|Illustration by Caty Bartholomew|
Something I've picked up over recent weeks from the first wave of this summer's tourist invasion might be of value to some of you hoping to visit Ireland for the first time later in the year. It should also save you a few bucks at a time when about all of us are trying to take it as easy as possible on the wallet.
I've already met at least five groups of American tourists from various regions of the U.S. who had a common complaint against their own travel agents and/or their airlines. The issue seemed to be simply that when they told their agents that they wished to visit Ireland, they were instantly booked to fly into Dublin.
They believed that many of the travel agents had an imperfect knowledge of the Irish scene and were just not aware there was a fine international airport in Shannon on the west coast!
So they were landed into congested Dublin Airport in equally congested Dublin City. This was despite the fact that the attractions they had traveled to see were almost all located in either the west or in the south, much closer to either Shannon or Cork.
It is a long way from Dublin to Connemara or the Lakes of Killarney or to where the Blarney Stone is waiting to be kissed!
Several persons told me that they had no Irish roots they were aware of. They just wished to visit the famous Emerald Isle and enjoy its beauty and Cead Mile Failte. It was their first trip.
Others making their first visit did have Irish connections and invariably these were from the western and southern regions which, during the Famine, were forced to provide the overwhelming majority of the forced emigrants who became the foundation fathers and mothers of Irish America.
Having been landed in Dublin, they then had to either hire cars or take trains or coaches across the width of the country to get to where they really wanted to go and what they really wanted to see.
They were sore about that, all of them.
A few travel agents closer to you than I am will already have been fielding complaints for sure.
Accordingly, it would be my advice to anyone proposing to make a trip to our shores to first ensure precisely which region they would like to visit most -- for whatever reason -- and then to check if their travel agent has a sound knowledge of Ireland. And that he or she is fully aware of the healthy existence of Shannon Airport slap bang at the heart of the prime tourism heartlands of Clare and Kerry and Cork, Tipperary, Galway and Mayo.
You could save yourselves a lot of time and money by doing that and, anyway, what I like to call the fillet of Ireland is always best found along the western backbone of the Shannon and its sibling rivers down south.
Take my word for that. And good luck.
Everything is subtly different in the west. I'm just home a little while ago, for example, from the little town of Corofin in North Clare which, through the May weekend, was packed with merrymakers and participants in the World Stone Throwing Championships!
These are staged annually in the backyard of John and Anne Campbell's popular premises on Main Street. Competitors have the pleasure of paying one euro a stone to hurl at empty bottles mounted on spigots and the craic was mighty as always. There are prestigious trophies and prizes for both the male and female champions who emerge at the end.
Work pressures dragged me away before the finals, but I gather the new male champion is a Mr. Brown from Donegal and that a local girl from the town took the female title.
Funds raised always go to a local worthy cause, and the cause in 2012 was to have bigger, brighter and better Christmas lights in Corofin come December.
Where else would you get a weekend like that but on the west coast of Ireland?
Ironically, there was a brilliant orange sky overhead on my twilit trip home. The contrails of high-flying jets were etched against the dome of paradise.
They were so high and fast it was clear they were overflying Shannon in both directions. Probably they were coming and going to Dublin.
I think Shannon owes its very existence to the fact that, when established, it was at the limits of the trans-Atlantic aircrafts' range. Now things have changed.
The big jets can overfly Ireland altogether if they wish, all the way to London and beyond, and that is why friendly Shannon is recently feeling the pinch.
And why there are travel agents over there who do not seem to push its merits at all. That is a great loss at every level.
Make sure it is not your loss too!