Last Sunday I was walking the Glenfarne Sculpture Trail in Leitrim with another tour guide. We were chatting about approaches to visiting Ireland. Both of us have lived in other parts of the world and come to live in Ireland in middle-age. Why would you want to race around Ireland, packing in the maximum sights, traveling the length and breadth of the island at break neck speed? You could see just as much without a change of pillow every night by centering your holiday in one region.
This is the primary joy of slow travel. You get to savor as many types of site and sights but without the hectic fervor of a gallop. Slow travel is more of a canter. Slow travel allows for in depth exploration, the joy of serendipity as well as a relaxing and reviving vacation. The northwest of Ireland really lends itself to that sort of vacation experience. It’s a real holiday (holy day) and authentic experience of Ireland.
While many North American tourists look at a map and realise that Ireland is the size of Indiana, they don’t realise that in Fairy Ireland no road goes straight from A to B. You have to realise that most routes are as intricate, beautiful and surprising as a Celtic knot. So why would you try and dizzy yourself whirling around these ways when you could simply stop, look, stare, and soak up the spell of this country by taking a slow travel vacation.
John and I live in Northwest Ireland where the Slow Food and organic movements are well established. So, too, with both of us having seen much of what Ireland can offer the visit, we can recommend northwest Ireland as the best place for a slow travel experience. As John is quick to point out, in Sligo alone there are 3,000 ancient monuments. Sligo and Leitrim are the home to much of the action in Tuatha de Danaan lore. As one friend quipped, the pair of us could be a Come to the Sidhe Tourism Board! Without a doubt, the unspoiled environment and scenic beauty of northwest Ireland is very Fairy Ireland.
If the stones in this geological gem of Ireland could just speak! The limestone, sandstone, sedimentary rocks all can tell a story. It’s no little wonder that this region became the first international, cross-border global geopark. Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark takes in both built and natural heritage in counties Cavan and Fermanagh.
The place names of each townland are full of myth and legend. Tullydermot Falls, Co. Cavan in the photo right was one of the brief resting spots in the Flight of Grainne and Diarmuid. Diarmuid lost his life at Benwisken, Co. Sligo. Grainne, who returned to her husband Finn MacColl, is said to be buried on Sheebeg, Co. Leitrim.
The Tuatha de Danaan’s homeplace is in Co. Leitrim where they are said to have landed on Slieve Anieran. The Battle of Moytura where they were finally defeated is located on the Roscommon/Sligo boundary. What better place to contact the faerie than in Fairy Ireland homeland?
Northwest Ireland has stunning coastline that reveals the fossil record of this region. The whale backed drumlins march from the inland lakeland counties of Cavan, Leitrim and Fermanagh towards the Atlantic coast of Donegal and Sligo. The region offers thousands of ancient sites and monuments, relicts of Neolithic Ireland, peaceful roads to explore on footea or bicycle or by car. The region inspired poets and artists like William and Jack Yeats. It also educated literary giants like Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett.
Within a compact region that can easily be explored on day trips you can have the whole of the authentic Ireland vacation experience. To make it even more relaxing you won’t need to pack up everyday and sleep on a new pillow each night. You can breathe in the cleanest air in western Europe and sleep soundly after a day’s fairy hunting, communing with the land spirits, eating good food, and enjoying the genuine hospitality of this region’s locals.
The northwest of Ireland offers many byways, boreens and serendipitous left turns. It’s how we wound up setting here in the first place! Northwest Ireland definitely has the X Factor.
Bee Smith created Irish Blessings Tours to serve travellers to Ireland who want the unique and inspirational packaged for their group’s desires and needs. Bee seeks the source to manifest your dream Irish vacation according to your budget and time scale. She has a special interest in Fairy folklore, Celtic Spirituality and the Natural Heritage of northwestern Ireland and Northern Ireland. In 2011 Bee became one of the first trained tour guides that act at ambassadors for the UNESCO designated Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark. Send her your dreams for your Ireland vacation package to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A reader of my blog is interested in traveling around Ireland but will only really be able to use public transport. She also wants to be able to access some of the fairy places and ancient sites. My short answer was, “Not impossible, but tricky.” It is doable with discipline, good organization, timekeeping and timetable literacy. To get to the more remote places you will probably meet amenable locals who will offer lifts and every assistance you could hope for, which is part of rural hospitality.
