The striking, 702-foot Cliffs of Moher in County Clare attract about a million visitors each year, thanks to their stunning views of dramatic rock precipices, sea caves, pinnacles, and the Aran Islands 30 miles offshore. They are not, however, the highest cliffs in Ireland: That honor goes to the 2,178-foot Croaghaun Cliffs on rugged Achill Island, which is connected to the mainland by a 328-foot bridge. But if the island is easy enough to get to, the cliffs themselves aren't—you can only catch a glimpse of them by climbing to the top of 2,260-foot Croaghaun mountain or by hiring a boat. Travelers looking to split the difference should head to Slieve League in County Donegal; there, visitors can take in the 1,952-foot cliffs from a new viewing platform or hike the trails that skirt the cliff's edge. (Parking and access to the trails are free.)Photo: Courtesy yakshini/Flickr
Rainy days typically aren't a selling point for travelers, but Ireland's above-average rainfall is what makes its postcard-perfect landscape so lush and green year-round. The west coast typically gets rain 225 days annually, while the east and southeast coasts see about 150 days of precipitation. The wettest months of the year are December and January, and the driest month is April, although June is typically dry in the south as well. Ireland's southeast enjoys the most sunshine. But don't worry, the weather here changes rapidly, and rain typically alternates with patches of sun throughout the day. (And besides, it's always dry inside the pub.)
Links golf courses
Ireland is a world-class golf destination, with an impressive 58 links courses—singlehandedly accounting for a third of all the natural links courses on the planet. It's common for these facilities to have high winds, few trees, and dramatic sand dunes (some as high as 200 feet)—all of which require a certain skill set to play well. (Most also have amazing coastal views, which only adds to the challenge.) One of the best, and most beautiful, is Royal Portrush Golf Club established in 1888 in County Antrim; it's routine
The Guinness harp, based on a medieval Gaelic instrument that may have been made for Irish king Brian Boru, was first used as a symbol for the stout in 1862. About half a century later, when the Republic of Ireland was established, the government chose that symbol, too, to be its national emblem. Lest you get them confused, just remember: The Guinness harp has its straight edge on the left, while the government's version has its straight edge on the right. As for the instrument that inspired it all, the so-called Brian Boru's Harp—you can see it on display in the Long Room of Dublin's Trinity College Library.
Invented by Irish monks in about the 12th century (using perfume distillation equipment from the Middle East), whiskey quickly attained near-holy status. (The monks called itUisce Beatha, meaning water of life.) The oldest licensed whiskey distillery in the world is the Old Bushmills Distillery in County Antrim, licensed in 1608. Whiskey aficionados can tour the facilities at the historic distillery (bushmills.com, tours $11), as well as at several competitors' spots
While the St. Patrick's Festival may be the hottest ticket in Ireland, it's certainly not the only noteworthy event on the calendar. The Galway Races, held this year from July 30 to August 5, are the most prestigious and popular horse racing events in the country and attract over 150,000 spectators each year. The Volvo Ocean Race, a round-the-world yachting competition held every three years, will celebrate its grand finale in Galway this year, with a festival from June 30 to July 8; attendance at the Galway stop during the previous race was over 600,000—and Galway wasn't even an end point. And in Stradbally, about an hour southwest of Dublin, the Electric Picnic music and arts festival (sometimes dubbed "Ireland's Glastonbury") is a rock-and-roll-and-arts festival that routinely sells out. This year's event takes place August 31 to September 2, and the lineup includes such heavy-hitters as the Cure, The Roots, Grizzly Bear, and Hot Chip.
For insights into Ireland's more recent literary heritage, visitors to the Dublin Writers Museum can peek at first-edition printings from native sons Bram Stoker, Samuel Beckett, William Butler Yeats, and James Joyce, along with personal correspondence (a letter from Yeats to Frank O'Connor) and memorabilia (Beckett's telephone). The museum is located in a converted 18th-century house on Parnell Square (writersmuseum.com, admission $10).
The Book of Kells
The Book of Kells, an illuminated Gospel manuscript on vellum created around 800 A.D., attracts more than half a million visitors each year. It's considered a masterpiece of calligraphy and ornamental illustration—look for the stylized birds and animals hidden in the book's Celtic knot designs—and is one of Ireland's most cherished treasures. The book is housed in the Old Library building on the Trinity College campus, along with the even-older illuminated Book of Durrow and other manuscripts (tcd.ie, admission $12). Save time to explore the library's Long Room, upstairs; the elegant, barreled-ceiling space is home to 200,000 of the library's oldest books, as well as academic artifacts and marble busts of renowned Western philosophers and writers.
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