Walking vacations in the West and North of Ireland
By: PAT PRESTON | Published Tuesday, June 8, 2010, 7:56 AM | Updated Tuesday, June 8, 2010, 9:39 PM
Summertime is walking tour season in the Emerald Isle. In our last column, we explored the walking tours of Dublin and the East and South of Ireland, and found that there’s nothing quite like a walking tour in the company of a local Irish guide to make you feel welcome and get to know Irish cities and towns. Walking tours are also featured in the West and North of the country.
Starting in Galway City, the hub of the West, Legend Quest tours will take you on a stroll that highlights the medieval remnants of Galway’s past including legends and mysteries. Led by Conor Riordan, historian and archaeologist, the route wends its way along Williamgate Street and a visit to the old city walls (now a part of the Eyre Square Shopping Centre), followed by castles, churches, cobblestone lanes, the medieval Spanish Arch and the Claddagh, a former fishing village known as the place of origin for the distinctive Claddagh ring. Tours depart from either the Meyrick Hotel or Jurys Inn.
Duration: 90 minutes
More information: tel. 087-778-2887; www.legendquest.ie
The award-winning town of Westport in Co. Mayo is another appealing choice for a guided tour. The route includes a stroll along the picturesque riverside Mall with its fine Georgian buildings, enlivened by a commentary about Grace O’Malley, the local pirate queen of the 16th century, and a visit to the Holy Trinity Church, built in 1868 and noted for its hammer roof, pencil spire, alabaster pulpit, decorative murals and mosaics, and a unique “rose window.” Tours assemble at the Clock at the top of Bridge Street.
Duration: 90 minutes.
More information: Westport Tourism Office, tel. 098-25722; or www.westporttourism.com
Some of Ireland’s walking tours have a distinctive theme other than local history, be it ghost walks, literary links or off-beaten-path strolls. One of the best examples is the Quiet Man Walking Tours of Cong, Co Mayo. Cong itself, a small village, could probably be walked in five minutes under ordinary circumstances, but the duration is stretched considerably on these tours which focus on the 1952 cinema classic, “The Quiet Man,” starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara.
Conducted by Gerry Collins, a self-styled local expert on the film, the tour re-visits the streets and buildings pictured in the film including the bridge over the River Corrib, Cohan’s Pub and the local church. All tours end at the Quiet Man Cottage, a replica of a simple white-washed dwelling used in the film with similar furnishings and props. Tour members are then randomly selected by Gerry to wear hats or costumes identical to the outfits worn by the characters of the film, and a quick five-minute comic scene is acted out at Gerry’s direction. It’s a clever finale that produces lots of laughs and Kodak moments.
Duration: 35 minutes or more.
More information: tel. 094-954-6089; www.quietman-cong.com/tours.html
Moving over to Northern Ireland, Derry invites visitors to “walk the wall” on a guided tour. And quite a wall it is, too, at 19 feet high and 18 feet thick and extending for one mile around the circumference of the city – considered one of Europe’s finest example walled cities.
From its high vantage point, you get close-up views of the original four gates, canons, ramparts, bastions and prime sites within the walls such as The Diamond, St. Columb’s Cathedral and the Derry Craft Village, and outside the walls such as the Guildhall, Tower Museum, and St. Eugene’s Cathedral.
One of Derry’s best-versed guides, Ronan McNamara, amazes people with his endless stories of Derry history and folklore. He also charms visitors because he does not fit the stereotype of Irish guide. Ronan, whose mother is Chinese and father is Irish, adds a bit of Oriental flair to each tour. Once you see Derry through Ronan’s eyes on a McNamara’s Famous Guided Walking Tour, you will never forget it. It becomes easy to see why Phil Coulter wrote the award-winning song, “The Town I Loved So Well.”
Duration: 60 minutes
More information: tel. 078-8996-3858; www.derryvisitor.com
Pubs Pubs are the theme of one of Belfast’s most popular walking tours – Historical Pub Tours. Visit six of Belfast's most historic pubs, led by a local "pub expert" guide, Judy Crawford. Visits include Kelly's Cellars, McHugh's, The Morning Star, White's Tavern, The Blackthorn, Duke of York and more. Duration: 2 hours. Departs from the Crown Dining Rooms, upstairs at the Crown Bar, Great Victoria Street. More information: tel. 028-9268-3665; www.belfastpubtours.com
So, as you enjoy your summer visit to Ireland, follow your feet and take a local walking tour. It’s a great way to meet the Irish!
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).