So Yes, you can really earn your Light Carbon Footprint badge using public transport. Using public transport in Ireland is also a way of seeing Ireland as an ecotourism destination.
You do need to wear waterproof outerwear and footwear because there will be times when you can only access some of the really interesting places by foot. If you are happy on a bike then also look into bike hire in places that you will visit. Also pack light as you will probably be wheeling, lugging or backpacking over a fair amount of distance. So consider your back’s health. I took a Redmond 40 litre rucksack for a one week trip. Allow for the inevitable books, gifts, CDs you will accumulate enroute. Leave some empty space in other words.
For instance, my enquirer would like to visit the Cavan Burren, which has many megalithic monuments. Now there is a wonderful opportunity to get guided bus tours during the Cathal Buí Festival week, in 2012 from 27th June to 2nd July. But outside of that festival you can still get a bus to Blacklion. While the Burren is a good six kilometres uphill and away someone who is happy to bicycle could enquire about bike hire in the Tourist information office. Otherwise it is a hike, but a taxi could fetch you home. Or your B&B proprietor would most likely see your right.
As I said, not impossible, but tricky. You cannot be shy about asking questions. Be clear where you would like to visit and then ask locals to help you figure out those logistics.
I do not have a full driver’s license and just over ten years ago when we were contemplating a move to rural Ireland I did a solo trip to see if it was possible to get around using just public transport. With the generous assistance of some B&B owners who gave me lifts to bus stops to make connections that didn’t work to plan, it did work out.
I did it by bus because there was an absolute steal of deal through Eurolines from England(where we were living at that time) to Dublin. All roads and transport links lead to Dublin so, bleary eyed from the over night ferry, I traveled onwards to Limerick where I fell comatose into my hostel bed and slept thirteen hours.
The bus services in Ireland are remarkably prompt. I encountered only one delay on my trip when some prankster had let a goat into the bus in Scariff overnight. The driver’s seat had been eaten. But even this amounted only to about a half hour delay while we waited for the replacement bus to arrive. You do need to be aware though that on Sundays and Bank Holidays (public holidays) the buses are fewer and farther between.
Since I am older now and not so lithe and limber of limb, I’d choose to take the train as my first preference. Whenever I return from transatlantic flights I take the early train to Sligo to get me to my bed in the shortest time. However, my outgoing journey to the airport is usually by bus. Bus Éireann is cheaper than Iaonród Éireann but if you combine the best of both you should be able to get around. Buses will take you deeper into the rural areas. Once in the very rural areas you may need to resort to kindly B&B proprietors, bicycle hire or shoe leather.
Irish Rail has a few options to suit the tourist. Check the prices, which will alter but there are three tickets for travelers around Ireland.The 4 Day Trekker Ticket is valid for 4 consecutive days and can be used on all Irish Rail Services.Useful for a short stay with brief hops between towns outlying Dublin.
The Irish Rover Rail ticket seems a better deal for transatlantic visitors who would like to see a number of destinations or sites over a two week period. This ticket is valid for 5 days of travel out of 15 consecutive days. It can be used on all Irish Rail Services including all Northern Ireland Railways services, which could allow you to take in Belfast, the Antrim coastal towns and Derry. With this option plus local bus you could conceivably see the Giant’s Causeway. Be aware that the timetables for the North of Ireland will be through Translink rather than on the Bus Éireann timetables.
If you are seriously wanting to get out into the countryside then you may want to spring for the Irish Explorer Rail and Bus ticket. This option is valid 8 days of travel out of 15 consecutive days and includes all Irish Rail Services and all Bus Éireann services.
If you have a bit of time you may get more bang for your buck by just using the tourist bus tickets available from Bus Éireann. They have an Open Road Ticket which is completely flexible in terms of length of time it will be valid. You choose your first and last travel dates. This is valid in the Republic only. If you want to include Northern Ireland on your itinerary then you probably should opt for the Irish Rover Ticket.
