5 years, 10 months ago
Wilting visibly at the thought of another ‘craic’ at ‘typical Ireland’? The one where we recommend you go to Dublin, live on Guinness and stagger about chatting to lovely Irish folk who’ve got nothing better to do than conform to a cultural stereotype – mind your feet for Leprechauns, winsome Irish dancing lassies and handsomely dishevelled and brooding Celts.
We’ll spare you the rest because there’s more than enough fictional ‘land of stout and little folk’ about to be going on with. Instead we thought we’d travel a bit further afield from the capital and have a look at the beaches, the art and design, the festivals and food and the cities that aren’t Dublin – just for a change.
Not that we don’t love Dublin, we do. Everyone loves Dublin, or the idea of Dublin, but there are other cities in Ireland (or ‘Southern Ireland’ as folk here tend to call it) and unsurprisingly they’re all fiercely competitive about which is the finest and why.
Galway will tell you it takes the title just for the seafood alone. You can forget Dublin Bay Prawns as far as the folks on the West Coast are concerned because nothing compares to Galway oysters (there are locals who’ll try to convince you Guinness was first brewed to go with these beauties, and who’s to say……). There’s a Galway Oyster Festival every year in September, but we like the city in spring when the colourful streets are less crowded and there’s enough of a chill in the air to justify a cosy pub fire, half a dozen on-the-half-shell and a pint of the black stuff.
credit: M A K E H O E
Weather isn’t Ireland’s biggest draw, but that doesn’t stop another of its cities, Waterford, selling itself on sunshine. Well, it might have more sun than the rest of the country, but that’s not saying much. We prefer Waterford for the water and more specifically its lovely quayside, all the Viking stuff (where there’s water there’s a chance of Nordic marauders) and the nearby coastline – perfect for catching a few of those fabled rays, if you’re quick.
Go west from Waterford to find Cork. Probably the second most famous city in Ireland, Cork’s the place you pitch up with a pre-conception and end up going home with a case of world-class micro-brewery beer and some contemporary art. It’s one of our favourite European cities: just the right size to walk about, lively but not too crowded, lots of bridges, great river and an annual beer festival that showcases Ireland’s independent brewers and their strangely fantastic alcoholic alchemy.
credit: Nicola Corboy
Ireland has some of the world’s most beautiful beaches and most of them are kept lovely because the country’s reputation weather-wise doesn’t automatically attract crowds of windbreaks, cool boxes and sweaty, determined sunbathers. And, for all we might have gently joshed Waterford’s ‘sunshine’ claims, when it comes to best beaches it’s that coastline you want.
Miles of flawless white sands, perfectly clean water, cliffs, coves, bays, natural harbours and lots and lots of places where you just won’t see another soul for hours on end, beaches like Tramone Bay are as wonderful in windswept winter as they are in high summer.
You might not want to brave the water in December, but swimming in the sea is a bit of a thing in Ireland and the south coast is where it’s at its finest. The notable exception being Dun Laoghaire just outside Dublin – a natural swimming pool called The Forty Foot is the big attraction here. Joyce described its waters as ‘snot green’ in Ulysses and hundreds of Dubliners traditionally take a Christmas Day plunge in The Forty Foot’s icy depths.
credit: Bia Sasta
As well as guaranteeing peaceful beaches, Ireland’s weather is an advantage when it comes to growing fresh produce. The country’s abundance makes a healthy appearance in restaurants, bars and cafes in every county, and local markets are foodie Velcro if you’re renting a holiday home. Kenmare in the south west calls itself Ireland’s Gourmet Capital, so not short on young Turk chefs making their mark with some of Europe’s most exciting food here. Even the bakeries are pretty astounding – yes, they do exotic but we still like the Soda Scones.
Ireland without the arts? We don’t think so. This is the land of Yeats, Joyce, Heaney, Lavery, the other Yeats, more independent publishers in one country than most continents can muster these days, music that’s way beyond the wee man with the glasses and the stadium schtick and not a street worth its salt that doesn’t have at least one art gallery.
credit: Crawford Art Gallery
Dublin’s justifiably famous for its museums and collections, but one of our favourite galleries is the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork (the city’s really worth a visit for private galleries too). The Crawford is next to Cork’s Opera House in the city centre and has a permanent collection of over 2000 works including: 18th century casts of Vatican Greek and Roman sculpture, some of the country’s finest 18th and 19th century Irish art, as well as contemporary works and temporary exhibitions.
What did we miss? Plenty for sure and there is nothing the Irish like more than pointing out errors of omission when it comes to singing the praises of their country. So if we can just say ‘sorry’ now and finish by mentioning – just in case we weren’t clear –Ireland is wonderful and not weather dependent and it’s worth getting out of Dublin to see the other bits too.
Featured image by atomicpuppy68