Ireland’s (Off the Beaten Track) Romantic Spots

By Orla Spencer

When you ask about Romantic places in Ireland, most people will say the old favourites; the Ring of Kerry, The Cliffs of Moher etc. etc. and these are truly remarkable places but if you are looking for a romantic escape in Ireland with less crowds, then check out our top five ‘off the beaten track’ romantic places!

1. The Loop Head Peninsula, Clare
Loop Head is a finger of land pointing out to sea at the most westerly point of County Clare. Here you will find panoramic cliff views, abundant local restaurants, a great selection of water activities, and plenty of quiet spots to share a romantic moment. Visit the picturesque fishing village of Carrigaholt, Kilbaha, Cross and Loop Head’s main town; Kilkee which was frequented by Charlotte Bronte and Alfred Tennyson to name but a few. The most outstanding natural feature on a trip to Loop Head is the Bridges of Ross on the western side of Ross Bay harbour, looking north to the Atlantic Ocean.

Loop Head Lighthouse, Loop Head
Loop Head Lighthouse, Loop Head

2. Sheep’s Head Way, West Cork
The Sheep’s Head Way runs from the tip of the unspoilt Sheep’s Head peninsula to the early Christian settlement at Gougane Barra. You might decide to take the ferry from Bantry town to Whiddy Island where stunning views back across the bay. Here you will find walking routes, and historic sites, the perfect place for a quiet romantic stroll. Also on the Sheep’s Head Way you will find a traditional spot for marriage proposals – The Marriage Stone at Caherurlagh where at one time simply passing your hand through the hole in the stone and holding your loved one’s hand on the other side, was enough to see you married! Finally we recommend taking a romantic picnic at Carriganass Castle. This location was a key staging post in the famous ‘Flight of the Earls’, the castle is a prominent and picturesque ruin overlooking a lovely waterfall.

Sheeps Head Way
Sheeps Head Way

3. An Blascaod Mór, Kerry (Great Blasket Island, Kerry)
Is there anything more romantic than a stroll on a deserted island? We don’t think so. This island sits about 2km from the mainland at Dunmore Head on the Dingle Peninsula, 13KM west of Dingle Town, a ferry can be taken from the closest town, Dunquin. The island was inhabited until the 1950’s when the last residents were transferred to the mainland. The island is unique because it has produced a remarkable number of gifted writers, the most famous of which being Peig Sayers. On the island you will find fantastic views and a number of abandoned buildings including the house of Peig Sayers.

Great Blasket Island
Great Blasket Island

4. Inis Meáin (Inishmaan, Aran Islands, County Galway)
Inishmaan is the middle of the three main Aran Islands in Galway Bay on the west coast of Ireland. Here you will find narrow winding roads, sheltered paths and quiet trails across the small island, karst hillsides at the south of the island and deserted sandy beaches on the north shore. Visit the oval fort of Dún Chonchúir and the church of Mary Immaculate with its beautiful stained glass windows by the famous Harry Clarke Studios. This enchanting island was visited often by the distinguished playwright John Millington Synge. It is the subject of numerous books, and proves continually to be of inspiration to visual, dramatic, literary and other artists.

Inis Meain, Aran Islands
Inis Meain, Aran Islands

5. Hook Peninsula, Wexford
The Ring of Hook peninsula is dotted with ancient ruins, including castles, abbeys and forts and beautiful beaches. The drive encompasses rugged coastline and stunning views of the Saltee Islands and the fishing village of Dunmore East in Waterford. At the tip of the peninsula you will find Hook Lighthouse, the oldest working lighthouse in the world. We recommend a visit to Loftus Hall which overlooks the Three Sisters Estuary, the building is famed as being the most haunted building in Ireland.

Hook Lighthouse, Wexford
Hook Lighthouse, Wexford

The best way to learn about Ireland is to visit yourself. Contact us today for a quotation including some or all of these locations today –

USA & Canada1877 298 7205

UK FreeFone0800 096 9438

International+353 69 77686

www.irishtourism.com

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Tips for Driving in Ireland

By Orla Spencer

Left is the Best!
I will tell you this because it might help, even though I know that I will get stick for it in the office! When I was learning to drive here in Ireland, I would say to myself ‘left is the best for driving’ every time I got into the car, as I was petrified that I would drive on the wrong side of the road. So remember my silly rhyme while you are in Ireland to remember that we drive on the left!

