Ireland’s west coast is an area bursting with some of the finest architectural splendour created by nature. With wild and rugged landscapes, rambling old stone walls, the highest cliffs in Europe, award-winning golf courses and beaches dominate the seabed as well as megalithic tombs and monuments, one can easily fall in love with the charm of the West coast.
Whether you want to opt for long rambling walks over rugged terrain, laze around on a scenic beach, sample some of the finest seafood, pub atmosphere and traditional music that Ireland has to offer or explore an ancient site, the spectacular Co. Donegal in Ireland’s North West corner is hard to beat.
A great way to explore the rugged beauty of the North West is to tackle one of many walking trails in rural Donegal. Not for the faint hearted, the Cliffs of Slieve League, the highest sea cliffs in Europe offer some of Ireland’s finest coastal walks.
If you prefer to keep your feet on flat ground then the equally beautiful Glenveagh national park is nestled in the heart of the Derryveagh Mountains and spans over 16,000 hectares wide. The park itself is divided into three separate parts, the largest of which is the striking Glenveagh estate.
Guided walks of the park happen throughout the year where visitors are invited to explore the boglands, hilltops and woodlands in the park. Many who embark on the tour are entertained by the plethora of flora and fauna that populates the location.
Galway city and county offer stark contrasts of all that Ireland has to offer in one location. Galway city itself is a perfect ambassador for the iconic atmosphere, music and ‘craic’ that resonates so fondly among many when they think of Ireland. With its eclectic music and arts scene, the city is constantly buzzing with events and festivals.
Galway racecourse is the main stage for The Galway Races that take place in July of every year, after the Galway Arts Festival and preceding the Galway Oyster Festival that takes place every September.
If the city scene is not one that appeals to you then a short drive into Galway’s country-side allows you to escape the city life for the calming and unique Connemara region. Described by Irish Author Oscar Wilde as ‘a savage beauty’ one day spent in this region and it is easy to see why.
Green mountain ranges reflect in the Connemara lakes which lie among boglands and woodlands, speckled with rare flora and home to wild fauna. It is all of this that makes Connemara the perfect enchanting location to get away from it all.
Popular activities when in Connemara include walking, mountain climbing, angling and taking a boat ride along this magnificent coast.
A day trip to the Aran Islands is a must when you visit Galway. Here you can visit Inis Mór (the Big island), Inis meáin (the Middle island) or Inis Oírr (the East island) via plane or boat. Once on the islands you are free to explore and discover ancient ruins and monuments as well as get a rare glimpse into the way the Irish used to live in centuries past.
The islands boast such attractions as Dun Aonghasa Fort, a stunning world heritage site that covers the entire west coast of the island. Many of the Connemara natives speak Irish or ‘Gaeilge’ as their first language (fluent English is also spoken there) so who knows, perhaps you will leave Ireland with a cuplá focal (a few Irish words)!
The Burren is but one of several geographical masterpieces that lie on the coast of County Clare. It is a landscape comprised mostly of limestone rock against a backdrop of majestic mountains and tranquil valleys.
Home to some of the most wild and beautiful flora in Ireland the Burren area really shows Ireland at its most rugged and beautiful.
Old stone walls frame this vast landscape and megalithic tombs dating back to about 2500 BC add an enchanting feel to this stunning location.
The Cliffs of Moher, shortlisted for the new 7 wonders of Nature 2011, is a stunning amalgamation of cliffs carved and shaped by the ferocious Atlantic Ocean. Setting to a scene in the 1987 movie the Princess Bride, and more recently for Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince, these impressive formations stand 214 meters high and 8 kilometres wide.
A popular location for bird watching, on a clear day from the top of the cliff one can see the Aran Islands, Galway bay, The Twelve Pins and Loop Head.
Don’t let some misty weather deter you from visiting this natural masterpiece as the visitor centre, open since 2007, is packed full of interesting exhibits and displays. Entry to the Cliffs start from €4.
Of course, one can’t talk about Co. Clare and not mention the array of beaches, big and small, peppered along the windswept Clare coast.
Sipping on a pint of Guinness from O’Looneys pub after walking the promenade of Lahinch (also spelt Lehinch) beach or after a round of golf in the renowned Lahinch Golf Club, or dipping your toes in the water whilst watching the surfers in Spanish Point or at Doughmore beach all round-off the perfect day spent in Ireland’s west coast.
Next door to Co. Clare is Limerick city, home to a 13th Century castle, the highest cathedral spire in Ireland, the setting for Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes and the some of the finest sports stadiums in the country.
In the centre of the city lie the ruins of battlegrounds past and the setting for new battles… ones that are fought on the pitch.
King John’s Castle is an impressive piece of medieval architecture that greats you as you cross Thomond bridge into the heart of Limerick city. Open to the public to explore, the view of Limerick city from the top of the castle walls holds Thomond Park and the Gaelic games (GAA) grounds in its grasp.
Hailed as the home of Munster rugby, the newly renovated Thomond Park is an impressive 25,600 capacity stadium and a must see for all rugby fans. It was here that Munster celebrated their 12-0 victory over the All Blacks in 1978 and where a re-match was played to re-open the stadium after its renovation in 2008.
Museum and stadium tours are available from around €7.
Another building declaring ownership of the city skyline is St. John’s Cathedral, built in 1861 and claiming the tallest spire in Ireland at 94 meters. You can visit the cathedral and many other historic places including Georgian Limerick, the remains of the old city walls and the Hunt museum on one of several tours of the city.
Limerick is also the setting for the famous Frank McCourt book Angela’s Ashes. Visit the many locations in the book when on the Angela’s Ashes walking tour.
If you venture outside the Limerick make sure to stop in Adare, a quaint heritage village full of charming cafes and restaurants with thatched roofs and wonderful food. The Adare manor with its adjoining golf club is also a must for golf enthusiasts.
If castles are your preference then the magnificent 5 star Dromoland castle and medieval Bunratty castle stand along the limerick and on Clare border.
Attend a medieval banquet at Bunratty manor where you are able to step back in time and sample the traditional Irish food, dance, music and culture that the country is famous for.
Words and photos courtesy of Tourism Ireland