than historical landmarks found in America

To sum it up, Ireland is steeped in history, and that history is evident everywhere you go. Ireland’s first known settlement began way back in 8,000 BC.  Newgrange, is older than the pyramids. The land boasts ancient castles, dolmens, burial tombs, arched bridges, round towers, and monastic ruins, dotted here and there throughout the countryside.

Preservation of our history is no accident. Reverence for ancient sites is inherent in some Irish souls.  Farmers plough in circles around ancient monuments, afraid to disturb the memory of long lost ancestors. Museums are frequented by both young and old, eager and willing to learn and preserve our country’s fascinating past.

 

6. Folklore and Stories:

 

Rest assured a story awaits you in Ireland. From tour guides to barmen, shop keepers to farmers, everyone treasures stories of our recent history and distant past.  Ireland’s charm is wrapped in myths and legends.

Our stories are filled with heroic warriors, deadly goddesses and trouble-making supernatural creatures. Folk tales from mainland Europe focus more on fairy godmothers, talking animals and, of course, wicked stepmothers. A few colleens with a severe lack of maternal instinct also feature in Irish myths, but in contrast to the Hans Christian Anderson variety of fairy tale, the Irish ones are filled with romance and tragedy, ghosts and other worldly beings. To tell you the truth, some of these tales would frighten the life out of a child today. But these stories are part of who we are, and feature regularly on tourist trails.

Once when we visited Donegal, we took a boat cruise on Dunlewey Lake. The tour guide told stories of all the mythical creatures and ghosts surrounding the lake. My American children were enthralled.

No banal, politically correct tales to be heard in Ireland, but in their stead thrilling sagas of ancient warriors, saints, sinners, and lingering spirits.

Who cannot love this superstitious land?

The Beauty of Ireland's Coastline

 

7. The Coast And The Islands:

 

Ireland may be a small country, but as an island, she boasts a great expanse of rugged beauty along her winding, and sometimes treacherous coastline.  I grew up on the coast, with views of Dublin Bay at the end of our road. The sound of waves and howling winds are part of my childhood. Living in Kentucky, I miss the sea, wind swept gales, Atlantic sunsets, and the sheer beauty of Ireland’s coastline.

From Howth to the Giant’s Causeway, Malin Head to Mizen Head, the Cliffs of Moher and all the wonderful spots along the Wild Atlantic Way, I truly believe this island’s magnificent coastline, is one of its finest attributes.

 

8. The Scenery:

 

During the many years I have lived in America, I have often been asked:

 

“Is Ireland as beautiful as it seems in photos?”

 

And the answer to this question is a simple and resounding “yes”.

To be honest, Ireland’s scenery must be seen to be believed. It is even more beautiful than it appears in any photo or postcard. No image does Ireland justice. Even cloudy skies coordinate magnificently with mythical stones and ancient ruins.

When the sun doesn’t cooperate, Ireland’s beauty still shines.  Around every twist and turn of Ireland’s winding roads, awaits yet another new reason to smile.

 

Irish Food Collage 2

9. Irish Food:

 

In previous posts, I have waxed poetically about the glories of Irish food, and I still make no apologies for Irish food.  Traditional Irish food is hearty and wholesome, comforting and filling.

Irish dishes provide healthy helpings of meat, oodles of veggies and, of course, the pride of every Irish mother’s table, potatoes.  After a spoonful of Irish stew, or a warming bowl of potato and leek soup, it will be easy to understand why I rate Irish food so highly

My advice for tourists is to dig into a plate of bacon and cabbage, savor our brown bread, and treat yourself to a full Irish breakfast. You’ll leave Ireland understanding how simple, wholesome food feeds the soul.

 

10. Irish Pride:

 

And last, but not least, comes Irish pride. We Irish live and breathe our heritage.  From a very young age, we learn our history through myth and legend.  For centuries we clung to our culture, even when our conquerors tried to strip us of our heritage. This Irish pride has been carried by generations to the four corners of the world.

But when you visit Ireland you will learn the subtle differences in our heritage and how our cultural inheritance changes from county to county. A tourist’s experience in the Burren in County Clare is vastly different from the memories created in County Donegal, but everywhere you go on this little island, you will be enthralled by the pride people feel in their local village, town, and county. History and heritage survive, because Irish people choose not only to remember the past but to practice old traditions with pride.

