Ireland Blog

When I was a child we used to dress up for Halloween however here in Ireland this behavior was seen as a little odd and only tolerated as my Mother was Canadian. I remember going trick or treating only once and the reaction I received at most doors was a little bemused and I came home with more money than sweets. In those days Halloween was more commonly known as All Souls Eve and was a religious holiday first and foremost. How things have changed! Already there are decorations up everywhere, the kids are making jack-o-lanterns at playschool and chocolate, candy and costumes are flying out the doors in all the shops. If you want to experience Halloween in Ireland at it’s best there is nowhere better than the City of Derry in Northern Ireland. Their Halloween Carnival is the best I’ve seen – if you want to feel strange at Halloween in Derry DON’T dress up. Seriously the whole town is in costume! As I mentioned in a previous post, Derry is the 2013 European City of Culture so no doubt this year will see the Carnival bigger and better than ever. I can’t wait to see the fireworks display which takes place on the Foyne River making it easy to get a spectacular view from anywhere in Derry. Check out their facebook page to keep up to date with all the spooky goings on in Derry.

Ireland is a great destination for a Family Vacation. One of the great things about Ireland is there is much less age segregation here than in many parts of the Western World so you will regularly see family groups out and about together. Family Vacations in Ireland can be for just the nucleus family or why not bring the extended family along for a trip of a lifetime that the whole family can remember. Babies, Toddlers, Children, Teenagers, Parents, Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, etc can all be accommodated with plenty of attractions to entertain the whole family. From Dublin Zoo to the Aillwee Caves, from Blarney Castle to the Titanic Exhibition, the country is covered in family friendly attractions. Kids and adults alike will love taking a Viking Splash Tour in Dublin or exploring the Muckross Farms in Killarney. Once we know the age range and interests of your group, we can customize the trip to suit everyone’s needs. While it’s rarely warm enough for swimming in the sea in Ireland lots of hotels have indoor swimming pools so if your kids love to swim do let us know. There are also lots of activities in Ireland for the whole family to enjoy. Hiking, biking, horse riding, falconry, fishing, archery, clay pigeon shooting and kayaking to name but a few. Children are welcome in pubs in Ireland up until 9pm so with plenty of afternoon sessions taking place (especially on Sundays) you will still get to experience a traditional music session which the children are also sure to enjoy. Most family friendly hotels also have babysitting services available so just ask if you’d like to include some adult time on your Family Vacation in Ireland and we will take care of it for you.

As I sat and watched the Rose of Tralee 2013 being crowned last night I got to thinking about how much this festival has been a part of Irish Life over the last 50+ years. It’s the TV event of the summer and children all over the country are allowed to stay up late to watch the Rose of Tralee. I think every girl in Ireland at some point aspires to one day compete in the Rose of Tralee – a more attainable dream than that of popstar or princess perhaps? For the girls that do get to live the dream it is a whirlwind week of fun and a chance to meet with girls from all over the world, all with roots on our small island of Ireland. I love to hear the stories of how the girls have ended up in far flung corners of the globe. Some are studying and working abroad while others are second and third generation Irish for whom this can sometimes be their first trip to Ireland.

If you are lucky enough to attend the Rose of Tralee Festival don’t expect to get much sleep. There is always an exciting and full program of events with live music and dancing on the streets of Tralee, a food and craft market, workshops, roadshows, sessions and much much more. For more information about next years Rose of Tralee Festival visit www.roseoftralee.ie

 

Sunny

Well I guess it’s weather and we’re in Ireland but it’s certainly not Irish Weather as we know it! This heat wave we are experiencing in Ireland has us all hot and bothered. And our guests on Vacation in Ireland even more so, even though many are used to much hotter temperatures than those we have been experiencing this summer in Ireland so far. Let me explain…

This can really be done in two words – Air Conditioning! Or lack thereof…

As temperatures in Ireland rarely go above 70 this is normally not an issue – maybe we suffer one weekend of discomfort in the year but as we Irish are all rushing about trying to squeeze a whole summers worth of activities into one weekend we don’t have much time to notice. And we daren’t complain as it may bring back the ever present Irish rain (or mist, fog, drizzle, well you get the picture) and then where would we be? This year however the one obligatory weekend has now stretched to weeks and the novelty is beginning to wear off. Irish Hardware Stores are sold out of fans, water reservoirs are running low (unheard of in rainy Ireland) and we are even daring to start to complain!

We Irish love our bit of sun and most of us travel abroad to get our annual fix as it’s normally the only way we’re guaranteed more than a weekend of continuous sunshine. Spain, Portugal, France and the Canaries top the favorite holiday spots for the typical Irish sun seeker. However I have come to realize while we love the sun we also love returning to the lovely Air Conditioned apartments and Hotel rooms and getting a good nights sleep.

