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Posts in ‘Things to do in Ireland’

Ireland: Poetry In Everything

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Ireland inspires superlative, yet you will run out of them very quickly when trying to describe it.  It is an island whose beautiful countryside and long history have inspired more songs and poems than any other place on earth.  The green of this Emerald Isle is not just the colour of its landscape; it is an apt description of a jewel.

There is much to Ireland beyond her scenic wonders.  Ireland’s magic is also largely due to her history and culture.  It is a land of legends and mystery.  There is a story to every rock and glen and even more in the pubs!

Geography & Climate

Liffey River

Ireland has mountains running along most of its coast making a ring around a central plain and several lakes.  It has a number of rivers including the Liffey, Barrow, Boyne, Bann and Shannon which is the longest.  Ireland’s landscape has a range of moods such as wild Donegal, lonely Connemara and the soft, gentle hills of the southeast.  The western coast is famous for its rugged cliffs, islands and beaches.

Ireland has a relatively mild but very changeable climate because of the influence of the Atlantic Ocean, the Irish and the Celtic Seas.

Culture
Irish culture is broadly defined as being Gaelic but it is a combination of influences going back for more than 1200 years.  The Vikings, Normans, Welsh, English and Scots came, stayed and made significant imprints that are distinctively ‘Irish.’  Ireland has contributed mightily to the world but most extensively to literature, theatre and music.  Religion too has a strong sway on the Irish nation.  Thus, leading it to be called, “the island of saints and scholars.”

At almost any given time of the year, there are lively arts, theatre and music festivals in full swing – particularly in Dublin.  At almost every pub you will hear traditional (or “trad”) music full of upbeat jigs, clever lyrics and heart-tugging ballads.

Cities
Without exception Irish cities are beautiful.  They are packed with history, great architecture, pretty houses and winding cobblestoned streets making them sightseers’ and photographers’ treat.  Every city emits a lively atmosphere, has good food, warm, welcoming pubs and festivals aplenty.  The names themselves are poetry to the ears – Dublin, Cork, Kilkenny, Killarney, Galway, Sligo, Waterford, and of course Limerick.

Places to See

cliffs of moher ireland

Ireland has three World Heritage Sites: Brú na Boinne (superb Neolithic monuments), Skellig Michael and the Giant’s Causeway.  There are loads of other fabulous and fascinating locations to check out such as the Cliffs of Moher, the Aran Islands and County Galway.  Ireland is awash (forgive the expression) with impressive forts and castles.  Bunratty Castle, the Rock of Cashel, Holy Cross Abbey and Blarney Castle are just some outstanding structures and historically important. One could go on and on…

Best Time To Visit
Weather-wise, summer of course is the best time to travel to Ireland.  Also because it is the theatre, fashion, arts and music festival season.  However, late spring and early autumn are also lovely times on the island – without the crowds.
Whatever time of year you visit, a must-drink pint of Guinness at a thatched roofed pub; some trad music floating through the air; postcard scenery and you will find the Ireland you came to experience.

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Game of Thrones – A Tourism Tsunami

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For three seasons, the Game of Thrones has been enthralling the world as they follow the often violent and provocative tale of the seven clans engaged in a war to claim the Iron Throne.  The television series has gathered an avid and faithful following interested in all things related to GOT.

As the fourth season of the gripping fantasy tale approaches, public expectation is rising with the release of teaser trailers.  Similar is the case with the interest in the dramatic and beautiful countryside seen on screen. Much of the outdoor shooting has been around the stunning Northern Irish landscape. The brilliant natural backdrop has contributed greatly to the success of the TV series.

So much so that many visitors to Northern Ireland are keen to explore and see for themselves the location and settings where their favourite characters play out their roles.  There are some exceptional, organised tours that do just that.

In fact the most popular tour is run by the company that provided transport to the crew and cast of all four seasons.  Their close association with the television project has given the staff plenty of behind-the-scenes tales about locations and cast for you to feast upon.

The tour will take you out of Belfast, through Antrim and along the Causeway Coastal Route.  There is no better way to be introduced to glorious Ireland.  It is a region of superb natural beauty, which includes beautiful glens, steep, rugged black cliffs and tiny picturesque villages, enhanced by the ever changing colours of the land.

Ballycastle

Ballycastle

The serene little seaside village of Ballycastle is a setting often featured in the Game of Thrones.  The home of Lady Catelyn Stark, Ballycastle’s green and rolling hills overlook a sweeping bay, a sandy beach and a marina populated by colourful bobbing boats.

