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Ireland's top ten tourist attractions in 2013 - Where to go and what to see in Ireland

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Bantry House, Banty, County Cork
Bantry House, Banty, County Cork

The Titanic Quarter in Belfast and in particular the new Titanic Museum stole the show in 2012. And while the 100th anniversary of that ill-fated voyage has passed, I think this superb visitor attraction will be just as popular in 2013. And while you are in Belfast, I would highly recommend taking a Black Cab Tour of the city, as it will give you a great (and neutral) insight to and understanding of the ‘troubles’. 
My pick of the other Top 10 Visitor Attractions has to include a few timeless favourites like Bunratty Castle & Folk Park, County Clare and the Museum of Country Life, County Mayo, because they are both excellent pocket histories/introductions to Ireland’s culture and tradition, as well as being great days out for old and young alike.

In the wake of 2012’s dramatic final (and replay) of Galway V Kilkenny in the All-Ireland Hurling championship, a visit to Croke Park Museum and a tour of the holy ground, will be on a lot of people’s to-do list next year. And only a (head) stone’s throw away from there is the award winning Glasnevin Museum and graveyard tour is not to be missed. 

I loved Mizen Head Lighthouse when I visited last summer (on a fantastic day) ditto Bantry House, magnificent and Gairinish Island also in Cork. It was totally magical as was Castle Ward and Mount Stewart Gardens on the Ards Pennisula in Northern Ireland.

1. The Titanic Museum, Belfast which opened in 2012, on the 100th anniversary of that tragic maiden voyage. The whole world is familiar with this event and this specially designed museum commemorates all of the above and more.

It really is excellent but please do book your tickets online as it is a very busy attraction and visitor numbers are limited per hour. Also, there can be long queues for the Shipyard Ride so don’t worry about skipping it and moving on, it’s good but short. 

Another tip, the Galley restaurant on the ground floor is chock-a-block, so book afternoon tea upstairs in the salon by the Grand Staircase, so you can enjoy it in peace and comfort at the end of your tour. Or else hop a cab downtown to the Crown Liquor Salon, for a beef in Guinness pie and a pint! 

2. Bunratty Castle & Folk Park Bunratty, County Clare 

If you have only time to ‘do’ one visitor attraction in Ireland this is it! Bunratty has everything, a grand castle with medieval banquets, Irish cottages, farmyards, whole streets with traditional pubs, shops, and even a school where you can take lessons or join in a bread-making session. 

It is a great value all-day out for couples and families, which you can combine with a trip to the Cliffs of Moher nearby for more savings.  

3. Museum of Country Life Castlebar, County Mayo is another visitor attraction, I cannot recommend highly enough and it’s free! Although it has been open now for 11 years, not many (Irish) people know about it, much less visit it. Which is amazing considering you could happily spend all day here finding out how people lived in rural Ireland not so very long ago. 

Until you have visited the Straw exhibition you could not imagine all the things that were made out of straw, everything from a babies cradle to a donkey’s saddle. There are displays depicting farming life, fishermen and even poachers and lots of original memorabilia, often made by school children associated with St Patrick's Day and Halloween and other great Irish traditions like ‘courting’ and ‘waking’ the dead. Check their own website for details of the many free events and workshops they hold throughout the year.

4. Croke Park Museum, Croke Park, Dublin is probably the best (and most passionate) tour in Ireland, especially if you know nothing at all about Gaelic Games. 

This museum and stadium tour will keep you occupied for several hours. Go behind the scenes into the only carbon neutral stadium in the world. Visit the player’s dressing rooms and rehearsal astro-turf-pitch and see where all the media-free after-match revelry goes on. Top of their game right now, with a momentous Dublin win in 2011 (which they will get over) it is highly recommended.

5. Glasnevin Cemetery Museum, Dublin 

It’s not often I would recommend a visit to a graveyard as a fun day out but this really is something else. The only recipient of a Thea award in Ireland, Glasnevin is an excellent modern museum with superb multi-media, as well as the personal touch, which is so important when dealing with a sensitive subject like this. 

Over a million people are buried here, including the great and the good and (the not so good) of Ireland. Guided graveyard tours take place daily with visits to the Daniel O’Connell tower and famous graves such as Michael Collins. It is a very interesting and quirky alternative, visitor attraction. 

 
6. Bantry House, Bantry, County Cork was my favorite Big House this year. It is absolutely stunning, the location on the shores of Bantry Bay and the history. 

How many houses do you know that where furnished with contents of a fire-sale in Versailles, following the beheading of the Dauphin of France? The blue dining-room is the most magnificent I have seen anywhere in the world. And the gardens (go in May when the wisteria is out) and don’t forget to climb those 100 steps for a view of heaven. 

7. Mizen Head Lighthouse, County Cork 

I am including this visitor attraction, more for the gangway walks and blowing the cobwebs away, rather than the actual museum, which is quite good and interesting as well. But it is all happening outdoors here (so pick a fine day if you can) it is so well done, there are different walks for various abilities, but they all have spectacular sea views, of course (and seats). And, you just have to cross the scary bridge to the old lighthouse for the thrill of it! Tip Hook Head Lighthouse in Wexford is also very good as an alternative. 

8. Lismore Castle Gardens Lismore, County Waterford 

What a dreamy garden, immaculate vegetable and flower gardens bursting at their neatly boxed seams while big blousy rambling roses run away with themselves over the mellow castle walls. It’s exactly how I would love my garden to be, if I had unlimited resources and a team of willing hefty types to dig, plant and weed it. 

Beyond beautiful, with a great variety of all kinds of plants, a riot of color too and with brightly painted wrought iron seats where you can sit out and enjoy a nice cup of tea or coffee and a slice of homemade lemon drizzle cake or a wander around the art gallery.

9. Limerick City Gallery of Art, Limerick has recently re-opened following a major revamp which include a new sculpture wing, a new curator and a wonderful new restaurant. 

While it has retained its excellent, permanent collection of Irish Art, in particular works by the celebrated Limerick native it is constantly staging new and exciting exhibitions. All of which are free!

The new restaurant Zest is first class, great confectionary, surprising salads, hearty innovative soups and the best value coffee and water I have found anywhere in the country. 

10. Swiss Cottage Cahir, County Tipperary is picture postcard lovely. This restored Cottage Orné, is one of only two in Europe. Designed as a pastoral idyll, similar to the Trianon of Versailles, it was built by Richard Butler of nearby Cahir Castle as a kind of summer house (although he never slept in it) to be enjoyed on family outings. No expense was spared, the wallpaper in the drawing-room having been the most expensive in Europe at the time when it was originally decorated. 

Having fallen into disrepair and almost lost to the nation, it has been completely and faithfully restored to its former glory, thanks to a kind American lady benefactor and the Office of Public Works, who now look after the property. You can reach it by road or by walking along the charming riverbank walk from Cahir Castle.

 

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