Dublin: Exploring the Emerald Isle
Ireland is blessed with a variety of fascinating landscapes that will leave visitors spoiled for choice. Should they explore rugged County Donegal in the north, the spectacular Ring of Kerry down on the west coast, or maybe the magical palm gardens in the south, near Cork? Or simply fly to Dublin, where ancient Celtic sites, beautiful castles and small fishing villages are right on the doorstep?
Howth Head peninsula, east of Dublin, extends far out into the open sea. It used to be an island but has long been connected to the mainland by a narrow strip of land. These days, the small town of Howth is within easy reach of the city thanks to the DART, Dublin’s suburban railway – and has become a popular spot for day trips. Visitors come mainly for the excellent seafood restaurants and the breathtaking cliffs, which attract ramblers and also provide a refuge for several bird species as well as some of the best spots for anglers. Local points of interest include Ireland’s Eye, a small island and bird sanctuary out in the bay, and Howth Castle, which was immortalized by James Joyce in his novel Finnegan’s Wake.
Howth: www.howthismagic.com. Howth Castle: Tours of the castle, which is still occupied, are available only to groups and by arrangement. www.howthcastle.ie
Green peaks, vast bogs, ancient monasteries and stately homes – the Wicklow Mountains rise into the sky just south of the capital. Many Dubliners come here on the weekend to explore this magnificent stretch of country on foot. But with the River Slaney flowing through the area, there are also rapids to tempt rafters and trout and salmon enough to gladden any angler’s heart. If historical buildings are more up your street, the medieval monastic settlement at Glendalough and Powerscourt House with its extensive gardens – said to be the finest of their kind in all of Ireland – are both well worth a visit.
Wicklow County Tourism: www.visitwicklow.ie. Glendalough, County Wicklow: www.glendalough.ie. Powerscourt Estate: www.powerscourt.ie
Holy hill: An ancient barrow almost 5000 years old, the Hill of Tara is one of the most important prehistoric and ancient sites in Ireland. The elevation north of Dublin is also the site of the legendary Stone of Destiny, which is said to have given a joyful roar when touched by the rightful king of Ireland. Tara is a place of myth and mystery and even historians are unable to distinguish with certainty between fairy tale and reality. Is this really where the legendary High Kings of Ireland were crowned? Or was the hill in fact a pagan site? Its later symbolic significance for the Irish freedom fighters is undisputed, however; in the mid-19th century, more than a million Irish people came to the Stone of Destiny to protest against the British occupation.
Hill of Tara: Navan, County Meath, Tel.: +353-46 902 59 03 (May 26-Sep 14, otherwise +353-41 988 03 00). Open: May 26-Sep 14, daily 10am-6pm, last admission 5pm. Admission: €3 (reduced €1-2). www.heritageireland.ie/en/MidlandsEastCoast/HillofTara/
Photos: Corbis (3), Chris Hill/Tourism Ireland