With St Patrick’s Day upon us, I thought I would get you in the mood for all things green, with some Irish gems. The attractions of Ireland are superbly rich and enchanting, and it’s no wonder many American Irish feel close to their ancestral roots. Ireland is almost obscenely green. It is called the Emerald Isle and there are claims that the countryside features 40 different shades of green. But it isn’t just the patchwork of green that is so alluring; rugged scenery abounds as do castles and ruins, all woven in a tapestry of myth and legend. You’ll see what I mean as I introduce you to these Irish gems.
1 The Cliffs of Moher
The renowned Cliffs of Moher will surely make you green with envy. The rugged cliffside on the west coastline offers a dramatic view of the Atlantic Ocean, the deadly drop-off of craggy black rock falling directly into the turquoise waters. Stretching for nearly 5 miles and rising up to 702 feet above the ocean, a walk along the cliffside offers a view of the Galway Bay, the Aran Islands, the Maum Turk Mountains and the Twelve Pins. Nearly 1 million visitors per year travel to see one of the most beautiful Irish gems.
2 Boyne Valley
A World Heritage Site, and featuring some of the most significant Irish historical monuments and sites, Brú na Bóinne (the Boyne Palace) is located in County Meath, and includes the enormous ancient tombs of Knowth, Dowth and Newgrange, which are older than the Pyramids of Giza and Stonehenge. As Ireland’s most famous prehistoric site, Newgrange has survived 5,000 years, but was only rediscovered in 1699, and is renowned for the thin beam of sunlight which appears through the roof box on the Winter Solstice. The Hill of Tara is also located here, and includes ancient monuments, such as the Fort of the Kings, the Stone of Destiny and the Mound of the Hostages. The site of the Battle of Boyne, in which, in 1690, the Catholic James II was defeated by Protestant William of Orange, also lies nearby.
3 Giant’s Causeway
This coastal area contains around 40,000 basalt columns and is located in Northern Ireland, near Bushmills in County Antrim. The Giant’s Causeway was named for the folklore giant who once lived there, Finn MacCool, who could see his Scottish nemesis, another giant named Benandonner, across the causeway. Finn built the stone causeway so that his rival could meet him for a duel, but when Benandonner proved even larger than Finn had anticipated, he fled to the mountains, where he was disguised as a baby by his wife, which tricked Benandonner into thinking that if the “baby” was this size, the baby’s father must be enormous. On his flight back to Scotland, Benandonner tore up the causeway so that his rival could not follow. Though a volcanic eruption over 60 million years ago is sure to be the true cause, the folk story enthusiastically lives on, and the Giant's Causeway remains one of the most visited attractions of Ireland.
4 Ring of Kerry
To the international community, the Ring of Kerry is the epitome of Ireland, with its stone castles, ancient monuments, vivid villages and stunning gardens. The gorgeous landscape, rugged coastline, and the charming towns provide an idyllic image of Irish country life. Tourists travel the Ring of Kerry to absorb this foreign spirit and slower pace. The twisting drive around the Ring includes dramatic cliffs, breathtaking lakes, and the vibrant emerald of the hillsides. Everywhere you look in Kerry, you find Ireland’s special culture and heritage. Also here, you’ll spot beehive huts dating back to the 6th century, as well as the monastery ruins of Skellig Michael.
5 Guinness Storehouse
A list of Irish gems would be remiss without mentioning Ireland’s national beverage, whose home is Dublin’s Guinness Storehouse. The Irish are storytellers, and the Storehouse is no different, as the tale of how Guinness is made unravels before your eyes while told to your ears. The center of the building includes seven floors, formed into an enormous pint glass. The very top floor’s focus is the Gravity Bar, where you’re offered a complimentary pint to enjoy while gazing across a stunning view of Dublin.
6 Aran Islands
Consisting of the collection of small islands Inishmaan, Inisheer, and Inishmór, the enchanting Aran Islands are famed for their nostalgic preservation of an unchanged rural cultural existence. Over centuries, past ways have been almost entirely kept intact by locals who, apart from some electricity, live largely in the same conditions as did their ancestors. To explore these islands, you can either participate in a tour group or rent a bike and loop an island in one day. On your way, you’ll see loads of livestock, ancient ruins and even leprechaun houses.
7 Trinity College Dublin
As Ireland’s most prestigious college, Trinity College offers up an immaculate environment, with ancient stone buildings and pristine landscaping. But the surroundings and the quality education are not the only things which make Trinity an Irish gem; the college is home to the Book of Kells, a beautiful and intricate book of the New Testament Gospels in Latin. The Long Room of Trinity’s old library is also a sight to see.
This is such a scant list that barely does justice to the attractions of Ireland, but it does provide a flavor of what you can expect if you ever make it to the Emerald Isle. For me, it’s just a short hop across the Irish Sea, but from wherever in the world you land you can be sure of a warm welcome. Where are you spending St. Patrick’s Day? Will you be having a Guinness to celebrate?