Which leads me to the point of this little entry…

If you are traveling in Ireland this year do be prepared for the fact that most Irish Hotels do not have air conditioning. Some do but it’s definitely something you need to request if it’s important to you. And while prior to this month I would have advised it as being a non-issue I am having to eat my words and suggest that it may be worth requesting if traveling to Ireland in July or August. No doubt by September we will be back to our usual typical Irish Weather and it will be another 20 years before we see a summer like this one! But at least we can go back to complaining about the rain and normality will be restored.

As the Football and Hurling Championships take off this month in Ireland I thought I would share a little bit about these two great Irish Sports for those not in the know. The GAA stands for Gaelic Athletics Association and is the main sporting association in Ireland. The two Sports involved are Gaelic Football and Hurling. Both games include point scoring (over the bar) and goal scoring (worth 3 points).

The best way I can describe hurling is Ice Hockey without the skates. Now don’t be fooled into thinking this is field hockey – Hurling is a much faster and all together more exciting game. Check it out in this clip…

Gaelic Football cannot be compared to any other game as it is a truly original sport. You can pick up the ball but only using your foot and while you can run with the ball you can only do so for a few steps after which you must bounce/kick the ball – this is called soloing. You can pass the ball but cannot simply throw it, as you can imagine it’s a pretty unique game and one that requires a great deal of skill.

The GAA are responsible for all levels of these sports throughout Ireland from local GAA clubs which have teams of all ages right through to Senior County Level where the best of the best of the local teams line out wearing their County Colors. The players who make the cut at this level are as dedicated as any professional players in any sport however they play on a purely voluntary basis. The holy grail for any youngster starting out is the chance to represent your County at Croke Park in an All Ireland Final.

If you are on Vacation in Ireland while the GAA Championships are being played try to get to see a match. While All Ireland tickets are like gold dust you could certainly get tickets for some of the qualifying matches along the way. Failing that you can get a taste of the excitement by watching a match in an Irish pub – ensure you are in one of the Counties taking part – for maximum excitement go to a pub bordering two rival counties – Cork and Kerry for Football or Kilkenny and Tipperary for Hurling are always good bets.

One final warning – if you are not a sports fan (and even if you are) you probably want to avoid Dublin on the first and third weekend in September. This is when the All Ireland Finals take place in Dublin and as 2 entire counties converge on Dublin for these events it’s usually best to leave the city to them!

You can learn more about the GAA at www.gaa.ie

While Ireland may seem like a pretty small island to many of you in the US and Canada (it’s not a whole lot bigger than Vancouver Island after all!!!) it has lots of even smaller (ok relatively tiny) islands around it’s coast. If at all possible and weather permitting I would highly recommend a trip to at least one island on your Ireland Vacation. To that end I thought I would give you some ideas on a few island(s) you may like to include in your Ireland Itinerary.

The Aran Islands – by far the most well known islands in Ireland, these 3 islands lie off the coast of Co. Galway but can also be reached from Co. Clare. Inish Mor is the largest and most popular island due to the amazing Dun Anghus Fort located there. Inish Oir and Inish Maan are also worth a visit and will give you a better idea of island life minus a lot of the tourists. For information on how to get there visit www.aranislandferries.com or www.doolinferries.com

Dun_Aengus

Garnish Island – this oasis in Co Cork can be reached via ferry from the pretty village of Glengarriff. The beautiful gardens on Garnish Island are world renowned and you also have the opportunity to visit a seal colony en route to Garnish Island. Ferries depart for Garnish Island every 30 minutes – visit www.bluepoolferry.com

Garnish

Tory Island lies 12kms off North Donegal and is the most remote inhabited island in Ireland. The Irish language is still spoken here as it is on most of the islands off the coast of Ireland. While on Tory Island you can explore the archeological sites and learn about the Christian Heritage of St Colm Cille and his monks. Or just soak up the atmosphere listening to the lonesome call of the corncrake. For details of the ferry to Tory Island visit www.toryislandferry.com

Tory-Island

The Skellig Islands are a popular tourist attraction in Co. Kerry. The Skellig Experience is a visitors center located on nearby Valentia Island which can be reached by a land bridge. However to truly experience the Skellig Islands a boat trip to Skellig Michael is a must. Here you can climb over 500 steps to visit the ancient Monastic Site and see old beehive huts where monks lived and prayed as well as the Church of St Michael. For more information and details of how to get there visit www.skelligislands.com

skelligs

I’m going to finish with Clare Island off the coast of Co. Mayo. Clare Island was home to the legendary pirate queen, Grace O’Malley and you can still see her Castle there today. This island is a mecca for bird watchers and there is some wonderful hill walking also. To get there visit www.clareislandferry.com

Meanwhile I’m going to leave you with the Saw Doctors Clare Island which sums up everything a trip to an Irish island has to offer in one great romantic Irish Ballad!

