By Judy Enright
Depending on whether you’re a “glass half empty” or “glass half full” type of person, this was either a bad or good year for St. Patrick in Ireland.
While communities on the east and south coasts celebrated the patron saint’s day with colorful parades, festivities, and bright weather, some communities on the west and north coasts were forced to cancel or postpone their annual parades due to cold ocean winds and pouring rain.
In Co. Mayo, for instance, Newport’s parade was pushed off for a week to March 26, which is also Ireland’s Mothers’ Day. Westport’s parade was postponed until April and will be held in conjunction with that town’s 250th anniversary celebration.
So, you might say, the saint’s special day was particularly special this year and went on long past March 17 - which probably made this a very good year for St. Patrick.
ACHILL PIPE BANDS
Despite the weather, there was no day off on March 17 for the brave and dedicated souls on Achill Island, Co. Mayo, who belong to the traditional pipe bands. These hardy folk, dressed in regulation uniforms covered with water-repellent ponchos, sloshed through puddles and braved rain and gale force winds to carry out their annual parades. They marched from local villages to various performance sites and then on to the Dookinella church for the finale. Appreciative onlookers lined the streets and followed behind the parade in cars and vans to applaud the marchers along the route and after the Mass in Dookinella. The bands then trudged through the wind and rain back to their villages.
A second Achill Island parade – with 65 bands, floats and assorted groups promised - was to step off on March 19 in Achill Sound, but it was called off because of the weather.
In north Mayo, several communities had earlier cancelled their parades out of respect for four crewmembers aboard an Irish Coast Guard helicopter lost near Blacksod during a nighttime rescue mission on March 14. The search for the missing crewmembers went on for several weeks because weather and heavy swells around Blackrock Lighthouse prevented ships and equipment from getting close enough to search.
Spring has sprung and it’s the most luscious time of year in Ireland with trees budding and flowers bursting into bloom.
The Burren, on the coast of Co. Clare, is stunning at any time of year but especially beautiful in the spring. We have always found this area to be one of the most interesting places in Ireland to celebrate spring and its colors.
As you drive the coast road south out of Ballyvaughan and see nothing but slate grey and craggy limestone hills rising above you and on the horizon, you might think anyone who suggested a visit there was completely mad.
But the Burren landscape is deceptive and if you look carefully between the rocks and on the plateaus, you can find so many beautiful flowers there, including 25 orchid species native to Ireland as well as some immigrants - Mediterranean and arctic-alpine plants that all grow here together. It’s really the most fascinating area.
If you have a chance to visit, be sure to stop in Kilfenora at the Burren Centre to see their exhibition and learn about the Burren’s megalithic tombs and dolmens. And it’s well worth taking the time to watch the beautiful film by Eamon de Buitlear that brilliantly captures the beauty of the area. A craft shop and tearooms are available, too.
There are many groups and individuals who offer guided walks, tours, and hikes across the Burren and surrounding areas. You will find detailed information online. Some of those include: heartofburrenwalks.com, burrenguidedwalks.com and burrenwalks.com – and there are many more.
Water sports and other adventures are also offered along this western coast. We especially like the dolphin cruises at includediscoverdolphins.ie from Kilrush and dolphinwatch.ie. More are online.
BURREN IN BLOOM FEST
Next month, the Burren in Bloom festival kicks off (May 19-June 4) with garden visits, demonstrations, cultural and family events, talks, guided walks, and more. The Festival is designed to promote an understanding and appreciation of the Burren, its formation and why it is a botanical, archaeological, and cultural treasure with its unique wild flowers and ancient sites.
The Festival is coordinated by Burrenbeo Trust, Ireland’s first landscape charity and a multidimensional resource for the Burren region. The Trust promotes and supports the sustainable management and use of this unique landscape and heritage.
While you’re in Co. Clare be sure to stop in Lisdoonvarna at the Burren Smokehouse for delicious smoked salmon in assorted flavors, a gift shop, and more. You can also buy the salmon at Shannon airport on the way home (be sure to get a loaf of McCambridge’s Wholewheat Bread to take home, too) or order Smokehouse salmon online at: burrensmokehouse.com. They ship worldwide.
There’s a lot to see in this area and there are wonderful hotels (tops on the list is Gregan’s Castle Hotel - gregans.ie - in Ballyvaughan –), many good pubs where food is an absolute priority and excellent (we have always liked McDermott’s Pub, Fitzpatrick’s in the Doolin Hotel and Gus O’Connor’s in Doolin), a good coffee house and creperie (The Soda Parlour in Ballyvaughan) and great restaurants (Roadford House in Doolin is a favorite.) Another great place to stop for a summer lunch or afternoon tea is Burren Fine Wine & Food at the bottom of Corkscrew Hill in Ballyvaughan.
And, for some interesting locally made items, be sure to visit the free Burren Art & Craft Fair every Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., through October in St. John’s Village Hall in Ballyvaughan.
And don’t forget to set aside some time in the evenings to hear wonderful traditional music offered regularly in various Doolin pubs.
If you wondered whether the young Irish are music lovers, how about this? The Electric Picnic, an annual music festival at Stradbally Hall in Co. Laois, sold out in less than five minutes after tickets went on sale at 9 o’clock one recent Thursday morning. The event will be Sept. 1-3 and can handle 55,000 attendees.
Headline acts for the three-day event include Duran Duran, The XX, Interpol, London Grammar and Chaka Khan. Other acts confirmed are Run the Jewels, Pete Tong, A Tribe Called Quest, and Father John Misty.
Harvey’s Point Hotel on Lough Eske in Donegal Town has been named the best hotel in Ireland and the 10th best hotel in Europe in TripAdvisor’s Travellers’ Choice awards for 2017. The hotel was rated #1 on the list of 70 hotels in Co. Donegal. The hotel also finished in first place in the best service category and second place in the romantic category.
(And, in case you didn’t know, Donegal was termed the coolest place on the planet, according to National Geographic Traveller.)
Another Irish winner was Castlewood House in Dingle, Co. Kerry, which was 12th in the world, 10th in Europe, and No. 1 in Ireland in the bargain category.
For luxury hotels, the Killarney Park Hotel in Killarney, Co. Kerry, was named Ireland’s top hotel. Pax Guest House in Dingle, Co. Kerry, topped Ireland’s B&B list, and Pillo Hotel in Ashbourne, Co. Meath, won named best family hotel.
“Unlike other hospitality awards, these are based on feedback from actual guests over the past year,” said a TripAdvisor spokeswoman.
Enjoy your visit to Ireland whenever you go and wherever you visit. There are many activities available for all interests now that winter has finally flown.