At a Glance
When to Go
Direct flights from Britain, Europe, and the USA arrive at the main hub, Dublin Airport. There are also airports in Shannon, Cork, Knock, and Belfast—and smaller regional airports such as Donegal and Sligo. The main airlines operating flights between Britain and the Republic of Ireland are Aer Lingus and Ryanair. It is also possible to ferry from Britain or France, sailing into Dublin, Rosslare, or Cork. The main operators are Irish Ferries, Stena Line, P&O, Brittany Ferries, and Norfolk Line Ferries.
Distances are not huge, and highways link the main cities. Car rental is readily available and is recommended for sightseeing for at least some of your trip, as it allows you to go to the more interesting places and stop off when you want. Note that car rental and fuel can be expensive (book ahead in high season). Other options include trains, which link the larger cities and are usually reliable, and intercity buses, which serve the main towns and cities. Many private bus companies operate on these routes, too. There are flights between Dublin and all of the regional airports. Drivers drive on the left side of the road in Ireland, and some rural and coastal roads can be narrow.
Food and Drink
Some of the oldest cultural highlights in Ireland include the Neolithic passage tomb at Newgrange (which, dating to 3200 B.C., is older than the Pyramids or Stonehenge) and the Book of Kells, which dates to 800 A.D. Everywhere you go in Ireland you’ll encounter music, dance, the performing arts, and literary festivals. Ireland has produced nine Nobel laureates including Seamus Heaney, Samuel Beckett, George Bernard Shaw, and W.B. Yeats. It's also the home of U2 and Riverdance. You’ll find traditional music sessions in pubs in nearly every town. The Irish-speaking areas in the country—known as Gaeltacht areas—are mostly in the west and northwest and there are Irish language TV and radio channels. For sports, the traditional pastimes of Gaelic football and hurling (played with a stick) are played in hundreds of Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) clubs all around the country.
The biggest annual festivals include St Patrick’s Day (March 17), when most towns have a parade and festival, the Galway Arts Festival (July), Cork Jazz Festival (October), Dublin Theatre Festival (September/October), Jameson Dublin International Film Festival (February), Galway Oyster Festival (September), and West Cork Food Festival (September). And most Irish towns have their own annual festival, usually during summer. Fair Day, on August 15, has been an annual festivity for at least two hundred years. Kenmare is one of the few remaining Irish towns that continue to honor the tradition. It’s the one day when farmers and animal owners can bring their cattle, horses, sheep, chickens, ducks, and donkeys to the town square to sell or trade in the streets. Over time the fair has grown to include stalls where all manner of other goods and services are sold—from antiques and bric-a-brac to fortune-telling.
What the Locals Know
Yvonne is an award-winning travel and features writer whose work has been published in The Irish Times, The Guardian, The Sunday Times, The National and more. She writes Ireland travel guides for publishers including DK Eyewitness Travel Guides, Explorer Publishing, and Shermans Travel and she co-wrote the book Back Roads Ireland (DK Eyewitness, 2010). She is also an accomplished musician and sailor; tales of her sailing trips can be found at Holidays on the Water. Find out more at YvonneGordon.com.