Brought to you by Tourism Ireland
LYING at the very edge of the Old World, Ireland is a land apart, surrounded by tumultuous oceans, great sea cliffs and gentle sandy beaches.
Inland the terrain flattens, then rumples — into hills and mountains, rivers and loughs.
The torquing of history is clear in the landscape with the ruins of stone cottages, great houses, dolmens, monasteries, and follies dotting the countryside.
This is a land that has lived hard.
Round towers, hastily constructed in medieval times to withstand the ravages of Viking attacks, are a unique part of the Irish countryside.
High crosses too, dating back to the Middle Ages, and built by the monks to help their flock understand the intricacies of Christianity.
These crosses, like the exemplary ones in Monasterboice, Co. Louth, would have been regarded as woke stuff by the people who built Ireland’s Neolithic tombs, some dating back 5000 years.
The Giant's Causeway in Antrim is arguably even older, going back to the time when mystical beings of all sorts roamed the land.
Ireland has, in short, the type of magical landscape where you could believe anything might happen.
No wonder Dracula and Halloween are both Irish creations; no wonder HBO fantasy series Game of Thrones was filmed substantially in Northern Ireland; no wonder the Star Wars production team favoured Skellig Michael as Luke Skywalker’s Island Sanctuary on the planet Ahch-To.
But you don’t need a box set or a gothic fable to tell you that this is a unique place.
On your next trip home, get yourself a set of hiking boots and experience more of this land - which has as much history per square foot as ancient Rome or Athens.
Throughout the year every part of Ireland features its own festivals.
The southwest can claim two of the best known: Puck Fair and the Rose of Tralee.
In the southeast, the autumn Wexford Opera Festival attracts international stars and an audience from across the globe.
In Northern Ireland, Ballycastle’s Ould Lammas Fair has been staging everything from livestock markets to impromptu music and dance events for around 400 years.
Meanwhile over in Galway the star turn at any number of festivals might be oysters or could be the Macnas giants.
These theatrical creations of almost grotesque proportions are part comedic, part sinister — but either way, totally spectacular.
You’re unlikely to go hungry at any of these shindigs.
Culinary influences from all over the world have now been incorporated into Irish gastronomy, although the bedrock of traditional cuisine remains - fresh, tasty, home-grown produce.
In places such as Harry’s Shack in Portstewart in Co. Antrim, overlooking the beach, you’ll find seafood cooked with flair and served with cocktails.
In Co. Clare, you’ll inevitably want to linger in cosy pubs where traditional music will be pulsating every night of the week.
Wild Atlantic Way
Look out for whales, porpoises, dolphins and seals from any headland on the Wild Atlantic Way.
This 1,500-mile trail stretches from the Inishowen Peninsula in Co. Donegal to Kinsale, Co. Cork, hugging a snarling coastline of raw beauty all the way.
You’ll pass the Slieve League Cliffs in Donegal, plunging almost 2,000 feet into the sea: there’s no better place to witness the Atlantic Ocean perform its riotous party piece.
Further south the formidable crags of Nephin Beg in Mayo nudge the Atlantic, and in Clare the route threads its way along the Cliffs of Moher, where Europe comes to an abrupt end in spectacular fashion.
The Ancient East
History tumultuous and heroic lurks round every corner of Ireland’s Ancient East.
Epic tales and legends, saints and scholars, heroes and villains — and pubs where the stories are embroidered, and the craic is guaranteed — are all part of the fabric of this land.
Kildare, officially Ireland’s flattest county, has put its modest topography to good use.
The world’s finest racing horses are bred here on the plains of the Curragh, and some of the most expensive horses in the world chomp contentedly in the verdant surroundings.
The Ancient East’s sweep of history ranges from the 5,000 years old stone complex that is Brú na Bóinne in Co. Meath (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), to the Norman-era Kilkenny Castle — up there with Edinburgh Castle or the Tower of London as one of the great castles of the world.
From Leitrim to Tipperary, Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands are made up of lands redolent of an ancient Ireland, still with us if you care to look for it.
Quiet boreens, or laneways, wind their way through woodland, pastureland and bogland. One route will take you to the Rock of Cashel, rising some 300 feet above the plains of Tipperary.
To complete the picture, it’s topped by towers and turrets of splendid medieval architecture.
The Heartlands are also the source of the Shannon — head for the Shannon Pot, in the Cuilcagh Mountains on the borders of Co. Fermanagh and Co. Cavan.
This deep, silent mountain pool is where the mighty river springs from.
Driving along the Causeway Coastal Route, walking in the Mountains of Mourne or cruising through Lough Neagh — all provide dramatic panoramas.
Those are the big sights.
But a less well-known Northern Ireland consists of hidden byways, secret gardens and mystical castles.
Lady Dixon Park in Belfast, with the Lagan running broad and clear beside the rose gardens, or Castlewellan Forest Park with its ornamental lakes and haughty swans in the shadow of an outrageous faux castle – all offer days of languid serenity.
Always check the latest travel and public health advice and gov.ie, nidirect.gov.uk and Ireland.com to find information and inspiration