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Exploring the Emerald Isle

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Countless people are drawn to Ireland year after year to experience the island nation’s mysterious history, rugged landscapes, and exciting city culture. In 2004, a friend and I traveled around Ireland, taking in many of its most beloved sights and enjoying the company and warmth of the Irish people. Along the way, we had the opportunity to stay with a handful of host families, all of whom were incredibly accommodating and informative.

Although it’s a small country, Ireland has a huge variety of places to explore and cultures to experience, from rustic countryside to ultramodern city centers. Luckily, we were able to experience a little of it all. Read on for a few of the highlights.

Castle Bunratty. A short drive outside of Limerick, Bunratty is home to a spectacularly restored castle and medieval village, it was an excellent kick-off stop on our tour of Ireland.

Durty Nelly’s Pub. Every respectable first night in Ireland includes boisterous pub songs, and our trip was no exception. One of Ireland’s most renowned pubs, Durty Nelly’s offers plenty of Irish personality and excellent drink.

Cliffs of Moher. Rising hundreds of feet straight up out of the sea, the Cliffs of Moher are one of Ireland’s most iconic landmarks. They have appeared in several beloved films, including The Princess Bride.

Ring of Kerry. This 110-mile circuit through the Irish countryside allowed us to see some of the country’s most gorgeous mountain vistas and rugged coastline. As we discovered, a little rain also means lots of rainbows to complement the view – we saw so many, we almost got sick of them!

Waterford Crystal. For over 300 years, Waterford Crystal has provided exquisite glassware to royalty and heads of state the world over. A tour of the facility includes views of artisans working with molten glass to create their beautiful wares.

Blarney Castle. This 15th century keep is one of Ireland’s top tourist draws. With a little bending and leaning, visitors can kiss the famous Blarney Stone to earn the gift of eloquence here at Cormac McCarthy’s old castle.

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Kilkenny. Often called “Ireland’s Medieval Capital,” Kilkenny City is a beautifully preserved town on the banks of the River Nore. During my visit, we enjoyed a fun medieval feast in one of the town’s many restaurants.

Dublin. Bordered by a lovely bay and rolling mountains, Dublin is a sprawling, modern, cosmopolitan city with a compact center where tourists can access most of the city’s most famous sites with an easy walk.

Temple Bar. Vibrant and hip, the Temple Bar neighborhood of Dublin boasts countless pubs, boutiques, clubs—a fun mix of alternative culture and haute couture. As we discovered, this is a great place for a night out!

Clonmacnoise. Ancient Clonmacnoise is home to one of Ireland’s oldest and most influential monasteries. Wandering among the town’s ruined churches and many cemeteries is a beautiful if eerie experience.

Galway. Situated on a bay with a compact maze of little streets at its heart, Galway reminded me of the Cape towns of my home state. The town had a unique, artsy spirit, probably due to the number of student and creatives who live there.

Connemara. Traditional Ireland at its finest, Connemara is a land of green rolling hills and roaming sheep. The region doesn’t live entirely in the past, though: vibrant Westport has become focus of hip, youthful culture and growth.

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