You then wind your way along a more rugged coastline to the caves of Cushendun, the setting for the birth of the ‘shadow baby.’  However, this beautiful little rocky section of the tour is not as dark and gloomy as the story.

Another memorable stop on the tour is the steeply descending, rocky and timeless Ballintoy Harbour.  Just five miles away from Ballycastle, Ballintoy is the setting for Pyke Harbour featured several times in the Game of Thrones.  The village itself plays the role of Lordsport in the series.

The chalk quarry of Larrybane is featured in the second season of the series and is the setting for Renly Baratheon’s camp and the Stormlands.  The location also has a duelling scene and a meeting between Renly and Lady Stark.  The area comprises of dazzling chalk cliffs and a tight cove just a short distance from Ballintoy Harbour.

Larrybane

Larrybane

The culmination of your trip is a walk along the dramatic and starkly beautiful Giant’s Causeway.  While this amazing place is not part of the Game of Thrones scenery, it should be as it seems to be made to order.

The Game of Thrones has been credited with giving Antrim and Northern Ireland a great deal of favourable publicity.  When you take a trip along the now famous settings you can understand why.

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A Bibliophile’s Guide to Britain & Ireland

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1.    Oxfordshire, England

Oxford University

Explore the rich heritage of the city that has long been a haven for authors, poets as well as dozens of note-worthy journalists, writers, politicians, and artists. As is typical of a university town, Oxford is packed full of great pubs, however unlike most university towns, Oxford’s pubs are famous. The Bear is one of England’s oldest pubs, Tolkien and C. S. Lewis regularly drank at The Eagle and Child, and The Lamb and Flag was frequented by the likes of Thomas Hardy and Graham Greene. Go on a hop on hop off tour to get a genuine flavour of Oxford’s glorious literary past and vibrant present. Visit the hallowed portals of the University which inspired Lewis Carol’s Alice in Wonderland and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy among others. In the University the historic Bodlein Library is one of the oldest and largest libraries in England. 

2.    Bath, England  

Roman thermal spril at Bath

Bath’s most famous resident, Jane Austen set two of her books Northanger Abbey and Persuasion in the city and lived there in the 1800s. Bath has year round events and activities for Austen fans to enjoy. Every summer people dress-up in Regency finery and attend the annual Netherfield Ball to dance like Darcy, Lizzy, Bingley and Jane. In the Fall, Bath holds a nine-day festival celebrating all things Austen. This includes a world famous Grand Regency Costume parade where 600 Austen fans from all over the world descend on Bath in Regency era costumes to open the festival. If you can’t make it for the festival, the Jane Austen Centre is open all year with exhibitions on Austen’s time in this city and a Regency themed Tea Room. While in Bath, be sure to take a dip in its ancient open-air thermal springs like they did in the 18th century. 

3.    Dublin, Ireland

Oscar Wilde statue in Dublin

Dubliners love words and Dublin has given the world such towering literary figures as Joyce, Yeats, Beckett, Shaw and Wilde to name but a few. Designated UNESCO City of Literature in 2010, Dublin’s written tradition stretches back to 800 A.D. with the Book of Kells, one of the most beautifully illuminated manuscripts in the world on display at Trinity College Dublin. One Merrion Sqaure is the home of Oscar Wilde, a beautiful example of Georgian architecture restored to an approximate version of their appearance in Oscar’s day and can only be visited on a guided tour. Across the road, is a flamboyant statue of the man himself, reclining on a huge granite stone seemingly without a care in the world! Prose and pints go together in this city which has produced four Nobel Prize laureates in Literature. Participate in the popular Literary Pub Crawl on the cobbled streets of Dublin which promises to give you “the pleasant notion of simultaneously replacing brain cells as you drown them…” 

4.   London, England

London at dusk

London has cemented its reputation as the culture capital of the world and for good reason. A bibliophile or an aspiring writer can spend a lifetime in London and still not see everything! For Londoners and tourists there are all kinds of walks to trace the literary legacy of some of English language’s greatest writers from Chaucer to Dickens, Shakespeare to Virginia Woolf, J.K. Rowling to Arthur Conan Doyle who have lived in London or been inspired by the city at some point in their life. Though an obvious choice to include, The British Library cannot be denied by bookworms. It houses one-of-a-kind manuscripts including hand-written excerpts from Beowulf, King Henry IV and many more. A highlight is Jane Austen’s personal notebook as well as her writing desk. The mix of the old and the new is what captivates thousands of visitors. No literary buff's educational adventure would be complete without taking a tour of the fashionable Bloomsbury area in the London Borough of Camden. It's a great way to learn the literary history of the neighbourhood. The Lamb bar and pub in the heart of Bloomsbury district has long been frequented by Charles Dickens, Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. Another landmark is the Charles Dickens Museum, where the permanent exhibition is a representation of what the house looked like while Dickens resided there and is home to an extensive collection of surviving possessions. 

