Above: Ross Castle in Lough Leane
No other country suffers from trite clichés quite like Ireland. Think leprechauns, golf, Guinness and potatos. I was unsure what to expect when invited for a weeklong tour of the country but decided to give it a go out of a sense of adventure. John Cooper, a Greenwich friend with Irish roots, said it well when he told me: “People go to Ireland, play golf, eat in a pub and think they’ve seen the country. They’ve seen nothing.” He was so right. Of all the countries I’ve visited, and the list is long, none has captivated me quite like this small island in the Atlantic. It’s not surprising that Ireland welcomed more visitors last year than ever before. Need a little advice before you book your trip? You’re in luck!
Ireland Dos and Dont’s
Whether your itinerary takes you to a golf course or a bed and breakfast in the Aran Islands, make time for the capital city. It truly defies all expectations.
VISIT TRINITY COLLEGE
And don’t miss the Book of Kells Exhibition. This copy of the four Gospels of Jesus’ life is both the oldest and most famous medieval manuscript in the world.
WANDER THROUGH TEMPLE BAR IN DUBLIN
It’s a lively neighborhood full of pubs. Skip the tourist bars and book a table at the well-hidden Vintage Cocktail Club. This speakeasy serves cocktails created from the 1400s and beyond. They won’t answer the bell without a reservation, and the nondescript door is easy to miss. vintagecocktailclub.com
VISIT AN ANCIENT CASTLE
There are plenty to choose from. The Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary is one of the most popular; some of the buildings date back to the twelfth century. My favorite is Ross Castle in Killarney. It sits on the shores of Lough Leane (a lake). Once there, pay a boatman to ferry you across to Innisfallen, where monks resided from the fifth to thirteenth centuries. The spiritual island is home to spectacular archaeological remains.
TIME YOUR CLIFFS OF MOHER VISIT CORRECTLY
Get to this tourist destination early—the majestic view of the Wild Atlantic Way can be ruined by hoards of selfie sticks. Watch The Princess Bride before you go. This is where they filmed the “Cliffs of Insanity.”
It’s a wicked mix of lacrosse and field hockey, with the added thrill of the ball whizzing around at almost 100 mph. Oh, and no pads. The national sport is a bit of an obsession, and visitors can try their hand in Nowlan Park in Kilkenny (which is like learning baseball at Yankee Stadium). Book with Kilkenny Way at thekilkennyway.com.
The small town on the River Shannon in County Limerick once housed Boeing’s “Flying Boats” in the 30s and 40s.These were a cross between a cruise ship and an airliner. They served seven course meals and flew at a crawling speed of 183 mph. Dignitaries and celebrities, including Ernest Hemingway, flew through Foynes. Here you can visit the Flying Boat & Maritime Museum and board a replica of the legendary aircraft. Don’t miss the restaurant; it’s the birthplace of the Irish coffee.
STAY AT DROMOLAND CASTLE
This is the only castle hotel to actually have been occupied by royalty. An entire vacation could be spent on its grounds. The golf course is straight out of The Legend of Bagger Vance and so affordable I thought they mischarged me ($90 for nine holes, a caddy, a cart and clubs). Do the Hawk Walk with resident expert Dave, and if you’re planning a wedding, the rings can arrive by falcon. Spend a day on the lake fishing with a ghillie (guide), and the castle’s award-winning chef will cook up your catch for dinner.
AVOID THE GUINNESS STOREHOUSE
This does not deserve its spot on Top 10 List of Things to Do in Ireland. You don’t see the beer made; it’s basically a museum to beer. There are far better ways to spend your time.
AVOID DRIVING THE RING OF KERRY
Yes, the 110-mile circular route around the Iveragh Peninsula is beautiful. And yes, it’s in every guidebook. But it’s also a long, curvy drive best not attempted in a rental car (some of it is very narrow). A tour is a better option.
You can build an itinerary yourself or do it the way we did: Book the Adventures By Disney Ireland experience. They manage your reservations and itinerary, your luggage is transported and a local tour guide is with you sharing the stories of Ireland. Rates for one-week start at $5,400 for children and $5,700 for adults, all costs included except airfare.
All photographs by Kent Phillips.