10 THINGS TO DO IN IRELAND AND NORTHERN IRELAND
Epic coastal drives. Historic links courses. Literary pub tours. Castles that echo of ancestry. The allure of Ireland and Northern Ireland is as strong as ever—soak it all in with these ten don't-miss experiences. (Full story: http://on.natgeo.com/1NQHZiS)
- •Fly Falcons at Dromoland CastleFalconry was a sport of choice among medieval nobility, so it makes sense for Dromoland Castle to offer a School of Falconry—it’s the ancestral home of the O’Briens, descendants of Brian Boru, High King of Ireland in the 11th century. On this private experience with falconer and hawk, you walk through the wooded castle demesne, launching a trained hawk skyward and calling it back to your gloved fist as the chieftains did back in the day.
- •Drive the Wild Atlantic WayThis new touring route takes in the entire western seacoast of Ireland, offering stunning vistas, a rugged coastline, charming villages, tearooms, pubs, ancient ruined castles, and photo ops. The Wild Atlantic Way is reportedly the longest defined coastal drive in the world. It covers over 1,500 miles, from Inishowen Peninsula, County Donegal, in the north to Kinsale, County Cork, in the south, with many additional loops and diversions.
- •Try a True Links CourseOne third of the world’s seaside links courses (more than 50) ring the coastline of Ireland, where golfers are spoiled for choice. Links courses—one of the first types of golf courses—are notoriously tricky. Golfers have to thread the ball through sand dunes that can reach 200 feet high and hit tiny greens topping sea grass-tufted dunes, while dealing with wind currents and changeable weather.
- •Sample Cork’s Artisanal FoodThe English Market in Cork’s city center is a roofed food emporium showcasing regional Irish ingredients and artisanal food offerings. It’s also a destination for shopping, noshing, lunching, and people-watching (Queen Elizabeth II visited in 2011). Established in 1788, it originally helped provision fleets in the harbor, and through years of economic hardship, the famine, the Irish War of Independence, and the Civil War, the English Market kept its doors open.
- •Toast Literary DublinMany literary figures have called Dublin home, and each had a favorite pub where they spent a great deal of non-writing time. On the Dublin Literary Pub Crawl, two actors perform prose, poetry, and theatrical scenes by writers affiliated with four historic pubs. It’s a fun rollick around the city, mixing literary entertainment with liquid libation.
- •Learn about the TitanicWhen the supposedly unsinkable R.M.S. Titanic hit an iceberg and sank with a loss of over 1,500 lives in 1912, it began a fascination that endures over a century later. For the 2012 centennial, Titanic Belfast in Northern Ireland opened with an acclaimed design in the place where the ill-fated liner was built. The museum is an interactive experience that takes you on a high-speed thrill ride through the shipyard, shows the media coverage of the sinking, and explains the underwater exploration.
- •Go on an Epic PilgrimageCroagh Patrick in County Mayo is Ireland’s holy mountain and the 1,500-year-old Christian pilgrimage tradition continues to this day—each year thousands of pilgrims visits this forbidding, 2,510-foot-high mountain. The mountain was already a place of pagan worship for the harvest festival of Lughnasa when St. Patrick arrived in the year 441 and supposedly fasted for 40 days at the top, banishing the snakes from Ireland during his stay.
- •Marvel at ManuscriptsThe illuminated manuscripts produced by monks in the great monasteries primarily from the seventh to ninth centuries are intricate works of art with decorative Celtic knotwork and depictions of animals and saints. They are Ireland’s masterpieces, and their ornamentation is unique in the world. The Treasury and the “Turning Darkness Into Light” exhibition at Trinity College Dublin present a number of ornate manuscripts, such as the Book of Armagh, the Book of Mulling, and the Book of Dimma.
- •Explore DingleBefore the Age of Discovery, Europeans believed Dingle Peninsula—the most westerly point in Europe—to be the edge of the known world. The area has the greatest concentration of ancient monuments in Ireland, and stunning scenery to boot. The 25-mile drive around the coast is packed with ancient sites, walking trails, museums, and photo ops.
- •Get Active in Killarney National ParkAfter Queen Victoria’s visit to Killarney in 1861, the charming town became Ireland’s first tourist destination, and it still holds the top honor with good reason—it has Killarney National Park on its doorstep. It’s the largest national park in the country and offers stunning scenery, historic sites, and interesting things to do, with more active options than sitting in a car or bus around the Ring of Kerry.