ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY visit the Emerald Isle and pick their top 10 experiences
Low misty hills, lush countryside dotted with barns and sheep, coasts draped in bluebells, fuchsia and wild garlic; in Ireland you do see forty shades of green. In this scenic land of castles and abbeys, you can kiss the Blarney stone, write a ditty in Limerick, hop islands at Galway or go location hunting in Dublin, where parts of Ek Tha Tiger were filmed. Quaff a pint at an Irish pub, amble down Liffey Board Walk on Ormond Quay, explore Dublin’s main shopping avenue Grafton Street or go graffiti spotting. From vibrant street art to political graffiti about Ireland’s ‘Troubles’, get a crash course on Irish history by reading the writing on the walls. Here are our top picks:
1. Titanic Belfast
Of the 3500 ships built in Belfast, perhaps the most popular is the Titanic. At the Harland & Wolff shipbuilding yard in the Titanic Quarter, visit the experiential museum shaped like the hulls of the trio of identical ships – Olympic (The Beloved), Titanic (The Damned) and Brittanic (The Forgotten). Retrace the ship-building process, records of survivors, heroic tales, costumes from James Cameron’s movie, info panels and old video footage, ending with a surreal walkthrough of relics scattered on the ocean floor.
2. Guinness Storehouse
Discover how a brewing blunder resulted in Ireland’s most famous export. Visit Guinness Storehouse in Dublin to know everything about the dark-coloured stout. The 125 ft edifice was the first skyscraper in Ireland. Its Chicago School architecture incorporates a giant glass in the hollow of the atrium that can hypothetically hold 14.3 million pints. The centerpiece is a copy of the 9,000-year lease signed by Arthur Guinness – just £45 per year for 4 acres land! Besides the manufacturing process, learn to pour at the Perfect Pint bar and how to drink using the five senses. The Brewery Bar showcases Irish cuisine using Guinness while the Gravity Bar offers excellent views of the city.
3. Giant’s Causeway
Tranquil bays, glacier-cut valleys, headlands with ladder farming, seagulls resting on rocky islets and a scenic road weaving through viaducts and Wishing Tunnels; the Causeway Route along Antrim Coast is one of the Top 5 Road Trips in the world. Stop for tea and scones at the lovely Londonderry Arms Hotel or enjoy a meal by a roaring peat fire at Bushmills Inn. At Giant’s Causeway, take a self-guided audio tour from the Visitor Experience Centre to fully appreciate the UNESCO World Heritage site. Listen to Irish legends behind the hexagonal basalt columns and key sights – the Camel, Giant’s Boot, Wishing Chair and the Organ! Nearby, visit the Carrick-e-Rede rope bridge and the awe-inspiring Dunluce Castle on a cliff, which served as the backdrop for Jackie Chan’s Medallion and Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy.
UK City of Culture 2013, Derry or Londonderry is a town that wears many laurels. Named after a sacred oak grove, it is Ireland’s longest inhabited city with a 6th century Celtic monastery. One of the finest examples of a walled city in Europe, it remains Ireland’s only one whose walls were never breached. Built between 1613-1619 as defences for early settlers from England and Scotland, its historic walls withstood the 105-day Siege of Derry in 1689, the longest siege in British history, earning it the nickname Maiden City. Start a walking tour from the Peace Bridge through the many gates and turrets lined with cannons. Say a prayer at St Columb’s cathedral and view the brick houses and political graffiti in the Bogside. From the War Memorial in the Diamond, undulating roads lead to pubs, eateries, shops and monuments.
5. Ring of Kerry
Counted among Ireland’s most popular tourist trails, the Ring of Kerry is a scenic 106-mile (179 km) circular trip across the Iveragh Peninsula. Journey past ruins of famine houses and railroad relics, passes and peat bogs, stone forts, great lakes and Ireland’s highest mountain Macgillicuddy Reeks. Admire coastal views from Lady Madonna’s Statue for Sailors Lost at Sea at Coomakista and quaint towns like Killarney, Cahersiveen, Waterville and Sneem. Be it a Derros Coach tour, horse drawn cart ride to the Gap of Dunloe, nature walks along The Kerry Way, boat rides on Lough Neagh or hikes through Killarney National Park, each experience is unique.