 

And so I hope this little list, will help you understand why you may already love Ireland, or if you plan to visit the Emerald Isle in the near future, it will help you understand you too may be at risk of falling in love with Ireland.  If you think of another reason to love Ireland, why not join in our discussion in the comment section below.

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

 

 

Irish American Mom

 

The Wild Atlantic Way

Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way stretches from West Cork to Donegal, hugging the rugged coastline. Around every twist and turn of its rural roads, tourists can experience some of the most spectacular scenery in the whole wide world.

So many words come to mind when trying to describe the sheer magnificence of this scenery – wild, untamed, breath-taking, dramatic, dazzling, and dare I say it, the Wild Atlantic Way is just plain awesome.

Anyway, enough of the descriptors. Here’s a sneak peak of Ireland’s wondrous, western coastline.  This infographic was beautifully crafted by the good folks at Emerald Elite Travel. I love their specially chosen photos of some of the highlights along the route.

 

And so welcome to the longest defined coastal drive in the world……..

 

Ireland Wild Atlantic Way Infographic

Image Courtesy of Emerald Elite Group

Here’s to creating wonderful memories along the Wild Atlantic Way. Wishing everyone happy travels in Ireland.

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

 

Irish American Mom

Memories Of Secret Coves, Hidden Steps and Pirate Queens

On the hill of Howth in north County Dublin a secret pirate cove awaits would-be explorers, daring enough to descend one hundred and ninety-nine steps carved out of the sheer cliff face.

In my post today, I once again hope to take you off the beaten path, and help you discover some of Ireland’s hidden treasures.

199 Steps In Howth

When I was a little girl growing up in Dublin, my grand aunt loved weekend outings with all my cousins in tow. One of our favorite hang outs was on the beach at the bottom of the “199 steps” in Howth.

My cliff stair collage above shows how these stone steps are carved out of the cliff, winding their way from the shore to Howth summit.

Looking Towards the Bailey Lighthouse Howth

This is Grace O’Malley territory. The famous Irish pirate queen visited Howth on many occasions.

My grandaunt loved to tell us this very cove was where Grace O’Malley always came ashore in Howth. Considering Grace O’Malley, or Granuaile in Irish (pronounced Graw-nea-wale) lived between the years 1530 and 1603, the truth of this tall tale may never be known.

Undeterred my grandaunt relayed stories of pirates working by torch light to hack and cut 199 steps from the rocky cliff face, to allow their pirate queen ascend to Howth’s summit undetected by the English.

Looking Down At the Cove Below 199 Steps in Howth

We loved to wind our way along the cliff path in search of the first step to this secret pirate cove. We looked down from on high dreaming of Grace’s lost treasure, just waiting behind some rock for our eager eyes to find.

Steps Leading to a Hidden Beach in Howth

Last summer I rediscovered these secret steps with my children.

Once I told them of potential pirate treasure, they made quick work of navigating the treacherous steps.

Grace O'Malley's Secret Cove in Howth

A sense of mystery and magic awaits on the rocky shore below.

Barnacle covered rock

You can easily imagine the pirate queen herself standing on top of this barnacle covered rock issuing orders to her crew of Mayo men.

A Strange Rock on an Irish Shore

This strange rock has not shifted since I was a little girl.

I imagined a big, strong pirate flung the smaller red rock across the beach with such force that it lodged into the larger boulder.

I’m certain there’s a perfectly sound geological explanation for this rock formation, but let’s face it, nothing beats a good pirate story.

Ireland's Shoreline - Rocky Beaches

This is no sandy beach. Shoes are definitely required for pebble covered shores…..

Seaweed Covered Rocks

……. and seaweed strewn rocks.

Searching for Pirate's Treasure

My kiddos were convinced Grace O’Malley’s treasure lay beneath the large rocks at the base of these cliffs. I spent hours as a child climbing those very rocks. In four decades they don’t seem to have budged even an inch.

