A Journey through Ireland – a few Highlights from the Emerald Isle

In many ways Ireland is the ultimate holiday destination: there’s a wealth of peace and quiet for those seeking tranquil times and more than enough vibrant culture in its towns and cities – including the fantastic cosmopolitan capital. All of this is surrounded in some of the most stunning scenery that you could find on any holiday. What’s more it’s all so fantastically accessible.

With that in mind, we’ve highlighted a few of our favourite destinations to give you a little taster of some of the best things to see, do and admire on your holiday. If this leaves you suitably inspired then all you need to do is pop over to our website to take a look at our hand-picked selection of stunning holiday cottages in Ireland.

Images of Ireland: Best of Travel 2015

‘Ireland is stunningly scenic…It is the real deal.’ Lonely Planet has tipped the Emerald Isle as one of its top 10 holiday destinations for 2015 due to a winning combination of gorgeous landscapes, wonderful tradition and fantastic hospitality. With that in mind we’ve selected a few of our favourite scenic highlights.

If you fancy making Ireland one of your destinations for 2015 then make sure you take a look at our website for early offers on a host of fantastic accommodation.

Cottage of the Week – Coomatloukane Cottage, Co. Kerry

This idyllic Irish cottage (ref. W31564) is nestled in beautiful green open spaces with elevated views of the Atlantic Ocean. Situated off the Ring of Kerry, scenic drives, beautiful beaches and walks abound! Sleeps 6. More info on our website.

Surfing Ireland

Hitting the beach at Bundoran

Hitting the beach at Bundoran

The rugged romance of Ireland’s west coast has myriad charms that may well take you out of your comfort zone. The mystical beauty and wild drama of the landscape might inspire you to don a smock and attempt to capture the waves on canvas, pen a poem or two or even leave the warmth of the pub for a hike along the cliffs. But unless riding 60ft breakers and prancing about in neoprene is your idea of a holiday, chances are you don’t know that this wind-blown stretch of the Emerald Isle, notorious for the warmth of its hospitality, is also up there with Hawaii, Malibu and Bondi in every self-respecting surf dude’s hit list.

In fact, big wave hunters from around the globe now descend on the jade-coloured shores of the Clare, Sligo and Donegal coasts, which aficionados consider more than a match for the world’s famous and more exotic surf playgrounds. The good news is that you don’t need to be super fit to join in the fun. If you fancy dipping a toe in shimmering green waters – with waves this great it would be rude not to have a go – or have a brood of active kids or teens hungry for adventure, Donegal Bay is the holiday hotspot that guarantees an absolute blast.

While Donegal Bay offers a great choice of challenging reef and beach breaks for the pros, absolute beginners of all ages are also welcomed with a zeal verging on the evangelical. The same winds that make surfers froth with delight also produce perfect conditions for sailing, wind and kite surfing, canoeing and kayaking, offering a smorgasbord of options for messing about on the water. Even better, the bay is home to two glorious Blue Flag beaches, Bundoran and Rossnowlagh, which also have safe bathing areas for families.

If you fancy learning to surf and want to taste all the water sports, make your base in Bundoran. Situated on the south westerly tip of Donegal, it’s hailed as the jewel of the Ireland’s surf beaches as its shoreline comprises a series of headlands and flat rock reefs that face directly onto near constant swell. Here, you’ll find excellent ISA approved surf schools, including Bundoran Surf Co., Turf ‘n’ Surf and The Donegal Adventure Centre, where friendly qualified instructors will help you master the precarious art of staying upright on a board.

If you don’t have the skills or the nerve to brave The Peak, Bundoran’s famous and challenging wonder wall of water, considered one of the best waves in Europe, don’t despair. You’ll have a swell time in the gentler spots for beginners and there’s plenty of craic to be had on dry land, too.  There is a great choice of charming bars and restaurants catering for families and couples as well as lively spit-and-sawdust watering holes that serve the surf fraternity.

