By Patricia Canole

Ireland’s small size tempts visitors to see the entire country in a single trip. The distances look short on a map, and the miles seem modest, but don’t be deceived. Trying to get from Killarney to Galway between lunch and dinner means rushing through Counties Limerick and Clare and missing the essence of Ireland. Here is my sampling of the experiences that make Ireland pure magic.

Ashford Castle, County Mayo
This gorgeous hotel embodies the fantasy of an Irish castle featuring a historic stone facade, complete with towers and turrets. Beautiful, manicured grounds a stunning setting on a vast lake make it worthwhile. Shared spaces are truly grand, with rich wood paneling, chandeliers, and antique furniture. Once the home of the Guinness clan, Ashford Castle became a local hotel in 1939 and over the decades has been refurbished to make each guest feel like royalty. There’s plenty to do outdoors: fishing, boating, falconry lessons, golf, clay shooting, and archery.

Galway International Oyster Festival, County Galway
Another must-do festival is The Galway International Oyster & Seafood Festival. The annual event is scheduled for September 23rd – 25th this year in the center of Galway City. During this famous food festival, you can expect to experience a wide variety of tempting events to enjoy from seafood trails. Oyster shucking championships top the list along with food tastings in some of Galway’s finest restaurants. Also, don’t forget the music, cooking demonstration, and the Hot Oyster Awards cooking challenge!

The Burren/Cliffs of Moher, County Clare
Almost any hiker will tell you that the footpaths of a country—not its roadways—show off the landscape to best advantage. One shining example is The Burren, mile upon mile of all-but-bare rock. But there is magnificence, nonetheless. Distances are short; views across Galway Bay to Connemara and the Aran Islands are genuinely inspiring. In May, cracks that seam the limestone sprout a stunning collection of rare flowering plants. Sheltered from the Atlantic winds, blossoms transform the landscape. A few miles to the south, the mighty Cliffs of Moher offer a cliff-top walk, and the most extensive cave system in Ireland lies beneath. Both The Burren and Cliffs of Moher are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Brú na Bóinne, County Meath
In a country as ancient and storied as Ireland, historic sites seem to be everywhere. One of the most important is Brú na Bóinne, which means the “Palace of the Boyne,” which refers to the area in proximity of the River Boyne and contains one of the world’s most important prehistoric landscapes and is located close to the east coast of Ireland. The three famous large passage tombs dominate the archaeological landscape within Brú nan Bóinne, Knowth, Newgrange, and Dowth, built 5,000 years ago in the Neolithic or Late Stone Age. Immensely popular year-round, The Brú na Bóinne tombs, particularly Knowth, contain the largest assemblage of megalithic art in Western Europe.

Rock of Cashel, County Tipperary
Ireland’s scenery is breathtaking and beyond compare. West Cork, Dingle, the Ring of Kerry, and the West—the list of Instagram-worthy sights is endless. One place is the Rock of Cashel (also known as St. Patrick’s Rock) in County Tipperary. From the 12th century, this fortress boasts a round tower, cathedral, and chapel bearing priceless Celtic art and medieval architecture.

History, Theater & Guinness, County Dublin
If you are a city dweller at heart, then you’ll love Dublin City and its hustle and bustle environment. Hotels surround the main pedestrian thoroughfare, Grafton Street, where you’ll find shopping galore and the best people-watching in all of Ireland. If there’s a football (soccer) match, note that Grafton Street is where the revelers will come should Ireland win big. At one end of Grafton Street, Trinity College is open for tours, and you can see the famous Book of Kells. If you’re not sure what to see first, take a quick bus tour of the city—you’ll see it’s easy to navigate, and you’ll be sure to discover something interesting.

Be sure to take in a night of theater—the Abbey Theatre’s most noted. Founded by W.B. Yeats, the artistic programs include Irish drama and many new productions reflecting Irish society. Over the years, the Abbey has premiered the works of significant playwrights, including Marina Carr, Frank McGuinness, Tom Murphy.

For a real taste of Ireland, please take a tour of Guinness Brewery and sample the wares at their bar afterward. The facility gives a behind-the-scenes look: Witness the brewing process, get firsthand experience pulling pints, and, of course, sample the final product. Then, enjoy the brew with traditional Irish meals in one of four on-site eateries. Or, if you prefer whiskey Jamison Distillery on the River Liffey offers frequent tours and tastings. Finally, if you haven’t had enough nightlife, be sure to visit the Temple Bar area, off Dame Street. Here, in the middle of Dublin, you’ll meet a global crowd from dozens of countries over drinks and dinner, and you’re sure to leave the Emerald Isle knowing new friends.

For more information on Ireland and her many adventures, visit ireland.com

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