If you are someone like my fiend Una who can’t remember her left from her right, do what she does and make an L shape with your index finger and thumb! (If it looks like an L, then that’s your left!)

Tips for not getting lost in Ireland

Connemara Signposts
Connemara Signposts

Ireland is known for its spectacular scenery, its wild Atlantic Ocean views and majestic mountain passes. Ireland is not known however for its great directional signage! Some roads have many, more have too many (image) others have a few signs to tell you where to go and then some roads simply don’t have anything! This is something we complain about frequently and improvements have been made, but we have a long way to go before we are up to the standards of the rest of Europe. There isn’t anything you or I can do about that now, so the best thing to do, is prepare yourself!

Buy a good road-map; the bookshops at the airport usually have up-to-date maps. Check the publication date and buy the one that was printed most recently.

Plan out your route in advance and have a general idea of where you need to go. We provide a detailed itinerary with our self-drive tours of Ireland that usually has a number of ways to get to your destination, and this should help you plan.

If you want to make things very easy for yourself, invest in GPS before you go. For more information and prices see: www.irishtourism.com

The Dreaded Roundabout!
We know roundabouts are scarce in the United States & Canada but in Ireland prepare to encounter quite a few! Don’t be scared though, roundabouts are generally harmless and easy to navigate once you are familiar with them.

The Dreaded Roundabout!
The Dreaded Roundabout!

The Rules –

The first thing to do is be prepared. Know where you are going so that you can get into the correct lane.

Always Yield to traffic approaching from your right and traffic that is already on the roundabout.

Lanes –
• Roundabouts in Ireland can have several exits and you need to be aware of the lane you should be in depending on which exit you are taking.
• Generally a good rule of thumb is if you are taking any exit from the 6 o’clock to the 12 o’clock position, approach in the left-hand lane.
• If taking any exit between the 12 o’clock to the 6 o’clock positions, approach in the right-hand lane

 

**Read the signs on approach, sometimes the lane rules above are changed and signposts approaching the roundabout will tell you where to go***

Roundabout with lines

Indicating –
• If taking the 1st exit left you indicate left while you are in the lane to turn left
• If taking the 2nd exit left: enter the roundabout in the left-hand lane but do not indicate until you have passed the 1st exit, then indicate a left turn and leave at the 2nd exit.
• If you are going straight on, do not indicate left until you have passed the exit before the one you intend to take.
• If turning right by the 3rd or any subsequent exit, get in the correct lane and indicate right. As you pass the exit before the one you intend to leave by, indicate a left turn and, when the way is clear, move to the other lane and take the desired exit

Tips for Driving on Narrow Irish Roads

Gap of Dunloe, Kerry
Gap of Dunloe, Kerry

You will find some of Ireland’s best scenery as you drive our narrow country roads. Here are some things to be aware of as you travel;

Extra care needs to be taken when there is no white line in the centre of the road. You need to use your personal judgement, sometimes there is enough space for two cars at either side of the road and sometimes there will only be space for one car and one of you will need to give right of way. Either way, drive slowly, especially around bends where there may be oncoming traffic, cyclists or walkers.

Narrow Road Valentia Island
Narrow Road Valentia Island

Where there is not enough space for two cars you will notice lay by areas at the side of the road like the one pictured above. If the lay by is closest to you on your left, you would pull in here and leave the other car pass you by. If the layby is behind you, you may have to reverse. If there is no layby, you may need to use the entrance to a house or farm. Take your time, use your mirrors and be very careful. Watch out for signs in the area telling you want to do.

Remember, if you are nervous driving on our very narrow roads, you can always pre-book a day long coach tour in some of our top driving routes like the Dingle Peninsula & Ring of Kerry. For more information, please contact us. 