5.   Edinburgh, Scotland 

Edinburgh Old Town

Edinburgh has been the home of many well respected and popular writers such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Walter Scott, Robert Burns and Arthur Conan Doyle; along with contemporary authors J.K. Rowling, Ian Rankin, Irvine Welsh and Alexander McCall Smith. Edinburgh's streets are steeped in literary history and there is never a dearth of inspiration in this awe-inspiring Scottish capital. In the centre of Edinburgh is St Andrew Square, Edinburgh's Poetry Garden where you can float poetry written on paper lotus across the square's pond and make it part of the garden permanently. A must see for Pottermaniacs is The Elephant House, a gourmet tea and coffee shop, where J.K. Rowling wrote much of her early novels in the back room overlooking the Edinburgh Castle. Walk down the West Port street in Edinburgh’s Old Town which features taverns that have opened their doors to William Wordsworth, Robert Burns and Walter Scott. An essential part of Scottish culture are these pubs and taverns where famous literary figures would go and mix with the common people over Scottish ales and whiskies.

6.    Stratford-Upon-Avon, England

Anne Hathaway childhood home

This delightful little town is famous as the birthplace of England’s greatest poet and playwright, William Shakespeare. Home to the Royal Shakespeare Company, five historic houses linked to the Bard and a wealth of other tourist attractions, there is a lot to see in this Heritage city. Visit the house where the world’s most famous playwright was born and grew up. Tour Mary Arden's House, the childhood home of Shakespeare's mother and learn about Tudor life on Palmer’s Farm, an experience that transports visitor’s back to the 1570’s. Also visit the picturesque family home of Anne Hathaway where young Shakespeare courted his future bride Anne. Watch a play at the historic Royal Shakespeare Theatre situated on the western bank of river Avon. The best time to visit Stratford is between April and July when there are plenty of festivals, parades, concerts, and workshops for young and old to take part in.

7.    Wales, England

Medieval castle ruins in Wales countryside

2014 marks the centenary of the Welsh poet, author and legend Dylan Thomas. Explore the vast seascapes, village tracks, dusky moorlands, brimming meadows and lush parklands that have inspired his works. At the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea, see the permanent exhibition, ‘Man and Myth’ which includes Dylan Thomas' worksheets, recordings, artwork and even the suit Dylan wore in New York in 1953, the year he died. They also conduct the annual Dylan Thomas Festival that takes place each year from 27th October to 9th of November. Social historian Raymond Williams often embedded his work in Wales and Welsh cultural themes. Malcome Pryces noir novels set in Aberystwyth, Eve Green by Susan Fletcher and The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle have all used Wales as a setting. 

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Experiencing St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland

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Experiencing St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland

St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Saturday this year, giving you a great chance to get away for the weekend and experience an authentic St. Patrick’s Day, and other fantastic adventures that only Ireland has to offer.

1.) Cut Loose the Irish Way

The St. Patrick’s Day Festival:

The St. Patrick’s Day Fesitval is a great way to experience authentic Irish culture on such a special holiday. The festival takes place in Dublin and is known to last for around four days (this year it begins Friday March 16 and ends Monday March 19).

st-patricks-day-festival2

Some of the world’s best street performers and musicians can be found on Dublin’s streets during these four days. Also be on the look out for some great free concerts, with local and international bands, along with great theatre performances and even a Russian spectacular show.

The Guinness Brewery & Storehouse:

Another great way to celebrate Ireland and its fantastic pub culture is to partake in the Guinness Brewery & Storehouse experience, home to Ireland’s most beloved beer- the Guinness Draught. The brewery, located in Dublin since 1759, is a key contributor to Guinness’s 2 billion dollar a year revenue. The tour includes several floors to experience the history behind Guinness, with even a glass pint-shaped atrium tribute to the Guinness “black stuff”. Tours of the brewery usually finish up at the Gravity Bar, a bar with a 360 degree panoramic view of Dublin situated atop the famed storehouse.