Depending on how long you will be touring, bear in mind that trains allow more leg room and opportunities to stretch your legs and wander around. But the buses will allow you to see more of the countryside on their routes.
On my trek those many years ago I was able to bus from Dublin to Limerick, Limerick to Mountshannon. My kind B&B proprietor, Mr. Waterstone, gave me a lift to Scariff on the morning that I went to Liscannor, via Limerick and some tourist time out in Ennis en route. I did a fair amount of walking that week in the Mountshannon area and it was a few miles hike to the Cliffs of Moher from my Liscannor B&B but I was prepared for wet weather and had good hiking boots. I was offered lifts and those that I accepted proved completely harmless but hitching lifts on your own in unknown territory is never a good idea.
You may want to have a smart phone and buy an Irish pay as you go SIM card while traveling so you can access the internet and check bus and train timetables. Depending on the area where you travel you will have to gauge which provider to use. Vodaphone is strong in rural areas. O2 seems to be popular in built up areas. Meteor is getting better in rural coverage. Ask at the shop, tell them where you intend to tour and enquire about the coverage in the areas you will visit.
So, once you know where you want to go and what you want to see, start perusing the online bus and train timetables to figure how you can pack it all in to one very eco-friendly itinerary. Traveling by public transport is slower, but you will meet people, chat, see a great deal of the countryside from your window. You can be independent but also secure as a lone woman traveler. And that lone woman trekker can walk lightly leaving less of a carbon footprint if she uses public transport.
While I know that it is conventional to read guide books (or this blog) to choose what to see and do in Ireland, I have always found that going at things a bit slant has proven more enriching. Besides, you have a lot of dreaming to do in anticipation of your trip. Guide books will help you with logistics but they don’t necessarily nourish the trip dreamer in any of us.
For this reason I have chosen seven (non-fiction) books that will whet your interest and help build anticipation for a tour of Ireland. These are the books that I have chosen to help interpret what you are going to be seeing on your tour of Ireland. There is a genre of books that recount other’s tours around Ireland. They are very entertaining and I’ve enjoyed several of them. By all means read them when you have a bad case of itchy feet. But while these might help you be patient as you wait for you take off date, they won’t help enrich your tour around Ireland. For that reason, although there are a number of fun and well-written books they haven’t made the final cut on this list.
- The Red-Haired Girl from the Bog: The Landscape of Celtic Myth and Spirit – Patricia Monaghan’s book is part scholarship and part memoir with an artful juxtaposition of ancient and modern Irish themes, places and spiritual sensibility. The reader will get well acquainted with how myth plays out in Ireland’s geography.
- Over Nine Waves: A Book of Irish Legends – Marie Heaney (Nobel Laureate Seamus’ Mrs) gives a succinct retelling of Ireland’s legends and myths. While Monaghan will give you a sense of place, Heaney outlines the story in full, which will greatly enhance your sight seeing.
- Modern Irish Poetry: An Anthology - Poetry is intrinsic to Irish culture, but with so many really good poets you could assemble quite a library. An anthology is the answer, exposing the reader to a wealth of Irish poets, including excerpts from Kavanagh’s The Great Hunger. I particularly like this anthology because it includes Irish language poets in translation. The translations are done by the top flight of Irish poets – Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon, John Montague and Michael Hartnett.
- Ever Ancient Ever New: Celtic Spirituality in the Twenty-First Century – Even if you are not particularly interested in Celtic spirituality, Whelan’s book is a great explanation of the Irish Celtic sensibility and how it has developed from megalithic times to the advent of St. Patrick. If you are traveling to a country like Ireland steeped in both spirituality and religion, even if you are an agnostic, your tour of Ireland will be greatly enhanced by grasping the principles that have guided life on this island for millenia.
- Complete Irish Wildlife (Collins Complete Photo Guides) – Ireland is mostly rural and you are likely to encounter unfamiliar birds, flowers, insects, etc. in your travels. This handy guide has a a complete flora and fauna with colour photographs to help you identify. If you don’t have this in your rucksack when you tour Ireland you are sure to regret all those unanswered questions! In the absence of a naturalist tour guide this book will be invaluable.
