It's St Patrick's Day today, and what better way to celebrate than planning a trip to Ireland?
Dubliners are notoriously proud of their literary and artistic heritage – and with good reason. Take a wander round the leafy avenues of Ireland’s most prestigious university, Trinity College, for spectacular Georgian architecture and a glimpse of one of the greatest Celtic treasures, the Book of Kells.
Set aside at least a day to explore the collections of the Chester Beatty Library (with rare books, painting and memorabilia), the National Museum of Ireland (home of the world’s most complete collection of medieval Celtic metalwork), the National Gallery (its Irish art collection is particularly strong), and the Natural History Museum (with an extensive range of Irish flora).
Literature lovers should head to Oscar Wilde’s house (on Merrion Square), and his neighbouring statue which is adorned with epithets from the great writer himself.
If you’re visiting in June, look out for Bloomsday – an annual celebration of James Joyce’s Ulysses, with Edwardian costume parties and readings.
Galway City is renowned for its arty types, with lively cafes, street entertainers, and a plethora of gigs and performances throughout the year. But just a 40 minute boat ride from the mainland lie the Aran Islands, with jagged clifftops, rugged coastline, and a desolate beauty that’s hard to top.
Have a poke around Inishmor’s Dun Aengus, a stone fort perched atop a towering cliff, then venture further into the islands to largely untouched Inishmaan and Inisheer. Both islands are accessible by local boat, and are easily navigable on foot or by bike.
Wexford boasts an impressive number of beaches, ranging from weather-beaten craggy coast to endless stretches of golden sand. Curracloe, Duncannon and Rosslare are popular choices, but venture out to the Hook Peninsula for deserted coves and crumbling fortresses. Take a bracing morning stroll, then settle down in one of the peninsula’s many seafood restaurants for a long leisurely lunch.
Ireland is home to over 1,000 miles of the National Cycle Network, a trail created specifically for cyclists who want a safe, well-marked trail to explore. Highlights include the 100-mile Strangford Lough route which passes through County Down with spectacular views of the coast and Mourne Mountains, and the North West Trail which takes in rural villages and lakeside areas.
Head to www.discoverireland.com for bike hire information
Belfast’s political murals are part of a tradition that stretches back to the early 20th century, when unionists were voicing their opposition to home rule for Ireland. The Troubles in the 1970s saw a revival of the murals, as they were used to mark territory and commemorate political events.
Although they’re an uncomfortable reminder of Northern Ireland’s tumultuous history, it’s worth making the effort to see the pieces – especially as their future hangs in the balance. A number of local authorities are keen to see them removed from buildings, and replaced with less troubling artwork that looks to Ireland’s future, rather than its violent past. See www.cain.ulst.ac.uk/murals for more information.