The Beach Below 199 Steps in Howth

A small row boat could easily have been maneuvered close to the rocky shore at this very point, allowing the brave Grace reach dry land. 

O’Malley’s connections to Howth are not just part of my late grandaunt’s vivid imagination.

In 1576 Grace O’Malley tried to call upon Lord Howth at his castle only to be informed the family was at dinner and she was not a welcome guest.

 

Dublin Ferry From the Beach in Howth

This rejection did not sit well with the bold Grace. The Lord of Howth soon felt the full brunt of this pirate queen’s wrath, when she abducted his grandson and heir.

The terms of the child’s release included a promise from Lord Howth to keep the gates of his castle open to unexpected visitors, and to always set an extra place at every meal.

This pledge is still honored at Howth Castle to this very day, with an extra place setting laid at table.  I wonder if Grace’s ghost ever inspects the distance between the knife and fork.

This ferry passed as we roamed the shoreline, following in the wake of pirate vessels from years gone by. What a day, imagining ghosts and pirates roaming around searching for treasure.

199 Steps in Howth

And so, after an energetic day playing on a secret pirate cove in Howth, the long trek upward and homeward began. There are no cable cars or lifts to take treasure hunters back to the cliff top. The only way home is to shift one foot after the other until all 199 steps are finally surmounted.

For anyone interested in a stiff climb to a secret (or not-so-secret anymore) cove, access to the 199 steps lies on the left hand side of the cliff as you walk out the headland towards the Bailey Lighthouse. That’s all the information I’m willing to part with, and if you can’t find it, perhaps you’ll find the way on an old pirate treasure map.

Wishing you all happy trails, discovering your very own hidden Ireland.

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

 

 

Irish American Mom

 

Irish Fireside – A Wonderful Website For Planning A Trip To Ireland

Irish Fireside is a warm and welcoming website, where you can explore all that Ireland has to offer from the comfort of your own home. 

From Ireland’s ancient past to current day festivals and fairs, Irish Fireside provides a wealth of information, especially about some of Ireland’s lesser known sites.

Evening Over Lough Derg, County Tipperary Image Credit

Irish Fireside’s Creators:

 

Corey Taratuta is a freelance writer and designer, and his partner Liam Hughes provides private tours of Ireland from his cottage in County Tipperary.  Here’s what they say about their writing and photography:

 

“We created this site for anyone dreaming about Ireland.

So sit back, relax, and explore as we share our insight

into the Emerald Isle’s destinations, culture,

and items of interest to the Irish diaspora.”

 

This is not a typical tourist website, with emphasis on Ireland’s famous attractions. Instead you can take a visual and informative tour through the Irish countryside, visiting castles and ruins, ancient ring forts and dolmens, without ever setting foot on an airplane.

 

Benbulben, County Sligo Image Credit

I receive many e-mails and messages on Facebook from readers asking advice on how to plan a trip to Ireland.  I love to share stories about my childhood memories of Ireland, and trips I have taken when home, but my site is more of a ramble through Ireland and America, not an in-depth resource for tourists.

And so where do I send my readers who are planning a trip to the Emerald Isle?  To Irish Fireside of course. Corey’s and Liam’s blog posts have helped me on numerous occasions to answer many readers’ questions. Thanks guys for such a wide variety of topics and interesting reports and podcasts.

Climbing to the Beehive Cluster on Skellig MichaelImage Credit

Ireland Travel Kit:

 

Tourists flock to Ireland’s more well-known attractions such as the Ring of Kerry and the Cliffs of Moher, but at Irish Fireside they know Ireland has much, much more to offer. To meet the needs of inquisitive tourists, their Ireland Travel Kit takes you where many have not gone before. The folks at Irish Fireside gathered the best Irish travel experts and bloggers to take you to “Ireland’s unique, off-beat, and often-missed sites”.

Here’s what they say:

 

“We love enchanted fairy forts, trinket-laden holy wells, and eerie graveyards.

The nearby dolmen holds our attention, as does the local music session.

We can’t resist haunted pubs, beloved movie locations, and shops run by colorful locals.”

 

I highly recommend the interactive map, where you can click on icons to explore Ireland’s hidden gems. Truly, this tool is invaluable for tourists wishing to explore hidden Ireland.

