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Destination Ireland

stampThe magical green of Ireland literally glistens on its rain-drenched countryside and cliffs. Basking in ancient history, it is a place of mystical legends, castles, literature, music and spirituality. The well-known warmth of the Irish beckons us to pubs, B&Bs and fireside storytelling sessions, while winding roads, age-old towns, sheep and cows capture the allure of the Irish countryside. It’s easy to be overwhelmed with so many notable sights to see, so we’ve chosen a few favorites on and off the beaten path to get you started on your Irish journey.

Cathedral Quarter – Belfast’s New Cultural District

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Currently undergoing a resurgence similar to Dublin’s Temple Bar in the 1990s, the Cathedral Quarter has become the coolest destination in Belfast. Located near the University of Ulster and historic St. Anne’s Cathedral, its cobbled streets are home to a dynamic scene of art, music, architecture and nightlife. The annual festival, held in the spring, showcases concerts, poetry, performance art and even a circus. Pubs have held court in the area for years, and are now joined by popular restaurants and clubs.

Enniskillen, Northern Ireland – Laced with History

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During the great potato blight that ravaged Ireland in the 1840s, nuns taught women the fine art of crochet to help save families from famine. Intricate designs made Irish lace world famous, as family motifs became closely guarded secrets. The charming Sheelin Lace Museum proudly displays and sells this antique Irish heritage, while castles, caves, lakes, mansions and monastic sites around Enniskillen entertain those who want to see more.

If you’re not interested in crafts, you can explore any number of fascinating sites in and around the city.

Enniskillen Castle: A medieval castle that later became an English fort and then a military garrison.

Castle Coole: A neo-classical mansion of the Earls of Belmore with intact servants’ quarters in the basement and a wooded park.

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Florence Court: An 18th-century home of the Earls of Eniskillen featuring vistas, walks and a walled garden.

Marble Arch Caves: A collection of subterranean caves

Devinish Island: A 6th-century monastic site that includes ruins, gravesites and a splendidly preserved round tower to climb.

Fishing in Lough Erne: A lake famous for pike, bream, perch, tench, eel and rudd.

Skellig Michael – Magical Monastery at Sea

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Built on sheer cliff walls atop a steep, rocky island in 588 AD, an ancient monolith rises out of the Atlantic not far from southwest Ireland’s famous Ring of Kerry. Immersed in spiritual austerity, this striking medieval monastic complex and World Heritage Site illuminates the isolated way of life practiced by early Christian monks. Not easily accessed, it requires a boat trip and a climb of more than 600 corkscrew stairs—but a sense of the remote divine makes it well worth the pilgrimage.

Kyteler’s Inn, Kilkenny – A Witch’s Brew

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The founder of the Kyteler's Inn that still bears her name, Dame Alice Kyteler built quite a reputation in her time. Fashioning her house as a place of “merrymaking and good cheer,” she amassed considerable fortune and survived four husbands. Later condemned to burn at the stake in a witchcraft trial in 1324, she escaped. More stories, homemade foods and a delicious Irish stew beckon at this warm and timeless medieval tavern.

Irish Pubs

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At the core of Irish social life, the pub is like a second home for people to gather, relax, socialize, eat a bite and drink a pint. Many serve economical and local fare. Pubs of all variety are typically open from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. on weekdays, and until 12:30 a.m. on weekends. Those with music routinely stay open until 2 a.m. Whichever type of pub you choose, you’ll be able to make yourself at home and have a pint of Guinness.

Dublin and Beyond – A Day at the Races

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The first recorded steeplechase took place in 18th-century Ireland as a cross-country horse race between church steeples, which served as prominent landmarks. Horse breeding, riding and racing are a proud heritage in Ireland. Five racecourses alone inhabit the Dublin area, while County Kildare boasts over 150 stud farms and three premier racetracks. National hunt racing (involving obstacles and jumping) and flat racing (unobstructed racing) are held throughout the year at Ireland’s 26 courses.

Waymarked Walks – Ireland on Foot

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Ireland’s distinct beauty can be most appreciated with an amble through the famous green countryside. More than 30 designated National Waymarked Ways meander around the island, showcasing diverse scenery. These long-distance, self-guided walking trails are suitable for walkers of all ages (and abilities) as day excursions or multiple-day forays. A grading system informs walkers of the difficulty level of all trail segments, so you can design your own customized Irish route. The Wicklow Way south of Dublin was the country’s first such trail and remains one of its most popular, starting in the Dublin suburb of Rathfarnham and traveling southwest for approx. 79 miles (127 km.) to County Carlow. As part of the European Ramblers E8 Walking Route that traverses central Europe all the way from Bulgaria, the path features unique lodges, motels and farmhouses along the way that make for a very unique and local Irish experience.

Mornington House, Co. Westmeath – Historic Irish B&B

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Bed and breakfasts are the lodging of choice to experience the charm of Ireland. Famous for plentiful Irish breakfasts, these welcoming abodes let you dine with other guests under the care of interesting local hosts. Hunt or ride, then loll and stroll in splendid country estates like Mornington House, a classic example of an ancestral Irish manor. Akin to the genteel elegance of Gone with the Wind, it seems almost too much of a coincidence that its owners are named O’Hara.

Galway – Oysters in Season

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September marks the beginning of a delectable season as oysters make their way to the tables of Galway in western Ireland. Stop in at Galway’s International Oyster Festival for a four-day fete or drive south to Moran’s Oyster Cottage, a thatched-roof pub dating back over 250 years. You can’t beat the legendary seafood topped off with a pint of Guinness.

Belmullet, Co. Mayo – Hidden Holes of Ireland

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At the far northwest tip of Ireland’s rugged coast lies a remote piece of wild, natural landscape rippling with wind, grasses, gigantic dunes, stunning ocean views and 18 holes. Golfers seeking a unique experience should beat a path to the Carne Golf Links before the masses do. Built by farmers and designed with the belief that nature is the best architect, it’s an Irish gem described as both “a true test” and “ridiculously fun.”

Kylemore Abbey & Gardens, Co. Galway – Irish Romance

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In the heart of the Connemara mountains, surrounded by wooded emerald green, stands an idyllic piece of Ireland, shimmering in the reflection of a romantic lough (lake). Mitchell Henry constructed this 70-room castle in 1867 as a gift to his wife. It later became an abbey for Benedictine nuns. Six acres of walled Victorian gardens, a neo-Gothic church, tea rooms and woodland walks imbue a sense of the serene. Visit Kylemore Abbey for more information.

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