Donegal Adventure Centre also offers the less challenging sport of body boarding (why try to stand when you can lie flat on your belly?) and for those who don’t fancy the feisty Atlantic waters, canoeing and kayaking on beautiful Lough Melvin. Adrenalin junkies can also indulge in the mystifying pleasures of cliff jumping while popular pursuits for families include learning how to build traditional Irish boats called Curraghs – available throughout the summer.

And you don’t need a board to explore the bay. For an exhilarating wind in your hair experience, you can climb aboard a speed boat for a marine tour with Bundoran Seaventures. Or if you fancy deep sea angling or the chance to spot whales and dolphins, Bundoran Star is a charter boat service that offers a fabulous choice of trips around Donegal Bay.

OK, so it’s hardly the tropics but when the tide rises and the sun shines you’ll be hard pushed to find a better water sports wonderland on your doorstep. All you need is a spirit of adventure – and possibly a thermal vest.

Other great surfing beaches

The Blue Flag beach of Rossnowlagh, a short hop from Bundoran, is another top choice for water sports action and offers a fun-filled holiday haven. Home to one of Ireland’s biggest surf clubs, Fionn Mc Cool’s, and prime surftastic waves it nonetheless offers beginners a warm welcome.

Heading a little further south, you’ll come to the top surfing beaches of Strandhill. Situated close to the town of Sligo, this is a popular haunt as whenever there’s a swell there’s waves. Likewise, further south down the coast the beaches of Lahinch are a safe bet offering a wide variety of beach and reef breaks and conditions for surfers of all abilities.

However, Lahinch has nightlife as active as its breakers, so prepare for crowds.  Experienced surfers can test their metal at Mossies Reef and the ledge out at Gary William point off Brandon Bay beach while nearby Ballybunnion is the home of surfing in Kerry with plenty of schools for beginners. Looking for a challenge? Castle Freek boasts the best waves on the south coast: a long peeling right hander with barrelling sections purely for the brave.

St Patrick’s Day – The Best Places to Celebrate in Ireland

iStock_000019135684Smallstpatricks

Dublin’s parade: one of the highlights of the festival

A commemoration of Ireland’s patron saint and the arrival of Christianity in the Republic of Ireland, St Patrick’s Day is a celebration of the country’s religion and culture that takes place on March 17th every year. While the occasion is now celebrated in various countries around the world, nothing beats a trip to Ireland to join in with the festivities on the day’s home turf.

There are a number of traditions associated with St Patrick’s Day. The colour green has become associated with the occasion over the years, and wearing green, shamrocks or shamrock-related designs is incredibly common on the day. It is also a day when music, entertainment, parades and markets are held. All over the Republic of Ireland there are different events and gatherings to mark the occasion – and here are our top picks.

Without a doubt, one of the best places to celebrate St Patrick’s Day in the Republic of Ireland is in Dublin, where every year sees the city come alive with a four or five day St Patrick’s Festival. In 2014, the festival is taking place from March 14th to 17th: four days and nights of the very best in culture, entertainment, music, food and drink.

The festival aims to showcase the huge amount of talent in the Republic of Ireland, and demonstrates the skills that Irish people of all ages and backgrounds have to offer. The colourful and lively St Patrick’s Day Parade is one of the highlights of the festival, along with The Greening Of The City, where some of Dublin’s most iconic buildings (including the castle and Christchurch Cathedral) are illuminated with green lights to mark the occasion.

Dublin’s celebrations also include funfairs around the city for both children and adults to enjoy, and a 5 kilometre road race that is suitable for fun runners, amateurs and experienced athletes alike. The weekend also plays host to an Irish Craft Beer Village, where visitors can enjoy sampling a selection of the country’s finest beers while listening to a wide range of live music acts. Established in 2005 and becoming increasingly popular since, it is by far the biggest St Patrick’s Day celebration in the Republic of Ireland.

Alternatively, head to Cork where the 2014 St Patrick’s Day Festival will take place from Saturday 15th to Monday 17th March. Every year the event features a different theme, with the theme for 2014 being “Legends” – a theme which will determine the fantastic outfits that will be on display at the highlight of the event: the Cork St Patrick’s Day Parade on the 17th.

