By Walter & PatBrooks
We have visited "the old sod" four times in the past twenty years, but we always avoided "the north" for obvious reasons. All that has changed now that this beautiful region is at peace.
This means you will see an unspoiled landscape which is just emerging as a major travel destination. While leagally still two separate countries, there is no evidence of that for the traveler today.
The north and south of Ireland appear as one nation to travelers today with the exception of currency - The Irish Republic (Donegal) uses the Euro and Northern Ireland (Ulster) still uses the English Pound.
Flying to Dublin
It's always fun on any flight on Aer Lingus heading for Ireland to try to guess which of the boarding passengers are natives of the old sod. There is a special "look" to these handsome, Celtic people which includes very pale skin, blue eyes and rich dark locks.
We always try to fly the national carrier on any trip so the experience begins when we leave the ground. Aer Lingus is a good example of a well-run national carrier, and today the term "Irish Cuisine" is no longer an oxymoron, even in the air. If you book a month or two in advance, Aer Lingus offers fares from around $250 for as round trip from Boston to either Shannon in the west or Dublin in the east.
We prefer Shannon and the west of Ireland whose beauty continues to amaze. The distance is about the same and you can visit Galway City and poke into Connemara on your way north through Sligo, Ballyshannon, Beleek for a pottery-fix and Letterkenny and Derry.
The North West part of the Irish Republic is adjacent to Northern Ireland which includes the counties of Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermangh.
On to the Northwest
Upon landing in Dublin, we immediately hopped on a motor coach and sped away north to County Donegal in the Irish Republic which is in the far north-west of the Emerald Isle. A few hours and 170 miles after leaving Dublin Airport we arrived at the Rathmullan House on Lough Swilly in Rathmullan, Donegal.
This gracious Country House Hotel was built 250 years ago and is typical of the Georgian era. It set on a small hill above the shores of Lough Swilly in the wild and beautiful county of Donegal. This magnificent mansion is a "house" in the same way Buckingham Palace is the Queen's "house".
Among the endless list of places to visit is a three hour cruise down Lough Erne to Devenish Island which is the site of a 12th century ruined Augustinian monastery and its perfect 12th century, 25 metre high round tower.
St. Molaise founded a monastry here in the 6th century. Many monastic ruins remain despite the Viking attacks on the island during the 9th and 12th centuries. Your cruise through this bucolic lough ends next to the castle at Enniskillen which is a charming "walking town".
Called the North West, this area includes the counties of Cavan, Donegal, Leitrim, Monagham and Sligo. It would be impossible to exaggerate its raw and unspoiled beauty. Londonderry and Tyrone. As far as tourism is concerned this is already one country because Ulster, which is a part of Great Britain, shares all the amenities of travel with their southern kin. Travel between the two regions is seamless.
Before you leave the North West, stop in and see the magnificent Irish tweeds being hand woven in Magee's in Donegal town, and visit the world-famous Beleek Pottery factory in Beleek near Ballyshannon.
On to Ulster
You may think of it as the British province with "the Troubles", but those days are truly past. Today, from the wild and rugged beauty of the Sperrin Mountains and the majesty of the Giants Causeway to the magnificent Fermanagh Lakes, North Ireland is one of the most unspoilt landscapes in all of Europe.
Here are just two examples; Giant's Causeway in Antrim is a stunning, nearly unbelievable geological phenomenon. In legend, the Giant's Causeway was the work of Finn McCool, a giant who is said to have inhabited a draughty Antrim crag. In reality they are the result of volcanic eruptions eons ago.
The Walls of (London) Derry allow visitors to walk the one-mile route along the City's walls - it is the best preserved walled city in Ireland.
Summing Up The Irish
After four or five visits, we still haven't had enough of this magical land, and before we go, there are two definitive places to show you on the right.
The first is an Irish Pub, this one is Nancy's in the craft center city of Ardara, and the other the charmingly restored folk village of Glencolmcille which offers the visitor the chance to relive life as experienced by the people of south-western Donegal in 18th, 19th and 20th century Ireland.
Every where you go in Eire, you'll feel CÃ©ad MÃle FÃ¡ilte! That means "One hundred thousand welcomes!" in Gaelic and is pronounced roughly "Kay mee FALL-shuh!" Useful Links; For a free vacation planning kit contact Tourism Ireland at 1 800 223 6470 or visit their website at http://www.TourismIreland.com or the U.S. web site http://www.tourismireland.com/us/index.cfm.