New Year’s special: Some of my favorite things about Ireland

With January marking the dawn of another year, this seems a great time to share some of Ireland’s many special attributes and attractions. That’s easy enough to say, but it’s very difficult to compress all that Ireland offers into one column. Instead we’ll share some of our favorites and hope they give you some ideas to check out when you visit.
Ireland has all kinds of possibilities from affordable to luxury. You can rent self-catering apartments and houses, stay in a B&B, a farmhouse B&B, an Airbnb, or rent a room in manor houses and castles. Your choice no doubt depends on where you’re going, whether you are with others or traveling alone, and what kind of accommodation suits your travel plans and budget. You can find just about anything you want on the Emerald Isle.
I have several favorites where I stay every time I’m lucky enough to visit Ireland. I enjoy Riverfield House B&B in Doolin, Co. Clare, and the wit and wisdom of owner and proprietor Caitriona Garrahy. If Riverfield is booked, Caitriona’s son Don and his wife, Martina, have a B&B next door that’s lovely, too. Both B&Bs are well located and an easy walk to pubs near the harbor or in the other direction. Very good meals are available at McDermott’s and O’Connors as well as in Fitzpatrick’s Bar in the Doolin Hotel across the road from Riverfield House. Ballinalacken Castle in Doolin also offers accommodation and fine dining.
When I land and then before I leave Ireland, I enjoy staying at Cahergal Farm, which is just minutes from Shannon (my favorite, no-stress airport.) Noreen and Michael McInerney make you feel welcome in their lovely B&B, a working farm surrounded by manicured fields where cows and sheep happily graze. You would never know you were so close to a major international airport when you’re there. Be sure to ask Noreen for one of her special breakfast omelets – they are superb as are her scones.
Further upcountry, I am a devoted fan of Connemara and all it offers. My favorite hotel in Ireland is Lough Inagh Lodge Hotel in the beautiful, unspoiled Inagh Valley. The hotel is a definite destination for fishing folks but it also treats non-fishermen/women like members of the family. Owner Maire O’Conner has assembled the most gracious staff and they make staying at Lough Inagh like going home. I’ve stayed there for more than 15 years and have met some of the nicest fellow visitors there who have become friends that I see every year. Lough Inagh is highly recommended for the food, staff, and accommodation.
Nearby is the beautiful Kylemore Abbey, which is well worth a visit to tour the grounds and the former girls’ school but also to stop by one of the best gift shops anywhere. And, stop in Clifden, too, for lunch at Mitchell’s Seafood and a little shopping fun at The Whistlestop and Clifden Bookshop.
This autumn we stayed at Lough Rynn Castle in Co. Leitrim for a wedding. What a beautiful estate. It offers a total of 44 rooms in the main building and outbuildings on several hundred acres! Everything was perfect from the rooms and food to the staff. See for more. If you’re in that area, it’s a lovely place to stay but midweek is recommended since weekends tend to be booked out.
We didn’t specifically mention luxury accommodation, but there is plenty in Ireland from Adare Manor, Dromoland, and Ashford Castles to the Clare Island Lighthouse. If budget is not a problem, there are many outstanding options available across the country.
There are many very beautiful places to visit in Ireland; my particular favorite place is the Western coast. For anyone with an interest in photography, the West, with its rugged landscape and constantly changing light, is sheer bliss. It’s nearly impossible to take a bad photograph there and it’s definitely impossible to run short of amazing landscapes and other images to shoot.
Don’t get me wrong. Among other beautiful parts of Ireland are the Ring of Kerry, Dingle Peninsula, Beara Peninsula, Burren in Co. Clare, to name just a few. But I find the West very special. Landscapes or cityscapes, Ireland has it all and when you travel around, you’ll find your favorite spots.
The Irish Tourist Board’s designation of the west coast as the Wild Atlantic Way has drawn many people to the area and breathed new life into the economy there. From Donegal down to Cork, the scenery is breathtaking and there are many thriving attractions along the way.
I’ve rented a house in Mulranny, Co. Mayo, every spring for nearly 25 years and, while it’s an area that not too many Americans visit, its attraction speaks volumes about the fact that no matter where you go in Ireland, you can find interesting places, great restaurants, and fun things to do.
Local favorite dining places in the area where I rent are Nevins Newfield Inn in Tiernaur, the Mulranny Park Hotel, Grainne Uaile Pub in Newport (all on the Great Western Greenway, an extremely popular off-road trail), and the Beehive on Achill Island. There’s a well worn-out myth that food in Ireland is not good. But believe me, it’s excellent and whether you’re in a hotel, pub or restaurant, you can find good meals.
Something that always strikes me is the color of Ireland. There’s green, of course, but there’s also the brilliant yellow of gorse bushes, daffodils, and fields of rape seed, multicolored houses on the Beara Peninsula, the stunning pink of rhododendrons, azalea and apple blossoms everywhere, the bright orange of Montbretia in the fall.
And, of course, there are the colors local farmers use to mark their sheep. We’ve seen combinations of orange, purple, blue, and red. There’s color all around if you look.
I was once told that the Irish could tell if you were American because many of us dress in such bright colors. Well, those days are long gone because the Irish now wear colors just as bright as any we ever wore.
And, what about shopping? Is there any shopping to be had in Ireland? Well, if you’ve been there, you know the answer to that.
Nearly every attraction has a gift shop and most feature the work of local artists and artisans. Beautifully knitted wool sweaters are available nearly everywhere you travel. Stores abound in the cities but also in smaller towns.
Because Westport is the nearest “big city” where I go for serious grocery shopping, I am familiar with many of the very nice shops in that Co. Mayo town. I have shopped at O’Reilly & Turpin on Bridge Street for many years and applaud their taste in jewelry and other fine items they sell. It’s a lovely store with great staff.
Down the street is Westport Design, a newcomer to Bridge Street that offers interesting and different items, including original art and prints. And, don’t miss Seamus Duffy’s Bookshop for the latest great reading as well as calendars, cards, and other items.
Drive down to The Quay in Westport (near Westport House) and you’ll find a variety of original art at The Quay Gallery, a collaboration of local artists, including Suzie Sullivan, a well-known, award-winning fiber artist.
It won’t take visitors long to compile a list of their favorites - food or drink or shopping or accommodation. There’s much to see and to enjoy on this very small island.