Get your bearingsFloating on the fringes of north-western Europe, Ireland is embraced by the Irish Sea and Atlantic Ocean and stroked by warm tradewinds. Its northernmost province, Ulster, is defined by the daunting Donegal and Mourne Mountains, vast freshwater lakes, the walled city of Londonderry and the capital of Northern Ireland, Belfast. In the southeast of Ireland is the province of Leinster with Royal Meath’s fertile plains and bustling capital of the Republic Dublin. Munster, in the south, is wild and untamed, renowned for rebel Cork and the Ring of Kerry trail. The Shannon River flows south through Connacht in the west, home to The Burren limestone plateau, Galway City and the remote Aran Islands.
Celtic kings and ChristianityVisitors on holiday in Ireland taste ancient history at Newgrange prehistoric passage tomb in the Boyne Valley, a World Heritage site. Irish myths are linked to the Hill of Tara ‘ringforts’ nearby and the Navan Fort ritual site in County Armagh. Discover Celtic Christianity at St Patrick’s Trian in Armagh City, the saint’s burial place in Downpatrick and former monastery Skellig Michael, off the Kerry coast. The medieval Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary was once home to Munster’s kings and 12th-century Carrickfergus Castle in Antrim was built by Norman conqueror John de Courcy.
CultureCity museums are rich in art but there’s a wealth of cultural attractions throughout Ireland. Experience 19th-century Irish life at Bunratty Folk Park near Limerick, and the traditional houses rebuilt in North Down’s Ulster Folk and Transport Museum. Guests at hotels on Ireland’s west coast from Donegal to Dingle get busy with the phrasebook in Gaeltacht or Irish-speaking villages. Westport is a favourite for traditional Irish music in pubs and, if you’re lucky, you might be invited to a ceilidh, a lively celebration of folk music and dancing.
Hiking, canoeing and golfMiles of trails crisscross the Glens of Antrim and Donegal’s Glenveagh National Park. Keen walkers join the Wicklow Mountains walking festival and nature lovers can explore the curious karst landscape of The Burren in County Clare, home to many of Ireland’s floral species. Lough Erne in Fermanagh is perfect for canoeing and sailing, and the Shannon for riverboat cruises. Complete your sports-filled holiday in Ireland on Newcastle’s championship Royal County Down links course or the K Club in County Kildare.
Meat, potatoes and whiskyIt’s hard to avoid a traditional Irish breakfast, a filling plate of sausage, bacon, beans, eggs, potato, and black and white pudding. Tuck in to Irish stew made from mutton, potatoes and carrot, hearty plates of bacon and cabbage or sausage and champ, or mashed potatoes with scallions and cream. Ireland also serves up fresh Dublin Bay prawns and Galway oysters, best accompanied by Guinness stout or Bushmills Irish whiskey. Look out for the new crop of chefs reworking traditional recipes to create modern Irish cuisine.