Coach Holidays to Ireland, often referred to as ‘the Emerald Isle’, lies to the west of mainland Britain. Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, is divided into six counties: Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry and Tyrone, with majestic Lough Neagh, the region’s largest freshwater lake in the centre. The capital and the region’s largest city is Belfast, but the town of Letterkenny is also a popular base from which to explore the region.
Southern Ireland, or Republic of Ireland as it is also known, has twenty six counties split between seven regions: Cork/Kerry, Dublin, East Coast & Midlands, West, North West & Lakelands, Shannon and South East. The capital, Dublin, is situated on the east coast.
Landscape of Ireland is one of the most diverse in the world, from the bizarre lunar rock formations at Giant’s Causeway and the rural landscape and serene lakes of County Monaghan in the north to the unrivalled beauty and romance of Bantry Bay and Killarney in the south. The west is famous for its wild, Atlantic coastline and craggy landscape and the counties of Mayo and Galway are fine examples of Ireland’s unspoilt beauty, whilst the east, which includes the charming town of Bray, boasts luscious countryside, rivers and lakes and championship golf and race courses.
At 344km in length, the River Shannon is the longest river in the British Isles and as it wends its way from the Cuilcagh Mountains in County Cavan to the Atlantic, the scenery is ever-changing, from idyllic farm and pasture land to bustling riverside towns and the vast bog plains which surround the area.
History of the island can be traced back as far as 6000BC when the country is believed to have been inhabited by a race from the mid Stone Age. Some 4000 years later, tribes arrived from Southern Europe and their legacy remains in the form of Megalithic Passage Tombs which are still visible in County Meath. Patrick, the Patron Saint, is not actually an Irishman by birth; he was taken from his British home by Irish raiders and brought here to work as a shepherd. After his escape, he returned to Ireland to work as a missionary and is credited with introducing Christianity to the islanders.
The Vikings attacked around 790AD, laying the foundations for what is now the city of Dublin. The King’s Palace stood on the ground now occupied by Dublin Castle. The latter part of the 19th century was marred by the Great Famine, which killed over a million people due to starvation and marked one of the greatest tragedies in Irish history. It was around this time that over two million Irish inhabitants emigrated to Australia, America and Canada in search of a better way of life. Over the next hundred years, over six million people fled the land and today there are some 80 million Irish descendants scattered all over the globe.
Towns and Cities
Londonderry Also known simply as ‘Derry’, the city is a perfect blend of history and modern facilities. A walk along the ancient city walls rewards the visitor with fantastic views of the River Foyle and there are some excellent restaurants, bars and shops to choose from.
Belfast Perfectly situated between the mountains and the sea, Belfast has emerged from decades of strife to become a buzzing tourist destination. The ill-fated Titanic was built here in what was, at the time, the world’s largest shipyard. There is a wealth of historic buildings to explore, including City Hall, Custom House and the Crown Liquor Saloon which boasts opulent marble and Italian tilework.
Dublin is one of the most exciting and cosmopolitan cities in Europe. The city offers a wealth of historic sites, peaceful parks, fabulous shops, award-winning restaurants and a nightlife to rival the best in the world.
Waterford City in the south of the country is a hotbed of history and heritage. Although Waterford is one of Ireland’s oldest cities, it boasts ultra-modern shopping centres, pedestrianised walkways, lively bars and gourmet restaurants. It is also home to the world-famous Waterford Crystal and few visitors leave without purchasing at least one of the exquisite pieces.
Cork, a former European Capital of Culture, is without doubt one of the best places to visit whilst in Ireland. There is an array of friendly bars, great restaurants and an enviable summer festival programme. The delightful village of Blarney, just 5 miles from Cork is the home of Blarney Castle with its famous ‘Blarney Stone’.
Lisdoonvarna is Ireland’s premier spa town; grown around its mineral well this friendly village became a popular health resort in the 19th century and the waters are still reputed to have restorative qualities.
Westport lies in a stunning setting in the shadow of Croagh Patrick, a place of pilgrimage for centuries, overlooking Clew Bay, which itself is famous for its 365 islands. The town boasts an array of local shops, tearooms and atmospheric pubs, plus two Blue Flag beaches within a 20 minute drive.
Dungarvan provides a great base from which to explore Ireland’s sunny south east. The town centre has a modern feel whilst retaining its old Irish charm and there is a 15 mile expanse of coastline to explore.
Kilkenny has an intriguing medieval history and the 800 year old Norman castle overlooks its ancient streets. However, far from living in the past, Kilkenny has transformed itself into a lively destination with a diverse range of excellent restaurants, friendly pubs and modern shopping facilities, as well as a thriving local crafts industry.
Pick of the Attractions
The Tower Museum – Derry Award-winning museum located within the historic city walls at Union Hall Place. There are extensive displays and exhibitions, including the newly re-opened ‘Story of Derry’ which uses a wide range of techniques and artefacts to depict the city’s history from its foundation to the present day.www.derrycity.gov.uk
St Columb’s Cathedral – Derry The first Cathedral in the British Isles to have been built after the Reformation, St Columb’s is the most historic building in Derry.www.stcolumbscathedral.org
Killruddery House and Gardens – Bray Originally built in the early 1600’s, the house belonged to the Brabazon Family (Earls of Meath) and was completely remodelled in 1820. The magnificent gardens were laid out in the 1680’s and are still presented in the same style today.www.killruddery.com
Muckross House and Gardens – Killarney One of Ireland’s most popular attractions, the house was built between 1839 and 1843 is furnished in period style. The gardens include a walled garden, sunken garden and Arboretum, which features many rare and exotic trees.www.muckross-house.ie
Galway Atlantaquaria – Galway The largest aquarium in Ireland with over 170 species of marine and freshwater species, touchpools and on-site restaurant.national aquarium
Dunbrody Abbey & Visitor Centre – Wexford A 12th century Cistercian monastery complete with a full size hedge maze, pitch and putt course and welcoming tearooms.www.dunbrodyabbey.com
The Irish National Stud and Japanese Gardens – Kildare The Stud is home to some of Ireland’s finest thoroughbreds, whilst the Japanese Gardens are said to be the best of their kind in Europe.irishnationalstud.ie
Ring of Kerry – County Kerry is an area of unspoilt natural beauty and outstanding beaches. The region is awash with sites of historic importance, from old iron-age forts and monasteries to a landscape carved out of rock from the last ice age, some 10000 years ago.www.kerry-tourism.com