The little northern nation has been fighting for independence for eons. Ancient times saw Celtic peoples settle on the island, but by the 8th century the invasions began—first by the Norsemen, which took over 100 years to oust, then in the 12th century, by the Englishmen next door. Ireland has been defined by the struggle between the Irish and the Brits that has ensued ever since, now nine centuries later. In 1916, the Easter Monday rebellion launched a violent struggle by the Irish to gain control over the island. In 1921, modern Ireland was born when 26 central and southern counties gained independence from the UK (The Republic of Ireland). For the next seven decades, violence continued, particularly between Catholics and Protestants, but is now settling into a peace.
Getting to and Around Ireland
Try Zoom Airlines for a deal: currently it only flies into Belfast, but getting from their to just about anywhere else in Ireland creates no problem. Car rental, bus or internal flights by Ryan Air, or any other super-cheap discount airline, make travel across the island very easy. Ferries to and from Ireland make travel very doable from other European locations. Flying time from Central Canada to Ireland is about 6.5 hours.
What to Do and See in Ireland
Flheads, the Irish word for “festival”: There’s no doubt about it—the Irish love to play, and not just their fiddles. There are many flheadhs throughout the year right across Ireland—in villages, towns, counties and cities—and they offer the best chance to hear all kinds of music, especially master fiddlers play. Others to keep in mind are: the Cork Jazz Festival in the city of Cork, one of the best in Europe; the Wexford; and the daddy of ’em all (if you have an ounce of Irish in you or love of the pint!), the St. Patrick’s Day Festivals in March that boom across ireland, especially in Dublin, where it can last for four days.
Road Tripping the Castles: Much of Ireland is landscape, and much of it is dotted by castles, manors and estates that tell of times past. Trim Castle in County Meath, both Dunluce and Carrickfergus castles in County Antrim, Birr Castle in central Ireland, and Enniskillen Castle on the River Erne are highlights. And transformed into hotels, Dromoland, Leslie and Ashford castles are just three of the many where you can be queen for a day.
Walks & Treks: There are scores of overland walks around Ireland—Connemara, Kerry and Dingle are but a few. Outfitter SouthWest Walks is very helpful, offering a detailed and accurate itinerary, and can arrange all your accommodations on route. Go to www.southwestwalksireland.com for more info.
The Pub: Ireland is known for its popular and feisty pub culture. In most places at least one pub has a traditional music session during the evening, where you can experience live music by just walking through the door. Pubs generally serve good food, and kids are welcome until 7 p.m., because that’s the law. (In reality they do stay all night.)
Places to Go in Ireland
The Dingle Peninsula: Do the Dingle Way Walk, climb Mount Brandon, go diving off the stunning Dingle Coast, see the famous dolphin, venture over to the remote Blasket Islands off te tip of Slea Head, see ancient beehive huts at the tip of the peninsula, surf at Maharees beach on the North Coast.
The best accommodations are at B&Bs, where the locals treat you like long lost family, and are more than happy to share their abundant stories over a pint.
The Ring of Kerry: Not far from Dingle is nearly 180 km of coastal highway that both stars and ends in Killarney, and follows the bluffs of the Iveragh Peninsula. Quite possibly the best that driving, or cycling, can ever be.