For an Ireland experience you’ll never forget, hop on board a traditional horse-drawn jaunting car (www.killarneyjauntingcars.com) in the Killarney National Park (www.killarneynationalpark.ie), a 25-square-mile area of unpolluted lakes and car-free unspoiled scenery. The jaunting cars, which travel on off-road designated paths, are synonymous with Killarney (www.killarney,ie), sort of what cable cars are to San Francisco or gondolas to Venice. The driver, known as a jarvey, is both a guide and storyteller (and with encouragement, he’ll sing you a song as well). Besides the clip-clop of the horse and the jarvey’s gentle voice, all you’ll hear is the birds and the whisper of the wind. Killarney is one of Ireland’s great beauty spots - edged by the Atlantic, surrounded by Ireland’s tallest mountains, and warmed by the Gulf Stream breezes of the southwest coast. More information: www.discoverireland.ie/southwest.aspx
7. Climb to the Cliffs
The Cliffs of Moher (www.cliffsofmoher.ie) is the prime natural wonder of Ireland’s west coast, stretching for five miles and rising almost 700 feet above the Atlantic Ocean. The top of the Cliffs provides a panoramic vantage point for views of the sea and the surrounding counties of Clare, Galway, Limerick and Kerry. On a clear day some people jest that they see the tip of Manhattan in the distance. Every day, busloads of tourists make their way into the rocky terrain of The Burren to reach this rural outpost. New visitor facilities, opened in early 2007, make the ages-old experience even more stunning, including a state-of-the-art domed interpretative centre - "The Atlantic Edge" - covered by a grassy hillside, to blend with the surroundings. The centre presents interactive exhibits and displays as well as audio-visual shows and a cyclorama. For more information: www.shannonregiontourism.ie
8. See the Sun Go Down on Galway Bay
If you plan to “see the sun go down on Galway Bay,” head to Connemara (www.connemara.ie) overlooking Galway Bay in the western part of County Galway. Named from the Irish words, Cuain na Mara, “Connemara” means “harbors of the sea.” And Connemara is one continuous panorama of harbors and seascapes, plus the awesome Twelve Bens mountains and endless boglands. Beyond the Galway Bay views, sheep graze on the rocky hillsides, the sweet aroma of turf fires permeates the air, and road signs are painted in the Irish language. For more information: www.discoverireland.ie/west.aspx
9. Venture off the Beaten Path
Be a trendsetter. Go to Donegal (www.dun-na-ngall.com). Only 10% of Americans who visit Ireland ever get to this isolated area, in the remote northwest corner of Ireland, but it is well worth the extra effort to drive up from Dublin, Shannon, Galway, or other more popular tourist hubs. Tweed is the lifeblood of Donegal. No one knows exactly when the industry began but one thing is certain – the making of colorful hand-woven tweed has put Donegal on the map – and visitors are welcome to watch tweed being woven at enterprises such as Magees (www.mageeshop.com) in Donegal Town or Studio Donegal (www.studiodonegal.ie) in Kilcar. Once people come here for the tweed, they find many other reasons to be glad that they have made the long journey. This area not only offers heaping measures of natural scenery and unspoiled beauty, but it is also rich in Irish culture and tradition. Many road signs are in Irish, too, so it is easy to get lost, but that is part of the fun, because the locals will come out of nowhere to help and set you on the right road, or maybe even invite you home for tea. For more information: www.discoverireland.ie/northwest.aspx
10. Sample the Northern Delights
The Northeast corner of Ireland – otherwise called Northern Ireland or simply The North – is enjoying a new emphasis on political progress and harmony. Peace and prosperity have arrived, and Northern Ireland is a now a magnet for visitors. Two focal points are Belfast, quickly becoming Europe’s new “in” city, and Derry (www.derryvisitor.com), one of Europe’s finest intact walled cities. Scenic areas include the Glens of Antrim (www.northantrim.com/theglensofantrim.htm), Mountains of Mourne (www.mournemountains.com), and the silvery shorelines of Lough Erne (www.fermanaghlakelands.com), but the top attraction by far is the Giant’s Causeway (www.giantscausewayireland.com), a natural rock formation stretching for three miles along the coast. Formed millions of years ago, the causeway is a UNESCO World Heritage site and often called the 8th wonder of the world. For more information: www.discovernorthernireland.com.
Patricia (Pat) Preston has written 23 travel books (15 about Ireland). Her latest book, Ireland Travel 101 (http://www.IrelandTravel101.com) won 1st Place in the Travel Guide category of the North American Travel Journalists Association annual competition this year. Visit Pat’s web site (http://www.IrelandExpert.com).