800px-guinness_storehouse

2.) Get Your Irish Knowledge On!

Although you may know the origin and story of St. Patrick’s Day, other cultural and historical tales from Ireland are important and interesting ways to enhance your trip. There are many castles, monuments and sites to be seen that hold signifigant value to the Irish people, but the Tomb of Newgrange is certainly one of the coolest.

The Tomb of Newgrange:

The Tomb of Newgrange is one of the oldest historical sites in the world, dating back before Stonehenge and even the pyramids of Giza. Although called a tomb, there’s still no official account for what the site was used for, although many believe it was connected with burial rituals and the Winter Solstice. What IS known about the historical structure is that it dates all the way back to the Neolithic period and is considered Ireland’s greatest national monument.

799px-newgrange1

The tomb resembles a giant mound with alternate layers of stones and grass to make up the outter structure of the building. The tomb has three small rooms, which all connect to the one main room. Rock slabs line the walls of the tomb, along with a slab centered in the middle of the room, which the bones of the deceased are believed to be laid. The Neolithic abstract art of carved swirls and shapes only add to the mysterious beauty of the tomb.

3.) Find the Beauty of Ireland

Part of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day is by embracing the Irish culture and the beauty of Ireland. No better place can this be achieved than Ireland’s coast, which offers several mesmerizing landmarks and sites that will surely enhance and enrich your trip. Beautiful hills, valleys and look out points scatter the 120 mile long route known as the Causeway Coastal. Although the route has many stops, the most famous of them defintely belongs to the Giant Causeway.

The Giant Causeway:

Located in Northern Ireland in Antrim County The Giant Causeway is the biggest tourist attraction in all of Ireland. The Giant Causeway is primarily known for its basalt stepping stones and 40,000 chimney stack columns which slowly descend into the sea, giving it the title of the fourth greatest natural wonder in the United Kingdom. The Causeway was created some 50 million years ago, when the Antrim coast was subjected to intense volcanic activity.

Many legends surround the Causeway, with the most popular focusing on the Irish warrior Finn McCool, who outwit and frightened his enemy Benandonner, who fled from McCool and destroyed the Causeway in his flight. The Giant Causeway can be seen as a jump off point for a truly exciting road trip all along Ireland’s coast, with many more memorable stops on the way.

giantscauseway1

The Glens of Antrim

The nine Glens of Atrim is more inland than the Giant Causeway, but is defintely worth the ride. The nine Glens of Atrim is named after the nine lords from the 13th century and is a prime example of beautiful green rolling hills and lush flowers that call Ireland home.

main-glenariff

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Giants Causeway During the Winter

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There’s no question why people flock to Northern Ireland to visit Giant’s Causeway.  With the natural beauty of the basalt columns arranged in a unique hexagonal patterns, looking out over the sea and distant landscapes, this natural beauty and geological wonder has gotten international attention and praise for years.  Due to the geography, Northern Ireland is sometimes best to visit in the warmer months, to make hiking and water sports possible.  Lately though, we’ve been finding that even during these months where the nights are progressively getting colder, travelers still are wanting to visit the Causeway.  Now, we know it’s breathtakingly beautiful, but still a little thrown on the high volume of visitors we decided to take a closer look at why Giant’s Causeway is desirable all year round.

ancient-castle giants-causeway-rope-bridgeFirst, as long as you have proper apparel to keep yourself warm, most of the outdoor activities are still within reach, walking along the infamous columns, crossing over the rope bridges, exploring around ancient castles and the rocky shores.

But if you’re looking to enjoy the warm and cozy qualities of Northern Ireland and the Giant’s Causeway, you’re in luck!  With multiple different trains to take you on a scenic rail ride, you can stay out of the cold while still enjoying this spectacular stretch of land.  In addition to great and unique shopping, the area is known for having luxury spas, so if you did explore the outdoor opportunities (or just because you want to be pampered!) you can reward yourself with all natural treatments that are common in Northern Ireland.

The area offers a wide variety of museums as well, many of which are great for kids and families.  And finally, you can’t forget about the charming localities with numerous pubs that are just as delicious as they are welcoming. ireland-pub

Don’t let the weather scare you off from an area that is beautiful all year round, Giant’s Causeway has proved to become a hot-spot for tourists 365 days a year.

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