- To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings – The late John O’Donohue did much to explain and reflect on the preoccupations of Celtic consciousness with his best selling Anam Cara. This book will help prepare you for your trip to Ireland with a blessing. It will also acquaint the reader to all manner of practice Irish blessings for the conventional occasions as well as offering of way of seeing the blessedness of less welcome circumstances.
- Meeting the Other Crowd – The great Eddie Lenihan was a famed storyteller from County Clare. In this book, co-authored with Carolyn Eve Green, you will get initiated into the fairy culture of Ireland. Lenihan is steeped in the oral storytelling tradition and Green has rendered it to capture that oral telling of the faeryfolk. Well worth reading if you plan of doing some fairy hunting on your tour of Ireland.
All of these books will make good armchair travel experience. But while you are preparing for your trip to Ireland you can spend many happy hours getting acquainted with the culture that has been shaped by the land and the stories they have told to explain it all.
Bee Smith created Irish Blessings Tours to serve travelers to Ireland who want the unique and inspirational packaged for their group’s desires and needs. Bee seeks the source to manifest your dream Irish vacation according to your budget and time scale. She has a special interest in Fairy folklore, Celtic Spirituality and the Natural Heritage of western Ireland and Northern Ireland. In 2011 Bee became one of the first trained tour guides that act at ambassadors for the UNESCO designated Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark. Send her your dreams for your Ireland vacation package to email@example.com.
Finding things to see in Ireland is easy as ABC. Here is a list drawing on thirty years experience of traveling in Ireland and ten years living here. Be assured there is no shortage of things to see in Ireland when you plan an itinerary.
A is for Ancient Sites
B is for Beaches
D is for Dolmens
E is for Ecotourism Destinations
H is for Holy Wells
I is for Islands
J is for James Joyce Celebrations
K is for the Kingfisher Trail
N is for Neolithic Ireland
O is for Organic Ireland
Q is for Quaker Pots
R is for Rock Art
T is for Theatre
U is for the Ulster American Folk Park
V is for the Vale of Avoca
W is for long distance Walking Paths
X is for that X Factor - the spot to mark on the map where you suddenly turned left and happened upon that hidden gem not in the guide book as one of the things to see in Ireland.
Y is for Yeats Country
Zzzzzzzz will remind you to see that you get a sound sleep after a day spent on all these things to see in Ireland
Let Irish Blessings Tours create a tailored itinerary from you wish list of things to see and do in Ireland. Having traveled around Ireland for thirty years, Bee has the expertise and knowledge to match your dreams to your budget. A trained tour guide Bee is available to escort your group for an entire tour or to spend a day or two on a particular loop of your trip.
Contact Bee with your wish list – firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s important when planning your dream trip to Ireland to make a list of things to see in Ireland. While personal research and preferences need to be taken into account, local knowledge can also be critical. So, as a friend once told me, do have your itinerary to hand but also if you get a nudge from the fairies to turn left, just do it! Over a series of articles I’ll guide you to some essential Ireland attractions. While you may want to concentrate on a particular region it’s important to have a broad category of things to see in Ireland and then find out how many may be found in the area you want to visit.
Having lived here in Ireland for a decade and spent thirty years traveling around Ireland I have to confess that this is a personal list of not to be missed things in Ireland.
Many people who are preparing a trip to Ireland worry about when is the best time of year to visit Ireland. In this series of articles I will tell you the positive points of each season; then you can decide for yourself what is the best time of the year to visit Ireland depending on what you want to focus on during your trip. Each part of the year has good points to consider. Using the Celtic Calendar we started with Samhain, or Winter. In this article I will focus on the reasons for you to consider Imbolc or Springtime as the best time of year to visit Ireland.
Many people who are preparing a trip to Ireland worry about when is the best time of year to visit Ireland. In this series of articles I will tell you the positive points of each season; then you can decide for yourself what is the best time of the year to visit Ireland depending on what you want to focus on during your trip. Each part of the year has good points to consider. Using the Celtic Calendar we will start with winter, which starts at Samhain, the Irish name for the month of November.