There are few countries that enjoy a cozier, put-your-feet-up Christmas than Ireland. With its family-oriented culture and the legendary friendliness of its people, Ireland for the holidays is one of the most rewarding decisions you could ever make. The Irish love big and boisterous reunions and they love festivities on any scale, but they also love quiet evenings in with a few hand-picked friends in front of a crackling fire.
Visit Ireland in winter to see the soaring landscape celebrated by poets W.B. Yeats, Patrick Kavanagh and Seamus Heaney (you may want to take a volume of each writer’s work along for added atmosphere).
Here are IrishCentral’s top 10 places to celebrate Christmas in Ireland:
1. The Merrion Hotel
With its crackling open fire and rich Georgian drawing rooms, and the deep sofas and flowing champagne to get you in the spirit, the five-star Merrion Hotel is impossibly atmospheric at Christmastime.
Old world civility and elegance meet with WiFi and the 21st century here without missing a beat. The Merrion’s hospitality and superior service make this venue one of the great hotels of the world.
2. Dromoland Castle
First built in the 15th century, Dromoland Castle in its present form was completed in 1835, although the site itself has been associated with Gaelic nobility since the 5th century. It was bitterly fought over when Queen Elizabeth I’s armed forces confiscated it, but since they spent most of her long reign purloining Irish property, this was by no means unusual.
Nowadays the castle is a spectacular five-star hotel on rolling acres that is the ideal place to spend the Christmas holidays. Dromoland is the kind of venue even U.S. presidents marvel at (G.W. Bush was a guest here in 2004).
3. Ballydavid, County Kerry
Ballydavid, County Kerry is a sleepy little Irish village nestling on the very edge of the Atlantic Ocean. But each St. Stephen’s Day (December 26) it comes alive when the Wren Boys come to town in a colorful and very ancient one day celebration in remembrance of an ancient Druid festival.
Wren boys, also called mummers, dress up in masks, straw suits and colorful motley clothing and, accompanied by traditional ceili music bands, take to the street in a blaze of color. They are carrying on a unique and unbroken folk tradition. The Ballydavid Wren is a memorable day of marching, music and dance, featuring an explosion of color and Irish exuberance that’s cheering and irresistible in the midst of winter’s gloom.
4. Leopardstown and Limerick Christmas Racing Festivals
What better way to blow away the winter blahs than with a flutter on the nags. The Christmas festivals at Leopardstown and Limerick are up there among the highlights of the Irish sporting and social calendars.
Anyone who is anyone among the Dublin social cognoscenti goes to Leapordstown on St. Stephen’s Day (Dec 26). Those who spend Christmas west of the Shannon or south of the Silvermine Mountains go to Limerick, as much to shake hands and have a hot port with old friends home for Christmas as to have a bet.
Bundle up and get out to see the majestic Irish landscape in its winter repose. Get away from the high streets and the commercial madness and take time to get acquainted with your own heartbeat. With it being Christmastime most hill walking trips have a festive theme including mulled wine and mince pies to help you on your way.
6. Christmas Pantomime
The pantomime is an distinctly Irish and English comic theater style where a well known fairytale can turn into the most pointed attacks on the government and society figures of the day. Ostensibly for children, these shows come larded with sentimental songs and vicious political satire that will keep adults chuckling too.
In Dublin the Gaiety and the Olympia theaters are the two celebrated venues for this kind of seasonal theatrical fun. If you want to celebrate Christmas the way the Irish themselves do be sure to book your tickets early.
7. Funderland at the RDS
From December 26 Funderland at the RDS is the world’s largest traveling amusements show. Go along and you’ll discover that all Dublin stops by although the place itself never feels too crowded.
Featuring five roller coasters, two giant Ferris wheels, and all manner of thrilling attractions this is an annual hit with kids and all kids at heart.
A visit to this elegant theater may well be the highlight of your Dublin stay this Christmas.
The Abbey Theatre, the first state-subsidized theater, first opened its doors in 1904. The iconic Dublin theater is associated with the writers of the Irish Literary Revival and Irish playwrights and actors of the 20th century such as William Butler Yeats, Lady Gregory, Sean O'Casey and John Millington Synge.
Be sure to pop into the nearby bar The Flowing Tide for a quick restorative drink after the show and you’ll be having a night out like a true Dubliner.
9. An authentic Irish country house
What could be better than Christmas spent in a country house in Ireland? With roaring fires, afternoon teas, hot chocolate and lively guests to meet?
The worldwide recession means that this is the best opportunity you’ll ever have to live your dream and take that winter break you’ve always dreamed of. Start by exploring one of Ireland’s best tourist guides and soon you’ll have your feet up in resplendent surrounds – in a country where a white Christmas is always a distinct possibility.
10. Christchurch Cathedral
Ring in the New Year at Christ Church Cathedral, which has been at the heart of the city of Dublin for almost 1,000 years. The cathedral of Holy Trinity, commonly called Christ Church, was founded by the Vikings, rebuilt by the Anglo-Normans and restored by the Victorians.
Architecturally, it is famed for its Norman crypt (the second largest in Britain or Ireland) and for the arcading of the nave, which is considered to be the finest example of Early English style in the country.
The earliest manuscript dates Christ Church cathedral to its present location around 1030. Dunan, the first bishop of Dublin, and Sitriuc, Norse king of Dublin, founded the original Viking church, which was probably subject to the archbishop of Canterbury. It’s the perfect venue to appreciate the long history of the nation. And afterwards you can sample the finest Fish and Chips you’ll ever taste at the nearby Leo Burdock’s chip shop (a famous Dublin landmark not known to tourists).
* Originally published in 2011.