|(Glendalough)||Updated: June 8, 1999|
Eire (Ireland) is a magical island, a population of people spread across continents, and a culture that spans centuries. It is a charming redhead kid, a rainbow across the green hillside, a glass of plain (Guiness), and a rousing jig in the corner of a pub. This page will give a little flavor the Ireland experience.
Probably, the best virtual introduction to Ireland is the Irish and Celtic thingies Web page. You may also want to check out the City Net:Ireland. To find out about current events in Ireland, read The Irish Times on-line. Check out the live view of Dublin and listen to the news on FM104, Dublin's largest radio station. And for the latest scores of "The World's Fastest Field Sport", surf to the Hurling Home Page!
These two small islands off the end of the Kerry peninsula more than reward the extra effort it takes to get out there. I went to see the huge colony (20,000 pairs) of gannets on Little Skellig. On the larger island, Skellig Michael, I was thrilled to see dozens of very tame Atlantic puffins standing as close as 15 feet away outside their nesting burrows, four or more herring dangling from each their bills. One can also see razorbills, murres, and fulmars. For most tourists, the main attraction of Skellig Michael are the 6th century beehive monastic cells built on the very top of the very steep island. Although I'm not much for religious ruins, these were astounding -- climb the 1000 year old flagstone steps to the 500 foot summit, look at the little cells, and you feel you are at the edge of the world.
Galway is a far more comfortable stop, and my favorite city. It is also the gateway to Connemara, my favorite part of Ireland. Check out Roundstone, the sleepy little town near Clifden. Have a great meal in Leenane, setting for the film The Field. Make sure you take the road north from Leenane up through Delphi, Doo Lough, to Louisburgh. Speaking of films, if you haven't already seen The Secret of Roan Inish, race out and rent it from your video store. This is a totally charming film for persons of all ages.
There are lots of books about Ireland, most aiming at the nostalgia market. However, there has been quite a few good books recently, including:
For an introductory taste of Irish literature I strongly recommend Roddy Doyle's hilarious story of modern Dublin life, The Snapper, and Sean O'Casey's somewhat dated, but very powerful play, The Plough and the Stars.
Ireland is nearly an ideal place to visit by bicycle. It is fairly flat, the roads are pretty good, but there is relatively little traffic. The towns are fairly close together. Don't let the reputation for rain put you off. Bring good biking raingear, change your attitude. The sun's rays poking through the clouds and dappling the hills with dozens of shades of green is one of the joys of the country, best appreciated by bike.
(A rest stop in Connemara on way to Leenane)
Try to get Brendan Walsh's Cycle Touring Ireland (Gill & McMillan 1997 £6.99) (previous edition--very similar-- called the Irish Cycling Guide). It is often available from the Irish Tourist Office. It is far and away the best of many bicycling guides to the country. It is quite easy to rent bicycles in Ireland for the day or week, and even possible to rent them in one town and return them in another. In contrast to the UK, it is very easy to take bikes on trains in Ireland, and even possible to take them on buses!
Ireland may be more famous for its extinct wildlife (the huge "Irish elk", the wolves allegedly eradicated by Cromwell, and the snakes exiled by St. Patrick), but it does have an interesting, if somewhat small, fauna. Of particular interest to me were the gannets and puffins which can be seen from many places along the west coast, including the Cliffs of Moher. If you are there in the early summer, you will hear the calls of the common cuckoo, and think someone has placed Bavarian clocks in the trees.
Ireland has an extraordinarily rich and varied musical scene for such a small country. My tastes run heavily to the "traditional" Irish music which is now thriving, led by such groups as Altan and The Chieftains. Check out my pages devoted to Irish traditional music!
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