In addition to the parade, Cork’s celebrations also include street performers, music, food markets, live performances and far more: a celebration where the entire city is out in force to commemorate their patron saint.

Downpatrick is rumoured to be the place where St Patrick is buried, leading to major celebrations. Their Cross-Community Carnival Parade is the highlight of their celebrations, and see everyone – whether Irish or not – coming together to pay tribute to the patron saint.

iStock_000019135053Smallgalway

Celebrations in Galway

Visiting Galway for the St Patrick’s Day weekend will also guarantee plenty of fun and festivities. Galway also hosts its own parade, with both floats and celebrants on foot. This year’s theme is “The Sea”, which should make for some interesting costumes! While the parade is the culmination of the festival, Galway will also be hosting a range of other events and festivities.

In County Kerry, celebrations of all shapes and sizes will be taking place across the region. The small village of Sneem hosts an annual celebration that proves that even the smallest of places can celebrate in style! The village’s street parade is very well known across the local area, with prizes awarded for the three best displays each year – as well as for the best window display, best dressed spectator and more. Sneem also hosts a street market over the St Patrick’s Day weekend, which features both locally produced products as well as those from further afield in the rest of Ireland. The celebrations also include live music and entertainment, as well as the annual Cow Dung Lotto – a fundraising event that covers the insurance costs that the day incurs.

In addition to big city celebrations, there are plenty of smaller events taking place all over Ireland. On St Patrick’s Day itself, most pubs and bars will be joining in with the festivities, with traditional food, plenty of Irish beer and often live music too. Wherever you end up celebrating, it’s a day when you’ll find the whole of Ireland out in force to pay testament to their patron saint in a variety of fun and entertaining ways.

Filmed on Location in Ireland

The stunning Dingle Peninsula

The stunning Dingle Peninsula

The vibrant cultural heritage of Ireland is well renowned; this is a country that is blessed with some of the most stunning natural scenery in Europe. Rolling greenery and a stunning rugged island coastline unsurprisingly have drawn filmmakers from the world of film and television to shoot against a scenic backdrop with superlative good looks. The ancient and haunting landscape has featured in many of our favourite movies and television programmes, we are going to take a look at some of the best known.

Braveheart – County Wicklow and Kildare

Much of this historic Scottish epic was in fact shot in Ireland, including many of the films key battle scenes. To the consternation of some, the tax breaks and lower costs in Ireland meant that much if the movie was filmed outside Scotland. The two countries of course share a Celtic connection with much of their common history shared across the ages. The mountains of County Wicklow play host to village scenes in the film with the remains purpose built cottages still present today. The Battle of Stirling Bridge was filmed on a huge area of flatland in County Kildare, between New Bridge and Kildare.

Ryan’s Daughter – County Kerry

County Kerry on Ireland’s wild westerly Atlantic reaches was the setting for scenes in ‘Far and Away’ but also the classic academy award winning Ryan’s Daughter. Starring Robert Mitchum, the film is set during World War I during the aftermath of the Easter Rising. The picturesque backdrop for the drama is the fictional village of Kirray, on the Dingle peninsula. Considered one of County Kerry’s most beautiful areas, the rugged Dingle Peninsula perhaps best captures the romantic essence of Ireland, a mesmerising seascape that is simply breathtaking. The deep blue water with surrounding scenery makes this one of the most beautiful corners on the Irish Isle.

Father Ted – Aran Islands, County Galway

The much loved Channel 4 comedy series Father Ted depicts the hilarious exploits of three priests exiled off the west coast of Ireland. Outdoor scenes were predominantly filmed on the Aran Islands, and in particular Inis Mor and Inis Oirr. As testament to the enduring popularity of Father Ted, fans still flock each year to see for themselves the real life setting for ‘Craggy Island’. These pristine islands in the Bay of Galway represent a throwback to a lost way of life in Ireland, an authentic flavour of old Ireland a land swathed in the lore of myth and legend.

