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Traditional and modern, ancient and cosmopolitan, Ireland is a land of enduring contrasts. Its famed greenest fields, freshest air, flavoursome produce and recent prosperity are attracting the emigrants of the 60s back home, as well as new migrants making it their home.
Ireland today is a starkly different place to the Ireland it was a few decades ago; what was a largely rural society is nowadays a multi-cultural one with a booming economy. Nowhere of course is this more obvious than in Dublin, one of Europe’s favourite short-haul destinations. Highlights include Phoenix Park, known as Dublin’s playground; a cluster of numerous lakes, Victorian gardens and tree-lined avenues on the north bank of the River Liffey. Dublin’s many museums, and the beautiful grounds of Trinity College, are all worth a peep into, as is Trinity’s library, which houses the ancient Book of Kells, dated circa 800.
And culture is Ireland’s trump card for attracting visitors. For a country of just over four million inhabitants, being able to boast household names such as Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and of course, not forgetting the Pogues, U2 and Riverdance, is quite remarkable.
Ireland is probably best defined by its people, some of the friendliest in Europe, especially those who inhabit the deeply isolated countryside, where cutting the turf in the bog is still part of daily routine. In the rural heartland, visitors in their millions regularly pay their homage by kissing Cork’s famous Blarney Stone or Knock’s sacred site. Irish Celtic culture is also still deeply rooted, with communities still using Gaelic as their first language.
On your drives you are most likely to see hedgehogs, the odd badger and around the lakes, the much-loved white-fronted geese. At times, Ireland’s landscape seems blanketed by heritage buildings, castles, monasteries and churches, dotted by the beautiful red deer, mostly found in national parks. Once you hit the coastline, you’ll see dozens of seals, but once you hit the towns, leave the wheel for some of the world’s best pubs, with world-class live bands usually incorporating the accordion, flute, tin whistle and fiddle - and look out for the ‘bodhran’ a drum made from goatskin.
The wild Atlantic crashes into the country’s west coast, itself armoured with the most majestic and serrated mountains, particularly within the Ring of Kerry and around the Dingle Peninsula. This supreme driving country is only topped by the rugged bogland area of Connemara in Ireland’s West, where the delineating boundaries of the classic stone walls snake endlessly through the fields.
Mayo’s Achill Island, connected to the mainland by bridge, hides beaches beautiful enough to be mistaken for Portuguese bays. Ireland is a wet country, with Cork and Galway seeing significantly higher annual rainfall than Dublin and the south east. Late summer is the best month to drive around Ireland as the weather is at its best and it doesn’t get dark until near 11pm.
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