By Clare Walsh | May 2016 | 8 minute read
This lyrical island of music, myth and enchanting landscapes may only be a stone’s throw away from the UK, but it has a unique story for visitors to discover for themselves. This year marks the centenary of the Easter Rising – a defining moment in Ireland’s rise to independence – and events throughout the year are being staged to offer a comprehensive insight into the country’s complex history.
For example, Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin, the final destination of 14 of the leaders of the Rising, is hosting an exhibition, tour and newly-refurbished courthouse, while O’Connell Street’s famous landmark, the GPO, opened a ‘Witness History Exhibition’ and visitor centre on March 25.
But the Easter Rising represents just a snapshot – albeit an important one – of the tiny island’s colourful history, which dates back to the prehistoric age. Mystical Newgrange in County Meath, for example, is older than the Egyptian Period and famous for its inner chamber that lights up during the winter solstice.
Less than 20 miles away is the sacred Hill of Tara, an archaeological complex spanning 100 acres. Known as the seat of the High Kings of Ireland, entry is free for visitors who can explore structures such as the Mound of the Hostages and Stone of Destiny.
Further historical highlights in Leinster include the sixth century monastic site of Clonmacnoise, Kilkenny’s Medieval Mile and the Viking Triangle at Waterford city. All are testament to a country shaped by famine, war and conquest.
But the east of Ireland isn’t all about the ancient past: Newbridge in County Kildare also boasts the Curragh, Ireland’s most important thoroughbred racecourse. Hosting several prestigious events throughout the year, the season kicks off on May 21 and 22 with the Tattersalls Irish Guineas Festival, while one of Ireland’s biggest sporting and social events, the Derby Festival, runs from June 24-26.
The west coast is well known for its enchanting moody landscapes while the ‘savage beauty’ of Connemara, as it was described by James Joyce, can be found along the Wild Atlantic Way – the longest defined coastal drive in the world. At 2,500km it meanders across three provinces, starting at the Inishowen Peninsula in the north and stretching to Kinsale, County Cork, in the south.
Well signposted, there are dozens of attractions along the way, with the route encompassing wilderness areas such as Kerry, Donegal and Galway. These are all parts of the Gaeltacht – places subsidised to ensure the survival of Irish language and culture – and ideal for visitors wanting to experience authentic Ireland.
Visitors can choose from a traditional Irish music session in tiny villages, such as Dingle in Kerry where soul-soaring fiddles and ancient bodhran beats pound out rousing jigs, or take a walk into the brooding wilderness of the Twelve Pin Mountain Range of Connemara in Galway.
Views and tastes
Kerry is also home to the International Dark Sky reserve. The only Gold Tier Reserve in the northern hemisphere. On a clear night stargazers can view the Milky Way, star clusters and galaxies with the naked eye.
Ulster’s celebrations for 2016 will delight foodies with its Year of Food and Drink. Several festivals will be taking place as part of this, such as the Hans Sloane Chocolate and Fine Food Festival and the Hillsborough Oyster Festival, held in September.
Or suggest to clients thay they spend the day at Belfast’s ‘Titanic Experience.’ Home of the famous liner, visitors can walk the decks where nine interactive galleries bring the ship’s tragic story to life.