CULTURAL QUARTERS: Nine Irish cities that are bursting with personality
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CULTURAL QUARTERS: Nine Irish cities that are bursting with personality

Brought to you by Tourism Ireland 

Ireland offers culture, history and literature — as well as myth, ancient legend, quirkiness, music and dance. Here are nine Irish cities with plenty of personality.

Waterford

Waterford is the oldest centre of continuous urban settlement in Ireland – as early as 795AD Viking raiders were mounting attacks on monasteries and settlements. But after a while, as the raiders matured, they realised that actually settling in Waterford – with its sheltered harbour and relatively mild climate – made a lot of sense.

Being a medieval settlement, and as so a key location in Ireland’s Ancient East region, Waterford has spread out over many, many generations to incorporate ancient villages. These now form distinctive areas within the city, such as the Viking triangle near Reginald’s tower. Narrow laneways, tranquil surroundings and late-night dining have made this a fine place to soak up old Waterford’s atmosphere.

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Armagh

Armagh was once the very centre of Europe with its great teaching monastery and missionary abbey founded by St Patrick. That has bestowed on this venerable and handsome city a tranquil, unhurried air.

Dublin

This is a good time to head to Dublin. The autumn lends a magic light to the time- darkened buildings, bold statues and Georgian streets.

Many of Dublin’s attractions lie south of The Liffey – including the vibrant Temple Bar, Trinity College, Grafton Street, St Stephen’s Green and most of the museums.

Limerick

Stand on Sarsfield Bridge in Limerick and you can watch a hundred swans swim effortlessly down the Shannon towards the Atlantic. With King John’s Castle as a backdrop, it’s an arresting sight.

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To learn more about this fascinating old city, walking tours – including one with an Angela’s Ashes theme – are a good bet; you’ll pass by the castle, the City Museum, St Mary’s Cathedral, the Hunt Museum and the Treaty Stone. For more leisurely tours, take a boat along the River Shannon to see where those swans were headed.

Kilkenny

Kilkenny retains more of its mediaeval character than any other Irish city – hence its prime positioning within Ireland’s Ancient East. Two imposing cathedrals and an extremely impressive 12th century castle overlooking the River Nore put it right up there with the very finest of Europe’s cities. And of course Kilkenny’s nickname, the Marble City, is a tribute to the very attractive local stone – which in fact isn’t marble at all, but carboniferous limestone, fact fans.

A busy port in its heyday (around the 18th century) Cork’s relaxed city centre stands on an island in the middle of the River Lee – another popular stop for those exploring Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way.

Belfast

Belfast’s history goes back many thousands upon thousands of years, perhaps even further. It does this in its own alternate universe, not correlating to time as we know it. Yes, we’re talking Game of Thrones here, the fantasy drama extensively filmed in Belfast and throughout Northern Ireland, eons ago.

But what better place to film a surreal, historical drama than Belfast? This is the birthplace, after all, of CS Lewis, as well as being the old stomping ground of Dublin’s Jonathan Swift – both of whom contributed greatly to the canon of surreal literature in, respectively, the Chronicles of Narnia and Gulliver’s Travels.

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Tours are available for Game of Thrones fans. Regularly cited as the most successful television series ever, the mediaeval fantasy is extensively filmed in a corner of the former Harland and Wolff shipyards in east Belfast and throughout Northern Ireland.

Belfast’s tangle of (mostly) Victorian streets also contain much real-life drama, not least the whole story of the RMS Titanic and its birth in the Lagan shipyards. The award-winning museum Titanic Belfast has the whole lowdown on one of the most famous, and indeed infamous, maritime disasters in history.

Belfast poet Louis McNiece described Belfast as being built “between the mountains and the gantries”. The gantries at the shipyards now stand idle, but the mountains are still there – as well as the culture and cask-conditioned craic.

Galway

Galway city, which started out life as a simple fishing village, is one of Ireland’s main cultural, culinary and entertainment centres.

From gigs to festivals, to the famous Galway Races and the county’s prime location along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, there is always something happening here.

Once the wine capital of Ireland, it’s natural that the city developed a reputation for fine food. Today Galway probably boasts as many restaurants, gastro-pubs and upmarket cafes per square mile than anywhere else in Europe.

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Derry-Londonderry

Derry-Londonderry has evolved into a city with edgy art galleries, innovative museums, contemporary restaurants and buzzy pubs.

It is the only completely walled city on the island of Ireland, and one of the finest in Europe. Its stone bastions have seen some of the key events in the island’s history.

Cork

The 21st century has seen Cork metamorphose into a vibrant, handsome metropolis, boasting fine pubs and classy restaurants, as well as a wide range of clubs, theatres and concert venues.