Celebrate St Patrick’s Day and explore the best of Ireland.
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Each year when St Patrick’s Day rolls around on March 17, the streets of Australia and many other parts of the world take on a distinctive green hue – and many rediscover their love of Guinness.
St Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland died on this date in AD 461. Shamrocks make an appearance too as he is reputed to have illustrated the holy trinity to the pagan Irish with a shamrock.
Did you know? St Patrick’s Day began as a religious feast day for the patron saint of Ireland.
There’s a secret to discovering Ireland and not many visitors know it. It’s no secret that the people of Ireland are the real gems of the country and spontaneous conversations are much more likely to be long remembered than any number of castles and cathedrals. Yet many visitors take the Ring of Kerry route where, in summer, you’re more likely to meet other tourists than any locals.
The Irish are remarkably friendly and hospitable but rushing from site to site doesn’t really allow time to engage. So my advice is to find a city or, better yet, a town or village and stay for a few days. Tour around during the day but pick a pub and stick with it. By the second or third night you’ll be welcomed as a regular and the strength of Irish community will soon be apparent.
Spot beautiful Irish country cottages in the heart of Ring of Kerry
The whole of Ireland is a beautiful mosaic in shades of green. While the line from Dublin to Dingle has lots of attractions and the Ring of Kerry takes in many of the ‘must sees’ it’s the north that lures me. From the Giant’s Causeway to the wilds of County Donegal and the cities of Londonderry/Derry and Belfast with their tortured histories and incomprehensible accents it’s an area that has a lot to offer.
Picturesque orange crocosmia wildflowers bloom along the Ring of Kerry
Of course, the top of the island of Ireland is divided into two countries: the Republic and the UK’s Northern Ireland. Today the border is so vague that the only difference you’ll probably notice is that the phone booths have changed from green to red and you need Pounds not Euros in the shops.
A good way to get a perspective of ‘the Troubles’ is to take a one-hour Derry City Tour at a cost of £4. It certainly doesn’t gloss over the awful events that characterised centuries of inter-religious warfare. Along the way you look down over Bogside and see the political murals. You can trace the whole history of the Troubles through the city’s murals. Or the city’s name – for the UK it’s Londonderry and for the Irish it’s simply Derry.
Derry is the second-largest city in Northern Ireland
In 2011 a new bridge was completed across the city’s River Foyle named the Peace Bridge and that's symbolic of the new mood in the city as it links Nationalist Cityside with the Unionist Dockside. Overall, Derry is one of Europe’s most impressive walled cities – and the only one in Ireland that is fully intact. You can walk most of the way around the city along the top of the wall. But it’s more the ‘craic’– the spirit of the city that impresses. In 2013 it was the first UK City of Culture.
Down the road in Belfast the big, not-so-new-anymore Titanic Belfast that opened in 2012 is a totemic display on the legendary ship that was built in these shipyards. The nine interactive galleries are impressive and you’ll see and learn a lot. With commendable sensitivity, there are no artefacts from the Titanic wreck site but there’s a lot from construction and the White Star Line. If you have an interest in the Titanic, this alone is reason enough to book a ticket to Ireland.
RMS Titanic was built where Titanic Belfast is located
For a touch of luxury, consider a stay at Rathmullan House a Georgian house built on Lough Swilly, north of Letterkenny in County Donegal. It feels very ‘Lords of the Manor’ yet there’s a wild beauty along the shore outside.
While there’s grand scenery everywhere, in this part of Ireland there’s one dominant natural attraction: The Giant’s Causeway. The World Heritage-listed Giant’s Causeway is more than 40,000 perfectly-formed hexagonal basalt columns spilling down into the sea in County Antrim. Legend has it that it was built by the giant Finn MacCool as a shortcut to Scotland but spoilsport geologists say it’s contracted molten lava from 80 million years ago.
The world-famous basalt columns, The Giant's Causeway
To get to the Giant’s Causeway you turn off the A2 at the town of Bushmills. Now that may be a name familiar to drinkers of Irish whiskey. Bushmill’s Distillery was first granted a licence in 1608 and still exclusively uses the water from the nearby Saint Columb’s Rill, a stream that’s a tributary of the River Bush. There are daily tours, unless maintenance is under way, and drinkers will be heartened to know that there’s a gift shop.
One of the quaintest towns in the north of the Republic is Donegal Town on the River Eske in County Donegal. The major industry of the town is tweed, and that’s on display – and sale – everywhere. Donegal suffered so much in the 1850s that a Donegal Relief Fund was set up in NSW and many residents emigrated to Australia. Whether seeking your ancestors or just sightseeing, a short walk from the castle to the abbey reveals much of the prettiness of the town.
See stunning coastal views at the northern parts of Donegal and visit the lighthouse at Fanad Head
Ireland is close to Australia in many ways so visiting is almost like a homecoming. Make sure you don’t merely see the sights but spend some time to get to know the locals.
(Featured image: Tourism Ireland/Facebook)
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