Poets have often written of Ireland’s emerald hills and sparkling waters, lighting the imagination with depictions of the country’s beauty. To the visitor, however, the words of these poems pale in comparison to the reality. From the wild coastline buffeted by an untamed sea to the rolling pastures with their meandering dry stone walls, Ireland’s splendour is only truly realised firsthand.
Coast to coast
To the west are the Skelligs, two immense rocks rising from the sea, the smaller of which is home to a huge colony of Gannets. The larger is open to the public and, almost impossibly, is the location of a monastery that was occupied from the seventh century for around 600 years. It has a remote, weather-beaten feel, and the stone beehive structures of the Christian settlement have earned it a place on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Today’s visitor needn’t fear an encounter with either giant. Under the watchful eye of the National Trust, tourists can walk out onto the columns, climb the Shepherd’s Steps and follow the cliff top trail for a giant’s eye view of the coast. There’s also plenty of wildlife to discover, from seabirds and seals to living fossils called stromatolites.
A tale of two cities - Dublin
Dublin is renowned for warm welcomes and a lively social scene, both in the cafés and pubs during the day and the bars and clubs that open into the small hours. There are over 700 pubs to choose from, as well as a dynamic live music scene, with local bands and traditional music performances happening all over the city in various venues.
Belfast Accessible in a few hours from even the furthest reaches of Northern Ireland, Belfast is a city of thriving visual art and maritime history. It’s characterised by the juxtaposition of elegant Victorian buildings with modern architecture, and by the murals, which allude to the political turmoil that has afflicted the city since the 1960s. Depicting the struggles of the past few decades, they adorn the walls of houses and buildings projecting the political standpoints of both Loyalists and Republicans.
Belfast’s docklands, famous for being the birthplace of the Titanic, have seen significant redevelopment recently; the Titanic Experience draws interest from many tourists with its nine galleries that tell the ship’s story from its beginnings in the shipyard to its Atlantic grave. The Harland and Wolff shipyard remains and now turns its attentions to offshore renewable energy.
Belfast has a huge range of festivals that occur throughout the year. They are part of the city’s life blood and great fun to experience. Find a full festival calendar for 2017 at www.belfastcity.gov.uk
Ballyness Caravan Park
Tel +44 28 2073 2393
Designed with conservation in mind and immaculately cared for, this campsite is close to the coast and the famous Giant’s Causeway. Native trees and shrubs are planted in keeping with the natural surroundings and on-site ponds attract wildlife. The hard-standing pitches all have electricity, water and drainage, and there’s a play area for children.