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GO WEST FOR IRELAND

The harbour and waterfron of DingleThere's only one problem about tourism in the west coast of Ireland. To keep those forty shades of green, the region needs frequent dampness in the air - all the way from sea mist and low-lying cloud to a 12-hour downpour.

Otherwise, Ireland can offer just about everything except guaranteed sunshine. As Reg Butler discovered there's enormous choice of holidays by ferry, rail, air or coach.

My wife and I picked one of the longer itineraries from the WA Shearings  coach-tour programme, which offered a choice of a dozen different circuits of varied length. Their exact programmes can vary year on year.

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Food & Drink: sample the seafood landed daily - especially Irish fish chowder, which can include up to 8 varieties of sea-food; brown soda bread; leak and potato soup; free-range meat from those green pastures; Irish stew; farmhouse cheeses and the fresh butter. Irish coffee made with whiskey and cream.

Ask your travel agent about the full range of coach tours. If you can spare only a week, consider the range of 7-day Killarney or south coast packages. From May onwards, the choice is huge. Or contact WA Shearings direct at Miry Lane, Wigan Lancashire WN3 4AG. Tel: 01942. 824824 Website: www.wa
Shearings.com


For more information, contact: Tourism Ireland, Nations House, 103 Wigmore Street, London W1U 1QS. Tel: 020 7518 0800. Website: www.tourism
ireland.com

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Our tour featured all the great highlights of the Republic of Ireland - Dublin, Kilkenny, Blarney, Killarney, the Ring of Kerry, County Clare, Galway and Connemara. 

Of course the whole thing can be done by self-drive car. But coaching is top choice if you just want to relax and enjoy the passing scenery, with no problems of route-finding, luggage handling or booking good hotels.


It was a leisured tour - no desperately early morning departures except to make ferry crossings - and we could always catch up with a doze aboard the coach.

Best of all we had a driver who called himself James in England, but Seamus in Ireland, which he assured us was the same in Irish.

He had done the entire range of Irish sightseeing circuits for ten years on the trot. So he acted like a non-stop talking guidebook, with the bonus of having visited Blarney Castle at least a hundred times. Even if he hadn't kissed the Stone every time, something had obviously rubbed off.

Many thousands of tourists every year dream of kissing the Blarney Stone. But most never get past the coach park outside the Blarney Woollen Mills, a huge sales outlet for crystal, china, pottery and clothing. 

From there it's a longish walk, into the park and through a belt of trees to Blarney Castle itself, which you can't see properly until you are close. 

It's then 127 steps up the tower - by which time you could be too breathless to make immediate use of any gift of the gab. But you can always boast about it afterwards.

The remains of Ross Castle at KillarneyFor two nights we stayed at Killarney, which ensured a whole-day included excursion around the Ring of Kerry. 

That's the world-famed 110-mile roller-coaster circuit of the Iveragh Peninsula. The route takes in great scenic variety of seascapes, lakes, mountains and bogs.

It happened to be James' obligatory day of leisure, so another driver took the wheel. Albert came from Yorkshire and had been a regular Wallace Arnold driver, specialised for many years in Irish tours. 

He liked the country so much that he had emigrated to Killarney and worked on contract as relief driver when his former colleagues had their day off.

Albert had absorbed even more of the Blarney gab than the native Irish. James said he was paid by the word, and Albert certainly maintained the flow. We learned all about the history, culture, flora, geology and housing costs of the region - all spiced with a good range of Irish jokes.

A reconstructed bog village gives an idea of artisan living conditions before the potato famineIt's ironic that coastal areas where thousands died of starvation during the potato-blight years of the Great Famine, 1845-48, and thousands more emigrated in 'coffin ships' to America, is now prime territory for very affluent homes with an ocean view. 

Minimum-size plots of half an acre are developed with great variety of architect-designed houses, set back well from the road with a large front garden of mostly well-manicured lawn. Some of the original 'famine cottages' are preserved as tourist attractions that display how the people lived.


The only snag was the Ring of Kerry weather. Thanks to Albert's eloquence, we enjoyed his descriptions of what the scenery was like, if only we could see it through the rain, cloud and mist. 

But that's the secret of Irish tourism. You just have to go back, to see it all. 

Travelling up the west coast, we enjoyed the coastal glories of County Clare, with stops at the Cliffs of Moher and the Burren.

The main viewpoint for Moher was thronged with international tourists, mainly French and German. Buskers played the standard Irish favourite melodies, and hawkers lined the access path with green shawls, Isle of Arran woollens and motley souvenirs.


In contrast, further north, was the lonely Burren, which set my garden-loving wife twitching to return next spring or early summer. It's a grey limestone landscape which explodes into a vast natural rock garden with rare plants seldom found elsewhere in Ireland. 

Our knowledgeable driver talked about small green orchids, bloody cranesbill, purple wild orchids and a variety of gentian found only in one other place in the British Isles - the North Pennines. Here it's as common in the Burren as are daisies on a suburban lawn.

Two nights in Galway gave the chance of finding a session of real traditional Irish music - nothing canned or following the beat of electronics. We discovered a bar with a delightful four-musician group. They were well worth staying up till 1 a.m., with Irish coffees to see out the evening. 

The tour also featured a drive along the coastline of Galway Bay, and into Connemara - the County of wild mountains, peat bogs and lakes that are paradise for anglers. There are unclassified roads which give a rock 'n' roll ride to go with the fabulous scenery. 
Guitar and bodhram - the Irish drum played with a double-headed beater - in a pub session of traditional music
Also included was a catamaran ride from Killary Harbour for a cruise along Ireland's only fjord, with more great scenery to admire. 

Year on year, itineraries change. Among the current year's versions, more tours now include highlights of Northern Ireland, such as Londonderry, the Giant's Causeway and Old Bushmills Distillery. Claimed as the oldest in the world, the distillery offers yet another enjoyable tasting of Ireland.

                                                                                     

Read about these other areas of Ireland

BLARNEY - enjoying the talk in Counties Cork and Kerry

DUBLIN - Pub-crawling for literature

DUBLIN - Take a new look

IRELAND - TRALEE TRA-LA to Dingle Bay


"Books to read - click on cover pictures" or click on the links below. 

The Rough Guide to Ireland - by Margaret Greenwood, Mark Connolly, Geoff Wallis - A detailed guide which makes excellent reading.

The Rough Guide to Irish Folk - CD with various artists - Revive your memories of those evenings spent in Southern Ireland's singing pubs. Listen to online samples of the melodies.

The Irish Potato Famine  by James S. Donnelly - A vivid account of the great potato tragedy of Ireland in the 1840s which devastated communities in areas which are now popular scenic tourist highlights with the building of luxury villas.

Lonely Planet Ireland  - A good choice for capturing the atmosphere of Ireland.


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