Parking in Ireland

Pay attention to the signs where you are located. Don’t park beside a double yellow line and don’t park in a yellow grid box.

Where possible choose a car park, we have plenty. Watch for signs telling you how to pay. Sometimes you need to purchase a parking disk (just ask where in the closest shop) and sometimes you need to pay in advance and display a parking ticket.

If you have a disability, European Parking Cards (also known as Disabled Parking Permits) can be used by disabled people within the 25 member states of the EU. If you are visiting Ireland or are from outside of the EU you should bring your Disabled Parking Permit/European Parking Card with you. Your Disabled Parking Permit/European Parking Card should be visibly displayed in your parked car.

Irish Driving Customs
If you meet a stranger coming towards you on a quiet country road and they give you a pleasant wave, don’t be alarmed! We are a friendly bunch and it not uncommon to wave at total strangers!

If you pull into the slow lane to let a car pass you out, if they flash their back lights this means ‘hey, thanks a lot’! If you see someone flashing their lights as you drive towards them it means either there is some kind of danger nearby or the Gardaí are checking for speeding cars up ahead! (By the way, flashing your lights to tell people Gardaí are nearby is illegal so don’t do it yourself).

Des Bishop does a good comedy routine about Ireland’s driving communications. Check it out here:

Some handy websites for more information on driving in Ireland –
http://www.citizensinformation.ie

http://www.rsa.ie/

http://www.theaa.ie/

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5 Great Things to do in Belfast

If you have a day to spend in Belfast on your Ireland vacation, here’s what we recommend that you see!

If you have booked a trip to Southern Ireland, don’t rule out a day trip to Belfast City. Belfast City can be reached easily from Dublin’s Connolly station by train, the trip will take in the region of two hours each way.

Belfast at Night
Belfast at Night

Belfast gained a bad name because of the frequent gun and bomb attacks in the city during ‘The Troubles’ from the 1960’s to the 1990’s. Today, the remnants of Belfast’s troubled past make it an interesting destination for tourists from all over world. One of the first questions people often ask us is; ‘Is it safe?’ We always give the same answer; Belfast is as safe now as any other City. Stick to the main tourist areas and you will be fine. Use your own common sense and at night don’t hang around on your own. We also advise not to ask the locals about the troubles, it is often something that people don’t like to discuss and may cause offence. Finally, avoid the city on the 12th of July due to traffic and other transportation disruption as a result of Orange Order parades.

5 of Belfast’s must see attractions, the easiest way to see all of these is by taking the hop on – hop off bus;

1. Titanic Belfast
Titanic Belfast is one of Belfast’s newest and most popular museums, built on the site of the former Harland & Wolff shipyard where the Titanic was originally constructed. Galleries reconstruct scenes from Belfast at the time of its construction, the launch, the maiden voyage, the sinking and the aftermath. This museum is extremely interactive, with technology bringing each period to life. We advise pre-booking tickets as the centre does get extremely busy.

Titanic Belfast
Titanic Belfast

 

Titanic Shipyard
Titanic Shipyard

2. Crumlin Road Gaol & Courthouse

The Crumlin Road Gaol dates back to 1845 and closed in 1996. Today you can enjoy a guided tour of the prison and hear about the history of the site from when women and children were held within its walls through to the political segregation of republican and loyalist prisoners. The highlight of this tour for many is the fascinating Condemned Man’s Cell and also the walk via the underground tunnel that was used to connect the gaol to the Crumlin Road Courthouse.

3. Belfast Murals
The Belfast murals have become symbols of Northern Ireland, depicting the religious and political divisions. The themes of the murals often reflect what is important to a particular community. The best examples can be seen on Shankill and Falls Road.

Bobby Sands Mural by Glynnis 2009 Flckr
Bobby Sands Mural by Glynnis 2009 Flckr

4. The Ulster Museum & Botanic Gardens
The Ulster Museum, located in the Botanic Gardens features collections of fine art, archaeology, ethnography, local history, industrial history, botany and geology. Admission to this museum is free.