Enjoy the Republic of Ireland in 2014

Ireland Landscape

Views of County Clare

There’s plenty to see and do in the Republic of Ireland, from exploring the area’s history and natural wonders, to shopping and dining in style. The Republic of Ireland is also home to some fantastic events and festivals each year, with something for everyone. Whether it’s food and drink festivals, sporting events, heritage events or any other activities, we’ve pulled together our pick of the bunch for 2014.

Between January 16th and 20th, head to Bunratty in Clare for the Shannonside Winter Music Weekend. The festival will consist of around 80 different shows, sessions, pub gigs and concerts, with various styles and genres of music on offer. With Irish music, blues, jazz, gospel, classical and more, it’s an event that will see Bunratty and Sixmilebridge buzzing with a hive of musical activity.

Additional music events include the Music for Galway Midwinter Festival between January 17th and 19th, and the Bray Jazz Festival in May. The Cork International Choral Festival takes place between April 30th and May 4th, with 2014 representing the festival’s 60th anniversary. Soul fans may also enjoy the 8th Dublin City Soul Festival from May 24th – 25th.

The start of 2014 also heralds the Chinese New Year, and the biggest celebrations by far are in Dublin. The Dublin Chinese New Year Festival is hugely successful and is now in its 7th year. Taking place in locations across the city, the 2014 festival will be welcoming the year of the horse – an animal that is much-loved across Ireland. Expect arts and music, martial arts, sports, photography exhibitions, the spring carnival, a Taste Of China event and much more, with the fortnight between January 30th and February 14th hosting events for the whole family that aim to enrich the connections between the two nations.

The Republic of Ireland also plays host to a number of sporting events in the first half of 2014. The Glen of Aherlow Winter Walking Festival is the perfect event for keen walkers, taking place in County Tipperary between January 31st and February 2nd. On May 12th, head to Dublin for the start of the Giro D’Italia: one of the greatest cycling events in the world that was first organised in 1909. The “Grande Partenza”, or Big Start, will be celebrated with a range of special events, with the race on May 12th culminating in a huge free-to-watch finish in Dublin’s city centre.

February and March are the months to spend in Ireland if you are a rugby fan, with the Aviva Stadium in Dublin hosting the country’s home fixtures in the RBS 6 Nations tournament. The Irish host Scotland on February 2nd, Wales on February 8th and Italy on March 8th, with tickets now on sale for all three games.

Food lovers may enjoy the Dublin Bay Prawn Festival in late April, as well as Taste of Dublin in mid-June, which sees top restaurants and food producers coming together for a veritable feast of flavour. The Galway Food Festival takes place from April 17th to April 21st, and the third year of the festival will celebrate Galway’s reputation as a top Irish foodie destination. The programme will include talks, tours, food trails, tastings, demonstrations, open air food markets and more. The last festival played host to over 50 food and drink businesses and over 70 different events, making the festival a must for all food lovers.

Alternatively, head to Dungarvan between April 10th and 13th for the West Waterford Festival of Food, with the coastal town hosting both free and ticketed events with the aim of supporting and promoting the local food and drink industry.

Finally, an obvious cause for celebration in the Republic of Ireland is always St Patrick’s Day. Monday, March 17th will see a whole host of celebrations all over the country, with the largest being the St Patrick’s Festival in Dublin. Taking place from March 14th to 17th, the St Patrick’s Festival is the largest arts festival in Ireland, with four days of entertainment, music, culture, food and drink. The highlights will include the annual St Patrick’s Day Parade and the St Patrick’s Festival 5K Road Race, alongside the city’s Irish Craft Beer Village and the requisite funfairs. You will also be able to see The Greening Of The City, at which buildings such as Christchurch Cathedral, Dublin Castle and Trinity College are all lit up in green to mark the occasion.

The first half of 2014 promises to be a busy year across the Republic of Ireland – and the second half will be no different! Whatever your interests, there’s a reason for everyone to visit the Republic of Ireland. With a huge number of events taking place and a wealth of other things to see and do, it’s the perfect holiday destination for 2014.

Find 2014 holiday accommodation in Ireland.