Ireland’s gentle irony is that it holds one of the liveliest capitals in Europe, yet Dublin’s bustling streets are a world away from the quieter, pastoral and ancient pleasures found throughout the rest of the country. The atmospheric 5,000 year old Neolithic tombs and chambers of Newgrange, a World Heritage Site in Meath, are among the finest examples of this strange contrast, as are the tranquil gardens spread gorgeously over Wicklow.
The country’s coastline is particularly attractive, especially at the giddily high, green Cliffs of Moher in the westerly county of Clare; while a broader rural appeal gradually emerges on the Ring Of Kerry, a gentle 110-mile trail through majestic county landscapes in the tranquil south-west.
Even the remotest areas may offer unexpectedly cosmopolitan charms, however: the streets of tiny Kinsale in neighbouring Cork, for instance, hold a number of gourmet restaurants, many of them reflecting the fact that sea-surrounded Ireland offers some of the best seafood in the world. Kildare’s misty plains and pastures form an important horse-racing, golf and angling centre; and at the Rock of Cashel in Tipperary’s Golden Vale medieval churches and fortresses perch high on a limestone outcrop, representing the heart of Ireland’s long and complex history.
In Northern Ireland, Fermanagh has its own Lake District, reflecting the beautiful watery inheritance of the island, a theme that continues further north where the Giant’s Causeway, another World Heritage Site, sends an exotic tangle of basalt columns descending into the sea, amid much legend and awe.