This article has been written with the traveler to Ireland in mind. However, if people who live in Ireland and want to make use of it to get to know their own country a bit better, or to spend a bit of time rambling about, no one will be more delighted than me if they find something worthwhile within its pages.
For anyone planning a trip to the West of Ireland, there are specific recommendations I would make, and particular suggestions which may be of use. Where you go to the West of Ireland will depend a lot on your reasons for coming. If you have family connections or genealogical research to do, you will want to go to the appropriate place. Within this article, I have listed in detail some more detailed descriptions of places to go and things to do.
- 1 Island of West Ireland
- 2 West Ireland, The Majestic in Nature.
- 3 Cities of Ireland and West Ireland
- 4 Belfast City of Ireland
- 5 Cork City of Ireland
- 6 Scenic Areas
Island of West Ireland
The island of West Ireland is a beautiful place and one of the Best Reasons to Visit West of Ireland, with a great variety of scenery ranging from wild and desolate areas of the mountain to gentle pastoral landscapes, spectacular coastal drives, to quiet inland lakes and waterways. All these are within a one or two days easy drive of three hundred miles long and about half that width. It is also a place where the local people are renowned for their hospitality, not to mention good craic – conversation, conviviality, and a glass or two of the local beverages!
West Ireland, The Majestic in Nature.
It should also be noted that West Ireland is a magical place that leaves its mark on all who visit. It is a land of leprechauns, fairy thorn trees, of myths and legends, and of far-fetched tales which you can never quite tell whether to believe or not. And in the end, who cares whether they are authentic, the fact that they might be is part of the charm of the place. If you allow yourself to fall victim to its magic, you will want to return to Ireland again and again.
Cities of Ireland and West Ireland
Dublin is a mixture of all sorts of things. There is much left of the elegant Georgian architecture which at one time made Dublin one of the most acceptable cities in Europe. There are also vast sprawling estates of public housing, including the Ballymun estate of 1960s high rise apartments, which are a real eyesore, and a place of considerable social deprivation (now, thankfully, in the process of demolition and redevelopment).
Dublin has a convivial atmosphere and a lively social life. It also has a serious drug problem, and a crime rate similar to that of many American cities. If you are looking for good shops, hotels, historical places to visit, museums, art galleries, concerts, theatres, etc., Dublin has all these to offer in abundance. One thing Dublin does not have is skyscrapers. In this respect, it is very different from any American city (the Ballymun Flats – referred to earlier, lie on the northern outskirts and rise to 14 stories).
Belfast City of Ireland
Belfast, in Northern Ireland, has quite a different character. It is, of course, world-renowned for its “troubles”, but – for the present at least – this is an undercurrent below the surface, and should not put off the visitor. Belfast is a city that grew out of a heritage of heavy industry: shipbuilding, linen weaving, rope making, and heavy engineering. It does not have the elegance of Dublin.
However, it has many magnificent buildings, including the City Hall (an almost exact copy of the one in Durban, South Africa, by the same architect), Queens University (built-in Victorian Tudor-renaissance style), and the new Waterfront Hall – a concert hall par excellence seating some 2500 people. Belfast has been transformed in the last twenty years – it is now a thriving place with many new developments and an increasing cultural and social life.
Cork City of Ireland
Cork is the Republic of Ireland’s second city. It is a more relaxing place than Dublin, noted for its tranquil setting on the River Lee. It has a lively, bohemian atmosphere, and an increasing multi-national, multi-cultural feel to it.
The same is true of Galway, in whose narrow, picturesque streets you will find Italian, Spanish, Indian, Chinese, and French restaurants all plying their trade.
Derry or Londonderry (which version of the name you use depends on whether you are Catholic/Nationalist or Protestant/Unionist.
If you do not fit either description use whichever you like) is one of the finest examples of a walled city – with the walls still intact – in Western Europe.
Armagh, the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland (for both Roman Catholic and Church of Ireland faiths) is notable for its tree-lined Georgian Mall, where cricket is played in the summer, and for its astronomical observatory and planetarium.
Waterford, Kilkenny, and Limerick are also cities of note, and worth a visit.
The Wilder Side of West of Ireland
The West of Ireland generally wilders, more rugged, more mountainous, and more sparsely populated. And the pace of life is slower and more relaxed. Within this broad description, there are several distinct areas, each with their local characteristics.
Southwest of Ireland
The Southwest has the highest mountains in Ireland and noted for the Lakes of Killarney and the Ring of Kerry. Also here is Dingle Bay, where you can go swimming with Fungi the Dolphin.
This area, however, is very much on the tourist trail. West Cork, to the South of County Kerry, has spectacular scenery in its own right. One exciting thing to do is to visit Garnish Island or Ilnacullen. It is a small wood island in Bantry Bay with lush sub-tropical gardens with backdrops of the surrounding mountains. It is a short boat journey from the jetty at Glengarriff.
County Clare contains The Burren making it the best Reasons to Visit West of Ireland, a prime example of what is geologically known as a Karst landscape, or limestone pavement. From a distance it appears as rounded hills of blue-grey bare rock, giving a surrealist moonscape effect. Closer examination reveals that it is bare rock. But the surface weathered and eroded into many cracks and fissures in which grow an astonishing variety of plant species.
Spring is the best time to visit when all the wildflowers are out, but it is impressive at any time. On the edge of the Burren lie the Cliffs of Moher, the highest sea cliffs in Western Europe. A cliff-top path (well fenced and a few feet back from the edge) runs along with them. Also in the Burren, the Ailwee Cave is worth a visit.
The most important pre-historic site in Ireland is Newgrange, near Drogheda, in County Louth, along with its nearby sister sites, North and Dowth. All three are passage graves. You can compare in importance with Stonehenge and the Pyramids as one of the great wonders of the ancient world. Nearby is the Hill of Tara, where the court of the ancient High Kings of Ireland was located.
Navan Fort, near Armagh, is another important site on a smaller scale to Newgrange.
One of the most spectacular places to visit in Ireland is Dun Aengus, on Inishmore. The largest of the Aran Islands. It is a semicircular stone structure, with walls so thick you could drive a car on them, situated on a hilltop at the very edge of a sheer cliff several hundred feet above the Atlantic Ocean.
The Grianan of Aileach, between Derry and Buncrana, in County Donegal, is another magnificent and impressive structure.
Throughout Ireland, there are many dolmens and standing stones.
Early Historical Sites
There are a great many historical sites throughout Ireland. In particular, it noted for its Celtic round towers are great Reasons to Visit the West of Ireland.
One of the most picturesque sites is Glendalough, County Wicklow. An early stone church and round tower situated between two lakes in a deep wooded valley in the Wicklow Mountains.
A flamboyant site is the Rock of Cashel, in County Tipperary. The rock itself rises suddenly out of the surrounding lush, fertile plain known as the Golden Vale. An impressive ruined ecclesiastical citadel, complete with the cathedral, round tower, and high cross surmounts it.
The crypt of St Michan’s Church in Dublin contains the preserved remains of a crusader making it the best Reasons to Visit West of Ireland.
Later Historical Sites
There are so many historical places from the last five or six hundred years.
Throughout the country are many fine country houses, which were once the residences of the Anglo Irish “Ascendancy”. Some of the largest and finest of these are open to the public during the summer months. Contact the Irish Georgian Society in the Republic of Ireland. And the National Trust in west Ireland for details.