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Rock of Cashel, heritage site of Cashel, Co. Tipperary

Make your next Irish vacation a real education in Ireland's culture and fun!

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Rock of Cashel, heritage site of Cashel, Co. Tipperary

With thousands of years of history, the Irish have a lot to share and a lot to teach. Travel over and find a piece of your own history and heritage in Ireland. Here are some ideas to help you learn as you travel.

The Irish believe you are never too old to learn, so it is not surprising that there are hundreds of summer schools for adults each year. Most of the courses have a literary or historical slant, such as the annual Yeats Summer School, which has been running at Sligo for over 50 years, or the Merriman Summer School, a mainstay of Ennis, Co. Clare.

Music is also on the agenda of many summer schools such as the Willie Clancy Summer School for traditional music, song and dance at Miltown Malbay in Co. Clare, the Blas International Summer School of Irish Traditional Music & Dance at Limerick City, or the O’Carolan Summer School of Traditional Irish Music at Keadue, Co. Roscommon.  

There are also courses to learn more about Irish culture and crafts. Oideas Gael at Glencolumbkille, in Donegal offers beginner and advanced courses in the Irish language as well set dancing and playing traditional Irish music instruments such as the bodhran (goat-skinned drum), harp, flute and tin whistle.  Courses run from April-October and usually last one week, although some three-day courses are also available.

One of the big surprises in visiting Ireland is how delicious the food is – from the hot baked scones and crusty brown bread to oak-smoked salmon or tender spring lamb. In the past 40 years, Irish chefs have developed a “new Irish cuisine” which melds creative international ideas with traditional Irish specialties, using local produce, free-range meats, fresh-caught seafood and farmhouse cheeses.  Ireland has emerged as a culinary beacon and Irish chefs are now teaching the natives and visitors alike. Forget the corned beef and cabbage or Irish stew of the old days.

Ballymaloe Cookery School offers classes in the “irresistible breakfast,” sustainable seafood, canapés, sushi, tapas, pizza, filo pastry, edible Irish seaweeds, homemade butter, vegetarian cooking, and gluten-free meals, as well as instruction for a proper afternoon tea or elegant five course dinner. The schedule ranges from half-day demonstrations to 12-week certificate courses.

Other cookery schools include Dunbrody Cookery School in Co. Wexford, Belle Isle School of Cookery, Ballyknocken Cookery School in Co. Wicklow, Berry Lodge Cookery School in Co. Clare, and the Cookery School at the Cobblestone Cafe, Galway City.

With over 40 million Americans claiming Irish blood, heritage is also a hot topic for US visitors to Ireland.  In Dublin and throughout the countryside, there are dozens of heritage centers – living history museums that help people learn and appreciate the history of a particular county or area.  A list of heritage centers is on the Heritage Ireland website.

In addition, there are 15 heritage towns in Ireland – off-the-beaten path places with unique character and varying architectural that impart a special feeling for the past – Birr, Cashel, Cobh, Dalkey, Kells, Killaloe, Kilrush, Kinsale, Lismore, Listowel, Roscrea, Tipperary, Trim, Westport, and Youghal. These heritage towns are all rich in history and charm, often with Celtic, Viking or Norman background. To acquaint you with the features of each town, there is usually a visitor centre, sign-posted walk, tourist trail or specially guided tours.

Many people connect with Ireland by searching for their own ancestral ties. Did your grandmother come from Ireland? The Irish Family Foundation can help you trace your roots at its genealogy centers in almost every county of Ireland. And if you can’t establish any direct links, whether your name is Kelly or Klein, CIE Tours International has an “Irish Heritage” Tour to bridge the gap.

Patricia Preston has written 23 travel books (15 about Ireland). Visit Pat’s website or get her latest book, Ireland Travel 101.

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