Ireland is rich in history and culture and remains a popular tourist destination. As a small island, it can be explored in a few weeks.
As the country reopened to visitors, I began a drive northwest to south to Cork and returned along the east coast.
Here are some of the highlights of my 2,000-mile trip along the coast.
Known as the burial site of William Butler Yeats, Ireland’s National Nobel Prize Winner, this northwestern county has also created an interesting center dedicated to the Spanish Armada.
The Armada, established in 1588, was an attempt to conquer England, but after a violent storm, many of the fleet’s galleons sank off the coast of Ireland.
Three ships were at Streedagh Beach and at Spanish Armada Ireland Center In Grange, 15 kilometers north of the town of Sligo, visitors can get a glimpse of the entire historical maritime disaster that killed thousands of sailors. Among the artifacts on display are a rare letter from a survivor, Francisco De Cuellar, as well as cards, coins, and costumes. A short film captures the dramatic events.
Tucked away in the middle of a picturesque rocky landscape, the ‘Burren Perfumery,‘A 30-minute drive from Ennis, County Clare’s capital, cosmetics are inspired by the surrounding countryside. Visitors can tour the mixing rooms where organic creams and balms are made and the herb garden to learn about their traditional uses. The perfumery also offers a free audiovisual presentation on the flora and fauna of the area. During the high season, staff give lectures on perfumes, soap making and skin care. The tea rooms offer a selection of organic cakes, scones and pies, as well as homemade soups with freshly baked bread, local cheese and salads made from organic vegetables.
Opening of their 50 hectares Burren Nature Reserve Almost a decade ago, Roy and Mary Bermingham introduced thousands of visitors to the wonders of nature in a playful and imaginative way. The sanctuary is a boon for the whole family and is a 30-minute drive from the perfumery. It offers a wild orchid meadow, a forest area of the “Magical Hazel Fairy” and a three hectare “Disappearing Lake” that fills up every 12 hours. There’s also an adventure playground, a 10-hour audio tour, a biodiversity movie, and a dome-shaped botany bubble with Burren flora in season. Among many adorable animals, my favorite is – cute, cuddly, and curious alpacas.
Known as the Titanic’s last stop in 1912, the charming town of Cobh was also the starting point for nearly half of the six million Irish who emigrated to North America between 1848 and 1950.
Several museums offer insights into the city’s eventful history, including the Titanic experience, a themed attraction in the former White Star Line ticket office, where the last 123 passengers boarded the unfortunate cruise ship. A 30-minute tour includes a virtual trip aboard the Titanic for its maiden voyage to New York and a look at the original pier called Heartbreak Pier, the final land contact for passengers. Experiences include seeing the conditions on board ships for third and first class passengers, as well as the coldness of sinking through unique cinematography. Visitors will also learn how RMS Carpathia rescued survivors, the result of British and US investigations into the tragedy and the discovery of the wreck on the ocean floor.
The hotel is located in a restored Victorian train station Cobh Heritage Center Nearby, research is being carried out into how this port city became such an important emigration center. Visitors embark on a journey into the lives of those who traveled from the 17th to the 1950s with exhibitions on the city’s maritime, maritime, and military history.
To get to know Cobh even better, sign up for one of the guided walking tours led by a historian and author Dr. Michael Martin, an encyclopedia of local lore. His walking tour of Irish heritage encompasses the entire city and its rich architectural heritage. Other tours include the nearby ‘Spike Island’, the former site of a remote monastery in the Celtic Sea and later one of the largest prisons in the world.
Castles are not in short supply in Ireland, so as teenagers we often used the code word ABC as “another bloody castle” (sometimes as “another bloody church”). Now, a little older and wiser, I can hopefully appreciate the immense architectural feat that castles represent.
Tipperary has a beauty to admire that has been a popular movie and television venue, including productions like Excalibur and The Tudors.