5. St. George’s Market
If you visit Belfast on a Friday to Sunday, a visit to St. George’s Market is a must. Friday morning is the best time to visit as you will find about 250 market stalls selling a variety of products including antiques, books, clothes, fruit, vegetables and fish. The market was built between 1890 and 1896, making it one of the oldest markets in operation.

Get in Touch-
The best way to learn about Ireland is to visit yourself. Contact us today for a quotation including some or all of these locations today –

USA & Canada1877 298 7205
UK FreeFone0800 096 9438
International+353 69 77686
www.irishtourism.com

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Dingle’s Best Festivals

By Orla Spencer

Galway is often referred to as Ireland’s festival City but Dingle has some great festivals also! Dingle Walking Festival

Dingle is a walker’s paradise due to its unspoilt landscape and breath-taking views. Dingle Walking Festival takes place in February and attendees have the opportunity to explore mountainous terrains as well as less strenuous but picturesque valleys.

Walking Image (Tourism Ireland)

 

Dingle Film Festival The Dingle Film Festival is home to the Gregory Peck award and recipients have included Stephen Frears, Jim Sheridan and one of Ireland’s most famous actors, Gabriel Byrne. The festival usually takes place mid-March.

Féile na Bealtaine Féile na Bealtaine is an arts and culture festival which takes place in May every year and has been doing so for more than 20 years. The festival typically includes music concerts of all types, children’s events, art exhibitions, short and full length films, street theatre, comedy and poetry. The festival has lots to offer and a favourite of many is the annual sheep-dog trials!

Brandon Regatta The last boat rowing contest of the summer, the Brandon Regatta takes place in late August every year. Enjoy watching boat racing from the pier whilst appreciating local music, song and festivities.

Dingle Races This festival is popular with locals and tourists alike and takes place at the end of August every year. It is the biggest of all flapper races in Ireland including many of the best horses from all over the country, and a variety of jockeys young and old.

Dingle Races by Barbara Walsh
Dingle Races by Barbara Walsh

Dingle Tradfest Dingle Trad Fest takes place in mid-September. The aim of the celebration is to promote Irish music in an exciting new and unique way. The festival features both national and internationally acclaimed artists showcasing modern and traditional talents. One of the highlights of the fest is the Saturday Night Trad-Disco!

Traditional Music Session
Traditional Music Session

Dingle Food Festival Dingle Food Festival takes place in the beginning of October each year and includes a taste trail of over 60 outlets. Festival attendees purchase a book of tickets and can use them to taste in various locations including, restaurants, pubs, shops, galleries and restaurants. This is a fantastic opportunity to sample some of the fresh seafood for which Ireland is famous for.

 

Get in Touch-

The best way to learn about Ireland is to visit yourself. Contact us today to get started –

USA & Canada1877 298 7205

UK FreeFone0800 096 9438

International+353 69 77686

www.irishtourism.com

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5 Things to See on the Dingle Peninsula

By Orla Spencer

Our top tips on what to take in on a day trip around the Dingle Peninsula

The Dingle Peninsula is slightly less travelled than the adjacent Ring of Kerry but in our opinion, is every bit as beautiful. Our top 5 places to check out on the Dingle Peninsula include;

1. Dingle Town
Dingle town is a colourful marine town; it is full of history, renowned for traditional Irish music and has fantastic food to cater for every taste and requirement. Ireland’s friendliest dolphin, Fungie is resident in Dingle Harbour and a boat trip to see him up close is delightful. Dingle Ocean World in Dingle town is also a lovely place to visit; they have a great selection of sea life including the newly installed Penguin display.

2. Ventry
Ventry is a small village less about 7km west of Dingle. Ventry has one of Ireland’s best beaches, a golden sandy paradise that stretches for five miles. Sports enthusiasts will love Ventry as it was the home town of the GAA legend Páidi Ó Sé and the pub which he owned and ran can be visited in the village.

Seaside Village, Ventry by Pam Brophy
Seaside Village, Ventry by Pam Brophy

3. Slea Head & Dunmore Head
Marked by a Crusafix which the locals call ‘the cross’, the Blasket Islands come into full view here and the scenery is outstanding. Dunmore head, further west offers more amazing views.

