Planning a wedding? No better place for your honeymoon than Ireland – it’s the land where “honeymoons” began.
Legend has it that fifth century Irish monks concocted a sweet drink known as mead, made from a blend of white wine, honey and herbs. It gradually became popular as a drink at Irish weddings because it was said to have the power of fertility.
The bride and groom would drink mead from special goblets to toast each other. The new couple would be given enough mead to last for a month or the full cycle of the moon – and hence the word “honeymoon.”
Although all of the Emerald Isle provides romantic settings, the West of Ireland stands out for many reasons. Many people are inclined to follow the words of the famous song, “to see the sun go down on Galway Bay.” Sunsets in Galway can be spectacular (weather permitting) with ribbons of bright pink and soft yellows filling the skies beyond Connemara and the Aran Islands. Traveling couples usually find Connemara to be the epitome of the Ireland that they seek - wide and open, rugged and natural.
The coast is indented with little bays, inlets and beaches, just meant for walking the shorelines hand-in-hand. At almost every turn, there are lakes, waterfalls, rivers and streams, while a dozen mountain peaks, known as the Twelve Bens, rise at the centre to overshadow a rocky landscape dominated by bog. A large part of Connemara is also designated as Gaeltacht, an Irish-speaking region. Signs and markers are printed primarily in Irish.
Sheep graze on the hillsides, Connemara ponies frolic in the meadows. The sweet aroma of turf fires permeates the air. Pubs ring with local music, song and dance. Cottage industries thrive, tradition is alive and well. Search for a hand-knit Aran sweater at Spiddal, see bodhráns (goatskin drums) being hand-made at Roundstone, watch Connemara marble being cut and polished at Moycullen, or buy a Claddagh Ring, the symbol of love with two hands and a heart at local shops including Kylemore Abbey.
The Abbey itself tells the story of true love. This splendid mansion, set overlooking Kylemore Lake, was built in 1864 as a private residence by Mitchell Henry who gave it to his wife as a wedding present. Part of the Abbey is open to the public, although the real attraction here is the setting – the 19th century castle-like building overlooking a lake and surrounded by rhododendron and fuchsia, with gardens and trees dating back hundreds of years. Almost every couple stops to pose for a picture on the wooden bridge leading into the abbey grounds.
The west of Ireland also offers a rich assortment of laid-back country inns, castles and hotels ideal for traveling twosomes. Stella Maris, at nearby Ballycastle overlooking Bunatrahir Bay on the north coast of Mayo, is about as secluded as it gets. The 12 rooms all have individual names on their doors, such as Connemara or Rosapenna with appropriate art, instead of numbers, and 11 of them have unfettered sea views.
The public areas of this cozy inn convey an intimate ambiance, with soft leather furnishings in the lounges, open fireplaces with marble mantles, and crisp linens and candlelit tables-for-two in the dining room, capped by a stunning 40-foot-long glassed-in conservatory lounge overlooking the water. Relax in one of the comfortable couches and gaze at the panoramic scenery or at each other.
Other West coast properties with similarly idyllic settings and waterside views include Cashel House Hotel on Cashel Bay in Connemara, Co. Galway; Portfinn Lodge at Leenane, Co Galway; Ashford Castle on Lough Corrib in Cong, Co. Mayo; the Ice House on the River Moy in Co. Mayo; Kilronan Castle overlooking Lough Meelagh in Ballyfarnon, Co. Roscommon; Lough Rynn Castle beside Lough Rynn in Mohill, Co. Leitrim; the Sandhouse Hotel at Rossnowlagh, Co. Donegal, overlooking the Atlantic; Cromleach Lodge on Lough Arrow in Co. Sligo; and Wineport Lodge beside the River Shannon in Co. Westmeath.
In the evenings, no matter where honeymooners roam, there are always plenty of pubs and other entertainments, providing opportunities to mix and mingle with the locals. Getting to know the people and speaking the same language rank high on the list of reasons that honeymooners choose Ireland. It ensures a no-hassle honeymoon.