Located on a rocky island in the Suir River, Cahir Castle is one of the largest and best preserved in the whole country. It was built in the 13th century on the site of an old stone fortress and enlarged 200 years later before being restored in the mid-19th century. On the three floors of the castle, guests can wander freely and admire the portcullis and gatehouse, the various towers and the spacious inner courtyards. An audiovisual show gives visitors a detailed insight into the history of the castle.
On the west side of Waterford County lies the quiet market town of Lismore with a charming Heritage Center in an old courthouse next to a 12th century castle. Creative curators have used modern virtual reality technology to create a fun experience that focuses on the castle and its surroundings that once belonged to Adele Astaire, sister of film actor and dancer Fred. A separate audiovisual presentation, narrated by actor Niall Toibin as a monk, takes visitors on a journey through the monastery, the Vikings, the Normans and medieval Lismore to this day.
For extra fun, try the Robert Boyle Escape Room, named after a local 17th century inventor. Put on your cloak and wig, enter Boyle’s study and look for hidden clues, keys and codes to unlock the secrets of his alchemy box.
Based on the French Revolution, an Irish uprising against England took place in 1798, led by a group called the United Irishmen, and culminated in the Battle of Vinegar Hill. In the town of Enniscorthy, just a few kilometers from the actual location, is the National Rebellion Center from 1798 is now dedicated to this fateful time. Through paintings, photographic representations, videos and life-size manequins in authentic costumes as well as a fascinating chess room, visitors get to know the key figures of this rebellion, take part in a 4D combat experience, discover the weapons used at the time and learn how 20,000 rebels were five times as big Enemy against. Actors often play historical roles and dramatically bring the era to life.
A 30-minute drive from Enniscorthy is the riverside town of New Ross and its popular tourist attraction Dunbrody hunger ship, moored at the quay. A reproduction of an emigrant ship from the 1840s, a guided tour on board, costumed performers and themed exhibitions at the Heritage Center provide insight into the desperate situation of brave families forced to flee Ireland. When you’re hungry, try The Captain’s Table, an on-site restaurant overlooking the River Barrow.
Photo courtesy of the Kildare Heritage Center
Highlight of my visit to Kildare Heritage Center, A 40 minute drive from Dublin in a renovated 19th century market house was led by a guide in medieval dress for a 30 minute virtual reality experience focused on the city’s ancient pagan past, a powerful goddess named Brigid and the arrival of the Normans to Ireland, then to go through a picturesque square outside to see a pre-Christian site now occupied by a round tower and cathedral where a fire is in honor of Brigid is lit.
Photo courtesy Irish Stud and Gardens
Kildare is also famous for horse breeding which has been serious business in Ireland for centuries. To highlight this illustrious legacy, a multi-million euro, 850 acres’Irish Stud and Gardens’ An attraction has been developed with various artifacts and computerized enhancements, including an uplifting video showing the birth of a foal and the skeleton of ‘Arkle’, one of the most famous Irish racehorses. Horses have been bred here since 1900. On guided tours, visitors see stallions in the paddock, watch mares protecting their offspring and take part as jockeys in a simulated race on a giant computer screen. You can also wander through a special Japanese garden that includes the “Bridge of Life” and a traditional tea house. A special fairy tale trail and a play area with swings, slides and climbing frames provide entertainment for children.
The second largest city in Northern Ireland, Derry is known for its stone walls from the 17th century and the impressive stained glass windows that adorn the neo-Gothic red sandstone guildhall. In addition, it has a comprehensive Tower Museum There are two permanent exhibitions here – one tells their story from prehistoric and geological beginnings to the 20th century, the other focuses on La Trinidad Valencera, one of the largest ships in the Spanish Armada, which sank off the nearby coast and was discovered by local divers was made 30 years ago.
Along with cards and coins, there are weapons, including a massive carriage cannon and full armor. A special “zone” in the museum encourages young people to study the development of the city through miniature models, games and tests, as well as a scientific laboratory. Children even have the option of wearing contemporary costumes. The museum also features some of the best aerial views of the city and the Foyle River flowing from its open terrace on the fifth floor next to it.