We have a detailed Guide to Driving in Ireland, which we send to all our guests who have booked a Self Drive Ireland Vacation with us prior to their departure. However I thought I would share some of the key points in this guide with you here…

Firstly GPS – we do highly recommend the use of a GPS on your Self Drive Ireland Vacation (link please) however they are expensive to rent here and the Irish Rental Car companies will not guarantee their availability – all we can do is request their addition to your booking and you will pay the fee direct to the Rental Car Company. To avoid this fee our recommendation is that you bring your own GPS and download maps before you depart for Ireland. This way you will have the maps for keeps, great if you return to Ireland but nice as a keepsake and reminder of your trip regardless.

Secondly Insurance – while we include all compulsory insurance required for you to drive a Rental Car in Ireland the Car Rental Companies in Ireland do have very high Excesses – ie; you will be liable for a large portion of the damages should something untoward happen to the car you are driving while on your Ireland Vacation. You can see the exact charges for the different car types in our Terms & Conditions. If like me you prefer to be completely covered for a worry free Self Drive Vacation you have a number of options. The one the Irish Car Rental companies want you to take is to purchase their optional additional insurance to reduce the deductible. This is not a great option however as not only is it very expensive they also have that lovely fine print excluding things like tyres and wing mirrors, basically all the things most likely to be damaged in the normal course of navigating those lovely Irish roads! Usually the best option is to ensure your travel insurance covers any damage to your car rental. The only downside with this option is that the Irish Car Rental Company will put a hold on your credit card for the amount of the deductible should you refuse their own additional insurance. This is fine once you are aware of this – I often recommend just taking out a completely separate credit card for this purpose so it won’t interfere with your holiday spending. This way should anything untoward happen you can put any damages on this credit card and file a claim for reimbursement from your travel insurance on your return home.

Finally Drivers Licence – your state licence is just fine for Driving an Irish Rental Car – no need to get an International Drivers Licence for your Self Drive Vacation in Ireland.

Where better to celebrate St Patricks Day than in Ireland? When choosing where in Ireland to celebrate St Patricks Day there are a few things to consider. Dublin is probably the most obvious choice with a fabulous St Patricks Day Festival, which goes from strength to strength each year.

The downside of spending St Patricks Day in Dublin is that it does tend to be crowded and early booking is advisable as accommodation sells out early and is always at a premium.

Other cities in Ireland also have lots to offer. Cork has it’s own three day St Patrick’s Day Festival – details can be found at www.corkstpatricksfestival.ie – as does Galway www.stpatricksfestivalgalway.com and Limerick www.limerick.ie/stpatricksfestival

Most large towns will at the very least have a parade on the day and to experience St Patricks Day in Ireland as most “locals” do you should spend the day as follows. After a “full Irish” traditional Irish breakfast of sausages, rashers (bacon), black and white pudding, fried eggs, mushrooms, beans, toast and tea or coffee, hunt through the hedgerows to find a clump of shamrock to pin to your obligatory green sweater. That done, head to mass – then watch the local St Patricks Day Parade. From there it’s into the nearest pub where you can settle in and sink pints of porter until they throw you out. Or if you are feeling energetic make it a pub crawl, seeing how many pubs you can visit before closing time.

It is however important to note that nowhere in Ireland on St Patricks Day (or any other day) will you be able to purchase green beer!!!

Derry is one of my favorite cities on the island of Ireland and this year there is even more of a reason to visit as Derry has been named the European City of Culture for 2013. Derry is the first City in the United Kingdom to have been given this prestigious title.

Each year the European Union chooses a European City of Culture. The chosen city carries the title for one calendar year. During this time a series of cultural events with a European theme are held. For a full program of events you can visit the official website at www.cityofculture2013.com.

There are a number of attractions in Derry, which make a visit worthwhile at any time. These include the award winning Tower Museum, which tells the history of Northern Ireland and the Museum of Free Derry which focuses on more recent times and in particular the Civil Rights movement that led to the unrest known in Ireland as “The Troubles”.

Derry is now a vibrant modern city and a great place to shop. Also be sure to take a walk along the City Walls before departing this lovely city on the banks of the River Foyle.

Firstly Happy New Year! The big buzz in Ireland this year is the Gathering. This is a year long celebration of all things Irish and a great excuse to make 2013 the year you Vacation in Ireland.

While every year sees a wonderful selection of festivals throughout Ireland this year there will be many more additional Gatherings as every city, town, village and community pull together to make the Gathering and 2013 a year to remember. These Gatherings will take the form of sporting events, festivals, get togethers of like minded and even like named people as there will also be many clan gatherings throughout the year. Really any excuse you can think of goes!

Did you know that over 70 million people world wide claim Irish ancestry? Quite amazing when you consider that Ireland only has a population of 4.5 million! It’s said there are only 2 types of people in the world – those who are Irish and those who wish they were!

So to stave off those January blues why not organize your own Gathering in Ireland this year. Whether it’s a gathering of 2 or 200 have no doubt that Ireland holds a welcome for you!