Slea Head Drive
Slea Head Drive
Holy Cross Slea Head Drive
Holy Cross Slea Head Drive

4. The Blasket Centre
The Blasket Centre is a captivating centre honouring the unique community who resided on the isolated Blasket Islands until the government decided to evacuate them in 1953. The Blasket Islands are unique because they have produced many gifted writers, most notably; Peig Sayers. Boat trips can also be taken to visit the island from nearby Dún Chaoin Pier.

Blasket Islands Centre
Blasket Islands Centre

5. Gallarus Oratory
Gallarus is a very quick stop, but well worth a look. It’s a very small early Christian Church. A local legend for Gallarus says that if a person can successfully climb through the small window at the back, then their soul will be cleansed. As you will see when you visit, this is a little bit difficult to do!

Gallarus Oratory
Gallarus Oratory

 

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Burren Walk with Tony Kirby

by Orla Spencer

The Burren in Clare has some of Ireland’s best walks

Today I had the pleasure of taking a guided Burren Walk with Tony Kirby of Heart of the Burren Walks and it was certainly an experience I would recommend to anyone! Of course it is possible take any of the Burren walking trails alone but having a local guide show you the finer details and tell you of the local history, I think is invaluable. These walks can now be booked through Irish Tourism as part of your package vacation.

Tony Kirby from Heart of the Burren Walsk
Tony Kirby from Heart of the Burren Walsk

There are many walking paths in the Burren, today we took the path to St Colmans Hermitage in Carran, where it is believed that St. Colman Mac Duagh lived for seven years as a hermit and this area may have been associated also with Pre-Christian rituals. As you enter the nature reserve, Slievecarran is immediately in front of you; its slopes are known as Eagle’s Rock.

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As you continue along the path if you turn North-East you are faced with the summit of Turlooughmore. The circular gaps that can be seen are known as Leim an Phuca Mhoir (The big fairy’s Leap) and Leam an Phuca Bhig (the small fairy’s leap).

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This is the first station on the old Pilgrimage Route where pilgrims would say their first set of prayers to Saint Coleman. A rock standing upright in the centre indicates from a distance the route to take.

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Further along you will meet ‘The Man Servant’s Grave’. Legend has it that Saint Coleman was not alone during his time in the Burren, he was accompanies by a servant who according to legend is buried here. This is also a station on the pilgrimage route.

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When we arrived at the man servants grave, Tony begins to tell me about a local legend concerting saint Coleman and his servant and it goes something like this… Saint Coleman & his servant were fasting in in the hermitage and as they came towards the end of the Lenten fast period, a banquet feast could be heard from the nearby Dunguaire Castle. When the servant told Saint Coleman how hungry he was, the saint took pity on him and prayed on his behalf. At that moment, the dishes from the banquet suddenly took Flight and made their way to the hermitage with the banquet party following along angrily on horseback. St. Coleman prayed again and the horse’s hooves got stuck in the pavement. To this day, the marks from the horse’s hooves can be seen on the pavement nearby and this pavement is known as Bothar na Miasa which means, ‘the road of the dishes’. Of course we know now that the marks are from rainwater dissolving though the rock over time, but it’s a great story all the same!

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As you continue along Saint Coleman’s oratory can be seen. This building dates from the 11th century so it was built sometime after St. Coleman was believed to have been here. It was created at the spot and to the same dimensions as his wooden oratory would have been.

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Follow the path directly behind the oratory and you come to Saint Coleman’s Cave or Saint Coleman’s leaba (bed) where it is thought Saint Coleman and his servant slept.

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Just beside the oratory lies a holy well and many people believe its waters have healing properties. It is common for people to leave an offering or a piece of their clothing tied to the trees next to the well in hope of a cure to their ailment or suffering.

Get in Touch- The best way to learn about Ireland is to visit yourself. Contact us today for a quotation–

USA & Canada1877 298 7205

UK FreeFone0800 096 9438

International+353 69 77686

www.irishtourism.com

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