Irish Fireside - Best Blog of the Irish DiasporaImage Credit

Awards and Recognition:

 

In 2013 Irish Fireside was named the Best Blog of the Diaspora by Blog Awards Ireland. The blog has been recognized by Lonely Planet and GoOverseas.

Sunrise over Irish fieldsImage Credit

Photo Albums:

 

The contributors at Irish Fireside share many of their photographs on Flickr, creatively organizing their shots into photo albums.

I cannot thank them enough for uploading their stunning photos with a creative commons license, allowing bloggers like me to use them, once credit is linked back to their original images.

These amazing shots I used for today’s post all come from Irish Fireside’s albums. Thanks guys for doing such a fantastic job, helping people discover and fall in love with Ireland.

View from the Blackstones Bridge, County KerryImage Credit

Where To Find Irish Fireside:

You can follow Irish Fireside on:

Facebook

Twitter

and on Pinterest.

I hope you find all the tidbits and facts you long to know about Ireland on one of these extensively researched resources from Irish Fireside.

Wishing everyone happy and informative travel planning.

 

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

 

Irish American Mom

The Beaches Of Ards Friary, County Donegal

Ards Friary, with its spectacular grounds and beaches, lies on the edge of Sheephaven Bay, and boasts magnificent Donegal scenery. Here you find wooded trails and coastline paths, just begging to be explored.

www.irishamericamom.com

I was sorting through some of my photos from our trip to Donegal last summer. I took some lovely, sunny shots mid-July, when the sun nearly split the stones in Ireland, much to the delight of all the locals.

One advantage of being married to a Donegal man is that he knows his home county’s hidden hideaways. We can always get off the beaten path to find a perfect spot for fun in the sun.

Looking across Sheephaven Bay from Ards Friary

When Donegal’s big beaches are crowded on a a sunny summer day, my hubby takes us straight to a quiet secluded strand, far from the madding crowd.

Sandy Beach in Ards Friary, Co. Donegal, Ireland

Last summer we found a beautiful sandy beach in Ards Forest Park near Creeslough. We spent the day soaking up the rays of the usually infrequently seen Donegal sun.

IMG_1905

Ards Forest Park and Friary is a haven of peace and tranquility. This woodland gem, with miles of walking tracks and secret little coves and beaches, is a truly refreshing getaway. I would go so far as to say this little enclave boasts some of the most beautiful scenery in Ireland.

Sheephaven Bay, Creeslough, Co. Donegal, Ireland

The varied landscape just makes the heart sing with happiness, strolling past sandy shores, grassy dunes, cliffs, salt marshes and beautiful woodlands.

IMG_1968

Donegal’s rugged coastline looks its very best on a sunny day beneath blue, cloudless skies.

IMG_1899

My kids were so happy to be here, they declared –

“This place is better than Florida.”

 

I wonder if they would vote for Donegal over Florida on a typical rainy summer’s day.

IMG_1912

No beach rentals to be found in this neck of the woods. If you need a deck chair, you better lug it along yourself. This is going to the shore Irish style.

IMG_1921

We walked about a mile along the coast to find a secluded beach that simply took our breath away.

IMG_1923

No crowds to deal with here. Just a few sunbathers scattered across the sands, and sail boats bobbing in the water.

IMG_1957

Airplanes heading westwards towards America passed overhead. The kids delighted in spotting contrails in the clear blue sky.

IMG_1928

A glorious day was had by all swimming in the cold waters of the Atlantic. Never be deceived by an Irish sunny day. The water is always freezing, no matter how hot the day may be.

IMG_1964

And don’t forget the sunscreen!!!

My crew have luminous Irish skin, that burns to a crisp in double quick time.

IMG_1967

And so, if you fancy a day building sandcastles in the sun, Ards Forest Park is the perfect getaway. Ireland’s beaches are simply breathtaking.  All we need is a little sunshine, to truly confirm the Emerald Isle is a little slice of heaven.

Here’s hoping Ireland’s summer in 2014 will be as good or even better than last year. Wishing Ireland’s tourists happy, sunny days in the months ahead.

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

 

 

Irish American Mom