6. Trinity College Dublin
Jonathan Swift, Bram Stoker, Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett; many literary giants have walked the cobbled squares of Ireland’s oldest university. Founded in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth I, Trinity College is spread over 47 lavish acres. In the Old Library, ancient texts and rare volumes line the parchment-scented Long Room. Besides the Book of Durrow and Book of Howth, the library’s prized possessions include the Book of Kells, a beautifully illustrated book on vellum (calf skin) and the Brian Boru harp, one of three surviving medieval Gaelic harps; Ireland’s national symbol.
7. Stay in exclusive hotels
In Ireland, you don’t stay in a hotel, you relive a part of history. Built in 1824, Dublin’s Shelbourne Hotel was the unofficial hub of military activity during World War I and in 1922, Michael Collins drafted the Irish Constitution in Room 112. During WWII, US Marines established a base in Londonderry and camped at the Beech Hill estate while officers resided in the country house. Their names, initials and dates are carved on ‘The Marines Tree’ found deep in the woods. The Europa in Belfast, described as ‘the world’s most bombed hotel’ was where Bill Clinton stayed in 1995. The Londonderry Arms Hotel was once owned by Winston Churchill, while the sprawling Carton House boasts a Chinese Boudoir adorned by Chinese paintings and Indian wallpaper for its regal guest Queen Victoria!
8. Sample Irish cuisine
Based on farm-fresh agro produce and diverse seafood, Irish cuisine is slow cooked to impart greater flavour. With a strong baking tradition, bread is raised without yeast and cooked on grilles using soda bicarb to make soda bread, potato bread and rustic wholemeal breads. Try signature dishes like lamb stew, oyster fry and seafood chowder at iconic restaurants dotting the island nation from Dublin to Dingle Bay. At Scarriff Inn enjoy ‘the best view in Ireland’, sample seafood platters at the floating restaurant Belfast Barge, smoked salmon and pan-fried Haddock at Bushmill’s Inn, roast stuffed Irish Quail at James South Street Bar & Grill, crispy pork belly at Londonderry’s Custom House or steaks at Nick’s Warehouse. Wash it down with Irish coffee, local ales, choicest whiskeys and wines or good ol’ Guinness.
9. Stomp and dance to Irish music
In a land that gave the world U2, Van Morrison, Sinead O’Connor, Thin Lizzy and The Cranberries, there’s music everywhere. Catch buskers at Dublin’s Temple Bar area or visit the crowded avenue opposite St Park’s Green where Bono found his voice. Watch Merry Ploughboys perform at a pub run and owned by them at Rathfamham. Strains of the Eirrean Harp, Uilleann Pipes, bodhran and Irish dancing complete the evening. To catch traditional music, pub-hop from Ireland’s oldest pub The Brazen Head (1198) in Dublin to Belfast’s oldest tavern Whites (1630) and everything in between – Kelly’s Cellars (1720), Crown Bar (1849) or Fibber Macgee (1895). Sing along to classics like Molly Malone and Danny Boy or get a CD of Dubliners, The Pogues or Planxty to savour the typical Irish accent in the tunes.
10. Pick up classic Ireland souvenirs
From Celtic Art and jewellery to Irish symbols like shamrocks, leprechauns and sheep available in every conceivable form, take home a piece of Ireland with you. Browse through the many souvenir stores or retail chains like Carroll’s for posters and coasters of Dublin’s colourful doors, Irish authors, famous pubs or official merchandize of The Titanic, Guinness, Bushmills Distillery and Giant’s Causeway. Better still, get a t-shirt with some Irish attitude and slogans like Cead Mile Failte (Welcome to Ireland), Pog Mo Thoin (Kiss my Hiney) or Craic Addict!
Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 20 April 2013 in the Sunday magazine of The Hindu.