By Greg Aragon
Ireland is a magical place of castles, green hills, idyllic towns and rolling rivers. It is also modern and lively and full of energy. I recently returned from a week in the Emerald Isle and the memories are still dancing in my head.
My getaway began at Dublin Airport, where a friend and I rented a car for a trip down the Southern Coast. The adventure appeared off to a perfect start until we discovered the stick shift and steering wheel on the left side of the car. After a couple gear-grinding hours of European roundabouts and unknown speed limits, I finally got the hang of it and somehow made it to the Harcourt Hotel (harcourthotel.ie) in downtown Dublin.
The hotel features 104 cozy, efficient rooms, a full service restaurant called “1900,” a bar/nightclub, and an all-weather heated beer garden. The property currently incorporates eight Georgian listed buildings, one of which was a former home to George Bernard Shaw.
Once acquainted with our room, we walked to downtown Dublin. Located on the Liffey River, the city is modern and medieval. City highlights include a magnificent Norman/Gothic- influenced Christ Church Cathedral, built in 1038; the Dublin Castle built in 1208; and the moat-surrounded Drimnagh Castle.
After a night of pub-hopping, we followed the Irish Sea to the Port of Wexford. Along the way we traversed rolling green hills, speckled with thousands of fluffy white sheep and herds of slow-moving cattle. Down a secluded road we encountered the mysterious Johnstown Castle (johnstowncastle.ie), built between the 15th and 18th centuries. Eerie and beautiful, the gothic revival-styled castle welcomed us with giant stone turrets, lush ornamental gardens and a serene lake. The gardens are a popular destination for walks and picnics.
The Johnstown Castle estate was the historic home of prominent Wexford families beginning in the 12th century. Since then it has changed hands numerous times, while different parts of the castle were constructed. By 1863, the estate grew and featured more than 1,000 acres, hundreds of trees and three lakes.
The castle property also features the Irish Agricultural Museum, which displays one of the most comprehensive displays of farming and rural life in Ireland. The museum, which has been around for over 40 years, offers 19 different exhibitions – everything from tractors to country kitchens.
From the castle we drove to the storybook County of Wexford (visitwexford.ie), where we found colorful buildings, medieval cobblestone streets and fishing boats. The harbor village has throughout history been the landing point for Scottish, British and French ships.
Set at the mouth of the River Slaney, Wexford is known for its famous beaches, such as Duncannon Beach, with a mile-long swimming area and stunning views of Hook Head and Waterford from the coastline. The area also boasts Hook Lighthouse, the world’s oldest working lighthouse, a popular opera festival and West Gate Heritage Tower. The tower is a restored 13th-century tollgate located next to the old town walls and ruined 12th-century Selskar Abbey.
While in Wexford we stayed at the Horse & Hound Hotel (horseandhoundhotel.ie), which boasts tastefully decorated rooms and a newly refurbished bistro. The hotel is about 40 minutes from Waterford City and less than an hour from Kilkenny City, and close to local attractions such as Kennedy Park, Hook Lighthouse, Tintern Abbey, and The Dunbrody Famine Ship.
In the morning, after an Irish breakfast of smoked salmon, eggs, sausage and bread, we drove by the Dunbrody. This is the ship that transported thousands of Irish to America during the Great Potato Famine. Near here we checked into a B&B in the seaside village of Youghal, the home of Sir Walter Raleigh.
Steep, narrow streets, fragrant old-time butcher shops, a huge red clock tower built in 1776, a lighthouse constructed in 1202, and scores of lonely boats bobbing offshore, stand out in my memory of this charming port.
Our next stop was the 600-year-old Blarney Castle (blarneycastle.ie), where I kissed the legendary Blarney Stone. From here, we visited County Cork, for a taste of Irish Whisky at the Midleton Distillery, and then examined a unique 17th century insane asylum on the River Lee.
Our last Irish night was spent at Andy’s B&B in Nenagh (andysnenagh.com), sipping Guiness Beer and singing along at a piano bar.
For more info on visiting Ireland, go to ireland.ie.